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35 Missions, The Frank Boyle Story: The True Story of an American B-17 Ball Turret Gunner Over Europe During World War II

35 Missions, The Frank Boyle Story: The True Story of an American B-17 Ball Turret Gunner Over Europe During World War II

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35 Missions, The Frank Boyle Story: The True Story of an American B-17 Ball Turret Gunner Over Europe During World War II

352 pagine
5 ore
Jan 28, 2019


Staff Sergeant Frank Boyle flew 35 bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe in World War II at a time when most American bomber crews weren't surviving 12 missions. The courageous 6 to 8 hour flights of the Hell's Angels, 303rd Bomb group of the 8th Air Force based in England became legendary for their destruction of Nazi Germany from 30,000 feet. Boyle was a ball turret gunner positioned on the belly of the now celebrated B-17 bombers of the American Army Air Force. His job was to spot German fighters as they flew up from the ground, alert others and then shoot down the fighters with his two 50 caliber machine guns. Over 23,000 American airmen were killed in the air war over Europe during World War II. Frank, by his own admission, was one of the lucky ones.

Jan 28, 2019

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35 Missions, The Frank Boyle Story - Steve Knowles

35 Missions

The Frank Boyle Story

The True Story of an American B-17

Ball Turret Gunner Over Europe During World War II

By Steve Knowles

Copyright © 2018 by Steve Knowles

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, contact the publisher at the address below.

Author: Steve Knowles


Elite Online Publishing

63 E 11400 S #230

Sandy, UT 84070

35 Missions, The Frank Boyle Story / Steve Knowles

ISBN: 978-1790309313


This book is dedicated to all the Americans in uniform in World War II, those who supported them and to America’s wartime allies. Their good cheer, can-do spirit and sacrifice won the war against a foe who, as Winston Churchill said, would have plunged world into a new dark age. These Americans, most of them individually uncelebrated, came home from war and to build America, and helped lead a large part of the post-war world, to a level of prosperity and human freedom unprecedented in history.

They truly saved the world.



Mission Day 

The Long-Range Bomber Strategy 

Flying over Hitler’s Fortress in Europe 

Defending against German Fighter Attack 

Formation Flying 

Bombing the Target 

Back at the Base 


Staff Sergeant Boyle’s Background 

Inspiration Lands in New Hampshire 

You’re in the Army (Air Corps) Now 

The Story Behind The Story 

Frank’s First Gunnery School 



Another Base—Another Step Closer to War 

The Wild Blue Yonder 


Fighting the Luftwaffe in a Simulator 

A Slice of Memphis History 

A New Hampshire Yankee in Memphis 

Training Complete/Crash-Landing 


Timing Is Everything 

The Background of the Unescorted Bombing Strategy 

Strategic Bombing Finds a Home with the USAAF 

WW I Bombing Theory Meets WW II Reality 

The Dawn of Reason 

Frank Arrives in Bombed-Out England 


Home Sweet Molesworth 

The First Missions

Round Two 

Ghost B-17s 

Relieving Oneself on a B-17 

Bombing France? 


Bombing Hitler’s Wonder Weapons 



Frank’s Ride in a Fighter Plane 



Bombing France 

Life…and Death… in the Ball Turret 

Ejecting From The Ball 

Supporting The Ground War 

Frank’s Mission Tour Extended From 25 to 30 

Choking Off Germany’s Oil Supply 


Merseburg—For the Third Time 

The Blotter 

Bombing Osnabruck Once and Cologne Twice 

Permanent Temp 

CHAPTER 10  Approaching the Finish Line— Not Yet

The Numbers Game 

Steamrolling Mannheim with a New Crew 

Flak and Fighters/Fighters and Flak 

Fighters, Flak, and Hamm 

The Air Combat Routine 

Weekend Furlough 

Back To War 

Hamm Again


25 But Not Done

Striking Oil - Again 

The Flak Hospital 

Frank’s Mission Tour Is Extended Again 

Hollywood In The Eighth Air Force 

Back To The Battle 


The Ball Turret Gunsight 

30th Mission 

CHAPTER 12  The Homestretch

Parachuting to Safety

Violating Article 20 

Hitting The Ground Running 

The Lull Before The End 

One More to Go 

Saving The Biggest For Last 

Is That All There Is? 


The B-29 

LeMay Takes Over 

Frank and the B-29 

1945: Allied Victory Gains Momentum 

Meanwhile…Back in Laredo… and Back to Florida

Focus On Japan 

The Final Blows 

Frank’s Final Days in The Army Air Corps 



Adjusting To Post War Life 

Miami Beach 

The New Realities of the Post War World 

Frank Makes It In Miami 

The Post-War World Begins 

A Good Run In Miami Ends 

Back In New Hampshire and Off To College 

Frank’s Career In Radio Begins 

Meeting An Old Enemy 

Frank’s Later Career 

Epilogue and Author’s Postscript

Amazing WWII Aircraft Facts




The danger starts as soon as you leave the ground. That’s if your takeoff goes well.

