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Old 666
Only known image of Old 666.
Other name(s)Lucy
TypeBoeing B-17E Flying Fortress
ManufacturerBoeing
Construction number2487
ManufacturedMarch 1942
Serial41-2666
In service1942–1943
FateScrapped, September 1945

The B-17E (Japan) is defended by:. 2 x 12.7 mm M2 Browning machine guns, front dorsal turret (500 rpg = 1,000 total) 2 x 12.7 mm M2 Browning machine guns, ventral turret (500 rpg = 1,000 total). The legendaryB-17American heavy bombers were rightly calledFlying Fortresses. This four-engined heavy bomber was an all-metal hero, an extremely durable aircraft that could return to the airfield with just one engine, riddled with bullets. But the early models of theB-17had a significant blind spot in the rear, so fighter support was required. To solve this problem, the B-17E was produced,. I’m going to assume that you are either hesitant to continue your research of the American bomber line instead of playing something else, or that you have played American bombers previously and are resuming your progress after using other vehicles. A few paragraphs on aircraft history, design, development, employment, and other notable facts. This section should be used to describe tactics and techniques specific to the aircraft - general strategies such as 'boom and zoom' should be limited to a sentence or two, with a link to the appropriate page.

Old 666 (B-17E 41-2666) was a World War IIB-17 Flying Fortress bomber which was assigned to the United States' 19th and 43rd Bomb Groups in 1942–43. It is notable for being the aircraft piloted by Lt. Col. (then Captain) Jay Zeamer on the 16 June 1943 mission where it fended off intercepting Japanese fighters that would earn him and 2d Lt. Joseph Sarnoski each a Medal of Honor, and all other members of the crew the Distinguished Service Cross.

History[edit]

B-17E #41-2666 was built in Seattle, Washington in March 1942. It arrived in Hawaii in May 1942 for delivery to Australia. That same month, it was assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group.[1] Sometime after it arrived in Australia, #41-2666 was equipped with a trimetrogon camera array used in high-altitude topographical mapping.[2]

During the summer and fall of 1942, the Flying Fortress was flown primarily by the 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron (PRS), usually while attached to the 19th.[3] Late in the year, it was transferred to the 43rd Bomb Group, where during a mission in December 1942, it was damaged severely enough to be grounded for a long period of time.[2] Nothing more is known about the aircraft until the following April, when it was once again being flown on photo-recon missions by the 8th PRS. In May 1943, having by then gained a reputation as a “Hard Luck Hattie” for its record of ongoing damage and odd accidents, #41-2666 was transferred to the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group, at Seven-Mile Airstrip, located at Port Moresby, New Guinea.[4]

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The B-17 was abandoned by the 65th, and in the coming months it was ready to be used for spare parts. Being the only aircraft available at this time, Captain Jay Zeamer, who served as the squadron's executive officer, requisitioned it for himself and his unconventional aircrew (they had become known as 'The Eager Beavers” because they always volunteered for missions, regardless). Not being concerned with its '666' designation and reputation, they proceeded to radically alter the plane for future sorties.[5] Besides significantly reducing the B-17's overall weight by stripping out all equipment they deemed unnecessary, the aircrew also replaced the engines and gave it a new paint job. They also installed seventeen .50 caliber machine guns all around, giving their B-17 a look not unlike an industrial porcupine. This included one custom, fixed position .50 caliber set above the navigator's station and installed on the outer nose, specially sited for Zeamer to remotely fire from his pilot seat.[6] While that and the sheer number of total machine guns added was remarkable (the common complement on a Pacific B-17E was ten .50s and one .30), what made Zeamer's 'gunship' upgrades unique in the Pacific was his aircrew's installation of twin .50s at all machine gun positions, with three single .50s mounted in ball sockets in the nose glazing. An additional .50 was also custom-installed and fired through a new opening cut into the lower fuselage, in front of the tail wheel, away from the twin .50s in the ventral Sperry gun turret.[2]

As for the plane's name, the new crew referred to #41-2666 only as '666' or 'the plane'. It had originally been named 'Lucy' by a previous aircrew, and that had been painted in script on the port-side nose, well before the upcoming 16 June mission. With all the work needed for their B-17, Zeamer and his men never bothered or had time to refer to it by its original name.[5] Despite their extensive reworking of the B-17, Zeamer and his aircrew would fly #41-2666 only five times, two of which were test hops. Standard bombing missions were flown by the other Flying Fortresses. #41-2666 only flew missions utilizing its photographic and mapping specialty.[7]

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Mapping mission[edit]

Tenacity over Bougainville: Zeamer and 'The Eager Beavers” display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

The last of these missions occurred on June 16, 1943. It called for a solo B-17 to map the west coast of Bougainville, almost six hundred miles over mostly open ocean from Seven-Mile, in support of a planned invasion of the island later that year. Such mapping demanded rigorously straight and level flight for the duration to avoid blurring of the photos, and this mission would require a 22-minute level run over hostile territory.

