B-17 Ball Turret Gunner
While anyone who flew on a B-17 bomber during World War II had a pretty dangerous job, the ball turret gunner was undoubtedly put in the most-precarious position.
“You literally had your knees up to your chest and in between you had the machine guns,” said Gary Lewi, spokesman for the American Airpower Museum based at Republic Airport. “You really had to have pretty tough nerves to be in there.”
Made of Plexiglas and about four feet in diameter, the ball turret was a sphere attached to the bottom of B-17s. Armed with two 50-caliber machine guns and capable of rotating 360 degrees, the ball turret gunner was responsible for protecting the otherwise-exposed underbelly of the flying fortress.
“The good news was you had the best view of any other crew member; the bad news was that if the plane took a hit and there was damage to the mechanism that raised and lowered the ball turret, you were on your own,” Lewi said.
“There were many instances, and they are pretty horrific, where the ball turret was stuck and the bombers have had to make crash landings. Everybody else in the plane understood that the [ball turret gunner] was a dead man. He’d be crushed.”
“From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State, And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze. Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters. When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.”
Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell