Their bitter beer tastes lousy. Their ale is good
September 6, 2009 5:52 AM   Subscribe

Finally got around to sending this log, it scares me to read it, I don’t understand how we got out alive... [PDF] Joel Punches' first-person account of a B-17F Navigator assigned to the 8AF, 385 BW, Great Ashfield England during 1943-1944. The diary chronicles his missions during that time - including his Escape and Evasion after being shot down over Hamburg. His fifth mission was Schweinfurt Ball Bearing Factory on 10/14/43.
posted by mattoxic (40 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Simply amazing.
posted by saladin at 7:42 AM on September 6, 2009

couldn't find the target so we dumped our bombs on a small town and came home. The town we dropped on turned out to be a town in Holland. Not so good!

Best thing I've read here in months.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:03 AM on September 6, 2009

Fun fact: By 1945, the survival rate for air crews in the Eighth Air Force was lower than that for kamikaze pilots in the Pacific.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:05 AM on September 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I salute these gentlemen.

I am an amateur WWII aircraft historian. I had the pleasure to meet with a WWII bomber gunner at a friend's club meeting. I commented on the "romantic" nature of WWII as opposed to the later conflicts. I was severely put in my place when he said that there was nothing romantic about it.
posted by Drasher at 8:09 AM on September 6, 2009

If you're ever in the Savannah area, I recommend the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. The docents are all old vets with interesting tales to tell and if you're a fan of old planes and engines you won't be disappointed.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 8:32 AM on September 6, 2009

Fantastic post. Truly best of the web.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:41 AM on September 6, 2009

Thank you. Good reminder of the huge debt we owe these men. Forwarded to my Father (ex-RAF), I know he'll appreciate it.
posted by arcticseal at 8:49 AM on September 6, 2009

Fantastic link, thanks.
posted by Rumple at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2009

Their fifth mission wasn't the only famous raid, I see. Their aborted mission on November 16th 1943, when their Fortress was knocked out by a thunderstorm, was directed to Norsk Hydro's Vemork heavy water plant. That the crew was only told that they were bombing a "hydrogen factory" (which contrasts with the rather candid comments in the log regarding the "Gee box") shows just how hush-hush anything nuclear was treated by the Allies at this stage of the war. Missions 16 and 17 were clearly part of Operation Crossbow. That the crews knew that they were bombing a rocket site, despite the fact that the V-2s had not yet been fired, also contrasts with their ignorance about Vemork's significance.
posted by Skeptic at 8:58 AM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just played a round of golf with a 101st Airborne WWII vet yesterday - he's a regular member of our foursome and is still going strong at the age of 86. He wears his Easy Co. 506th PIR hat with pride, so a lot of fellow golfers recognize his unit and come up and thank him for his service. It's humbling.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 9:31 AM on September 6, 2009

spoiler Wow, shot down on second to last mission and spending the next few months doing escape and evasion. Crazy!
posted by furtive at 9:47 AM on September 6, 2009

Amazing. The "Gee" box he talks about is the predecessor to Loran.
posted by exogenous at 9:51 AM on September 6, 2009

The entry for 26 September 1943 when their practice flight goes too close to the Dutch coast makes for terrible reading. 2 planes lost because none of the flight was armed.
posted by greycap at 10:20 AM on September 6, 2009

posted by louigi at 10:47 AM on September 6, 2009

posted by hypersloth at 11:08 AM on September 6, 2009

Contrasting both Drasher's an Nick's comments above, I wonder how many vets of Vietnam an d Iraq/Afghanistan will get thanked for their service by strangers on golf courses at 86 years of age. No one to write a romantic book about The Greatest Generation for them I wreckon.
posted by spicynuts at 11:20 AM on September 6, 2009

Holy hell what an amazing read that B17 log is. Thanks very much for this post.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:32 AM on September 6, 2009

When I was a kid, one of our neighbors was a bombardier in a B-17 and I once asked him what his favorite memory was and he said "We were the first group to cross the Atlantic Ocean (South America to Africa) without losing a plane to weather or error." I was floored that something that I would think a simple task was looked upon by him as a great achievement. It made me realize how dangerous things really were. I still have his aviator sunglasses and I think of him when I run across them. R.I.P. Paul Bruggeman, and thanks.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 12:06 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are at least two B-17 examples flying and giving rides to the public. The Experimental Aircraft Association has their B-17G Aluminum Overcast and the Collings Foundation has B-17G "Nine O Nine". Rides run about $400 due to the high cost of keeping these aircraft flying.
posted by exogenous at 12:24 PM on September 6, 2009

I had a grandfather who was a belly gunner in bombers in WW2; apparently that was the worst position in a B17. Upon landing, an awful lot of them ended up being hosed out of the turret.

He survived the war, but he he refused to talk about it. Not a word. He became a profound alchoholic, and died in his 60s. He went to his grave without telling anyone what he saw and did.

I think it's my only brush with actual unspeakable horror.
posted by Malor at 12:27 PM on September 6, 2009 [7 favorites]

Great post, mattoxic. The contrasting "normalcy" and bombing runs with narrow escapes really struck me for some reason. We Americans definitely far too often forget what debt we owe to the men and women who have served and who still are serving our country.

