George Lentz was B-17 top turret gunner in 8th Air Force

This was former Staff Sgt. George Lentz’s B-17 bomber crew. He is the fellow squatting second from the left in the front row. The pictures was taken at a training base at Avon Park, Fla. in 1944. Photo provided

George Lentz of Rotonda, Fla. was a staff sergeant in the 385th Bomb Group, 549th Bomb Squadron, 92nd Wing of the 8th Air Force in World War II. He flew 29 combat missions as an engineer and top turret gunner in a B-17 “Flying Fortress” at the end of the war from a base near Ipswich in southeast England.

After nearly 65 years, there are several missions that still stick in his mind. The flight to Kiel, Germany, to knock out the Nazi submarine pens was one of those times he’ll never forget.

“It was April 3, 1945, when we flew off with a group of B-17s to bomb the sub pens. Because it was such a long flight — 11 hours total — we flew in excess of 40,000 feet to save on fuel so we could make the round trip without running out,” said Lentz , now 86. “It took us two hours to reach that altitude after rendezvousing over the English Channel at the start.

“We were carrying twin 1,000-pound bombs that were about 6 feet in length, supposedly capable of penetrating the concrete where the submarines were housed. We bombed the pens at 32,000 feet to help the bombs penetrate the concrete.”

All the way up and back, his bomb group was protected by a squadron of P-51 Mustang fighters. Lentz said they did a great job.

“My job, after the bombs were released, was to get out of my turret, go back and open the bomb bay doors and make sure all the bombs were released. If one was stuck, I had to climb out on the 18-inch-wide catwalk crossing the bomb bay and break it loose,” Lentz said.

It was 50 degrees below zero. The rush of the wind through the bomb bay was enough to almost blow a crewman off his feet. The only thing between him and the ground 6 miles below was a parachute he had strapped on.

“I had a routine — on the return trip when we reached at altitude of 1,400 feet, I’d jump off my perch in the upper turret, lit up two cigarettes and give the pilot and the co-pilot a smoke,” he said. “This time when I jumped off the 4-inch-wide strap that doubled as my seat, my leg buckled under me. I didn’t realize it, but the heated boot had gone out and my foot and ankle were almost frozen.”

Their bomber landed first because of Lentz ‘s injuries. He was taken by ambulance to the local hospital were he spent the rest of the day and night with his leg and foot packed in ice. In 24 hours he had recovered enough to make another combat mission.

“Twice we were attacked by German fighter planes. The first time was on a bombing run to Nuremberg. We had just dropped our bombs, and Messerschmitt-109s and Focke-Wulf-190s were waiting for us,” he said. “This ME-109 was coming in from the tail and our tail gunner had the best shot at him. I’m sure he got him because he peeled away right in the middle of his attack.

“In order for an enlisted man to get credit for something like that, it had to be seen by an officer from another plane and substantiated. Our tail gunner received the recognition, but that’s about it.

“On our next-to-last mission we saw German jet fighters, but they never came after us. By then the Germans were really hurting for fuel and they didn’t have enough to keep their jet fighters in the air very long,” Lentz said.

George Lentz looks through a booklet prepared by the 385th Bomb Group, which he flew with in World War II. The pile of pictures in the foreground is of him and his service buddies taken over 60 years ago. Sun photo by Don Moore

The mission that may have impressed him the most was the one he and 1,800 other American heavy bomber crews made to Berlin on March 18, 1945. There were bombers as far as the eye could see in all directions, he said. The German capital was bombed for several hours, and Lentz , who grew up in North Wales, Pa., was right in the middle of it all.

His crew flew its last mission to Aussig, Germany, on April 19, 1945, along with 26 other B-17s. The war ended in Europe when the Germans unconditionally surrendered to Allied forces on May 8, 1945.

For most of his life, Lentz was a painting contractor with a business outside Philadelphia. He eventually turned the company over to his son, and he and his wife, Eleanor, moved to Rotonda in 2005. They celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary a week ago.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, June 15, 2009 and is republished with permission.

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