Why would I think the 384th Bomb Group’s B-17G 42-31222, nicknamed Lazy Daisy, was infested with gremlins? After reviewing the aircraft’s failures in the post-mission documents from her first mission in December 1943 to her next-to-last in September 1944, I was overwhelmed by the number and kinds of problems the aircraft experienced.
Lazy Daisy, a B-17G of the 384th Bombardment Group’s 546th Bombardment Squadron, experienced serious engine problems from the start and was taken out of commission for long periods, presumably for major repairs. Later in her career, she was assigned often as a spare aircraft and unused. At one point, it seems the 546th was trying to avoid using her (my opinion), so she was assigned to other bombardment squadrons of the 384th, and even once to another bombardment group because, (also only my theory) the men of the 546th Squadron didn’t want to fly in her.
When my dad, George Edwin Farrar, told me the story of surviving a mid-air collision between two B-17’s in WWII, he told me the reason the other ship (Lazy Daisy) collided with his ship (B-17G 43-37822), was that Lazy Daisy had been hit by ground fire (flak) which caused it to be knocked off course and into his ship.
I long believed flak was the sole reason for the collision until,
- A 384th Bomb Group B-17 pilot, Wallace Storey, who witnessed the collision, told me he didn’t think Lazy Daisy was hit by flak and,
- Many of the reports from the day of the collision do not attribute flak as the cause (although some do), and speculated on other causes, such as (1) the group was forced to pull up to avoid collision with another group, (2) pilot error during evasive action, and (3) the formation was broken up by very sharp turns and prop wash.
But, in the case of what seemed to some like pilot error, what if a mechanical problem with the aircraft caused the aircraft to not respond correctly to properly executed maneuvering by the pilot, James Brodie? And what if this mechanical problem compounded the scenario of flak damage?
Only the aircraft’s pilot, James Brodie, and co-pilot, Lloyd Vevle, would have been able to answer that question and neither one lived to do so. I can’t pretend to know the extent of what they were facing that day, that moment, that Lazy Daisy collided with my dad’s B-17, but I can look at what kinds of issues Lazy Daisy experienced in the missions leading up to that fateful one on September 28, 1944, and venture a guess.
I reviewed the mission reports of all 64 missions to which Lazy Daisy was assigned, looking for mechanical issues or anything else that stood out, to try to build a greater understanding of the aircraft’s history. Before I get into the mission details, here’s a little background info on the ship.
Lazy Daisy was,
- Built by the Boeing Airplane Company
- A new replacement aircraft assigned to the 384th Bombardment Group, 546th Bombardment Squadron (H)
- Formally identified as B-17G 42-31222, with the ’42’ prefix meaning built in 1942, a newer ‘G’ series B-17
- Identified with Aircraft ID Code BK*D, BK being the squadron code of the 384th’s 546th Bomb Squadron
- Assigned to Ground Crew Chief James F. Flynn for maintenance
Lazy Daisy’s start date with the 384th Bomb Group was 23 November 1943 and her first assigned mission was 5 December 1943. Of course, Lazy Daisy’s End Date was 28 September 1944, failing to return from a combat operation due to the mid-air collision over Magdeburg, Germany.
Of Lazy Daisy’s assigned 64 missions, she received combat credit for 49.
Lazy Daisy’s entry in Dave Osborne’s B-17 Fortress Master Log is,
42-31222 Del Denver 4/10/43; Gr Island 17/10/43; Memphis 24/10/43; Ass 545BS/384BG [JD-D] Grafton Underwood 546 [BK-D] 23/11/43; MIA Magdeburg (Berlin) 28/9/44 w/Jim Brodie, Lloyd Vevle, Byron Atkins, Bob Crumpton, Don Dooley, Gordon Hetu (6KIA); George Hawkins, Harry Liniger, Wilf Miller (3POW); flak, cr Erxleben, Ger; MACR 9366. LAZY DAISY.
I introduced you to Lazy Daisy’s first “date” (first official combat mission’s pilot), Lt. Sidney Paul Taylor, in Lazy Daisy’s Gremlin’s, Part 1 of 3.
Following Taylor’s previous very rough mission of November 29, 1943 in Silver Dollar, he was probably looking forward to a less eventful round trip in his new ship to a Luftwaffe Fighter Airfield in Saint-Jean-d’Angély, France on December 5, 1943. It was less eventful in that Lazy Daisy had to return to base with a broken piston head soon after takeoff.
