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17 August 1942

17 August 1942



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17 August 1942

War in the Air

Eighth Air Force Heavy Bomber Mission No. 1: Twelve aircraft attack marshalling yards at Rouen-Sotteville, with another six aircraft used as a diversion. No aircraft lost.

Eastern Front

German troops establish bridgeheads on the Kuban Peninsula

Far East

US Marines raid Makin



VIII Bomber Command 1

A bomber crew of the 97th Bomb Group with their B-17 Flying Fortress. They are from left to right: Lieutenant Frank R. Beadle, of Grand Rapids, Michigan Sergeant Chester Love, of Cincinnati, Ohio Sergeant Richard Williams, of Utica, New York Lieutenant Levon Ray, of Poolville Texas Glen V. Leland, of St. Petersburg, Florida Sergeant Frank Rebello, Tiverton, Rhode Island Sergeant Joseph Cummings, of Oskaloosa, Iowa and Sergeant Zane Gemmill, of St. Clair, Pennsylvania. Image stamped on reverse: 'Passed for publication 18 Aug 1942' [stamp], 'Associated Press.' [stamp], 'USA(BRI)CCC' [ written annotation]. '216113'[ Censor no]. Printed caption on reverse: 'U.S. FLYING FORTRESSES RAID IN DAYLIGHT Associated press photo shows: The crew who flew the leading Flying Fortress in the raid are seen here lined up under the nose of the plane. Left to right they are Lieut. Frank R Beadle, of Grand Rapids, Michigan Sergeant Chester Love, of Cincinnati, Ohio Sergeant Richard Williams, of Utica, New York Lieut. Levon Ray, of Poolville Texas Glen v. Leland, of St.Petersburg, Florida Sergeant Frank Rebello, Tiverton, Rhode Island Sergt Joseph Cummings, of Oskaloosa, Iowa and Serg. Zane Gemmill, of ST. Clair, Penn. AKP/ROB 249453 18842a.'

Film star turned Intelligence Officer Gene Raymond of the 97th Bomb Group questions his comrades following a raid on Rouen. NOTE by L2M2: Pictured far left is then Captain William B. Musselwhite. Image stamped on reverse: 'Associated Press.', '216129' [ Censor no] and 'Passed for publication 18 Aug 1942' [stamp]. Printed caption on reverse: 'U.S. FLYING FORTRESSES RAID ROUEN IN DAYLIGHT Associated Press photo shows: Gene Raymond ex-Hollywood film star now intelligence office in the U.S. Army Air Corps questions Sgt. Kent West of West Blocton, ALA. Rear Gunner who shot down a Focke-Wulf 190 as the first All-American victim on the European front in this war. The pilot of West's plane was Lt. Tom Borders of Birmingham, ALA ( extreme right) AKP ROB 249457/8/9 i8842N.'

US and British Officers look out for the return of B-17 Flying Fortresses from the top of the Control Tower at Grafton Underwood after the 8th Air Force's first heavy bomber raid on 17 August 1942, over the Marshalling Yards at Rouen. General Carl A Spaatz stands to the left of the ladder, Beirne Lay behind the guide rope and Fred Castle on the near corner. Many other officers from 8th Air Force Bomber Command are also present. Image stamped on reverse: 'Photo Supplied Photopress Central.' [stamp], 'Passed for publication 18 Aug 1942.' [stamp], 'USA (BRI) CCC.' [written annotation] and '216036.' [Censor no.] Printed caption on reverse: 'Picture shows: Aerodrome Personnel on the Control Tower watching for the return of the planes from the raid.' Handwritten caption on reverse: 'USAAF 1, 17/8/42 A.'

Glued to back of photo is piece of paper with mimeographed typing which reads. PASSED BY THE CENSOR NO. 216109 U.S.FLYING FORTRESSES RAID ROUEN IN DAYLIGHT. YESTERDAY EVENING, AUGUST 17, TWELVE U.S. FLYING FORTRESSES BOMBED THE RAILWAY MARSHALLING YARDS AT ROUEN IN OCCUPIED FRANCE IN THE FIRST ALL-AMERICAN RAID ON EUROPE. THE RAID WAS LED PERSONALLY BY GRIG.-GEN. IRA EAKER, CHIEF OF THE U.S. MOMBERCOMMAND IN THE EUROPEAN THEATRE OF OPERATIONS, WHO SAID "THE WHOLE THING WENT OFF AS PLANNED". AN INTERCEPTING FOCKE-WULF 100 WAS SHOT DOWN BY A 21 YEAR OLD SERGEANT GUNNER. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO SHOWS: IN THE OFFICERS MESS AFTER THE RAID, PILOTS, NAVIGATORS AND BOMBARDIERS CELEBRATE THEIR SUCCESSFUL EVENING'S WORK. CENTER IS CAPT. WILLIAM MUSSELWHITE OF JACKSON, MISSISSIPI, HOLDING THE WIRE FROM THE FIRST BOMB, DROPPED BY HIS FORTRESS. AKP/ROB 24951 18842n Name is underlined and there is a date stamp in red of AUG 1942.

Sgt Kent R. West interviewed on 18 August 1942 (cropped from FRE 880)

Scanned copy of original Loading List (operational FLIGHT REPORT) for the B-17E YANKEE DOODLE (41-9023) for the August 17, 1942 97th Bombardment Group Mission #1. Capt. Rudolph E. Flack (414th Bomb Squadron CO and Grafton Underwood Base Commander) served as the mission commander on this flight. The following link plays a historical August 17, 1942 film clip with sound taken by the British media where Capt. Flack is introduced as the ''Commanding Officer'' for this mission by Colonel Armstrong (97th Bomb Group CO) at the 1min 15sec mark whereby, Capt. Flack stands in front of the entire bomb group to present his pre-mission briefing statement, which completes at the 1min 34sec mark: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/flying-fortresses-bomb-france/query/b17).


