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B-17 Flying Fortress

Delivered Cheyenne 21/2/43; Gore 7/3/43; Assigned 334BS/95BG [BG-Q] Alconbury 19/4/43 LITTLE JIMMIE; 335BS [OE-Q] Framlingham 12/5/43; on 17/5/43 with W.R. McPherson, Bombardier: Keith Murray wia when nose gun exploded; 336BS [ET-Q] Horham 15/6/43;
7m, transferred 358BS/303BG [VK-B] Molesworth 17/6/43; Missing in Action Villacoublay 14/7/43 with Calvin Swaffer, Co-pilot: John Johnston, Navigator: Bill Karraken, Bombardier: Bill Sweet, Flight engineer/top turret gunner: Rudi Lopez, Radio Operator: Jim Matthews, Ball turret gunner: Ed Griffin, Waist gunner: Ed Cobb, Waist gunner: Jim Mills, Tail gunner: John Moody (10 Returned to Duty); ship hit by JU 88 rockets, ditched Channel, 30 miles off Shoreham, UK, all rescued by Air Sea Rescue in HSL145. No MACR. MEMPHIS BLUES.

A detailed account of ditching was recorded by one of the RAF Spitfire pilots of No. 91 Squadron who saw the B-17 safely back across the English Channel. It has been shared by Ray Carroll, son of Squadron Leader Ray Harries, on the 303rd Bomb Group website:

Here is the account:
'Bastille Day, July 14, 1943'

'Americans put up a huge formation of B-17's on Bastille Day to bomb a target in France, which undoubtedly was also designed to show the flag, and lift the morale of the French. My memory tells me a ball bearing factory, and perhaps Le Mans. At any rate it was a fairly massive attack for those times.'

'Our Squadron was briefed for "Withdrawal Cover" in the Le Havre-Caen area, which entailed taking up position there to await the bomber force on its return, and give any assistance that may be required.'

'We patrolled about for some time in company with a number of other Fighter Squadrons and eventually the bombers came into sight. Three boxes in close formation, each box covering the sky to something like 2000 feet in each plane. When we had first sight, one got the impression of an aerial tank, massive, imponderable, unstoppable, as they slowly advanced across the wide blue towards the coast and home.'

'As they came closer, some small dots could be seen diving and climbing around the flanks. Enemy fighters trying to make an impression on this formidable mass. Ray (Squadron Leader Ray Harries 91 Squadron CO) was leading of course and itching to get to grips, but the controller would have none of it, and insisted we maintain our position. As the formation came closer, the enemy fighters seemed to depart. I suppose they had seen us as we had seen them. We were still being vectored inland just behind Le Havre, with Ray frequently calling for permission to go in deeper, only to be denied.'

'Then the "controller" came up and said "I have a big friend who is in difficulty" He then gave us a course to steer which took us towards the Channel and away from potential action. Ray had a "moan" then turned the squadron onto the heading and very shortly we saw our "Big Friend", a B-17, and indeed he was in difficulty. I should think losing one engine in these circumstances is more then enough, but he had lost two, and in addition was slowly losing height, with a fairly large section of the English Channel still to be negotiated. I should think the occupants were feeling pretty vulnerable at the time, and to find twelve Spitfires suddenly wheeling about no doubt gave some degree of comfort, but there was still a deal to exercise their minds in the immediate future.'

'The bomber was making a slow but noticeable decent from the 5000 feet at which we picked it up. It had something like one hundred miles of Channel to traverse to the nearest point on the British mainland. The weather was fine, and the sea calm, but it was clear to all the onlookers that the crew were going to get their feet wet. We were swinging about in "pairs" around the "friendly" trying to keep out of each other's way, but also not wanting to miss anything that might be happening to the Fortress. It called for some pretty nimble "air work".'

'Ray was keeping the ground stations informed of the progress, and the possibility of a ditching. Unfortunately we were unable to raise the bomber on the R/T as we didn't have it's frequency.'

'God knows how slowly we progressed across the Channel. The big aircraft was down to about a thousand feet, when all kinds of unnecessary goods and chattels began to be flung out from the side exit door. It went on for some time suggesting the crew had scoured the fuselage for anything movable and jettisonable. Regrettably it didn't help much and the wavelets on the surface of the sea got steadily nearer the belly of the "Fort".'

