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he rumble of the four 750 HP engines in the B-17F is deafening. Even with an electrically heated suit, shearling, and protective leather, the temperature in the cabin, in front of the wide-open gunner window, is at freezing point. His hands are numb. Partly from the icy cold wind, partly from the constant fear. Frostbite is setting in on this seemingly never-ending 1.200-mile round-trip over France. The cargo is 3000 pounds of bombs. The suffocating, cramped, and claustrophobic space inside the machine juxtaposes the vast expanse outside the plane. The clouds surrounding the steel body are providing little protection against the anti-aircraft guns on the ground. Searching, tracing, tracking, and firing. The barrage is shattering, constant, and relentless. 

Suddenly, he registers movement. He sees an enemy plane cross the path of his field of view. He forcefully rotates the large AN/M2 Browning, 50 cal machine gun as the “endless belt” packed with bullets responds and turns. His breathing inside the uncomfortable oxygen mask gets laboured and he is trying to locate and aim the sight at the target. The 60-pound, slipstream air-cooled gun, with its cyclic rate of 600-800 rounds per. minute sends red-hot empty casings spewing inside the cabin. A total of 13 of these are mounted in the B-17F. All gunners have the same objective. Defend the plane itself and its precious cargo until the drop. 

Sketch of a waist gunner in action, created by the famous artist Howard Brodie.
Courtesy of Library of Congress (


At the centre of the photo below sits US waist gunner S/Sgt. D.W. Dailey, of Youngstown, Ohio, having a Cup o’ Joe and a sandwich, along with the rest of the crew of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber crew “We Dood It” while awaiting mission debriefing. 

Scan of original developed photo restored & hand-coloured

Photo shows: – One of the crew of “We Dood It”, waist gunner S/Sgt. D.W. Dailey, of Youngstown, Ohio, tucks into coffee and sandwiches whilst waiting to be interrogated after the mission. And. January 1st 1944 PN”.
Courtesy of Peter Deleuran &

The US Army Air Force stated that a total of 25 missions flown was required to complete the ‘Tour of Duty’ for anyone serving in a heavy bomber. It was an estimate based on what could be expected by the men, due to the very heavy “physical and mental strain”. It seemed a near-impossible task, but nonetheless gave everyone the idea – or at least the illusion – of having a finish line in sight. 

Combat losses were extremely high for the bomber crews. Statistically, across the duration of the whole war, a staggering 51% of aircrews were KIA, 12% were killed in non-operational incidents and a further 13% ended up as POWs. Only 24% survived the war unscathed, a one in four chance of survival. Furthermore, gunners and waist gunners, in particular, were the most likely of all positions in the plane, to end up KIA or as POWs, mainly due to their exposed position in the open gunner window.

While FLAK (FliegerAbwehrKanone or Aircraft Defence Cannons) were very feared, the biggest threat to the big bomber planes were the enemy fighters. It was not until late in 1943, that the B-17s had long-range fighter escorts accompanying them for protection, so the only protection available was the onboard gunners such as our man, S/Sgt. Dailey.  

Scan of original sleeve

American heavy bombers in strong force carried out dawn-to-dusk raids on german targets in France in widespread missions that ranged from attacks on two Paris ball-bearing factories to the Chateau Bernard airfield, near Bordeaux – a round trip of more than 1.200 miles. Chateau Bernard is a base for planes working with U-boats in the sea war. More than 1.000 sorties were made by Allied bombers and fighters, keeping up the blasting of the “secret weapon” coast of Northern France. Only one plane is missing from the day’s operations. Photo shows: – One of the crew members of “We Dood It”, waist gunner S/Sgt. D.W. Dailey, of Youngstown, Ohio, tucks into coffee and sandwiches whilst waiting to be interrogated after the mission. And. January 1st 1944 PN”.
Courtesy of Peter Deleuran &

A photo that has been passed by the censor for publication.
Courtesy of Peter Deleuran &

Scan of original developed photo passed by the censor

Psychologically, the pressure was immense and many suffered from severe combat stress. Some were even singled out by command and were labelled “LMF – meaning ‘Lack of Moral Fibre’ – and quickly removed from their stations so as to not affect other aircrews”.

