For a deeper dive, here are materials additional to part one.
This is an excellent documentary on the B-17 with includes reminiscences by WWII veterans. It runs just under an hour.
Target for Today is a feature-length documentary produced as a training film in 1944. It was directed by Hollywood filmmaker William Keighley. It details in rather numbing, painstaking detail how a bombing mission is planned and carried out, step by step from start to finish. The line readings by most of the on-screen participants are so stilted you just know they have to be the real people. But whatever else you can say, it’s certainly instructive.
This short clip shows movie stunt pilot Paul Mantz belly-landing a B-17F for the film Twelve O’Clock High (1949). As per the description on YouTube by Don Holloway, “Plenty of pilots had solo-landed shot-up Flying Fortresses during the war, but nobody was sure you could take off that way; the throttle levers required two pilots. Offered the then unheard-of payment $4,500 (about $46,000 today), Mantz welded a steel bar across the throttle cluster and got the Fortress airborne. According to the story, while approaching downwind for the cameras, lost rudder authority and wiped out some film crew tents. The footage was so good it can be seen again, from a slightly different camera angle, in 1962’s The War Lover, with Steve McQueen.” Besides being recycled for The War Lover, this footage was also used in at least one episode of the TV series 12 O’Clock High, an adaptation of the 1949 feature film.
Note: The original clip in this post has since been removed from YouTube. Here is a replacement that shows the same footage.
12 O’Clock High aired on ABC for three seasons from 1964-1967. Episodes can be seen on YouTube. Here’s one of them. It runs about 46 minutes .
This series also generated comic books and even a board game.
I read a lot of war comics when I was growing up. One of the best illustrators of these was Russ Heath. His incredibly detailed style was immediately identifiable. Here are a few examples.
B-17s were also popular as model kits. Here are two examples.
Here’s the complete feature film of The War Lover (1962). It has Greek subtitles, which is weird, but after a while you barely notice them. The print is in good shape. The competition between Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner for local woman Shirley Ann Field is nothing special, but the footage of the B-17s on the ground and in the air is spectacular. Also, for the first time I saw how the ball-turret gunner gets into his position. The film runs 1 hour 41 minutes.
I’d like to close with two personal accounts sent to me after part one appeared last Friday. They both illustrate the randomness and absurdity of the violence that could happen at any time. It’s black humor at its most acidic, worthy of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Or would be, if they weren’t so tragic.
Someone I’ve know for quite a few years contacted me on Facebook. David told me his father was in training to be the ball-turret gunner on a B-17. The gunner was crammed into a clear ball-shaped capsule on the bottom of the fuselage that could rotate 360 degrees and fire twin .50 caliber machine guns. While still completing training, the plane in front of his exploded and an airman bailed out. Somehow the parachute got caught up in the ball turret of his dad’s plane. Nothing could be done and they landed dragging this poor guy along the runway. His father was completely freaked out and he finished the war as a radio instructor. David remembers the strife on his dad’s face when he recounted the experience.
Susan Waggoner, a friend of mine since college in Iowa City and later here in New York, sent me the following, which she gave me permission to include:
“My dad’s younger brother also flew out of England – was at an air base near Exeter, and they did bombing raids over Germany. Dale was the bombardier. One night they took a direct hit on their way home. Pilot was trying to get them close enough to England to crash land there, so he told the guys to empty the guns and throw them over the side. Must have been chaos. One of the guns did not get completely emptied, went off and shot my uncle just under his left eye. He died instantly. Dale was the baby of the family and died a few days short of his 19th birthday.”
“For most of my life, we only knew that he had been killed in action, and after reading Catch-22 I worried that he had died like Snowden, all alone in that cold bomb bay. So when the internet opened the world up, I checked and found the site for his bomber group. I was lucky in that several of those men were still alive. They were great! They all wrote to me, told me they remembered Dale as a hard working Iowa kid who liked pranks, and a shared a bit about their time there…
“…The other eye opener I got from Dale’s crew was that I’d always assumed he would have been the youngest member of the crew. He wasn’t. One of the guys was 15! He’d lied to get in, married his girlfriend before being deployed, and now she was at home expecting twins. People grew up fast back then.”
“Have you ever looked at the casualty rates for those bomber squads? The number of KIA’s was jaw dropping. Dale is buried over there, in a British cemetery honoring Americans killed during the war.
“I have often thought, as I’ve grown older, how big a role that war played in all our lives. It was all around us – all of us grew up making tents from army blankets or using Navy towels. I still have my dad’s footlocker. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo seemed like it was on the late night movies all the time. My dad was a nervous flyer because he’d been on an aircraft carrier plane that crashed into the water on takeoff – almost died because he got pinned underwater under a heavy metal bar but had one those adrenaline bursts and got it off himself so he could swim to the surface.. He never told me any of this. Those men didn’t talk much.” — Susan Waggoner
That does it for now. I’d like to re-dedicate this post to my dad, Milton Hicks, and also to David’s dad and Dale Waggoner of Alta, Iowa. — Ted Hicks