Datum: 17 augustus 1943
Book: Regensburg - Sweinfurt Mission by Martin Middlebrook:
It was probably the Focke-Wulf 190s of I/JG 26 which came in first.
In theory the Gruppe should have come in Staffel by
Staffel, seven or eight fighters abreast, but the Gruppe was not at
full strength and this attack was a hurried one. The Germans
wanted to hit the American bombers once and then get away
before the P-47s returned. They came in fast and hard from
ahead, at angles of 10 or 20 degrees up from the horizontal. To
the Americans — who used the all-round clockface system — it was
the famous and feared 'twelve o'clock high' attack. Leutnant
We came round in a left-hand turn and attacked from ahead.
When you first saw them from the front, the formation
appeared quite small and our leader took us down right at the
middle of the formation. They were packed in tight, like a
bunch of grapes. We had to turn from side to side slightly
because we still had to keep our eyes open for enemy fighters.
You could always recognize an experienced pilot because he
flew like a drunk — he was called an alter Hase, an old hare.
The old hands could pick out a bomber, place the nose of
that bomber in the cross-threads of their gun-sights and not
open fire until the bomber completely filled the sight — just one
small burst, no more than two seconds. We tried to hit the
wing and engines close to the fuselage. If you hit it, then you
saw the small explosions of the cannon shells striking, or even
one big explosion if the tank blew up. We young chaps tried to
do the same but naturally with less success.
After that one burst there was no more firing, just getting
through the formation. Even now it is completely unbelievable
that there were no collisions as we flew through it. It seemed to
take only a fraction of a second.
I/J G 26 had made its attack sweeping across the top of the
94th Bomb Group and carrying on to make a frontal attack on
the 95th, the more daring Germans actually flying between the
95th's squadrons. These two groups were flying in the high posi‑
tions of the second and third combat wings respectively. The
Germans always say they sought out the weakest groups, and it
was the 95th which had earlier lost five aborted planes. The
forward-firing gun positions of the B-17s were all in action, the
tracer clearly visible. To the Germans it was like 'flying through a
garden sprinkler'. It was the Gruppe commander, the 'old hare'
Major Borris, who obtained the first success when he put a
devastating burst of fire into the nose of the tail-end plane in the
94th Bomb Group's high squadron. More of Borris's pilots
damaged at least two B-17s in the 95th Bomb Group and left
them with smoking engines. Many Americans watched Borris's
own victim jerk away from its formation and go down quickly to
explode and scatter into pieces around a Belgian village ten kilo‑
metres east of Diest.
Technical Sergeant Arthur McDonnell was
the radio operator in the shot-down B-17.
On the intercom I heard Jake Dalinsky, who was looking out
of the waist-gun window, shouting out, 'Holy Jesus, there's a
mess of them out there.' Then the co-pilot, Jack Smith, called,
'Coming out of the sun,' so that meant there was another lot
coming down from ahead of us. I only had that little window
in the radio room; I couldn't see them. The very next thing that
happened was that Jack Smith called out, 'Bale out! Bale out!'
and the ship started vibrating heavily all over. That was the
first intimation I had that we'd been hit. I realized they must
have been hit hard up at the front — in the engines or the
cockpit. None of them got out. I'm certain that it was Smith's
southern accent I had heard. He was from Alabama — a won‑
derful guy, the girls loved him.
I came out of the radio room and made for the waist and
was right behind Jake. He'd already got rid of the waist door
but was standing there, holding on by both hands to the inside
of the ship, looking down. I tapped him on the shoulder to tell
him to go and, at that moment, there was an explosion and I
was thrown back inside. I was knocked down on to my hands
and knees by a piece of 20-millimetre in the side of the head. It
was just like being paralysed. I was only just holding on to
consciousness. The 50-caliber gun in the waist was going round
wildly and banging me on the head. I couldn't move. That
waist gun swinging finished the job and I slumped to the floor.
I was completely unconscious.
When I came to, I thought I was in the hereafter. I remember
thinking this was the end but there was nothing like the entire
life flashing past my eyes that you hear about. There was just a
sadness. The only thing I didn't understand about it was that I
was going down and not up! Then I realized I was coming
down by parachute. My eyes were full of blood and I couldn't
breathe because my oxygen mask was still on and the tube was
twisted. I ripped it off I've thought about how I got out of
that aircraft over a great many years. I still think it's a miracle.
The pilot, Lieutenant Bernard Nayovitz, together with his three
fellow officers as well as the top turret and ball turret gunners
were all dead, most of them probably killed by the first burst of
cannon fire. McDonnell and the three survivors had escaped
when the tail broke off. McDonnell, unable to see with the blood
in his eyes, made a very bad landing and thumped into a tree to
be crippled for life with back and pelvis injuries.
Only a few seconds after the Focke-Wulf 190s of I/JG 26 had
flashed through the bomber formation, part of their sister
Gruppe, G 26 from Schiphol, also came round from the sun
and attacked. Their aircraft were Messerschmitt 109s and they
made for the low groups of the second and third combat
wings, the 385th and 100th Bomb Groups.