Click on photo above of “OLD 666” to watch 8 minute video of this amazing flight. (Because the video is embedded on site in “avi” format, you need to wait while it loads into your computer’s Media Player – select either “open with” and then your chosen media player – or “save” the file for playing at a later time.)
This video was recommended by FASF member, Jerry Dixon¹, a former USMC Fighter Pilot.
On June 16, 1943, a special mission request went out to the 43rd U.S. Bomber Group stationed at Port Moresby, in Papua New Guinea: an unescorted, single-ship mapping mission over hostile enemy territory – a task so dangerous that few thought it even possible, since the usual protective fighter escort would not be present. This was because the round trip planned was far beyond the fighter aircraft’s much shorter range. Capt. Jay Zeamer and his crew nevertheless volunteered to take on this seemingly suicidal flight.
But, before they even started their perilous assignment, they faced another grave problem.
Captain Zeamer, who had been unable to acquire a new bomber of his own because of disciplinary issues within his crew, was compelled to have an old junked B-17 Flying Fortress bomber he had located towed out of the airfield “bone” or junk yard.
With enormous effort, he and his innovative crew not only managed to restore the badly battered aircraft to flight status but they also made many surprisingly big changes to the ship in order to improve its normal onboard weaponry, knowing they would have to rely solely on their own defensive capabilities. Their modifications included increasing the number of machine guns from 13 to 19, replacing the waist gunners’ standard single guns with twin guns, replacing all the standard .30 cal machine guns with the larger and more powerful .50 cal, and adding a fixed-position gun that could be fired from the pilot’s station, something not unusual on fighter craft, but almost unheard of in a bomber.
Zeamer’s crew wanted to enhance their capcity to defend themselves, so they put these guns where they might not even need them, and left spare machine guns on the aircraft’s catwalk; if a gun jammed at a critical moment they planned to dump it and quickly mount one of these spares as its replacement. They also mounted a gun behind the ball turret near the waist. By the time this creative crew had finished their unique modifications, they had managed to make Old 666 the most heavily armed bomber in the entire Pacific Theater.
Their resurrected bomber, “Old 666,” (so nick-named after its tail number 41-2666) had suffered so much severe battle damage in its brief combat history, that it had gained a reputation as a cursed bomber. In fact, it was because of this jinxed status and because it was a virtual wreck that it had been parked at the end of a runway where other aircrews could cannibalize it for needed parts for their own damaged – but but still flyable bombers. No one expected “Old 666” would ever again fly.
Taking off at 4 a.m. to make use of the cover of darkness, ‘Old 666’ and its crew headed for Bougainville, where they were instructed to conduct reconnaissance of the Japanese controlled island, to help determine logistics and enemy strength for the upcoming planned Invasion of the Solomon Islands. When the bomber amazingly returned with most its crew alive, both pilots would be awarded the Medal of Honor – – – and every other member of the crew a Distinguished Service Cross. The mission had made this heroic small group or airmen the most decorated U. S. bomber crew in World War II.
For the rest of the story, simply click on the video above, sit back to watch this historical story from WWII unfold in a little more than 8 minutes of your time.
¹ Jerry flew the Marine Corps F3D Jet Night Fighter during the Vietnam conflict