Staff Sgt Robert Patrick Boylan flew with the mighty 8th Airforce in the 381st Bomb Group (Heavy), 534th Bomb Squadron and fought as a ball turret gunner on a B17-F Flying Fortress Flat Foot Foogie with the number 42-29803. Robert Boylan took part in the toughest campaign of the greatest air war ever waged and died on the mission which came to be known as Second Schweinfurt or Back Thursday. Here is a close enough color video clip showing a Ball Turret Gunner like Robert P. Boylan in action ( Ball Turret Video). The clip is from the excellent film Mephis Belle. The classic 12 O´Clock High  and this History Channel Video offer even more general background.

This photo of Flat Foot Floogie 381st BG, 534th BS was taken on Oct 7th 1943 when the aircraft was still with the 306th Bomb Group.     There is a picture of the aircraft on pages 100 & 101 of Martin Bowmans, Castles in the Air.  Source: Jack Cook

Here is the story of Staff Sgt Robert P. Boylan:

Robert was born on May 14th 1914 in Stark Ohio.  When Robert died in a field in Hausen, near Schweinfurt on October 14th 1943, he was 29 years old.

His height is not known to the Webportal, but we assume that he might have been slightly on the short side. He married Comella Boylan Ratliff, but immediatly after a divorce in May 1942, he volunteered to join the USAAF. This was six months after Pearl Harbour. Roberts training as a ball turret gunner commenced at one of the gunnery training bases in the US and occupied him for the second half of 1942. To learn more about what gunnery training was like, see the US Army Air Force Aerial Gunnery Training Film.

After becoming proficient with the 50 cal Brownings, Robert P Boylan was was assigned as the ball turret gunner in the crew of 2nd Lt Yorba.

2nd Lt Bernardo Marcus Gus Yorba           (Pilot)                                       Anaheim, California

B17 Aircraft Check     B17 TAKEOFF-Pilot Training Film Part 1Part II     Cartoon Training for B17 Pilots  

Gordon Chili Childers  O-802250               (Co-Pilot)                                     Crawfordsville, Linn, Oregon

Wilbur Willi Gillis Roberson                         (Bombardier)                             Coeburn, Virginia Summit, Ohio

Martin „Marty Mordecai Dall                           (Navigator)                                   New York

Edgar H. Gracey                                                  (Radio Operator)                         Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Johnnie N. Johnson                                         (Rear Gunner)                               North Kansas City, Missouri Rear Gunner Training Film

Kenneth O. Huitt                                                 (Waist Gunner)                               St. Louis, Missouri

Michael S. Feller                                                  (Waist Gunner)                               Kings, New York

William Gorgone                                                (Engineer and Upper Gunner) Middlesex, Massachussetts

Robert Patrick Boylan                                      (Ball Turret Gunner)                     Stark, Ohio       US Army Air Force Gunnery Training Film

The 381st BG was formed on January 1st 1943 under the stern but fair command of Lt. Col. Nazzaro. The 534th BS was led by Capt. Dave Kunkel. The Group Oerations Officer was Maj Hall and the Air Executive was Col. Fiegel. At first the 381st was stationed in cold dry winter town of Pyote Texas. Pyote had 75 residents at the time. Few creature comforts were to be found there except a couple of steak houses, one Hill Billy radio station and some trailors inhabited by very friendly ladies. Coyotes howled at night and 40 MPH dust storms regularly hit Pyote. Robert was surely happy to leave the place.

Busy with training, perhaps Robert did not read about the Casablanca Directive which approved by the allies on 21 January 1943: Your Primary object will be the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened. But sooner or later the officers of the 381st heard about the directive.

Living conditions improved when the 381st moved to Pueblo Colorado on the 4th of April 1943. The base had full facilities and the proper town of Pueblo was quite close.  The men noted that recognition of Japanese aircraft was quietly dropped from the classes, while training about European conditions continued.

