From the Front Lines of World War II: 15 Minutes Over Paris

Read this first-hand account of how a World War II pilot and his B-17 crew survived a harrowing bombing run over Paris.

The crew of the Day Martini pose for a photo in front of their bomber

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There are countless stories of heroism and victories in the Second World War that we’ll never know. They passed into time without being given proper attention.

Fortunately, The Saturday Evening Post reported some of these incidents, sometimes written by the men and women who lived through them.

One of the most memorable was published 75 years ago: “Fifteen Minutes Over Paris.” Major Allen Martini’s account of how he and his B-17 crew survived a bombing run reads more like a Hollywood version of an air battle.

The story begins on April 4, 1943, when the 8th Air Force took off on its first attack on a major industrial target. Among the formation was the Flying Fortress named “Dry Martini.”

The sky that April morning was blue and empty of threats. On the way to the target, which was a Renault factory outside Paris, the antiaircraft fire had been so light that Major Martini didn’t even need to take evasive action. Once its bombs were dropped, the Dry Martini banked and headed back to England as the entire crew happily sang “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”

The ruins of a Renault plant after an air bombing in World War II
“As we moved away from the target, bomb bursts were developing clear across it and a smoke pall had begun to blanket the whole Billancourt district.” How the foundry of the Renault plant looked after the smoke had cleared away. (U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

Then, in the sky above, over a dozen German fighter planes materialized. Martini watched, fascinated, as they methodically lined up for attack. Suddenly, they pounced on the squadron. Three of the American bombers were shot down. One engine of The Dry Martini was damaged. The fighter planes had also shot out the cockpit’s windshield. One crew member was killed instantly and a piece of the windshield struck Martini’s co-pilot, knocking him senseless and leaving Martini alone at the controls with a thirty-below-zero wind blasting into his face.

And then the real trouble began.

For the next fifteen minutes the Dry Martini flew through an inferno of cannon and machine gun fire, the sole target of 60 German planes. “Fifteen Minutes Over Paris” is his account of what the crew went through in that long quarter hour.

Martini and his crew pressed on, fighting desperately. By the time they reached Rouen, near the Normandy coast, six of the bomber’s guns were out of commission, burned out from constant firing. The functional guns were down to the last 12 rounds of ammunition.

Suddenly a new squad of fighters was seen approaching. Martini ordered his men to hold their fire until he knew they were enemy planes. Instead, to the crew’s great relief, it was a squadron of Spitfires racing in to help them. The Germans, seeing the dreaded Spitfires, quickly peeled away to fly back to their base.

U.S. Major Allen Martini
Major Martini, who ordered his crew to “Give ’em hell and save your ammunition.” (U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

The planes had taken an incredible amount of punishment. The wings and fuselage had been ripped up by 160 cannon and bullet holes. Yet the “Cocktail Kids” as the crew deemed themselves, gave even better than they got. They took 22 enemy airships out of action that day, the largest score ever run up by a single bomber.

Major Martini went on to complete 27 missions, two more than needed to earn his return home. Back in the states, he appeared in war-bond rallies and wrote an account of that famous flight, which appeared in the Post.

“Fifteen Minutes Over Paris” is a fascinating account of the courage and determination of ten men that deserves to be better known.

First page of the article "15 Minutes Over Paris"
Read “15 Minutes Over Paris” from the November 20, 1943, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Become a subscriber to gain access to all of the issues of The Saturday Evening Post dating back to 1821.

The American Fighters

  • Pilot Major Allen V. Martini
  • Co-Pilot Lt. Joseph Boyle
  • Bombardier  Bruce A. (Curly) Gardner
  • Tail gunner Staff Sgt Henry A. Mitchell
  • Waist gunner Staff Sgt. Dick Willis
  • Navigator Lt. James Moberly
  • Radio operator Tech Sgt Oscar Ballew
  • Ball gunner Staff Sgt John Hill
  • Engineer Tech Sgt William Beach

Featured image: from The Saturday Evening Post, November 20, 1943, page 13. Courtesy American Air Museum via Creative Commons by CC-by-NC license.

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  1. Amazing to think how time flies, pun intended. If any of the children of the crew wish to message me on Facebook for Dry Martini photos and stories, please let me know! See previous comments. May God bless you all.

  2. exactly 77 years ago today this mission occurred. God bless all those who fought for our freedom. If anyone would like information and photos, please contact me on my facebook Aaron Pelesasa, my grand uncle was the tail gunner Henry A Mitchell Jr on this mission. God bless!

  3. Richard, i have some photos of your father from the war with my grand uncle. please message me on facebook and i will send them to you!

  4. My uncle Allen was Pilot Major Martini my mother’s brother. I am always interested to find out all I can for our family history and was pleasantly surprised to see this article posted last year.

  5. My dad Dick Willis was the waist gunner. He never talked about the war. He was very normal in every respect, great father and husband, great provider, lived to be 87 and died naturally, but never spoke of the war.

  6. My grand uncle is Henry A Mitchell Jr., the tail gunner of this plane. He was from the Philippines!


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