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  B-17E "Old 666 / 666 / Lucy" Serial Number 41-2666  
5th AF
43rd BG
63rd BS

Former Assignments
403rd BG
65th BS

19th BG
435th BS

6th PRG
8th PRS

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USAAF Nov 1942

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8th PRS 1943

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Jack Fellows 2015

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors Number 2477. On March 7, 1943 delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17E Flying Fortress serial number 41-2666. The same day flown to Minneapolis. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
On May 14, 1942 assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 19th Bombardment Group (19th BG), 435th Bombardment Squadron (435th BS) "Kangaroo Squadron". No known nickname or nose art. Modified with eight camera mounts for photographic reconnaissance missions.

On July 27, 1942 assigned 6th Photographic Reconnaissance Group (6th PRG), 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (8th PRS) "Eight Ballers". On September 5, 1942 returned to the 435th BS.

By October 31, 1942 assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG), 403rd Bombardment Squadron (403rd BS). Nicknamed "Old 666" or "666" for the last three digits of the serial number and was deemed to be an unlucky bomber.

On November 4, 1942 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Lt. Melville Ehlers with co-pilot Lt. Bill Wilson in a bombing mission against Lae. Also aboard was navigator RAAF P/O John Edkins. About 30 miles from the target at 15,000', one of the life rafts accidentally deployed, ripping off the radio aerial and wrapping around the port elevator, and the bomber descended to 9,300' and gunner Pfc Lowell Lee fired his machine gun at the raft to deflate it, but it remained wrapped around the elevator. The crew attempted to continue the mission, but the raft tore away part of the elevator, and they aborted the mission and managed to land safely at 7-Mile Drome with the raft still attached to the damaged elevator.

On December 22, 1942 took off piloted by 1st Lt. Robert B. Irwin on a reconnaissance mission over Rabaul. Returning, intercepted by Ki-43-I Oscars from 11th Hiko Sentai (11th Flying Regiment) flying their first interception mission in the South Pacific. During a 30 minute engagement, the B-17s gunner fired at the attacking fighters and expended most of their ammunition and were hit by gunfire from the rear that damaged the tail, left aileron, right elevator, no. 2 engine fuel tank and oil cooler but landed safely. A photograph was taken of the tail with the serial number and damage from gunfire.

Afterwards, the B-17 was transfered to a service squadron for repairs then assigned to the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (8th PRS) "Eight Ballers" and operated from 14 Mile Drome (Schwimmer) near Port Moresby.

On May 14, 1943 assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG) "Ken's Men", 65th Bombardment Squadron (65th BS) "The Lucky Dicers". Nicknamed "Lucy".

On May 18, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Jay Zeamer, Jr. on a test hop local flight to test the instruments then returned to 7-Mile Drome.

On May 28, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Jay Zeamer, Jr. on a photographic reconnaissance and mapping mission over New Ireland making two runs over southeastern New Ireland. During the flight, sighted a "new" airfield, likely Namatanai Airfield and observed a convoy of three enemy ships. Afterwards, returned to 7-Mile Drome.

By early June 1943, this B-17 was field modified by the 4th Air Depot at Garbutt Field in Townsville with an additional six .50 caliber machine guns plus the normal ten for additional defensive firepower. In the nose was mounted a metal plate installed at the center of the nose cone for reinforcement to mount a single fixed, forward firing .50 caliber machine gun triggered by the pilot.

On June 2, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Jay Zeamer, Jr. on photographic reconnaissance and mapping mission from 20,000' over the Admiralties, then proceeded eastward mapping the Buka Passage from 11,000' then returned to 7-Mile Drome.

On June 15, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Jay Zeamer, Jr. on a local flight with ten aboard to test fire all sixteen .50 caliber machine guns and for a transition training flight.

On June 16, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Jay Zeamer, Jr. with co-pilot John T. Britton on a solo mission to photograph Japanese installations on Buka and then map the western coast of Bougainville as far south as Empress Augusta Bay. It was hoped clear photos could be taken of the area to prepare detailed maps of the area. The rest of the crew included bombardier 2nd Lt Joseph R. Sarnoski, navigator 2nd Lt. Rudy E. Johnson, radio TSgt William Vaughn, engineer SSgt John J. Able plus two gunners.

Over Buka Island, they observed approximately 22 enemy fighters taking off from Buka Airfield below. As this B-17 began its photographic run over Bougainville, it was was attacked head on by Zeros that knocked out their oxygen, hydraulics and all flight instruments. During this initial attack, bombardier 2nd Lt Joseph R. Sarnoski, O-888520 was wounded when a 20mm cannon round exploded in the nose. Although injured, he he continued to fire the nose machine gun and claimed two enemy fighters, until he died at his battle station.

Zeamer, with a broken leg and multiple deep lacerations, put the bomber into an almost vertical dive from 25,000 feet to about 10,000 feet. He could judge his altitude only by the increase in engine manifold pressure. As he leveled off, an estimated 17 enemy fighters resumed the attack from all quarters, staying with the B-17 for 45 minutes until they ran low on fuel. During the running battle in which Zeamer saved the B-17 by taking violent evasive action. The crew claimed two fighters shot down and probably downed another two.

Although weak from pain and loss of blood, Zeamer refused medical aid and remained at the controls until the enemy fighters had left. He assessed the condition of the bomber, decided it could not make it over the Owen Stanley Mountains to Port Moresby, he directed his co-pilot to land at Dobodura Airfield. With no brakes or flaps, the B-17 ground-looped to a stop with Sarnoski dead and five wounded aboard including himself and Johnston with serious wounds plus Vaughn and Able with minor wounds.

