Come visit us at The Museum of Military Memorabilia. We have thousands of military artifacts from all branches of the Military. The Museum is located in the Naples Municipal Airport which was originally built by the Army Corps of Engineers to train pilots for the pacific theater in WWII.

What has begun as a Museum Honoring Military Aviation in WWII has evolved into so much more. You can now see historical artifacts dating back to the Revolutionary War and all the way up to the present day Iraq & Afghanistan conflicts.


2012 marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Naples Airport as a WWII Army Air Forces Training Base.


All American Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

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.

All American Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

An artist’s portrayal of the aircraft collision.

   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.

All American Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

The 414th Bomber Squadron Emblem.

 

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

All American Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

B-17 “All American” (414th Squadron, 97BG) Crew:

All American Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

Right Side of Rear Tail Assembly of the ” All American”

All American Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

Left Side of The B-17F All American ( notice missing rear stabilizer )

notes:

 

 

 

 

 

The German pilot was 16-victory ace Erich Paczia of I/JG 53.1

 

for more info on this story than you will ever need go to:

An interview with Ralph Burbridge can be read at:
That interview includes a detailed account of the amazing flight of the “All American” B-17.

All information in this post was made possible from

The Aviation History On-Line Museum website

 

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