A Wing and a Prayer All American Museum of Military Memorabilia
Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer was a popular – sometimes all too realistic – saying in World War II. But this riveting phrase didn’t come from the 1944 motion picture Wing and a Prayer, which starred Don Ameche and Dana Andrews in the story of an aircraft carrier pilot in the Pacific. It was coined instead to describe the harrowing return flight of the “All American,” a B-17 that had had its tail section all but torn off during a bombing mission over North Africa in early 1943.
The All American was assigned to the 97th Bombardment Group, 414th Squadron, U.S. Eighth Air Force, based near Biskra, Algeria. Flying from a base near Biskra, an city in the Sahara Desert in Algeria, the 414th’s missions targeted Mediterranean seaports at Bizerte and Tunis, Tunisia,in early 1943.
On the first day of February , 1943, the All American was part of a formation of bombers attacking the German-controlled seaport. After braving heavy Anti-Aircraft fire and German fighters on the way in, the All American and her crew managed to drop their bombs and were headed back to base. While returning home, enemy fighters pursued the bomber group to their maximum range. After the main attack had ended, two more Messerschmitts bf 109 fighters appeared and came in for the attack.
One of the fighters went straight for the nose of the lead bomber of the formation and the other came for the nose of All American. The crew of All American fired at the plane coming for them from their nose turret while firing at the fighter heading for the lead bomber from the right side nose gun. Between the fire of All American and the lead bomber, the fighter going after that plane was disabled and sent down, smoke pouring from it as it descended. The fighter that was attacking the All American head-on, began a roll to pull away, but halfway through the maneuver, gunfire from either All American or the lead bomber must have killed or incapacitated the fighter pilot and the plane never completed the collision-avoiding maneuver.
Museum of Military Memorabilia
The fighter passed over All American and struck the tail just in front of the Rudder assembly and tore a significant hole in the rear of the fuselage and removed the left horizontal stabilizer. The remaining parts of the tail section, the vertical and right stabilizer appeared that they could come apart at any moment. amazingly, none of the B-17’s crew were injured and the men all strapped on their parachutes, ready to abandon ship, should the tail break off.
The other crews in the formation, seeing that the B-17 was crippled, but remaining aloft, slowed to a speed the injured bird could maintain and formed a formation around her until they were out from enemy territory. Once the formation was outside of the maximum range for the German fighter planes, the rest of the formation went on ahead and All American limped on alone. The Flying Fortress landed safely, even without a functioning tail wheel.
The B-17F was given a new tail and flew on mainly as a hack aircraft until March 1945.
The 414th bomber squadron adopted a version of this image with a puppy praying atop the rear fuselage as a unit badge.
B-17 “All American”
(414th Squadron, 97BG) Crew:
Pilot- Ken Bragg Jr. Copilot- G. Boyd Jr. Navigator- Harry C. Nuessle
Bombardier- Ralph Burbridge Engineer- Joe C. James Radio Operator- Paul A. Galloway Ball Turret Gunner- Elton Conda Waist Gunner- Michael Zuk
Tail Gunner- Sam T. Sarpolus Ground Crew Chief- Hank Hyland
The German pilot was 16-victory ace Erich Paczia of I/JG 53.1
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All information in this post was made possible from
The Aviation History On-Line Museum website