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July 16, 2004

Theirs was a lonely war...

...though oddly enough, one of the safer overall positions on the B-17 was the ball turret. The gunner could not raise or lower the turret himself - other crewmen had to do it. The obvious problems being getting out when the bomber is shot down - or if the turret is stuck and the bird has to make a gears-up landing. Being the pilot who had to make that decsion would have given me nightmares for life. The bomber crews suffered 10% casualties during the war - the highest percentage of any overall branch. Knowing the nature of men at war, it makes me wonder how many men died who might have lived... except that they stayed with the aircraft as it was falling, trying desperately to get the turret up so the ball gunner could jump, too.

As ever, click the pic for a high-res view.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
by Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Update: The Heartless Libertarian is right - I confused the B-17 ball turret with the B-24 and the B-25. My bad! The B-17 turret does not retract. It had to be rotated to let the gunner out, and unless he was teeny tiny, he couldn't wear a parachute.

While I was out checking, I came across this - the diary of a ball turret gunner.

I don't mind a little fact-checking. If I did, I'd have banned CPT H long ago!