B-17 Ball Turret, Ammunition and the story of a Ball Turret Gunner Updated: 28 JUN 2021
Et 0.5 inch/12,7mm Browning maskingevær vist i American Air Museum DUXFORD ved Imperial War Museum DUXFORD ved Duxford Air Show 5 SEP 2009.
En B-17 (se foto) havde 13 - se tegning af besætningen på en B-17. Se video, B-17 med 19! En skytte havde sin plads i en kugle -Sperry Ball Turret- se foto.
The Ball Turret Gunner fra B17 42-31377 Pot O´Gold styrtet 22 FEB 1944 i Thy fortæller i BALL TURRET om sit arbejde. Der er meget mere fra Sgt Lester Schrenk!
77 år efter styrtet husker han stadig sin del af 2. Verdenskrig. Nu er han 95 år! Under hans besøg i Danmark i 2008 lavede TV/MIDT-VEST På sporet af Pot o´Gold.
A 0.5 inch Browning machine gun shown in the American Air Museum DUXFORD at Imperial War Museum DUXFORD at the Duxford Air Show on 5 SEP 2009.
A B-17 (see photo) had 13 - see the drawing of the crew of a B-17. See video, B-17 with 19 guns! The Sperry Ball Turret was under the plane as seen in the photo.
The Ball Turret Gunner from B17 42-31377 Pot O´Gold crashed on 22 FEB 1944, tells in BALL TURRET about his job. See much more from Sgt Lester Schrenk!
77 years after the crash he still remembers his part of World War II. Now he is 95! During his visit to Denmark in 2008 the film På sporet af Pot o´Gold was made.
See ID+Lester Schrenk and his comments on B-17 Ammo. See also Ammunition. His story of being a Ball Turret Gunner is right here, the same as in the pdf-file:
BALL TURRET, by Lester Schrenk Dec. 2000
I would imagine people who never flew combat, sometimes must be wondering what is meant when we use the terminology such as tail gun, nose gun, waist gun, top turret, etc. These all refer to gun positions throughout the airplane.
There are two types of guns. One is a hand held gun, and this would be a single 50 caliber machine gun that is not power driven and would be swung on a pivot. A waist gun would be of this type, and is so named because it is waist high, with the operator standing upright.
The other type of gun would be mounted in a turret and would be power driven. Turrets always had two guns mounted side-by-side. They also were 50 caliber guns. The one I'm going to describe today is the ball turret, which is the turret which I used while flying combat. The ball turret was a big round ball approximately 3 feet in diameter and mounted under the aircraft about halfway back. Needless to say it was very crowded inside, and the two machine guns that one fired were right alongside ones body. They and the ammunition magazines took up a great portion of the turret.
There also was a massive sophisticated, computerized gun sight that also took a good portion of the room. While operating the turret the operator would be in a fetal position, his knees would be bent almost tight against the chest and his elbows would be bent almost to their maximum. If the guns were pointing straight down he would be in more or less an upright position, but if the guns were pointing at the horizon, he would be in a horizontal position laying on his back, still in a fetal position. While in combat he would be inside the turret for approximately 8 to 10 hours without ever leaving the turret. Conditions inside the turret were not that comfortable because the temperature would be anywhere from 40 below zero to 60 below zero, very crowded. Also there would be a very strong wind blowing throughout the turret.
Most ball turret gunners were usually quite small. I was the exception, I weighed 185 pounds at the time, also I was 5 ft.11. The only way I could fit into the turret was by not wearing a flak jacket (this was a forerunner of the bulletproof vest) also by not wearing my heavy sheep lined flying jacket, or my heavy suit.
To offset the cold we wore an electrically heated suit, shoes and gloves.
These worked out very well but there were a lot of exceptions. For one
thing, you sat on a seat made of steel. For some reason, the heat suit had
no heating wires in the seat portion of the suit.
Most airmen did not like to fly combat in the ball turret. This was for a very good reason. It was about the absolute worst place to make an escape in case your aircraft was shot down. This was due to a number of reasons. In the first place the turret was outside the aircraft. It was powered by an electric motor, which in turn drove a hydraulic pump which powered the turret. As a result, if either the electrical or hydraulic system were damaged, the turret operator would be trapped inside the turret with no chance of escape. Also there are number of gears that drove the turret which could also become damaged.
There are cases in which the ball turret operator could not be released, and if the airplane was damaged so the landing gear could not be lowered, the person inside the turret would be crushed to death. This happened while Andy Rooney was in England reporting a news story. Also to escape from the turret there were any amount of things necessary before one could leave.
First the turret had to be in a neutral position, which meant the guns had to be pointing straight down. This was necessary so as to place the small escape hatch to be inside of the airplane. Next one had to unplug the heat suit cord which was in a very awkward place under the seat where one could not see it and you had to give it a twisting motion to remove it. This also meant trailing a long cord which could easily become tangled (It had a large plug on the trailing end), and prevent escape when time was critical. After I was captured I tried to break the cord, but found it to be impossible. I had to persuade a German to cut it off with an axe, as it always got in the way.
