AN EIGHTH BOMBER STATION, Nov 25 -- An almost unbelievable story of a Fortress flying over enemy territory for 90 minutes with most of its tail assembly torn away, of a heroic crew fighting off enemy attacks until the B17 crashed into the icy North Sea, and of nine men tossing around rough seas in a half-submerged dinghy for seven hours, came to light here today when it was revealed that the pilot has been recommended for a posthumous award of the DSC and the co-pilot for the Silver Star.
Credited with the feat of keeping the "ship without a tail" airborne until it left enemy territory and with playing a major role in effecting the rescue of the crew were 1/Lt. Ben J. McCall, 24-year-old pilot of San Antonio, Tex., who died in the arms of his top-turret gunner before the crew was picked up by the RAF Air-Sea Rescue Service, and 2/Lt. C. L. "Pete" Ginn, co-pilot from Bonita, La.
It was during the last USAAF raid on Bremen. Just before the Forts reached the target, McCall's ship lost its rudder, most of the horizontal and vertical stabilizers and the oxygen system on the port side. The plane lost 1,000 feet of altitude, but McCall and Ginn struggled to keep it in formation until they bombed the target.
On the homeward flight the crippled Fort had to try to make it alone. On two occasions Ginn gave the order to bail out when it appeared the ship was doomed. Each time, however, McCall and Ginn regained control, using a combination of automatic and manual controls and, with the help of Thunderbolts and Lightnings, nursed the B17 through swarms of enemy fighters to the North Sea. During part of the trip the Fort flew "in formation" with a wounded Liberator and a crippled P38.
The plane crashed only 80 miles from the English coast, with only one five-man dinghy available for nine men. A Hudson from Air-Sea Rescue Service dropped another hours later, but it was too damaged to use.
Two Liberators, meanwhile, hovered overhead to mark the position of the ditched crew.
Injured in the crash, Lt. McCall remained conscious until two hours before the rescue. He was kept afloat in the dinghy by his top turret gunner, T/Sgt. Lawrence F. Charland, of Brooklyn. During the seven hours in the snow, hail and rain-swept sea the crew was submerged to their waists in water and only Lt. Ginn had sufficient strength to find a Very pistol and fire flares.
According to Ginn, every member of the crew was responsible for the safe return of those who got back.
S/Sgt. Edward J. Berthiaume, of Worcester, Mass., remained in the ball turret defending the ship all the way despite the lack of oxygen. He refused to share the pilot and co-pilot's oxygen supply because they "needed it more than he did."
While the crew was stacked in the radio room waiting for the crash landing, T/Sgt. Stanley W. Easterbrook, radio operator from Shippensburg, Pa., removed one shoe and stretched his legs to tap out an SOS with his toes.