On the day of a mission, you get up at 4:00 a.m. to shave and shower. From 4:30 to 5:00 a.m., you have breakfast with a few hundred men on the same schedule. Like you, none of them is sure they will be alive to have dinner that night.

At 5:00 a.m. you are briefed on which city in Nazi-occupied Europe you are going to bomb that day and why, then you go to the gun shack to get your two .50-caliber machine guns in a canvas bag from your assigned shelf. You grab your parachute, then put on a heated flight suit because you are going to spend a good part of the day in fifty-degree-below-zero temperatures at thirty thousand feet above the earth.

The B-17 bomber in which you’re going to be flying is unheated, unpressurized, uninsulated, and has open-air gun positions on either side of the aircraft toward the back for the waist gunners. These open positions let in cold air moving at about two hundred miles per hour or more. The waist gunners shoot .50-caliber machine guns out those open windows at German fighter aircraft flying trying to shoot your B-17 out of the sky. They travel at four hundred miles per hour as they fire at you. Your airplane has other .50 caliber gun positions in the tail, the top turret behind the pilots, underneath the airplane in the ball turret and in the front of the bomber.

It’s a long way down from six miles high. In a freefall from thirty-five thousand feet, it only takes about six minutes to hit the ground, but it must seem like an eternity to those who make the trip.

You try not to dwell on it. You’re busy. You still have work to do before takeoff. You have to preflight check your machine gun, then ride out to your B-17, which sits about a quarter mile away in a revetment—a mildly protective, waist-high semicircle of sandbags. There, as you kneel on the tarmac beside your aircraft, you install the guts of the guns. Once done, you climb into your bomber, install the guns into their proper defensive position inside the aircraft, then check the oxygen lines. There’s not much oxygen in an unpressurized aircraft at thirty thousand feet. You’ve got to make sure the system works.

Even before the German fighters and anti-aircraft gunners on the ground begin firing at you, there’s multiple opportunities to die in a B-17—from the moment of takeoff all the way up to thirty-five thousand feet.

When the ten-man crew has completed all of its on-board, preflight tasks, the four 1,200-horsepower Wright Cyclone engines are started by the pilot and copilot. The engines start one by one, beginning with the number-three engine on the outside of the right wing. The giant three-bladed propeller slowly begins to rotate, and the engine emits a low, peaceful humming sound as the props turn until the engine finally begins to catch.

The engine sputters a bit, then seems to pause as small streams of gray smoke trail out the sides of the engine cowling. The propeller spins faster, but you can still see individual blades occasionally. The engine pops and sometimes backfires, and then, with more puffs and streams of smoke and occasionally flames shooting out of the side of the engine, it roars to life. The propeller now seems to disappear from sight as it spins. You can only see the gray blur of the propeller path spinning in its perfect circle. One by one, each engine starts this way.

When all four engines are running at a medium speed, you taxi to where two or three dozen other B-17s, are lining up for take-off. Your B-17 with its ten-man crew on board gets in line. Each time you take off for a mission, either twenty-four or thirty-six aircraft from your bomb group take off at about the same time, one by one. You join up with other twenty-four or thirty-six airplane-bomber groups once you’re airborne.

Slowly, your B-17 inches closer to the front of the line of bombers of the Eighth Air Force, 303rd Bomb Group, each with their four engines rumbling and their propellers spinning as they wait to take off. The collective sound is a low, deep-throated, menacing roar punctuated by the loud drone of individual bombers revving to full throttle when they roll down the runway to achieve sufficient airspeed for takeoff.

Crashes on takeoff are a very real danger. Your aircraft could wind up in a flaming heap at the end of the runway, or it could fail to gain sufficient altitude immediately after takeoff and clip some trees. You could wind up in a burning heap that way, too.

Once you are in the air, your B-17 rises higher and higher as it circles continuously around the buncher beacon. You fly around, killing time, waiting for the other bombers to take off from the airfield below at Molesworth, England to join you at 6,000 or 8,000 feet. Your airplane spirals steadily upward in a giant, lazy circle.

As peaceful as it may seem doing those seemingly slow circles upward, this is one of the first moments of the mission after takeoff in which you could lose your life.

Ten percent of the heavy bomber losses in Europe in World War II occur during the forming up of the massive 350 to 500 airplane missions as they assemble over American airfields in England. The English sky is oftentimes overcast, or there is fog. When your B-17 takes off into fog or overcast skies, it flies through them to 6,000 to 10,000 feet in altitude, then breaks through the clouds into an ever-present, beautiful blue sky above the cloud cover.

