The US Army Air Forces Accidentally Dropped Bombs on Boise City, Oklahoma

Photo Credit: ullstein bild / Getty Images
Photo Credit: ullstein bild / Getty Images

Accidents happen. Some, however, are far worse than others, such as mistakingly attacking one’s own country during a practice aerial bombing mission. As ridiculous as this may seem, it actually happened during the Second World War. On July 5, 1943, the residents of Boise City, Oklahoma awoke to bombs being dropped by aircraft flown by the US Army Air Forces.

US Army Air Corps training exercise

On July 4, 1943, a group of US airmen prepared for a training mission in a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, departing from Dalhart Army Air Base, Texas. They left after dark and were tasked with flying to Conlen, Texas and dropping their training bombs on a target marked with four lights – they never made it.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in flight
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. (Photo Credit: H. Armstrong Roberts / ClassicStock / Getty Images)

At roughly 12:30 AM on July 5, the airmen reached what they thought was their target. However, despite feeling confident in his navigational abilities, the navigator had gotten terribly lost, leading the crew 45 miles from their goal to the small city of Boise City, Oklahoma. The situation only got worse as the crew mistook the four lights surrounding the town square as the target awaiting them in Texas.

The accidental bombing of Boise City, Oklahoma

Believing they were in the right location, the airmen dropped their load. What ensued was chaos, as the residents of Boise City believed they were under attack by enemy aircraft. The “air raid” lasted around 30 minutes, and bombs were dropped on a garage, the Baptist church and onto streets. There were a few close calls, with the explosives almost hitting a parked fuel truck.

View of the Boise City Bomb Memorial
Memorial featuring a replica of one of the bombs that were accidentally dropped over Boise City, Oklahoma. (Photo Credit: Nate / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Fortunately, the air warden for the town, John Adkins, phoned the FBI‘s Oklahoma office just after the first bomb hit. During the call, he reported, “Boise City bombed [1:00 AM] Baptist church, garage hit.” Frank Garrett, who was in charge of the power for the city, was able to get to the master switch for the area’s lights, plunging residents into darkness.

It was after this that the B-17’s crew realized they weren’t over Texas. Of the incident, Maj. C.E. Lancaster, commanding officer for the Dalhart Army Air Base, said it was simply “a mistake of navigation.” Surprisingly, the residents of Boise City, while initially angry, later became excited that their home was the location of such an event.

Aftermath of the Boise City bombing

Fortunately, the bombing of Boise City occurred with little incident, and no one was hurt or killed. Since the B-17’s crew was on a training mission, they hadn’t been given bombs that would do significant damage, and were instead equipped with those carrying only four pounds of dynamite and 96 pounds of sand.

This was fortunate for the citizens of Boise City, as it meant the total cost to repair the damage caused was only $25. However, the crew didn’t get off quite as easy. The navigator who’d made the potentially fatal error was fired, and the remaining crew members were told they could either go directly to the front or be subject to court-martial.

Close-up of the plaque commemorating the bombing of Boise City
Plaque commemorating the accidental bombing of Boise City, Oklahoma. (Photo Credit: Ryan Lowery / Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

Following the incident, the crew of the B-17 went on to become one of the most decorated of the Second World War. They were chosen to lead 800 aircraft from the 8th Air Force during the first daylight air raid over Berlin in March 1944, and while serving on the front were awarded a number of citations and decorations.

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The residents of Boise City put the incident behind them and invited the B-17’s crew back to the town for the 50th anniversary of the incident. Unsurprisingly, they all declined, either due to poor health or out of embarrassment. The radio operator, however, did send a tape he made, which was played for the city’s residents.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.