Contents

Origins Edit

On 8 August 1934, the USAAC tendered a proposal for a multiengine bomber to replace the Martin B-10. The Air Corps was looking for a bomber capable of reinforcing the air forces in Hawaii, Panama, and Alaska. [9] Requirements were for it to carry a "useful bombload" at an altitude of 10,000 ft (3,000 m) for 10 hours with a top speed of at least 200 mph (320 km/h). [10]

They also desired, but did not require, a range of 2,000 mi (3,200 km) and a speed of 250 mph (400 km/h). The competition for the air corps contract was to be decided by a "fly-off" between Boeing's design, the Douglas DB-1, and the Martin Model 146 at Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.

The prototype B-17, with the Boeing factory designation of Model 299, was designed by a team of engineers led by E. Gifford Emery and Edward Curtis Wells, and was built at Boeing's own expense. [11] It combined features of the company's experimental XB-15 bomber and 247 transport. [10] The B-17's armament consisted of five .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine guns, with a payload up to 4,800 lb (2,200 kg) of bombs on two racks in the bomb bay behind the cockpit. The aircraft was powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-1690 Hornet radial engines, each producing 750 hp (600 kW) at 7,000 ft (2,100 m). [12]

The first flight of the Model 299 was on 28 July 1935 with Boeing chief test-pilot Leslie Tower at the controls. [1] [13] The day before, Richard Williams, a reporter for The Seattle Times, coined the name "Flying Fortress" when – observing the large number of machine guns sticking out from the new airplane – he described it as a "15-ton flying fortress" in a picture caption. [14] The most distinct mount was in the nose, which allowed the single machine gun to be fired toward nearly all frontal angles. [15]

Boeing was quick to see the value of the name and had it trademarked for use. [note 1] Boeing also claimed in some of the early press releases that Model 299 was the first combat aircraft that could continue its mission if one of its four engines failed. [16] On 20 August 1935 , the prototype flew from Seattle to Wright Field in nine hours and three minutes with an average cruising speed of 252 miles per hour (406 km/h), much faster than the competition. [17]

At the fly-off, the four-engined Boeing's performance was superior to those of the twin-engined DB-1 and Model 146. Major General Frank Maxwell Andrews of the GHQ Air Force believed that the capabilities of large four-engined aircraft exceeded those of shorter-ranged, twin-engined aircraft, and that the B-17 was better suited to new, emerging USAAC doctrine. [18] His opinions were shared by the air corps procurement officers, and even before the competition had finished, they suggested buying 65 B-17s. [19] [20]

Development continued on the Boeing Model 299, and on 30 October 1935, Army Air Corps test pilot Major Ployer Peter Hill and Boeing employee Les Tower took the Model 299 on a second evaluation flight. The crew forgot to disengage the "gust locks", which locked control surfaces in place while the aircraft was parked on the ground, and after takeoff, the aircraft entered a steep climb, stalled, nosed over, and crashed, killing Hill and Tower (other observers survived with injuries). [21] [22] [note 2]

The crashed Model 299 could not finish the evaluation, disqualifying it from the competition. [20] While the air corps was still enthusiastic about the aircraft's potential, army officials were daunted by its cost [23] Douglas quoted a unit price of $58,200 (equivalent to $1.1 million today) based on a production order of 220 aircraft, compared with $99,620 ($1.88 million today) from Boeing. [24] Army Chief of Staff Malin Craig cancelled the order for 65 YB-17s, and ordered 133 of the twin-engined Douglas B-18 Bolo, instead. [19] [20]

The loss was not total. but Boeing's hopes for a substantial bomber contract were dashed.

Initial orders Edit

Regardless, the USAAC had been impressed by the prototype's performance, and on 17 January 1936, through a legal loophole, [26] [27] the Air Corps ordered 13 YB-17s (designated Y1B-17 after November 1936 to denote its special F-1 funding) for service testing. [20] The YB-17 incorporated a number of significant changes from the Model 299, including more powerful Wright R-1820-39 Cyclone engines. Although the prototype was company-owned and never received a military serial (the B-17 designation itself did not appear officially until January 1936, nearly three months after the prototype crashed), [28] the term "XB-17" was retroactively applied to the NX13372's airframe and has entered the lexicon to describe the first Flying Fortress.

Between 1 March and 4 August 1937, 12 of the 13 Y1B-17s were delivered to the 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field in Virginia for operational development and flight tests. [29] One suggestion adopted was the use of a preflight checklist to avoid accidents such as that which befell the Model 299. [27] [30] [note 3] In one of their first missions, three B-17s, directed by lead navigator Lieutenant Curtis LeMay, were sent by General Andrews to "intercept" and photograph the Italian ocean liner Rex 610 miles (980 km) off the Atlantic coast. [32] The mission was successful and widely publicized. [33] [34] The 13th Y1B-17 was delivered to the Material Division at Wright Field, Ohio, to be used for flight testing. [35]

A 14th Y1B-17 (37-369), originally constructed for ground testing of the airframe's strength, was upgraded by Boeing with exhaust-driven General Electric turbo-superchargers, and designated Y1B-17A. Designed by Dr. Sanford Moss, engine exhaust gases turned the turbine's steel-alloy blades, forcing high-pressure ram air into the Wright Cyclone GR-1820-39 engine supercharger. [36] Scheduled to fly in 1937, it encountered problems with the turbochargers, and its first flight was delayed until 29 April 1938. [37] The aircraft was delivered to the army on 31 January 1939. [38] Once service testing was complete, the Y1B-17s and Y1B-17A were redesignated B-17 and B-17A, respectively, to signify the change to operational status. [39] The Y1B-17A had a maximum speed of 311 miles per hour (501 km/h), at its best operational altitude, compared to 239 miles per hour (385 km/h) for the Y1B-17. Also, the Y1B-17A's new service ceiling was more than 2 miles (3.2 km) higher at 38,000 feet (12,000 m), compared to the Y1B-17's 27,800 feet (8,500 m). These turbo-superchargers were incorporated into the B-17B. [40]

Opposition to the air corps' ambitions for the acquisition of more B-17s faded, and in late 1937, 10 more aircraft designated B-17B were ordered to equip two bombardment groups, one on each U.S. coast. [41] Improved with larger flaps and rudder and a well-framed, 10-panel plexiglas nose, the B-17Bs were delivered in five small batches between July 1939 and March 1940. In July 1940, an order for 512 B-17s was issued, [42] but at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, fewer than 200 were in service with the army. [27]

A total of 155 B-17s of all variants were delivered between 11 January 1937 and 30 November 1941, but production quickly accelerated, with the B-17 once holding the record for the highest production rate for any large aircraft. [43] [note 4] The aircraft went on to serve in every World War II combat zone, and by the time production ended in May 1945, 12,731 aircraft had been built by Boeing, Douglas, and Vega (a subsidiary of Lockheed). [44] [45] [46] [47]

Though the crash of the prototype 299 in 1935 had almost wiped out Boeing, now it was seen as a boon. Instead of building models based on experimental engineering, Boeing had been hard at work developing their bomber and now had versions ready for production far better than would have been possible otherwise. One of the most significant weapons of World War II would be ready, but only by a hair.