I also, sadly, kept reading the log entries as tweets.
posted by hrbrmstr at 12:41 PM on September 6, 2009

couldn't find the target so we dumped our bombs on a small town and came home. The town we dropped on turned out to be a town in Holland. Not so good!
Yes, war crimes are not so good.
posted by uni verse at 12:59 PM on September 6, 2009

Rangeboy: Could you give me a cite on that survival rate Eighth Air Force vs. Kamikaze statement? I'm not arguing: the Eighth took 47,000 casualties, half of all those suffered by the entire U.S. Army Air Force in World War II . But that's a pretty dramatic statement and I'd love a source better than 'some guy on the internet.'
posted by mojohand at 1:00 PM on September 6, 2009

Thanks for the post. Definitely best of the web (even if you're not a WW2 geek or snarky pacifist).
posted by turducken at 2:51 PM on September 6, 2009

My dad was in the Eighth air force in WW2. He was a ground mechanic and I remember once asking him about the flight crews, what they were like, he just gave me a grim sort of grin and said they didn't hang out with flight crews. It was just easier if you didn't know them.
posted by Mcable at 3:07 PM on September 6, 2009

60 planes. 600 men. In one day, on one mission.

A very good read is On a wing and a Prayer by Harry Crosby- an insider's look at the air war from the viewpoint of the Bloody 100th Bomb Group.

One of the reasons for the 25-mission tour was the cold calculation that your chances were 1 in 4 of not coming back from a mission, and after 25 missions it was not likely you'd be there, so why plan on rations and quarters for you?

posted by pjern at 3:21 PM on September 6, 2009

pjern: It takes nothing away from the bravery of these airmen to correct that the average loss rate per mission was under 5%. The losses from the Schweinfurt raids (particularly the 26% loss rate of the second one that Joel Punches flew) were so shocking that the Army Air Force halted deep penetration raids into Germany until bombers could be escorted to the target and back.

And, of course, even at 5%/mission, your odds of surviving a 25-mission TDY were not good.
posted by mojohand at 6:04 PM on September 6, 2009

That was fascinating to read. My uncle Robert was a navigator on B-17s at about that time, perhaps a bit later because he was around for the Berlin Airlift later.

I'll always remember a dinner in the 70s when he was visiting and the German lady from down the street came for dinner. She'd been a teen-ager living in a German city that he bombed. They were sitting there, a widow and a divorced man, flirting with each other while discussing a bombing raid that they'd both experienced - from opposite sides of teh bombing.
posted by mmahaffie at 6:07 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Excellent post. My grandfather flew recon missions in the Med. He also kept a log/journal, which my grandmother gave to me a few years ago, after his death. I initially intended to transcribe it and save it electronically. You know, for the edification of future generations.

There was, I discovered, remarkably little about any actual combat flying. And I soon came to realize that either my grandmother hadn't ever read its contents, or it was simply a different time, because 90% of the journal covered his time stationed in New York City, where every entry was some variation of, "Went to Stork Club, picked up waitress/hat check girl, woke up hung over." The thing was more Mad Men than Band of Brothers.

Guess they couldn't all be Audie Murphy.
posted by total warfare frown at 6:28 PM on September 6, 2009

From page six.

posted by zippy at 6:39 PM on September 6, 2009

mojohand: You are, of course, correct on your math. I plead sleep deprivation and generally poor math skills when tired.
posted by pjern at 7:17 PM on September 6, 2009

spicynuts: there's a valid moral distinction to be made between folks that signed up to fight a war of resistance against an aggressive nation, and those that stay in service to an aggressive nation.

I may respect the courage of someone that is/has served in any of the invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq, for example, but I reserve the right to dispute their morality.
posted by nonlocal at 7:55 PM on September 6, 2009

From the wikipedia page about the Schweinfurt Raid
General Henry H. Arnold said after the mission:

Regardless of our losses, I'm ready to send replacements of aircraft and crews and continue building up our strength. The opposition isn't nearly what it was, and we are wearing them down. The loss of 60 American bombers in the Schweinfurt raid was incidental.

posted by awfurby at 7:57 PM on September 6, 2009

The thing was more Mad Men than Band of Brothers.

On the other hand, can you blame him?
posted by dirigibleman at 9:10 PM on September 6, 2009

mojohand, check your MeFi Mail.
posted by Rangeboy at 9:39 PM on September 6, 2009

Great to read a first-person account.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:15 PM on September 6, 2009

My grandfather was a B-17 pilot during about the same time period. My dad has transcribed all of his mission journals if anyone would like to read more first-person accounts.
posted by mmoncur at 2:00 AM on September 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

mmoncur, that was amazing! Thanks for putting them out there.
posted by teresci at 5:24 AM on September 7, 2009

Amazing. The log reads in such a matter of fact way, but how did this guys, probably most of them not much older than 20, manage to go back and forth between such incredible stress and near death to going to dances? And thanks mmoncur for sharing your family's history. I would love to meet one of these people.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:15 AM on September 7, 2009

most of them not much older than 20

I think that is the answer to your question, in fact.
posted by Rumple at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2009

« Older Choosing Thomas   |   the consumption renews the appetite Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments