Sweet 17 The spirit of St. Louis
Brotherhood of Man -
Back Row - Left to Right
S/Sgt. Nick Possnack, Ball Turret Gunner. T/Sgt. James Brashears, Right Waist Gunner; S/Sgt. Robert Fife, Top Turret Gunner; T/Sgt. Maxie Arledge, Left Waist Gunner; T/Sgt. Gerald Tastad, Radio Operator; S/Sgt. Bert M. Mullins, Tail Gunner.
Front Row - Left to Right
Capt. C. W. Sloat, Bombardier; 1st Lt. R. F. Kaymen, Navigator; 1st Lt. J. H. Sprinkle, Co-Pilot; .1st Lt. Alexander Thomas, Pilot;
Sweet 17 Factoid - A Brief History of the Crew of the "SWEET 17."
The original crew of the "Sweet 17" assembled in September 1943 at Peyote Army Air Base, Peyote, Texas. The crew members were:
1st Lt Alexander Thomas, Pilot, St. Louis, Missouri
1st Lt John H. Sprinkle, Co-Pilot, Radford, Pennsylvania
1st Lt Richard Kaymen, Navigator, Madison, Wisconsin
Capt Charles H. Sloat, Bombardier, Santa Rosa, California
SSgt Robert A Fife, Flight Engineer, Houston, Pennsylvania
TSgt Gerald R. Tastad, Radio Operator, Portland, North Dakota
TSgt Nick A. Possnack, Ball Turret Gunner, Holidays Cove, West Virginia
TSgt James H. Brashears, Left Waist Gunner, Fayetteville, Arkansas
TSgt Maxie Arledge, Right Waist Gunner, Beaumont, Texas
SSgt Bert M. Mullins, Tail Gunner, Wiergate, Texas
The crew was designated as #19-9-154 at Peyote and assigned to the 19th Bomb Group, 2nd Air Force for First Phase Crew Training. In early November 1943, the crew was sent to Ephrata Army Air Base, Ephrata, Washington where it was designated crew #1-0-24 and assigned to the 457th Bomb Group (H) for Second Phase Crew Training. In early December 1943, the crew was sent to Sioux City Army Air Base, Sioux City, Iowa where it was designated crew #316 and received Final Combat Crew Training. In early February 1944, the crew was sent to Grand Island Army Air Base, Grand Island, Nebraska where it was designated crew # FG-200-AA134 and assigned a new B-17G aircraft, #42-31932, with orders to proceed via the North Atlantic route to the European Theater of Operations. The crew departed Grand Island on February 21, 1944 for Manchester, New Hampshire, then via Goose Bay, Labrador to Keflavik, Iceland to Stornaway, Scotland and finally to Prestwick, Scotland, arriving there on February 27, 1944. The aircraft remained at Prestwick, which was a primary delivery point for replacement aircraft, and the crew proceeded to the 1st Replacement Center, AAF Station 594, Stone, England for Theater Briefing, then to the 1st Combat Crew Replacement Center, AAF Station 112, Bovingdon, England where it was designated as crew #DD28 and participated in Combat Indoctrination. During this period the enlisted members spent a short time at The Wash on the east coast of England for refresher gunnery training.
After completion of training the crew was assigned to the 91st Bombardment Group (H) at AAF Station 121, Bassingbourn, England, where it was assigned to the 323rd Squadron. The crew flew their first five missions in three different aircraft, then were assigned their own aircraft, #42-97276, which they named "Sweet 17, The Sprit of St. Louis". "Sweet 17" was derived from the aircraft radio call sign "OR-S", or "Sugar", and "The Spirit of St. Louis" was suggested by the crew members to recognize the pilot's hometown. The tail gunner named his area "Ethel Lea's Playhouse" in honor of his then nine year-old niece.
The crew flew their first combat mission on March 27, 1944 to bomb a German airfield at St. Jean d'Angely, France. Their fourth mission was to Stettin, Germany and during this mission the #4 engine malfunctioned causing the plane to fall out of formation and return alone across Holland. Three ME-109 fighters attempted to force them to land and surrender and though damage was sustained when they attacked, one of the fighters was shot down. The B-17 struggled back to England landing at an RAF base in East Anglia where the British were wary that the crew were German infiltrators. Their fifth mission took them to Schweinfurt, Germany to bomb ball bearing works. On mission number twenty their plane lost an engine on takeoff and they returned to the base, quickly switched to another plane, then flew the mission with another group. Other missions took the crew to readily recognized targets such as Rheims, Tours, Metz, and Paris in France, and to Berlin, Ludwigshaven, Dessau, and Hamburg, in Germany. Targets included airfields, docks, industrial areas, aircraft assembly plants, V-1 missile launch sites, synthetic oil plants, coastal defense sites, and bridges. The crew flew all missions assigned except one, when they were forced to abort because of an oxygen system failure.
Operational requirements did not enable the crew to fly all of their thirty missions as a group, nor to fly all of their missions in the "Sweet 17". When "Sweet 17" maintenance requirements made it unavailable for a mission the crew was assigned another aircraft. The pilot was at times assigned as either the squadron or group lead pilot and that required him to fly with other crews, the bombardier became the group bombardier and flew in other aircraft, and toward the end of their tours some of the enlisted members of the crew were assigned to fly with other new crews to provide experienced leadership for their first combat missions. These factors resulted in members of the "Sweet 17" crew completing their tours of duty in different aircraft and at different times. However, all members of the "Sweet 17" crew completed all of their thirty missions with no casualties. By the summer of 1944 all of the crew members had completed their tours and by late fall most all had returned to the United States.
After the original "Sweet 17" crew completed their tours the aircraft was flown by subsequent crews. The aircraft survived the war and was returned to the United States where it was broken up for scrap.
(This brief history was written by Bert D. Mullins and is based on the records and recollections of his father, Bert M. Mullins, who was the tail gunner on the "Sweet 17" crew, and on those of Alexander Thomas, the pilot.)