Honoring a B-17 Crew OperatingOver FranceNoirmoutier, FranceJuly 4, 1943Robbin F. LairdRevised May 11, 2013
B-17s Flying Over FrancePhoto Credit: US National Archives
The Event• During a raid on Nazi installations in France on July4, 1943, a crew of a B-17 in route to an attack on NAZIsubmarine pens, crash landed on NoirmoutierIsland, France.• All 10 crew members survived to become prisoners of theThird Reich• The purpose of this briefing is to provide context tounderstand the role of the B-17 and what became knownas the Mighty 8th or 8th Air Force• And to Do So By Recovering a Sense of of What the WorldWas Like for a US Bomber Crew in 1943• And along the way there are a few lessons learned thenthat we are learning all over again
The Crew: From 92nd BG – 407thBomber Squadron• JJ CAMPBELL Pilot• HV STEPHENSON Co-pilot• BA KILGROW Jr. Bombardier• BP HEREFORD Jr. Navigator• RK RASDALL Ball Gunner• RH HETRICK Top Gunner• CD CHENOWETH Radio Operator• LM ARLINGTON Left gunner• JM GUYMON Right gunner• HL BURTON Tail gunner
92d BOMBARDMENT GROUP• Constituted as 92d Bombardment Group (Heavy) on 28 Jan 1942.Activated on I Mar 1942. Trained with B-17’s and performedantisubmarine duty.• Moved to England, Jul-Aug 1942, and assigned to Eighth AF. Flew afew combat missions in Sep and Oct 1942, then trainedreplacement crews.• Began bombardment of strategic objectives in May 1943 andengaged primarily in such operations throughout the war.• Targets from May 1943 to Feb 1944 included shipyards at Kiel, ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt, submarine installations atWilhelmshaven, a tire plant at Hannover, airfields near Paris, anaircraft factory at Nantes, and a magnesium mine and reducingplant in Norway.• Source: Air Force Combat Units of World War II, Office of Air ForceHistory, 1983.
Hermann Goering• Above all, I shall see to it that the enemy will not be able todrop any bombs.• — Hermann Goering, German Air Force Minister. Germanoriginal: "Vor allem werde ich dafur sorgen, dass der Feindkeint Bomben werfen Kann."• No enemy bomber can reach the Ruhr. If one reaches theRuhr, my name is not Goering. You may call me Meyer.• — Hermann Goering, German Air ForceMinister, addressing the German Air force, September 1939.• My Luftwaffe is invincible. . . . And so now we turn toEngland. How long will this one last — two, three weeks?• — Hermann Goering, German Air Force Minister, June 1940.
The Other Goering• “What the hell was Hermann Göring’s nephew doing piloting an American heavy bomber overGermany?” was a question military and civilian intelligence struggled with and prepared for, withextreme prejudice, if, and when the need arose.• Werner Goering couldn’t shake reminders of his famous uncle, Hermann W. Göring, head of theLuftwaffe and Adolf Hitler’s legal successor.• In the skies over the European theater, he did his best to reclaim the family name.• U.S. Army records confirm that Werner, a 21 year old “Mighty Eighth” Army Air Force captain inearly 1945, commanded 49 “Flying Fortress” combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe—wellbeyond the 30 sorties that then constituted a squadron lead-pilot’s tour of duty.• He could have gone home by Christmas of 1944, as most of his original crewmates did, but at thepeak of the bloody air war, Werner signed on for a second tour with the British based 303rdBombardment Group, “The Hell’s Angels,” one of America’s most storied warrior fraternities andthe single most active bomber group in the Army Air Force. He fought until the bitter end—to theMay 8, 1945, Nazi surrender.• Among a fistful of other medals, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the nations’highest military decorations, while quietly carrying the burden of his blood-soaked surnamethroughout the war and beyond. He battled the Nazi war machine in the war’s longest anddeadliest battle for Americans, was nearly assassinated by a suspicious U.S. government, and facedthe distrust of other officers.• http://www.commandposts.com/2012/03/why-was-herman-goering%E2%80%99s-nephew-piloting-an-american-heavy-bomber-over-germany/
The Critics are Always With Us• Upon observing an initial bombing run in August1942, the air correspondent for the SundayTimes, Peter Masefield, wrote that “American heavybombers are fine flying machines, but they are notsuited for bombing in Europe. Their bombs and bombloads are too small, their armor and armament arelow.”• Not content with this, he went on to advise theAmerican leaders that their planes were better suitedfor ASW duty.• Martin Bowman, B-17 Flying Fortress Units of the 8thAir Force (Osprey Publishing, 2000).
The Feel of 1943• America was engaged in a two front war, with the clearpublic priority for the war in the Pacific• But Roosevelt agreed with Churchill that the prioritywas the war against the Nazi empire• This was made possible by the improbable defeat ofJapan at the Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942• The other great event shaping a hope for rollback ofthe Axis powers was the capture of the 6th GermanArmy at Stalingrad at the beginning of 1943• And the surrender of the Afrika Corps in May 1943
The State of Play: 1943• 1943 was a tough year for the Flying Fortress. Formationsof bombers operated deep in Nazi territory without fighterescorts.• Until the P-51 “Mustang” showed up later in the war, bravebomber crews operating in daylight worked in formationsto fight off the Luftwaffe on the way to bombing runs andon the way back.• The bombing of Nazi forces and the support structuresthroughout Europe was intensified throughout Europe.• The Flying Fortress were frequent visitors to France andpart of the effort to destroy forward deployed Nazi forcesarrayed against the allies operating at sea and fromEngland.
