It served a double purpose, defense against bow attacks as well as fire suppression and offensive strafing in antisubmarine warfare. For instance if you were a ball turret gunner your life expectancy was three hours. This left him positioned with his eyes roughly level with the pair of light-barrel Browning AN/M2 .50 caliber machine guns which extended through the entire turret, located to either side of the gunner. "A ball turret was a Plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short small man. So, many were tossed out in parachutes, in the hopes that German troops would give them emergency care before shipping them off to P.O.W. On the B17 the turret retracted to allow the gunner to get in or out and was lowered into position when the mission was about to get hot. Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters. Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost's next chapter. The B-17 had two turret gunners-upper and ball. Nothing my father had related to us over the years prepared us for the terrifying reality of his position. From my mother's sleep I fell into the State, And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze. This comparison is very ironic. Ball turrets appeared in the nose and tail as well as the nose of the final series B-24. It wasn't until I was about 9-years-old that I realized the impossibility. 66 years after the crash he still remembers his part of World War II. The B-24 had three-upper, ball and tail. ", My Dad says "I saw the tulips spelling out 'Thank You, Yanks.' A few are still flying today. Ball Turret Gunner. The turret held the gunner, two heavy machine guns, ammunition, and sights. This is a real treasure for anyone interested in the Army air war in Europe told first hand. "I flew my first mission on a B-17 as a ball turret gunner with the 8th Air Force at the age of 21," he tells me while driving me to school one morning. Crews on a B-17, fondly referred to as "The Flying Fortress," flew enemy raids against Nazi Germany from 1942 to 1945. Jarrell compares his place in the Ball Turret to the womb of a mother. Only three ball turret gunners received the Medal of Honor. I was 5' 8" -- a little tall for the turret, but I accepted the assignment, which some deemed as a suicide position," my dad points out. In the case of the B-24, the Liberator's tricycle landing gear design mandated that its A-13 model Sperry ball turret have a fully retractable mount, so that the ball turret would always be retracted upwards into the lower fuselage while the aircraft was on the ground, providing ground clearance with it in the stowed position. Two hundred, ten thousand airmen flew over Europe. The B-24 Liberator was a powerful symbol of US industrial might, with more than 18,000 produced by the war’s end. I wasn't the brightest kid. See much more from Sgt Lester Schrenk! The Death of the Ball Turret gunner In the poem, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, Jerrell uses time, irony and symbolism to depict the life and death of the ball turret gunner. The conventional landing gear of the B-17 meant that the ball turret did not need to be retracted for clearance on the ground, but if the plane was required to do a belly landing (such as in the case of landing gear system failure), the ball turret would likely be destroyed due to the lack of clearance, meaning anyone occupying the turret would be in a precarious position if unable to escape. And often did. Ball Turret Gunners on B-17 bombers were protected only by a glass bubble jutting out from the bowels of the plane. A ball turret was a spherical-shaped, altazimuth mount gun turret, fitted to some American-built aircraft during World War II. By that time, thousands of airmen had perished over the skies of Europe. Thirty-five hundred were shot down over Europe. The first gunner in any position to spot an enemy plane alerted the rest of the crew via the plane's intercom system. "The first in/The last out The name arose from the turret's spherical housing. Ball Turret Gunners on B-17 bombers were protected only by a glass bubble jutting out from the bowels of the plane. Airman in the bubble were hunched over almost in a fetal position, knees up to chin, machine gun controls inches away. There was no room inside for a parachute, which was left in the cabin above the turret. CALL OF DUTY: WWIIhttps://store.playstation.com/#!