The Ice Jam That Was Cleared By a B-17 Bomber



In the dead of winter, on March 21, 1944, the residents of Miles City, Montana, awoke to a living nightmare: The town was in the path of the rising frozen waters of the Yellowstone River. Slush, freezing waters, and large chunks of ice forced the townspeople to flee their homes. Mayor L. S. Keye realized the town was certainly doomed if immediate action wasn’t taken, so he called in explosive experts from a nearby municipality. Hoping to break up the frozen river and save Miles City, two local pilots flew over the river in a small aircraft and dropped 50-pound homemade bombs on the frozen river. The ice jam didn’t budge. Desperate and out of options, Mayor Keye called the governor’s office and requested the inconceivable: “Send in the bombers.” Rapid City Army Air Base in South Dakota, just 225 miles away, volunteered a B-17 crew, and fusing and loading 250-pound bombs began immediately. As residents of Miles City watched in amazement, a lone B-17 broke through the heavy overcast to make a dummy bombing over the river. On its third pass, one bomb fell from the bomb bay and detonated right on target. With little movement of the ice jam, the B-17 came in for two more bomb runs, eventually releasing their entire load. Within seconds, a giant column of chunks of ice and waves of glacial water exploded skyward from the frozen river. The Yellowstone slowly receded and the town was saved. To show their appreciation, the townspeople paid for local motel rooms and treated the B-17 crew to a steak dinner. When the people awoke the next morning, the water levels of the Yellowstone had dropped more than 10 feet.