July 1943 Proved a Decisive Month• The largest tank battle in history was fought and wonby the Russians against the Germans in early July 1943• The allied invasion of Sicily begun on July 10, 1943• Mussolini was overthrown by the Italians on July25, 1943• And the largest firestorm bombing in history until thedropping of the atomic bombs on Japan occurred witha joint US-British massive bombing assault on Hamburgwhich began on July 24, 1943 and the fires wouldcontinue in Hamburg until October 1943
July 4, 1943• Independence day 1943 marked the firstanniversary of the Eight Air Force bomberoperations from the UK.• The occasion was marked by a three-prongedassault in force with 192 1st Wing Forts visitingaircraft works at Le Mans and Nantes while 83from 4th Wing went down to La Pallice.• Roger A. Freedman, The Mighty Eighth(London: Cassell and Co, 1970).
Action on July 4, 1943• The report that day on the bombing activities of the 8thAir Force:– 8th Bomber Command Mission 71: 192 B-17s aredispatched against aircraft factories at Le Mans andNanes, France; 166 make a very effective attack; US claims52-14-22 Luftwaffe aircraft; US loses 7 with 1 damagedbeyond repair and 53 others damaged; casualties are 1KIA, 9 WIA and 70 MIA.– 83 other B-17s are dispatched against submarine yards atLa Pallice, France; 71 hit the target between 1201 and1204 local; US claims 0-1-0 Luftwaffe aircraft; US loses 1and 1 is damaged; casualties are 10 MIA. Bombing isextremely accurate.
The Ruthie in the Raid• One of the Fortresses raiding the S.N.C.A aircraftfactory at Nantes was Ruthie of the 326th Bomber Sqdnwhich was a unit recently re-established in the 92ndgroup after acting as the bomber CCRC nucleus .• Just after bombing, this fortress was hit by cannon firepuncturing two fuel tanks and wrecking the hydraulicsystem and flaps.• A 20-mm cannon shell, piercing the floor between thetwo waist gunners, exploded in the radio roomwrecking equipment.• Another shell hit the ball turret seriously wounding SgtRichard O Gettys in the groin, chest and face.
The Ruthie in the Raid (2)• The turret was still partially serviceable and though failing instrength, Gettys continued firing his guns until he collapsed. The tailgunner was also wounded 1/ LT Robert L Campbell flew Ruthie (namedafter his wife) home to Alconbury.• An SOS was flashed by lamp to the formation leader asking him to notifybase of Ruthie’s difficulties.• Campbell said afterwards , “When I started to land I discovered we had aflat tire. I held her on the runway as long as I could and then whirled heraround in front of the control tower, but she stayed up.”• Ruthie was only fit for salvage.• They gave ball gunner Gettys the DSC and Campbell another Fort on whichhe bestowed the name Ruthie II . This Fortress was destined to becomethe vehicle of one of the most heroic actions in the annals of the EighthAir Force.
July 14, 1943• July 14th Bastille Day was marked by threeFlying Fortresses attacks in France. A factoryat Villacoublay was hit by 101, while theLuftwaffe base at Amiens received the wrathof fifty-three B-17s, and another fifty-twobombed Le Bourget Luftwaffe base outsideParis.”• Bill Yenne, B-17 at War (Zenith Press, 2006).
What It Felt Like (July 1943)• The Major hesitated before answering andstudied a large chart on the wall crowded withnames. “See that chart? That’s the combat roster.We’ve been here sixty days, and so far we’ve losta hundred and one percent of our combatpersonnel.”• Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: TheStory of 25 Combat Missions Over Europe Fromthe Daily Journal of a B-17 Gunner (p. 2). JohnComer. Kindle Edition.
“Consider Yourself Already Dead”• As one Fortress gunner described the bombingrun against Le Bourget on August 16, 1943:• “Soon after daylight the formation was crossingthe gray-green water of the English Channel. Myanxiety and tension mounted, as I knew wewould face the fierce German fighters, for on thisclear day we would invade the lair of Goering’sbest. The veterans had made certain we knewwhat usually happened to new crews on theirfirst meeting with Jerry. They were not expectedto come back — it was as simple as that.”
Preparing for Action• It was July 1943, and it was all coming to a head for us quite soon now.What would it be like? Could we handle it?• After only ten days of orientation in England, I knew we needed moregunnery practice. The truck slowed down and I saw we were approachingour destination.• All day I had been dreading that moment. Most likely the base would beone of those hard-luck outfits who regularly lost high percentages of theiraircraft.• The worst of all was the 100th Group. Please! Not that unlucky snake-bitcommand!• But logic indicated that the depleted groups would need morereplacement crews like us, who had been hurriedly trained and rushed tothe 8th Air Force to cover the heavy losses• Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: The Story of 25 Combat MissionsOver Europe From the Daily Journal of a B-17 Gunner (p. 1). John Comer.Kindle Edition.
First Mission• There was no time for a briefing on the target before takeoff. As soon as we weresettled down in the formation Gleichauf came on intercom: “Pilot to crew, Pilot tocrew — we’re heading for Kiel in northern Germany.• There are several hundred fighters in the area and you can expect a hot reception.• Be ready for attacks halfway across the North Sea. This is your first mission — nowdon’t get excited an’ let ’em come in on us!”• The formation was far better than I expected. Hour after hour we droned on. Itwould not be long now: if only we could be lucky enough to get by this one!• The way Gleichauf was holding tight formation, I hoped the fighters would not pickus out to be a new crew. Of course I was keyed up to a high pitch and I wondered ifI would forget what little I knew about aerial gunnery in the excitement of the firstfighter attacks.• Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: The Story of 25 Combat Missions OverEurope From the Daily Journal of a B-17 Gunner (pp. 14-15). John Comer. KindleEdition.
On the Way Back• Then, on the way home, some Focke-Wulfs showed up, armed withrockets, and I saw three B-I7s in the different groups around ussuddenly blow up and drop through the sky. Just simply blow upand drop through the sky.• Nowadays, if you come across something awful happening, youalways think, My God, its just like a movie, and thats what Ithought. I had a feeling that the planes werent really falling andburning, the men inside them werent really dying, and everythingwould turn out happily in the end. Then, very quietly through theinterphone, our tail gunner said, Im sorry, sir, Ive been hit.’• I crawled back to him and found that hed been wounded in theside of the head - not deeply but enough so he was bleeding prettybad. Also, hed got a lot of the plexiglas dust from his shatteredturret in his eyes, so he was, at least for the time being, blind.
On the Way Back (2)• Though he was blind, he was still able to use his hands, and Iordered him to fire his guns whenever he heard from me.• I figured that a few bursts every so often from his fifties would keepthe Germans off our tail, and I also figured that it would give the kidsomething to think about besides the fact that hed been hit.• When I got back to the nose, the pilot told me that our No. 4 enginehad been shot out. Gradually we lost our place in the formation andflew nearly alone over France.• Thats about the most dangerous thing that can happen to a lameFort, but the German fighters had luckily given up and we skimmedover the top of the flak all the way to the Channel."• http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/b17.htm
1942 and the Battle of The Atlantic• By the time the B-17s reached the UK in 1942, an absolute priority wasattacking the U-Boats disrupting the maritime lifeline to the island nation.• 500 allied ships were sunk in the first half of 1942; and only 21 U-Boats• The Admiralty had tasked a small civilian company working with the RAFto develop radar to track U-Boats• And after they had done so these civilians became the first ever to supportthe military on operations research and to develop new concepts ofoperations to attack the U-boats• The first success was by a Wellington bomber attacking U-boats on July13, 1942• The impact was to drive the U-boats to a new “air gap” zone South ofGreenland• The main bomber used were the B-24s with the B-17s largely used toattack the support infrastructure for the U-boats
The Air Strikes in Support of the Battleof the Atlantic• Until the advent of the Very-Long-Range [VLR] aircraft [B-24 “Liberator”+, Germansubmarines operated with relative impunity in the “Gap”! Either as individualboats or as part of a “wolf-pack”, could attack allied convoys and wreaktremendous damage, unafraid of attack from the air. This problem was most acuteat night, all advantage in this case being to the U-boat.The B-24, equipped with centimeter radar, able to drop bombs and depthcharges, had a devastating effect upon the German U-boat service, both night andday, clear weather and inclement. The period known to the German mariner as“Black May” *1943+ was due - - in large measure - - to the VLR aircraft."The B-24 made a massive contribution to Allied victory in the Battle of theAtlantic against German U-boats . . . The Very Long Range (VLR) Liberators almostdoubled the reach of Britains maritime reconnaissance force. This added rangeenabled Coastal Command patrols to cover the Mid-Atlantic gap, where U-boatshad operated with near impunity."• http://militarythoughts.blogspot.com/2008/06/this-is-coolbert-gap-it-was-known-by_18.html
Bay of Biscay (2)• During the summer of 1943 Coastal Command undertook a campaign todestroy U-boats transiting the Bay of Biscay on their way to or from theAtlantic.• The submarines were additionally forced to remain submerged at night aswell as by day, which was bad for morale, and reduced operation time by 5days.• On 30 July, in one of the most dramatic encounters of the BiscayCampaign, the outbound submarines U 461, U 462, and U 504 weresighted and sunk. U 461 by Sunderland "U" of 461 Squadron RAAF, U 462by Halifax "S" of 502 Squadron RAF, and U 504 by the sloops of CaptainWalkers legendary 2nd Escort Group.• Not only had three U-boats been sunk in one action, but U 461 and U 462were both "Milchkuh", "milk cow", submarine tankers, badly needed tomaintain the long-distance operations the U-boat Arm now wished toexpand.• http://www.war-experience.org/history/keyaspects/atlantic/pagethree.asp
Air Strikes Against the U-Boat Transit• FOR THE GREATER PART of the war, the main operationalbases for the German U-boats were situated in the FrenchAtlantic ports where, sheltered beneath many feet ofconcrete, they were immune from bombing attacks. But toreach the Allied shipping lanes from these bases they hadto cross the Bay of Biscay. By the middle of August 1943they were managing this only by remaining submergedthroughout almost the whole passage and by creeping inand out close to the north-west corner of Spain, thuskeeping as far as possible from the air patrols flown fromthe south-west of England.• http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-2Epi-c4-WH2-2Epi-a.html
La Rochelle / La Pallice, France• From September 1940 La Pallice was the alternativebase for the Italian Betasom submarines (the mainbase of operations being Bordeaux). The 3rd Flotillatook over the base on October 27, 1941.• In April 1941 the German Command decided to buildalso a bunker in La Pallice. The first two pens werefinished in October 1941.• The U-boat bunker was 195 m wide, 165 m long and19m high. The first U-boat in the bunker was U-82 onNovember 19, 1941. Then followed U-332 (16thDecember) and U-432 (24th December).
