What is Known of the "Bunny Bombshell"

by W. Wentz


The B-17G Flying Fortress "Bunny Bombshell," tail number 42-1232, was first of an order of 100 bombers built by Boeing at the Seattle plant in 1942. After being ferried across the North Atlantic, she began flying in mid-1943 with the 8th Air Force, 351st Bomb Group (Heavy), Squadron 511, out of Polebrook Army Air Force Base, England. The plane's regular commander was Lt. Milton C. Harvey of Paducah, Kentucky, and naturally the crew was known as "Milton's Mountaineers."

The "Bunny Bombshell" nose art on the plane was obviously derived from one of the characters in that very early and obscure example of the Funny Animals comic book genre, "Bunnies at War"--a comic book directed specifically at servicemen and largely unknown to the civilian public--which began sometime around 1943 and ended its irregular publication sometime before 1950.

After a year of terrible fighting, surviving increasingly dangerous missions as the concept of strategic daytime bombing was being developed through trial and error, the "Bunny Bombshell" missed the final culmination of this concept--the Thousand Plane Raid on German aircraft factories that kicked off Big Week on February 20, 1944--because of a mundane flat tire.

Two weeks later, however, the Bunny did participate in the One Thousand and Three Plane Raid on Saaarbrucken (It was plane number 42).

Other significant missions for the Bunny included both raids on the Schweinfurt ball-bearing factories... the disaster of October 1943, in which 60 of 363 bombers were lost, and the more successful raid of April 1944. The Bunny and her crew also visited Hamburg, the Ruhr, Berlin and made a shuttle flight to the USSR-a curious mission of which nothing more is known.

The original "Bunny Bombshell" was caught by flak over Roen on December 13, 1943, and with gaping holes blasted through its fuselage and empennage, was followed and attacked all the way to the Channel by persistent Luftwaffe fighters. Lt. Harvey displayed superb airmanship in diving to blow out fire in two engines, finding cloud cover to evade the persistent Germans, and nursing his crippled bird back home with two engines dead and much of the tail surfaces missing.

The "Bunny Bombshell" gave the last minutes of its mechanical life to bring its crew home, and almost as soon as its flattened tires stopped rolling it was written off as scrap.

The crew, the name and the mascot were transferred to a newly-delivered B-17G, 43-9275, part of the last order of 200 B-17s made by Boeing in late 1943--thereafter, all Flying Fortresses were made by Douglas and Vega.

The new "Bunny Bombshell"--of which this is the only known photo--had a shiny aluminum finish, rather than the olive-brown "warpaint" of previous Fortresses. Several years of war experience had convinced AAF authorities that camouflage paint was not all that effective on high-altitude bombers, and only added several hundred pounds of unnecessary weight.

Early in the morning of June 6th the "Bunny Bombshell" was one of the heavies that took part in beating up the German forces just inland of Normandy in an effort to cut off reinforcements to the soon to be beachhead. But unfortunately, due to overcautious planning, the ordinance was dropped too far inland to actually be of any help to the landing Allied forces.

After the Normandy invasion, the "Bunny Bombshell" reportedly made a bizarre leafleting flight over Berlin, dropping pamphlets containing a quote by General Patton proclaiming: "Hitler a Pansy Ass" and challenging him to fight it out, man to man.

Many authorities claim this report is merely a bit of flamboyant embroidery on the Patton myth, and that such pamphlets never existed. The fact remains, however, that one is illustrated in Paul Linebarger's scarce little book, "Psychological Warfare" (Infantry Journal Press, 1948).

There are reports that the second "Bunny Bombshell" was shot down over Frankfurt in early 1945, but still other reports say Lt. Harvey and his crew successfully completed their 30 missions and were rotated home. Possibly the plane was inherited and lost by some less-skilled or less fortunate crew, or some confusion may have arisen due to the "Bunny Bombshell" name also being used on at least two other Forts, and possibly a B-24 as well, though no photos of these other planes seem to exist.

After the war, Lt. Harvey was, like many junior officers, was separated from the service, and immediately dropped out of sight. His present whereabouts are unknown.

As for the "Bunny Bombshell," her ultimate fate is also obscure. If she was not actually shot down over Frankfurt, then she was probably ferried back to the States, mothballed for a time in some military boneyard, and ultimately converted to kitchen utensils.

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