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  • Writer's pictureEthan Brackin

The Crew of Lucky Thirteen

Lucky Thirteen is a B-17F bomber that flew missions over Germany and France in 1943. It was crewed by Pilot Russel Faulkiner, Co-Pilot Warren Holland, Navigator Richard Pierce, Bombardier Harry Hawes, Top Turret Gunner Oscar Hamblin, Radio Operator Charles Kirby Jr, Ball Turret Gunner Harry Saperstein, Right Waist Gunner James Morley, Left Waist Gunner Edward Ruch, and Tail Gunner William Ross. On September 6th, 1943 Lucky Thirteen was shot down over Bois des Moines and the crew was forced to abandon ship. This is their story.


Top Turret Gunner Oscar Hamblin was carried by his parachute into a pond. His fall was witnessed by property owner Louis Faulon, who with his wife, took a boat to the middle of the pond and rescued the struggling airman.

Sgt Oscar Hamblin
Sgt Oscar Hamblin

The couple graciously provided Hamblin with civilian clothes and passed him on to the mayor of their village. He was then forwarded and ultimately rescued in rue du Chatelier in Clermont.

Nearby, Bombardier Harry Hawes landed in a tree and was able to free himself. He hid his parachute and equipment under a pile of leaves and then started hiking. He carefully avoided groups of German soldiers and ended up spending the night in a barn.

2nd Lt. Harry Hawes
2nd Lt. Harry Hawes

The next morning he left the barn and followed a small road. He encountered a group of French people picking apples in a nearby orchard. He used his translation book to explain that he was an American and that his aircraft had been shot down while returning from a raid over Germany. He was told that Germany military were all over the area and that the only way to remain undetected was to to help them pick apples. Hawes put on worker's clothes and helped the locals to pick apples until late afternoon. He was then transported to the home of Gaston Legrand where he was reunited with his crew mate Oscar Hamblin.

Pilot Russell Faulkiner also landed in a nearby field. He hid his parachute and then began exploring the nearby woods. He encountered a French man who took him to a nearby village. However Faulkiner became suspicious of his hosts, and he escaped back to the woods that he had been exploring earlier. He reached Bresles after a few hours of walking and spent the night in a haystack.

1st Lt. Russel Faulkiner
1st Lt. Russel Faulkiner

The next morning he resumed his journey and again encountered some French people. It went better this time, and he was provided with civilian clothes and a warm meal. Gaston Legrand arrived the next morning, and Faulkiner was transported to Clermont where he was reunited with Hawes and Hamblin. They were later joined by William McLain, a Ball Turret Gunner from the B-17 Black Ghost. His aircraft had also been shot down during the same mission. The four airman developed a sincere friendship between themselves and the Legrand family.

On September 10th, Faulkiner, Hawes, and Hamblin left the Legrand home and were moved to the home of George Fleury, head of the Centre-Oise area of the OCM. They past through a network of French people until they reached the city of Chauny. They were then separated.

Faulkiner was given a train ticket and he joined a group of American and British escapers at the nearby Austerlitz station. They took the train to Foix and then took a bus to the foot of the Pyrenees. Three guides helped him to undergo the four day trek through the mountains towards Andorra. He was later transported by train to Barcelona, Madrid, and then finally to Gibraltar. Faulkiner took a plane from Gibraltar and finally landed in Bristol on October 29th.

Hawes and Hamblin remained together. They were provided with false papers stating that they were deaf and dumb. The two boarded a train in Toulouse, and it is reported that Hawes opened a newspaper that he had been given. A Frenchman quickly approached and turned over the newspaper that the airman had been holding upside down! The two airman took another train to Pamiers, and then boarded a bus that took them through the twisty mountains. They exited the mountains in Andorra and then moved on to Barcelona. They too traveled to Madrid, and then to Gibraltar. From Gibraltar Hawes and Hamblin boarded a plane to Portreath and landed on November 18th.

Faulkiner, Hawes, and Hamblin were all able to avoid the Germans and with the help of the French, return home. Holland, Pierce, Kirby Jr, Saperstein, Morley, Ruch, and Ross were captured by the Germans and held as POW's until the end of the war.

Merlin Models is proud to be producing a collectible replica of the Lucky Thirteen B-17F that these brave men flew during World War II. In partnership with restoration museum Hanger Thirteen, 25% of the profits from our project will go towards the restoration of the real Lucky Thirteen. Our replica will be launching as a super-early-bird pre-order through Kickstarter in April of 2024. This is your opportunity to get our deepest discounts!

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