Thursday 12 August 2021

Who collided with the 97th BG B-17 F 'All American' ? - Luftwaffe in Tunisia (2)


 The internet it would appear was made for stories like that of the 97th BG B-17 'All American'. 

 "..The 'All American', a B-17 Flying Fortress, seen returning to Biskra, Algeria, after a mid-air collision with a German fighter almost tore the bomber's tail off completely..."

While quite amazing in its own right, the story has been somewhat embellished in the re-telling. Some versions even have the B-17 returning to England. The 'Disciples of flight' web site even uses a German newspaper illustration of a Sturmstaffel Fw 190 ramming attack to illustrate its article. 

The bombing raid was flown from Biskra, Algeria to Tunis on February 1, 1943. The American B-17s - a small force of some 12 unescorted machines - were targeted head-on by the Bf 109s of II./JG 53. As related in his memoir, Jules Meimberg's 11./JG 2 - subordinated to JG 53 in Tunisia - also participated in this action. Meimberg - who had claimed a P-38 over Tunis the previous day - was still testing the frontal pass for attacking 'Ami' bombers, concentrating his fire at the weakest point defensively on the B-17 F. However his luck ran out on February 1, 1943. His Bf 109 G-4 was quickly set alight by the gunners' fire and  Meimberg bailed out badly burnt. He subsequently claimed the B-17 shot down but none were lost. 6./JG 53 ace Fw. Erich Paczia also set up for a frontal pass. According to Steve Birdsall in his 'Pride of Seattle, The Story of the First 300 B-17 Fs', what happened next left indelible impressions on the men at the front of the aircraft. Bombardier Lt. Ralph Burbridge recalled ; “I was firing at it all the way… I figure one of us must have killed the pilot because the plane crashed right into us… When we hit, our plane almost stood up on its tail. Then we went down at a very sharp angle. I thought to myself, ‘boy, this is it’.”
Paczia's wing plowed through the rear fuselage of the 'All American' and the 16-victory German ace plunged to his death. 

Fw. Erich Paczia of 6./JG 53 (left) seen in Comiso during 1942

Below; the B-17 managed to fly back to its base and land safely without any crew member injured.

"..Wings ablaze with gunfire, the Messerschmitt pilot aimed his fighter directly at the nose of the 'All American'. The crew aboard the B-17 Flying Fortress had seconds to respond. The bomber’s nose gun flashed in reply. The gunners of the lead bomber joined the fray, raking the air with bullets. At the last moment, the fighter turned to pull away. Suddenly, the pilot froze – one of the American gunners had found their mark. The fighter shot right over the cockpit of the B-17 'All American' with a deafening “whoosh” before plowing into the tail section. The craft shuddered as a tremendous “whoomp!” tore through it..."

A full day-by-day account of the Luftwaffe in Tunisia is related in issue #96 of 'Batailles Aériennes' over 96 A-4 pages, comprising 200 photos and 15 artworks all for 12 euros. Even if you don't read French this is a bargain.

"..From 1940 to late 1942, the Tunisians had seen few Luftwaffe aircraft, except for the few aircraft of the Armistice Commission that had come to verify compliance with the conditions set in June 1940 at Compiègne. This changed in November 1942 when the Allies landed in Algeria and Morocco, catching the Afrika Korps (then in full retreat) in a pincer movement. Mustering all it could, the Wehrmacht rushed in disparate units from land, air and sea to take control of Tunisia, towards which Rommel's army was retreating. On the ground, the Heer was initially able to block the advance of the enemy forces, while in the air, the Luftwaffe stepped up all kinds of operations: fighter and bomber escort sorties, ground attack, reconnaissance and also supply operations following the creation of an air bridge linking Europe to Africa. Airborne units and the flak arm were also put to great use. However, even if the German fighters were able to inflict heavy losses ( the USAAF in particular lacked combat experience), they often appeared powerless against large forces of American heavy bombers that were dispatched to pound their airfields as well as troop concentrations. The Luftwaffe, confronted with sophisticated enemy equipment, was to find out the hard way what 'Materialschlacht' meant. As the months passed and Allied numerical superiority increased, fatal blows were dealt to the air and sea supply units, which isolated the Tunisian pocket. Despite the disproportionate nature of the fighting, the Axis were able to hold on to the country for some six months, although their positions were slowly  whittled away. And on 13 May 1943, after suffering heavy losses, the Axis lost Africa for good..."