Marne Wilson B17 Pilot
Encounter with an FW190

Marne Wilson

It was our third mission and this one was to Berlin. When I say "our" I mean that our crew had all trained together in the states and come to England as a team. We were getting to know each other quite well. Because we were new (anyone with less than five missions was new), we were assigned one of the older B-17Fs in the top position of the formation which is very vulnerable.

Well into Europe, when the Germans showed up, we were singled out by one FW-190 as an easy target. He came in from 11 O'clock high--a position where we couldn't get any of our guns trained on him. As he neared for a shot, I knew he had us and my reflexes fell back on what I had been trained to do in just such a situation. The way we were taught to counter a deflection shot was to turn into the attacker so I did. I pulled the plane up into a steep right climbing turn bringing our noses to bear in on each other. For several seconds we were on a collision course. I felt if he was going to get us, we might as well make him pay the price.

Marne Wilson

He apparently didn't want to die that day because he quickly dove under us while just getting off a short burst. His bullets punched four jagged holes in one wing but did no real damage. But here I was, nose high in a turn, speed blead off, heavily loaded with bombs and fuel; the B-17 dropped away in a spin falling out of the formation. A B-17 is not a plane you want to spin and we never spun them in training. However we were trained in spin recovery while flying primary in the Stearman so I applied the same rules--pull back on the power, yoke forward and kick in opposite rudder. My co-pilot, a nineteen year old kid, was frozen at the controls. I reached across and struck him a pretty hefty blow on his arm to get his attention because I needed help in recovering the plane. He came out of it right away and cranked in the turbos. The B-17 grudgingly straightened itself out and we got her back under control. By now the squadron was four thousand feet higher and still on its way to Berlin.

Combat Painting

Most of the crew, who are never strapped down in the plane, were pretty badly banged up during the spin. Fortunately there were no serious injuries but we were all frightened from the experience. We finally rejoined our formation and found an opening where another less fortunate B-17 had been. I didn't want to get back on top. We continued on, dropped our payload and returned without further incident. One difference however, normally after a completed mission, the crew were quite jovial on the return flight, but this time they were silent.


After we landed, our crew chief, an elder man in his late 30s, saw those four jagged holes and started banging on the airplane and swearing at us. He really put on a show about what we did to his plane and all the work we caused for him. Pretty soon he had us all laughing and finally he started to laugh. He knew just what we needed. After that, we were OK. We had another mission the following day and carried it off without a hitch.

I only flew five missions with that crew. I was reassigned as a lead pilot which meant I flew with a different crew on each mission. Some of our pilots flew all their 35 missions with the same crew.