This B-17 met a head-on attack by three Focke Wulf Fw 190 fighters. The gunners exploded two of them, and the top turret poured a stream of shells into the cockpit of the third. With a dead man at the controls, the fighter screamed in, and at a closing speed of 550 miles per hour smashed head-on into the number-three engine.
The tremendous impact of the crash tore off the propeller. It knocked the heavy bomber completely out of formation as though a giant hand has swatted a fly. The fighter cartwheeled crazily over the B-17.
It cut halfway through the wing, and then sliced a third of the way through the horizontal stabilizer. The top and ball turrets immediately jammed, the radio equipment was smashed to wreckage, and all the instruments “went crazy.” Pieces of metal from the exploding, disintegrating Focke Wulf tore through the fuselage, and a German gun barrel buried itself in the wall between the radio room and the bomb bay.
Crews of nearby bombers watched the collision. They saw a tremendous explosion, and the bomber hurtling helplessly out of control, tumbling as she fell. They reported when they returned to base that the Flying Fortress had blown up, and that the crew must be considered dead.
The old Queen hadn’t blown up, and the crew was far from dead. The pilots struggled wildly in the cockpit, and somehow between them, managed to bring their careening bomber back under control. The gunners shot down a fourth fighter that had closed in to watch the proceedings.
And then they brought her all the way back to England, and scraped her down for a belly landing on the runway.
Postscript: not a man was injured.—Martin Caidin, Black Thursday