Downed by friendly fire

By early April 1945 German resistance was crumbling but the Allied air bombardment continued. On April 7 the 486th put up 39 airplanes for the day’s mission –an attack on an airfield at Parchim, about 50 miles east of Hamburg.The B-17s were carrying a new type of fragmentation bomb. One of the pilots, Paul Lyon, later described what happened over the target:

“A tight formation was followed as usual since no special instructions were given to be followed in the bomb drop. When the lead ships salvoed (released) their loads, followed by the other ships, all hell broke loose. In my case, I was leading the element under the lead ship and had a front row seat for viewing the very erratic pattern that was taken by the salvoed bombs. Many exploded when they hit each other as they exited the bomb bay. They also did not seem to follow any trajectory familiar for the larger bombs usually dropped. During the run, Walt Center was flying too tight a formation for these condition and several of the fragmentation bombs landed on his wing immediately causing fires. My crew counted seven chutes and then I heard someone say, ‘There she goes!’ (meaning the airplane blew up.) No  additional chutes were reported.”

Walt Center takes up the story:

 

Walt Center's doomed B-17

Walt Center's doomed B-17

“After we were hit, I went through the exercize of ordering the bailout. I dropped my chute and reached back for it. In the excitement, I put it on upside down. By the time I was ready to leave, the plane was spinning straight down and the only way out was the (cockpit) window. I had trouble squeezing me and the chute through the small window. And it took time and it cost altitude, and when I did make it and found the rip cord on the wrong side to pull, the chute opened with time for only one oscillation before I hit the roof of a house. 

I bounced off the roof into the street and was immediately surrounded by irate Germans. One came at me with a knife (recalled vividly), but fortunately only wanted to cut the strap on my shoulder holster to get the ‘45’. Some home guard troops took over and marched me off to the local pokey where the other crewmen eventually were assembled. The bad guys made it known to us that we were to be shot the next morning, so it was not a happy event when we were awakened the next day and they took us outside. My horseshoe was still working because the Lutwaffe showed up, took us to the train station and got us on a train for the Dulag (POW camp).”

Two other members of Walt Center’s crew were not so fortunate. They parachuted safely but were killed on the ground.

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