The Arrowhead Club

The B-17 Engineer/Top Turret Gunner

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist/flexible gunner with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in World War II. On 28 September 1944, the Buslee crew and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the same group became forever connected when the B-17’s they were aboard on a combat mission over Germany suffered a mid-air collision.

I am currently updating the biographical information of the men of these two crews, and I thought it would be a good time to explain the duties involved in each position of the airmen aboard the aircraft, the B-17. I have recently updated the information of the two 384th Bomb Group Engineers/Top Turret Gunners who flew with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron.

Clarence Burdell Seeley, assigned Buslee crew engineer

Robert Doyle Crumpton, assigned Brodie crew engineer

Although Lenard Leroy Bryant served as Engineer/Top Turret Gunner with the Buslee crew after Clarence Seeley was seriously wounded, he was originally assigned as one of the Buslee crew’s Flexible/Waist Gunners and I will include him in my future post regarding that position in the B-17.

For a list of all of the airmen of the Buslee and Brodie crews, see permanent page The Buslee and Brodie Crews, which is maintained with new information/posts.

Duties and Responsibilities of the B-17 Engineer/Top Turret Gunner

According to the 303rd Bomb Group’s website,

Training in the various phases of the heavy bomber program is designed to fit each member of the crew for the handling of his jobs. The engineer/top turret gunner:

  • Has been trained in the Air Forces’ highly specialized technical schools.
  • Works closely with the pilot and co-pilot, checking engine operation, fuel consumption, and the operation of all equipment.
  • Must be able to work with the bombardier, and know how to cock, lock, and load the bomb racks.
  • Must be thoroughly familiar with the armament equipment, especially the Browning aircraft machine gun. He should know how to strip, clean, and re-assemble the guns, how to maintain the guns, how to clear jams and stoppages, and how to harmonize the sights with the guns.
  • Should have a general knowledge of radio equipment, and be able to assist in tuning transmitters and receivers.
  • Should be an expert in aircraft identification.
  • Should know more about the airplane than any other member of the crew, including the pilot and co-pilot. He must know his engines and his armament equipment thoroughly. This is a big responsibility: the lives of the entire crew, the safety of the equipment, the success of the mission depend upon it.

Location of the Top Turret in a B-17

The top turret of a B-17 sits behind the pilot and co-pilot, who are seated in the cockpit. Should the top turret gunner have to bail out of the aircraft, he would likely bail out through the bomb bay doors.

In the following diagram, Lenard Bryant is noted in the top turret of the aircraft along with the other Buslee crew members in their positions on September 28, 1944.

Buslee Crew in Position on September 28, 1944
Diagram courtesy of 91st Bomb Group and modified by Cindy Farrar Bryan in 2014

B-17 Top Turret Photo

I took the following photo of the Collings Foundation’s B-17 Nine-O-Nine a few years before its tragic crash.

Top turret view of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Stories of 384th Bomb Group Engineers/Top Turret Gunners

I thought it might also be interesting to read stories, diaries, and journals written by or view video interviews of some of the 384th’s own engineers/top turret gunners. You’ll find a chart of several engineers/top turret gunners of the 384th Bomb Group below with links to their personnel records and their written and oral histories as are provided on the Stories page of 384thBombGroup.com.

Airman Personnel Record Stories, Diaries, Journals, and Interviews
Bardue, Theodore Roosevelt⇗ A Rough Mission to Munich⇓ (0.120 MB)
Clemis, Joseph Bernard⇗ Joseph Clemis Mission Diary⇓ (2.525 MB)
Stahlhut, Robert Fred⇗ The Way I Remember It⇓ (1.945 MB)
Turlington, Howard Joe⇗ My Experience⇓ (0.312 MB)
Wick, Harvey Arthur⇗ A Tribute to Harvey Arthur Wick⇓ (9.481 MB)
Wilkens, William John, “Bill”⇗ Bill Wilkens’ Combat Diary⇓ (3.842 MB)
Barber, Raymond Clifford⇗ 2004 Veteran’s History Project Oral History Interview⇗
Furrey, Thomas Edwin, Jr⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Oglesby, Howard Jasper⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Wilkens, William John, “Bill”⇗ 2020 Video Interview of Bill Wilkens⇗

Sources and Further Reading

303rd Bomb Group:  Duties and Responsibilities of the Engineer and the Gunners

303rd Bomb Group:  Military Occupational Specialty

B-17 Flying Fortress Queen of the Skies, Crew Positions, Flight Engineer

TM 12-427 Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel

The Military Yearbook Project – Army Air Force WWII Codes

The Army Air Forces in World War II: VI, Men and Planes, Edited by W.F. Craven and J.L. Cate, Chapter 19: Training of Ground Technicians and Service Personnel

Training to Fly:  Military Flight Training 1907 – 1945 by Rebecca Hancock Cameron

Thank you to the 91st Bomb Group for granting me permission in 2014 to use and modify their B-17 diagram for use on The Arrowhead Club.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021


6 Comments

  1. Cindy, this is great! Thanks for the diagram. I always thought that my father, as bombardier, sat near the bomb bays. But your diagram shows that the position was in the front, right where you could have a full view of the combat and the casualties. No wonder my father had PTSD. He probably saw several planes go down and may have felt guilty about the people he was bombing.

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    • And a full view of any enemy fighter jets coming right at you and the flak bursting all around. He was very exposed in that position. The plexiglass surrounded him, even under his feet, so if he looked down, it would seem as though he were suspended over the action at 25,000 feet up. Yes, no wonder he had PTSD. Next time a B-17 is touring in your area, go for at least the ground tour and ask that you be allowed to sit in the bombardier’s seat as your father was a B-17 bombardier during the war. They usually have the nose roped off so you can’t get up there unless you pay for a flight, but if you ask, they might let you climb into the bombardier’s seat.

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  2. By the way, my brother John and his son rode in Nine-O-Nine when it was here in California.

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    • That’s wonderful! My husband and I took the Nine-O-Nine’s flight experience, too, with a ride in November 2014 when the Collings Foundation visited Ocala, FL. It’s something I will never forget, but I kept wondering what it would have been like in the below freezing cold at 25,000 with flak bursting all around. It must have been terrifying.

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      • I’ve just been immersed in some of your other stories. It’s hard not to read them and imagine what life was like for these guys, nearly all of whom were barely out of their teenage years… or still in them. You certainly have done a great service in creating this blog. The Greatest Generation is nearly gone, so it’s up to people like you to ensure that they aren’t forgotten. After my Mom died at age 96 on June 7, I realized she was one of the last surviving WWII spouses.

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      • Thank you, Donna.

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