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Category Archives: Opie, Leonard

The B-17 Flexible (Waist) Gunner

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a flexible/waist 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 Flexible (Waist) 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.

Lenard Leroy Bryant, assigned Buslee crew waist gunner, reassigned to top turret gunner after 5 August 1944 mission

George Edwin Farrar, assigned Buslee crew waist gunner

Leonard Wood Opie, assigned Brodie crew waist gunner

Harry Allen Liniger, assigned Brodie crew waist gunner

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 Flexible (Waist) Gunner

According to the 303rd Bomb Group and the B-17 Queen of the Sky websites,

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 flexible/waist 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 look for and shoot down enemy fighters.
  • Would call out fighter positions (for the benefit of the other gunners and for the navigator to record in his log).
  • Would call out enemy aircraft he deemed to be damaged or destroyed (also for the benefit of  the navigator’s log record).
  • Would call out B-17’s that he saw go down and the number of chutes deployed (for the benefit of the navigator and radio operator so that they could report these losses at the debriefing).
  • Would report damage to the aircraft to the pilot.

The waist gun position of the B-17 presented several difficulties, but mostly remedied with the introduction of the “G” model.

  • In models previous to the G model, the waist gunners were placed directly opposite each other, resulting in difficult maneuvering during engagement with fighters. Their placement also led to accidental disconnection of the other’s oxygen system, and if such disconnection went unnoticed, would result in the stages of anoxia – dizziness, loss of consciousness, and death.
  • Also in models previous to the G model, the waist windows were open to 200 mph winds at altitude, which resulted in minus 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit temperature in the slipstream of air racing past the Fortress.  Problem: frostbite.  Anoxia and frostbite were the two biggest enemies of the B-17 waist gunner past the enemy fighters and flak. The waist gunners battled the freezing temperatures by wearing layers of heavy clothing and electrically heated suits. The G model added Plexiglas windows with an opening for the guns in the waist windows.
  • The waist gunners’ 50 caliber machine guns did not use a power assisted mount until the G model and the sights were aimed with a ball and ring sight until the sights were upgraded in the G with computing sights like those in the top turret and ball.
  • Originally, B-17’s carried two waist gunners, but late in the war, most bombardment groups reduced the number of waist gunners in a B-17 from two to one. The improvement of the distance the Allied fighters could accompany the bomber stream reduced the incidence and number of enemy fighters attacking the Fortresses, thus reducing the need for two waist gunners.

Location of the Waist Position in a B-17

The waist gunner positions of a B-17 are at the mid-point of the aircraft, just past the radio room and ball turret. Should the waist gunner have to bail out of the aircraft, he would likely bail out through the waist door of the aircraft, just past the waist positions on the starboard (right-hand) side of the aircraft and forward of the tail.

In the following diagram, George Edwin Farrar is noted in the waist position 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 Waist Position Photos

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

View of waist door and right waist gunner window.

Waist door and waist window on the starboard (right) side of the B-17
Collings Foundation B-17 Nine-O-Nine at Ocala, Florida airport in November 2014

Note, step ladder is for post-war tour guests only and was not used in combat!

View of waist from rear of aircraft…

Waist area and waist windows with 50 caliber machine guns, seats not original (added for post-war tour flights)
Collings Foundation B-17 Nine-O-Nine at Ocala, Florida airport in November 2014

Note, seats also for post-war tour guests only and not used in combat!

View of waist from front of aircraft.

B-17 waist area aft of the ball turret in the foreground, ammunition boxes visible
Collings Foundation B-17 Nine-O-Nine at Leesburg, Florida airport in November 2017

View of waist, waist windows, waist door, and entry into tail area from just behind the ball turret.

Waist area of the Collings Foundation’s B-17G Nine-o-Nine In Leesburg, Florida, November 4, 2017

Again, post-war tourist seats were not original equipment!

Stories of 384th Bomb Group Waist 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 waist gunners. You’ll find a chart of several waist 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
Austin, Ralph Earl⇗ A Personal Account⇓ (0.058 MB)
Burns, Robert (NMI)⇗ My Bit For Victory⇓ (2.721 MB)
Hitzeroth, Franklin Carl⇗ My Story: The First Four Days⇓ (2.045 MB)
Jackson, Leslie Hall⇗ How Leslie Jackson Became a Friend of Füssen⇓ (1.863 MB)
Matican, Sigmund Sidney⇗ Matican Diary⇓ (1.381 MB)
Montz, Nemours Albert, “Nem”⇗ Army Air Corps Vet Remembers His Luck⇓ (3.905 MB)
Schimenek, John Francis⇗ John Francis Schimenek WWII Diary⇓ (10.380 MB)
Seniawsky, Peter (NMI)⇗ Peter Seniawsky’s Black Thursday Escape⇓ (0.979 MB)
Sylvia, Francis Robert⇗ Account of 14 October 1943 Mission and its Aftermath⇓ (9.866 MB)
Zieba, Edmund (NMI)⇗ I Remember…⇓ (0.169 MB)
Britton, Joseph Rodman⇗ 2016 Veteran’s History Project Oral History Interview⇗
Furrey, Thomas Edwin, Jr⇗ Oral History Interview⇗
Meyer, Alfred (NMI)⇗ Oral History Interview⇗

Note: I was unable to open the links to the last three entries in the list, the oral history interviews of Britton, Furrey, and Meyer. I will leave the links in place in the hope that the problem is temporary.