Two dogs accompanied the 381st Bomb Group to Europe: Nick and Meatball. Physical exercises and innoculations rounded out the stay in Pueblo. Lt. Yorba and the crew named their B17-F 42-29784 Smilin Thru (Boeing production block B70, later with the 545th BS 384th BG )

The Overseas Movement Order arrived on the 2nd of May and the first B17 of the 381st BG left Pueblo on the 5th of May. The route initially led westward to Salinas California for a 14 day stay where the airmen received the good equipment and clothing. Then Lt Yorba flew the crew via Detroit, Michigan and Bangor Maine to Gander Newfoundland. One day in Mid May, Robert Boylan watched America recede in the West as Lt Yorba set course over the Atlantic for the 14 hour flight over Greenland and Iceland to Prestwick, Scotland. Their first airbase was Bovingdon near London. On June 6th Col Nazzaro landed his B17 at Ridgewell (20 miles from Cambridge). Ridgewell was to be home for the 381st for the duration of WW2, but Robert P Boylan only stayed there for 5 months.

After arrival in the ETO European Theater of Operations Smilin Thru and her crew had a large number of acclimatization and familiarization flights . Intensive training was continued to prepare for combat conditions. The USAAF hat only 1 year to build up to combat strength, while the Luftwaffe had been preparing for 10 years.

Happily, Lt. Yorba, Robert Boylan and the rest of the crew were permitted to keep the original Fortress Smilin Thru that they ferried over - probably because everyone else also had the same B17-F model at that time. There were 800 B-17-Fs in England in September 1943 and the B17-G was not available yet.

Ferry crews arriving later, brought the newer and safer B17-Gs (with highly effective chin turret guns). Generally they had their aircraft taken away from them when they arrived by the old guys and the poor noobs were forced to fly battle-weary B17-F aircraft in the Tail End Charly slot of formation, where the newbies were most often promptly shot down on their first mission. Luckily this was not to be the fate of Robert Boylan.

A chilling and horrible incident occured at Ridgewell at 11:00 AM on June 23 1943  an officer and 22 men of the 381st were loading eleven 300 lb bombs (with the fuzes installed) on  B17 42-30024 when a bomb was most likely dropped. It went off and 45 seconds later it triggered the other 10 bombs so 3000 lbs of HE (high explosives) causing a great explosion when the bombs went off together, pulverizing the plane and the 23 men and throwing bits and pieces over a wide radius. We can assume that Robert heard the explosion, saw the smoking ruins in the crater and shared in the horror at the disaster. Perhaps he even knew the men.

Robert did not participate in the complicated shuttle raid targeting the Messerschmitt aircraft plant in Regensburg and the ball bearing sites in Schweinfurt, because Smilin Thru was not yet fully operational in August 1943. However, having been in the unit at the time he must have been fully aware of the risks: One in five crewmen died: The first Schweinfurt raid in August 1943 had a 19% aircraft loss rate (60 planes were downed, and 100 sustained damage). What did he think about after the explosion in June and the first Schweinfurt mission? 

The 381st received a B17 named Flat Foot Foogie 42-29803 from the the 95th BG 334th BS BG-D 8 on the 11th of September. The 534th was assigned the fresh combat crew of Lt Yorba including Robert Boylan. The 534 BS was part of the 1st Division. Their radio call sign was Midgit (in 1944).

Mission Nr. 1:         September 15th 1943

Robert Boylans first mission was a shallow penetration to the Airfield at Romilly-Sur-Seine, France, an important German reserve aircraft base. This was a shallow small raid with only 17 bombers. The Point Blank Directive targeted German air bases and factories in France and Germany.


Mission Nr. 2:             September 26th 1943

His second mission was to destroy an aircraft assembly plant at Meulan Les Mureau, France, but the whole group was recalled for some reason. The mission counted because they had flown far enough.


