27th March 1944
# 86 BORDEAUX, FRANCE - 27th March 1944
Pilot : Julius Lederman
Co-Pilot : Waite Deeds Law
Navigator : John Joseph Carroll
Bombardier : John Nunez Luzell
Radio : Blair Harper Harman
Top Turret Gunner: Herman Frank Hermanson
Ball Turret Gunner : Louis Mizera
Waist Gunner Right : Joseph James Kapec
Waist Gunner Left : George Melroy Schwarzkopf
Tail Gunner : George William Hewett
So the final day beganů.
On March 27th 1944, 21 aircraft from 388th Bomb Group set off from KNETTISHALL at 10.19 hours, their target the airfields, port and factories of BORDEAUX in FRANCE. They were part of a total of 546 B-17's that set out that day, from different groups. Big Red flew in the high 'A' group at 20,900ft.
They followed a route over the South of England, leaving the English coast at 12.10 hours. Then over the English Channel and flying over the Normandy coastline of France at 12.40 hours. Their route by-passed to the east of the hazardous St Nazaire area (also known as 'Flak City') around 13.25 hours. At around 13.40 hours, over the Western Coast shortly before the target area and bomb run, Big Red encountered major problems... FIRE! Flames flew out of the Top Turret motor and spread rapidly throughout the cockpit and surrounding area, the fire had got into the oxygen system and disaster was imminent. Big Red left the formation, a red flare was fired then the burning B-17 made a complete circle above the town of Aizenay, with more and more smoke and flames pouring from it, before finally going into a steep dive.
At 15,000 ft Pilot Julius Lederman managed to level the plane and gave the alarm to bail out. John Luzell, John Carroll, Herman Hermanson, Waite Law and Julius Lederman bailed out of the nose escape hatch.
Tail Gunner George Hewett not
hearing the bail-out alarm turned around to see smoke coming down the inside of
the fuselage, he climbed out of the tail to go out of the main rear escape hatch,
but seeing the other gunners George Schwarzkopf, Joseph Kapec and Louis Mizera
struggling to open the door, he returned to the tail and went out his own
emergency hatch after remembering he had one !.
Immediately after George Hewett bailed out, Big Red went into a dive and spin and fell from the sky with Waist Gunner George Schwarzkopf, Waist Gunner Joseph Kapec, Ball Turret Gunner Louis Mizera and Radio Operator Blair Harmon sadly still on board. Apparently the main escape hatch door was stuck and before they could get to another emergency hatch the speed and gravity of the fall made it impossible to get to another escape hatch.
Big Red was totally on fire and falling too fast. Five members of the crew had already parachuted from the stricken B-17, but a sixth, probably Ball Turret Gunner Louis Mizera took the plunge without a parachute just as the central section of Big Red was about to hit the ground. He broke his spine in the fall, the Germans put him in a van to take him to hospital. He never arrived, having probably died on the way. An unconfirmed report from a tail gunner on another B-17 nearby said one crewmember jumped out of the Radio escape hatch but upon
jumping hit the rear stabiliser of Big Red, his severe injuries made both accounts accurate.
Eye witness reports say that with all the oxygen, fuel and bombs still on board, Big Red blew up with a massive explosion about 100ft above the ground and split into three pieces..
It finally came to rest, making a huge crater, on the edge of the Forest of Aizenay.
The remaining wreckage of 'Big Red' was
later blown to small pieces by the German Army.
For more informations concerning the crew, escape and evasion reports, and several photographs of Big Red and crew, rendez-vous on Danny McGahan's website: http://webspace.webring.com/people/wb/bigredflyingfortress.