D.W. Dailey, serial number 15323977, enlisted in Ft. Hayes, Columbus, Ohio on the 3rd of November 1942. He was from Youngstown, Mahoning County in Ohio, where he had been born in 1910. He was enlisted at the age of 32 as a Private for the duration of the war plus six months, subject to discretion. His army records show that he was a single man with 4 years of High School education and had the civilian occupation designation (006). This meant that he worked either as an author, editor, or reporter.

He was assigned to the 547th Bomb Squadron, a unit of the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) on January 27,  1943. He rose through the ranks and became Sergeant on the 1st of April 1943.

During the period from 7 September 1943 to 18 April 1944, D.W. Dailey flew a total of 26 combat missions as a Flexible (Waist) Gunner and was awarded the Good Conduct Medal on 15 January 1944. On the 11th of March 1944, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant (S/Sgt).

The Mission

On 31st of December 1943, the B-17F “We Dood It”, with the official designation B-17F42-5444 JD*N, flew the 384th Bombardment Groups mission #48:

Courtesy of (

As the Sortie Report shows, the target was a blockade runner ship by the name “Orsone”. It was located at the mouth of the River Garonne in France. Her cargo was crude rubber, and she had already received one hit during a previous mission on the 24th of December. She had run aground near La Rochelle and intel suggested that the very valuable war-effort cargo was being discharged by lighters (a type of barge). It was important to prevent this in time.

Photo of “We Dood It”, with Father Billy, blessing the men and the machine before the mission
Courtesy of (

At 0807 hours, 22 planes took off, flying low group in the combat wing, with the group led by Captain Frink in “We Dood It”. They left the English Coast at 1002 hours, at an altitude of 9,300 feet. They were behind the wing for most of the journey, flying at a cruising speed of 160 mph.

Group Formation (FRINK 444 in front). Courtesy of (

Supporting P-38 Lockheed planes were to sweep the area before the heavy bombers would enter and P-51 Mustang fighter escorts were supposed to accompany the wing on withdrawal. Neither of them were observed. No enemy fighters nor flak/anti-aircraft guns engaged the formation, but fire directed at other formations was clearly observed.

Below is a picture of the flight path in the Navigator’s part of the Mission Report. Notice the deviation from the scheduled flight plan (in red), to the flown path (in green):

Courtesy of (

Due to extremely poor visibility, the formation was unable to acquire both its primary and secondary target and was forced to return without even engaging. The cloud cover was recorded as respectively 10/10 and 8/10 over the designated areas. (Zero being clear and ten being completely overcast).

The bombers allegedly dropped most of the bombs in the English Channel, but the formal mission report states that LT. Price, Pilot of A/C 444 “We Dood It”, landed at Kimbolton with his entire bomb load of 6 x 500 GPs (General Purpose Bomb weighing 500 pounds, or 227 kg) and safely returned to base. 

Statistical errors

The 22 planes that took off carried a total of 192, 500lb bombs. Nineteen were reportedly dropped on the target. (Later in the report the number of aircraft attacking the target is zero, and in the mission report it states no bombs were in fact ever released on any targets). Seventy-eight were jettisoned in the English Channel and 84 bombs were returned to the base. Only six 500lb GPs were “unaccounted for”. 

If you do some quick math, you will see it only adds up to 187 GPs, meaning a further 5 x 500 pounds were missing, making it a total of 11 missing (notwithstanding the 19 supposed target hits). 

In short, 5.72% of the original bombs loaded were unaccounted for, or 5500lb (or 2497 KG) of explosives used, with no record of their whereabouts. If you count the “supposed hits”, that would make it a total of 15,000lb (or 6803 KG) unaccounted for. A staggering amount of incendiaries gone AWOL, especially considering this is only one mission! Easy to understand why 75 years later, unexploded bombs are still surfacing. 

Several other statistical inconsistencies and human errors in the highly-detailed reports truly bear witness to the extent of the pressure these men were under – physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

The constant, debilitating fatigue and intense stress meant they were often incapable of performing basic forms of addition and subtraction or processing simple information. Imagine adding that strain to the ongoing combat dangers, weather issues, and the expectancy of success.

While the mission brief was not fulfilled by “We Dood it”, the other mission target of Chateaubernard Airfield was engaged by the remaining formations who had better luck with the visibility. 