Mission Nr. 3:         October 2nd 1943

Robert Boylans first trip to Germany was to bomb the port and dock areas of Emden, in the north of Germany.  The 318th suffered no losses.


Mission Nr. 4:         October 4th 1943

On the way to the railroad marshalling yards in the city of Frankfurt/Main, Germany, Robert Boylan was officially credited with destroying one enemy aircraft, using his twin 50 caliber Browning machine guns in the ball turret.  Here is a color clip from Memphis Belle showing a similar ball turret action (Must See!) Even better, the Frankfurt mission also was without losses.

(An old joke in the 60s was about the commercial airline pilot who upon landing at Frankfurt was bawled out by the tower for using the wrong ramp: Why do you taxi like zat? Haff you never been hier bevor? The old pilot replies: Sure I flew to Frankfurt several times in the past, but we never landed here until today...)


Mission Nr. 5        October 9th 1943

Back over Germany, the mission this time was to bomb the Arado Aircraft Components factory located just off the center of the town of Anklam, Germany.  This was to be one of the deepest penetrations of Germany that had been attempted so far - a 1500 mile flight along the coast to the north. Perhaps Robert packed thousands of extra rounds ammunition like the other crews, who made deals with their ground crews. This mission did not go so well. The Luftwaffe made several appearances and shot down a number of aircraft resulting in 34 MIAs (Missing In Action). Six more of the original 40 crews forming the 381st had been lost this week bringing losses close to 50% in total. Worse yet, the bombing accuracy on the Arado plant was judged to be poor.

Mission Nr X       October 10th 1943

The target was to be a center for rail and waterway communications in Munster, Germany, but Lt. Yorba had to abort the mission, so the mission did not count for him or for Robert Boylan. 


Mission Nr. 6        October 14th 1943       Schweinfurt, Germany         

 Klick here to see the Schweinfurt background video

The USAAF strategists at Pine Hill in England had determined that ball bearings were a core component of most of the German war machines.  German trucks, tanks, artillery, submarines and aircraft were rather unpopular with the allies, so it was decided to knock out the manufacturing centers of ball bearings. The very best and largest ball bearing manufacturers were situated in Schweinfurt, in the Franconian district of northern Bavaria. 43% of the total German ball bearing production came from Schweinfurt. The problem was that the Germans had identified the allied strategy and decided to defend Schweinfurt well. Wikipedia writes that the ball bearing strategy was a mistake because the Germans had second sources: Wikipedia on Second Schweinfurt

This was the second time that the eighth Airforce set out to bomb the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt and the Germans were ready and waiting.

The reputation of First Schweinfurt had gotten around. One of the flight crews was unavailable for one reason or another and Lt Yorba and his crew were selected at the last minute to fill in by flying Second Schweinfurt on 42-29803 Flat Foot Foogie For some reason Smilin Thru was flown by Lt Johnson of the 545th BS 384th BG. The Johnson crew made it home from Schweinfurt, but had to parachute in England (damaged plane? bad visibility?).

The officers and crew were literally awakened at Oh dark thirty. The officers went to the briefing in the Quonsett hut: The target for today is Schweinfurt. The records state that this: shocked the crews into complete silence. (See Ridgewells Flying Fortresses by Ron Mackay, page 59. Lt Yorba is mentioned.)

The enlisted men including Robert Boylan donned their heated lambskin suits and checked the equipment. They were trucked out to the hardstand where Flat Foot Floogie was gassed and bombed up by the ground crew.

The pilots began their preflight checks and after some waiting the signal for engine start was given. After warm up and taxing in the waddling fashion of the B17 on the ground, they took off very heavy and started the climb-out. Take off of a similar Bomb Group in 1943

The climb continued on instruments through the ever-present English cloud cover with pilots on constant look out to avoid collisions with other B17s. Grouping up on the radio bunchers, Flat Foot Floogie was late getting into formation on their 6th mission and did not link up with the 534th at the right time and place, so they flew with another squadron that they found instead. Then t hey met the escort fighters and crossed the English Channel.

