This famous photograph of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, with its tail section severed but still flying was taken during Word War 2, towards the end of the North African campaign.
The story behind this photograph is an interesting one.
The airplane shown in the photograph was named “All American” and belonged to the 97th Bomb Group, 414th Bombardment Squadron of the United States Air Force.
On February 1, 1943, the All American, along with other bombers, took off from their base near Biskra, in Algeria, to attack the German-controlled seaports of Bizerte and Tunis in Tunisia. After dropping their bombs, they were on their way back to base, when the bombers were attacked by German fighters.
One of the fighters attacked the lead bomber while the other went for the All American. The bombers’ machine gun fire downed the first fighter, but the second pressed its head-on attack against the All American. The crew of the All American believed they either killed or incapacitated the fighter pilot, because the second fighter plane never attempted to pull away from the All American.
The fighter crashed into the tail section of the All American, leaving a large diagonal gash and tearing off the left horizontal stabilizer. Only a few pieces of metal from the fuselage kept the tail section from falling off. Miraculously, the crew was unhurt.
Kenny Bragg, the pilot of the All American recalled:
I rammed the controls forward in a violent attempt to avoid collision… I flinched as the fighter passed inches over my head and then I felt a slight thud like a coughing engine. I checked the engines and controls. The trim tabs were not working. I tried to level All American, but she insisted on climbing. It was only by the pressure from knees and hands that I was able to hold her in anything like a straight line.
With the help of Bragg’s expert flying, the All America managed to return back to base and landed safely without a functional tail wheel.
The All American was repaired and returned to service, but it never went to war again. Instead, the plane was assigned the role of a “station hack”—a utility airplane for run-of-the-mill activities such as delivering spare parts, equipment, or documents for the air force.
Inspired by the All American’s terrifying incident, the 414th bomber squadron changed their unit badge into this:
The song “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer” that became very popular during the war is also believed to have been inspired by this incident.
The All American didn’t remain in service for long. B-17s were already being replaced by B-24s and later by B-29s. The All American was scrapped in March 1945.
# WWII’s B-17 “All American” Separating Fact and Fiction, http://warbirdsnews.com/warbird-articles/wwiis-b-17-all-american-separating-fact-fiction.html
# Dario Leone, The Story of “All American”, The B-17 That Made it Home After Having Been Sliced by The Wing of an ME 109, https://theaviationgeekclub.com/story-american-b-17-made-home-sliced-wing-109/