kept watching them bear down,
had a finger on the trigger of each gun. I knew I had the tail-end Charlie position and I couldnt
let them babies sneak up on our formation. The Nazis seemed to
be trying to gauge our speed, finally they got the same altitude
as ours and were right in my sights. I let them get within 300
yards or so. Then I figured, Adam, its time to let go. I
had never seen anything like what happened then, only in the movies.
That Nazis wings came plumb off, busted into bits and he
just burst into a big flame and went trailing down to the clouds.
The tail gunner was perhaps
the most important gunner on the B-17. He protected the rear quater
of the aircraft with twin .50 cal. machine
guns. When enemy fighters first approached the E model B-17, they were
met with a nasty surprise. Enemy pilots gained a healthy respect for
the tail guns. It was this effective position that forced German pilots
to rethink their tactics which lead to them adopting the famous "12
O'Clock" attack, boaring into formations head on at a closeing
speed of over 500 mph!
Tail gunners had a rough existance. Their compartment in the rear
of the plane was one of the tightest, second only to the ball
turret. The gunner sat on a modified bicycle type seat in a kneeling
position for the majority of the mission. The tail was drafty and the
gunner had to constantly battle with fighting off frostbite and clearing
the windows of frost.
gunner possition on B-17G Sentimental Journey. This is a late model
G with the Cheyanne Tail Turret. Earlier models had a pivot mount
for the rear guns. The gunner had to fight the weight of the guns
while kneeling on a bicycle seat and this made it hard to be acurate
with the tail guns. The Cheyanne turret gave the guns a greater field
of fire and, with the reflective gun site, more accuracy.
In the earlier models of the B-17, there
was no tail gun possition at all. The idea was that as enemy fighters
came in, the waist gunners, who's guns at that time were in teardrop
bubble canopies, could depress their guns far enough to the rear to
ward off the attack. This was not to be the case. It was soon apparent
with the war raging in Europe that a tail defense would be necessary.
The first option had been a power turret but the B-17 design did not
lend itself to using a rear power turret. The cramped tail gun compartment
was the sollution.
In the E thru early G models, the guns where mounted on a simple
pivot mount in a hole and covered with a canvas bag in the rear of
the fusalage. Cables connected the guns to the pin and rectical sight
that the gunner used to aim with. The one problem with this type of
sight was that the gunner had to maintain a certain referance point
with the sight in order to be accurate. This was no small feat in an
aircraft bouncing around at 30,000 feet bundled up for sub zero temperatures
and wearing an oxygen mask while fighters came at you from every angle.
With the exception for the first few built, the G incorporated the
powered Cheyane tail turret. This turret freed the gunner from fighting
with the guns while also giving the position a greater field of fire.
With this turret also came a reflecting gun sight which did not need
the gunner to keep a referance point with the sight giving him greater
the tail gunner's primary duty was to shoot down enemy planes, the position
carried other duties. With him being the only constantly rear facing
crewmember, he was responsible for passing along anything he saw behind
the aircraft, including fighters, to the rest of the crew. He would
relay information to the bombardier and navigator concerning bombing
results as the formations left the target. He also aided the navigator
and radio operator by counting chutes from B-17s that were going down
and the condition of straglers that were lagging behind the formation.
the tail gunner position was sloted for an enlisted man, sometimes the
possition would be flown by an officer. This was
usually done in lead aircraft where the squadron commander would fly
as pilot and was referred to as the Command Pilot. The aircraft's regular
pilot would be moved to co-pilot and the aircraft's regular co-pilot would be moved to the tail gunner position. The reason the regular co-pilot was
moved back to the tail gunner position instead of leaving the regular
gunner in place was to allow him to use his experiance in formation flying to relay much more detailed information on the condition
of the formation to the pilots. This helped to co-ordinate the formation
and keep it as tight as possible.