Savage Sky: Life and Death on a Bomber over Germany in 1944
Excellent first person account of flying on a B-17 “Flying Fortress” during the air war over Germany. George Webster was a nineteen-year old radio operator at the 92nd Bomber Group flying on-board the B-17F and then the B-17G. The book is surprisingly well written and brutally honest about his missions and the terror they inspired. The B-17 was anything but a Flying Fortress. They were sitting ducks for German fighters and flak. The losses were so high, and so obvious- Webster knew he was going to die- just not when. It was too much for him- it was hard enough to read about.
During the five months in England, Webster manages to fall in love, take college corespondent courses, fly top secret recon missions, and maneuvers to get a commission.
Over flying coveralls, I pull on a blue, wooly suit with electric heating wires to keep me from freezing in the intense cold that I will soon face. I remove my shoes and pull on dainty, wool slippers, also containing heating wires, and plug the boot wires into receptacles on the ankles of my electric suit. Over these, I pull on leather, sheepskin-lined pants, jacket and hoots. I look like an Arctic explorer. I strap on a yellow life jacket in case we go down in the water. If we do, I must pull two cords on the life jacket, and two cartridges will fill it with carbon dioxide gas to make it float. Over the life jacket, I buckle on my parachute harness, making certain that the straps are tight. If they are not tight, the straps can hurt me badly when my parachute opens. The parachute is in it separate, canvas pack. It is it chest chute, rather than a parachute that attaches to my back. In an emergency, I must snap the parachute pack onto clasps on my harness. Before I jump, I must remember to do it. I heard of flyers so panic-stricken when fire engulfed their bombers that they jumped without a parachute. That scares me. I grab a canvas bag containing a sheepskin-lined helmet with goggles, earphones, and oxygen mask, a throat microphone, silk gloves, and leather gloves that plug into the wrists of the electric suit. I also check my escape kit, containing silk maps, compass, German and French money, a chocolate bar, and passport photos of me as a European civilian. The kit fits into a pocket in my flying coveralls.
..a cold, dark February of 1944 begins, I have survived three bombing missions, and they have taught me lessons. First, a below-zero gale at 170 miles per hour is almost unbearable. Second, hours at high altitude are more exhausting than I could imagine. Third, there are too many ways to die: freezing, lack of oxygen, altitude sickness, mechanical failure, lynch mobs, gunfire, burning, explosion, and shrapnel from antiaircraft shells. Worst of all, watching acquaintances die almost daily are reminders of how poor my chances are of completing twenty-five missions before something kills me. The savagery of the missions has been a shock. It is difficult to keep an optimistic outlook, even though I have flown only three missions.
Silver B-17G No. 42-97314 glistens in morning sunlight. The new silver ones are striking.