The Arrowhead Club

Not the Lead Banana

In all of my previous articles describing the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision in which my dad was involved, I stated that the Brodie crew was aboard Lazy Daisy and the Buslee crew was aboard Lead Banana. I have recently learned that the ship 43-37822, which my dad and the Buslee crew manned that day, was not, in fact, named Lead Banana.

Lead Banana was the nickname for 42-37822, not 43-37822. The name was incorrectly assigned in the 384th Bomb Group’s database of WWII aircraft, but has now been corrected. The error was discovered through Marc Poole’s research and confirmed by a poem that Keith Ellefson ran across last month. The aircraft is also misidentified in Dave Osborne’s B-17 Fortress Master Log, which can be found here. On page 545, the Fortlog entry reads:

43-37822 Del Cheyenne 25/5/44; Kearney 8/6/44; Grenier 28/6/44; Ass 544BS/384BG [SU-N] Grafton Underwood 29/6/44; MIA Magdeburg 28/9/44 w/John Buslee, Dave Albrecht, Bill Henson, Bob Stearns, Len Bryant, Seb Peluso, George McMann, Gerald Anderson (8KIA); George Farrar (POW); flak, cr Ingersleben, Ger; MACR 9753. LEAD BANANA.

Early in my research of my dad’s WWII service, when I initially learned that my dad was aboard ship 43-37822 on September 28, 1944 in the mid-air collision, I was stunned. In all the stories that my dad told me about the war, the only B-17 he ever mentioned by name was Tremblin’ Gremlin. I had always assumed that was the ship he was aboard on September 28.

But the fact that my dad never did mention the name Lead Banana does help me believe that 43-37822 was not named. If it had been so named, Dad probably would have used that name when he told his story of the mid-air collision. And Wallace Storey did not use the name Lead Banana when he wrote about that day either. He did use the name Lazy Daisy for the Brodie crew’s ship, but he referred to my dad’s ship by number, not by name.

Both 42-37822 and 43-37822 were B-17G models. And both were fortresses of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th. My father flew missions on both ships, one on 42-37822 (the real Lead Banana) and three on 43-37822.

B-17G 42-37822 The Lead Banana

Marc Poole is the fellow who originally started the 384th Bomb Group’s website. Fred Preller is now the webmaster of the site and there are a group of volunteers and researchers that help maintain it. Though Marc is still active in the research of the 384th Bomb Group, he is primarily an artist, college art instructor, and family man. Not surprisingly, Marc is an amazing aviation artist who has a keen eye for aircraft detail.

As a result of Marc’s research, we now know that the above photo, which is part of the Quentin Bland collection in the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery, had been misidentified as 43-37822. Marc provided this information about 43-37822:

Aircraft 43-37822 was a Block 70 Boeing-built B-17G with a Natural Metal Finish, and not painted. Boeing quit painting their B-17’s after Block 30. This photo is of an early G model, and a very well-worn one at that.

Marc checked the listing for 42-37822, a Block 15 Douglas built ship, and there is a photo posted of that ship in flight, with nose art very similar to this close-up photo. Someone may have mistaken 42-37822 for 43-37822. Marc added:

I have yet to see a listing in any references for 42-37822 as Lead Banana, but I think that this is most likely the correct ship. There is a large gap of time in the listing for the ship in Osborne’s FortLog…no info between October 43 and its assignment to the 384th in May 44…odd. In comparing pics of Lead Banana currently posted for 43-37822, and one posted of 42-37822, I think it is the same earlier ship. Note the similarity of the black scoreboard under the Co-Pilot window and along the nose, and the same banana shape in the same spot, (but a different shade). Not 100%, but certainly plausible.

The Fortlog entry for 42-37822 is

42-37822 Del Long Beach 9/9/43; Gr Island 17/10/43; ass 544BS/384BG [SU-C] Grafton Underwood 12/5/44; on landing w/Ray Cook the undercarriage collapsed at RAF Ringway, UK (now Manchester Aprt) 16/3/45. Sal AFSC 19/3/45.

The only photo I can find for 43-37822 is the one below which was the High Group Lead on the August 1, 1944 Mission #169. Gerald Sammons commanded and accompanied pilot William Combs, radio operator Emil Morlan, top turret gunner Forest Bemis, bombardier Donald Ward, ball turret gunner Boyce Ragsdale, navigator Kenneth Lord, waist gunner James Fisher, and tail gunner/observer Lloyd LaChine.

B-17G 43-37822 Unnamed

The photo is from the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery, courtesy of Cynthia Smith, via Keith Ellefson. It has the natural metal finish, is not painted, and shows no evidence of any banana nose art.

But the final piece of evidence that has put the misidentification of 43-37822 as Lead Banana to rest for me was some new information that Keith Ellefson shared with me just recently. Keith ran across a poem called The Lead Banana: A B-17 Flying Fortress in the August 1989 384th Bomb Group, Inc.’s newsletter.

Next week I will share the poem and tell you about it’s author, a radio operator of the group. The following week I’ll share the poet’s connection with some of the airmen my dad served with at Grafton Underwood in the late summer and early fall of 1944 and how mysterious old photos can have amazing significance more than seventy years after they were taken.

And one more thing since we’re on the subject of misidentified B-17’s. The ship that Dad talked about in every war story he told me, Tremblin’ Gremlin? He only flew one mission on that one, his very first. The exact name of 42-37982 is in question if you take a look at the nose art. I have never seen the name written as anything other than with the spelling Tremblin’ with the apostrophe at the end. But the nose art was painted with the spelling Trembling.

B-17G 42-37982 Tremblin’ Gremlin

Sorry, but I can’t have all my illusions about my dad’s planes’ names blown away at once. The guy who painted that nose art obviously made a mistake. She’ll always be the Tremblin’ Gremlin to me.

Continued next week…

…and then I’ll continue the story of Jack Coleman Cook and Edward Field in a few weeks after a little more research.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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