Ralph McKee, the b17 navigator
"In year 1958, I decided to write my escape story, still vivid in my memory."
written by Ralph McKee
1. Damaged engine
The 305th Bomb Group turned over the initial point and headed down the bomb run. It was the Fourth of July, 1943. The Target was a German airfield (1) on the outskirts of Nantes, France.
The navigator's job was finished for the moment. I unslung the fifty caliber machine gun (2) which was mounted over my worktable and scanned the blue sky. Only a handful of ME-109s (3) had come up to challenge the bombers, and they were not aggressive today.
In the plexiglass nose the bombardier was hunched over the bombsight, centering the target in the crosshairs. A few powderpuffs of exploding flak (4) were out in front of the formation. The pilot had our flight neatly tucked in the formation. The bomb bay doors were open now. In a minute, tons of bombs would rain down on the target. The bright summer sky would be darkened by a hail of death and destruction.
Only seconds remained until bombs-away. The formation seemed to hang motionless, waiting expectantly. Suddenly the Flying Fortress (5) shuddered, faltered and fell back in the formation ever so slightly. A piece of flak must have hit a turbo-supercharger, causing one of the engines (6) to lose power. Up in the cockpit, Bill Wetzel and Chuck Cockrell, the pilot and co-pilot, were increasing power on the remaining good engines.
"Bombs away." "Bomb bay doors coming closed." The formation began a gentle turn to the westerly heading that would take us out over the Bay of Biscay and home.
Our Fortress continued to fall behind the formation and lose altitude. One of the other engines must be damaged. The situation wasn't good but I had been in worse spots and we had make it back. Many Fortresses had limped home with one or even two engines shot out.
Suddenly we were not alone. The German fighters had been waiting for a straggler. Now they came in for the kill. Tracers arched towards us. Shells tore the Fortress's skin. The Fortress vibrated from the recoil as the gunners fought back savagely. The fighters attacked again and again. One of the gunners shouted jubilantly, "I got one. He's on fire."(7) But the fighters had killed the Fortress. One engine was burning fiercely and there was a fire in the vicinity of the bomb bay.
The pilot sounded the bail-out signal on the emergency alarm system. I didn't weigh his decision. The Fortress couldn't hold together more than a few minutes. I rechecked the parachute chest pack. It was then that I first noticed cuts on one hand caused by an exploding enemy shell. Just off the left wing, one of the victorious fighters was flying with his landing gear in the down position; surveying his prize. Unfastening the oxygen mask, I crawled back to the escape hatch. The hatch door was already jettisoned. With my right hand on the rip cord, I tumbled out.
(1) Château-Bougon airfied. Today it is Nantes Atlantique airport.
(2) 50/100 de pouce soit 12.7 mm
(3) In fact, Focke-Wulf 190.
(4) Flak (Flieger Abwehr Kanone) or DCA (Défense Contre Avion) or AAA (Anti Aircraft Artillery)
(5) Boeing B17 "Flying Fortress"
(7) Go to page "One Focke Wulf into Grand Lieu lake"