The B-17 bomber, Bennan's Circus, was shot down over Germany on October 14, 1943.


Brennan's Circus and Crew, Colorization copyright Michael Beech

Low Resolution 500 pixels wide. High resolution 6,000 pixels wide, available.


Brennan's Circus, Colorization copyright Michael Beech


It was nearing noon and the formations of high flying American bombers filled the sky over Germany. Allied daylight bombing raids were still the norm and Germany was at the peak of her defensive airpower. Attrition among the unescorted and highly exposed bomber squadrons was severe whenever they raided deep into Germany during daylight. Now this raid, the infamous and historic bombing raid later known as “Black Thursday,” against the Schweinfurt ball bearing works was underway. It would be the most costly in American lives and aircraft during the war.

Long before the target appeared, hundreds of fighters swarmed up from the German airstrips and engaged the American bombers with 6 waves of head-on attack. On each of their devastating passes the fighters scored crippling hits on many of the bombers. Some of the B-17’s were engulfed in flame, rolled over, and spun to the ground 4 or 5 miles below. Others lost wings, broke apart, and plummeted like stones, their crews trapped by the g-forces inside their madly whirling and burning aircraft. Many more lost engines and crewmen, jettisoned their bomb loads, and turned back.

Just 10 minutes short of their target the Flying Fortress, affectionately named by her crew “Brennan’s Circus,” was among those hard hit during the head-on straffing attacks by German fighter planes. An engine erupted into flames, control surfaces were riddled and the bomb bay door mechanism was damaged and stuck shut. Unable to dump the bombs to lighten her load, the Fort fell slowly behind the rest of the bomber formation and began to lose altitude. Isolated, crippled and unprotected, “Brennan’s Circus” quickly became easy prey for the German Folke-Wulf 190 and ME fighter planes that swarmed in for the kill.

The pilot of the Fortress, 21-year-old Lt. Joseph X. Brennan, realizing the peril of the situation and hoping to extinguish the engine fire, dipped his left wing and rolled the plane into a desperate dive. “We were far behind the rest of the formation by then, and the fighters were making terrific passes at us. We were [at] 25,000 feet when I swung her over and let her go,” Lt. Brennan reported. Sensing an easy victim, the German fighters followed her down.

Read the Rest of the Story

The full story is told in the e-book, "B-17, Brennan's Circus, The Plane Who Wouldn't Die," available in Kindle format at Amazon and NOOK format at Barnes & Nobles.

130 pages with over 90 photos of the plane and crew plus many other images.

High resolution copies of the photos shown above are available at http// in sizes up to 16" X 20".




During this, the second Schweinfurt bombing raid, 659 airmen (out of 2900) did not return; 65 were captured and 594 were Missing-In-Action. 5 more returned dead in their planes along with 43 wounded. 60 planes were lost, plus 17 more that crashed on landing and at least 121 more were damaged.

The 305th Bomb Group lost 13 of 16 planes within just minutes (87% of their airmen).

Air superiority was lost in this raid and the USAAF did not attempt a deep penetration bomb raid again for 4 months.

The raid was the basis for the fictional movie "Twelve O'Clock High." In the movie, the planes of the 94th Bombardment Group (Brennan's group) can be spotted by the "A" in a white square on their tail.

The amazing escape and epic low level flying performance of Brennan's Circus was featured in the book "Black Thursday." During this raid the unidentified objects, called then "Foo Fighters," were reported.

“Brennan’s Circus” was a B-17F-100-BO Flying Fortress, SN 42-30383 assigned to the 8th Air Corp, 94th Bombardment Group, 332nd Bomb Squadron (Heavy), based in Bury St. Edmunds, England. The Group Commander was Colonel Frederick W. Castle, who later was awarded thel Congressional Medal of Honor (Posthumous).

The above description of the Schweinfurt Raid was compiled and written by me from various sources including newspaper articles, press releases, and letters from crew members. Any additional information about this plane, her crew, her unit and her missions will be appreciated. Please contact me at Many more details, original documents and photos concerning this plane and crew are in my possession. The tall man in the rear in the crew photo was my father, S/Sgt Denver Nowlin, waist-gunner. I was born 2 months after Brennan's Circus was shot down. My parents later divorced and my name was changed when my mother re-married.

Michael Beech

See the Plane and Crew in 3D Below

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BrennanCircusColor-PParallel View