But with that many airplanes in the sky, there’s always the possibility that when you break through the clouds, you might fly right up into another B-17. And that’s when everyone behaves themselves. Sometimes pilots misbehave. Sometimes bored pilots kill time by flying in a perfect circle at level altitude to show off, instead of ascending to make room for other airplanes flying upwards from the ground. You know from your flight training that the ability to fly an aircraft in a perfect circle at a perfectly level altitude, then flying back through your own prop wash is considered a mark of expert flying skill. Pilots up there in the sunshine, seeing no other aircraft close by, sometimes will try it. The aircraft you are in, coming up through the clouds, could run into the show-off off as you break blindly through the clouds into the sunshine.

However, proving your piloting skills this way during the form-up of a several-hundred-airplane bomber formation rising through the clouds is a mark of stupidity, not expertise. But guys do it, and men die—ten in each of two planes—twenty at a time.

Or some of the pilots, still drunk from the night before, deliberately play chicken with other bombers as they circle the buncher beacon. When neither pilot chickens out, the two bombers collide head-on, and twenty men die.

Collisions, for whatever reason, aren’t uncommon. Every time there is a collision during the forming up process, two bombers and twenty men are lost. That’s before you even leave English airspace—before the German fighter planes waiting for you in Europe shoot at you—before you encounter German antiaircraft fire that could knock your airplane out of the sky.

You then cross the English Channel, a body of water anywhere from thirty-three to 150 miles wide, depending on where you cross it. If you are a ball-turret gunner, as your airplane flies over the Channel, you descend from the main part of the aircraft into the one-man gun position that rotates underneath the airplane. Once you squeeze into the ball, a space barely big enough to accommodate you, you point the turret’s two .50-caliber machine guns downward and test fire them into the waters below. At that point, if the guns don’t work, there isn’t much you can do about it.

Then you start visually scanning the skies for enemy fighters. That’s part of your job. In the ball turret, you’re the guy who is best able to see German fighter planes coming up from the ground. The boredom is constant until you see the fighters. If they choose to attack your particular part of the formation, they will fly at you head-on, a hundred at a time in packs of twenty-five. If one of these fighters comes close to your airplane, you fire at it in short bursts as soon as it gets around six hundred yards from you.

You only have 1,500 bullets—750 for each .50-caliber machine gun. You could fire all of them in less than ten minutes. That’s why you fire in short, three- to five-second bursts during the five- to eight-hour mission. Each mission is hours of boredom punctuated by sporadic minutes of sheer terror when the anti-aircraft fire begins or the German fighters appear. Whether flak or fighters, the ones that get you oftentimes are the ones you don’t see.

The wind is going by you at somewhere between the 160 and 318 miles-per-hour airspeed range of your B-17. If you are in the main part of the bomber, the air blows in through the open waist-gunner windows and the multiple other gun positions, adding to the windchill factor of the freezing actual temperature. Your B-17 and the hundreds of other B-17s in your formation drone on in the bright sunlight.

It’s always sunny at thirty thousand feet above the cloud cover Europe frequently has. If your target is clouded over, the decision may be made to bomb it anyway, based on navigational guidance, or to divert to an alternate target. You nearly always drop your bombs on somebody no matter what the circumstance, preferably somewhere it is sunny. In your idle thoughts, as you fly toward what might be your final destiny, you suppose Germans waking up to a cloudy day feel a bit safer.


By 1944, a bombing tactic called round-the-clock-bombing had been adopted by the British and Americans. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) would bomb occupied Europe at night, the United States Army Air Force, (USAAF) during the day. The RAF tended to use an approach termed area bombing: the RAF four-engine Lancaster and Halifax bombers would fly to a target, and once over it, indiscriminately drop their bombs.

The Americans employed a precision-bombing strategy. Using the highly accurate Norden bombsight. The USAAF goal was to drop bombs as close to a specific target as possible. The difference was that the RAF would drop bombs all over a city where a war material factory was located. The USAAF, on the other hand, would attempt to bomb the factory itself. However, even so-called precision bombing involved major collateral damage to civilian areas. Any American bomb that hit within a one-thousand-foot radius of the target was considered to have hit the mark. Only about 20 percent of the American bombs dropped achieved that accuracy—even with the precise Norden bombsight.

There was also a new military philosophy in World War II. The workers in those factories, erstwhile civilians, were considered targets in an industrialized war. Without the workers, the fighter factory, the ball-bearing factory, the oil field, or any other war-enabling facility was impaired or useless. Even when a factory was rebuilt, if the skilled labor that operated it was no longer available, the war material from the rebuilt factory was no longer made as quickly or at all.

This World War II you were in was the first truly industrial and total war. World War I and other wars of the late 1800s and early 1900s, while they occurred during and after the industrial revolution, still used traditional war tactics and weapons. Those wars were conducted as they had been for centuries: It was army versus army. Navy versus navy. There were no air forces until World War I, and the use of airplanes in that war was limited.

