Valor Friday

| August 2, 2019

buff
“BUFF”

Here’s Mason, once again with a meticulously researched piece about a remarkable aircraft, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. And of the remarkable Airmen who flew in her, one position specifically. The lone enlisted guy. The tail gunner.

Mason

The B-52 is legendary. It’s one of the oldest American airframes still in service, and continually so since its introduction in 1955. Changing little with the times, the Big Ugly Fat *ahem* Fellow (BUFF) you see today would be easily recognizable to an airman of the 50’s.

Originally specified in 1946 and designed through the late forties, first flying in 1952, the B-52 was a product of its times. WWII had just been won. The B-52 was designed to have long legs, able to reach Soviet locations deep in enemy territory. Since fighters usually didn’t have the same range, and aerial refueling was in its infancy, the B-52 was designed with something that no bombers since have had, a tail gunner.

tail gunner
Tail Gunner’s seat.

Not removed from the B-52 fleet until 1991, after serving through the Gulf War, there was an enlisted man manning the gun on every mission. Notably, these were the only enlisted crew aboard the aircraft. Though the position, seated at the tail (until later models moved the gunner up to the flight deck), was remote, cramped, and prone to a bumpy ride (they say every foot the cockpit moved the tail moved six), the view was unparalleled.

Coming into service too late for action in Korea, and flying into largely uncontested airspace over Iraq, this leaves the B-52 tail gunner’s combat experiences confined to Vietnam. We don’t generally think of Vietnam as being a conflict in which bombers defended themselves with machine guns. When we think of a bomber’s gunner being engaged in war, we’re picturing a B-17, B-24, or B-25 in WWII fending off the Luftwaffe or a B-29 fighting against the Japanese or North Koreans. However, the men over Vietnam were engaged by enemy fighters shooting at them with their own machine guns and cannons, just like their predecessors, though with less frequency.

Though serving throughout the southwest Asian war, B-52’s and their gunners were most engaged by the enemy during Operation Linebacker II, Nixon’s “Christmas Bombing” campaign. Over 11 days starting on the 18th of December, 1972 the bombers flew 729 sorties dropping 15,000 tons of bombs (that’s roughly equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb). Fifteen BUFFs had been lost to surface-to-air missiles.

Somewhere over North Vietnam, it was 18 December, 1972, Staff Sergeant Samuel O. Turner was in his post at the tail of a B-52D, callsign Brown 3. He was manning the fire control radar, with which he could lock onto and track enemy aircraft. During the mission, he saw a MiG-21 Fishbed coming at them from low and behind. Fishbeds were a Mach 2+ capable interceptor designed from the start to counter these American bombers. The fighters had already logged kills against dozens of American aircraft.

Recognizing the threat of the MiG, SSgt Turner prepared himself. He saw the MiG-21 wasn’t alone, following him at a distance was another MiG-21.

The lead MiG swung in for an attack. As the quick little fighter came up and readied his sight picture on the lumbering bomber, Turner opened fire with his four Browning .50 cal machine guns. Each capable of firing 1,200 rounds a minute. In a six to eight second burst he shot nearly 700 rounds. There was a huge explosion behind his plane. When the cloud cleared, the enemy MiG was nowhere to be found. A Master Sergeant in Brown 2, a plane on Turner’s wing, saw and confirmed the kill.

The second MiG, probably unable to see the steely eyed stare of the young Staff Sergeant, decided not to follow his partner into the hereafter and peeled off.

Turner was awarded the Silver Star for his actions in the first confirmed downing by a bomber’s gunner since Korea. He’d turned the BUFF into a MiG-killer.

silver star

He left the service in 1982 as a Master Sergeant, having also received the Distinguished Flying Cross and several Air Medals. He died in 1985 at the young age of 42. His B-52D, serial 56-676 was the last B-52D in service. It was retired to display at Fairchild AFB in Washington state where it remains today.

