Monday, July 2, 2007


The piece of flak that Fred Schoch found under his co-pilot's seat after a mission, 1945.

A lot of airmen were more afraid of flak than fighters, because there was no defense against it. Airmen remember the sound of flak hitting the thin skins of their aircraft, saying it sounded like gravel or hail. Even a small splinter could kill you. The German .88 flak batteries had to shoot many rounds to get a hit, but the hits were devastating and brought down or crippled thousands of planes during the war.

The 351st Bomb Group flies through heavy flak on the way to Berlin, March 4, 1944. Each puff of smoke signifies an exploding .88 shell, and each shell is shooting thousands of pieces of jagged metal into the surrounding air. Many crews remembered missions where 'the flak was so thick you could have walked on it'.

Another shot of the piece of flak that almost had Fred's name on it.
A German .88 Flak battery.

One B-17 co-pilot by the name of Fred Schoch flew with the 34th Bomb Group and after the war lived in Spokane, Washington. I visited him in Spokane in 2001, shortly before Fred passed away from brain cancer. On one mission, Fred found a piece of flak embedded in the parachute pack under his pilot's seat. The piece could easily have killed him had it not been absorbed by the seat.

I have taken several photos to show its size and jagged shape. What you can't tell by looking is how heavy this piece of jagged metal is. It feels like lead.

This was given to me by Fred's daughter, Diane Schoch Russell, after Fred passed away. Fred's story became the preface of my book. The preface is entitled 'The Death of an Airman' and laments the loss of our WWII vets as they leave us at the rate of 1,500 a day.

I will get a photo of Fred posted sometime today. I'm having some technical difficulties getting the scan copied.


Les said...

My grandfather saved a small but deadly looking piece of flak too. Flak is what caused his crew's plane: "The Yankee Wahine" to go down on July 29th, 1944 when another crew was flying her. According to the book "Century Bombers" the B-17 exploded just seconds after the last man to leave the aircraft, the pilot: Robert Schomp, got out. The mission was over Merseburg and the explosion happened almost right over the target. All 9 crew members survived and were taken POW, one was shot in the leg. My grandfather was on the same plane, also over Merseburg, the day before. How lucky he was to have completed all 33 missions without injury.

r morris said...

Very nasty stuff, indeed.
As the Air Corps fliers used to say, it's the flak you don't see that gets you.