On July 30th, 1943, a B-17 named Tondelayo is under attack, and in the back is tail gunner Michael L. Arooth. He’s ready as German Me 109s and Fw 190s come in to attack.
Mike fires away at the mass German fighters. The Germans were relentless. Navigator Elmer Bediner, later on, said, “I fired at those arrows in the sky, but I knew I was merely making noise to let them know that we’re alive on the port side.”
The fighters then disappeared and the crew knew what was happening next. The flak started, and Tondaleyo was rocked again and again by flak. The plane flew unswervingly through a sky of angry black shell bursts.
The plane releases the bombs, and pilot Second Lieutenant Bohn E. Fawkes turns the Tondelayo sharply to the right. As the flak started to subside, there were moments of relief before the fighters come back.
Behind him, his top turret gunner opens fire and a massive swarm of BF 109s falls upon the Americans. The Thunderbolts put up a fierce defense, but are simply overwhelmed. Amidst the chaos, Fawkes can do nothing but hold station.
The formation is their strength, and he must keep it steady even as he watched their compatriots getting torn into pieces.
Luck is About to Run Out
Several German plans come to attack the Tondaleyo, but the tough girl managed to carry on somehow.
But their luck seemed to run out. When a fourth BF-10 approaches from his left guns blazing, tail gunner Michael Arooth didn’t get a chance to fire before a 20 mm shell detonated right next to him, tearing open the gash in the fuselage, sending metal fragments flying straight at him.
His leg was injured by shrapnel, his oxygen tune ripped, and his left machine gun destroyed.
Arooth tries to desperately reach his emergency oxygen supply. But he’s too injured, and can’t get to it. He then gives up on the oxygen, returning to his machine gun, despite hypoxia and blood loss setting in.
A Bf-109 starts to set up its attack run. Arooth gets back on the gun just in time to meet the Bf-109, reducing it into a ball of flame. Eventually, the battered enemy turns away and the skies begin to finally calm.
Hours later, the aircraft made a safe landing at the base. The Tondaleyo had come back by the skin of its teeth, seemingly saved by the accuracy and sheer raw determination of Arooth, and Fawke’s quick thinking.
However, they would later find out that there was a third person who also saved the B-17. When they tore apart the tank, they were shocked to find 11 whole shells stuck within. A single dud was incredible luck and 11 would have nothing short of divine intervention.
However, when the armorers opened them up, not a single one had explosive filler. They were empty, just a hollow piece of lead, except for one. Rolled inside one of its shells was a piece of paper, its message written in Czech.
It says, “This is all we can do for you now.”
Turns out, it had been sabotaged by an unknown and brave soul, imprisoned and forced to weapons manufacturing by the German army. While he or she would never know it, their actions allowed ten men to return home.