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The impossible flight of “Sweet Pea”

US Army Air Force

The impossible flight of “Sweet Pea”

15th Air Force

Hungary’s skies, raid over Debrecen Marshalling Yards, September 21, 1944: “Sweet Pea”, a Boeing B-17G, tail number 238078 of the 2th Bomb Group’s 429th Bombardment Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing, 15th Air Force, Mission 279, it’s hit by an 88mm anti-aircraft shell while 2nd Lt Guy M Miller and his crew approaching the target. The Fortress is nearly tore in two. The left waist gunner, Elmer H Buss, is killed instantly, the right waist gunner, James F. Maguire, has multiple wounds but his life is saved by his back pack parachute, the tail gunner, S/Sgt James E Totty, is mortally wounded and will die on the airplane, the radio operator, S/Sgt Anthony Ferrara, has many shrapnel fragments in the chest. Most of the control cables are cut. And Lt Miller and his copilot, Lt Thomas M. Rybovich, attempt the impossible: return to home, to Amendola base, near Foggia, in Southern Italy, almost 600 miles, many of them over enemies territory. The navigator, 2nd Lt. Theodore Davich, plot a course and with every tail control cable but one lost in the shattered mess of the fuselage, the pilots hold the bomber on course manipulating the engine throttles. And the impossible is successful: “Sweet Pea” back home. Boeing report the airplane is hold together «by a few longitudinal and 27 inches of skin». In the photo a dramatic view of the conditions of “Sweet Pea” after the return to Amendola (Despite the damages “Sweet Pea” was repaired and returned to flight. But for a brief time: on June 1945 was completely destroyed by a take-off accident and by the post-crash fire). Victor Sierra