Not a great start for Lazy Daisy, and in the missions that followed, the ship was plagued by aircraft technical failure after technical failure. Over the course of her life, the crews of Lazy Daisy reported engine problems on 27 missions, including 21 engine/prop malfunctions and 9 supercharger problems (3 missions included both).
It wasn’t hard to notice the many engine and supercharger issues once I had them all in a list. Next question, what the heck is a supercharger?
Fred Preller, the 384th Bomb Group website’s Webmaster, helped me out with this one, noting,
A supercharger is an air compressor. On the B-17 it is a turbo-supercharger, meaning it is driven by a turbine in the engine exhaust line. The supercharger compresses air being fed into the engine.
Side note: as you go up in altitude the air pressure lessens, and there is consequently less air pressure to force air into the engine.
So the supercharger offsets that loss in air pressure to provide sufficient air to the engine for proper combustion. In fact, it “supercharges” the air pressure several times the normal atmospheric pressure. I seem to recall that the B-17 turbos would provide up to 45 psi air to the engine (normal atmospheric pressure at sea level is about 15 psi).
So, how does this all work? The engine exhaust gases are routed to the turbine which spins the compressor. There is a “waste gate” in the exhaust line which will route more or less exhaust gas to the turbine, and is the means of controlling the “boost” in air pressure that the compressor provides.
So what about all the “lagging” of the superchargers that I read in the pilot narratives of the mission reports? Fred added,
I am not sure of this but I imagine it has to do with the supercharger response to the waste gate setting – in fact, there is quite a linkage between the cockpit and each engine for controlling the waste gate, so it is easy to see that different kinds of problems could occur.
John Edwards, 384th Bomb Group Historian, helped me out when I pointedly asked what would happen to a B-17 during all those supercharger failures? Would it make the aircraft seem sluggish, or lazy? John noted,
A supercharger failure at altitude would certainly make it hard for the aircraft to hold position especially if still carrying the full bomb load and the higher amount of fuel before the target. If the charger is not performing appropriately at lower altitudes, the impact can be slow to climb which puts the aircraft behind schedule and makes the pilot push the engines harder when it finally reaches altitude.
And much more to come about the fascinating subject of superchargers at a later date, following this series…
I can’t help but speculate that once her first pilot, Lt. Sidney Paul Taylor, got to know her “personality”, why wouldn’t he name his new B-17 Lazy Daisy?
So here comes the mission list, and in the list of Lazy Daisy’s missions I present here, December 1943 through April 1944, all the missions were flown by crews of the 546th Bomb Squadron. ALL of her missions aren’t listed. I’ve listed the ones with the most serious problems and if no problems were reported on a mission (although only a few missions had no technical or equipment failures of any kind), that mission wasn’t included either. [May through September 1944 missions coming up in Part 3.]
Specific engine/supercharger problems and other serious issues on different missions included,
- 5 DEC 1943 Broken piston head in the No. 2 engine. The pilot, Lt. Taylor, wrote in his narrative statement, “On take-off the manifold pressure dropped to 31” & 1800 RPM. The engine was feathered when we attained an altitude of 200’. It was impossible to climb. The engine was feathered, but created such a drag that it was necessary to re-feather it. We drew 46” & 2500 RPM on the three remaining engines in order to maintain altitude & speed. When these settings were reduced, it was not possible to maintain altitude & flying speed. As soon as the group completed take-off we landed. We landed with full bomb load.”
It would take 8 days of tinkering before Lazy Daisy was assigned to another mission after having problems with the No. 2 engine. So what happened on 13 DEC 1943 with the Taylor crew assigned to the ship for her second mission?
- 13 DEC 1943 No. 2 engine oil pressure dropped to 37 lbs. Taylor wrote, “On the trip over, the manifold pressure repeatedly dropped to about 20lbs. for no apparent cause. The pressure could be brought back up by manipulation of the supercharger control. Eventually the oil pressure dropped to 40 lbs. We continued for about 15 minutes, then the oil pressure began to drop further, so I attempted to feather the engine. It would not feather. I turned back and bombed a Target of Opportunity. At low altitude the engine performed alright.”
The Taylor crew would not man Lazy Daisy again until Christmas Eve, so on her next mission, Lazy Daisy’s gremlins were able to antagonize a different crew.
- 16 DEC 1943 The Clifford Moore crew reported a problem with the fuel pressure on #3 engine. Prop on #2 over sped. They also reported flak damage and that the heated gloves on the ship were faulty, too.