Production numbers
Variant Produced First flight
Model 299 1 28 July 1935 [1]
YB-17 13 2 December 1936 [48]
YB-17A 1 29 April 1938 [37]
B-17B 39 27 June 1939 [49]
B-17C 38 21 July 1940 [50]
B-17D 42 3 February 1941 [51]
B-17E 512 5 September 1941 [52]
B-17F (total) 3,405 30 May 1942 [53] [54]
B-17F-BO 2,300 [53]
B-17F-DL 605 [53]
B-17F-VE 500 [53]
B-17G (total) 8,680 16 August 1943
B-17G-BO 4,035
B-17G-DL 2,395
B-17G-VE 2,250
Total 12,731
B-17s were built at Boeing Plant 2
Seattle, Washington (BO)
and starting with the B-17F also at
Lockheed Vega, Burbank California (VE) and
Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach California (DL) [55]

The aircraft went through several alterations in each of its design stages and variants. Of the 13 YB-17s ordered for service testing, 12 were used by the 2nd Bomb Group of Langley Field, Virginia, to develop heavy bombing techniques, and the 13th was used for flight testing at the Material Division at Wright Field, Ohio. [35] Experiments on this aircraft led to the use of a quartet of General Electric turbo-superchargers which would become standard on the B-17 line. A 14th aircraft, the YB-17A, originally destined for ground testing only and upgraded with the turbochargers, [56] was redesignated B-17A after testing had finished. [38] [39]

As the production line developed, Boeing engineers continued to improve upon the basic design. To enhance performance at slower speeds, the B-17B was altered to include larger rudders and flaps. [49] The B-17C changed from three bulged, oval-shaped gun blisters to two flush, oval-shaped gun window openings, and on the lower fuselage, a single "bathtub" gun gondola housing, [50] which resembled the similarly configured and located Bodenlafette/"Bola" ventral defensive emplacement on the German Heinkel He 111P-series medium bomber.

While models A through D of the B-17 were designed defensively, the large-tailed B-17E was the first model primarily focused on offensive warfare. [56] The B-17E was an extensive revision of the Model 299 design: The fuselage was extended by 10 ft (3.0 m) a much larger rear fuselage, vertical tailfin, rudder, and horizontal stabilizer were added a gunner's position was added in the new tail [note 5] the nose (especially the bombardier's framed, 10-panel nose glazing) remained relatively the same as the earlier B through D versions had a Sperry electrically powered manned dorsal gun turret just behind the cockpit was added a similarly powered (also built by Sperry) manned ventral ball turret just aft of the bomb bay – replaced the relatively hard-to-use, Sperry model 645705-D [59] remotely operated ventral turret on the earliest examples of the E variant. These modifications resulted in a 20% increase in aircraft weight. [56] The B-17's turbocharged Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9 engines were upgraded to increasingly more powerful versions of the same powerplants throughout its production, and similarly, the number of machine gun emplacement locations was increased. [60]

The B-17F variants were the primary versions flying for the Eighth Air Force to face the Germans in 1943, and had standardized the manned Sperry ball turret for ventral defense, replacing the earlier, 10-panel framed bombardier's nose glazing from the B subtype with an enlarged, nearly frameless plexiglas bombardier's nose enclosure for improved forward vision.

Two experimental versions of the B-17 were flown under different designations, the XB-38 Flying Fortress and the YB-40 Flying Fortress. The XB-38 was an engine testbed for Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engines, should the Wright engines normally used on the B-17 become unavailable. The only prototype XB-38 to fly crashed on its ninth flight, and the type was abandoned. The Allison V-1710 was allocated to fighter aircraft. [61] [62]

The YB-40 was a heavily armed modification of the standard B-17 used before the North American P-51 Mustang, an effective long-range fighter, became available to act as escort. Additional armament included an additional dorsal turret in the radio room, a remotely operated and fired Bendix-built "chin turret" directly below the bombardier's accommodation, and twin .50 in (12.7 mm) guns in each of the waist positions. The ammunition load was over 11,000 rounds. All of these modifications made the YB-40 well over 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) heavier than a fully loaded B-17F. The YB-40s with their numerous heavy modifications had trouble keeping up with the lighter bombers once they had dropped their bombs, so the project was abandoned and finally phased out in July 1943. [63] [64] [65] The final production blocks of the B-17F from Douglas' plants did, however, adopt the YB-40's "chin turret", giving them a much-improved forward defense capability. [66]

By the time the definitive B-17G appeared, the number of guns had been increased from seven to 13, the designs of the gun stations were finalized, and other adjustments were completed. The B-17G was the final version of the Flying Fortress, incorporating all changes made to its predecessor, the B-17F, [56] and in total, 8,680 were built, [67] the last (by Lockheed) on 28 July 1945. [68] Many B-17Gs were converted for other missions such as cargo hauling, engine testing, and reconnaissance. [69] Initially designated SB-17G, a number of B-17Gs were also converted for search-and-rescue duties, later to be redesignated B-17H. [70]

Late in World War II, at least 25 B-17s were fitted with radio controls and television cameras, loaded with 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) of high explosives and dubbed BQ-7 "Aphrodite missiles" for Operation Aphrodite. The operation, which involved remotely flying Aphrodite drones onto their targets by accompanying CQ-17 "mothership" control aircraft, was approved on 26 June 1944, and assigned to the 388th Bombardment Group stationed at RAF Fersfield, a satellite of RAF Knettishall. [71]