From August 16, 1943 Raid Against LeBourget• “As we taxied out to become part of a longprocession of B-17s waddling along the taxistrip, I stood up on an ammo box to let my headget above the radio room roof. I saw along, ambling line of Forts proceeding likehuge, drab prehistoric birds that made screechingcries as the brakes were constantly applied tokeep them on the taxi strip. It was anotherwordly scene in the dim light just atsunrise.”• Brian D. O’Neill, Half a Wing, Three Engines and aPrayer (New York: McGraw Hill, 1999).
A December 1943 Raid• Joseph Hallock was a twenty-two-year-old first lieutenant serving as thebombardier aboard "Ginger" a B-17 flying out of its base north of London.• My first raid was on December thirty-first, over Ludwigshaven. Naturally, notknowing what it was going to be like, I didnt feel scared.• A little sick, maybe, but not scared. That comes later, when you begin tounderstand what your chances of survival are.• Once wed crossed into Germany, we spotted some flak, but it was a good longdistance below us and looked pretty and not dangerous: different-colored puffsmaking a soft, cushiony-looking pattern under our plane.• A bombardier sits right in the plexiglas nose of a Fort, so he sees everything neatlylaid out in front of him, like a living-room rug. It seemed to me at first that Idsimply moved in on a wonderful show. I got over feeling sick, there was so muchto watch.• We made our run over the target, got our bombs away, and apparently did a goodjob. Maybe it was the auto-pilot and bomb sight that saw to that, but Im sure Iwas cool enough on that first raid to do my job without thinking too much about it.
The Role of the B-17• The B-17 was the American response to the U-Boat assault on the Atlantic bridge. While the U-boats attacked the American resupply of theallies in the United Kingdom, the Flying Fortresstook the fight deep into Nazi Germany.• And it was the American way of taking the war toGermany and to German forces in Europe. Whatbecame the Mighty 8th was the second front priorto North Africa or Normandy.
The B-17 as a Fleet• The aircraft was rugged, well fortified and able toland in some cases with three engines or less.• Battle damage photos are truly amazing of planescoming back with major parts of the aircraftmissing.• But it was designed to operate as a fleet and information flying to provide for the ability toprotect and defend the planes engaged in themission.
Fleet Operations: Challenges• De-confliction of airspace was a basic problem which was difficult tomanage– There were mid-air collisions– There was fratricide by fire when B-17 gunners were attacking enemy fighters• This was severely aggravated by low visibility conditions or nightoperations– Pilots detested the severe risks of collisions or mishaps because B-17formations were not really suitable for night flights.( Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: The Story of 25 Combat Missions Over Europe From theDaily Journal of a B-17 Gunner (p. 216). John Comer. Kindle Edition.)• Enemy fighters aimed to create havoc in the fleet formations• The high-low stacks within the formation meant that the high stackespecially suffered from dealing with very low temperatures, but copingwith cold was a core problem facing crews throughout missions
The B-17 "All American" (414th Squadron, 97BG) flown by Lieutenant Kendrick R.Bragg, its tail section almost severed by a collision with an enemy fighter, flew 90minutes back to its home base, landed safely and broke in two after landing
Attacking Big B: February 3, 1945• “Over one thousand Fortresses would take part. The Americanbombers would be escorted by more than 900 P-51 Mustangs andP-47 Thunderbolts. The target was the center of Berlin – morespecifically Gestapo headquarters, the Reich Chancellery, theGerman Air Ministry….”• “The massive American air rad was the worst yet for Germany; thebombers dropped almost twenty-three hundred tons of bombs onthe city of Berlin. For nearly two solid hours, the German capitalwas pounded by wave after wave of American bombers.”• When the first American bomber hit Berlin, the last bomber in theformation was just over Holland.• Travis L. Ayres, The Bomber Boys (New York: NAL Caliber, 2005).
Diversity of Concepts of Operations• Daylight Strategic Precision Bombing from the UK• Bombing Deep Within Germany for StrategicEffect• Tactical Bombing Support for Preparation for D-Day• When Italian Bases were Established TargetedFuel Facilities Supporting the German WarMachine• Shuttle bombing missions to support Soviettactical operations, on the way back, andstrategic targets on the way to Russia
Operation Frantic (2)• U.S. 15 Air Force bombers and fighters based in Italy would bombtargets in the East, land in Russia, refuel & rearm, and then hitanother target on the way back.• 8th Air Force bombers based in the UK did the same.• The Soviets provided three bases in the Ukraine; heavy bombers atPoltava and Mirgorod and the fighters at Piryatin.• The Fifteenth Air Force flew its first mission on 2 June 1944 when130 B-17 Flying Fortresses, escorted by 70 P-51 Mustangs, bombedthe rail yards at Debreczen, Hungary.• The Eighth Air Force flew its first mission on 21 June when 123 B-17s bombed the Schwartzhelde synthetic oil plant at Ruhland, southof Berlin and 21 attacked the Elsterwerda industrial area.