Only one other man can claim to have a confirmed enemy kill from a B-52. Then-Airman First Class Albert E. Moore was also a part of Linebacker II. On Christmas Eve, 1972, his B-52D “Diamond Lil” was over North Vietnam.

Before coming over their target, Moore saw on his scopes a bogey. Coming in at their 6:30 low, it held at 4,000 yards and then swung in for the kill. Holding his fire, Moore waited until the enemy plane came to 2,000 yards distance. Opening up on the enemy, he fired until the plane bloomed to three times its size on his radar when it was only about 1,200 yards away.

His kill was confirmed by a crewman from an aircraft in his wing. This was the last enemy aircraft to be downed by a bomber’s aerial gunner. Though the Russian Tu-95 Bears still have tail gunners, the odds are that Moore’s “kill” will be the last.

Moore rose to the rank of buck Sergeant before leaving the Air Force. He died in 2009 at the age of 55. His aircraft, Diamond Lil, was retired after 15,000 flight hours and flying more than 200 missions during Vietnam. The aircraft was retired to gate guard duty at the Air Force Academy shortly after leaving service in 1983.

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Fair winds and following seas. Thanks again, Mason.

Category: Air Force, Blue Skies, Guest Post, Valor, Viet Nam

Comments (24)

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  1. Club Manager says:

    I served a tour at Castle AFB with those beautiful BUF’s. It is still great to see them on the flight line at Barksdale AFB. My only regret is I was not able to swing an orientation ride on one. It takes a special individual to crew them.

  2. ChipNASA says:

    I’m not sayin’ nuthin but……

    Staff Sergeant Samuel O. Turner was in his post at the tail of a B-52D, callsign Brown 3.

    “Brown 3”.

    That’s an understatement.

    • Mason says:

      It’s a small moment of honor for the name “Brown” around here. You know, since Les has been dragging it through his fourth point of contact.

  3. ChipNASA says:

    It’s been posted here before….I’ll leave you degenerates this for your Friday viewing pleasure.

    SAC FREEDOM BONER

    • Roh-Dog says:

      With all that JP-# smoke bumping into something in a bad way becomes a real possibility. I’ll admit it just this once, mind you, some Airmen *may* have some balls.
      On the ground, Army still leads the way.

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      Any ecofreak watching that is gonna stroke out.

      “Heavy metal thunder” indeed.

  4. Ex-PH2 says:

    WE may need the tailgunners again, some day.

    Just sayin’….

  5. 5th/77th FA says:

    BZ to these two Airedales. Not taking anything away from other bomber gunners, but hitting a small jet fighter at the speeds that everyone was working with is an accomplishment. Don’t guess there are any figures on how many were shot at and run off by the gunners? Shame those Warriors passed so young

    I’ve commented before on us living under the flight path of the SAC BUFFs growing older during the ’60s. When they would scramble the wings on alert, tho we were 8 miles from the base, the house would shake as they came over. Older Brother retired as a Chief Airedale. He prolly turned a wrench or 2 on these same aircraft.

    Love these posts Mason, again, keep ’em coming!

    • Mason says:

      Don’t know how many they hit that tucked tail and ran. There were three other claimed kills by B-52 tail gunners, but those were unconfirmed.

      • Huey Jock says:

        I’ll give them at least 1 to 1 1/2 because of that fire control radar.

        Imagine it being retrofitted from tubes to microprocessors. Now somebody tell me it was transistors back then.

        There will be a place for fire from the “six” position in the future. Most likely totally automated.

        I’m thinking fighters.

  6. Just Lurkin says:

    How they trained WWII gunners:
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DWYqu1Il9Ps

  7. The Other Whitey says:

    Vietnam was a wakeup call to the Cult of Hi-Tech. I occasionally wonder if the same mistakes might not be made in the next major conflict, over-reliance on new and potentially-overrated technology at the expense of fighting skills. And even if the tech works exactly as hoped, who’s to say our next enemy and/or their backers won’t have an effective way to counter it, rendering it ineffective?

  8. Harry says:

    When I was stationed at Offutt way back when I lived in Bldg 365, also known as Turner Hall. It was named after – you guessed it – SSgt Samuel O. Turner.

  9. Sj says:

    Just saw and walked around Diamond Lil at AFA last month. Impressive. Also love seeing it from the Interstate. It looks like it is doing very low level tree top flight. Great stories. Tnx.

    • Claw says:

      I was there at Carson/Colo Spgs when she flew into Pete Field in late 1983. Took them a few loads to get her up to the AFA, one load being just the fuselage, the others being the wings and tail. This happened in Dec 83 (I think) Took almost a year to get her all set up, with the formal dedication happening in September of 1984. Good Times at Fort Cartoon in the old days.

  10. Just Lurkin says:

    So, was A1C Moore decorated for his kill? The only thing I could find when searching for his name was a “together we served” page with a ribbon rack with no combat decorations-not even an Air Medal. I don’t think that is correct, and he ought to at least have a V device attached to something for his actions.

    • Mason says:

      I’d agree. Couldn’t find any documentation that he was given any awards.

      Though it is somehow unsurprising that a SSgt makes a kill, the first in 20 years, and they give him a Silver Star. A1C does it a week later and it’s “just doing his job.”

      • The Other Whitey says:

        In fairness to SSGT Turner, that sounds like a case of “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Though that doesn’t make it right.

  11. Boomer Adams says:

    Thanks for posting this Ed. I’ve been close up to the BUFF for 26 of my 30 years. I was stationed at Kadena during LINEBACKER II. Those 11 days in December 1972 were very hectic at Kadena, Andersen AFB, Guam and U-Tapao, Thailand. I flew 8 of those 11 days refueling B-52’s out of Guam. It was an awesome operation never IMHO to ever take place again.I knew many of the tail gunners. One of my good friends was shot down on Day 4 and became a POW. Louie LeBlanc returned to Guam and like me he retired here. He met and married a Vietnamese lady who was born in Hanoi. I was his best man at his wedding. She still lives here. Louie passed away many years ago and is buried in Guam’s Veterans Cemetery. Our friendship will continue on high one day.

  12. Boomer Adams says:

    To continue the BUFF story. I noted that retired B-52’s are located at Fairchild AFB, WA (I was there from ’60 to ’64) and at the Air Force Academy. Well, we had one here at Andersen AFB, Guam as well. It was famous and well known as ‘Ole 100’. Sadly the WX deteriorated it so badly a wing collapsed and it was removed from it’s place off honor on the base and used by the fire department for training on the flight line. A typhoon blew it’s tail section across the fence and into the boonies where it lies today. I visit it every so often and can’t help but wonder about the brave men who occupied it way back when.

    Every December 18 Andersen hosts a memorial ceremony in honor of LINEBACKER II. Sadly these days there is no ‘Ole 100’ in place to witness it as before as the name of each bomber crew member if called off. 15 bombers were shot down. Only one crew member is still unaccounted for – my friend Louie’s co-pilot.+

    I was honored a few years ago to assist the General in laying the wreath. There is always a formation of current B-52 crew members in formation during the ceremony. I can’t help but consider that all of them were born after December 1972. I was humbled to relate to some of them about the experience of that operation. I guess I’m revealing myself as an old codger.

  13. Boomer Adams says:

    LINEBACKER II was an important operation no doubt, but so were the many known as ARC LIGHT. I’ve supported many many of them. Ah, the memories!

    Just for your edification go here:

    http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2009/January%202009/0109arc.aspx

    The article starts off about ‘Ole 100’. Scrolling on down you will see the memorial site and a little further down the tail section I mentioned above.

    Andersen today is a much different base. No longer a SAC base and only now plays hosts to the B-52 and at times the B-1 and the B-2.. On final approach these bombers fly directly overhead my home on their right turn to landing. What a sight!