One also had to remove the oxygen hose, your headset cord, your microphone
cord, undo 2 hatch bolts, and unbuckle ones safety belt. The next step was
to crawl out of the small safety hatch which was about 24 inches across. The
turret was so small that you could not wear a parachute inside the turret.
So your next step would be to find your parachute, and in a wild pitching
airplane it may not be at all where you had left it. It was a small
parachute that fastened to your harness by 2 large clips. Next would be to
try to find an escape hatch, leading from the airplane, but remember, all
during your escape you would be without oxygen, also in most likelihood the
airplane would be pitching and spinning wildly, and most of the time headed
almost straight down. Most were also on fire. You also hoped that your
parachute was not hit by bullets or flak. There also were cases of sabotage,
by German agents.
All crew members had to wear oxygen masks as no portion of the aircraft were pressurized. Also all windows and hatches were removed to allow firing of guns, so it was rather breezy. As I have stated the masks were very uncomfortable. As a result most crew members would remove their masks long before they reached the correct altitude (16000 feet). This of course would starve your body of oxygen and you would really feel it the next day by being extremely tired. This of course was very hard on you if you had to fly on consecutive days. The masks left a ring around your face due to frostbite.
I am sure many of your wondering what you did in case you had to go to the bathroom. This was solved in many ways by various crewmen. What I had done was to find an old oxygen hose which was about an inch and a half in diameter and run it up and through one of the slots that dis-charged the spent shell casings, and on my first attempt I was not too successful. It worked just fine, except that I had the turret in the wrong position and I was sprayed by my own urine. It didn't take me to long to find out to the correct position of the turret.
The ball turret did not have much protection from bullets, or shrapnel from
flak guns. The only protection was a piece of glass about four inches thick
and about 12 inches across. This piece of glass was located between the two
guns and was used as part of the sighting mechanism while firing the guns.
The only other piece of protection was the steel seat on which one was
sitting. The rest of the turret was made up of Plexiglas Windows along with
thin cast aluminium. None of which would have stopped even the smallest
piece of shrapnel.
This very thing happened to one of the crewmen in our barracks. He burned up
three sets of gun barrels, and as a result of it they grounded him
permanently. He was so despondent over letting his crew down that he
committed suicide. His name was Shorty Sweat. He was also a ball turret
gunner, and I knew him well.
When returning from a mission you could expect your airplane to have any number of holes. These could be less than an inch in diameter to very large gaping holes that you could easily crawl through. If the ground crew had time they would patch the larger holes, but only after repairing the major damage to keep the airplane flying. Such as engine damage or control surface damage, etc.. It was not uncommon to take off with an airplane that was full of holes from a previous mission. Also, propellers with small dents and nicks.
There was a very good side of the ball turret. You had absolutely the best
view of anyone in the whole airplane, you could turn the turret in a 360
degree circle during which time you could have the guns pointing straight
down, or you could elevate them too well above horizontal. As a result you
could see in any direction, both up and down. Whenever one of your fellow
crew men were shot down you could watch his airplane to see how many people
would bail out. Sometimes you would follow his airplane all of the way to
the ground without seeing a single parachute. When you knew the crew well,
this really bothered, also one could clearly see the ground, see flashes of
light, and puffs of the smoke from anti aircraft batteries firing at you
from the ground. Also you could see numerous enemy fighter planes taking
off from the ground. Also see where the bombs exploded and the resulting
fires set from the bombs. There never was a dull moment.
All during the mission you had nothing to eat or drink. Upon landing, you
went through a debriefing, as to what extent of damage, where the bombs hit,
how many enemy fighters were shot down, etc.. I never tried to claim credit
for any fighter kills. I am not a glory seeker, nor would I be proud about
killing anyone. Also there were so many guns shooting at the same enemy
airplane, who would know who hit what. I myself do not wish to know! I do
know it is highly probable, as I fired at many that I did see go down.
We hardly ever flew the same aircraft. Planes were usually so badly damaged,
that they could not be operational in time. This was if the missions were
flown on consecutive days.
This was Feb. 22nd 1944. During the winter months the water is so cold that
we could not bail out and expect to be rescued. The pilot headed the
airplane back towards Denmark. We never thought that we would possibly make
landfall before the wing would be blown off. There was a loud explosion
every few minutes and they kept on getting louder and louder. During this
time I had ample time to get out of my turret and put on my parachute.
The wing on the airplane held out just long enough for us to reach land and then a final explosion tore off the wing. The Germans were waiting for us and we were all captured almost immediately. I spent the next 15 months as a prisoner of war being treated in a most inhumane way which I will save for another story.
February, 22, the day we were shot down, we lost 76 heavy bombers. All were stationed in the UK and attached with the 8th Air Force.