The Taylor crew was back on board on 24 DEC 1943, Christmas Eve, but reported no aircraft failures, only an equipment failure that the co-pilot’s microphone was out. Over the next few months, the Taylor crew and other crews reported a slew of problems.
- 30 DEC 1943 The Austin Rinne crew reported #3 supercharger drew only 22 inches at 22,000 ft. They also reported that the antenna brace on the vertical stabilizer was broken off, the bomb bay doors wouldn’t close, and flak had pierced the left outboard Tokyo fuel tank.
- 5 JAN 1944 The Ralph Courtemanche crew reported #1 and #3 superchargers lagged on climb. #2 engine was shooting oil at altitude. It ran all right at lower altitudes.
- 7 JAN 1944 The Sidney Taylor crew reported that the flight indicator was completely out and must be replaced. They became separated from formation in dense clouds after group assembly, failed to make wing rendezvous, and were forced to abort.
- 30 JAN 1944 The Merlin Reed crew reported a runaway prop on #2 engine. A separate report alternately reported the problem as – Returned to station early due to runaway No. 3 propeller. Inspection revealed a broken shaft.
- 3 FEB 1944 The Sidney Taylor crew reported #1 supercharger threw a bucket, but it was not noticed until the ship had landed.
- 20 FEB 1944 Today was pilot Sidney Taylor’s 25th mission, completing his tour. He reported Lazy Daisy threw a bucket from #1 supercharger, #2 prop over traveled, and #1 supercharger regulator out. I guess Lazy Daisy’s gremlins couldn’t let Taylor have an easy final mission.
- 21 FEB 1944 The James Miller crew reported #3 supercharger lags. Apparently Lazy Daisy’s gremlins didn’t leave Grafton Underwood with Sidney Taylor.
- 25 FEB 1944 The Ralph Courtemanche crew reported fuel had to be siphoned out of #4 wing tank when fuel pressure went up to 19.5 lbs, and #3 engine began throwing oil.
- 2 MAR 1944 The Charles Bishop crew reported #4 fuel pressure was extremely high. Had to run engines between 20” and 25” to keep it down.
- 3 MAR 1944 The Charles Decker crew reported #1 engine was running roughly and vibrated excessively. Alternately reported – #2 engine failed and couldn’t be feathered. Pilot believes it was ignition trouble. #3 supercharger lagged at altitude.
- 8 MAR 1944 The Charles Bishop crew reported No. 1 engine was running roughly and vibrated excessively. Returned early with feathered No. 1 engine. On ground check excessive blow-by of the valves was noted. Inspection revealed No. 7 exhaust valve broken. Further inspection showed No. 6 exhaust valve broken off.
- 22 MAR 1944 The James Miller crew reported #2 Engine knocked out by flak and had general flak damages. Miller wrote, “Hit by flak. Lost #2 engine. Oil pressure dropped. Evidently oil line hit by flak. Unable to feather prop. Dropped off at enemy coast.”
- 13 APR 1944 The Anthony Gekakis crew reported No. 1 Engine running rough and smoking continuously at altitude.
- 18 APR 1944 The James Miller crew reported #1 Engine went out over target.
After the April 18, 1944 mission, Lazy Daisy was out of service for almost six weeks (40 days). I turned to my fellow research volunteers of the 384th Bomb Group to help me analyze this and other breaks in Lazy Daisy’s inclusion in combat missions.
384th Bomb Group’s Historian John Edwards’ thoughts on the gap of missions were that,
- In Fall 1944, there are typically more aircraft on station than crews so the group could afford a tail to sit a while as maintenance worked the gremlins.
- The USAAF maintenance system was designed to move aircraft with problems to the next level of maintenance if the required amount of time to complete the repair exceeded certain time requirements.
The SD (Sub-depot) would work the aircraft since it stayed on station. We would see an annotation had the aircraft been sent to a SAD (Strategic Air Depot) or BAD (Base Air Depot).
Keith Ellefson, the 384th Bomb Group’s Combat Data Specialist, found that indeed,
42-31222 was at 2SAD (the 2nd Strategic Air Depot), Station 547 (aka Abbots Ripton at Alconbury, England) on 6 May 1944 and back at Station 106 (Grafton Underwood) on 6 June 1944.
A few photos from the 384th Bomb Group photo gallery of Lazy Daisy undergoing various repairs…
Thank you Fred Preller, John Edwards, and Keith Ellefson for you help on this post.
Stay tuned for Lazy Daisy’s Gremlins, Part 3 of 3 and her return from maintenance…
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020