I couldn't stand it any longer.
snatched my mike and barked down at Vince, "When, when are you gonna get rid of those bombs? What's wrong?"
came that Texas twang of his. "Keep your shirt on, Morgan. I'll let
you know when the bombs are gone." Then he went back to work.
I didn't disrupt his concentration too much. The Bomber Command had defined
"target area" as a circle with a radius of 1,000 feet. Photographs
from several of our planes later showed that Vince Evans laid those bombs
of ours ten or fifteen feet from the target's epicenter…The other
bombardiers, those who had survived, toggled their switches off Vince's
release and just simply rained down blazing hell on those trapped U-boats.
“The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle” by Col. Robert Morgan,
other men on the Flying Fortress had one job and one job only above all
others, get the bombardier over the target. Everything else was just details.
The bombardier's job was quite obvious, get the bombs on the target. In
the early days of daylight bombing, each bombardier sighted for his individual
aircraft through the famous Norden Bombsight. However, it was soon learned
that if a tight formation was maintained, that if the group's best bombardier
was in the lead aircraft doing the aiming, and if the rest of the formation
dropped their bombs when he dropped his, that similar results would be
achieved and the bombers could better protect themselves with their combined
firepower while in formation.
famous Norden Bombsight. Originally this bombsight was designed
for the Navy but it proved so successful that the Army was allowed
to use it in their bombers as well. In the right hand side of this
picture you can see the control yoke for the chin turret of this
B-17G in its stowed position.
crewmembers will tell you that the hairiest part of any mission was the
bomb run. To confuse the enemy, the route to the target was never a straight
line but a series of waypoints. The last of these waypoints before the
target was called the IP. The IP was located near the target and usually
had a highly visible landmark so that navigators could get a good fix
on their position. Also, the heading from the IP to the target was usually
just a few degrees off the heading the bombers would be flying to reach
the IP so that the formations wouldn't loosen up just prior to the bomb
run by making any sharp turns.
From the IP to the target the aircraft
had to maintain their speed and altitude. The pilots would tighten up
the formation and the lead aircraft with the lead bombardier would get
to it's assigned bombing altitude and speed.
Once the start of the bomb
run was reached, the pilot engaged the autopilot and told the bombardier
that he was now flying the aircraft. The Norden bombsight that was carried
on all B-17s, B-24s, and B-29s was tied into the aircraft's autopilot.
The bombardier would dial in the plane's altitude and speed into the bombsight
before placing the crosshairs on the target. Once the target was locked
into the bombsight, the bombsight would keep the target in it's crosshairs
based on the speed and altitude programmed into it by the bombardier.
The bombardier would then get the strength and direction of any wind and
program that into the bombsight along with bomb type. The bombsight would
calculate the path that the bombs would fall to the target based on all
this information, correct the plane's speed, altitude, and heading through
the autopilot to keep these factors properly set, and when the proper
release point was reached, would automatically drop the bombs on the target.
Bombardier's left panel. The two gauges in the top left of this
panel are the remote air speed indicator (left gauge) and the remote
altimeter (right guage). The bombardier used these gauges to program
the Norden bombsight. The round control with the three levers in
front of this pannel was for bomb bay control.
As the previous quote shows, a good bombardier almost actually could put
the bombs “in a pickle barrel” which was the claim of the
Norden bombsight. The rest of the group would be watching the lead plane
and when they saw his bombs drop, they would drop their's. This was called
“Dropping on lead's command.”
the bomb run was so frightening is the vulnerability the crews felt. For
five to ten minutes, the planes would be flying straight and level. Absolutely
no evasive action was allowed on the bomb run (earlier on pilots would
try to take evasive action during the bomb run to try and confuse the
enemy Anti-Aircraft Artillery and it was found that by doing this the
bombing results were very poor). If there was AAA, flak as the crews called
it, so thick that you would walk on it then so be it, they flew right
through it. Even in the days of heavy Luftwaffe activity, the flak over
a target was the worst because the crew could see the dark puffs of the
flak up ahead, they could see that the gunners down below had the right
altitude, and yet they had to fly right through it on the bomb run.
on the bomb run it wasn't flak but fighters that got to the crews. Once
on the bomb run the bombers would have their bomb bay doors open and the
enemy fighters could see that. They would then know that the bombers were
on their bomb run and would be forced to fly straight and level making
them an easier target. On some missions, when the bombers were heading
out to hit a very important and heavily defended target, they would encounter
flak and enemy fighters but generally the enemy fighters stayed away if
there was flak over the target for fear of getting hit themselves.
is the panal to the right of the Bombardier's possition. Here you
can see the Bombardier's oxygen hose (left side of picture) and
heated suit controls (grey box in center of piture below the two
gauges). Also, on the right side of this picture you can see the
.50 caliber machine gun in the right cheek position.
formations had a lead bombardier and a couple deputy leads. The deputy
leads would take the lead if for some reason the lead bomber or bombardier
was unable to do the job over the target. However, during the early part
of the air war, every bomber had a fully trained and qualified bombardier
on board so just about any plane could take over lead if need be. This
was mandatory as in some early battles, out of 14 bombers out of a squadron
that went out, only one might come home!
in the war when long range fighters and 2 years of pounding had all but
made the Luftwaffe non-existent, the bombardier was replaced with a toggler.
Where the bombardier was a commissioned officer, the togglers were enlisted
men. When a toggler was on the aircraft, it did not carry a Norden Bombsight.
When the toggler saw the lead plane drop his bombs, he would toggle the
bombs to drop out of his aircraft.
chin turret of the B-17G and the left cheek gun. The powered chin
turret, operated by the bombardier, greatly improved the B-17's
not on the bomb run, whether it was a toggler or a bombardier, the crewman
flying that position would man the nose guns. Up to and including the
“F” model, this was a handheld gun in a fixed mount through
the Plexiglas nose cone. Usually this was either a .30 caliber machine
gun or a .50 caliber machine gun depending on the model of B-17. However,
in the field crews usually modified this position to carry at least one
.50 caliber machine gun (if the plane only had a .30 caliber one standard)
and sometimes up to 3 .50 caliber machine guns. There were even some who
tried to install a 20mm cannon up front to improve the weak forward firepower
of the B-17. Two more .50 caliber machine guns were in the “cheek”
positions and could be brought to bear against fighters attacking from
the front half of the aircraft but were hard pressed to fire on a fighter
coming directly at the front of the bomber. Starting with the last few
“F” models and continuing with the “G” model,
B-17s were outfitted with a chin turret carrying two .50 caliber machine
guns. This turret, originally designed and used on the unsuccessful B-17
based XB-40 gunship, greatly improved forward firepower and was manned
by the bombardier/toggler using a control yoke and reflective gun sight.
The sight was mounted to the top part of the nose just inside the nose
cone and the yoke could be swung out of the way to allow the bombardier
to use the Norden bombsight.
to his duties as a bomb dropper and gunner, the bombardier/toggler would
assist with other various duties on the aircraft. Many times they would
perform oxygen checks or assist the navigator or radio operator with getting
fixes and their logs. Basically any of the basic duties that the other
crewmembers could perform, so could the bombardier.
was a fully commissioned officer, usually a 1st Lieutenant while the toggler
was an enlisted man over the rank of Seargent.