For Jack Davis and his crew things had gone wrong over the target. 1/Lt Eugene C. Frazier and 2/Lt John R. Lutz, who were flying right behind "the 8 Ball", in "Old Black Magic" and "The Duchess' Granddaughter", respectively, reported upon return at Molesworth that afternoon: "Their number three engine was hit by anti-aircraft gunfire and went out. The propeller was feathered at first, but soon started to windmill. The engine was smoking, but no flames were visible. Then the aircraft lost altitude and was unable to keep up with the formation, but appeared to be under control. "
What happened after the "moderate to intense and fairly accurate" anti-aircraft fire had hit "the 8 Ball" is best told by Nino Guiciardi, the bombardier:
"We were hit by flak just a few seconds after I had released the bombs. We were hit in the area of the number three engine and the landing gear The number three engine is the one next to the fuselage on the right side of the plane. The engine was demolished and so was the landing gear. As we continued our flight to try to get back to friendly territory the engine was giving us problems because the pilot could not feather the prop. He couldn't do that because we had also lost the hydraulics to that engine. We had what we called a windmilling prop which is a drag when not powered. After a while the shaft of the engine broke and the prop acted like a fly wheel out of balance. The pilot couldn't give the other engines enough power to maintain altitude because the plane would start to vibrate and cause rivets to pop where the wings were attached to the fuselage. The pilot put the plane into a glide angle just enough to maintain flying speed so that we could go as far as possible to try and get to friendly territory. As we were losing altitude and could not keep up with the group we saw two P-51s that stayed with us to protect us from enemy fighters as far as the vicinity of Arnhem. "
Jack Davis and Donald Kohlstedt were working frantically in the cockpit to get their crew back safely. The crew was jettisoning all excess equipment, guns, ammunition, etcetera; in order to lighten the plane and keep it in the air, if not as far as Molesworth, then at least as far as territory occupied by friendly forces. A month and a half ago the Arnhem area had witnessed the grim fight over the Rhine bridge between British and Polish paratroopers and German troops. After the Allied,, forces had to withdraw the Germans remained in control north of the Rhine river and, no doubt, Jack Davis wanted to try to get across this river and get as far south as possible, before landing or bailing out. Still, "the 8 Ball" was losing altitude, and was flying at an altitude ranging from 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet according to reports.
The two P-51 "Mustang" fighters escorting "the 8 Ball", mentioned by Nino Guiciardi in his account belonged to the 353rd Fighter Group based at Raydon. The after action report of this Group illustrates what happened:
"B-17 going down northeast of Arnhem, Holland. Nine chutes were seen to come out of this aircraft at about 3,000 feet at 1230 hours. Eight chutes opened and one did not."
Indeed, while crossing the IJssel river between Arnhem and Zutphen, Jack Davis had to give the bailout signal to his crew. Probably he had balanced the pros and cons of bailing out or making a belly landing in some Dutch field. However, he chose the first option. The plane kept losing altitude and the crew had to get out fast before the plane was flying too low.