'In the fighters, the fuel situation was beginning to get a little 'dicey'. Ray came up on the R/T to say that he would stay with the bomber, and the rest of us should return to base. He had some hopes. While we had a deal of sympathy with the situation of our American allies, human nature being what it was, there was no way we were not going to be there when it went in. So we kept wheeling about the sky with one eye on the fuel gauge and one on each other.'

'By this time we had crossed perhaps seventy miles of sea and were about thirty miles south of Brighton. The "Fort" was virtually down to sea level and we were in great anticipation of the Final Act. He had to go in. We were short of fuel. The Air Sea Rescue boat was on the way. It was a good day to put down. But would he ditch it? Would he hell. I don't know what they were doing in the cockpit to keep it airborne, but whatever it was it stretched the drama to the absolute limit.'

'It was some ten miles nearer Brighton, with the aircraft so close to the surface that the slipstream from the two propellers was throwing up a fine spray, before the Captain finally put it down. So competently and smoothly, it literally floated onto the bosom of our receptive Channel. A Beautiful "ditch", which brought forth much approving comment and whooping on the R/T between our boys.'

'It had hardly come to rest when a number of the crewmembers appeared on the fuselage and wing. A couple of dinghies were rapidly inflated and in they piled. We of necessity hurriedly left the area for West Hampnett, leaving the approaching Rescue boat to ring down the curtain.'

'The B-17 Bomber was Memphis Blues of the 303rd Bomber Group. Their crew turned up in our mess the next day and a good time was had by all.'



  • 303rd Bomb Group

    303rd Bomb Group

    The 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated on 3-Feb-1942 at Pendleton Field, Oregon. They assembled at Gowen Field, Idaho on 11-February 1942 where it conducted flight training until 12-Jun-1942. The Group then moved to Alamogordo Field, New...

  • 306th Bomb Group The Reich Wreckers

    306th Bomb Group The Reich Wreckers

    Constituted as 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy) on 28 Jan 1942. Activated on 1 Mar 1942. Trained for combat with B-17's. Moved to England, Aug-Sep 1942, and assigned to Eighth AF Eighth Air Force in September 1942 Station 111 Thurleigh. During combat,...

  • 95th Bomb Group

    95th Bomb Group

    The 95th Bomb Group was the only Eighth Air Force Group to be awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations. The first, shared by all four Bomb Wing Groups, was for the bombing of an aircraft factory under intense enemy fire at Regensburg on 17 August...

  • 334th Bomb Squadron
  • 335th Bomb Squadron
  • 336th Bomb Squadron
  • 358th Bomb Squadron
  • 423rd Bomb Squadron


  • Roy Ballard

    Military | Staff Sergeant (Technician Third Grade) | Ball Turret Gunner | 95th Bomb Group

  • Nicholas Biltcliffe

    Military | Staff Sergeant (Technician Third Grade) | Flight Engineer | 95th Bomb Group

  • John Burkot

    Military | Technical Sergeant | Tail Gunner | 455th Bomb Group
    Assigned to 334BS, 95BG, 8AF USAAF. Completed tour. 2nd tour with 741BS, 455BG, 15AF USAAF. Awards: DFC, AM (5OLC), PH, WWII Victory, EAME.

  • Edward Cobb

    Military | Sergeant | Left Waist Gunner | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 14 July 1943 in B-17 #4229971 'Memphis Blues'. Plane ditched in North Sea. Rescued by ASR and returned to base.

  • Joseph Columbus

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Bombardier | 306th Bomb Group The Reich Wreckers
    Shot down 14 October 1943 in B-17 42-29971. Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Robert Cozens

    Military | Lieutenant Colonel | Pilot/Command Pilot | 95th Bomb Group

  • Earl DeWolf

    Military | First Lieutenant | Bombardier | 95th Bomb Group
    Shot down 10 October 1943 in B-17 #42-30817 'Miss Flower III', Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Edward Griffin

    Military | Sergeant | Ball Turret Gunner | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 14 July 1943 in B-17 #4229971 'Memphis Blues'. Plane ditched in North Sea. Rescued by ASR and returned to base.

