WWII Veteran talks about being a Gunner on the B-17
At the Palm Springs Air Museum there are veterans that show you all of the exhibits. This photo was taken inside of a fully-restored B-17 bomber.
A few things I learned:
* The crew had electrically-warmed suits that plugged into the plane
* The crew all had oxygen masks because the plane had huge open windows and could not be pressurized.
* Everyone could wear their parachute at all times except for the guy in the belly turret -- his was just above the turret.
* The pilot had to be the last guy to bail out if the plane was going down (he had to try and keep the plane steady for the other guys to get out)
* Attacking fighter planes would try to come at the bomber head-on and hit the pilots or the engines
* Enlisted men were gunners
* The waist gunners did not sit down during the flight
* The electrical system was powered by a little gas generator (a "putt putt") during take-off. Then that was turned off and the main engines serviced as generators during the flight.
* It was extremely cold during the flight, and no skin was exposed to the air.
* The oxygen masks' tubes would ice up often, so to breathe, the crew would have to squeeze and shake their oxygen tubes to loosen the ice.
* The shortest enlisted man in the crew would be the guy that went into the belly turret.
* When the bombers would take off from the UK for German bombing runs, it was dark out, so to get into formation, each plane would send color-coded flares into the air to help everyone find their formation group. There would be 10,000 people in the air at one time and that could take two hours to pass a single point. Imagine being a German civilian, watching bombers fly overhead for two hours straight.
* The front and rear of the plane was separated by the bomb bay area. Nobody walked into that area unless a bomb needed to be kicked loose or some other malfunction happened.
* The pilot and co-pilot would alternate flying in 15 minute shifts.
* The belly gunner would stand up in the main cabin during take-off and landing.
* If the radio failed, the radio operator could use a signal light that was mounted outside the plane.
* Each machine gun used tracers every fifth round. So gunners would fire small bursts to make sure they were firing in the right spot.
* The crew did not put up photos or decorate the inside of the planes usually. That energy was reserved for their bunks.
* On days that the crew was going to fly a real mission, they would get actual eggs instead of powdered eggs for breakfast.
* Today, two men in a stealth bomber with guided bombs can do roughly the same as what 10,000 men did in the air in WWII.