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  • WWII Bombers on Tour

    Posted by David Foster on October 6th, 2006 (All posts by )

    The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom Tour is now in progress. B-17 and B-24 bombers, joined in some locations by a B-25, are now visiting airports throughout the northeast and mid-atlantic states. You can visit the airplanes for a small donation, and for a substantially larger donation, you can actually take a ride! If the tour is coming to an airport near you, these planes are well worth seeing. Schedule here.

    As a corrective to any excessive glamorization of WWII air combat, I recommend the air force poems of Randall Jarrell, a major American poet who served in the Army Air Forces during that conflict.

    Here is Death of the Ball Turret Gunner:

    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.

    The above is probably Jarrell’s best-known work, but there are many more poems derived from his WWII experiences. One of the most haunting is A Front (as in “cold front”), which begins:

    Fog over the base: the beams ranging
    From the five towers pull home from the night
    The crews cold in fur, the bombers banging
    Like lost trucks down the levels of the ice.

    (One of the bombers has lost half of its radio equipment: it can transmit, but cannot receive…and thereby, has lost its navigation as well as its communications, since it cannot receive the signals from the electronic navigation stations (“the beams ranging from the five towers”) which were to guide it home. Those on the ground can hear the bomber crew, but their attempts to help are lost in the void.)

    And here’s an excerpt from Losses:

    In bombers named for girls, we burned
    The cities we had learned about in school–
    Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
    The people we had killed and never seen.
    When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;
    When we died they said, “Our casualties were low.”

    They said, “Here are the maps”; we burned the cities.

     

    7 Responses to “WWII Bombers on Tour”

    1. Fred the Fourth Says:

      There is certainly no need to romanticize the experiences of the crews of those aircraft, to at least begin to appreciate their experiences. I defy anyone to crawl through the amazingly cramped interior of a B17, and not wonder at the dedication that kept those men functioning, in the dark, in the high altitude chill, in the knowledge of the deaths of their fellows.

    2. Lex Says:

      If you cannot make it to the airshow, here is a sample of what you would have seen.

      Agreed, no need to romanticize the bombers or their crews. But we should respect the courage and sacrifice, and the amazing achievement of the hundreds of thousands of people who built the American aircraft industry from virtually nothing in 1940 to a giant complex which blackened the skies with planes by 1944.

    3. Ralf Goergens Says:

      B-17 and B-24 bombers

      What, no He 277s or Ju 390s?

    4. LotharBot Says:

      Since the Collings Foundation is an American Transportation Heritage group (with an extensive US-made auto collection to go with their American aircraft collection) they’re only flying American aircraft. No German, British, Russian, or Japanese aircraft, despite the fact that their pilots and crew were every bit as courageous in serving their respective countries.

      If you’d like to see a wonderful display of WWII fighters from various countries, along with the stories of those who fought on all sides, come visit Seattle and swing by the Museum of Flight – Personal Courage Wing.

    5. Lex Says:

      Actually, I think Ralf is making a rather subtle joke. The aircraft he references, like the B-17 and B-24, were large strategic bombers. However, unlike them, they never became operational, or only in very small numbers. Unlike the British and Americans, the Germans in World War II never created a true strategic bomber force.

    6. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Actually, I think Ralf is making a rather subtle joke. The aircraft he references, like the B-17 and B-24, were large strategic bombers. However, unlike them, they never became operational, or only in very small numbers. Unlike the British and Americans, the Germans in World War II never created a true strategic bomber force.

      Lex, thanks, but I’m not quite that subtle. :)

      I named those bombers because they were for strategic purposes, but wasn’t going for a double entendre. :)

      Btw, Hermann Göring simply was incapable of thinking strategically, so there never would have been a German strategic bomber force, even if the war had gone much better for Nazi Germany as it really did.

    7. Lex Says:

      It was not just Goering. The German high command could not think beyond “short, sharp” wars in Western and Central Europe. Once they got into the vastness of Russia and the Atlantic, they were lost. They did not have the capacity to think in terms of “strategic” distances or magnitudes or the tools needed to win in that larger arena. A very large modern submarine force and a large fleet of heavy, long-range bombers might have defeated Britain. They Germans had nothing in place to handle Britain, and they were scratching their heads and extemporizing by the Summer of 1940. As to the USSR, the USA — those behemoths were beyond Germany’s capability from the start.