William R. Lawley - Recipient of the Medal of Honor
On a bombing mission to Leipzig
2O February 1944, the B-17 Flying
fortress piloted by William Lawley
had just reached the bomb release
line what bombardier Henry 0.
Mason informed him that for some
reason their bombs had not dropped
when he actuated the trip switch.
At practically the same instant a
dozen or more German fighters
careened in on them for an attack.
A 20-mm cannon shell burst inside the cockpit, killing the copilot
instantly and wounding Lawley.
He then heard Mason report that an
engine was aflame. The weight of
the copilot's body against the control column threw the plane into a
dive. And because of the blood that
had covered the instruments and
windshield, Lawley could neither
see out of the plane nor read his instruments for a time. While Mason
fought to get rid of the bomb load,
which made control of the crippled
plane even more difficult, Lawley,
though more seriously wounded
than he was aware, fought with his waning strength to get the Fortress under
ordered the. crew to bail out only to learn that, including himself, eight were wounded - two
so seriously that they were unable to jump. The crew would have to remain with the ship.
He punched the extinguisher button and the flaming engine stopped burning and
he could relax a little, but just then another engine caught fire as another swarm of Nazi
fighters piled on the crippled Fortress.
While the wounded gunners continued fighting the Germans, Lawley managed to get the
second fire under control and Mason succeeded in salvoing their bombs. The bombardier
came into the cockpit and saw that Lawley was on the verge of collapse because of his
wounds and exertion of flying the plane. That be had remained conscious as long as be did
was a miracle, but he slipped into painful oblivion when he saw Mason there to help.
had had pilot training before be was transferred into bombardier training and was able to
keep their B-17 pointed toward England. As quickly as he spotted a fighter base, Mason
managed to bring Lawley back to consciousness. The pilot, making a great
himself conscious by sheer will power as he took over the controls. As they approached, an
engine ran out of gas and another burst into flame; and they could not lower the gear.
Lawley brought the Fortress in for a wheels-up landing and sparks flashed as the belly of the
Fortress scraped the concrete and careened onto the grass.
were rather neatly
bent back and the plane skidded to a stop. Fires were quickly extinguished and ambulances
rushed the wounded to the hospital. For his part in the Leipzig mission
Lawley was awarded
the Medal of Honor and Mason and radio operator T.A. Dempsey were decorated with
Silver Stars. Dempsey administered to the wounded crew members and
manned the guns of
the most seriously hurt men.
Next...A Look At The B-17 Control Panel
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