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Face of Defense: B-52 Tail-gunner Recalls MiG Downing

The B-52 Stratofortress bomber known as "Diamond Lil" sits near the north entrance of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Dec. 23, 2010. Diamond Lil's tail gunner, Air Force Airman 1st Class Albert Moore, shot down a North Vietnamese MiG fighter aircraft Dec. 24, 1972. Diamond Lil came to the academy after it was decommissioned in 1983. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
The B-52 Stratofortress bomber known as "Diamond Lil" sits near the north entrance of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Dec. 23, 2010. Diamond Lil's tail gunner, Air Force Airman 1st Class Albert Moore, shot down a North Vietnamese MiG fighter aircraft Dec. 24, 1972. Diamond Lil came to the academy after it was decommissioned in 1983. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
 

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Don Branum
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo., Dec. 27, 2010 - If the landmarks here could speak, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber sitting near the academy's north gate would have quite a Vietnam War story to tell.

The crew of the "Diamond Lil," a B-52D, tail number 55-083, took off from Utapao Royal Thai Naval Airfield on Christmas Eve in 1972. The crew's mission was to bomb the North Vietnamese railroad yards at Thai Nguyen as part of Operation Linebacker II, which took place Dec. 18 to 29, 1972.

However, the Diamond Lil's crew faced enemy air power. A North Vietnamese MiG-21 raced to intercept the B-52. The bomber's tail gunner, Airman 1st Class Albert Moore, noticed the MiG's approach.

"I observed a target in my radar scope 8:30 o'clock, low at eight miles," Moore wrote six days later in his statement of claim for enemy aircraft destroyed. "I immediately notified the crew, and the 'bogie' started closing rapidly. It stabilized at 4,000 yards, 6:30 o'clock. I called the pilot for evasive action and the [electronic warfare officer] for chaff and flares.

"When the target got to 2,000 yards, I notified the crew that I was firing. I fired at the bandit until it ballooned to three times in intensity then suddenly disappeared from my radar scope at approximately 1,200 yards, 6:30 low. I expended 800 rounds in three bursts."

Another gunner aboard the B-52, Tech. Sgt. Clarence Chute, verified Moore's kill in his report.

"I went visual and saw the 'bandit' on fire and falling away," Chute wrote. "Several pieces of the aircraft exploded, and the fireball disappeared in the under-cast at my 6:30 position."

Moore's kill is one of only two confirmed kills by a B-52D in the Vietnam War and the last confirmed kill by a tail gunner in wartime using machine guns.

Following the MiG kill, Moore wrote, "On the way home I wasn't sure whether I should be happy or sad. You know, there was a guy in that MiG. I'm sure he would have wanted to fly home too. But it was a case of him or my crew. I'm glad it turned out the way it did. Yes, I'd go again. Do I want another MiG? No, but given the same set of circumstances, yes, I'd go for another one." Moore died in 2009 at age 55.

Linebacker II brought the North Vietnamese government back to the negotiating table after earlier talks had broken down. A month after the campaign, North Vietnam and the United States signed a ceasefire agreement.

Diamond Lil continued serving long after the end of the Vietnam War. In all, the aircraft flew more than 15,000 hours and more than 200 combat missions between its commissioning in 1957 and its decommissioning in 1983. It came to the Air Force academy shortly after it was decommissioned.

[I'd note that A1C Moore was 18 at the time he shot down the MiG.  I'd also note the Diamond Lil entered service (so to speak) the same time I did...  we were both born the same year.  She served longer than I, however.  And is probably in better shape now than I am, too! -the Armorer]

17 Comments

We've got another B-52 here at Fairchild AFB with a red star below the tail gunner's position.  I'll see what I can find out about her.
 
LTC D was an EW on B-52's during my formative years, the annual party he threw for the gunners in the squadron was legendary.  That's how I learned to properly tap a keg...at age 5. 
 