On the ground, a total of 187 bullet holes from 7.7mm machine gun bullets and 5 cannon shells from 20mm shell hits were noted on the bomber. Five crew members including Zeamer were wounded during the air combat. Only the co-pilot and two gunners were unhurt. Later, 2nd Lt Joseph R. Sarnoski earned the Medal of Honor, posthumously and Captain Jay Zeamer earned the Medal of Honor for his actions. This was the only time when two Medal of Honors were earned by members of the same aircrew. The rest of the crew earned the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for their roles.

Afterwards, the B-17 underwent extensive repairs by a service squadron then assigned to the 63rd Bombardment Squadron (63rd BS) and resumed flying bombing missions.

On September 25, 1943 piloted by Harry Park on a bombing mission against the Markham Valley. Likely, this was the last combat mission in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).

During the middle of November 1943 flown by Lt. Col. Harry J. Hawthorne Commanding Officer (C.O.) of 43rd BG on a flight across the Pacific bound for the United States to use the B-17 on a war bond tour as the bomber two crew earned the Medal of Honor. The aircrew included radio operator Sgt Reginald E. Tatro, 64th BS. As the plane flew across the Pacific, it was frequently delayed by problems that took a few days to fix at each stop. After take off from Canton Airfield bound for Hilo Airfield past the point of no return, an engine failed then another engine caught fire. Aboard, the crew jettisoned all extra gear including baggage in preparation to ditch but managed to land safely at Hilo Airfield.

Afterwards, repaired then flown back to the United States for the remainder of World War II.

During August 1945 scrapped in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sarnoski died the day of the mission. He was permanently buried at Honolulu National Cemetery (Punchbowl) at section A site 582.

Zeamer retired from the USAF with the rank of Lt. Colonel. He died on March 22, 2007 at age 88. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 34 site 809-4.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2666
"2666 delivered Minneapolis Mar 7, 1943, assigned 435th BS, 19th BG Hawaii May 14, 1942, transferred to 65 BS, 43rd BG. (43rd BG, 65th BS, *Lucy*) flown on mission which earned Jay Zeamer and Joseph Sarnoski the Medal of Honor Jun 16, 1943, Bougainville, in which they fought off 17 enemy fighters. After repair transferred to 8th PRS. Returned to USA 4134 BU Spokane Mar 22, 1943, to 423 BU Walla Walla Jul 29, 1944. To RFC at Albuquerqque Aug 9, 1945."
Captain Jay Zeamer Jr. Official Flight Log from April 22, 1944 to May 31, 1943, page 6
May 18, 1943 "B-17E, AC 41-2666, R1820-65, P.M.-Local, 10 [crew], Test hop + instruments."
May 28, 1943 "B-17E, AC 41-2666, R1820-65, P.M.- New Ireland-P.M., 9 [crew], 2 mapping runs on S.E. New Ireland - 23,000 ft. Sighted new Jap Airdrome + 3 ship convoy."
Captain Jay Zeamer Jr. Official Flight Log from June 1, 1943 to June 18, 1944, page 7
June 2, 1943 "B-17E, AC 41-2666, R1820-65, P.M. - Admiralty Islands, Buka Passage - P.M., 9 [crew], Photo-mapped Admiralties-20,000', Recco Buka Passage - 11,000'."
June 15, 1943 "B-17E, AC 41-2666, R1820-65, P.M. - Local, 10 [crew], Test fired all 16-50 cal., test hop + transition"
June 16, 1943 "B-17E, AC 41-2666, R1820-65, P.M. - Buka Passage-Bougainville-Buka, 9 [crew], Recco + 'Photo mapping, 16 Jap fighters - shot down 5, 187 bullet holes & 5 cannon hits, Sarnoski killed - 5 wounded."
Note, it is often incorrectly reported that this B-17E was field modified with a nose mounted machine gun that the pilot could fire from the cockpit control column.
FindAGrave - 2LT Joseph R. Sarnoski (photo, grave photo)
The Canberra Times "Exciting Trip For Fortress on Bombing Raid" November 6, 1942
New York Times "Swift Raid on Lae Described" November 6, 1942
Los Angeles Times "Jay Zeamer, a Decorated Pilot in World War II, Dies at 88" March 26, 2007
FindAGrave - Jay Zeamer Jr. (photo, grave photos)
Dogfights, Season 1, Volume 4 Long Odds includes episode about this B-17 with interview footage of Zeamer, originally aired 2007 segment related to this B-17, audio interview with Zeamer, interview with Britton
YouTube "OLD 666" Dogfights Season 1, Volume 4 segment related to this B-17, audio interview with Zeamer, interview with Britton
Home of Heroes Jay Zeamer & Joe Sarnoski One Plane - Nine Heroes Two Medals of Honor
Peta Pixel "The Most Honored Photograph" by Roger Cicala Oct 29, 2013 includes several mistakes and misconceptions often repeated about this aircraft and mission
Zeamer's Eager Beavers by Clint Hayes website devoted to the crew and mission
Ken’s Men Against The Empire Volume I (2016) cover artwork pages 96 (December 22, 1942, photo of tail damage), 219 (profile no. 19, B-17E 41-2666), 223 (profile no. 19, B-17E 41-2666 detail), 226-230 (June 16, 1943), 308-309 (November 1943 ferry flight and Hilo landing), 318 (June 16, 1943 crew), 326 (63rd BS, 41-2666), 329 (65th BS, 41-2666), 330 (403rd BS, 41-2666), 348 (photo U.S. Army on lower wing), 367-368 (profile 19 B-17E 41-2666 description), 368 (photo Lucy), 397 (index Lucy), 402 (index Sarnoski) 407 (index Zeamer)
The Most Decorated American Aircrew by Jack Fellows
Thanks to Steve Birdsall, Edward Rogers and Larry Hickey for additional information

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Last Updated
February 5, 2024


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