Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

      "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" by Randall Jarrell (1914-1965)


From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose. 

Jarrell's explanation: "A ball turret was a Plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upside-down in his little sphere, he looked like the foetus in the womb. The fighters which attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose."
                                                    
Inside the Ball Turret - B24


It is hard to conceive of a more exposed position in any military situation.  In reality, however, analysis of war time casualties showed that the belly gunner was the least often killed while the pilot was most often lost. In the belly of the beast the airman had a panoramic view of enemy fighters attacking from below.
"It hard to imagine a worse place to go to war in then the ball turret position of the B-17 Flying Fortress. Isolated from the rest of the ten man crew, the ball turret was extremely cramped quarters and required a man with a slight build. In almost every case, there was not enough room for the ball turret gunner to wear a parachute...Once inside the ball, the gunner sat all curled up in the fetal position, swiveling the entire turret as he aimed the two guns. The turret had a full 360 degress of motion horizontally and 90 degrees of motion vertically. The gunner could be in any attitude from laying on his back to standing on his feet. " Source

         
Sperry Ball Turret
- B 17

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