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42-102659 IW-J Hard Seventeen (AKA Hard Luck)

Modified on 2015/06/10 16:31 by adm401bga Categorized as Aircraft, Combat

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Recorded Missions

No Missions Found

Final Mission

The Hard Seventeen's final mission was to hit the railroad marshaling yards of Euskirchen (Mission #194). Manned by the R.B. Thompson crew on January 15 of 1945, she was struck by flack while over Kassel, Germany, damaging her engines and knocking one of them completely out. The crew opted to stay with the formation but, only a few minutes short of the target, a second engine began to race out of control and they had to shut it down. Running now only on two engines, they fell behind the main group and were forced to dump their bombs and return to base. There was some discussion as to what to do, some wanting to return to Deenethorpe, all the way back across the Channel, while others argued that it was too dangerous. A ditching in the North Atlantic would have been certain death for all in those icy waters.

Before they could make a decision, a third damaged engine failed and she began to lose altitude. The navigator, Bill Bruce, quickly located a Polish RAF base in newly liberated Grimbergen, Belgium, and they quickly turned the aircraft towards it. As they approached the runway, with visibility not much more than 2,000 feet, Thompson discovered that he was at a right angle to the runway and made the decision to go around and land downwind. As he banked right, he found a grove of trees blocking their path and veered right again only to find two tall industrial chimneys from a factory directly in their path. Lacking the time to respond and the power to pull up, Thompson was forced to fly between them. The aircraft just managed to "squeeze" through them, missing one chimney on the right by no more than three feet and the other on the left by no more than 6. Having cleared the chimneys, they were now faced with the electrical lines that powered the complex. The pilot was then forced to dive underneath them, now missing the ground by not much more than a few feet. They cleared that obstacle, only to find two houses directly in their path. Thompson was then able to clear the first house but was forced to lift a wing to miss the roof of the second house.

After clearing the second house, Thompson attempted to set her down in an open field. She first touched ground on a small rise, but still had too much momentum and bounced across the field and on to a second rise. Within seconds, she swerved to a halt. While the officers were able to evacuate within seconds, the enlisted men were not so lucky. The rough landing had knocked all the equipment around inside the radio room blocking the door. They managed to escape by climbing out the top radio room window. Amazingly, no one was hurt despite the rough landing. The Hard Seventeen, on the other hand, was not so lucky. The tail-gunner's position had been torn from the plane, tearing a portion of the tail. The port landing gear had been ripped from the plane. The #3 engine nacelle broke at the wing, having been pulled to the ground by the starboard landing gear. The Hard Seventeen was eventually declared a loss and portions of the plane were salvaged. What was left was given to the local populace for their own use.

Sixty-two years later, the Hard Seventeen would play a critical role in the redemption of one of it's crewman, Edward G. Dana.

Hard Seventeen #3 Engine
Hard Seventeen #3 Engine

People gather around to check out the plane while an RAF truck unloads fuel. Image courtesy of Frans Van Humbeek.
Look North towards Grimbergen
Look North towards Grimbergen

In the distance you can see the tower of the Grimbergen Basilica. The Hard Seventeen was attempting to land at an RAF base just north and east of there. Image courtesy of Frans Van Humbeek.
Torn Tail Section
Torn Tail Section

Hard to make out, but you can see where the tail was torn after losing the tail gunner's position. Image courtesy of Frans Van Humbeek.

Days later, the aircraft was salvaged and all usable parts removed. The remainder was given to the local townspeople to do with as they pleased. Image courtesy of Frans Van Humbeek.
A Curiosity
A Curiosity

The locals managed to turn the aircraft into useful materials. One even managed to make jewelry from the aircraft's Plexiglas windows.
A Close Up
A Close Up

One local Belgian was able to give us one of the best images we've had of the Hard Seventeen. Photo courtesy of Christian Phillipe, his grandson.
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