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, Waist Gunner

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, 2023

Leonard Wood Opie, Update

A new search has provided me with some new information regarding Leonard Wood Opie, flexible/waist gunner of the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII. 

To view my original post and other information about Leonard Wood Opie, please see the links at the end of this post.

Entry into World War II

Leonard Wood Opie registered for the WWII draft on 16 February 1942. He indicated that he lived in Trivoli, Peoria County, Illinois at the time of registration. Leonard’s draft card also notes he was twenty years old and his birthdate was 14 September 1921.

His father, Chester A. Opie of Trivoli, Illinois is the person who would always know his address. Leonard was 5’8” tall, weighed 158 pounds, had brown eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion.

At the time of his draft registration, Leonard’s employer was Altorfer Bros. & Co. in East Peoria, Tazewell County, Illinois. For an interesting WWII side story, please see the story about Leonard’s employer, Altorfer Bros. & Co., below.

A month after his twenty-first birthday, on 17 October 1942, Leonard enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Peoria, Illinois. He resided in Peoria County, Illinois at the time of enlistment.

Combat/Overseas Duty

After his training in the States, Leonard Wood Opie served his combat duty with the 8th Army Air Forces and the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, England.

Leonard’s 384th Bomb Group Sortie record notes that his initial rank was Corporal, his duty was Arm-Gunner, and his pay was $140.40 per month. His sortie record also notes his home address as Mrs. Annie Opie (Leonard’s mother), Trivoli, Ill.

Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group indicate the following for Leonard Wood Opie:

  • On 26 JULY 1944, Leonard Wood Opie was assigned to the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated 26 July 1944.
  • On 2 August 1944, Leonard Opie was promoted to Sergeant per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #155.
  • On 8 September 1944, Leonard Opie was transferred in grade to the Casual Pool, 8th AFRD, AAF Station 594.

According to “Army Air Forces Stations,” AAF Station 594 was “594 Stone Staffordshire 8, 14, 16, and 18, (Jefferson Hall) Replacement Control Ctrs.” “Army Air Forces Stations” was “A Guide to the Stations Where U.S. Army Air Forces Personnel Served in the United Kingdom During World War II.”

Being transferred to the casual pool likely meant that Leonard left Grafton Underwood and continued his WWII service elsewhere, although I have no information on where he served or what his new role in the war was. Leonard Opie served on only three missions with the 384th Bomb Group, all three in August 1944 and all three with the Brodie crew.

Return Home

Leonard Opie married and continued his military career after WWII.

On 13 May 1946, Leonard Opie married Ellen Hise in Pulaski County, Arkansas. Leonard was twenty-four years old and Ellen was twenty-three and lived in North Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas.

The 1950 Federal Census notes that Leonard W. Opie was twenty-eight years old, married to Ellen T. Opie, who was twenty-seven years old, and living in Riverside, Riverside County, California. The kind of work he was doing was listed as Armed Forces.

The 1951 city directory for Riverside California lists Leonard W. and Ellen T. Opie living at 2643 Lime in Riverside. Leonard’s occupation was United States Air Force. Ellen’s occupation was listed as waitress at The Owl Cafe.

Leonard’s occupation for most of his working life, as noted on his death certificate, was Barber – Tech Sgt. and Kind of Business was U.S. Air Force – Retired. Leonard retired from the US Air Force in 1964 with a discharge date of 29 February 1964 according to his Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File.

Leonard and Ellen Opie moved to Longview, Gregg County, Texas in 1966, two years after he retired from the Air Force.

Leonard Wood Opie died on 20 May 1974 at the age of 52 of prostate cancer. Other information included on his death certificate notes his residence at the time of his death as Longview, Gregg County, Texas. His father was listed as Arthur Opie, mother as Annie Depperman, and wife as Ellen Opie.

Leonard’s obituary published on 21 May 1974 in the Longview (TX) News-Journal states,

L.W. Opie, 52, of Longview died Monday in a Longview hospital and funeral services are pending at Welch Funeral Home.

Opie was a retired U.S. Air Force technical sergeant and he was a native of Illinois. He had been a resident of Longview since 1966 and was a member of the First Lutheran Church.

