Sir Baboon McGoon

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Sir Baboon McGoon
323d Bombardment Squadron - B-17 Flying Fortress.jpg
B-17Fs of the 323rd Bombardment Squadron USAF
Type Boeing B-17F-75-DL Flying Fortress
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California
Construction number 8442
Serial 42-3506
Owners and operators US Army Air Force (USAAF)
In service 1943-1944
Fate Ditched after collision with a friendly bomb on March 29, 1944

Sir Baboon McGoon was an American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a Douglas-Long Beach built B-17F-75-DL, ASN 42-3506, last assigned to the 324th Bombardment Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, operating out of RAF Bassingbourn (AAF Station 121), Cambridgeshire, England. Its nose art and name were based on the male character Baboon McGoon from Al Capp's comic strip, Li'l Abner.

On Sunday, October 10, 1943, in the afternoon, the aircraft ran out of fuel while returning to Bassingbourn, and made a belly landing in a wet and muddy sugar beet field near the village of Tannington, Suffolk, England. Its recovery was described in an article in the June 1944 issue of Popular Science magazine, as well as a 1945 article in Flying magazine. The article describes how the aircraft was jacked up in the sugar beet field. Once on its own gear, it was determined that it could be flown out of the field and several weeks of mobile repairs resulted in the engines and propellers being replaced and temporary patches being applied. An 1,800 ft long steel mesh temporary runway allowed the aircraft to depart the sugar beet field in November 1943 and fly to a maintenance depot for more extensive repairs. Squadron records of the 324th BS indicate that Sir Baboon McGoon returned to Bassingbourn on 19 February 1944. It flew seven additional missions between 24 February 1944 and its final mission on 29 March 1944.

The 10 man crew for that final mission on March 29, 1944 was headed by 2Lt Edgar C Downing.[1] Most of his crew had flown other missions, and they had flown this particular aircraft on one previous mission since its return to service. The crew members described it as "a real crate" of an airplane – with many patches and quirks. The assigned mission for that day was a bombing run to Brunswick, Germany. As their portion of the formation arrived over the primary target, (also known as Braunschweig), they reported that the target area was obscured by clouds or smoke, so they proceeded to their secondary target.

Bombs released from a bomber above them struck one of their engines. (Believed by the crew to be the #4, or right outboard engine.) This shut down one engine, but the propeller couldn't be properly feathered and there was damage to the electrical and/or hydraulic systems. Their troubles mounted when they attempted to drop their bombs and the bomb bay doors had to be manually opened and the bomb's released manually. Once the bombs were gone, they were unable to close the bomb bay doors. The increased drag of a non-feathered propeller and the open bomb bay doors, combined with the lost power from one inoperative engine, caused them to slow down and forced them to fall out of formation. The crew recalls that they were then attacked by German fighter aircraft and they lost one or two more engines and had to drop down to the cloud deck (tops around 5,000') to attempt to continue flying. The aircraft was headed west towards England, but was lower than their formations and unable to keep up. Witness crew members from a 323rd Bomb Squadron aircraft reported losing sight of the missing aircraft about 30 minutes (east of) the Zuider Zee, but that the aircraft was continuing on course, just lower & slower. The witnesses reported that the engines were feathered, but crew statements suggest that the engines were not turning, however the propellers were not feathered either.

As the accident aircraft continued westward, the crew was ordered to lighten the load by jettisoning all the extra weight that they could. The ball turret gunner was able to get back into the plane and so they jettisoned the ball turret. One crew member stated that they probably jettisoned any emergency radio they may have had, because they didn't have one in the life rafts. Approximately 4pm and 20 nm west of the coast, they were firmly over the North Sea as darkness approached. They were flying on one sputtering engine, and they had approximately 80 to 90 nm to go to make the English coast. The pilot polled his crew and a unanimous decision was made to attempt a controlled ditching with the limited remaining power, rather than pressing on and facing a forced ditching with no power, quite likely in the dark. Based on previous boating experience, the pilot ditched, but 90 degrees different than the recommended procedure. (Following his return to service, the ditching procedures were changed to match his success method.)

A successful ditching was made, and the entire 10 man crew evacuated through the top hatch. They deployed their two 5-man life rafts and pushed away in just in time to watch their aircraft sink in approximately 80 ft of water in the North Sea. The crew recalls that they were cold, sore, injured, and mad. They watched formations of bombers returning to England, and a lone German aircraft came and circled their position once and could have strafed them, but didn't. It appeared to return perhaps an hour later. Struggling to keep their two rafts together in heavy 5' waves, they feared they would freeze or drown in the icy water at approximately 60 degrees N latitude. After darkness fell, they began launching flares every half-hour or so until a boat arrived and rescued them.

German records include documents for each of the 10 man crew. These documents are titled "Report On Capture of Members of Enemy Air Forces" and are shown with a "PLACE: 8th E-boat Flotilla, Haarlem". Each crew member was reported as being taken POW "At sea 28 nautical miles 300 degrees IJmuiden" on March 29, 1944 at 2125 (9:25pm). IJmuiden is a coastal city where the Germans had hardened concrete E-boat pens for their Schnellboote (Fast Boats). Larger than an American PT boat, these boats probably were based from IJmuiden and the specific reference of time, distance and direction 28 nm 300 degrees (WNW) from IJmuiden at 2125 hours provides a very specific location.

There is a table that estimates the drift rate for a 5-man raft under those wind & wave conditions, which provides a reasonably accurate estimate for the location of the ditching around 4pm, followed by 5 hours and 25 minutes drifting in the rafts. The North Sea is approximately 80' deep at the estimated ditching site.

The crew were initially taken to a jail near the streetcar line. Subsequently, they were ordered onto a train and transported to the DuLag (DurchgangsLager) or transfer camp, and about April 1944 the crew had arrived in Luft Stalag 17-B in Krems Austria where they were held POW for just over a year until the end of the war.

The June 1944 issue of Popular Science featured the article of the successful restoration of Sir Baboon McGoon from its October 1943 belly landing. By the time the article appeared in print, the aircraft had been on the bottom of the North Sea for at least two months.

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