The first four drones were sent to Mimoyecques, the Siracourt V-1 bunker, Watten, and Wizernes on 4 August, causing little damage. The project came to a sudden end with the unexplained midair explosion over the Blyth estuary of a B-24, part of the United States Navy's contribution as "Project Anvil", en route for Heligoland piloted by Lieutenant Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., future U.S. president John F. Kennedy's elder brother. Blast damage was caused over a radius of 5 miles (8.0 km). British authorities were anxious that no similar accidents should again occur, and the Aphrodite project was scrapped in early 1945. [71]

The B-17 began operations in World War II with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1941, and in the Southwest Pacific with the U.S. Army. The 19th Bombardment Group had deployed to Clark Field in the Philippines a few weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as the first of a planned heavy bomber buildup in the Pacific. Half of the group's B-17s were wiped out on 8 December 1941 when they were caught on the ground during refueling and rearming for a planned attack on Japanese airfields on Formosa. The small force of B-17s operated against the Japanese invasion force until they were withdrawn to Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory. In early 1942, the 7th Bombardment Group began arriving in Java with a mixed force of B-17s and LB-30/B-24s. [72] A squadron of B-17s from this force detached to the Middle East to join the First Provisional Bombardment Group, thus becoming the first American B-17 squadron to go to war against the Germans. [ citation needed ] After the defeat in Java, the 19th withdrew to Australia, where it continued in combat until it was sent home by General George C. Kenney when he arrived in Australia in mid-1942. [73] In July 1942, the first USAAF B-17s were sent to England to join the Eighth Air Force. Later that year, two groups moved to Algeria to join Twelfth Air Force for operations in North Africa. The B-17s were primarily involved in the daylight precision strategic bombing campaign against German targets ranging from U-boat pens, docks, warehouses, and airfields to industrial targets such as aircraft factories. [74] In the campaign against German aircraft forces in preparation for the invasion of France, B-17 and B-24 raids were directed against German aircraft production while their presence drew the Luftwaffe fighters into battle with Allied fighters. [6]

During World War II, the B-17 equipped 32 overseas combat groups, inventory peaking in August 1944 at 4,574 USAAF aircraft worldwide. [75] The British heavy bombers, the Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax, dropped 608,612 long tons (681,645 short tons) and 224,207 long tons (251,112 short tons) [76] respectively.

RAF use Edit

The RAF entered World War II with no heavy bomber of its own in service the biggest available were long-range medium bombers such as the Vickers Wellington, which could carry up to 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg) of bombs. [77] While the Short Stirling and Handley Page Halifax became its primary bombers by 1941, in early 1940, the RAF entered into an agreement with the U.S. Army Air Corps to acquire 20 B-17Cs, which were given the service name Fortress I. Their first operation, against Wilhelmshaven on 8 July 1941 was unsuccessful. [78] [79] On 24 July three B-17s of 90 Squadron took part in a raid on the German capital ship Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen anchored in Brest from 30,000 ft (9,100 m), with the objective of drawing German fighters away from 18 Handley Page Hampdens attacking at lower altitudes, and in time for 79 Vickers Wellingtons to attack later with the German fighters refuelling. The operation did not work as expected, with 90 Squadron's Fortresses being unopposed. [80] [81] [82]

By September, the RAF had lost eight B-17Cs in combat and had experienced numerous mechanical problems, and Bomber Command abandoned daylight bombing raids using the Fortress I because of the aircraft's poor performance. The experience showed both the RAF and USAAF that the B-17C was not ready for combat, and that improved defenses, larger bomb loads and more accurate bombing methods were required. However, the USAAF continued using the B-17 as a day bomber, despite misgivings by the RAF that attempts at daylight bombing would be ineffective. [83]

As use by Bomber Command had been curtailed, the RAF transferred its remaining Fortress I aircraft to Coastal Command for use as a long-range maritime patrol aircraft, instead. [84] These were augmented starting in July 1942 by 45 Fortress Mk IIA (B-17E) followed by 19 Fortress Mk II (B-17F) and three Fortress Mk III (B-17G). A Fortress IIA from No. 206 Squadron RAF sank U-627 on 27 October 1942, the first of 11 U-boat kills credited to RAF Fortress bombers during the war. [85]

As sufficient Consolidated Liberators finally became available, Coastal Command withdrew the Fortress from the Azores, transferring the type to the meteorological reconnaissance role. Three squadrons undertook Met profiles from airfields in Iceland, Scotland and England, gathering data for vital weather forecasting purposes.

The RAF's No. 223 Squadron, as part of 100 Group, operated a number of Fortresses equipped with an electronic warfare system known as "Airborne Cigar" (ABC). This was operated by German-speaking radio operators who were to identify and jam German ground controllers' broadcasts to their nightfighters. They could also pose as ground controllers themselves with the intention of steering nightfighters away from the bomber streams. [86]

Initial USAAF operations over Europe Edit

The air corps – renamed United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941 – used the B-17 and other bombers to bomb from high altitudes with the aid of the then-secret Norden bombsight, known as the "Blue Ox", [87] [88] which was an optical electromechanical gyrostabilized analog computer. [89] The device was able to determine, from variables put in by the bombardier, the point at which the aircraft's bombs should be released to hit the target. The bombardier essentially took over flight control of the aircraft during the bomb run, maintaining a level altitude during the final moments before release. [90]

The USAAF began building up its air forces in Europe using B-17Es soon after entering the war. The first Eighth Air Force units arrived in High Wycombe, England, on 12 May 1942, to form the 97th Bomb Group. [91] On 17 August 1942, 12 B-17Es of the 97th, with the lead aircraft piloted by Major Paul Tibbets and carrying Brigadier General Ira Eaker as an observer, were close escorted by four squadrons of RAF Spitfire IXs (and a further five squadrons of Spitfire Vs to cover the withdrawal) on the first USAAF heavy bomber raid over Europe, against the large railroad marshalling yards at Rouen-Sotteville in France, while a further six aircraft flew a diversionary raid along the French coast. [92] [93] The operation, carried out in good visibility, was a success, with only minor damage to one aircraft, unrelated to enemy action, and half the bombs landing in the target area. [94] The raid helped allay British doubts about the capabilities of American heavy bombers in operations over Europe. [ citation needed ]

