The missions were usually flown at altitudes above 20,000 feet in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees (Fahrenheit). The planes had no cabin heat and no cabin pressurization. The crews wore electric suits for warmth with electrically heated boots and gloves that all plugged into the plane's electrical system. Frostbite was a common problem. They wore leather helmets with headsets that plugged into the plane's radio system to communicate with each other because inside the plane it was loud. At various times, they put on 45 lb. flak vests to protect them from the shrapnel of enemy flak grenades, parachutes to bail out, and "mae west" flotation vests. They wore oxygen masks connected to the onboard oxygen system so they could breathe in the thin air. Sometimes the moisture from breathing caused the oxygen masks to freeze up. This added "death by suffocation" to the numerous hazards of flight duty.
With all this gear on, they also had serious work to do.

The fighting men in most wars have been the young men of their society.  Today military aviators are highly trained and mature men.  The crews of these planes were young men in their teens and early twenties.
Fighter support was sparse in the early part of the war. There were not enough American fighter planes and they didn't carry enough fuel to fly with the bombers to the targets. Once the bombers left British shores, the fighters turned back and the bomber formation was on its own.
These long-range aircraft were heavily armed and, when over enemy territory, flew in tight formations in order to defend themselves against the deadly Luftwaffe fighters.
Gun turrets were mounted on top of the aircraft and on the bottom, in the nose and in the tail. Each of these 4 positions carried twin 50 caliber machine guns.
In addition there were waist gunners with 50 caliber guns at each side of the plane.
The flight crew consisted of 10 men.
The average duration of a bombing mission was 6 hours.

During the last half of 1943, the life expectancy of any crew-member of an American bomber in the European war was about 15 missions.  The assigned tour of duty was 25.  (Later in the war as fighter support increased, the assigned tour was raised to 30 missions.)



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