Losses and Aviation Safety

The story of B-17 “Patches:” the Fortress that RTB from a combat mission with one propeller embedded in the wing

After B-17 “Patches” had been hit by flak, one of the props flew off, took the tip off another one and smashed through the wing and radio hatch, just missing the radio operator’s head.

Brought to my attention by Matteo Arcolin, a reader of The Aviation Geek Club, the incredible photos in this post were taken on May 8, 1944 and show Master Sergeant James L Smith, a crew chief of the 379th Bomb Group, inspecting the propeller of a B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed “Patches” that was blown off by flak and became embedded in the wing.

According to Imperial War Museum the caption written on the back of the picture says: “’Fortress “Loses” Propeller Over France But Brings It Home – Embedded In Wing. With one of the propellers embedded in its wing, the Flying Fortress “Patches” presented an unusual sight as it returned from a raid on military installations in the Pas de Calais area yesterday, May 8. After the ship had been hit by flak, one of the props flew off, took the tip off another one and smashed through the wing and radio hatch, just missing the radio operator’s head. Associated Press Photo Shows:- M/Sgt. James L. Smith, of Wharton, Texas, crew-chief of the Fortress “Patches”, examines the prop embedded in the wing. The pilot of the ship was 2nd Lt. Walter J. Miller Jr., of 1016 Gary St., Shreveport, L.A., and the radio operator who had such a narrow escape was S/S Jack R. Guill, of 1639 Spring Garden St., Greensboro, N. California.”

The 379th Bomb Group (H) (heavy), based at RAF Kimbolton, flew more sorties than any other Bomb Group in the Eighth Air Force and dropped a greater bomb tonnage than any other Group. The B-17 Flying Fortress Group was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations, the first for operations across the period beginning May 28 1943 to Jul. 31, 1944. The second was awarded to the 1st Bomb Division as a whole for flying without fighter protection to bomb aircraft factories at Oschersleben on Jan. 11, 1944.

The 379th was comprised of four Bombardment Squadrons (All B-17’s)
1) 524th – Squadron Marking: WA
2) 525th – Squadron Marking: FR
3) 526th – Squadron Marking: LF
4) 527th – Squadron Marking: FO

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force / Associated Press via Imperial War Museum

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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