In 1943 a mid-air collision on February 1, 1943, between a B-17 (All American tail-number 124406) and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area, this became the subject of one of the most famous photographs of WW II.
Although the tail actually bounced and swayed in the wind, and twisted when the plane turned. And all the control cables were severed, except one single elevator cable still worked, and the aircraft miraculously still flew! The tail gunner was trapped because there was no floor connecting the tail to the rest of the plane. The waist and tail gunners used parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses in an attempt to keep the tail from ripping off and the two sides of the fuselage from splitting apart.
While the crew was trying to keep the bomber from coming apart, the pilot continued on his bomb run and released his bombs over the target
When the bomb bay doors were opened, the wind turbulence was so great that it blew one of the waist gunners into the broken tail section. It took several minutes and four crew members to pass him ropes from parachutes and haul him back into the forward part of the plane.
When they tried to do the same for the tail gunner, the tail began flapping so hard that it began to break off. The weight of the gunner was adding some stability to the tail section, so he went back to his position.
The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky. For a brief time, two more Me-109 German fighters attacked the “All American”.
Note: The return path took the plane over occupied France, a distance of approximately 1100 land-miles.
Despite the extensive damage, all of the machine gunners were able to respond to these attacks and soon drove off the fighters.
Allied P-51 fighters intercepted the “All American” as it crossed over the Channel and took one of the pictures shown.
They also radioed to the base describing that the appendage was waving like a fishtail . . and that the plane would not make it and to send out boats to rescue the crew when they bailed out.
The fighters stayed with the Fortress, taking hand signals from Lt. Bragg and relaying them to the base. Lt. Bragg signalled that 5 parachutes and the spare had been “used” so five of the crew could not bail out. He made the decision that if they could not bail out safely, then he would stay with the plane to land it.
Two and a half hours after being hit, the aircraft made its final turn to line up with the runway while it was still over 40 miles away. It descended into an emergency landing and a normal roll-out on its landing gear.
The Fortress sat placidly until the crew all exited through the door in the fuselage and the tail gunner had climbed down a ladder, at which time the entire rear section of the aircraft collapsed.
This old bird had done its job and brought the entire crew home uninjured.