Inspired by a photograph taken during an emergency landing at an airfield near the author’s home, this is an account of the life and death of the Flying Fortress called ‘Lightning Strikes’ 42-3073, from its construction in a factory in California in late 1942 to its loss in the skies above Germany just over a year later. Having survived a crash landing, and several times shot-up in action, ‘073 finally fell to the guns of Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters on the second day of ‘Big Week’, the war’s heaviest series of bombing raids, in which the Allies inflicted fatal damage on the Luftwaffe.
It is also a tribute to the fifteen crews who flew in ‘Lightning Strikes’ at various times during her career, of which only one crew survived intact to complete their tour. Focusing on the story of the airplane itself rather than a particular crew, the author has obtained first-hand combat accounts from seven of ‘073’s former pilots, bombardiers and gunners, with contributions from other veterans of the 401st Bombardment Squadron with which she served, and additional material from a number of relevant literary and personal sources.
As part of the celebrated 91st Bomb Group based at Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire, ‘073 and her sister-ships took part in some of the most momentous missions of the US Eighth Air Force, and her career spanned the critical phase of the daylight bomber offensive. Many of the technical and tactical developments which shaped ‘073’s operational career are included in the narrative, as are aspects of the character and ethos of the wartime aviators, and their impact upon the civilian communities they were stationed among.