The Luftwaffe was charged with shooting down the allied bombers. The proud Reichs Air Minister Goering had said in a radio interview at the outbreak of the war: "Wenn auch nur ein feindliches Flugzeug unser Reichsgebiet ueberfliegt, will ich Meier heißen!- Should only a single enemy aircraft fly over the Reich, I want to be called Meier! The RAF started night bombing Berlin shortly therafter on the 25th of August 1940 during the battle of Britain and Goering was Meier. 1943 was in the middle of the war. The Luftwaffe had indeed lost a good number of experienced fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain, but in 1943 there were still enough good flyers in the Luftwaffe to shoot lots of holes in B17s.

The B17s had to fight the Luftwaffe in a 3 hour long running battle all the way to Schweinfurt and back. Suggested reading: Wrong Place Wrong Time by George C. Kuhl (participant in the 305th BG). It is not surprising that Flat Foot Floogie was indeed hit on this mission by a Luftwaffe Bf 109G-6 fighter flown by Uffz (Sergeant ) Robert Meyer-Ahrend. The Messerschmitt Bf 109G model was popular in the Luftwaffe (even though it was difficult to land) and was fondly called Gustav by German pilots. Meyer-Ahrend would later claim a shoot down (and probably had gun camera footage to prove that he hit Flat Foot Floogie pretty well), but the tough and reliable B17-F kept on flying for a little longer. It is suspected that at least one engine was shot out.

The second ring of defence around Schweinfurt was a large number of the much-feared 88 cannon, better known as Ack Ack from Anti Aircraft or FLAK (German for FLugAbwehrKanone). These cannons could be radar controlled, so the B17s had to zig-zag to avoid the highly dangerous, exploding 88mm shells. For the final part of the bombing run, the planes had to fly straight and level in order to permit the lead bombardier to adjust the top-secret Norden bombsight. Flying in close formation, the B17s were like sitting ducks for the solders manning the FLAK cannons. During debriefing, flight crew often spoke of black puffs of smoke that were so thick you could get out and walk on them. It is highly unlikely that Uffz Robert Meyer-Ahrend flew his Bf 109G-6 through the Flak protecting Schweinfurt. Flat Foot Floogie: Robert Boylan and the rest of the crew had the Flak all to themselves and their wounded airplane.

 Lt Yorba and Wilbur Roberson managed to drop the bombs over Schweinfurt, but 42-29803 had already been badly damaged by Uffz Robert Meyer-Ahrends Bf 109G-6 attack (he claimed a kill). Right after bombs away Flat Foot Floogie was hit very hard in the rear by Flak. Two engines were out by now. The tail section was so severely damaged by the exploding Flak shell that that Lt. Yorba knew that he had no chance of flying home or even keeping control of Flat Foot Floogie any longer. You can see the battle damage from the exploding 88mm shell on the photo below. Now things started to happen very fast:

Sgt Robert Boylan called over the intercom that he had been hit by shrapnel, or parts of the exploding Flak shell. Lt Yorba said that they would have to bail out soon.. So the side gunners Huitt and Feller extracted Robert from his ball turret. They took the wounded Sgt Boylan forward to the navigators little cubicle. He was in great pain. While they were doing this Lt Yorba gave the final order to bail out, but they did not get out in time. The waist gunners probably lost their lives trying to save their crewmember Robert Boylan. The three were found crushed unter the rear fusellage of Flat Foot Floogie, which fell on a field in Hausen, just east of Schweinfurt.

Additionally, a fourth crewman, William Gorgone fell out the bomb bay doors, but his chute did not open. He had probably been sent to the back by Lt Yorba to check that all had bailed out. The total time between the flak hit at around 15.000 ft of altitude and the crash in the field was about 3 minutes.