Two additional groups arrived in Britain at the same time, bringing with them the first B-17Fs, which served as the primary AAF heavy bomber fighting the Germans until September 1943. As the raids of the American bombing campaign grew in numbers and frequency, German interception efforts grew in strength (such as during the attempted bombing of Kiel on 13 June 1943 [95] ), such that unescorted bombing missions came to be discouraged. [96]

Combined offensive Edit

The two different strategies of the American and British bomber commands were organized at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. The resulting "Combined Bomber Offensive" weakened the Wehrmacht, destroyed German morale, and established air superiority through Operation Pointblank's destruction of German fighter strength in preparation for a ground offensive. [6] The USAAF bombers attacked by day, with British operations – chiefly against industrial cities – by night. [97]

Operation Pointblank opened with attacks on targets in Western Europe. General Ira C. Eaker and the Eighth Air Force placed highest priority on attacks on the German aircraft industry, especially fighter assembly plants, engine factories, and ball-bearing manufacturers. [6] Attacks began in April 1943 on heavily fortified key industrial plants in Bremen and Recklinghausen. [98]

Since the airfield bombings were not appreciably reducing German fighter strength, additional B-17 groups were formed, and Eaker ordered major missions deeper into Germany against important industrial targets. The 8th Air Force then targeted the ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt, hoping to cripple the war effort there. The first raid on 17 August 1943 did not result in critical damage to the factories, with the 230 attacking B-17s being intercepted by an estimated 300 Luftwaffe fighters. The Germans shot down 36 aircraft with the loss of 200 men, and coupled with a raid earlier in the day against Regensburg, a total of 60 B-17s was lost that day. [99]

A second attempt on Schweinfurt on 14 October 1943 later came to be known as "Black Thursday". [100] While the attack was successful at disrupting the entire works, severely curtailing work there for the remainder of the war, it was at an extreme cost. [101] Of the 291 attacking Fortresses, 60 were shot down over Germany, five crashed on approach to Britain, and 12 more were scrapped due to damage – a loss of 77 B-17s. [102] Additionally, 122 bombers were damaged and needed repairs before their next flights. Of 2,900 men in the crews, about 650 did not return, although some survived as prisoners of war. Only 33 bombers landed without damage. These losses were a result of concentrated attacks by over 300 German fighters. [103]

Such high losses of aircrews could not be sustained, and the USAAF, recognizing the vulnerability of heavy bombers to interceptors when operating alone, suspended daylight bomber raids deep into Germany until the development of an escort fighter that could protect the bombers all the way from the United Kingdom to Germany and back. At the same time, the German nightfighting ability noticeably improved to counter the nighttime strikes, challenging the conventional faith in the cover of darkness. [104] The 8th Air Force alone lost 176 bombers in October 1943, [105] and was to suffer similar casualties on 11 January 1944 on missions to Oschersleben, Halberstadt, and Brunswick. Lieutenant General James Doolittle, commander of the 8th, had ordered the second Schweinfurt mission to be cancelled as the weather deteriorated, but the lead units had already entered hostile air space and continued with the mission. Most of the escorts turned back or missed the rendezvous, and as a result, 60 B-17s were destroyed. [106] [107]

A third raid on Schweinfurt on 24 February 1944 highlighted what came to be known as "Big Week", [108] during which the bombing missions were directed against German aircraft production. [104] German fighters needed to respond, and the North American P-51 Mustang and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighters (equipped with improved drop tanks to extend their range) accompanying the American heavies all the way to and from the targets engaged them. [109] The escort fighters reduced the loss rate to below 7%, with a total of 247 B-17s lost in 3,500 sorties while taking part in the Big Week raids. [110]

By September 1944, 27 of the 42 bomb groups of the 8th Air Force and six of the 21 groups of the 15th Air Force used B-17s. Losses to flak continued to take a high toll of heavy bombers through 1944, but the war in Europe was being won by the Allies. And by 27 April 1945, 2 days after the last heavy bombing mission in Europe, the rate of aircraft loss was so low that replacement aircraft were no longer arriving and the number of bombers per bomb group was reduced. The Combined Bomber Offensive was effectively complete. [111]

Pacific Theater Edit

On 7 December 1941, a group of 12 B-17s of the 38th (four B-17C) and 88th (eight B-17E) Reconnaissance Squadrons, en route to reinforce the Philippines, was flown into Pearl Harbor from Hamilton Field, California, arriving while the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was going on. Leonard "Smitty" Smith Humiston, co-pilot on First Lieutenant Robert H. Richards' B-17C, AAF S/N 40-2049, reported that he thought the U.S. Navy was giving the flight a 21-gun salute to celebrate the arrival of the bombers, after which he realized that Pearl Harbor was under attack. The Fortress came under fire from Japanese fighter aircraft, though the crew was unharmed with the exception of one member who suffered an abrasion on his hand. Japanese activity forced them to divert from Hickam Field to Bellows Field. On landing, the aircraft overran the runway and ran into a ditch, where it was then strafed. Although initially deemed repairable, 40-2049 (11th BG / 38th RS) received more than 200 bullet holes and never flew again. Ten of the 12 Fortresses survived the attack. [113]

By 1941, the Far East Air Force (FEAF) based at Clark Field in the Philippines had 35 B-17s, with the War Department eventually planning to raise that to 165. [114] When the FEAF received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor, General Lewis H. Brereton sent his bombers and fighters on various patrol missions to prevent them from being caught on the ground. Brereton planned B-17 raids on Japanese air fields in Formosa, in accordance with Rainbow 5 war plan directives, but this was overruled by General Douglas MacArthur. [115] A series of disputed discussions and decisions, followed by several confusing and false reports of air attacks, delayed the authorization of the sortie. By the time the B-17s and escorting Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters were about to get airborne, they were destroyed by Japanese bombers of the 11th Air Fleet. The FEAF lost half its aircraft during the first strike, [116] and was all but destroyed over the next few days. [ citation needed ]

Another early World War II Pacific engagement, on 10 December 1941, involved Colin Kelly, who reportedly crashed his B-17 into the Japanese battleship Haruna, which was later acknowledged as a near bomb miss on the heavy cruiser Ashigara. Nonetheless, this deed made him a celebrated war hero. Kelly's B-17C AAF S/N 40-2045 (19th BG / 30th BS) crashed about 6 mi (10 km) from Clark Field after he held the burning Fortress steady long enough for the surviving crew to bail out. Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. [117] Noted Japanese ace Saburō Sakai is credited with this kill, and in the process, came to respect the ability of the Fortress to absorb punishment. [118]

B-17s were used in early battles of the Pacific with little success, notably the Battle of Coral Sea [119] and Battle of Midway. [120] While there, the Fifth Air Force B-17s were tasked with disrupting the Japanese sea lanes. Air Corps doctrine dictated bombing runs from high altitude, but they soon found only 1% of their bombs hit targets. However, B-17s were operating at heights too great for most A6M Zero fighters to reach.

