The Bomber Boys
Stories and Experiences

The combined technologies of the B-17 and the Norden Bombsite allowed the Mighty Eighth to eventually turn the tides of WWII in favor of the Allies. Yet, the success came at a great price: 8th Air Force losses were by far the most significant of any branch of the military at that time. Fliers were subjected to the greatest physical, emotional and psychological tests ever experienced by humankind.







"We knew that the pattern of our lives was about to change, and we were to find that it takes a great deal of sweat and worry, and fear, and conquering of fear, just as it takes a broadening of sense of values and humor, and an awakening to responsibility… (in the) shouldering of a king-sized burden."

–1st Lt William H. Quinn

The Bomber Boys

The bomber boys came from every corner of America. With an average age of just 19 years old, many had never seen or set foot in an airplane before the war. Little did they know what physical and psychological tests they would soon endure.

On the ground and in the air, fliers experienced intense anxiety and fear. The boys knew that their chances of being killed or becoming a POW were far greater than their chances of coming home. Time and again, they witnessed shocking events and suffered the loss of close friendships.

The physical tolls were heavy, as well. Flying in cabins that were not pressurized, at temperatures colder than 30 degrees below zero, and in equipment that was still being perfected, more B-17 crew members suffered from frostbite, electric shock and hypoxia than injuries due to enemy fire.

The Experience of High Altitude Bombing

The 390th Bomb Group participated in some of the greatest air battles in WWII including Schweinfurt, D-Day and the Raid on Berlin. Among these was the raid on Munster on October 10, 1943. Battling the greatest concentration of enemy fighters ever encountered on an 8th Air Force mission—over 600 German aircraft—the men of the 390th shot down sixty-two German planes while losing eight of their own eighteen aircraft that day. The crew of Cabin in the Sky defined the battle as the Battle of Britain, wrapped up in thirty-four minutes.

Stories from the Raid on Munster

On Board Cabin in the Sky

Captain Douglas Gordon-Forbes (bombardier) witnessed a plane to his left break in half. He watched as its pieces slammed into another plane, making both planes fall away in a column of smoke. Seconds later, a plane on his right blew up in a great red flash. All around him, the sky filled with the debris of men, parachutes, and airplanes.

On Board the 8-Ball

Second Lt. Dean Ferris (bombardier) saved his plane from doom when he jumped from his guns and put out a fire with his bare hands. Moments later, a German rocket sheared off twelve feet of the right wing. With burnt hands, Ferris aided his pilot and copilot to hold the plane on course. The pilot, Captain Bill Cabral, brought the plane back to find his airfield fogged in. With the gas supply almost gone, Cabral brought the battered plane in for a crash landing that his crew called “sensational”.

On Board Miss Carry

Lt. Paul Vance (pilot) used a rubber interphone radio cord and a neck scarf to wrap his gaping leg wound after FLAK ripped a hole in the plane. None of his crew members knew he had been hit: “It might disturb them”, he told his copilot. Lt. Vance was barely able to maintain consciousness, but stayed composed as he directed his copilot to successfully complete the bomb run. He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his effort.

On Board Norma J

Staff Sgt. George Rankin (gunner) saved his crew from certain death when a German rocket buzzed in through the waist window. Rankin scooped up the sputtering rocket and threw it back out the window, watching it burst in flames below. Hours later, Staff Sgt. Bruce Riley (pilot, shown) brought the plane home in a landing reminiscent of a Hollywood film. With less than two minutes of fuel left, two useless engines, and no radio aid, Riley safely landed in zero visibility “pea soup” fog.

On Board Rusty Lode

Rusty Lode sustained terrific damage just prior to reaching the target. Pilot Robert Sabel dropped out of formation, put the plane on automatic flight control, and made a lone sweep over the target before turning for home. Sabel returned to Base with just minutes of fuel left. The plane had more than 750 holes in the fuselage; huge holes in both wings; the rudder, left aileron and flaps were shot away; and all regular controls had been severed. The crew’s return was considered a miracle by all.

Back on Board Cabin in the Sky

After battling what seemed like hours (but was just over thirty minutes), the ammunition was almost exhausted and shell casings were piled up a foot deep on the floor. Still, the German fighters kept coming in swarms. The ball turret gunner waved his empty guns, hoping to trick the enemy.

Captain Robert D. Brown (pilot) asked his tail gunner how the rest of the Squadron was holding up. “We’re all alone up here!” the tail gunner replied. They had lost five planes in just ten minutes. The Bomb Group in formation behind them had literally been blown from the sky.

On October 14th, just four days later, Cabin in the Sky (and its crew) were flying another mission. That mission, to Schweinfurt, proved to be another epic battle. The 8th Air Force lost sixty planes on that raid.

Cabin in the Sky is the only plane that deployed with the 390th Bomb Group, and survived to the end of the war.

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