Story of the B-17 with the Damaged Nose
As told by the pilot, Lawrence "Larry" M. de Lancy

This B-17G was from the 601st Sqdn. of the 398th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. The group was stationed at Nuthampstead (Sta. 131). The mission of 15 Oct. 1944 was to the railroad yards at Cologne, Germany. The crew was:

  • Pilot -- Lawrence de Lancy
  • Copilot -- Phil Stahlman
  • Navigator -- Raymond J. LeDoux
  • Togglier -- George Abbott
  • Engineer -- Ben Ruckel
  • Radio -- Wendell Reed
  • Ball Turret -- Al Albro
  • Tail Gunner -- Herbert Guild
  • Waist Gunner -- Russell Lachman

Immediately after 'bombs away', the aircraft took a direct hit from an 88mm anti-aircraft round. The round grazed the right side of the chin turret (leaving a groove in the turret housing), penetrated the nose compartment and exploded. The togglier (George Abbott) was killed instantly, the navigator (Raymond J. LeDoux) was blown back into the catwalk below the pilot's compartment and knocked unconscious for a few seconds but was otherwise uninjured. No one else on the crew was injured.

The force of the explosion ruptured oxygen and hydraulic lines and severed many electrical lines, apparently shorting out the lines so that all intercom and radio communications were out. In addition, the main instrument panel in the cockpit was torn loose and all flight instruments were inoperative. The flight controls and engine controls were still functioning (thank God for the strictly manual control system of the B-17) and the engines seemed to be operating normally, so we were still flying.

Due to the loss of oxygen as well as the blast of -40 or -50 degree F air through the nose, I immediately left formation, descended to low altitude and headed back across Belgium. All maps, etc. had blown out of the plane, so, although there were U.S. bases in France at that time, the difficulty in navigating at low altitude without maps, over relatively unfamiliar areas, dictated returning to England. Although subjected to some small caliber anti-aircraft fire as we approached the coast, we made it back without any further damage.

Throughout the return flight I had been concerned about the possibility of loss of power or control from damage not yet apparent. Also, my forward visibility was somewhat obstructed -- I had to lean to the left in order to see straight ahead. Therefore, I made a straight-in approach, in order to minimize maneuvering. Unable to contact the base, we fired a red flare to alert the emergency crews. They were not prepared for us, as we were the first aircraft of the group to return. We had taken a much more direct route back and, without instruments, I am sure the power settings were higher than normal.

Although I came in 'hot', the landing was made without difficulty and there was sufficient hydraulic fluid left to slow down. However, the brakes were quite mushy by that time and I knew I wouldn't be able to stay on the narrow taxiways, so I pulled far enough off the end of the runway to clear the turnoff and called it quits for the day!!!