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From my field of vision out of the radio room hatch, I could see from three o'clock...

 

around past six o'clock to nine o'clock level, on up to an unlimited high. Flying behind and just slightly above us was our group's high Squadron at about five-thirty o'clock. No sooner had the warning about the fighters hit my ears than I saw bright strike flashes on the leading edge of the wing of the No. 3 ship, to the high Squadron leader's left. It was from attacking fighters coming through the front of our group formation! Then I saw an FW-190 flash by, diving for the deck at four o'clock. My adrenaline began pumping and I thought, "This is real stuff. They're shooting to kill!" The escorting P-47s which I saw crisscrossing high above earlier were nowhere around now. I got real alert at my .50-caliber.

From “Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer, B-17s over Germany” by Brian D. O'neill.



The radio operator's desk in the middle section of the B-17. The two gauges on the right are duplicates of gauges on the navigator's desk and were used to assist the navigator in his duties by the radio operator. A period microphone sits on the desk in the center of the frame while the main radio equipment is in the upper right.

The radio operator was located just behind the bomb bay and just in front of the waist section of the Flying Fortress. He had far more responsibilities than just manning the main radio gear for the aircraft however. Up until the later models of the B-17G, the radio operator had a .50 caliber machine gun located in the ceiling of his compartment that faced the rear of the aircraft. It was found that this was the least effective gun position on the aircraft since the majority of fighter attacks came from the front. Once fighter activity lessened during the latter half of the war, this gun was removed. The radio operator primarily assisted the navigator. He had a couple instruments that duplicated those of the navigator that gave heading information. He could forward radio fixes, known as position reports, to the navigator. These fixes could come off of homing beacons or even radio stations. As long as the navigator knew where the radio signal was coming from, based upon the heading of the signal from the radio operator, the navigator could get a fix on where the aircraft was (though granted he would need more information than just one radio fix).

More radio gear on the right hand side of the aircraft. Also notice the small windows for letting in light and allowing the radio operator to see events going on around him to assist him in his mission log.

The radio operator would monitor the group frequencies to find out any changes to the flight plan. If the lead plane decided to switch to a secondary target or if a plane fell out of formation, the radio operator would record the message over the group channel and pass the information on to the pilot. Also, the radio operator could switch the pilot's intercom mike from intercom to radio so that the pilot could broadcast to other planes in the formation. Because of this, the radio operator along with the navigator was one of the best record keepers on the aircraft. They logged all radio events and as much of what they could see going on around them as possible. They would note which planes went down, when and where, along with the number of chutes seen to come from the plane. The radio operators were usually one of the first ones to tend to a wounded crewmember, especially if the aircraft was under attack from enemy fighters. They usually had flare pistols in the radio room as well so that they could signal other aircraft when formations were forming (in the case of a lead ship) or that there were wounded on board when the plane was returning to base. The radio operator also had a clear view of the bomb bay and could check the area for damage or a hung bomb when the aircraft came off the target.

Later on during the war, the radio operator might be joined by a RADAR operator if the plane was a pathfinding aircraft. Also, when chaff was introduced in combat to fool enemy Anti-Aircraft Artillery RADAR, it was the radio operator's responsibility to dispense the chaff when over the target area. This was done using a chute installed in the radio room for this purpose. The large bundles of chaff would be wrapped up for transportation prior to being released. The radio operator would unbind the chaff bundle and release it out the chute. Sometimes the radio operator might forget to undo the bundle and send a large bail of chaff through the formation.

Like the rest of the rear crew the radio operator was an enlisted man, usually a Sergeant or higher.

 

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