Monday, November 1, 2010

OLD 666

OLD 666 - B-17E 41-2666 was assigned to the 43rd Bomb Group in 1943, piloted by Lt. Col. (then Captain) Jay Zeamer on the mission that would earn him and bombardier Joseph Sarnoski a Medal of Honor, and every other member of the crew a Distinguished Service Cross.

By 1943 Old 666, serial number 12666, had suffered heavy battle damage and had gained a reputation as a cursed bomber, often coming back from missions with heavy damage. Grounded at Port Moresby Airport, it was parked at the end of the runway where other aircrews could cannibalize it for needed parts. A friend of Zeamer's said to him, "I know where there’s a bomber, but no one will fly it anymore because every time it goes out it gets shot to hell!"

Captain Zeamer, who had been unable to acquire an aircraft or crew of his own, had the bomber towed out of the 'bone yard' and, with enormous effort, not only restored the badly battered aircraft to flight status but made many changes.

They included increasing the number of machine guns from 13 to 19, replacing the waist gunners' standard single guns with twin guns, replacing all .30 cal machine guns with heavier .50 cal machine guns, and even added a fixed-position gun that could be fired from the pilot's station. Zeamer's crew put guns where they didn't even need them, and left spare machine guns on the aircraft's catwalk; if a gun jammed at a critical moment they could dump it and quickly replace it. These modifications made Old 666 the most heavily armed bomber in the Pacific Theater.

They also mounted a gun behind the ball turret near the waist. In the months of missions that followed, Zeamer's crew was so busy that they never had the time to adorn their bomber with the traditional nose-art, commonly seen on aircraft of that era.

Monday's Mystery Bird is HERE