I spent a lot of words describing the vintage aircraft and the recent
flight I took on the B-17 bomber that visited the Baldwin County
Regional Airport but what I did not go into detail about was the
ball-turret gunner and how important those airmen, men and women, were
to the overall air missions. Some of the observations are from our
dad and some from research on the internet; the story is always the
same, the crew that returned was lucky to survive and thankful when
they landed unharmed.
The crew of what is called a "heavy bomber” consisted of nine; the
pilot, engineer, bombardier, navigator, radio operator and four
gunners. The job of the waist gunners was to protect the airplane
from being shot down by enemy fire; the primary job of the tail gunner
was as a look out for enemy planes but the ball turret gunner had one
of the most dangerous assignments in World War II if the plane crossed
into enemy territory.
I am proud to be the daughter of a certified ball turret gunner and
thankful that daddy was chosen to become an instructor rather than
going into combat because I am convinced that it saved his life.
"Made of Plexiglas and about four feet in diameter, the ball turret
was a sphere attached to the bottom of B-17s. Armed with two
50-caliber machine guns and capable of rotating 360 degrees, the ball
turret gunner was responsible for protecting the otherwise-exposed
underbelly of the flying fortress. "
"The good news was you had the best view of any other crew member; the
bad news was that if the plane took a hit and there was damage to the
mechanism that raised and lowered the ball turret, you were on your
own. " The other gunners had a good view of the skies but the ball
turret gunner was under the plane and could not see enemy planes
approaching from above.
In instances described by our dad, when the plane was hit, or if the
ball turret became jammed, the bombers were forced to make a crash
landing and all the crew members knew that the ball turret gunner was
a dead man because he would be crushed.
Daddy said after he became an instructor that he sometimes gazed out
over the faces of the young students and was acutely aware that some
of them were not coming back alive; they were destined to die in the
service of their country.
The ball turret gunners on the B-17 bombers were encased in a bubble
made of glass that perturbed from under the airplane. It was
permanently fixed and so small that they did not have room to carry a
Daddy was one of the proudest veterans you could find and when he was
laid to rest at age 85, his casket was covered with an American flag
that was flown over our nation's capitol, Washington, DC on Veteran's
Day and dedicated in his honor.
Brenda S. Brown
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