The United States Army has its fair share of embarrassments, like losing nuclear bombs and accidentally dropping one on the backyard of a South Carolina home. One such incident, involving conventional bombs, occurred on the night of July 5, 1943. A 10-member crew had taken off from the Dalhart Army Air Base in Texas in four B-17 bombers for a nighttime practice bomb run. They were supposed to proceed to Conlen, also in Texas, 20 miles to the northeast where the target range was located. The square target was to be marked by four lights at each corner creating the illusion of an 'X'. The mission was supposed to be routine, but somehow the young, inexperienced navigator, took the formation 40 miles north to Boise City in Oklahoma instead.
A memorial erected on the 50th anniversary of the incident. Photo credit: Ryan Lowery/Flickr
The four B-17 bombers reached Boise City shortly before half past midnight. By then most of the 1,200 residents of the town had already gone to bed. Most of the lights of the small town had been shut off. Only the lights surrounding the Cimarron County Courthouse was glowing. Once the bomb crew saw the four lights around the courthouse, they believed that they had reached their target.
The first bomb thundered through the roof of a garage and exploded, creating a four-foot deep hole in the floor. The town butcher Hurlie Reed and his wife Hazel, who were sleeping at that time, were jolted out of their bed by the loud explosion. They hurried outside and watched in stupefaction and horror as the airplane swept around the sky in a wide circle and came again for the second drop.
The second bomb fell a foot short of the Baptist church, breaking out several windows and creating another crater three feet deep. The third bomb struck between the sidewalk and curb, and by sheer luck, missed a gasoline tanker. The fourth bomb also came narrowly close to striking a parked fuel transport truck.
A memorial erected on the 50th anniversary of the incident. Photo credit: Nate/Flickr
The county sheriff knew immediately that Dalhart trainees had somehow gotten off course. He raced down the street to the telephone office and began calling the base. After the crew dropped three bombs, Dalhart tower called the plane’s radio operator and asked him to check with the navigator and bombardier to see if they knew where they were. His colleagues replied that they were positive. Several minutes of confusion ensued with Dalhart tower insisting that the crew was on the wrong target.
Finally, an employee of the electric company, realizing where the crew had erred, shut down the power engulfing the entire town in darkness. Up above, the B-17 officers thought they had hit the main switch when the lights went out. In any case, the bombing came to an end but not before the misguided bomber crew had dropped six 100-pound bombs over the stupefied townsfolk. Fortunately, the bombs were specially designed for practice and were filled with only 4 pounds of explosive and 96 pounds of sand. Although they made plenty of noise and left craters all over the town, no significant damage was made. Incidentally, none of them hit the courthouse the rookies were targeting.
The blundering crew were hurriedly called back to Dalhart and an investigation was held. The plane’s navigator was sacked the next morning, while the rest of the crew were given the choice of heading directly into combat or facing court martial. The crew chose combat. All of them survived the war and went on to become one of America's most highly decorated outfits in World War II. Less than a year after the Boise City debacle, the same crew members were chosen to lead 800 planes on a daylight bombing raid of Berlin in March 1944.
Fifty years after the incident, bemused Boise City residents erected, or rather dug out, a memorial consisting of a concrete replica of a crater with a real WW2-era 100-pound bomb sticking out of it. On the memorial’s dedication ceremony all surviving crew members of the ill-fated training mission were invited. None of them showed up. They were still too embarrassed.
Cimarron County Courthouse, the building that was targeted, still stands unhurt. Photo credit: TGrier/Panoramio
Photo credit: Margot Plummer/Panoramio
Photo credit: Granger Meador/Flickr
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