MACR Missing Air Crew Report 1037 can be found here:

Robert Boylans B17-F  42-29803 was reported by other USAAF aircraft as going down after crossing the target. Uffz Robert Meyer-Ahrend flying a Bf 109G-6 of JG 3/8 claimed the destruction of Flat Foot Floogie at Hausen, 5 km NE of Schweinfurt, Germany Oct 14, 1943. 4 KIA, 6 POW.

Six crew members parachuted to safety in fields around Hausen. They were quickly rounded up by the local militia and police. If you have seen The Great Escape , or Hogans Heros then you know that the Luftwaffe was in charge of the internment camps (not the Gestapo) and that, while being a POW in a Stalag was no holiday, other prisoners in Germany or the pacific region were much worse off.

Lt. Yorba, Childers and Gracey were sent to Stalag Luft 3 far off to the far east of Germany (Sagan-Schlesien is now in Poland) but were later moved back to Nürnberg-Langwasser, quite close to Schweinfurt.

Dall and Roberson enjoyed the comforts of Stalag Luft 1 Barth-Vogelsang in Prussia.

Johnson initially drew Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow (formerly Heydekrug) Pomerania in Prussia. As the Russians advanced, he was moved to Wobbelin near Ludwigslust and / or to Usedom near Savenmunde.

All of the surviving crew were repatriated to the US after their liberation.

According to Norbert Vollmer, the body of Robert Patrick Boylan was identified by his dental features and because his clothing was marked with RPB. German soldiers presumably also took his dogtags and handed them in to the authorities. It seems quite clear that one of the graves in Hausen belongs to Robert P. Boylan. Probably the one on the left side in the sketch below. Robert Boylan was buried in Hausen together with Huitt and Feller. Note: Schonlingen is an error of Dr Brown - Schonungen is correct.

The father of Robert Patrick Boylan initially agreed for the remains of Robert Boylan to remain in Germany. He changed his mind in August 1950 and requested that the remains of Staff Sgt Robert Patrick Boylan be repatriated to the US. In the mean time the cemetary in Hausen had been closed (a common practice in Europe, but rather hasty in this instance - Germans were glad to put the war behind them in the 50s), so it was difficult at the time to identify which of the remains to send back to the US to Roberts father. Forensic science and DNA testing have advanced greatly since 1950...

 It is a coincidence that 60 aircraft were lost on first Schweinfurt and again on second Schweinfurt, but due to the lower number of aircraft participating on Second Schweinfurt, the loss rate was an unsustainable 26%. 120 aircraft were damaged, 17 beyond repair

The losses were so high (unsustainably so) on the second Schweinfurt Raid that General Ira Eaker seriously considered switching the USAAF over to night time bombing like the British Air Force. The USAAF did not have control of the air over Schweinfurt at the time. Deep bombing penetrations of Germany were cancelled until the spring of 1944 when the new P51s (Cadillac of the Sky) were able to provide day time air cover for B17 raids all the way to Berlin and back. See Schweinfurt Raid Video 3. The dominance of the P51s later made it possible to dismount B17 chin and ball turrets because they were no longer needed. This saved fuel and increased both the speed and the range of the Fortresses - to the disadvantage of Berlin.

Although the other bomb groups suffered dreadful losses on Second Schweinfurt, ironically Robert Boylan was on the only aircraft lost on that October 14th 1943 by whole 381st BG. (The losses of the 305th BG were much higher. According to George C. Kuhl, Lieutenant Pelegrini said to Lt. Col McGehee: Sir, we are the only ones left.) This is why October 14th 1943 was called Black Thursday.

Robert P. Boylan is listed on the 8th Air Force wall in Duxford; England as having fallen in the air war in Europe.

Note: Many thanks go to my friend Norbert Vollmann who provided valuable information from the German side about Robert P. Boylans demise in Hausen. See Norberts pics and ballad about the B17-F Iron Maiden of the 379 BS that crash landed in Norberts back yard near Gerolzhofen/Schweinfurt on October 14th 1943. His point is: Were still alive!