Friday, April 10, 2009

Living History: USAAC 1st Lt Edward S Michael, April 11, 1944

1st Lt. Edward S. Michael, a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot, received the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty during a heavy bombing mission over Germany. (U.S. Air Force illustration.)

Living History:

WASHINGTON, April 10, 2009 -- On April 11, 1944, a seriously wounded 1st Lt. Edward Stanley Michael landed a crippled B-17 Flying Fortress in England after a bombing mission over Germany. As the crew left the plane, the lieutenant noticed that the bombardier's parachute was badly damaged. He decided to try crash landing. With the wheels and flaps inoperable, Lieutenant Michael still had enough strength left to land the bomber on its belly. For these actions, he received the Medal of Honor.

Michael was born in Chicago in 1918, and joined the Army Air Corps there. By 1944, he was assigned to the 364th Bomber Squadron, 305th Bomber Group. For the mission on that day in April, his Medal of Honor citation reads: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as pilot of a B17 aircraft on a heavy-bombardment mission to Germany, April 11, 1944. His plane was singled out and the fighters pressed their attacks home recklessly, completely disregarding the Allied fighter escort and their own intense flak.

His plane was riddled from nose to tail with exploding cannon shells and knocked out of formation, with a large number of fighters following it down, blasting it with cannon fire as it descended. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit, wounded the copilot, wrecked the instruments, and blew out the side window. Lieutenant Michael was seriously and painfully wounded in the right thigh. Hydraulic fluid filmed over the windshield making visibility impossible, and smoke filled the cockpit. The controls failed to respond and 3,000 feet were lost before he succeeded in leveling off.

The radio operator informed him that the whole bomb bay was in flames as a result of the explosion of three cannon shells, which had ignited the incendiaries. With a full load of incendiaries in the bomb bay and a considerable gas load in the tanks, the danger of fire enveloping the plane and the tanks exploding seemed imminent. When the emergency release lever failed to function, Lieutenant Michael at once gave the order to bail out and 7 of the crew left the plane.

Seeing the bombardier firing the navigator's gun at the enemy planes, Lieutenant Michael ordered him to bail out as the plane was liable to explode any minute. When the bombardier looked for his parachute he found that it had been riddled with 20mm. fragments and was useless. Lieutenant Michael, seeing the ruined parachute, realized that if the plane was abandoned the bombardier would perish and decided that the only chance would be a crash landing. Completely disregarding his own painful and profusely bleeding wounds, but thinking only of the safety of the remaining crewmembers, he gallantly evaded the enemy, using violent evasive action despite the battered condition of his plane.

After the plane had been under sustained enemy attack for fully 45 minutes, Lieutenant Michael finally lost the persistent fighters in a cloud bank. Upon emerging, an accurate barrage of flak caused him to come down to treetop level where flak towers poured a continuous rain of fire on the plane. He continued into France, realizing that at any moment a crash landing might have to be attempted, but trying to get as far as possible to increase the escape possibilities if a safe landing could be achieved. Lieutenant Michael flew the plane until he became exhausted from the loss of blood, which had formed on the floor in pools, and he lost consciousness. The copilot succeeded in reaching England and sighted an Royal Air Force field near the coast.

Lieutenant Michael finally regained consciousness and insisted upon taking over the controls to land the plane. The undercarriage was useless; the bomb bay doors were jammed open; the hydraulic system and altimeter were shot out. In addition, there was no airspeed indicator, the ball turret was jammed with the guns pointing downward, and the flaps would not respond. Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, he landed the plane without mishap He evaded German fighters before taking the crippled plane down to 100 feet above the ground and flew across the English Channel to the base.

(Report from a U.S. Air Force news release.)

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