  • John Johnston

    Military | First Lieutenant | Co-Pilot | 303rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 14 July 1943 in B-17 #4229971 'Memphis Blues'. Plane ditched in North Sea. Rescued by ASR and returned to base.

  • Charles Kuehn

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Navigator | 306th Bomb Group The Reich Wreckers
    Shot down 14 October 1943 in B-17 #42-29971. Prisoner of War (POW). Flew on Vernon Cole crew. Completed 14 missions. Retired from USAF 17 Dec. 1957. ...

Show more


  • VIII Bomber Command 68

    26 June 1943
    The targets for today are all Luftwaffe installations: the Villacoublay air depot SW of Paris, France is the primary; the airfield at Poissy, France is attacked as the secondary because of cloud cover; the airfield at Tricqueville, France; and the...

  • VIII Bomber Command 69

    28 June 1943
    The primary specific target for this mission are the lock gates at St. Nazaire, France to be attacked by two separate formations and also another force is despatched to bomb the German airfield at Beaumon Le Roger, France. A formation of 120 B-17s of...

  • VIII Bomber Command 71

    4 July 1943
    The aircraft factories at Le Mans and Nantes, France and the lock gates and harbour facilities at La Pallice, France are the primary targets for this mission. The mission is comprised of three elements: ...


  • Alconbury

    Military site : airfield
    Alconbury had been constructed as a satellite airfield for RAF Upwood and Wyton and was used by RAF Squadrons: Nos. 15, 40 and 156. In preparation for the arrival of American heavy bombers, the base was developed in 1942 with the runways extended. When...

  • Framlingham

    Military site : airfield
    Built for the Eighth Air Force from 1942 to 43, Framlingham was home first to the 95th Bomb Group, before that unit moved to RAF Alconbury. From 1943 to 1945, it was operated by the 390th Bomb Group. The airfield was handed back to the RAF in 1945, and...

  • Horham

    Military site : airfield
    Horham airfield was planned and built for RAF use, but handed over to the Eighth Air Force and used initially by the 47th Bomb Group. When they joined the Twelfth Air Force in January 1943, it became home to the B-26 Marauders of the 323rd Bomb Group....

  • Molesworth

    Military site : airfield
    Molesworth was one of the early stations used by the Eighth Air Force in the UK, first occupied by the 15th Bomb Squadron’s Douglas Bostons in June 1942. Built in 1940 and extended and improved in 1942, Molesworth is most associated with the 303rd...


Event Location Date
Non Battle Casualty 17 May 1943

On 17-May-43 with pilot Lt W R McPherson, Bombardier Keith Murray WIA when nose gun exploded.

Crashed Off Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, UK 14 October 1943

Missing in Action Villacoublay 14-Jul-43. Ship hit by JU 88 rockets, ditched Channel, 30 miles off Shoreham, UK, all rescued by Air Sea Rescue in HSL145. No MACR.


Date Contributor Update
24 May 2022 10:59:16 Al_Skiff Changes to description, events and unit associations

Dave Osborne, B-17 Fortress Master Log / MACR 819 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database

Date Contributor Update
28 April 2021 18:17:23 jmoore43 Changes to description

Added a space before the words "Tail gunner" in the A/C “Description” to aid clarity.
Added a "-" to the A/C type in the "Summary biography" to aid clarity & consistency.

Date Contributor Update
09 June 2016 16:14:21 Lucy May Changes to description

*correction* Ray Carroll is the name of Harries' son.

Date Contributor Update
09 June 2016 15:33:22 Lucy May Changes to description

Correspondence with Ray Harries, son of Squadron Leader Ray Harries, No. 91 Squadron.
See also:

Date Contributor Update
14 December 2015 14:14:01 Al_Skiff Changes to unit associations

AAM DB Entry Correction.

Date Contributor Update
02 December 2015 22:58:10 Al_Skiff Changes to production block number, nicknames, markings, events, unit associations, person associations and place associations

AAM DB Entry.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:40:23 AAM AAM ingest

Dave Osborne, B-17 Fortress Master Log / MACR 819 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database