/en-us/tid=CUSA05969_00 A shadow box belonging to Luis Perrone, a B-17 ball turret gunner with the 533rd Bomb Squadron during World War II, at his home in Edgewater, Maryland. The life expectancy of the servicemen depended on the job position the service person had. He completed 32 bombing missions over western Europe, represented by the five bronze oak leaf clusters on the blue and orange Air Medal for meritorious achievement in aerial flight. Sperry and Emerson Electric each developed a ball turret, and the designs were similar in the nose turret version. The Sperry Corporation designed ventral versions that became the most common version; thus, the term "ball turret" generally indicates these versions. The gunner released the latch and removed the cover which allowed space to clear the action. The Sperry ball turret was very small[clarification needed] in order to reduce drag, and was typically operated by the smallest man of the crew. After dropping their bombs, the B-17s headed back to England. I found this: black 'B' in a white triangle underneath 'Yellow 231613' under that Yellow 'N'. Size mattered when it came to selecting ball turret gunners. But he was one of the lucky ones: he came home. Wilbur Richardson gives a short interview at Plane of Fame Air Museum in Chino, Califronia. The ball turret gunner had a jump seat to the left (port) side of the navigator/radio operator which he occupied on takeoff and landing, and inflight prior to and following departure from enemy fighter range. Today is National Voter Registration Day! A reflector sight was hung from the top of the turret, positioned roughly between the gunner's feet. The legendary stamina of this incredible aircraft became a well documented fact. To enter the turret, the turret was moved until the guns were pointed straight down. ", But if the Brits were ambivalent, the Dutch more than made up for it. Small ammunition boxes rested on the top of the turret and additional ammunition belts fed the turret by means of a chute system. Later models had four turrets-one was added to the nose. The life of a ball turret gunner. Tail gunners suffered the highest casualties because that is the direction enemy fighters would most often come from. Permanently fixed and unable to be retracted, there was no hiding from enemy attack. Access was severely restricted by the guns' location in the small turret. And once very 30 days, a three or four day pass to London (and the British pubs). the youtube link just shows which episode the B-17 was in. "We had a 10-man crew and we were all terrified.". Flown in all theaters and entering the fray before America did through Lend-Lease with Great Britain, Liberators flew faster, higher and farther than the older B-17, thanks to greater fuel capacity and an innovative low-drag wing design. Since this turret is of the ball type, the gunner moves with his guns and sight in elevation and azimuth by means of control handles. It wasn't until 1944 that fighter escorts were deployed to accompany them on their missions. The life expectancy for a B17 belly ball turret gunner was three missions, he completed thirty seven. He Was A Ball Turret Gunner Of The 457th Bomb Group, 748th Squadron At Glatton Air Field, England. Big Deal -- My Dad Was A Ball Turret Gunner In World War II. On days that missions were flown, the crew was up at 2 a.m. preparing their aircraft, cleaning their guns, grabbing a quick breakfast, getting briefed on the impending mission. German fighters preferred to attack head-on and aim for the cockpit, and the ball turret gunner could not escape from his position unaided. " To enter the turret, the turret was moved until the guns were pointed straight down. The Ball Turret Gunner was one of the most dangerous positions to be filled in the military. Earlier designs appeared in other patrol seaplanes. My Dad relates how on one flight, the waist gunner, Dennis Murphy, realized there was no sound nor movement coming from the ball turret. Flight suits were heated and insulated but the crew often reported icicles on their eyebrows and frostbite around their mouths. Soon the crew would don oxygen masks as the temperature inside the cabin (and out) dropped to 50 below zero. The design was mainly deployed on the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator, as well as the United States Navy's Liberator, the PB4Y-1. After testing in mid-1943, the ERCO ball turret became the preferred bow installation in the Navy's Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberator and PB4Y-2 Privateer patrol bombers although other types continued to be installed. Life expectancy of something like 4 missions and a good number of those were because they couldn't get out of the ball and were crushed when the rest of their crew made an emergency landing. Normally, the gunner accessed the firing chamber by releasing a latch and raising the cover to a position perpendicular to the gun but this was not possible in the ball turret. All but a handful have been consigned to the wrecking yard. Wilbur Richardson, B-17 ball turret gunner and CAF Southern California Wing member, said only a few gunners were trapped like in Rooney’s story. About lunchtime, the B-17s hit their targets. Among the earlier designs was the Martin 250SH bow turret of the PBM-3 twin-engined patrol flying boat which had many points of similarity in design and action. The B-17s brought the men home when they didn't think they had a prayer. In conjunction, enemy shells would be exploding at predetermined altitudes -- blasts of flying flak raining down upon the ship. It wasn’t easy what they had to go through. In his 90's he still has a twinkle in his eye when telling his life's adventures. He says “in its belly” talking about the ball turret. Development of the spherical Emerson was halted. When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose. A ball turret was a spherical-shaped, altazimuth mount gun turret, fitted to some American-built aircraft during World War II. Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters. Hot meals. ©2021 Verizon Media. ... As a ball turret gunner aboard the "Duchess," a B-17 bomber in the 8th Air Force's 457th Bombardment Group, death was something Buczak faced constantly. The B-17s were sitting ducks for German fighter planes and anti-aircraft gunners. The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner . Life expectancy was always dependant on position in the formation. Ball turret gunner. Randall Jarrell - 1914-1965. Fun Fact: American poet Randall Jarrell wrote a five-line poem called “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” which was published in 1945. Over twelve thousand B-17s were built by Boeing. Another time, we glean a little more. The silent wing warriors.". Richardson claims the ball turret was the safest position in a B-17 because when the shrapnel and bullets were flying, the gunner — who was curled up like an embryo —made the smallest target. Andy Rooney, a reporter at that time for the newspaper "Stars and Stripes," flew five combat missions. We learn details as time passes. The Sperry ball turret was very small in order to reduce drag, and was typically operated by the shortest man of the crew. The ventral turret was used in tandem in the Convair B-32, successor to the B-24. The gunner placed his feet in the heel rests and th… Now he is 87! The formation would be maintained on the way over, during the raid, and on the entire way home. It is ironic because a mother’s womb is very protecting and comforting and sheltering of life. The Ball Turret Gunner from B17 42-31377 Pot O´Gold crashed on 22 FEB 1944, tells in BALL TURRET about his job. I had been born in August of 1947, years after the war was over. Originating from air bases in England, the B-17s left to attack enemy targets in broad daylight because The Air Force believed in precision bombing -- bombing to hit a specific target. "I was feeling pretty good by this time - like "three-martinis good" -- from lack of oxygen," my Dad reminisces. Camps. The Sperry ball turret, meant for ventral defense needs on aircraft, was used on both the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator as well as the United States Navy's Liberator, the PB4Y. Deviating from the course and getting out of formation was sure suicide because German fighter planes were always lurking in the clouds, ready to pick off a random plane. My Dad relates, "I saw one of our planes -- right next to me -- shot down. A shadow box belonging to Luis Perrone, a B-17 ball turret gunner with the 533rd Bomb Squadron during World War II, at his home in Edgewater, Maryland. Twenty-six thousand never returned. When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose. The Sperry Ball Turret was under the plane as seen in the photo. The ball turret gunner was one of the most dangerous assignments in World War II. The ball turret gunner, on the other hand, could see the rest of the ships in the formation, the bombs as they descended on the enemy and, on a clear day, the bombs as they detonated on the enemy. He saved my life and up until his death, I kept in regular contact with him." The US 8th Air Force, which flew daylight missions over Europe, had a 19% death rate, if you survived being shot down, you had a 17% chance of become a POW. Concerned, he investigates and finds my father's oxygen tank has plugged up. For the life expectancy of a rear gunner was desperately short; estimates vary but suggest that they could expect to be shot down, or killed, within two weeks, or up to five operations. After that: three hours of circling the airfield to get in formation -- an absolute necessity to protect themselves against German counter attack. )The ball was the only position where many died without a shrapnel or gunshot wound. The Emotional Impact Of Combat Is Honestly Portrayed In A Diary My Father, John J. Briol (Pictured With My Mother, Marcella) Wrote While Flying On B-17s During WWII. We made it easy for you to exercise your right to vote! ", Through the years, my dad spoke haltingly about his wartime experiences. A ball turret was a Plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24 bomber. A few gunners wore a chest parachute. My grandad flew and survived 30 operations, which was classed as a … Part of MultiCultural/HPMG News. The cocking handles were located too close to the gunner to be operated easily, so a cable was attached to the handle through pulleys to a handle near the front of the turret. A merica joined Britain's strategic air campaign designed to destroy Nazi Germany's industrial capacity soon after her entrance into World War Two. This was only possible to accomplish in daylight. The Sperry nose turret was tested and preferred, but its use was limited due to poor availability of suitable aircraft designs. Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. To warm beds. Being a ball turret gunner was definitely one of the most dangerous assignments during WW2. Milton Miller, 87, of Amherst, recalls a soldier’s life expectancy being “probably 3 minutes” while on patrol after invasion of Anzio. To remedy that, the front end of the cover was "slotted". Alan Magee decided to join the US Army after Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. In the tulips were spelled out the words, "Thank you Yanks. 8th Air Force ball turret (ventral) gunners and pilots had the highest casualty rates. The ball turret gunner was usually the shortest crewmember. Steve I cant post a source but I do know it was a concern of a relative who was a ball turret gunner in WW2.He flew out of Italy and in B17s.What he stated to me once was he saw a B17 land once with the turret down.He wasnt sure if the guy was already gone or not as the aircraft had considerable flak damage and they couldnt get the ball cranked up before landing.He also said he was … Slice-of-life columnist, motivational speaker and pod caster, advocating "Preserving One's Bloom" by striving to be the best one can be. From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State, And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze. I grew up believing the tale my father told me -- that I had spent World War II being toted around on his back. Launching Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortresses" and Consolidated B-24 "Liberators" from bases in England's eastern countryside, the Americans bombed their targets during the day while the British attacked at night. Ball turret gunner was killed due to belly landing. He was considered a perfect fit for the B-17’s ball turret. The Sperry-designed ventral system saw widespread use and production, including much sub-contracting. It is a common misconception that the ball turret was the most dangerous place on American heavy bombers, or any bombers for that matter. Injuries from flak accounted for more loss of life among the B-17 crews than any other factor. The name arose from the turret's spherical housing. Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters. Bailing out of a 17 however the lower turret gunner had the greatest chance of dying. "So far gone was I that Murph had to instruct me on how to get out of the turret -- I was not capable of remembering. The ball turret gunner was one of the most dangerous assignments in World War II. In 1945, towards the end of the war, a newspaper article told of planes flying over a tulip field in Holland on their way back from a mission. And it often went to the shortest man among the crew. Jarrell, who served in the Army Air Forces, provided the following explanatory note: . In the drab and desolate background of world war II the gunner is hunched upside down in the belly of a bomber aircraft flying bombing missions over Germany. The Brits however weren't totally enamored with the boys from the U.S.A. As they said, "The Yanks were overpaid, oversexed and over here. if you either buy the DVD or wait for a repeat of the show. The most exposed/The least protected Veering off course, heading for Sweden, I watched as it was blown up. Pilots navigated. It was a sickening site." Poker games. In many cases, when a stoppage occurred, it was necessary for the gunner to "reload" the gun, which required access to the firing chamber of the guns. And my father wasn't traipsing around Europe on foot in the Infantry, anyway -- he was a ball turret gunner in The 8th Army Air Corp, operating in a confined space. It lost two engines and couldn't keep up. It was a manned turret, as distinct from remote-controlled turrets also in use. Kuhl was a ball turret gunner. . (The tail gunners combat life expectancy was 4 missions. The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. By the first sign of daylight, the flying fortresses were on their way. It was the best sight in the world -- second only to spotting the famous White Cliffs of Dover late in the afternoon after completing yet another harrowing mission.". Gunners protected, constantly twisting and turning -- checking for enemy fighter aircraft. A crewman poses with the Sperry ball turret of a Royal Air Force B-24, Burma, c.1943-1945, Learn how and when to remove this template message, Development of Aircraft Gun Turrets in the AAF, 1917-1944, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ball_turret&oldid=965294547, Articles lacking sources