Airplanes in World War I did not engage in massive, effective bombing of industrial areas. The industrial war-making power of each side was left fairly intact until an opposing army conquered the territory where it was located. The airplane in the First World War was mostly used for observation and ground-support missions, but not bombing. Dogfighting—aerial battles between opposing sides—occurred in a comparatively limited fashion. Late in World War I small bombs were dropped from airplanes, sometimes by hand, but the massive aerial-type bombing of World War II had not yet evolved.

While, there were bombs dropped from the air in World War I, but the concept of an airplane designated as a bomber was in its infancy. In the First World War, there were those in the upper echelons of the military who still viewed airplanes as an occasionally useful tool but not a war machine upon which you could base serious strategy. Given the newness of aviation during the 1914–1918 War, that kind of thinking was understandable. The Air Age was still new. Also, the aircraft of World War I were mostly made of wood and canvas and couldn’t physically have much heavy weaponry aboard.

Airpower in World War II created a new, unprecedented third dimension to warfare. Not only was war conducted two dimensionally on the ground and on the sea, but now it was conducted from overhead. To not recognize that third dimension in World War II was foolhardy. German chancellor Adolf Hitler, for instance, didn’t recognize the power of long-range strategic bombing early in the war, and Germany was later victimized by that error in judgment.

By the time Hitler understood the destructive power of the long-range strategic bombs raining down on the German Fatherland and its conquered territories, it was too late to design and build an adequate German strategic-bombing force. Even if they had done so later in the war, by then the Allies had built enough effective airpower that they could have bombed the factories to smithereens before the Germans could turn out a truly effective strategic bombing force.

Technologically speaking, by World War II, the advances in aviation had made it possible for the long-range bomber to become a central part of a military strategy, whether Commander in Chief of the German Air Force Hermann Goering or Hitler recognized it or not.


Once your B-17 finished its short journey over the English Channel, threats could occur at any moment. Depending on your flight path, the threat could be sooner or later, but it was always certain.

Most German-occupied cities along the way to your target had anti-aircraft emplacements ringing the town. Your B-17 formation was easy to see from ground. Even though the B-17 was a piston-powered, propeller-driven aircraft, it left white jet trails, technically called contrails, in the sky like a jet. The fifty-degree-below-zero temperatures found at thirty thousand feet would instantly freeze the hot exhaust from the internal combustion engines of the B-17, and that exhaust then crystalized in the frigid air to form streams of white clouds behind the airplane.

The white contrails of the bomber formation of three hundred or five hundred aircraft in 1944 were impossible for the Germans to miss on a clear day. Unfortunately you were always more likely to be on a mission on a clear day so that your bombardiers could see their targets.

As the ’round-the-clock bombing missions of 1944 and 1945 continued unabated, the Germans expected you to come and were ready for you when you did. As soon as your formation reached the coast of Europe, ground spotters and radar would alert the anti-aircraft crews and the fighter squadrons—all of which were purposely located along the typical bomber routes. Over Germany itself, every major city—about thirty-seven cities—had a fighter-plane base and anti-aircraft cannons.

Even before you reached your target, you would experience flak. Flak was an acronym for Flugabwehrkanone, the German word for anti-aircraft guns. Each city over which you flew was ringed with flak guns that would shoot at you as you passed overhead—even if you weren’t bombing that particular town. The German anti-aircraft shells were equipped with altitude sensors that would trigger an explosion at your approximate altitude.

Though the flak guns weren’t perfectly accurate, the sheer number of them made flying through flak highly dangerous. There was no real defense against flak. You just had to fly through the field of exploding anti-aircraft shells and hope one wouldn’t hit you. A direct hit by a flak shell could sever a wing, cut a plane in half, or cause a B-17 to simply explode.

When a fellow B-17 in your formation was hit by flak, the many eyes in the other bombers were upon it, all watching the spectacle as the bomber dropped out of the sky. You’d look for, hope for, and root for the appearance of parachutes and count them, if and when they appeared. Five chutes meant five of the ten B-17 airmen had made it out of the falling, oftentimes burning aircraft.

The men who parachuted might make it back to England somehow, possibly rescued by Resistance fighters in the occupied nations into which they were parachuting. But most likely they were going to be captured by the German military and shipped off to a prisoner-of-war camp. If you made it through being a prisoner of war, you’d least be able to go home after the war.

The worst eventuality for airmen bailing out was to be captured by German civilians. German civilians, upset about being bombed day and night, and maybe having lost family members to Allied bombings, weren’t predisposed to treat Allied bomber crews well. They had been known to carry out mob justice on any hapless, sometimes already-wounded Allied airmen who fell into their hands. There had been reports of lynchings, beatings, and murder of American and British airmen by vengeful German civilians. Later in the war, Hitler issued a directive which actually encouraged German

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