|Standing (L to R): Unknown, LT Hunter, LT Hardy, LT Roberts. Front (L to R): LT Hull, unknown, unknown.
The crew was flying what should have been their second mission on September 27, 1944 and was climbing to assemble with the other aircraft. After climbing to 17,000 feet and at the beginning of our Group's assemblage, several events occurred almost simultaneously. There was a sudden, severe lurching drop of the aircraft downward and to the left in the attitude of a beginning spin. The emergency alarm bell went off, and flight engineer, Vernon Hatler, bailed out of the front escape hatch next to my navigator table, and just a few inches from my left elbow.
He had witnessed another B17 crashing into our plane, very narrowly being missed by the propeller that shattered the top turret as well as taking off the vertical stabilizer and rudder. The right elevator was torn off; the left elevator was jammed in the down position causing a continuous right nose over tendency. There were no tail controls available as the control cables were severed and curled up on the floor of the waist.
What happened in the cockpit during the seconds following this crash proved to be our redemption.
Somehow, pilot Les Hull in that crucial period of time, realized there was no control from the tail assembly, and sensing the violent start of a tail spin, increased the power on the #3 and #4 engines and pulled the power to the #1 and #2 engines. The ailerons were the only flight controls remaining. By this time I had clipped on my chest pack parachute and Hull was on the intercom informing the crew that it would be possible to ride the plane down to a lower altitude, engage the automatic pilot and head the plane out over the English Channel. With a derelict plane fully loaded with gasoline and incendiaries, there was no decision. At 4,000 feet the remaining crew bailed out.
The most striking sensation after going out the nose hatch was how it was utter silence. I counted the mandatory 1-2-3 and pulled the ripcord. This was followed by a horrific jerk. I floated down and landed heels, butt, head, with a painful groin from a wayward parachute harness buckle.
Very shortly, in the gray morning, a helmeted Home Guard on a bicycle rode up and we proceeded to a small police station just outside Ipswich. All of us were picked up and transported back to base within an hour or two. The flight engineer actually had landed on a runway of Station 174.
The entire episode from collision to landing, took only 7.-8 minutes. The crew was up flying a practice mission the following day, and we flew our next combat mission (#2) five days later. We did not receive a mission credit for the mid-air collision. We completed our 35 missions in the next five months.
The other B17 crew was able to feather the #3 and #4 engine props damaged in the collision, salvo their bombs over the Channel and land safely at our base. A hearing board determined that the other pilot caused the collision and he was removed from 1st pilot status.
-- Murray H. Hunter