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 three 384th Bomb Group Tail 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.
Eugene Daniel Lucynski, assigned Buslee crew tail gunner
- Born 22 December 1919
- Died 14 April 1981, age 61
- Burial information unknown, but parents (Gustave and Dominica Lucynski) are buried All Saints Church Cemetery, Flint, Genesee County, Michigan, USA
- Also known as Eugene D. or Dan Lucyn
- 384th BG Personnel Record
- Eugene D. Lucynski
- Eugene Daniel Lucynski, Update
Gerald Lee Andersen, Carnes crew tail gunner, but tail gunner of the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944
- Born 20 June 1923
- Died 28 September 1944, age 21
- Buried Fort McPherson National Cemetery, Maxwell, Lincoln County, Nebraska, USA, Section F, Site 1229
- 384th BG Personnel Record
- Gerald Lee Andersen
- Gerald Lee Andersen, Update
Wilfred Frank Miller, assigned Brodie crew tail gunner
- Born 15 February 1925
- Died 29 June 1991, age 66
- Buried Saint Isidore Catholic Cemetery, Meeme, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, USA
- 384th BG Personnel Record
- Wilfred Frank Miller
- Wilfred Frank Miller, Update
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 Tail Gunner
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 tail gunner:
- Must have a fine sense of timing and be familiar with the rudiments of exterior ballistics.
- Should be familiar with the coverage area of all gun positions, and be prepared to bring the proper gun to bear as the conditions may warrant.
- Should be experts in aircraft identification.
- Must be thoroughly familiar with the Browning aircraft machine gun. They should know how to maintain the guns, how to clear jams and stoppages, and how to harmonize the sights with the guns.
- Should fire the guns at each station to familiarize himself with the other man’s position and to insure knowledge of operation in the event of an emergency.
- Had the primary duty to shoot down enemy planes.
- As the only constantly rear facing crewmember, he was responsible for passing along anything he saw behind the aircraft, including fighters, to the rest of the crew.
- Would relay information to the bombardier and navigator concerning bombing results as the formations left the target.
- Aided the navigator and radio operator by counting chutes from B-17s that were going down and the condition of stragglers that were lagging behind the formation.
- Was normally an enlisted man, but sometimes in the lead aircraft when the squadron commander was in the cockpit, the tail position would be flown by a co-pilot who was an officer. In this case, the co-pilot occupied the tail gunner position to allow him to relay information on the condition of the formation to the pilots to help to co-ordinate the formation and keep it as tight as possible.
Location of the Tail Position in a B-17
The tail gunner position of a B-17 is at the very back of the aircraft, a confined and cramped position in which the gunner must kneel on a modified bicycle-type seat with a view to the rear of the formation. Should the tail gunner have to bail out of the aircraft, he would likely bail out through the emergency exit door in the tail of the aircraft.
In the following diagram, Gerald Lee Andersen is noted in the tail of the aircraft along with the other Buslee crew members in their positions on September 28, 1944.
B-17 Tail Position Photos
I took the following photos of the Collings Foundation’s B-17 Nine-O-Nine a few years before its tragic crash.
The 384th Bomb Group’s pilot John DeFrancesco stands beside the tail of the Collings Foundation’s aircraft. First, a view directly from behind the B-17…
And in a side view…
Stories of 384th Bomb Group Tail 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 tail gunners. You’ll find a chart of several tail 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.
Sources and Further Reading
B-17 Flying Fortress Queen of the Skies, Crew Positions, Tail Gunner
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, 2022