The B-17's greatest success in the Pacific was in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, in which aircraft of this type were responsible for damaging and sinking several Japanese transport ships. On 2 March 1943, six B-17s of the 64th Squadron flying at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) attacked a major Japanese troop convoy off New Guinea, using skip bombing to sink Kyokusei Maru, which carried 1,200 army troops, and damage two other transports, Teiyo Maru and Nojima. On 3 March 1943, 13 B-17s flying at 7,000 ft (2,000 m) bombed the convoy, forcing the convoy to disperse and reducing the concentration of their anti-aircraft defenses. The B-17s attracted a number of Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, which were in turn attacked by the P-38 Lightning escorts. One B-17 broke up in the air, and its crew was forced to take to their parachutes. Japanese fighter pilots machine-gunned some of the B-17 crew members as they descended and attacked others in the water after they landed. [121] Five of the Japanese fighters strafing the B-17 aircrew were promptly engaged and shot down by three Lightnings, though these were also then lost. [122] The allied fighter pilots claimed 15 Zeros destroyed, while the B-17 crews claimed five more. [121] [123] Actual Japanese fighter losses for the day were seven destroyed and three damaged. [124] [125] The remaining seven transports and three of the eight destroyers were then sunk by a combination of low level strafing runs by Royal Australian Air Force Beaufighters, and skip bombing by USAAF North American B-25 Mitchells at 100 ft (30 m), while B-17s claimed five hits from higher altitudes. [126] On the morning of 4 March 1943, a B-17 sank the destroyer Asashio with a 500 lb (230 kg) bomb while she was picking up survivors from Arashio. [127]

At their peak, 168 B-17 bombers were in the Pacific theater in September 1942, but already in mid-1942 Gen. Arnold had decided that the B-17 was unsuitable for the kind of operations required in the Pacific and made plans to replace all of the B-17s in the theater with B-24s (and later, B-29s) as soon as they became available. Although the conversion was not complete until mid-1943, B-17 combat operations in the Pacific theater came to an end after a little over a year. [128] Surviving aircraft were reassigned to the 54th Troop Carrier Wing's special airdrop section, and were used to drop supplies to ground forces operating in close contact with the enemy. Special airdrop B-17s supported Australian commandos operating near the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul, which had been the primary B-17 target in 1942 and early 1943. [129]

B-17s were still used in the Pacific later in the war, however, mainly in the combat search and rescue role. A number of B-17Gs, redesignated B-17Hs and later SB-17Gs, were used in the Pacific during the final year of the war to carry and drop lifeboats to stranded bomber crews who had been shot down or crashed at sea. [130] These aircraft were nicknamed Dumbos, and remained in service for many years after the end of World War II. [131]

Bomber defense Edit

Before the advent of long-range fighter escorts, B-17s had only their .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns to rely on for defense during the bombing runs over Europe. As the war intensified, Boeing used feedback from aircrews to improve each new variant with increased armament and armor. [132] Defensive armament increased from four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns and one 0.30 in (7.62 mm) nose machine gun in the B-17C, to thirteen 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the B-17G. But because the bombers could not maneuver when attacked by fighters, and needed to be flown straight and level during their final bomb run, individual aircraft struggled to fend off a direct attack.

A 1943 survey by the USAAF found that over half the bombers shot down by the Germans had left the protection of the main formation. [133] To address this problem, the United States developed the bomb-group formation, which evolved into the staggered combat box formation in which all the B-17s could safely cover any others in their formation with their machine guns. This made a formation of bombers a dangerous target to engage by enemy fighters. [134] In order to more quickly form these formations, assembly ships, planes with distinctive paint schemes, were utilized to guide bombers into formation, saving assembly time. [135] [136] Luftwaffe fighter pilots likened attacking a B-17 combat box formation to encountering a fliegendes Stachelschwein, "flying porcupine", with dozens of machine guns in a combat box aimed at them from almost every direction. However, the use of this rigid formation meant that individual aircraft could not engage in evasive maneuvers: they had to fly constantly in a straight line, which made them vulnerable to German flak. Moreover, German fighter aircraft later developed the tactic of high-speed strafing passes rather than engaging with individual aircraft to inflict damage with minimum risk. [ citation needed ] As a result, the B-17s' loss rate was up to 25% on some early missions. It was not until the advent of long-range fighter escorts (particularly the North American P-51 Mustang) and the resulting degradation of the Luftwaffe as an effective interceptor force between February and June 1944, that the B-17 became strategically potent. [ citation needed ]

The B-17 was noted for its ability to absorb battle damage, still reach its target and bring its crew home safely. [137] [138] [139] Wally Hoffman, a B-17 pilot with the Eighth Air Force during World War II, said, "The plane can be cut and slashed almost to pieces by enemy fire and bring its crew home." [140] Martin Caidin reported one instance in which a B-17 suffered a midair collision with a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, losing an engine and suffering serious damage to both the starboard horizontal stabilizer and the vertical stabilizer, and being knocked out of formation by the impact. The B-17 was reported as shot down by observers, but it survived and brought its crew home without injury. [141] Its toughness was compensation for its shorter range and lighter bomb load compared to the B-24 and British Avro Lancaster heavy bombers. [ clarification needed ] Stories circulated of B-17s returning to base with tails shredded, engines destroyed and large portions of their wings destroyed by flak. [142] This durability, together with the large operational numbers in the Eighth Air Force and the fame achieved by the Memphis Belle, made the B-17 a key bomber aircraft of the war. Other factors such as combat effectiveness and political issues also contributed to the B-17's success. [143]

