|The Tail of a 109
And the man behind a piece of aviation history
I was recently fortunate to obtain a terrific item from the estate of a B-17 pilot. The item is an
original, wartime era painted swastika that was cut from the tail section of a downed Messerschmitt
Me-109. This page is dedicated to this historical item and the man behind the story, Col. Harry R.
Burrell. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to his daughter, D. Talbot, for taking the time to
share the story and information about her father, his military career and this terrific piece of aviation
history. The items shown here are permanent items in my collection and are NOT for sale.
The Messerschmitt Me 109 (Bf 109) was a World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt in the
early 1930s. It was one of the first true modern fighters of the era, including such features as an all-metal
monocoque construction, a closed canopy, and retractable landing gear.
The Me 109 was the standard fighter of the Luftwaffe for the duration of WWII, although it began to be partially
replaced by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 from 1942. The Me 109 scored more aircraft kills in World War Two than any
other aircraft. At various times it served as an air superiority fighter, an escort fighter, an interceptor, a
ground-attack aircraft and a reconnaissance aircraft. The Me 109 was produced in greater quantities than any other
fighter aircraft in history, with over 31,000 units built. Although the Me 109 had weaknesses, including a short
range of early variants around 400 miles (640 km) on internal fuel as drop tanks were not standardized until the E-7
model appearing in mid-1940, and a sometimes difficult to handle narrow, outward-retracting undercarriage, it
stayed competitive with Allied fighter aircraft until the end of the war.
The Me 109 was flown by the three top scoring fighter aces of World War II : Erich Hartmann, the top scoring
fighter ace of all time with 352 victories, Gerhard Barkhorn with 301 victories, and Günther Rall with 275 victories.
All of them flew with the Jagdgeschwader 52, chiefly on the Eastern front, a unit exclusively flying the Me 109
models and being credited with over 10,000 victories itself. Hartmann refused to fly any other airplane in combat
throughout the war. Hans-Joachim Marseille, "The Star of Africa" also flew the Me 109, and achieved all of his 158
victories on the Western Front, chiefly against Allied pilots in North Africa, including 17 aircraft shot down in a
The Man: Col. Harry R. Burrell, United States Army Air Corp
Colonel Harry R. Burrell was born July 15, 1918 in Omaha, Nebraska. During WWII, Col. Burrell
served as a B-17 pilot and bomb squadron commander in North Africa, an operations officer of a bomb
wing in Italy and an air inspector at Harvard Army Air Base in Nebraska. As a command pilot, he
completed 50 missions during WWII. He ultimately earned the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross
with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf clusters, a Presidential Unit citation and the
Air Force Outstanding Award. Among other units, Col. Burrell served with the 347th Bomb Squadron,
99th Bomb Group, 304th Bomb Wing of the 15th Air Force of the United States Army Air Corp.
Col. Burrell left active duty service in November of 1945 after having served his country with courage
and distinction. He was recalled to active duty service and was named chief of ground training for
Headquarters Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. In August of 1954, he was
selected to command the 3909th Air Base Group at Greenham Common Air Base in England.
In August of 1957, Col. Burrell returned to the United States to become deputy commander of the
4050th Air Refueling Wing, located at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. One year later he
assumed command of the entire wing. Col. Burrell was later re-assigned to Dow Air Force Base in
Maine to head the 4038th Strategic Wing, later designated as the 397th Bomb Wing. While stationed
at Dow Air Force Base, Col. Burrell was chosen to attend the Industrial College, a prestigious institute
that prepares military officers and civilian government officials to be national security leaders. Col.
Burrell passed away on June 24, 1966. He was buried will full military honors at Arlington National
Cemetery. He was 48 years old at the time of his passing. He should forever be remembered as a
symbol of courage, integrity and a source of national pride.
The piece of tail section was cut from a downed Me 109 by Col. Burrell, outside of Algeria, North
Africa in 1942. The piece of tail section has remained within the Burrell family until this year (2007).
It will forever be preserved as a piece of aviation history and a testament to the bravery of the men
from all nations who fought and died in the air.
Several color plates showing Me 109's in various
camouflage schemes. The photographs also clearly show
where the swastika or German national emblem was
painted on the tail of these aircraft.
Above: Wartime photographs in rare color, showing an Me 109 with a swastika/German national emblem painted on
the tail, very similar to the one in my collection. You can see how the swastika has a small white outline with a thin
black border around the white outline.
Below are links to numerous websites that are currently restoring or have already restored some of
these historic WWII aircraft. Visit the websites below and if you can, help them to keep these
majestic aircraft flying for the future generations to enjoy. By continuing to fly and remain in
restored condition, these historic aircraft pay a silent homage to the brave men who flew in defense of
their nations so many years ago.
Above: Several photographs showing the tail section from the downed Me 109. You can see the thin black border
around the white outline around the national emblem. Overall, the section of the Me 109 tail is in terrific
condition, well preserved with the original Luftwaffe colors still very much intact.
|He belonged to his silver glinted machine
that sliced hot airy stillness over North Africa
before he belonged to us.
He walked in wartime Italy
with that proud and stiff-necked gait
before he was ours.
He wore his Silver Star
And Presidential honors
with as much pride as he wore his eagles.
He was the children's. He clipped their ribbons
and threw out their baseballs
and clapped his hands for their dogs.
One morning his lightning-billed cap
did not hang on its darkwood coatrack
and his pipe was not dropped
into his huge glass ashtray.
He would sit no more in silver machines
nor walk in wartime countries nor
heft a ball at the children's park.
But the rhythmic clinking of the chain
that carried the flag to half staff
also carried the sound of people
Above: A poem written by an airman under the
command of Col. Harry R. Burrell. The poem was
written following the announcement of his passing.
Above: Original wartime photographs of Col. Harry R. Burrell. Above left, Col. Burrell sitting in the
command seat of his B-17. Above right shows Col. Burrell (third from the right) on the day of his
wedding. Below: Original photographs and documents related to the career of Col. Burrell. The
documents below attest not only to his courage and bravery, but also to the respect he received as a
leader from all of the men who served under his command. The papers reflect his true ability as a leader
and the qualities of a genuine war hero.
Col. Harry R. Burrell, circa WWII
Left: Colonel Faye R. Upthegrove - 99th Bomb Group Commander
from September, 1942 to November, 1943. The 99th flew 108
combat missions under Upthegrove. Col. Upthegrove is the
gentleman who wrote two of the documents shown above and
obviously held a very high opinion of Col. Burrell.
Insignia for the 347th
Bomb Group, circa WWII.
More to be added
A wartime photograph showing a 99th Bomb Group B-17 with a P-51 from the
325th Fighter Group "Checkertail Clan" providing escort. Note the "Y"
inside of the black diamond on the tail of the B-17. This was the group
insignia for all 99th Bomb Group B-17's.
Tail insignia for the 99th
15th Air Force shoulder
patch, circa WWII.
Medals from my collection, showing a representative example of just a few of the
medals awarded to Col. Burrell during his military career during WWII.
A member of the 98th Bomb Group,
holding two swastikas removed from
the tail of two German aircraft. The
98th Bomb Group, a heavy bomber
squadron flying B-24's began their
combat career in the Middle Eastern
theater. B-24s of the 98th Bomb
Group went on to fly the infamous
refinery raid over Ploesti, Romania.
This deadly raid earned it's Group
Commander, Col. John R. (Killer)
Kane, the Medal of Honor for his
leadership. On this raid, of 47 B-24s
launched, only 21 returned safely.
One crashed on takeoff with the loss
of all crew members except two. Six
aborted before reaching the target.
Seventeen went down in enemy
territory. Two went down at sea.