Operation Frantic (3)• But, unknown to the Americans, a Luftwaffe He-177followed the B-17s to the Russian base at Poltava and aftermidnight Luftwaffe aircraft attacked and destroyed 43 B-17s and damage 26.• Frantic flights continued into September with success, butthe June 21st attack by the Luftwaffe on Poltava hadrevealed the Achilles heal of the operation.• The Soviets lacked radar working with an organized airdefense with night fighters to defend the bases, and theywould not turn that role over to the Americans. That madethe operation too risky and it was discontinued.• But, despite some prickly spots, it marked the high point ofEast-West direct co-operation during World War II
B-17 Variants• The B-17 evolved over time to correctdeficiencies and to add capabilities as theLuftwaffe changed tactics to attack the heavybomber formations.• The normal path for combat airpower is toevolve over time, to overcome problems or towork more effectively in concepts ofoperations, and war is an interactive deadlygame which requires technical adaptation.
The Coming of the B-17• The United States in the 1930s was much likenow. Even more so than now, the US was areluctant investor in new military technologies.• Past is Prologue For Many Decision-Makers andFunders of Military Equipment; But the Future isAlways Coming and Requiring Change.• When the Army Air Corps held a competition fora bomber, the B-17 lost among many other thingsbecause it was in the words of a seniorDepartment of War official “too much of a planefor one man to handle.”
The Coming of the B-17 (2)• The B-17 won the initial fly off• And the Army Air Corps ordered 65 even beforethe competition was over• But on the second flight the plane crashed andthe B-17 was formally excluded from competitionbecause it had crashed (due to pilot error)• Douglas B-18 Bolo was the eventual winner, andthe Army ordered 133 of these less capableplanes.
B-17 CrashOctober 30, 1935; B-17 crashes on take-off from Wright Field, Ohio, due tolocked control surfaces, killing early military aviator and test pilot Maj. PloyerPeter Hill.
The Coming of the B-17 (3)• Although opinion in the AAF placed special stresson strategic bombardment as the prime missionof an air force, the dominant view in the WarDepartment General Staff was officially stated aslate as October 1938 in these terms: "the InfantryDivision continues to be the basic combatelement by which battles are won, the necessaryenemy field forces destroyed, and capturedterritory held."http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/VI/AAF-VI-6.html).
The Coming of the B-17 (4)• There were significant doctrinal differences beyond a ground-centric focus• There were bomber versus fighter advocates– E.g. Chennault on the priority of pursuit over bombardment– In 1938, “The War Department decided that the funds earmarked forthe purchase of the first 67 B-17s could buy as many as 300 attackaircraft….Consequently, the purchase of B-17Cs, already on order, waspostponed beyond June 1940.”(Bernard C. Nalty, The US Army AirForces in World War II (Honolulu, Hawaii, University Press of thePacific, 2005).– Which led in part to downplaying how the two capabilities might beeffective combined elements for operations• The USN saw bombers as useful for coastal defense but not formaritime operations– CNO Admiral King argued that the Navy was responsible for all airoperations out of sight of land
But the Bomber Remained in Play• Maj. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois, then chief of the Air Corps endorsedthe recommendation of one of his field commanders to procure atleast a few of the B-17s for an operating squadron to conductadvanced aeronautical tests.• The War Department approved an Air Corps contract with Boeing inJanuary 1936 for thirteen of the aircraft fitted with superchargersand other equipment for high-altitude flight.• In spite of losing the competition and crashing, Brigadier GeneralAugustine Warner Robins, chief of the Air Material Commandbelieved in the plane.• He persuaded the War Department to buy 13 of the planes underthe experimental provisions of Section K of the National DefenseAct (1926).
Remaining in Play (2)• At the same time, General Frank M.Andrews, commander of the GeneralHeadquarters (Army) Air Force weighed in withhis support.• 13 test models of the Flying Fortress receivedfunding.• At the same time, Hitler decided against theLuftwaffe developing or buying a medium heavybomber.• By a thread, history was being made by twodifferent decisions in Berlin and Washington.
How It Was Bought• The Statute that shaped the way for the procurement of aircraftwas the Air Corps Act of 1926. The Act provided for competitionamong designs and encouraged aircraft development.• It also permitted the Secretary of War to buy experimental aircraftat his discretion and without competition and to award to thelowest responsible bidder in a competition.• The Act also established policy for different types ofcontracts, including making cost-plus percentage of cost contractsillegal. It encouraged the use of cost-plus incentive type contracts inorder to accommodated design changes• Major Nannette Benitez, World War II Production: Why Were the B-17 and B-24 Produced in Parallel? Air Command and StaffCollege, March 1997.
