Fly the B-17 bomber – I’d love to, thanks.
Early Morning. Dawn slowly fills the landscape with sunlight. Hills and valleys below appear one after another, like waves of a green ocean way down below us. Our aluminum bird shakes and vibrates as it carries us forward, her engines roar we can’t hear ourselves think, and yet – everything seems so calm. Scatters of haze disappear as sun rises, the sky is brighter and brighter. Instead of enjoying the view we grow more and more anxious, there is a flak curtain ahead of us, and if we pass through it safe there will be wave after wave of enemy fighters, rushing straight towards us, spewing fire and trying to bring us down.
– It’s only a game, it’s only a game – I keep repeating to myself, but still can’t help but think how it must have been way back then…
Early start after a sleepless, restless night, quick gearing up, rushed meal – odds are it may very well be the last one. Cap yelling: Eat faster! Ear faster! C’mon! Short truck ride to the airfield, loading of ammo and bombs, checklists for everything… And finally the takeoff.
B-17 slowly gains space between the land and it’s wings. The only thing that might keep us safe, against all odds, just a thin coat of metal shaped in a beautiful creature of the sky with it’s elegant wings and large tall tail and stars on it’s sides that makes me homesick every time is see them.
So many failed to return. Rear gunner is napping. God, how can he sleep. Wish I could. At least till we traverse the Channel.
Back to reality, I’m quite safe in my room playing a war game online, but still, somehow this takes me back. To an era without the Internet, computers, even phones were a luxury. These guys were on a mission. Not just this one, a mission to bomb an enemy ammo factory, but the larger one – a mission to stop the evil that covered most of Europe, and if they weren’t up to the task might have spread all the way home.
Flak fire was not intense as usual. Black spots around us appeared and disappeared, causing our airship to shake and jump, but no damage. So far so good. Squadrons of planes filled the sky over France on both sides. Enter the fighters. Small, agile buzzing bees with deadly stings. Loud racket of machine guns overpower engines and sounds of other planes. My gunners do their best to shoot them down or at least keep them away. Nothing personal, it is, after all just a game. I also played as a fighter pilot on axis side, but playing as a B-17 makes it seem closer to home. It was also nothing personal back then. Just a bunch of guys, on different sides, speaking different languages, doing what they were told, hardly ever seeing each other eye to eye. But the ultimate goals were worlds apart. And luckily for us, our guys won, regular Toms, Dicks and Harrys did their small parts in one big turmoil so my family and me can enjoy our freedom, and I can play this game over 70 years later, in 21st century, and remember them and their beautiful metal bird.
Photography courtesy Steven B. Halls. Additional photos of the B-17 in flight, here, and Photographs of the B-17 on the ground at Boundary Bay airshow, here