My father, Lewis J. Miller, spent World War II at a remote airstrip in Spinazzola, Italy, as part of the 15th Army Air Force, 460th Bomb Group. A freshly trained 18-year-old mechanic, he was part of a ground crew who kept the big B-24 Liberator bombers flying and patched them up when they came limping home from a mission. Since 50 percent of those planes returned with some form of damage, his job was never in jeopardy. The most common damage came from flak.
Flak is the acronym for the German word, Fliegerabwehrkanone (meaning “aeroplane defense cannon”). Michael D. Weber, writing about his father, a B-24 crew member, describes it as “a red and orange blast ending up in a thick, black puff of smoke in the sky.” It was, in essence, a ground-launched hand grenade, designed to fling jagged pieces of white hot metal into planes at lightning speeds.
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“[Flak],” says Weber, “is designed to destroy both planes and the people inside them. Sometimes the shrapnel would go in one side of the aircraft and out the other side, hitting nothing in between. Sometimes it would pierce the thin skin of the aircraft and bounce around inside a bit. Other times, the worst of times, it would go in one side and tear something inside apart. Maybe that something was mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, or human. Shrapnel was indifferent.”
One day dad was looking over a plane that had returned from a mission. As he passed under the wing, he looked up and saw a piece of flak sticking through the plane’s exterior. He took out his pocket knife, pried it from the plane and dropped it into his pocket. It stayed with him throughout the war, eventually finding its way home and, later, into my possession.
This particular piece of flak is 2 2/8 inches long by ¾” high and ½” deep. It weighs a little over 3 ounces and bears the markings, “13 S”.
Joe Miller, AtticExplorer.com
The photo of the B-24s in a flak field is courtesy of the U.S. Army Archives, the piece of flak from Joe Miller and the picture of B-24 returning from a mission is from Lewis J. Miller.
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