There were times during our tour of duty when we managed to have some fun, even though it was not always approved by the field commander. I don't remember what date or time of year this was but it was a time of very bad weather in England in 1944. We had prepared for a mission and had taken off with a full load of 500 pound bombs. After only a few of the Group's planes were airborn there was a mission recall. This meant that the mission was scrubbed, probably because of very bad weather over Germany. We were told via radio that we were to dispose of our bombs and return to our field. Our Group's procedure for disposing of our bombs was to arm them and drop them in an area of the North Sea that cuts into the side of England known as "The Wash". The Wash was perhaps a hundred miles Northwest of Glatton airfield. The other primary rule for bomb disposal was to be sure that the visibility was good. We must also be out of site of land, and we were to drop our bombs only when we were sure no English fishing vessels or military boats were anywhere near the area. We proceeded to the Wash only to find that there was a low thin cover of clouds whose top was perhaps 400 feet above the water and extending as far as we could see. There was never any thought of returning to the field with the bombs. Landing with a load of bombs and full gas tanks was too risky.
What to do?
We decided to go down to determine how low the cloud layer actually was. We made a slow instrument descent through the clouds. When we broke through at about 200 feet we found the visibility to be clear and we could readily see for a considerable distance over the water . A suggestion from our bombardier (Joel Lester) and with gleeful agreement from the rest of the crew, we decided that we would rise above the cloud layer, which was only a few hundred feet thick, arm a bomb, then dive down through the cloud layer, level off, observe that no ships were in the area, quickly release one bomb, pull up as quickly as possible and get as much distance between us and the bomb before it exploded.
We did not know how close we could be to an exploding 500 pound bomb without sustaining damage.
We first made a dry run or two before Joel finally armed one of the bombs. Then, down we went. We started at about 1000 ft altitude and dove down with engines at full throttle, broke through the clouds, "bombs away" came over the intercom from Joel, and up we went as fast as a B-17 could climb at full throttle. Just before we broke out of the cloud layer we heard the bomb explode with a loud 'WOOMMP'. Hearing the bomb explode surprised me since I had never experienced that before. A check of the crew and the plane determined that there was no sign of damage and no one in the crew observed the bomb exploding through the clouds. We continued this bombing, one at a time, until we had exhausted our supply of bombs. Everyone seemed to enjoy this adventure and I kinda wished that we could do this with some of the Group's targets in Germany. Bad, bad, bad idea. This may be the only B-17 in the 8th Air Force to practice dive bombing. As we returned to our home field there was much chatter on the intercom about the incident and the fun we had had dive bombing in a B-17G.
Willard (Hap) Reese