Context for Acquisition in the 1930s• As early as 1937, the 2nd Bombardment Group was equipped withB-17s, using them to perfect techniques of high-altitude, long-distance bombing.• Since the only foreseeable use of such a capability was the defenseof the nations shores from enemy fleets, the U.S. Navy fiercelyopposed the Armys development of the four-engine bomber. Byway of a compromise the Army ordered 39 more B-17Bs.• The Air Corps air doctrine envisioned large formations of fast, high-flying B-17 bombers, defending themselves against enemy fighterswith their own massed machine-gun fire.• Fighter escort was considered impractical, and even undesirable bythe bomber advocates. In a way, any admission that fighter escortwas necessary would imply that enemy fighters posed a real threatand that the Flying Fortresses were not invulnerable.• http://acepilots.com/planes/b17.html
The Importance of Leadership• The Boeing Company was Central to the Gamble toBuild the B-17• The Boeing leadership literally bet the future of thecompany on what would become the B-17 as didseveral of its test pilots with their lives• And airpower advocates in the Army Air Corpscultivated leaders who would become central to theWar Effort– E.g. Col. Frank Andrews, core advocate of strategicbombing brought General George Marshall to the Boeingplant in 1938 and Marshall learned first hand why the B-17was the priority not the B-18
The Roosevelt Administration and TheComing of the B-17• At the urging of the War Department, Congress in June1936 authorized the Air Corps to increase its strength tothe 2,320 aircraft that the Drum and Baker Boards hadrecommended, but the administration refused to budgetenough money in fiscal 1937 to begin the process• Purchase of B-17 Cs was put on the back burner in 1938 infavor of “restricted to that class of aviation designed for theclose support of ground troops and the protection of thattype of aircraft”-in effect attack aircraft, fighters, and twin-engine bombers.• Enter Munich and Roosevelt recommends in November1938 an Air Corps of 20,000 planes and an• industry capable of producing 24,000 planes a year.
Plus Cą Change• Air Corps officials did not wish to risk irritating congressmen, who seemedinclined to judge air defense in terms of numbers of aircraft on hand ratherthan in terms of quality, performance, or tactical suitability.• An episode in April 1937 will illustrate this tendency. The chairman of theAppropriations Subcommittee that handled War Department estimatesadmitted to the House that he had no great familiarity with militarymatters.• Nevertheless, he recorded his protest against the "unwise" tendency in theair arm to build larger and more expensive bombers such as the Boeing B-17.120 Less than two months later the effect of this type of criticismbecame evident. The estimates for fiscal year 1938 called for 177 B-18twin-engine bombers and 13 B-17 four-engine bombers.• After operational tests by tactical units, the GHQ Air Force "stronglyrecommended" that only the B-17 be procured. To buy the more expensivebomber, however, would be to buy fewer bombers.
Plus Cą Change (2)• In the face of congressional criticism, Air Corps officersfelt it was "impractical" to do so unless the Secretary ofWar was personally willing to "accept the responsibilityto Congress" for decreasing the total number of aircraftin the 1938 budget.• Estimates for the four-engine bombers were thusdeferred until fiscal year 1939. As a consequence the B-17 units, considered vital to the nations defense, werenot procured until the crisis had already arrived.• Irving Brinton Helley, Jr. Buying Aircraft: MaterielProcurement for the Army Air Forces (Washington DC:Center for Military History, 1989).
B-18s Versus B-17s• The War Department Insisted on B-18s VersusB-17s• B-18s were underpowered and inadequatelyarmed and were replaced as the fortunes ofwar determined the outcome – B-17s and B-24s were the wartime bombers• “The B-18 was, as a practical matter, obsoletewhen it left the assembly line.”• But it was cheaper!
And the B-18 at War• After Pearl Harbor, the B-18 was pressed into service asa major asset in Hawaii• “We were told that there were three B-18s flyable andwe would take off and find the Jap fleet. I was scared.I thought of my slim chances of coming out of thisflight alive should we run into some Jap fighters. Hell!They’d blow us right out of the sky in the these veryvulnerable B-18s.”• Comment from then Private Schaeffer as quoted inGene Eric Salecker, Fortress Against the Sun (CombinedPublishing, 2001), p. 54.
Why No Upsurge in B-17 Buys?• The evidence available indicates that the failureof the air arm to present its best case to Congressarose in part from the position of the Air Corpswithin the War Department.• “…It was repeatedly asserted that advances in airstrength were desirable but not advisable if suchgains could only be made at the expense of otherarms and services.• Irving Brinton Helley, Jr. Buying Aircraft: MaterielProcurement for the Army Air Forces (WashingtonDC: Center for Military History, 1989).
