The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is an American four-engine heavy bomber used by the United States Army Air Forces and other Allied air forces during World War II. The B-17G was the final version of the Flying Fortress, incorporating all changes made to its predecessor, the B-17F, and in total, 8,680 were built.
Following an extensive redesign, to increase armour and armament, new versions were introduced and were widely used by the Americans, both in Europe and the Pacific. A further modification programme, this time to improve the bomber’s ability to repel air attacks from the front, produced the B17G with its twin-gun ‘chin’ turret.
The crew of B-17 42-31044 / Her Did
Pilot (P): Frank G. Chaplick
Co-pilot (CP): Ward H. Skaggs
Navigator (N): Thomas M. Cowell
Bombardier (B): Armand C. Sedgeley
Top Turret Gunner (TTG): Frank E. Bradley
Radio Operator (RO): Robert F. Householder – KIA
Waist Gunner (WG): George J. Murphy – KIA
Waist Gunner (WG): Joseph P. Baron
Ball Turret Gunner (BTG): Orville F. Grilliot
Tail Gunner (TG): Tony Duca -KIA
B-17G-1-BO”Her Did” serial no 42-31044 belongs to 15th AF, 97th BG based in Foggia Italy. The 97th BG had previously been based at Depienne, Tunisia, and had moved about 500 miles to San Giovanni (near Cerignola) Italy in December 1943, flying their mission from Italy on 14 December.
The B-17 could hold a crew of ten. The pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and navigator, as commissioned officers, were seated at the front of the plane, with the navigator positioned at a desk below the cockpit. The full complement of the ground crew finally arrived at San Giovanni from Depienne on 26 Dec.
The history of B-17G crash
The 14 February 1944 mission was to bomb the railroad yards at Verona, Italy. Because of severe fog and undercast, the formation could not locate the target (no mention of heading to secondary target or targets of opportunity). Frank C. Chaplick’s aircraft was hit by about 12 enemy aircraft over the target area. Two engines were knocked out and the aircraft began skidding toward the outer edge of the formation. As a straggler, the enemy aircraft singled it out and concentrated their attacks upon it. The tail guns jammed when the first enemy aircraft attacked. A second enemy aircraft, realizing that the tail turret was inoperative, closed to point-blank range from astern before firing.
This aircraft killed the radio operator, one waist gunner, the tail gunner, and severely wounded the remaining waist gunner as well as inflicting light wounds on two others. The third fighter to attack was shot down (exploded in the air) by the wounded top turret gunner, Sgt. Frank E. Bradley before his turret also became inoperative. The fourth fighter was shot down by ball turret gunner Orville F. Grilliot. The navigator and bombardier combined to shoot down a further enemy aircraft before American P-47s arrived to drive off the onslaught.
With 2 engines in fire and a third with cough, there was nothing left to do, even holding the commands. One of P-47 escorted B-17G and the pilot took a direct course to Corsica. Then, a call with the Calvi’s control tower let the crew know that the landing track was too short to receive a damaged plane of B-17G size.
At Chaplick’s order, Bradley and Grilliot worked to lighten the load, throwing overboard as much equipment as possible. In sight of the field at Calvi, a third engine quit and Chaplick had no option but to ditch, with the aircraft landing in the sea about 100 yards offshore. Except for the pilot and the co-pilot, the remainder of the crew gathered in the radio compartment with two of the dead for the ditching. Sedgeley, the bombardier, tried to get Tony Duca out of the tail turret to apply first aid but found him dead.
That’s the way Frank G. Chaplick landed the B-17 on the water, very close in front of the Calvi’s citadel. The plane didn’t break during the operation and floated a few minutes, which enabled cew to evacuate it, except for the 3 machine gunners killed during the attack and whose bodies sunk with the wrecks. The crew managed to deploy and get into the life rafts but were unable to bring the three dead crewmembers with them.
After this difficult mission, the second lieutenant Chaplick went back definitively to the USA, the war for him was ended. The wreck is located 200 m in front of the port of Calvi at the height of the citadel. The wreck is still very well preserved and a popular diving destination. The wings are almost intact and the four engines are clearly visible. Unfortunately, most of the propeller blades were removed. The nose was destroyed by the impact. The cockpit with its two metal seats and the intervening instruments are still quite well preserved. A little further away are the remains of the stern and a tail wheel.