Zeamer had volunteered for the mission when it was first requested in April, but weather and other factors forced postponements until the June date.[8][5] Twice before taking off at 4:00 a.m., June 16, Zeamer rejected orders to add to the mission a reconnaissance of Buka airdrome, located off Bougainville's northern tip. The assigned mapping would be hazardous enough, he felt, without adding extended prior contact with the enemy.[8]

Early arrival at the initial mapping point meant a half-hour delay in starting the mapping run; the sun was not high enough for the light necessary for topographic relief.[9] The delay prompted Zeamer to ask his aircrew's opinion of the Buka recon. All supported going ahead with it, considering their proximity. As a result, Zeamer adjusted his course northeast to take them over the Buka airstrip before heading into the mapping run down Bougainville's west coast.

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Contemporary accounts from the aircrew report counting around fifty enemy aircraft on either side of the airfield, with 17 or 18 Japanese fighters either taxiing or taking off, as 'Old 666' flew over the island. These were Japanese Navy Model 22 Zeroes of Air Squadron 251, most of which were usually based at Rabaul, New Britain. They had moved to Buka aerodrome the previous day for a planned June 16th attack on Guadalcanal.[5] Zeamer began the mapping run, hoping that it would be finished before the Japanese aircraft could reach their mapping altitude at 25,000 feet. Shortly before its completion, ineffectual passes from below were followed by a handful of Zeros enclosing the B-17 from below in a coordinated attack, two approaching from the rear and three fanned across the front. The combination left Zeamer unable to execute his usual defensive air tactic of turning inside the line of fire of enemy aircraft attacking from the front. Such a maneuver, in this case, would expose his B-17's belly to the Zeros attacking from the front. Aware of their position over Empress Augusta Bay, the primary mapping objective, Zeamer held the course, hoping to fight it out.[10]

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This first attack proved fatal for bombardier Sarnoski, who was mortally wounded by a 20mm shell hit, which also badly injured the navigator, 1st Lt. Ruby Johnston. Another 20mm struck the side of the cockpit behind the pilots, sending shrapnel into the legs of Sgt. Johnny Able, the assistant flight engineer substituting that day as the top turret gunner. The shell also struck the oxygen and hydraulic lines behind the cockpit, starting a fire. A third 20mm shell entered through the Plexiglass nose combing, destroying Zeamer's rudder pedals and instrument panel and delivering grievous wounds to Zeamer's left leg, while slicing his right wrist. Farther back, radio operator Sgt. William Vaughan was badly grazed in the neck by a bullet. Back in the B-17's nose, despite being blown to the floor with a horrible gash in his side and another in his neck, Sarnoski regained his machine gun in time to counter a twin-engine fighter (variously described by the aircrew as either a Mitsubishi Ki-46 'Dinah' or Kawasaki Ki-45 'Nick') pressing a new attack on their nose. Sarnoski drove the attacker off before it could inflict any more damage, then collapsed from his wounds.[11][5]

Having finished the mapping run and now needing oxygen, Zeamer dove the B-17 from 25,000 feet to about 10,000 feet, estimating his altitude from a change in manifold pressure (the altimeter had been destroyed). After the long dive, both Johnston and Able extinguished the oxygen fire using only their hands and rags.[12]

Leveling out, Zeamer continued to pilot 'Old 666' despite excruciating pain and continued blood loss. Correctly assuming that the forward machine guns were now inoperable, the Japanese pilots began lining up on both sides of the B-17 to circle around, one by one in turn, to strafe from the front. Zeamer was now able to execute the technique that he had been unable to use against the coordinated first pass. By banking hard inside the firing angle of each approaching Zero, Zeamer both avoided the enemy's machine gun fire and allowed his rear gunners unfettered access to target the Zeros as they flew past. This continued until finally, low on ammunition and fuel, about forty minutes after the initial attack, the last of the remaining fighters returned to base. While the aircrew reported downing five Zeros, Japanese records show none were actually shot down, with one ditching early in the engagement, due to engine failure, and only three being damaged by return fire.[13]

