The talk about the Memphis Belle movie on AMC last night got me thinking.
Does anybody know anybody who flew in that position by chance? What was
their overall size and weight? I was at the San Diego Aerospace museum a
while back and met an ex Luftwaffe 109 pilot who told me that it was the
hardest position for them to knock off which I suppose was a bit lucky for
I was at the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB recently,and
wound up in a discussion about their B-17 with a guy that said his
uncle was the belly gunner,and how the uncle was a "little guy".This
fellow was 5'6-5'8,slender and said the uncle had a similar build.I'm
6' 240+ so no way would I even try it for size...
My Grandfather was trained as a ball turret gunner but got selected for
flight training two weeks before he was scheduled to go to Europe in 43.
He was about 5'8" and rail thin.
He spent the rest of the war either in flight training or as an
instructor in T-6's
It was generally given the smallest members of the guys trained as
aerial gunners, because they were the only ones who could fit in it with
any comfort or utility.
IIRC, the tail gun position was pretty cramped also in the original form.
I've heard military regulations for WWII cited that a draftee/recruit had to
be at least 5 feet tall, 105lbs, possess half there teeth and answer yes to
the question "Do you like girls". Dunno if it is true or not - sounds a bit
I looked inside a Sperry turret once inside a B-17, and it seemed like my
head barely fit - no chance my 6ft 225 lbs making it in. I made no attempt
to climb into the tail gun position either - seemed like a shame to have
those nice folks cut that plane off of me.
For my money on the Sperry ball, that was a missed opportunity to put Jerry
Maren and the rest of the Singer Midgets from Oz into action. Though I'm
sure there were production jobs where the wee folk proved equally
The museum at Lackland AFB museum had a really strange turret turret in
it back in 1975.
It was for a B-24 and had a domed radar antenna mounted between the guns
that allowed it to lock on the target without optical aiming. Between
the guns, ammo belts, and radar equipment, I didn't see how a person
could even fit in it.
******* According to an article in the November issue of Aeroplane
Monthly ball gunners with heights between 5ft 4in and 5ft 6in were
usually chosen for that job. It also notes that the lighter the gunner,
which I guess means smaller, the more kit they could take into the
turret with them such as additional clothing or maybe even a parachute.
Sounds like a fun ride - but not for me. Cheers all. Jim.
I do docent work with the Collings Foundation when they are in the
area. My usual assignment is their B-17 "Nine-O-Nine", pumping people
through the nose hatch. I've met a lot of ball turret gunners over the
years and all but one were on the small side. The one guy was just shy
of six feet and he said that he transfered to waist gunner as soon as
Maintenance continues on their aircraft at every stop. Several years
back we needed to lower the belly turret (I don't remember why) for a
couple of hours. Teh fed in charge of safety broke the wire sealing
the hatch to the turret. He was one of a dozen people who got to climb
into the turret. I'm 6', 210 lbs. and I gave up after a few minutes .
My knees are just too affected by minor arthritis to fold my way in.
One guy about 5'10" 125 lbs. had no trouble getting in, but anybody
larger than that just gave up. We cleaned the turret insides and
sealed it up again.
The tail position is also cramped, but not comparable to the belly. My
oldest son flew back there on "Alluminum Overcast" many years ago at
Reno. He was only twelve at the time, so size didn't enter into it.
Somehow I don't think that would have been a nice place to be when the
landing gear wouldn't drop down during a landing. I read about some
belly gunners being 'sacrificed' because of that and they had no
escape. Don't remember what specific aircraft it was though. Hell of a
way to go...
I met a guy who had been a waist gunner on a B-17 who told me the same
exact story. Apparently the bottom turret gunner was already dead victim of
a 30 mm cannon round. They had to belly land the plane which as a result
the belly turret was flattened like a pancake. The guy told me stories
however of fellow crews having to land their planes with the bottom turret
guy NOT dead but very much alive at that moment.................how God
awful it must have been................jim
If they landed on grass or soft ground, it might have stayed in one
piece, but putting it down of a concrete or asphalt runway would be like
holding the ball turret against a huge grindstone.
A ditching would probably be worse. If the gunner couldn't free the
hatch quickly after hitting the water, he'd have drowned in the turret.