|This Focke-Wulf 190 pilot was very lucky to be alive, much less land the plane. That would be the exit hole, with the shot coming from the other side.|
During World War II, the newspapers took to showing photos in most editions of planes that were all shot up but still managed to keep flying and make it back to base. It became almost a standing joke as to how little of a plane could be left and still not crash. These were usually bombers because those were the planes that were the toughest, but even fighters can take an awesome amount of pounding and still land safely.
|American crew demonstrate the size of a hole in the wing of a B-17, resulting from German flak during a raid on Ludwigshafen, 1944.|
Let's take a look at some battle-damaged planes of World War II that barely survived.
|This B-17 returned from a Frankfurt raid. Flak blew rear gunner Roy Urich out and he became a POW. B-17s were legendary for surviving incidents like this.|
The next one below deserves special mention. This is "Sweet Pea," a Boeing B-17G in the 2nd Group, 429th Bombardment Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, 15th Air Force. On Mission 279, it was flying over the Debrecen, Hungary, marshalling yards on 21 September 1944 when it was hit by a 88mm Flak gun. Normally, a direct hit from an 88 would destroy just about anything, including a tank. However, Sweat Pea made it back to Amendola air base at Foggia, Italy, 600 miles away. It only had one control cable left. The tail gunner and left waist gunner perished, everyone else survived. Incredibly, the plane was repaired and flew more missions. Congrats to the pilot, 2nd Lt. Guy M. Miller, the navigator 2nd Lt. Theodore Davich, and everyone else. I don't have any information on whether the ball turret gunner had to sit through that landing, but his hatch is open.
Some hits show just how much of a plane really isn't needed - if you just want to get home.
Japanese antiaircraft fire seldom gets much attention. However, it was just as deadly as German or British artillery.
|"80-G-295284 TBF-1 at Munda with damaged wing as a result of Japanese AA fire Oct 1943" (National Archives Still Picture Research Room via Donald Larson, author of "Lucky's Life," at Warbird Information Exchange).|
Anyway, the pictures mainly speak for themselves. Some of them have little background on them - some mechanic or pilot simply snapped a picture and then developed it months or years later, never recording what had happened. But you can pretty much get the idea just from what's there, and what's missing.
|A damaged B-24 Liberator from the 376th American bombardment in flight over Toulon, 1944.|
|Combat damage to F6F Hellcat, August 1944. It was a notably tough aircraft, but this pilot was exceptionally lucky to make it home.|
|Hurricane Mk I YB-S. This shows damage from cannon fire that blew apart a section of flap before P/O David C Leary force-landed near Bolbec on the afternoon of 9 June 1940.|
|Photo of Messerschmitt Bf.109 with the dripping oil from the damaged engine.|
If you are not impressed with that Bf 109 with the shot-up windscreen, below is one from the Allied side with a little better contrast to show what a shot-up windscreen looks like.
There's a story to this picture, might as well tell it.
It was a strike on Chichi Jima. This Avenger made it back and ditched safely near the US fleet. Only the pilot, Bob King, was aboard when he ditched. The other two crew members had bailed out after a midair collision with a 2nd Avenger that took off part of the wing (the other plane was flown by Bob Cosbie, and spun into the sea killing all aboard).
Jesse Naul was flying a 3rd Avenger and saw everything:
"I was behind Cosbie's plane. Suddenly, antiaircraft fire shot Cosbie's right wing off.
His plane went into a clockwise spin, It slammed into King's plane and the propeller hit King's left wing and chewed off four feet of it.
King's plane then went into a spin.
King thought they would crash, so he told his crew to bail out. Jimmy and Grady bailed out (and were captured and killed by the Japs).
King had his seat belt off, fixing to bail out, and to his surprise, he got the plane straight, he kept flying, nursing his damaged Avenger back to his carrier (USS Bennington). He was accompanied by other planes from the squadron.
All who saw the torpedo bomber still airborne with most of its left wing missing were amazed.
"We told him his landing gear wouldn't work, that he shouldn't even try," Naul said. "We told him he'd have to make a water landing."
King ditched his plane near the fleet."
After his bad jolt, King spent the night in sick bay, but he was alive. He was also a changed man.
"King was the most heartbroken man I ever saw in my life," Sengewalt told Bradley. "He lost two men and lived. He didn't say much. I think he never really recovered from that flight, he was so moved. We knew what he went through; no one blamed him. What he did was almost miraculous."
Source: 'Flyboys' by James Bradley (Little, Brown: Boston, 2003) pp. 291-301.
|Crew member examines wing of a Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" which was badly-damaged during pre-invasion raid over Iwo Jima. Marianas Islands.|
|Pictured on 17 May 1940 is the badly damaged Dornier Do 17 Z of Unteroffizier Otto Stephani of ll/KG76. During a strafing run on a French ammunition truck, the truck blew up and showered the passing plane with shrapnel.|
|This B-17 Flying Fortress returned to base after literally having her nose blown off by flak over Cologne, Germany on Oct 15, 1944. Pilot 1st Lt. Lawrence M. deLancey walked away along the entire crew save one who was killed instantly by the flak.|
|B-17 could absorb a lot of damage and continue to fly, this is a G model. I know this looks like the same plane as above - but it isn't.|
|A Heinkel He 111 after it returned to base after a mission over England in November 1940.|
|Not much information on this one, but somehow the pilot brought it in for a level landing in France during the Battle of Britain. All those bullet- and cannon-strikes and the pilot still survived. August 1940.|
|B-29 lost its prop in flight which carved that hole in the fuselage. Pilot made emergency landing and collided with a parked aircraft, causing further damage to nose and top turret|
|B-17 "Lady B Good" after attack by Me 262 in Berlin raid, March 1945.|
|P-47 pilot Lt Edwin King. Flak caused oil leak. Oil is everywhere, including on him. He landed safely, Italy January 1945.|
Perfectly TimedAs I come across them, I will post photos here which appear to be perfectly timed to show a plane which appears to be capable of flying, but in fact is virtually certain to crash. Unfortunately, most photos in this category won't have much supporting information - the photos will have to speak for themselves, and we will have to draw our own conclusions.
|B-17 in trouble. A commenter has pointed out that it appears to have flipped over, and thus almost certainly is on its way down.|
The next one I include with reservations, because I don't know what actually happened. One source claims that it made a belly landing after taking anti-aircraft fire during a raid on Tunisia. Other sources say that this was just a well-timed photo, and the plane crashed right after this shot. It appears to be heeling over a bit already, so I go with the latter view - it probably spiralled in right after this shot was taken.