began to test fire my gun...
see if it would work. I fired a few rounds and it jammed. I looked
out and saw an ME109
coming in a sideward sweeping motion
about 900 yards away. I was very sick, my gun was jammed and an enemy
fighter was attacking. I had to do something fast since the other
guns on our ship were engaged with other enemy fighters and my gun
was the only one that could be trained on the fighter. I was very
scared and gagging and I knew that it would be fatal to pick up the
cover of my gun and attempt to fix it. Jerry can easily see with
open waist windows and he knows when something is wrong. Then I
only thing there was to do and it later proved successful. I waved
my gun up and down and back and forth as if I was tracking him. Other
guns on our ship were firing at the time and I guess he thought I
was firing at him because he turned off his main course enough to
miss us but not before I had seen the red flare and black rings of
smoke from his 20 mms. [cannon].
Aerial Combat in the ETO. My Lucky Thirty by S/Sgt. Earl G. Williamson
with any of the gunners aboard a B-17, the waist gunners primary
duty was to look for and defend against enemy fighters. There were quite
a few things that impaired his ability to do so, however. In all the
models of the B-17 except the G, both waist gunners were
directly opposite one another. This made maneuvering inside the tight
confined of the aircraft difficult. Many times the gunners would bump
into one another causing poor aim. This also led to another major problem
at high altitude, lack of oxygen. Often the gunners would accidentally
unplug one another from the plane's oxygen system. If this went un-noticed
during combat, the affected gunner would first get dizzy then pass out.
If oxygen was not restored quickly, he would turn black and die from
anoxia, a lack of oxygen.
waist gun on B-17G Sentimental Journey
worst problem about the waist position was not fear of loosing
oxygen, rather it was frostbite. Until the G model, waist
windows on the B-17 were open to a 200 mph, 50 below zero, slipstream
of air. Exposure to this extremely cold air for even a few seconds
could leave one with a mild case of frostbite. To battle this enemy, waist
gunners wore layers of heavy clothing and an electrically heated
suit. However this equipment had to be put on before reaching the
and, while the aircraft was climbing, the waist gunners had to be
careful not to sweat because the sweat would freeze once the higher
were reached making their task even more miserable. This cold would
also cause ice to form in the oxygen masks of the gunners. This had
to be cleared frequently as it would block oxygen flow if went unchecked.
other problems faced waist gunners. The first of these two was attempting
to actually hit a German aircraft. It did not take the Germans long
to figure out that the best way to attack a Fortress was from dead ahead.
If he chose even to come in from 11:00 or 1:00 Oclock, positions
just to the left and right of directly in front, the fighter would come
under attack by more guns than if he were to attack head on. As such,
the waist gunners soon found themselves only able to get off short bursts
as the enemy aircraft zoomed past the formation. Another thing that
made it difficult to hit a German aircraft was the fact that the gunners
had to manhandle the large .50 cal. machine guns in a 200 mph. slipstream.
Waist gunners had to fight the guns themselves to try and aim at fighters
coming in from the front half of the formation. This problem was later
solved by adding a power assisted mount to the waist gunner positions
in the B-17G. There was one other factor that lead to the difficulty
of downing an enemy plane. The sights of the .50 cal. machine guns in
the waist were aimed with a ball and ring sight. This meant that if
the gunner was not looking through the sight at exactly the proper angle,
his aim would be off. Only the top turret gunner and ball gunner had
computing sights that allowed the gunners aim to be correct regardless
of the gunners position in regards to his sight. Later, in the G
model, the waist gunners along with the bombardier and tail gunner would
also have these computing sights at their positions.
through the "ball-in-ring" gun sight on a B-17G Waist gun. Here you
can also see the powered pivot just below and to the left of the
The last problem that faced not just waist gunners, but all crewmembers
on the B-17, was stress. Even if not a single enemy aircraft actually
fired upon the plane, the gunners were always anticipating the next
attack. Sometimes it was more stressful to wait to be attacked than
actually being under attack. The suspense was almost harder to endure
than the heat of battle.
top of his duties as gunner, the waist gunners also had other jobs.
They would call out fighter positions so that other gunners knew where
to expect the next attack and so that the navigator could log the number
of enemy aircraft that attacked the formation in his log. The waist
gunners would also call out any enemy fighters that were believed to
be damaged or destroyed, B-17s that went down and the number of chutes
seen to come from these falling bombers. This was done for the benefit
of the navigator and radio operator so that they could report these
losses at the debriefing. If a crewmember was injured in the aft section
of the plane, it was either a waist gunner or the radio operator who
applied first aid. This was due to three prime factors. One, it was
difficult for anyone in the nose of the aircraft to make his way through
the bomb bay to get to the rear of the aircraft. Second, the radio room
gun was the least effective weapon to down enemy fighters and thus the loss of his added firepower was minimal. Lastly, if
one of the waist gunners left his position, the other waist gunner could cover both waist guns. Later in the war when the threat of the Luftwaffe had diminished, only one waistgunner would be on the crew.
waist gunners also reported damage to the pilot and would assist the
flight engineer in making repairs to the aircraft while in flight. Usually
this only happened if the damage was very critical or if the aircraft was not under fighter attack.
gunners were enlisted men usually with a rank of Sergeant or higher.