Joint Base Charleston


A new perspective on a challenging day at work

By Jason Axberg | 628th Air Base Wing historian | February 03, 2015

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- On Feb. 1, 1943, B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 414th Bombardment Squadron left their base near Biskra, an oasis city in the Sahara Desert in north-central Algeria, to continue attacks on German held Mediterranean seaports at Bizerte and Tunis, Tunisia.  Among the squadrons B-17s taking part in the mission was one named the All American.  This Flying Fortress became the source of the phrase, "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer," and the 414th Bombardment Squadron's emblem.

As the 414th Bombardment Squadron approached their target, they were set upon by German Messerschmitt fighters.  The squadron held their formation and weathered those attacks.  Closer to their target, the Germans opened up with anti-aircraft fire.  Despite the German fighters and anti-aircraft fire, the All American and the rest of her squadron reached their target and dropped their bombs.  As they moved away from the target, German fighters continued to attack the squadron's formation.  After a while the attacks seemed to end, but then came the attack that would make the All American famous. 

Two German fighters came at the bomber formation.  One straight at the nose of the lead B-17 and the other moved to attack the All American, flying next to the lead aircraft.  Machinegun fire from the lead B-17 and the All American brought down the German fighter attacking the lead B-17.  However, the second German fighter continued its head-on attack against the All American with guns blazing.  As that German fighter got closer, it began a roll to pull down and away from the All American, but it never completed that maneuver.  Machinegun fire from the B-17s either killed the pilot or disabled the German fighter.  As it passed the All American, its wing almost completely severed the tail section of the B-17.  There was now a three-foot gash that ran diagonally from the bottom of the All American's tail to where the left tail fin would be.  The metal around the right tail fin was the only thing keeping the tail section and the rear gunner attached to the aircraft.  By some miracle, none of the All American's crew was injured.

Seeing the damage to the All American, the other B-17s reduced their speed and maintained their formation around the stricken Flying Fortress to provide protection against additional German fighter attacks, which luckily never occurred.  While the other B-17s moved to protect the All American, her crew donned their parachutes fully expecting to have to abandon the bomber when the tail section finally broke off.  Once out of the range of German fighters, the other 414th Bombardment Squadron B-17s moved ahead towards their base leaving the All American alone to hopefully make it back to base.  Against long odds, the All American landed safely back at her base, despite missing a rear wheel, the left tail fin, and questionable tail section.  Even though the landing stretched the nerves of everyone on the base, the full crew of the All American climbed out on their own, much to the surprise of everyone, including the ambulance crew.

The story of the All American gives us a new perspective on what a truly challenging day at work can be like.  So, when your supervisor assigns you another additional duty, you receive a short notice tasking for a large report, your work schedule changes unexpectedly, a simple maintenance check turns into a full equipment overhaul, a last minute change in operations requires a completely rework of a flight plan, take a breath and see that maybe this is not as challenging as you first thought.

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