Luftwaffe attacks Edit

After examining wrecked B-17s and B-24s, Luftwaffe officers discovered that on average it took about 20 hits with 20 mm shells fired from the rear to bring them down. [102] Pilots of average ability hit the bombers with only about two percent of the rounds they fired, so to obtain 20 hits, the average pilot had to fire one thousand 20 mm (0.79 in) rounds at a bomber. [102] Early versions of the Fw 190, one of the best German interceptor fighters, were equipped with two 20 mm (0.79 in) MG FF cannons, which carried only 500 rounds when belt-fed (normally using 60-round drum magazines in earlier installations), and later with the better Mauser MG 151/20 cannons, which had a longer effective range than the MG FF weapon. Later versions carried four or even six MG 151/20 cannon and twin 13 mm machine guns. The German fighters found that when attacking from the front, where fewer defensive guns were mounted (and where the pilot was exposed and not protected by armor as he was from the rear), it took only four or five hits to bring a bomber down. [102]

To rectify the Fw 190's shortcomings, the number of cannons fitted was doubled to four, with a corresponding increase in the amount of ammunition carried, creating the Sturmbock bomber destroyer version. This type replaced the vulnerable twin-engine Zerstörer heavy fighters which could not survive interception by P-51 Mustangs flying well ahead of the combat boxes in an air supremacy role starting very early in 1944 to clear any Luftwaffe defensive fighters from the skies. By 1944, a further upgrade to Rheinmetall-Borsig's 30 mm (1.2 in) MK 108 cannons mounted either in the wing, or in underwing, conformal mount gun pods, was made for the Sturmbock Focke-Wulfs as either the /R2 or /R8 field modification kits, enabling aircraft to bring a bomber down with just a few hits. [102]

The adoption of the 21 cm Nebelwerfer-derived Werfer-Granate 21 (Wfr. Gr. 21) rocket mortar by the Luftwaffe in mid-August 1943 promised the introduction of a major "stand-off" style of offensive weapon – one strut-mounted tubular launcher was fixed under each wing panel on the Luftwaffe's single-engine fighters, and two under each wing panel of a few twin-engine Bf 110 daylight Zerstörer aircraft. [102] However, due to the slow 715 mph velocity and characteristic ballistic drop of the fired rocket (despite the usual mounting of the launcher at about 15° upward orientation), and the small number of fighters fitted with the weapons, the Wfr. Gr. 21 never had a major effect on the combat box formations of Fortresses. [102] The Luftwaffe also fitted heavy-calibre Bordkanone-series 37, 50 and even 75 mm (2.95 in) cannon as anti-bomber weapons on twin-engine aircraft such as the special Ju 88P fighters, as well as one model of the Me 410 Hornisse but these measures did not have much effect on the American strategic bomber offensive. The Me 262, however, had moderate success against the B-17 late in the war. With its usual nose-mounted armament of four MK 108 cannons, and with some examples later equipped with the R4M rocket, launched from underwing racks, it could fire from outside the range of the bombers' .50 in (12.7 mm) defensive guns and bring an aircraft down with one hit, [146] as both the MK 108's shells and the R4M's warheads were filled with the "shattering" force of the strongly brisant Hexogen military explosive.

Luftwaffe-captured B-17s Edit

During World War II approximately 40 B-17s were captured and refurbished by Germany after crash-landing or being forced down, with about a dozen put back into the air. Given German Balkenkreuz national markings on their wings and fuselage sides, and "Hakenkreuz" swastika tail fin-flashes, the captured B-17s were used to determine the B-17's vulnerabilities and to train German interceptor pilots in attack tactics. [148] Others, with the cover designations Dornier Do 200 and Do 288, were used as long-range transports by the Kampfgeschwader 200 special duties unit, carrying out agent drops and supplying secret airstrips in the Middle East and North Africa. They were chosen specifically for these missions as being more suitable for this role than other available German aircraft they never attempted to deceive the Allies and always wore full Luftwaffe markings. [149] [150] One B-17 of KG200, bearing the Luftwaffe's KG 200 Geschwaderkennung (combat wing code) markings A3+FB, was interned by Spain when it landed at Valencia airfield, 27 June 1944, remaining there for the rest of the war. [91] It has been alleged that some B-17s kept their Allied markings and were used by the Luftwaffe in attempts to infiltrate B-17 bombing formations and report on their positions and altitudes. [151] According to these allegations, the practice was initially successful, but Army Air Force combat aircrews quickly developed and established standard procedures to first warn off, and then fire upon any "stranger" trying to join a group's formation. [91]

Soviet-interned B-17s Edit

The U.S. did not offer B-17s to the Soviet Union as part of its war materiel assistance program, but at least 73 aircraft were acquired by the Soviet Air Force. These aircraft had landed with mechanical trouble during the shuttle bombing raids over Germany or had been damaged by a Luftwaffe raid in Poltava. The Soviets restored 23 to flying condition and concentrated them in the 890th bomber regiment of the 45th bomber division, but they never saw combat. In 1946 the regiment was assigned to the Kazan factory to aid in the Soviet effort to reproduce the more advanced Boeing B-29 as the Tupolev Tu-4. [152]

Swiss-interned B-17s Edit

During the Allied bomber offensive, U.S. and British bombers sometimes flew into Swiss airspace, either because they were damaged or, on rare occasions, accidentally bombing Swiss cities. Swiss aircraft attempted to intercept and force individual aircraft to land, interning their crews one Swiss pilot was killed, shot down by a U.S. bomber crew in September 1944. From then on, red and white neutrality bands were added to the wings of Swiss aircraft to stop accidental attacks by Allied aircraft. [153]

Official Swiss records identify 6,501 airspace violations during the course of the war, with 198 foreign aircraft landing on Swiss territory and 56 aircraft crashing there. In October 1943 the Swiss interned Boeing B-17F-25-VE, tail number 25841, and its U.S. flight crew after the Flying Fortress developed engine trouble after a raid over Germany and was forced to land. The aircraft was turned over to the Swiss Air Force, who then flew the bomber until the end of the war, using other interned but non-airworthy B-17s for spare parts. The bomber's topside surfaces were repainted a dark olive drab, but retained its light gray under wing and lower fuselage surfaces. It carried Swiss national white cross insignia in red squares on both sides of its rudder, fuselage sides, and on the topside and underside wings. The B-17F also carried light gray flash letters "RD" and "I" on either side of the fuselage's Swiss national insignia. [74]