Mentioned in this detailed report here:  “Cognac (a.k.a. Cognac-Châteaubernard) (45 39 35 N – 00 19 00 W) was an airfield in West France 98 km north of Bordeaux. It was under construction as a major French military airfield when the Germans occupied it in the summer of 1940. The Luftwaffe finished it off during the second half of 1941 for use as an alternate field for large aircraft based at Bordeaux-Merignac. In 1942 it became a training base for bombers, fighters, and fighter bombers. On 31 Dec 43: bombed by c. 192 B-17 Fortresses and B-24 Liberators – East/West runway knocked out, landing area cratered at the northern end and numerous bursts observed on the hangars at the Northwest corner that destroyed 8 of them and severely damaged the remaining one, on the admin buildings, on the refueling loop on the North boundary and in the Southeast dispersal”.

A B-17 of the 8th Air Force bombing the Focke-Wulf factory.  (Copyright free photo).

Weather factors

While some missions, like the one above, were successful, it is clear after the account of the failed mission to bomb the “Orsone”, that low visibility was a huge and constantly recurring problem. The majority of missions flown in the European Theatre, specifically from England and over Germany, were done under terrible weather conditions. As a direct result, later surveys show that only approximately 20% of dropped bombs, actually fell within the designated target area. In comparison, the Pacific Theatre had about 31% success. In numerous of the 26 missions D.W. Dailey participated in, targets had to be aborted, simply due to bad weather. 

The weather was also the only reason for Dailey to ever jump out of a plane. Returning on a mission on October 14, 1943, over Deenethorpe, England, terrible weather forced the entire crew of “Windy City Avenger”, to bail out and let the plane crash, as they were unable to find suitable landing grounds.

On January 30, 1944, one month after the attempt on “Orsone”, “We Dood It” went on her last flight. During the 384th BG mission #56, she was attacked by several of the Luftwaffe’s feared FW190s fighter aircraft. Under attack and bursting with flames, the crew still managed to continue and drop their bombs on the target before finally crashing in Minden, Germany. Three of the ten crew members managed to bail, but the other seven were killed instantly. Read further here in the Missing Air Crew Report #2263, for the accounts of the three that survived as POWs in the Dulag Luft prison camp. 

Luckily for Dailey, on that very day, he was assigned as a gunner on a different plane named “Patches II/Spotted Cow” that never managed to take off.  

While Dailey’s participation in the “Orsone” mission had been rather uneventful, earlier mission reports mention his plane heavily engaging with enemy fighters, such as this 384th mission #30

Fifteen fighters attacked at 1035 for ten minutes, halfway through Denmark, but no fighters or flak from there to target. After leaving the target, JU-88s, ME’s, and FW-190s attacked for two hours. Flew too close to Rostock and its heavy intense flak on way home. Thirty minutes after the two-hour attack ended, 60 miles off the Frisian Islands, FW-190s attacked the wing following the 41st wing. Low clouds forced the group up so that it came home apart from the other groups”. 

At the end of the official press sleeve, the words “secret weapon” are used without explanation. The ‘secret weapon’ was of course Hitler’s V1 missile sites.

On the 14th and 21st of January 1944, Dailey was part of the NOBALL V1-site and Operation Crossbow missions. Dailey was also active during the Big Week/Operation Argument. (Read more about these in the links).

S/Sgt. D.W. Dailey’s last duty date was on the 18th of April 1944. After completing his tour and his 26 missions as a waist gunner, he returned safely to the US. Remarkably, he was never once injured. 

Of the 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped over Germany during the war, 640.000 tons – more than one-third – were dropped from B-17s.

12.731 B-17s were built, 4.754 were lost during the war, and a mere 50 are left today.

As a final testament to the 384th Bomb Squad and its incredible tenacity (and good spirits), the Group Deputy CO, “Major Mac”, crash-landed in Holland in 1943 and was taken prisoner. Not long after, the HQ received a postcard written by “Major Mac” and sent from Germany. It plainly stated: “KEEP THE SHOW ON THE ROAD!”. This became the 384th Group’s motto and still is today, as the official badge shows.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State, 

And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze. 

Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, 

I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters. 

When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose”. 

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