Once out of danger, Sgt. Able piloted 'Old 666' on a dead-reckoning return heading, determined by the badly wounded Zeamer, while the unscathed substitute copilot, Lt. J.T. Britton, took stock of the damage to the aircrew and their aircraft. Zeamer, drifting in and out of consciousness, advised Able on keeping level and on course. Radio operator Vaughan, while nursing his neck wound, calculated a heading for Dobodura, an Allied airfield on the eastern coast of Papua, New Guinea, for an emergency landing (it was not expected that Zeamer could survive a return flight over the Owen-Stanley mountains to Port Moresby). Britton, having returned to his seat for the balance of the flight, landed at Dobodura without working flaps or brakes, requiring him to ground loop their B-17 near the end of the six-thousand-foot runway.[5]

In all, four members of the 'Old 666' aircrew were wounded and one killed. The B-17 had suffered damage to the instrument panel, from being struck by a 20mm shell, and the pilot's rudder pedals were destroyed. For the completion of their mission, despite the certainty of attack and their respective sacrifices, Sarnoski and Zeamer were each awarded the Medal of Honor, with the remainder of the aircrew receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor in importance and esteem. The mission remains the most highly-decorated in American history, and The Eager Beavers' individual decorations, when considered together, remain the most highly-decorated aircrew in U.S. history.[14] This mission was featured on the History Channel TV series Dogfights in the episode titled 'Long Odds'.[15]

After the mission[edit]

Seven of the eight Zero pilots who intercepted 'Old 666' later participated in a strike on Allied shipping at Lunga Point that same day.[16] Two of them, Warrant Officer Yoshio Oki and Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Suehiro Yamamoto, failed to return.[16][17]

By mid-1943, like most heavy bomb groups in the Pacific, the 43rd had mostly converted to the B-24.[18] The aging and much-abused Pacific Fortresses were increasingly difficult to maintain, and the longer range of the B-24 made it more practical in a theater of war defined by the vast distances to targets.

Due to its specialized nature, #41-2666 evaded retirement despite the damage it received on the 16 June 43 mission.[1] Repairs and modifications reversed many of the alterations made by The Eager Beavers. It was returned to the 8th PRS, and by fall it had even returned to combat, flying two missions with the 63rd Bombardment Squadron.[2] By March 1944, though, 'Old 666' had been returned to the US to be used as a base transport aircraft and later as a heavy bomber trainer. It was finally flown to Albuquerque, New Mexico in August 1945 to be sold for scrap.[1]

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References[edit]

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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Old 666.
  1. ^ abc#41-2666, Individual Aircraft Record Card, American Air Museum in Britain, retrieved 21 Jan 2019CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ abcd''Old 666' / 'Lucy': A History'. Zeamer's Eager Beavers - The Definitive Resource. Retrieved 23 January 2019.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^Stanaway and Rocker 1999, p. 8.
  4. ^Stanaway and Rocker 1999, p. 69.
  5. ^ abcdef'Zeamer's Eager Beavers: The Incredible True Story'. Zeamer’s Eager Beavers - The Definitive Resource. Retrieved 23 January 2019.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^Zeamer 1945, p. 105
  7. ^Jay Zeamer flight log
  8. ^ abMurphy 1993, p. 167.
  9. ^Murphy 1993, p. 168.
  10. ^Murphy 1993, p. 169.
  11. ^Gamble 2013, p. 80.
  12. ^Zeamer 1945, p. 106
  13. ^Japan Center for Asian Historical Records, Item ID C08051658400, pp. 44-45.
  14. ^Associated Press (26 March 2007). 'Jay Zeamer Jr., 88; pilot won the Medal of Honor in World War II'. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  15. ^'Long Odds (episode)'. Dogfights (TV). The History Channel. January 19, 2007.Cite journal requires journal= (help)
  16. ^ abGamble 2013, p. 81.
  17. ^Drury and Clavin, p. 267.
  18. ^USAF Historical Division's Brief History of the 43rd Bombardment Group, 1940-1952, retrieved 21 Jan 2019CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  • Stanaway, John, and Rocker, Bob. The Eight Ballers: Eyes of the Fifth Air Force: The 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron in World War. (X Planes of the Third Reich Series). Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1999. ISBN978-0764309106
  • Murphy, James T., with Feuer, A.B. Skip Bombing. Praeger, 1993. ISBN978-0275945404
  • Zeamer, Jay (January 1945). 'There's Always a Way'. The American Magazine.
  • Zeamer’s Eaver Beavers – The Definitive Resource, Clint Hayes, retrieved 23 Jan 2019CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  • Gamble, Bruce. Target: Rabaul. Zenith Press, 2013. ISBN978-0-7603-4407-1
  • Drury, Bob and Clavin, Tom. Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission That Changed the War in the Pacific. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2017. ISBN978-1-4767-7485-5

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