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B-17: Queen of the Skies» Forums » Sessions

Subject: The Sad Story of the "City of New Orleans" rss

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Mark Buetow
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No, this is not about Hurricane Katrina. It's about the B-17 Bomber "The City of New Orleans" and her ill fated crew.

It was the day after their fourth mission, in which heavy clouds and rain over Abbeville mean that only 10% of the bomb load made it on target, that the pilot, copilot, navigator and bombardier of "The City of New Orleans" exited from the briefing for their fifth mission. This would be a short hop, just across the Channel to St. Omer's airfield.

"Gonna lay down some payload on the Luftwaffe!" said the Bombardier, John Meskey. "A few more than yesterday, I hope!" jibed the pilot, Dave Bellman. "Just get me over the target, Meskey, and I'll deliver the goods."

As they approached the plane, they saw the enlisted men hanging about the aircraft, one man whittling a little piece of wood, another small group playing some cards. Pete Welky, the port waist gunner let loose a few bars on a harmonica and then sang, "I'm the plane they call the City of New Orleans, and I'll be droppin' 500 pounders 'fore the day is done!" "Hey, Pete," said his opposite, the starboard waister, Alan Hopson, "that's kinda catchy! I'll bet you'll have a hit some day!"

Around the field, the engines were turning and crews were buttoning up their planes. Mechanics and ground grew were doing their last minute checks. The cough and splutter of engines smoothed into the roard of planes taking off. "Ready boys?" Captain Bellman asked. Throttles forward and soon the English countryside was below them and fading away, as the waters of the Channel slipped by beneath.

Being in the middle formation made everyone feel just a bit better. A little cushion from the Kraut fliers. But this was mission 5. After this, they would start venturing farther and farther into the Third Reich and that made the crew nervous. Well, nervous when they thought about it. But right now they were just thinking about their brief mission to make craters on the Luftwaffe's base.

As the squadron crossed into France, the sky began to light up with tracers. Enemy fighters were about today! As they neared their target area, Master Sergeant Michael Pentworth, the plane's engineer, shouted over the com, "We got one divin'. Look alive, boys!" Grabbing the controls of the Top Turret, he cranked the guns to vertical. Just at that moment, he saw traces whip past the 109 which abruptly broke off its dive and peeled away. A split second later a P-40 streaked overhead. "Thanks, fighter jocks!"

Now, even over the roar of the engines, the faint thump of flak could be made out. The sky began to be peppered with flashes and drifting clouds. Then more. Then even more, until it seemed as if any empty bit of sky was filled with ack-ack. "Hang on, boys!" shouted the Captain. Lieutenant Maskey began tucking himself into his bombardier equipment. He began fiddling with the bombsight. The men tensed at their guns as the flashes and smoke clouds continued to intensify.

As the squadron began its turn toward the initial bomb run point, "The City of New Orleans" suddenly shuddered and the THUNK THUNK of flak shells was heard throughout the plane. Then chaos!

There was a bright flash in the Engineer's station and suddenly Pentworth was staring at a gaping, smoking hole in the radio. At the same instant a bright flash erupted along the outer port wing. A stream of gas out of the outboard tank and then, "Fire!" In the Ball turret, Frank Cicerone was shouting over the com as he watched the flames leap from the wing. Then a horrendous shriek over the intercom! "Pete's hit!" screamend Sergeant Hopson in the starboard waist. He turned around from his gun and grabbed Pete. Blood was already soaking through the thick wool-lined jacket. Pete's eyes rolled up and he suddenly became a dead weight in Hopson's arms. He checked for a pulse and there was one. But a new shout over the radio came through loud and clear...

Up in the cockpit, the fuel guage on the outboard port tank was plummeting. Captain Bellman could see the flames growing. "We're gonna blow if that fire keeps going. I can't get it out!" He was trying to slip the plane and yaw it, hoping to extinguish the flames, but the fire was in the fuel tank. It wouldn't be long before the plane blew. "Crew, we need to bail out! Repeat, OUT!"

Hopson wanted to get Welky to safety. He began to drag Welky toward the door. "Forget it, Alan," shouted Cicerone, just up from the ball turret. "There's nothing you can do." With tears in his eyes, Alan Hopson followed Cicerone out the door, leaving his buddy to go down with the plane. He only hoped Welky wouldn't wake up before the plane hit.

The rest of the crew made it out. Hopson counted the chutes. ...eight, nine...that was everyone. Everyone except Welky. It was easier to hear the flak now. The watched the City of New Orleans slide out of formation, flames streaming from the wing. But it was all nearly behind them. The wind took them in their chutes and spread them across the countryside.

On the ground, Lieutenant Chuck Freese, the co-pilot, was cutting his chute lines, tangled in some bocage. Just then, a Frenchman appeared. Not a Nazi, but a Frenchman. "Must be resistance," he though. Sure enough, he was Resistance. Some cold food. Sneaking through the nights. A boat ride across the choppy Channel. After nearly a week on the run, Freese finally rode a jeep back to the 8th AF base in Englad. As he entered the hangar, two other men jumped up and ran to him. "Frank! Roscoe!" Hugs and handshakes and even some tears. Roscoe Woods, Tail gunner and Frank Cicerone, Ball gunner, were the only others who had made it to safety. The rest had been nabbed by Kraut troops as they landed in the fields and hedgerows of France.

The men drank the night they were reunited. They lifted tall glasses to Sergeant Pete Welky KIA and the rest of "The City of New Orleans'" crew, languishing in German POW camps. But would they fly again? Ony time will tell...

Game Notes

Nothing like heavy flak with some hits. There were five shells that made it through. It was lucky, I suppose, that the fuel tank didn't explode. There would have been a lot less of the crew who made it out. The Waist Gunners Serious Wound prevents him from bailing out.

A brutal ending no doubt, but one surely repeated with variations wherever B-17 Queen of the Skies is being "flown."

As for poor Pete Welky's song? I do believe it lives on in tune, something about a train...
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Drake Coker
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Nice job on the report!
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Mark Buetow
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Thanks! It was just so...sad, after only five missions. Heartbreaking. I...it's difficult...can we please not talk about it right now. soblue
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Mark Buetow
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earthboot wrote:
Great write up. Love the game, love the tune. I saw Arlo Guthrie on tour down here many moons ago...he's a great songs-smith and really funny guy, as I'm sure you're aware.

A nice melancholic song & a fitting name for a B-17.


Now there's proof you really read the whole thing!
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René Christensen
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That was very well written.
Like being there myself (though I wouldn't want to) or watching it as a movie.
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Mark Buetow
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Slotracer wrote:
That was very well written.
Like being there myself (though I wouldn't want to) or watching it as a movie.


Images from "Memphis Belle" if you've ever seen that movie. Only the "City of New Orleans" didn't make her 25...soblue
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