The Arrowhead Club

The B-17 Bombardier

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 four 384th Bomb Group Bombardiers and one Togglier who flew with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron.

Marvin Fryden, assigned Buslee crew bombardier

James Buford Davis, Jung crew bombardier & Buslee crew replacement bombardier after Fryden’s death

Robert Sumner Stearns, Durdin crew bombardier, but bombardier of the Buslee crew on 28 September 1944

William Douglas Barnes, Jr., assigned Brodie crew bombardier

Byron Leverne Atkins, Chadwick crew flexible (waist) gunner, but togglier of the Brodie crew on 28 September 1944

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 Bombardier

According to the 303rd Bomb Group’s website, the bombardier’s job was the most important of the entire B-17 crew as “accurate and effective bombing is the ultimate purpose of your entire airplane and crew.” This makes “every other function … preparatory to hitting and destroying the target.”

But the bombardier could not act alone. The B-17’s pilot and bombardier worked together to set up the conditions for the bomb run. Many factors were involved in positioning the aircraft and setting the course from the initial point of the run to the target.

The success of the mission rested on the accomplishment of the bombardier during the bomb run, which made up just a matter of minutes, between the initial point of the run and the target, of the multi-hours long mission to the target.

Some of the many things a bombardier must understand were his aircraft’s,

  • Bombsight
  • Bombing instruments and equipment
  • Racks, switches, controls, releases, doors, linkage, etc.
  • Automatic pilot as it pertains to bombing and how to set it up and make any adjustments and minor repairs while in flight
  • Bombs and how to load and fuse them

The bombardier must be an expert in target identification and in aircraft identification and he should be able to assist the navigator in case the navigator becomes incapacitated.

Please refer to the 303rd Bomb Group’s website for the full list of bombardier responsibilities and much more detailed information.

My next post will cover the process and actions necessary for a successful bomb run.

The B-17 Togglier

According to an article posted on the Carlsbad Army Airfield’s public Facebook page,

When there was a shortage of bombardier graduates coming into the operational units, the continental air forces completed their crews with enlisted men who had received individual bombardier training in their own units.

While a good portion of the aircraft in the formation, especially the lead aircraft, carried bombardier school graduates as their bombardiers, many carried toggliers.

Bombardiers were commissioned officers who graduated from bombardier school as part of their stateside training. Toggliers were enlisted men who did not did not attend bombardier school in the States before going overseas into combat.

The togglier was usually a gunner who was retrained and reassigned to sit in the bombardier’s seat in the nose of the aircraft. The togglier was trained to “toggle” a switch to release his aircraft’s bomb load as soon as the lead bombardier released his bombs.

When the standard bombing procedure changed for the non-lead crew/aircraft bombardiers and toggliers to drop their bombs with the lead bombardier, many bombardier graduates pursued lead bombardier training or navigator training within their combat groups.

Location of the Bombardier in a B-17

The bombardier of a B-17 sits over the bombsight in the Plexiglas nose of the aircraft. Should the bombardier have to bail out of the aircraft, he would likely bail out through the door below the nose.

In the following diagram, Robert Stearns is noted in the bombardier position in the nose 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 Bombardier Position Photos

I took the following photo of the Collings Foundation’s B-17 Nine-O-Nine a few years before its tragic crash. It shows the nose of the B-17 with the navigator’s table in the left foreground and the bombardier’s seat in the front of the nose in the middle.

Nose position of the navigator and bombardier of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

This photo, shared by photographer John Slemp, shows a much better view of the bombardier’s position.

© (2009) John Slemp

To see more of John Slemp’s photographs, or to purchase his book of photos of WWII Bomber Boys’ flight jacket art, please visit his website.

Stories of 384th Bomb Group Bombardiers and Toggliers

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 bombardiers. You’ll find a chart of several bombardiers 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

Airman Personnel Record Stories, Diaries, Journals, and Interviews
Ackerson, Donald Richard⇗ Résumé of Tour of Bombing Action in Europe⇓ (0.084 MB)
Fleenor, Charles Thurman, “Chuck”⇗ B-17 Bombardier, Speaking at 2011 Reunion⇗
Deignan, Charles Joseph⇗ 2005 Veteran’s History Project Oral History Interview⇗
Furiga, Frank Dominic⇗ 2004 Veteran’s History Project Oral History Interview⇗
Richard, Oscar Gabriel, III⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Walton, Daniel Alton⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Burns, Robert (NMI)⇗ My Bit For Victory⇓ (2.721 MB)

Sources and Further Reading

303rd Bomb Group:  Duties and Responsibilities of the Bombardier

303rd Bomb Group:  Military Occupational Specialty

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

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

Facebook post from Carlsbad Army Airfield, Bombardier Training

Carlsbad Army Airfield public Facebook page

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, 2023


  1. Funny, I always thought the bombardier was farther back in the plane… near the bomb bay. My father was a bombardier, so I guess he got a front-row view of all the fighting. New information for me. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the bombardier had a great view from his seat in the Plexiglas nose of the B-17, a very frightening view, I would think!


      • When my ex-husband was in the navy, he flew on P2V patrol planes. They had a plexiglass nose, and he loved sitting there feeling like he was Superman, with the wide views of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. But I don’t think it was an assigned seat… most of the crew did it for the euphoria.

        Liked by 1 person

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