A day in the life of a 8th Air Force radio operator

A B-17 Flying Fortress at a base 'somewhere in England'.
A B-17 Flying Fortress crew at a base ‘somewhere in England’.
Bombing up a B-17 prior to another mission.
Bombing up a B-17 prior to another mission.

The US Eighth Air Force could now put up a force of over 1000 heavy bombers when called upon. Tens of thousands of young men in the air crews were now living a surprisingly regular existence on their bases in England. For a raid on Germany they would be off after 7 in the morning and back around 5 in the afternoon. Death was never far away, there would be few missions when they did not see some of their comrades lost.

The diary of Harley Tuck, a radio operator/gunner on a B-17 tells a story that would be familiar to many at the time:

April 13

The C.Q. came in at 5:45 AM for a mission. Briefing at 7, T.O. at 7:55 for Augsburg Germany. English coast out 12:12 at 20000 ft. A few flak bursts by Brussels Belgium, no more until target. The target was a Mess. factory and airport. We were carrying 42 inc, 20 dropped at IP because Wiggie pulled a boner.

We were within sight of Switzerland on the other side of Lake Constance a few minutes before IP. The Alps were covered with snow, very rugged + beautiful. At the target the flak was very heavy + accurate; holes in both wings + vertical stabilizer. We flew lead, of low sq. in a composite group. The 94th lead, 385 high. Very good navigation, missed most flak areas. No flak to speak of on the way back. IP at 1355 – bombs away – 1408, enemy coast out 1632.

The group lost 5 ships, 4 went to Switz, 1 crash landed in S. England, killing 4 crew members. Landed 1720 B 1025

Harley Tucks’ letters home give a little more understanding of the life they led. There was little in the way of entertainment outside the camps. England was a pretty grim place after 5 years of war and rationing:

April 13 1944

Dear Mom and Dad

Your letter mailed Mar. 22 got here yesterday. I’m glad to hear everything’s O.K. and of the new addition to the family I guess I’m an uncle two times now huh? I’d sure like to see all the little tykes around home now, there must be a flock of them when a few neighbor kids come around.

In your next letter please include the name of those folks that live across the road and their telephone number. In the far future I might drop into town and might want to get in touch with you by phone.

My crew had a pass a few days ago; we went into London and spent 2 days there. We had a grand time, slept in a swanky hotel and all that but were we glad to get back to camp and get a few decent meals to eat. Tea and rolls don’t fill me up enough for breakfast. There isn’t jam or very much butter even.

We got back in time to get in on the next mission which was over Germany yesterday. So we got to sleep in today, I didn’t get up until noon. After a mission it sure is hard to get out of bed. But after 12 hours of sleep and the rest of the guys threatening to roll me out, I got up gracefully + of my own accord. There are some awful early birds in this hut, tho, or else they have to have their breakfast. Me, I can miss a meal almost anytime without anything serious happening. But to here some of these guys talk it would kill them to miss a meal, maybe it would.

How is my mail getting to you? Some of your letters get here in 2 weeks, once in a while a heck of a lot longer. The “V” mail is no faster than any of the other methods and you can write a lot more in an airmail letter.

This afternoon when the coke truck came we decided to have a fire, almost a novelty around this hut lately as we are keep too busy to keep one. We put some black powder and stuff from flares we’d picked up around here in the bottom, kindling, then coke and on top poured a lot (1/2 cup) of lighter fluid. The results – we’ve never had such a good fire in such a short time with so much smoke in our lives. But it was exciting to watch too. And we’ve never had so much fun around here for ages.

British and American pursuit ships are always buzzing our field, sometimes within 15 feet of the runways, I guess it’s to help us along in our aircraft recognition. Today my pilot took some us and returned the compliment. He did a good job too. I wish you could have seen us. The Limey’s seldom see such a big ship out buzzing them and they were all eyes, we could see them from where we were.

If you get some beef cattle for me to raise, and if there is some land to raise vegetables on we’d be sitting on the top in case of a big depression after the war. Fruit for desert, but the darned beef would get tiresome. Please keep a good start for various other animals if a depression starts.

Rabbit is the only unrationed meat over here besides fish. On the way to London the other day I saw 50-60 rabbits in a field. That’s usually what we eat in town on passes. They are that plentiful.

I guess I’ll shut up as it’s getting kind of late. Write soon. Have you got that request for a 5 lb package of candy yet?

Love Harley

It was to be some time before Harley Tuck got the chance to ‘drop into town’ and phone his parents’ neighbours to let them know he had arrived. Just a week later, on the 22nd April, his crew were in 42-31724 “Dear M.O.M.”, piloted by 2d Lt. Thomas W. Gilleran. Three flak shells hit the plane, setting it on fire. ‘T.W.G.’ was to hold the plane steady while the crew parachuted and then jumped himself. All ten crew survived and were made prisoners for the remainder of the war.

You can read the whole of Harley Tuck’s diary at 447th Bomb Group.

B-17s en route to another target in Germany.
B-17s en route to another target in Germany.
A B-17 'buzzes the base' at Bassingbourne England after completing 25 missions.
A B-17 ‘buzzes the base’ at Bassingbourne England after completing 25 missions.

3 thoughts on “A day in the life of a 8th Air Force radio operator”

  1. Is it at all possible to give me the name of the B17 pilot who managed to get all his crew out of the burning bomber as it circled our village St Osyth in Essex UK ?.He managed to save himself at the last minute before it turned and hit the ground saving all the people in the village if it had gone another 500 yards, my home was much nearer . I did speak to one of the crew who asked me if I had seen any of the others I was only 13 yrs old at that time.Thank God for America Rhys Probert

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