G. Wyherek-Ball Turret Gunner #1
Updated: Feb 19
Explore the rest of this website about my dad's B-17 crew: www.rumboogiecrew.com
Click below to listen to the audio blog.
In the crew picture below, notice the underneath of the plane on the far right. That isn't a wheel, it's the ball turret. The ball turret could rotate around 360 degrees and was typically operated by the smallest man on the crew. To enter the turret, it was moved until the guns were pointed straight down. The gunner then placed his feet in the heel rests and occupied
his cramped station. He put on a safety strap and closed and locked the turret door. There was no room inside for a parachute, which was left in the cabin above the turret, inaccessible to the gunner. The ball turret was probably the most dangerous spot in the plane because it was completely exposed to German fighters; it's believed that the gunners located there had a 60 percent mortality rate. When the ball turret gunner tracked a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; he was crouched in this tight, freezing-cold space and expected to engage enemy planes.
Randall Jarrell joined the military during the Second World War as part of the Army Air Corps. He finished the war as a control tower operator, so he saw the aftereffects of air combat on a regular basis. In 1945, Jarrell wrote what has become a classic poem about the ball turret, comparing the gunner there to a fetus in the womb as he tracked a fighter attacking his bomber while hunched upside-down in his little sphere:
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell
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.
To the left is the ball turret of the Memphis
Belle, one of the most famous B-17's used
during WW2. The plane had fallen into
disrepair but was recently completely
restored. It was officially unveiled at the
National Museum of the United States Air
Force on May 17, 2018, the 75th anniversary
of the plane's 25th mission.
Below left is a close up of a restored ball turret; on the right is a picture of an authentic ball turret from WW2; the pictures help to demonstrate just how small a ball turret was.