The B-17 Started as Pacific Asset• The B-17 was part of the Pearl Harbor and Philippine kick-offs to World War II• It was the B-17 anticipated landings in Pearl Harbor onDecember 7th that confused American airmen about the airtraffic identified early on December 7th• And the largest contingent of B-17s was on the Philippinesfor the defense of the island against the Japanesethreatened invasion• There were 107 P-40 Tomahawk fighters and 35 B-17bombers were in place in the Philippines at the time of theJapanese attack• The first Japanese Zero shot down by a US aircraft was by aB-17
The B-17 in Defense of the Philippines• The B-17 was sent to the Philippines by Arnold and Marshall for thelong-range defense of the US forces in the Philippines• To bolster the air arm in the Philippines, in July, Major GeneralHenry ‘Hap H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, proposedreinforcing the Philippine Army Air Corps by sending four heavybombardment groups and 2 pursuit squadrons to the Philippines.General George C. Marshall, United States Army Chief ofStaff, echoed this concern when on 1 December he stated, "We mustget every B-17 to the Philippines as soon as possible." However, bythe time hostilities broke out 6 days later, only 107 P-40 Tomahawkfighters and 35 B-17 bombers were in place in the Philippines.• http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/macarthursfailures.aspx
A Reality Check• November 1941: General Marshall as confident that the B-17s in the Philippines could easily fend of any Japaneseattack and set “the paper cities of Japan” ablaze• Small problem: the B-17s had NEVER trained for such amission• Meanwhile, Major General Brereton, the newly designatedAir Commander of the Philippine Air Forces had a differentview– With only one airfield he believed the B-17s were extremelyvulnerable to elimination by attack from the air– Which of course turned out to be the case– Amazingly, in spite of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the B-17s werecaught on the ground a day later and in a 45 minute attack ClarkField was ruble
Preparation• General Brereton flew to Clark field on December6th to plan a potential bombing mission ataingsFormosa should war break out• Because of lack of military intelligence the planwas to attack Takao Harbor based on assumptionof presence of Japanese transports and warships.• Exercise was planned for December 8th for theentire 19th Bomber Group• Unfortunately, the Japanese had real war plansand real military intelligence
A Defining Moment• In response to the attack on the Philippines, a single B-17 attacked aJapanese capital ship and severly damaged it• On the way back a pack of zero fighters pursued it and assumedfrom the amount of gunfire and its speed that the single plane wasmany more• As a Japanese pilot involved in the destruction of that B-17commented: “This was our first experience with the B-17 and theairplane’s unusual size caused us to midjudge our firing distance. Inaddition, the bomber’s extraordinary speed, for which we hadmade no allowance, threw our range finders off.”• “We had never heard of unescorted bombers in battle.”• Gene Eric Salecker, Fortress Against the Sun (CombinedPublishing, 2001), p. 71 and 66.
But the B-17 Was Not Used Correctly• MacArthur as Army Chief of Staff Clearly Considered the Army Air Corps asan extension of the ground forces and as a fairly limited coastal defenseforce• He was at the forefront of resisting the formation of an independent airarm and forcefully underscored that aviation could not independentlyinfluence the outcome of war• And when his chance came to use the B-17s to strike Japanese airpoweron Formosa, in spite of several hours of fog which kept the Japanese onthe ground, did not send the B-17s to do the one mission which they couldhave done, namely to bomb the Japanese aircraft on the ground inFormosa• Would MacArthur have changed his views if there were enough B-17s inthe fleet to demonstrate the “theory” of strategic bombing or of having an“independent effect”?• The aircraft was procured as an experiment and was considered by manyto be just that and not an essential element of the American warfightingcapabilities
MacArthur Left the Philippines on a B-17• MacArthur and his family and his staff left thePhilippines for Australia aboard a B-17
The Nose Section• This is a B-17E model. It does not show the gun on theother side. The navigator fired both guns depending onthe direction of the attack. The bombardier’s gun firedforward. In the later G model both side guns wereremoved and two guns mounted in a chin turret underthe bombardier’s position. The platform where theNorden Sight was carried in combat can be plainly seendirectly in front of the bombardier’s seat.• Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: The Story of25 Combat Missions Over Europe From the DailyJournal of a B-17 Gunner (p. 17). John Comer. KindleEdition.
The Cockpit• The two seats for the pilots can be seen clearly. Behindthem the flight engineer stood in the top turret. Thetwo turret guns were fired by a Sperry ComputingSight, which automatically compensated for lead andall other aiming factors if it was tracked smoothly and ifthe wing length of the fighter was properly set into thesight. The door seen at the rear opened into the bombbay. Access to the nose section was a constricted spaceunder the pilots’• Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: The Story of25 Combat Missions Over Europe From the DailyJournal of a B-17 Gunner (p. 17). John Comer. KindleEdition.
The Radio Room• You can see the radio operator’s work table at right front (right sideof the picture). The door at that point opened into the bomb bay.The door to the rear (left side of the picture) opened into the rearof the aircraft, called the waist.• Since this is an early drawing the radio gun is not shown. It wasmounted in an open hatch about five feet long and two feet wide.This created an enormous draft super-frigid air gushing through likea storm.• Imagine working a radio wireless key with the air temperature 50below zero. The later G model enclosed the hatch space with clearplastic with the gun mounted into it. That saved many R.O.s fromfreezing injuries• Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: The Story of 25 CombatMissions Over Europe From the Daily Journal of a B-17 Gunner (p.23). John Comer. Kindle Edition.
The Bomb Bay• Note the narrow catwalk down the middle of the bay. Thetwo vertical supporting beams in the center of the walkcreated a narrow space that caused the crew men all kindsof trouble trying to squeeze through it due to their bulkyhigh-altitude clothing and the combat gear they all wore.There was not enough space to get through it wearing achute, so when bombs malfunctioned we had to work onthat walk without a chute knowing that if we lost ouroxygen supply we could tumble out into the air. The bomb-bay doors down below would open at a weight under 75pounds.• Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: The Story of 25Combat Missions Over Europe From the Daily Journal of aB-17 Gunner (pp. 17-23). John Comer. Kindle Edition.
