The anonymous Czech prisoner who saved an American B-17 bomber in World War II

During World War II, the Nazis recruited slave laborers from all occupied countries to do all kinds of jobs.

Ye Olde Pub: The American B-17 bomber saved by a German Bf-109 fighter pilot
The epic story of the first B-17 bomber shot down in combat in World War II

Many of these workers, subjected to inhumane conditions, had the courage and heroism to sabotage the Nazis in the most varied ways, even knowing that this act of rebellion could cost them their lives. There is a story that shows how important these acts of heroism became.

On July 30, 1943, a large formation of 186 B-17 bombers of the United States Army Air Forces, escorted by 123 P-47 Thunderbolt fighters, attacked the German city of Kassel. One such bomber was B-17G 42-29896, nicknamed “Tondelayo”. The aircraft was attached to the 527th Bomb Squadron, 379th Bomb Group, based in Kimbolton, England. During the return flight,the plane was repeatedly hit by German fighter gunfire.

The B-17 “Tondelayo” with its crew in a photo taken on July 12, 1945, after the end of the war in Europe (Photo: American Air Museum in Britain).

The heroism of the tail gunner of the B-17 ‘Tondelayo’

One crew member who performed exceptionally well on that mission was the tail gunner, Sergeant Michael L. Arooth, who shot down three German planes and was seriously wounded by fire from an enemy fighter. A One of the two machine guns on his post was damaged and the other jammed, but Gunner Arooth managed to unjam the second machine gun and, despite his wounds and having his oxygen supply cut off, continued firing, managing to save the plane. For the heroism he demonstrated on that mission, Arooth was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Arooth recovered from his injuries and flew three more missions, shooting down 19 enemy aircraft in all and becoming an ace among tail gunners. He managed to survive the war and continued to serve his country in the Armed Forces until 1962, receiving two Air Medals and the Purple Heart (awarded to those wounded in combat), among other decorations. He passed away on February 15, 1990 in St. Augustine, Florida.He is interred at the National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona.

Michael L. Arooth, the heroic tail gunner of the B-17 “Tondelayo” (Photo: American Air Museum in Britain).

The anonymous Czech prisoner who saved the B-17 ‘Tondelayo’

But in this story there is an anonymous hero whose actions managed to save that B-17. When the “Tondelayo” returned to its base, the mechanics observed astonished that the plane’s fuel tanks had been penetrated by projectiles 20 mm explosives that were lodged in the plane without actually exploding. It was already something miraculous that this happened with an explosive projectile, but in the case of the “Tondelayo” this happened with 11 projectiles in total.

The shells were sent to gunsmiths for deactivation, and strangely military intelligence took care of them. When those shells were opened, it turned out that they did not have an explosive charge: all were empty except one that contained a message, written on a carefully rolled piece of paper and written in Czech. They sent the message to a translator and this is what it said: “This is all we can do for you now.” It must have been written by a Czech prisoner recruited by the Germans as a slave laborer and that he had sabotaged the manufacture of those aviation projectiles. To this day, the identity of that prisoner remains a mystery.

Ehe channel Yarnhub has published an excellent video recreating the story of that bomber and his miraculous salvation:

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