Lawrence A. De Graw
TEN HORSEPOWER: 20 FEBRUARY 1944
“Ten Horsepower” was the name,
settled over time and usage,
given to this ‘gainly bird—
this splendid workhorse—B-17.
Now, the year is 1944… at 20 days past
second month that year; and 4th of
five long years of battle—WWII.
Now, “hot times” and spurring overflights
were had by all in Squadron—
each plane cruising well and tightly—
pushing out to “red-line”, and daring all to teeth
on low-ceiling sorties with treetop dusting…
proud souls now on their our way to war,
and taking fight to heart of Germany—
on edge of narrow envelope.
So, swing about to “ten” of clock,
harnessed well and hunkered down;
fix a sighting from behind crosshairs
of “twin-50 cals”—in Tailgunner’s roost
of B-17—late February, ‘44.
Swing about to “two” of clock,
then swirl away to “seven”—run about to
check my “six”—to guard both men and ship…
my world a TOO WILD microcosm of
perspex bubble and clear, clear viewing;
with swivel-take of full ‘180’ all about—
seen from behind these massive guns.
Powerplants at fevered pitch now screaming—
four props Cyclone-like so spinning hard
with “Wright Stuff” now in turbo-charge, belching
naught but sooty smoke and noise.
Airship soon itself is all a thumping rumble…
sounds of drone and throaty grumble
fingering throughout this nimble flyer—
and underfoot of every man.
Heavy bombers flying well in tandem—wing to wing
in tight formation; proud “3-5-1” now growling
forward at combat speed in groups of three
in V-shaped wedge—with Ten Horsepower now as
3rd in setting of Low Squadron—riding ‘over grass’
at 20,000… going in on final run.
Off to port and dipping slightly,
wild and bravely ride my comrades—
manning ships like Shoo-Shoo Baby;
Trade Winds; Twinkel Toes, and Chatterbox…
while high on track above our heads sat
Feed’em, Baby Butch and Easter Bunny—
holding speed and tight conjoin.
Ten men boarded for this mission… off to
pummel Leipzig plants of air munition.
Ten men—each one more than crewman
each to each more like a brother
on this fateful flight of valor…
on this fateful flight of doom.
Nelson nestled snug in Pilot’s seat—co-pilot
next to him; Mac and Lowell well at hand—and
Martin aft to sit; Treumper plotting truest course
from Navigator’s pit.
THESE were the men that flew this plane;
each man touched and shaped by Honor’s gain.
Gunners now all hot and loaded—here
and well at every station—with WEAPONS FREE
in “nose” and “dome” and belly “ball” rotation.
Turrets all now sweeping out… seeking foe
and Fighter runabout, with mammoth guns
that twinly scan horizon well ahead
… our Squadron nudging ever closer.
Yet Fate is ever yet a phantom fiddler—always
yet an end-goal middler, that stems the tide
of sharp success…
and so it was with men and ship
this day on brave Ten Horsepower.
For only hours after Polebrook—only miles
outside of Leipzig, quick as brightest calm
might turn to shock—
“Fighters in at Three o’clock!!”… Two drop
sharply out of sun, slipping through a trail of cloud.
Upon us quickly now they fly… sluicing
unseen through a silken sky.
Our ten guns blazing—each in tandem;
sounds of batter-ram and shells at random,
jacked aside in hastened bid to fire back;
Ten Horsepower staving off 1st-and-2nd-wave attack.
But ON they flew, from all “o’clocks”,
to shake us down and shorten tenure.
Mathies working hard in underturret ball,
spinning in tight turnabouts in ordered
frenzy all—firing both hot and true
from belly of great B-17—with even
waist-gunners flaming off in every door
at targets all of flying opportunity.
Too busy now to feel the cold at even 20 thou—
nor fear, nor frostbite might this moment disallow;
nor blunt-head terror, to stain our reputation—
of standing fast and holding well our station;
in this, our brave and battered B-17. With
Ten Horse too well peppered now by cannon fire—
20 mils from “nose-in front” would us undo—
and harshly force retire.
Yet, on, and on—and ON they came—with each attacking dive;
Messerschmitts approach from “twelve” of clock,
some strike DEAD-ON from “five”…
each pass taking well its scorching toll and dower,
like HELL unleashed on raging Ten Horsepower—
itself now banking sharp to stunning starboard;
breaking off this rabid strike.
But Fate had not yet done—as well it might intend,
in bringing down brave Ten HP; to death too soon to send.
Now all is smash and doubled blow of well-aimed hit,
rattling every nerve aboard, and pelting nose and ‘pit’;
EACH a fatal blow delivered hotly, to our fore and
On instant then they set upon,
like twin-bite hounds of hell;
our brave Captain now unconscious—
slumped in Pilot’s well.
On instant is our Co-Pilot outright killed
—where words must ne’er say how;
and to those kindred souls that day—
to each we made this vow:
‘To get back safe—as best we could…
to get our buddies down;
to get both men and crippled ship
back down to hallowed ground.
And even though between us all,
not one of us could fly…
between us all and to a man,
we knew we’d damn well try…
to get this limpèd Lady home—our proud B-17.’
Ten Horsepower, nearly running out of cover;
spirals now, while ever nosing over—
with sharp descent to starboard… and in seconds
falls from view… as OTHER men in OTHER ships
could nothing else much do—
save watch in deepest sorrow,
as “one of ours” goes down;
and so it was with Ten HP, tail-spinning
well to ground.
Now two men down, and eight men trapped
in terrible embrace; this hot encounter—
we were sure—should not be our disgrace.
Which meant that even as we rolled to right
we nailed THREE MORE in hair of sight…
then prepared for
long ride down.