The Waist and Tail• The door at the front of the waist opened into the radio room. Just behindthis door the ball turret was hung with about two-thirds of the turretsuspended below the aircraft where the worst of the flak burst.• The gun that can be seen is mounted in an open window. With two suchopenings the wind storm was terrific, causing countless freezingcasualties.• The later G model closed the two windows with clear plastic and mountedthe guns through the thick plastic.• This cut back on frostbite, but the waist guns were no longer as effectiveas the earlier open window mountings.• The tail position was, as you can see, quite crowded. It was so deadly tofighters that they did not attack us very often from the rear.• Comer, John (2012-01-05). Combat Crew: The Story of 25 Combat MissionsOver Europe From the Daily Journal of a B-17 Gunner (p. 23). John Comer.Kindle Edition.
The Luftwaffe (2)• The Germans captured at least one B-17 Flying Fortress. Operated by the KG 200 special Luftwaffeunit, it was perhaps intended to be used for long range reconnaissance. Instead, it was flown by itsLuftwaffe crew to Spain in 1944 where it (and they) were interned by the Spanish government.• This B-17F-27-BO (41-24585; PU-B) was crash-landed near Melun, France by a crew from the 303dBombardment Group on December 12, 1942 and repaired by Luftwaffe ground staff.• The Germans also captured a B-24 Liberator bomber, which was for some reason flown to join anAllied B-24 raid in February 1945:• On a February 1945 741st BS mission against Vienna, "Before reaching the target, a phantom B-24joined our formation.…The P-51s [of the Tuskegee Airmen] came in and over the radio…the Germanphantom pilot said he was from the 55th Wing and got lost. But the 55th Wing wasnt flying thatday and the plane had no tail markings. The fighter pilot squadron leader gave him some burstsfrom his guns and warned the phantom to turn back. He added, You will be escorted. The Germanpilot replied that he could make it alone. The P-51 pilot said: You are going to be escorted whetheryou want it or not. Youre going to have two men on your tail all the way back and dont try to landin Yugoslavia.…The phantom left with his escort and we heard nothing further from the event.”• http://borepatch.blogspot.com/2011/03/luftwaffes-b-17.html
BQ-17 and Its Relatives• The B-17 was converted to a drone and used to monitor atomicweapons explosions and their effects;• Aphrodite and Anvil were the World War II code names of UnitedStates Army Air Forces and United States Navy operations to use B-17 and PB4Y bombers as precision-guided munitions againstbunkers such as those of Operation Crossbow.• The plan called for B-17 aircraft which had been taken out ofoperational service – various nicknames existed such as"robot", "baby", "drone" or "weary Willy”– to be loaded to capacitywith explosives, and flown by radio control into bomb-resistantfortifications such as German U-boat pens and V-weapon sites• The 3205th Drone Group operated obsolete aircraft during the1950s as radio-controlled drones as aerial targets for various tests.It was the primary post-World War II operator of surplus B-17GFlying Fortress aircraft.
Drones (2)• Many surplus B-17s ended their lives as remotely-controlled drones. During the war, a few war-weary B-17s(mainly Fs) were used as remotely-controlled bombs for attacks against heavily-defended German targets. Thedesignation BQ-7 was applied to these conversions.• The first peacetime use of drone Fortresses was as unmanned aircraft that would fly near or even throughmushroom clouds during atomic tests. In May of 1946, sixteen B-17s were withdrawn from stores for conversioninto drones with the addition of radio, radar, television, and other equipment. Six other Fortresses were convertedas drone controllers. Most of the work was performed by the San Antonio Air Depot at Kelly Field in Texas. Thefirst of these nuclear tests took place in the South Pacific under the code name *Operation Crossroads*. When theUSAF was established in 1947, the director aircraft became DB-17Gs, while the drones became QB-17Gs. Furthernuclear tests occurred through 1952. The drones were operated primarily by the 3205th Drone Group out of EglinAFB, Florida.• The designation QB-17L was assigned to surplus B-17Gs that were modified during the postwar years for use asradio-controlled drones for various tests, usually as targets for missiles. They were sometimes equipped withtelevision cameras to provide a targets view of the approaching missile. They were usually painted in red-orangeDay-Glo paint with black diagonal stripes for increased visibility. Their serial numbers were prefixed by anO, indicative of their obsolete status. Sources for QB-17 conversions were new B-17s that had went directly tostorage upon delivery from the factory, B-17s that had been retired from other duties, and DB-17 drone directorsthat were now surplus to requirements.• Most of the QB-17Ls met their end as flying targets for the early Nike Ajax surface-to-air missile or for the HughesFalcon air-to-air missile. Often, the QB-17L would be the subject of intentional near misses to preserve the dronefor as many missions as possible. Other QB-17Ls were used for various unmanned but destructive tests such asthe ditching tests carried out by NACA in San Francisco Bay. The last DB-17/QB-17 mission was flown on August6, 1959, with 44-83727 being blown out of the sky by a Falcon missile fired by a F-101 Voodoo. The last QB-17Lwas destroyed by an IM-99 Bomarc missile in 1960.• http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_bombers/b17_24.html