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Contemplating the Memphis Belle
A short exploration of the space between the fact and fiction of B-17s, Friends, Families, Model Building and Carpet Bombing
Details
In the movie, a quick burst from twin fifties and pow, one dead Nazi. But in real life mostly you miss. Or so I had read.

I believed it then, I believe it now. It's hard enough to bull's eye the basket in the corner with a crumpled piece of typing paper. It's a bit harder to swing a huge gun around in the open window of your cramped, jouncing, ice glider. Harder still to hit a fast moving shadow 400 yards away.

Keep in mind the big clumsy gloves necessary to keep Belle from ripping your skin off. Factor in the changing vectors, deflection, angle and speed; everything is blasting at you, ice-air, noise, not to mention adrenaline amped fear - the Nazi bastard in the fast shadow is trying to blow your guts all over the guy next to you with a small cannon. Maybe the sun really is in your eyes. So mostly you miss.

I had read all of that.

I had also read about an innocent, young boy at a New Year's party somewhere in our town. He had been struck in the head and killed by a falling bullet. Somebody, somewhere else, had fired blindly into the air. One bullet, one dead boy.

Details came to mind. Do you want to know how much fifty caliber machine gun ammo Belle carried? Do you want to know how big those bullets are? I've forgotten now but I knew back then. I knew all the details, rounds per gun, guns per plane, planes per raid, raids per week. I knew all of this stuff. Plus I knew that everybody shoots and mostly they miss.

When I read about the dead kid I thought about thousands and thousands of bullets falling to earth from an aerial battle. More details. Effective range and muzzle velocity of a Browning, fifty caliber machine gun, gravity coefficient, bullet mass, terminal velocity. From thirty-five thousand feet Belle, her friends and enemies, must have rained steel over a five mile wide area of farms, farmers, cows and little milk maids along a path stretching hundreds of miles.

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  • Douglas built, Boeing B-17F-60-DL
  • Range with 6000lb. bomb load: 1,300 miles
  • Armament: 8-9 Browning .50 cal machine guns, one .30 cal.

Decimate referred, in Roman times, to killing 1 in 10 soldiers - a 10% mortality rate.

  • Mortality rate, Avg, B-17 Crewman, 1943: 30%
  • Mortality rate, Avg, B-17 Ball Turret gunner, 1943: 60%
  • Age, Avg, Crewman, 1943: 22
  • Age, Avg, Ball Turret Gunner, 1943: 18
Ball Turret, See:
"Death of a Ball Turret Gunner"



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