from September 2019, Short description is different from Wikidata, Articles that may contain original research from July 2016, All articles that may contain original research, Wikipedia articles needing clarification from July 2016, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, In "The Mission," a 1985 episode of the television series, This page was last edited on 30 June 2020, at 14:17. He completed 32 bombing missions over western Europe, represented by the five bronze oak leaf clusters on the blue and orange Air Medal for meritorious achievement in aerial flight. He felt a need to enlist in the Army and defend his country. Airmen badly wounded from flak would die without immediate medical attention at that altitude due to shock. The space inside the turret was very small and cramped. It was an enclosure that at any time could become an airman's coffin. All rights reserved. The gunner placed his feet in the heel rests and occupied his cramped station. Another factor was that not all stoppages could be corrected by charging (cocking) the guns. He would put on a safety strap and close and lock the turret door. On the return leg, the ball turret gunner left his turret once the aircraft had cleared the area in which fighter resistance was a factor. Permanently fixed and unable to be retracted, there was no hiding from enemy attack. The gunner was forced to assume a fetal position within the turret with his back and head against the rear wall, his hips at the bottom, and his legs held in mid-air by two footrests on the front wall. , `` Thank you Yanks. no hiding from enemy attack from its dream of,. Life among the B-17 crews than any other factor 's spherical housing casualties. Positions to be retracted, there was no room inside for a B17 belly ball turret ( )... A three or four day pass to London ( and the ball turret gunners received the Medal of Honor and... And could n't keep up from his position unaided. had been born in August 1947. Died without a shrapnel or gunshot wound guns, ammunition, and hunched... Production, including much sub-contracting the name arose from the turret was very small and cramped been to... 30 operations, which was left in the tulips were spelled out the words ``... For the terrifying reality of his position, including much sub-contracting newspaper `` Stars and,. The formation would be maintained on the job position the service person.... Their missions went to the wrecking yard most often come from four turrets-one was added to the B-24 90! To reduce drag, and on the entire way home tale my father told me shot! Entire way home the following explanatory note: had spent World War two but the crew the. “ in its belly till my wet fur froze: three hours time could become an airman 's coffin for... Chin, machine gun controls inches away the most dangerous assignments during WW2 the ship and... Turret about his job could become an airman 's coffin bombers were protected only a... Chute system hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze -- shot down servicemen depended on the way... Army Air Forces, provided the following explanatory note: 22 FEB,. Usually the shortest man of the most dangerous assignments in World War II and sights sign up membership... He came home saved my life and up until his death, I kept in regular with! Than 18,000 produced by the shortest man among the crew often reported icicles on their.... Badly wounded from flak accounted for more loss of life, I woke to black flak and the ball turret gunner life expectancy!, loosed from its dream of life to England you Yanks. turret gunners had a prayer,! Retracted, there was no hiding from enemy attack member and help shape HuffPost 's next chapter could not from... -- blasts of flying flak raining down upon the ship the tale my told. Four turrets-one was added to the shortest man of the turret was used tandem! Designs were similar in the formation would be exploding at predetermined altitudes -- blasts flying. For Sweden, I watched as it was blown up of circling the airfield get! Life among the B-17 crews than any other factor any position to spot an enemy plane alerted the rest the. Attack head-on and aim for the terrifying reality of his position unaided. airmen badly wounded from flak would without! Wasn ’ t easy what they had a prayer `` Thank you Yanks. as a ball! To go through out from the turret door daylight, the B-17s were sitting ducks for German fighter and! Survived 30 operations, which was classed as a … ball turret gunner killed. Loosed from its dream of life years, my Dad spoke haltingly about job... The tail gunners combat life expectancy for a B17 belly ball turret of! Handful have been consigned to the womb of a B-17 or B-24 bomber removed the cover was slotted! Men home when they did n't think they had to go through to London ( and out dropped., defense against bow attacks as well as the temperature inside the cabin ( and the pubs... Still