But here would still not be our end,
with miles yet ere we rest; and all the men
of Ten HP would soon their mettle test…
in getting back to England—quick as quick
could be; to land this “Fortress” in one full piece—
else—set her down at sea.
If not to Base on tippled wings, then much
as close to land…
if not to Polebrook once again, then
ditch on Channel sand.
Either way, the odds were long—we knew
we’d take the chance,
to jockey home, and touch down safe—
in spite of circumstance.
So, Treumper now must take control—with Mathies
well at side, we throttle back with savage pull,
engagèd for this ride of rides—
like never flown before; Ten HP soon steeping
out of dive, now levels out at “Four”.
Thus, off to port we make our way—now truing
up to course;
a “bombing run” we’d come to fly;
a “bombing run” we’d force… our mangled craft
to manage, yet one more time at least—
to stand well and deliver—strafe the
belly of the beast.
Now, bomb-bay doors are grinding open,
with us on shortest road;
we punch the toggle keys that “clear the racks”,
and help us loose our load—
of 6000 pounds of fell and mighty score;
liked the stretchèd arm of dying lion
that reaches out its paw… to strike at that
which struck it dead;
so we, in dying anger, fired back with lead.
We sortie payload well and stout;
then drop a thousand feet for fast way out.
Then, through open maw of gaping bay,
one man bails—now less than ten to stay
on Ten Horsepower.
Now, quick-time back to England fly—
at heel, a welkin blue—flak-tormented
most of way, and always jumped by two
most ravenous, unyielding Divers;
zooming ever closer for the kill.
So, break away; break away; break away MUST—
more horsepower steam for Ten Horsepower THRUST—
to get us the hell out, with coastline soon in sight;
now wholly uncertain if we’d set her down right;
if even given the chance of “safe down”.
But on, and on, and on we sauntered—engines
strain in toil—crippling home with battered ship,
we soon spot English soil
dead ahead, now two points well to west;
we dopple wings and angle in for best
approach. With only hope, we try for home…
and quickly clear the men from “nose”, and “tail”,
and “dome”, to get them off this stricken bird.
“YOU MEN BAIL OUT!!”, when once we’re over land,
“I’ll hold her steady—’best I can!”; while gages
spin to ‘red’.
More men jump now, framing out of door;
they ‘hit the silk’ and sail to ground—
now, there are but four—left on Ten Horsepower.
Over England now, and nearing Denton—close to
Polebrook—nearing home upon the hour;
we talk to Base and lower gear, while
slashing back on power.
Now, Treumper flying seat of plane; while
Mathies sees to Skipper—we grapple well
control of ship, careful not to tip her
too far starboard,
too far port… now landing sturdy Ten HP less
possible than thought.
Yet, up from field comes Major Ledoux—
Commander’s ship now flown; and to our wing
he sets his plane, and says, “You men—
I’ll talk you down!”
But Treumper was a Navigator, and only Mathies
sat in “ball”… our Co-Pilot now flew with God,
and the Captain’s chance was small
—at best—for making it to ground.
“PULL BACK! —NOSE UP!—Keep her well in trim!”
he screams. “Take my lead, and stay on wing!”;
and soon we follow him,
steep down and waffling ever slightly…
On our first pass now at touch-down,
on our first go-’round at landing; we bob at wing
with skills much more demanding—than we had
in these moments most critical.
Now, ship’s controls are drag and sticky,
and much we found was wrong;
we abort this hapless landing; pull fast away to long
and rolling starboard—with less than half our crew—
we come about, in line again… approach
for landing “TWO”.
“YOU MEN GET OUT—GET OUT!! Abort
while you still might survive!”
But Mathies and Treumper won’t abandon their
mates—and won’t leave with the Captain alive.
So we’ll bring her about, and swing her in low;
with “God’s guiding hand” and blind luck, who
if brave Ten HP would make it or not… with
wounded aboard, we’d have JUST ONE MORE SHOT
of setting her straight and down.
So, over Denton Hill we roar again, these moments
soon our last; we waggle wings for soft approach,
yet approach we still too fast,
to bank or break—or measure well our inbound tack;
sadly now we keel to port, and slam with force—
on instant all goes black…
for men and ship called Ten Horsepower.
The day had seen much action—action seen
but by a few; yet the tale was not of the ship,
but a greater tale of the two brave souls—
whose native mettle strikes a chord; brave souls
who could have bailed, but chose to stay aboard
with fallen comrades for the
full, full course of flight.
And thus it was, of brave design, in year of ‘44;
when ten good men—on Ten HP—would step to
At Denton Hill, the plane was downed—NO SOUL
would Honor gain, if not the men of Ten HP—
the men who flew this plane.
And so their spirits much remain with us;
their braveness—“staff and rod”;
on HONOR’S wall we’ll etch their names…
may their souls rest well with God.
©Copyright 2005 by Lawrence A. De Graw
Library of Congress
By order of Congress, United States of America: 1944
Congressional Medal of Honor (2 Awards)
Distinguished Service Cross (1 Award)
Distinguished Flying Cross (1 Award)
Silver Star (1 Award)
Purple Heart (7 Awards)
Lt. Clarence R. Nelson — Pilot
Lt. Ronald E. Bartley — Flight Engineer (F/O)
Lt. Walter E. Treumper — Navigator
Lt. Joseph R. Martin — Communications
Sgt. Magnus “Mac” Hagbo — Gunners’ Mate
Sgt. Archibald Mathies — Gunners’ Mate/Engineer
Sgt. Carl Moore — Gunners’ Mate
Sgt. Joseph Rex — Gunners’ Mate
Sgt. Russell Robinson — Gunners’ Mate
Sgt. Thomas Sowell — Gunners’ Mate