Bomber crews’ lives depended on the skill and diligence of their ground crews. Ground crews constantly maintained the large, complex bombers, repaired battle damage, and performed modifications to make the aircraft more effective.
Bomb loaders in the ordnance section had the dangerous duty of preparing the bombers’ deadly payload. They assembled, transported, and put bombs in the aircraft. Accidents happened from time to time, with catastrophic effect.
Bomb loaders retrieve a 1,000-lb. bomb casing from a dump. They will add tail fins and a nose and tail fuse before loading it.
Ground crew changing an engine on a B-24 in the snow at an Eighth Air Force base in England. Most maintenance was done outdoors regardless of the season or weather.
Wartime poem expressing ground crewmen’s emotions when bombers did not return.
On July 15, 1944, US ordnance personnel were unloading high-explosive bombs at Metfield airfield in England. One bomb accidentally detonated, which in turn set off 1,200 tons of bombs. The catastrophic blast killed five men, destroyed or permanently grounded more than 20 B-24s, and damaged several others. The explosion was heard for 40 miles and shattered windows in a village several miles away.
In 1970, historian Roger Freeman found this twisted bomb casing while visiting Metfield—embedded within is the sole of a shoe believed to be from one of those killed.
Ordnance men put on the tail fin and arming wire for a 500-lb. bomb before hoisting it into a B-17 bomb bay.
Enlisted Technical Specialties
The success of the bombing campaign depended on tens of thousands of highly-skilled enlisted Airmen. Beginning in 1943, Airmen wore patches on their uniform sleeves to indicate their specialty.
Related Fact Sheets
The Memphis Belle: American Icon and 25th Mission
Memphis Belle Crew
The “Memphis Belle” and Nose Art
26th Mission: War Bond Tour
“Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”
Heavy Bomber “Firsts”
Combat Aircraft to Museum Artifact
Crippling the Nazi War Machine: USAAF Strategic Bombing in Europe
Early Operations (1942 to mid-1943) - Eighth Air Force in England
Ninth/Twelfth Air Forces in the Mediterranean
Combat Box/Communication and Life at 25K
Keeping them Flying: Mechanics and Armorers
Combined Bomber Offensive: Summer 1943 to Victory
Bigger Raids, Bigger Losses, and Crisis
Deadly Skies over Europe (Luftwaffe defense)
Bomber Crew Protection
Operation Tidalwave (Ploesti, 1 Aug 43)
Regensburg/Schweinfurt (17 Aug 43)
Black Thursday/Schweinfurt (14 Oct 43)
Fifteenth Air Force (created Sep 43)
Women’s Army Corps
Fighter Escort: Little Friends
Big Week (20-25 Feb 44)
Operation Frantic: Shuttle Raids to the Soviet Union
Strategic Bombing Victorious
Return to the B-17F Memphis Belle Fact Sheet
Return to the WWII Gallery list