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The B-17 ahead and 300 feet above suddenly staggered as though it had struck another plane. Flames erupted from the root of the right wing. In just moments crewmen started leaping from the plane. The helpless observers watched and counted together—1, 3, 5 . . . then, in quick sequence, the wing folded, the plane exploded into flame and one last crewman sprang, engulfed in fire, into the 25,000 foot void below. His chute opened momentarily and then vanished, burned away. He fell like a flare, trailing smoke A moment later the horrified watchers realized their plane was plowing right through the falling parachutes. The copilot screamed and closed his eyes. But the pilot could only stare in horror as the stricken B-17 rolled over above them, began to spin madly and hurtled directly down toward them wreathed in flames. The plane, spinning like a child’s toy, flashed by in front of them so close they could see the pilot and copilot trapped on the flight deck by the monstrous g-forces generated by the rotation. Instantly they were gone from sight.
It was WWII, October 14, 1943, and the most violent 1-day air battle ever fought was underway. The target was the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany. Before the day was over, 60 of the great B-17 bombers with their crews of 10 men each would fall from the sky. Nearly 600 US airmen would be lost in the span of just 7 hours. It would be the biggest disaster for the USAAF of the air war.
The B-17 “Flying Fortress” as it was designated by Boeing, or just the “Fort” as it was affectionately called by the media and the men who crewed her, was a plane that could take incredible abuse, absorb staggering damage and still keep flying and get her crew home. The men who flew her loved her for her sturdy bones but, at the same time, they hated her for her quirks and, most of all, for what she represented . . . a horrific way to die.
Before every mission, as they approached their plane in the predawn hours, they hated the sight of her looming through the fog. They hated her as they clambered aboard in their heavy, cumbersome flight suits. They hated her balkiness and obstinate refusal to get up to speed carrying tons of bombs and fuel. During take-off they cursed her and cajoled her and prayed for her to climb safely into the sky just one more time and, most of the time, she delivered.
And then, when she brought them safely home from the hell in the sky, they loved her, hugged her, patted her and spoke of her with ebullient praise. They fawned over her, tended her wounds and saw to her every need. Is it any wonder then that the men who flew in the B-17 called her the “Queen?” Their Queen was a ruthless bitch, an unforgiving taskmaster and a stone killer but, when it really mattered, it was well known and reassuring that “the Queen died hard.” It took a lot to kill her and few ever died harder than Brennan’s Circus.
“Brennan’s Circus” is the true story of the events that occurred leading up to the 23rd and final mission of the renowned B-17F Bomber, “Brennan’s Circus.” This astounding story tells of one plane and its crew’s stubborn refusal to quit as they fought their way through the deadliest air battle in history, the 2nd raid on the Schweinfurt ball bearing factories It is the account of their struggle to bring their indomitable “Flying Fortress” home. With the plane shot to rags, an engine in flames, they flew across Europe, less than 50 feet above the ground on 2 engines with one wing ready to fall off. Then, a third engine quit. This is their heroic story. Included is detailed unit information, dates and locations, numerous photos of the plane, individual crew photos and data, enlistment records, letters from crewmen, newspaper accounts, press releases, and more. Over 85 images and photos are included.