Losses and Aviation Safety

The incredible story of the “Piggyback Flight,” the incident where a B-17 collided with another B-17 and became hooked together

The Germans thought the “Piggyback” was a new eight-engine warplane the Allies had developed rather than it being the accidental joining of two planes in mid-air!

The Germans thought it was a Superplane! The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress flew in every combat zone during World War II, but its most significant service was over Europe. Along with the B-24 Liberator, the B-17 formed the backbone of the USAAF strategic bombing force, and it helped win the war by crippling Germany’s war industry.

Coupled with RAF Bomber Command in its night bombing campaign, USAAF heavy bomber daylight strikes attempted to force Nazi Germany into surrender by crushing domestic industry, war production and the German peoples will to resist. Heavy fighting brought massive causalities among US bomber crews making participation in the Combined Bomber Offensive one of the most dangerous missions of World War II, a claim confirmed by the so called “Piggyback Flight” a very unusual accident happened on Jan. 1, 1945.

‘Pilot Glenn Rojohn survived what became one of the miracles of the war when his’ says Troy Dugo (whose father loaded ordinance on B-17’s at RAF Deopham Green during World War II) on Quora. ‘My dad, who loaded ordinance on B-17’s at RAF Deopham Green, became friends with Rojohn in their Pittsburgh social group in the 90s.’

As reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune, Rojohn was piloting a B-17 Flying Fortress in the New Year’s Eve attack on a synthetic oil factory in Hamburg when all hell broke loose. Besieged by heavy anti-aircraft flak near the target and wave after wave of strafing by German fighters, 12 of 37 planes were downed and 100 crewmen were killed.

Dugo explains;

‘Rojohn’s B-17 collided mid-air with a bomber below it and became hooked together in what has become known as the “Piggyback flight.” A propeller and top guns of the lower B-17 were jammed into Rojohn’s B-17 and he and his co-pilot, William Leek, were unable to free their plane.

‘Rojohn’s crew, part of the 8th Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group, were awakened in the middle of the night and told they were to fly across the English Channel and the North Sea to participate in a massive bombing raid. A fighter escort they were supposed to meet over the English Channel never materialized because of heavy fog, so they were flying the bombing mission against German targets without protection during the Battle of the Bulge.

‘They were sitting ducks for the German fighter planes.’

It is not known why the lower plane collided with Rojohn’s B-17 at about 19,000 feet as its aircraft flew to fill a gap in the “V” formation caused by other planes being shot down. It is believed the pilots of the other plane were incapacitated. While the lower plane’s engines kept operating and cut into Rojohn’s B-17, Rojohn and his co-pilot turned off their plane’s engines and turned south toward Germany to try to land the plane.

Unfortunately, some crew bailed out over water, unaware they had not reached land. Three crew members died and the survivors were captured.

Dugo continues;

‘Rojohn and his co-pilot landed the conjoined planes on German soil near Wilhemshaven. Rojohn’s plane slid free upon impact, and the lower plane exploded and burned. Rojohn would undergo two weeks of interrogation by the Germans. They thought Rojohn was piloting a new eight-engine warplane the Allies had developed rather than it being the accidental joining of two planes in mid-air! The Germans thought it was a Superplane!’

He concludes;

‘For their heroic actions, Rojohn and his co-pilot, William Leek, were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. At the petitioning of my dad and his fellow veterans, we were all there when Rojohn was inducted into the Hall of Valor at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh where the paint [featured in this post] hangs.’

Photo credit: Hall of Valor at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-17G Flying Fortress – 42-31076, LG-V “Chief Sly’s Son” 91st BG, 322nd BS – 1944
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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