Bill Schultz flew from a field in Foggia, Italy, as the pilot of a B-17 “Flying Fortress” in World War II. The 87-year-old North Port, Fla. resident, who lives in the Lazy River manufactured home park, was a member of the 301st Bomb Group, 419th Bomb Squadron, 15th Air Force 65 years ago.
“In Europe during the war, the average number of flights a pilot made in a B-17 before he was shot down was 11,” he said. “In one formation of 28 B-17s, we were attacked by German fighters — and in one pass they shot down 11 of them.”
Even though it was late in the war, Schultz said oftentimes B-17s in his squadron were attacked by Messerschmidt 109 or Focke-Wulf 190 fighter planes.
“I was on one mission flying the number three position when three ME-109s came right at us. When they cut through our formation, one of the fighters went under us, another split and went to the right, and the third one flew along the right side of the bomber formation. A P-38 “Lightning” that had been flying above us at 40,000 feet swooped down and fired a burst at the German fighter that went under us and cut him in half.
“I flew 35 missions in WWII, and out of those missions I came back to base 33 times with flak holes in my airplane. But the most dangerous mission I had I didn’t have any holes in our plane,” the old aviator said. “It was a mission in which we bombed Munich (Germany) in the clouds. In the clouds, it was difficult to hold our formation together.
“After we bombed Munich we were heading south back to Italy and the clouds became so dense we lost contact with the other ships in our group. While in this formation the vacuum pumps on my number two and three engines froze and we had no gyroscopic instruments. So we had no way of knowing if we were flying straight and level,” he said.
“The next thing we knew we were going down, and the air speed was building up. I had a hunch we were in a spin. I looked at the indicator on the dashboard that indicated which way the gyros on the wings were turning. I made a correction to pull us out of the spin and pulled the throttle back as far as I could.
“Just then we broke out of the clouds. On either side of us were twin peaks that were approximately even with our plane. We were in the Alps,” Schultz said. “That was the closest I came to crashing. It was more dangerous than all the flights I flew when we were hit by flak.”
Many of his bombing missions were flown in support of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army fighting its way across France and into Germany.
“I flew my last mission over Germany on March 19, 1945. It was one of the few bomb runs we made that I wasn’t shot at,” he said. “We flew over at 19,000 feet and I thought we were almost on the ground. The Germans surrendered in May.”
Schultz called the Flying Fortress the “queen of the sky.”
“She brought me back to base 35 times, shot up or not,” he said.
Bill Schultz flew a B-17 bomber in World War II. He has seven battle stars on his campaign ribbons that indicate he flew in seven major engagements. He also received the Distinguished Flying Cross for one particularly hazardous mission over Germany and four Air Medals for 35 combat missions. His 301st Bomb Group received two Presidential Unit Citations for outstanding service in combat.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, March 30, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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