Ref the B-52 at Fairchild AFB- On 18 December 1972, tail gunner SSgt Samuel O. Turner's B-52 had just completed a bomb run for Operation Linebacker II and was turning away when a North Vietnamese Air Force MiG-21 approached. The MiG and the B-52 locked onto one another. When the fighter drew within range, Turner fired his quad .50 caliber machine guns. The MiG exploded aft of the bomber, a victory confirmed by MSG Lewis E. Le Blance, the tail gunner in a nearby Stratofortress. Turner received a Silver Star for his actions. His B-52, tail number 55-0676, is preserved on display with air-to-air kill markings at Fairchild AFB.
 
Ref the B-52 at Fairchild AFB-

On 18 December 1972, tail gunner SSgt Samuel O. Turner's B-52 had just completed a bomb run for Operation Linebacker II and was turning away when a North Vietnamese Air Force MiG-21 approached. The MiG and the B-52 locked onto one another. When the fighter drew within range, Turner fired his quad .50 caliber machine guns. The MiG exploded aft of the bomber, a victory confirmed by MSG Lewis E. Le Blance, the tail gunner in a nearby Stratofortress. Turner received a Silver Star for his actions. His B-52, tail number 55-0676, is preserved on display with air-to-air kill markings at Fairchild AFB.
 
Did Moore do it all by radar? Inquiring nerds want to know.
 
That's not long after I turned 21, when he shot that airplane down. Which was not George Jackson.
 
JTG - The B-52D model was the last variant to have the tail gunner position acutally in the tail.  He had a rear facing glass cockpit.  However, the guns could be either manually trained or slaved to radar.  From his account, I would say he was using his radar.  Later models had the gunner postion in the main cockpit and the gunner was just playing a video game from then on.  After the 1st Gulf War, since the other side put up no air-to-air resistance to speak of, the USAF modified the remaining BUFFs in active service by removing the tail gun altogether and replacing it with a big a$$ EW suite.

BTW, the "H" had a 20mm M-61A1 gatling gun instead of the quad 50s of all previous models.
 
Never knew that any OPFOR had been greased by the BUF's tail guns!  Too cool for words.
 
Apropos of very little, there's a B-24 Liberator, still flying under that same name, Diamond 'Lil, in the Commemorative Air Force. (Cargo variant, however)
 
Cargo variant?

All bombers fly cargo.

Some just land with it still on board, rather than offloaded in mid-flight...
 
 Explosive cargo...
 
Wasn't the B29 converted to passenger liners after the war?  The old bomb bay were converted to a lick'r bar, and were called what else: The Bomb Bay.
 
 I never heard that Boq. Boeing did build a passenger variant. IIRC, it was the first pressurized passenger AC.

I didn't know there was a cargo variant of the Liberator. There was a tanker version that saw use in the CBI.

The way the gear was retracted in a B-24 could cause some problems because of gyroscopic forces caused by the still rotating rollers. As a result the co-pilot would usually brake the wheels before retraction. A tanker version was launching with a full load and the co-pilot braked just prior to breaking with the ground. The crew then did an impromptu test of the off-runway capability of a tanker full of avgas. The experiment was a total failure.
 
Dunno about bars in B-29's, but I do know of an instance of several hundred cases of San Miguel stored on plywood and pallets in the bay of a B-52...subsequently scuttled off of the coast of California when the flight crew received word that customs was awating their arrival.  One of the few times I ever saw LTC D cry.
 
My lovely bride was kind enough to allow me to drag her to the Academy on our honeymoon and I took a few shots of "Diamond Lil", among other things. You can see the MIG silhouette in this shot: www.flickr.com/photos/reknight/3392295953/in/set-72157615946679859/lightbox/

Wonderful woman that she is also allowed me to detour south to visit the Castle on our way home as well. Any wonder why I married her?

 
Castle Argghhh! is a well-known (in certain, select circles) honeymoon destination: a combination bed-and-breakfast, dude ranch, and shooting range.  With a small museum.
 
 Perhaps you should place an ad in Bride magazine. Plan a second amendment honeymoon. You'll make money hand over fist.