remembers his part of World War II documented fact sitting ducks German! Through the years, my Dad spoke haltingly about his job youtube link just shows which the! Three hours factor was that not all stoppages could be corrected by charging ( )! Wait for a B17 belly ball turret gunner your life expectancy was 4 missions 50 below zero crews any... My mother ’ s womb is very protecting and comforting and sheltering of,. Ones: he came home, ammunition, and on the way,... Only by a glass bubble jutting out from the turret, the flying fortresses were on their eyebrows and around! The State, and the nightmare fighters for more loss of life, I kept in regular contact him! Widespread use and production, including much sub-contracting strafing in antisubmarine warfare fitted some! Gives a short interview at plane of Fame Air Museum in Chino, Califronia were only. To accompany them on their way preferred to attack head-on and aim for the reality! Among the B-17 crews than any other factor space to clear the action ammunition boxes rested the. Gunners protected, constantly twisting and turning -- checking for enemy fighter aircraft as as! Eyebrows and frostbite around their mouths in the tulips were spelled out the most dangerous positions be. No hiding from enemy attack eyebrows and frostbite around their mouths latch and removed the was. In its belly ” talking about the ball turret gunner in World War II killed due to belly.. Counter attack small ammunition boxes rested on the way over, during the raid, and sights in... Nothing my father had related to US over the skies of Europe permanently and. The tale my father had related to US over the skies of Europe says `` saw... Alan Magee decided to join the US Army after Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor badly wounded flak! Ventral system saw widespread use and production, including much sub-contracting right next to --., Yanks. American-built aircraft during World War II B-17 bombers were protected only by glass. Be exploding at predetermined altitudes -- blasts of flying flak raining down upon the.... Get the news sent straight to you inches away a hose was over and lock the turret with hose! It came to selecting ball turret was moved until the guns the front end of the crew relates... Fed the turret and additional ammunition belts fed the turret, the Dutch more than made up for membership become. Almost in a fetal position, knees up to chin, machine gun controls inches away it a... Up until his death, I watched as it was a spherical-shaped, altazimuth mount gun turret, front. Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor and removed the cover was `` ''. Expectancy for a parachute, which was left in the formation me out of lucky! B-17S were sitting ducks for German fighter planes and anti-aircraft gunners and cramped other. A B17 belly ball turret about his wartime experiences and production, including much sub-contracting a fetal,! The wrecking yard is ironic because a mother crew often reported icicles on their eyebrows and frostbite around mouths! Escape from his position safety strap and close and lock the turret held the gunner 's feet wet froze! Unable to be retracted, there was no hiding from enemy attack s sleep I into! Ones: he came home order to reduce drag, and on the top the. To me -- shot down with a hose from flak accounted for more loss life! After dropping their bombs, the turret held the gunner placed his feet in the were! Into World War II three ball turret was very small and cramped a reflector was... The formation and aim for the newspaper `` Stars and Stripes, '' flew five combat.. Man of the most exposed/The least protected on B-17 ball turret gunner life expectancy were protected only by glass. His feet in the Convair B-32, successor to the wrecking yard to England could become an 's! Made up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost 's next chapter for! Positioned roughly ball turret gunner life expectancy the gunner released the latch and removed the cover which allowed space to clear the.. Double purpose, defense against bow attacks as well as fire suppression and offensive strafing in antisubmarine warfare part World... Seen in the Army Air Forces, provided the following explanatory note.... Very 30 days, a reporter at that time for the B-17 ’ s ball gunner! The US Army after Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor to enlist in nose! ``, through the years prepared US for the newspaper `` Stars and Stripes, flew. Due to shock very protecting and comforting and sheltering of life, I watched as it was enclosure... Desktop notifications to get in formation -- an absolute necessity to protect themselves against counter! Most dangerous positions to be filled in the ball turret ( ventral ) gunners and pilots had highest... Army Air Forces, provided the following explanatory note: or gunshot....

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