Surviving are his wife, Mrs. Ellen T. Opie; a son, Allen Hise of Tatum; and two daughters, Mrs. Sue Reeves of Longview and Mrs. Sue Hill of West Point, Iowa.

Also surviving are two sisters, Mrs. Marion Stewart of Pekin, Ill. and Mrs. Barbara Quick of Peoria, Ill.; the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Opie of Peoria, Ill.; and five grandchildren.

Welch Funeral Home is in charge.

Family Connections

I would love to connect with relatives of Leonard Wood Opie, especially to learn the nature of his WWII service after he left the 384th Bomb Group. Please e-mail me if you have more information to share about Leonard.


About Altorfer Bros. & Co.

When I performed an internet search to discover what type of employment Leonard was working in at the time of his draft registration, I discovered an interesting newspaper article from the Peoria Journal Star. To get all the details, please refer to the article, but I’ll summarize it here.

Before and at the beginning of World War II, Altorfer Bros. & Co. made appliances, including washing machines. This would have been their primary business at the time Leonard Wood Opie worked for the company.

However, due to shortages from war production, companies like Altorfer could no longer obtain steel to build their products. On 15 May 1943, Altorfer produced its last household appliances for the rest of the war. The company was forced to turn its production lines toward making armaments for the war effort.

At the time, one of the biggest challenges to the Allies military effort was the strength of the steel the Nazis had developed to use to build their tanks. The Allies’ shells would just bounce off the Nazi tanks. According to the article, “Gen. George Patton sent out a plea to the military to have a shell made that would pierce the Nazi tanks.”

Altorfer, and many of the country’s largest manufacturers like John Deere and General Motors, gathered for a brainstorming meeting in southern Indiana. They were tasked with the challenge to make an anti-tank shell, an armored piercing shell.

Clyde Ulrich, director of manufacturing of Altorfer Bros., took back a piece of German tank steel from that meeting to his plant and began work to produce a shell for our anti-tank guns that could pierce that steel.

It took him nine months, but Clyde Ulrich was successful in making a shell that could pierce the Nazi tanks. Altofer Bros. & Co., the company for which Leonard Wood Opie worked shortly before he enlisted in WWII, and Clyde Ulrich would go down in history for creating and producing the shell that could beat the German tanks.


Notes/Links

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Leonard Opie

Leonard Wood (previously reported as Wesley) Opie was a member of the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII. He came from a farming family in Trivoli, Peoria County, Illinois.

Leonard’s father was Chester Arthur Opie (1893 – 1981) and his mother was Annie or Anna M. Opie (born 1898). Both Chester and Annie were born in Illinois. Annie’s parents were both born in Germany, and they immigrated to America before her birth. Chester’s father, Charles “Fremont” Opie, was born in Indiana, and his mother, Anna, was born in Illionis.

Leonard was born on September 14, 1921 in Peoria County, Illinois.

In 1930, the Opie family lived in Trivoli, Peoria County, Illinois.  Chester’s parents lived next to Chester, Annie, and their family, which consisted of son Leonard (eight years old at the time of the census) and daughter Miriam (five years old). Chester was a farm laborer.

In 1940, the family still lived in Trivoli. Chester, wife Annie, son Leonard (18), oldest daughter Miriam (15), youngest daughter Barbara Jean (9), and Chester’s mother Anna all lived together. Chester’s father had died in 1939. Chester was still farming, and Leonard, at eighteen years old, worked on the farm.  

On October 17, 1942, Leonard enlisted in the Army Air Forces. After training, he found himself designated as one of the two flexible (waist) gunners on the James Joseph Brodie crew. Leonard was assigned to the 545th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #148 dated July 26, 1944.

Once arriving at the 384th’s base in Grafton Underwood in England, Leonard discovered that missions were conducted with only one waist gunner on each crew. The other waist gunner of the Brodie crew was Harry Allen Liniger. On the crew’s first three missions together on August 7, 1944, Liniger was selected to be the the waist gunner on the crew. Leonard did not fly his first mission until August 11 and was finally able to fly with the Brodie crew while Liniger sat out. Leonard also flew the next two missions with the Brodie crew, leaving Liniger back at the base.

By the Brodie crew’s next mission, though, Liniger was back on the crew as waist gunner, leaving Leonard off the crew. Leonard only flew those three missions with the Brodie crew, the last one being on August 24, 1944. His record with the 384th ends there. He is not recorded as flying with another 384th crew. He may have been transferred to a ground crew with the 384th or he may have been transferred to another bomb group.

Leonard did return home after the end of the war, though. On May 13, 1946, he married Hattie Ellen T. Todd (1923 – 2010) in Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas. Twenty-eight years later, on May 20, 1974, he died in Longview (Gregg County), Texas.

Update June 5, 2021: Leonard Opie is buried in Lakeview Memorial Gardens in Longview, Texas.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015