Japanese-captured B-17s Edit

Three damaged B-17s, one "D" model and two "E" models, were rebuilt to flying status by Japanese technicians and mechanics with parts stripped from B-17 wrecks in both the Philippines and Java. The three bombers, containing captured top secret Norden bombsights, were then ferried to Japan where they underwent extensive technical evaluation by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force's Air Technical Research Institute (Koku Gijutsu Kenkyujo) at Tachikawa's air field. The "D" model was later deemed an obsolescent design but used in Japanese training and propaganda films. The two "E" models were used to develop B-17 air combat counter-tactics and also used as enemy aircraft in pilot and crew training films. One of the captured "E" Flying Fortresses was photographed late in the war by U. S. aerial recon and code-named "Tachikawa 105" after its wingspan was measured photo-recon analysts never identified it as a captured B-17 until after the war. No traces of these 3 captured Flying Fortresses were ever found in Japan by Allied occupation forces they were assumed lost by various means or scrapped late in the war for their vital war materials. [154]

Postwar history Edit

U.S. Air Force Edit

Following the end of World War II, the B-17 was quickly phased out of use as a bomber and the Army Air Forces retired most of its fleet. Flight crews ferried the bombers back across the Atlantic to the United States where the majority were sold for scrap and melted down, although significant numbers remained in use in second-line roles such as VIP transports, air-sea rescue and photo-reconnaissance. [155] [156] Strategic Air Command (SAC), established in 1946, used reconnaissance B-17s (at first called F-9 [F for Fotorecon], later RB-17) until 1949. [157] [158]

The USAF Air Rescue Service of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) operated B-17s as so-called "Dumbo" air-sea rescue aircraft. Work on using B-17s to carry airborne lifeboats had begun in 1943, but they entered service in the European theater only in February 1945. They were also used to provide search and rescue support for B-29 raids against Japan. About 130 B-17s were converted to the air-sea rescue role, at first designated B-17H and later SB-17G. Some SB-17s had their defensive guns removed, while others retained their guns to allow use close to combat areas. The SB-17 served through the Korean War, remaining in service with USAF until the mid-1950s. [70] [159] [160]

In 1946, surplus B-17s were chosen as drone aircraft for atmospheric sampling during the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests, being able to fly close to or even through the mushroom clouds without endangering a crew. This led to more widespread conversion of B-17s as drones and drone control aircraft, both for further use in atomic testing and as targets for testing surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. [161] One hundred and seven B-17s were converted to drones. [162] The last operational mission flown by a USAF Fortress was conducted on 6 August 1959, when a DB-17P, serial 44-83684 , directed a QB-17G, out of Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, as a target for an AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missile fired from a McDonnell F-101 Voodoo. A retirement ceremony was held several days later at Holloman AFB, after which 44-83684 was retired. [ citation needed ] It was subsequently used in various films and in the 1960s television show 12 O'Clock High before being retired to the Planes of Fame aviation museum in Chino, California. [163] Perhaps the most famous B-17, the Memphis Belle, has been restored – with the B-17D The Swoose under way – to its World War II wartime appearance by the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. [164]

U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Edit

During the last year of World War II and shortly thereafter, the United States Navy (USN) acquired 48 ex-USAAF B-17s for patrol and air-sea rescue work. The first two ex-USAAF B-17s, a B-17F (later modified to B-17G standard) and a B-17G were obtained by the Navy for various development programs. [157] At first, these aircraft operated under their original USAAF designations, but on 31 July 1945 they were assigned the naval aircraft designation PB-1, a designation which had originally been used in 1925 for the Boeing Model 50 experimental flying boat. [165]

Thirty-two B-17Gs [166] were used by the Navy under the designation PB-1W, the suffix -W indicating an airborne early warning role. A large radome for an S-band AN/APS-20 search radar was fitted underneath the fuselage and additional internal fuel tanks were added for longer range, with the provision for additional underwing fuel tanks. Originally, the B-17 was also chosen because of its heavy defensive armament, but this was later removed. These aircraft were painted dark blue, the standard Navy paint scheme which had been adopted in late 1944. [157] [165] PB-1Ws continued in USN service until 1955, gradually being phased out in favor of the Lockheed WV-2 (known in the USAF as the EC-121, a designation adopted by the USN in 1962), a military version of the Lockheed 1049 Constellation commercial airliner. [ citation needed ]

In July 1945, 16 B-17s were transferred to the Coast Guard via the Navy these aircraft were initially assigned U.S. Navy Bureau Numbers (BuNo), but were delivered to the Coast Guard designated as PB-1Gs beginning in July 1946. [157] [160] Coast Guard PB-1Gs were stationed at a number of bases in the U.S. and Newfoundland, with five at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, two at CGAS San Francisco, two at NAS Argentia, Newfoundland, one at CGAS Kodiak, Alaska, and one in Washington state. [160] They were used primarily in the "Dumbo" air-sea rescue role, but were also used for iceberg patrol duties and for photo mapping. The Coast Guard PB-1Gs served throughout the 1950s, the last example not being withdrawn from service until 14 October 1959. [157] [167]

Special operations Edit

B-17s were used by the CIA front companies Civil Air Transport, Air America and Intermountain Aviation for special missions. These included B-17G 44-85531, registered as N809Z. These aircraft were primarily used for agent drop missions over the People's Republic of China, flying from Taiwan, with Taiwanese crews. Four B-17s were shot down in these operations. [168]

In 1957 the surviving B-17s had been stripped of all weapons and painted black. One of these Taiwan-based B-17s was flown to Clark Air Base in the Philippines in mid-September, assigned for covert missions into Tibet.

On 28 May 1962, N809Z, piloted by Connie Seigrist and Douglas Price, flew Major James Smith, USAF and Lieutenant Leonard A. LeSchack, USNR to the abandoned Soviet arctic ice station NP 8, as Operation Coldfeet. Smith and LeSchack parachuted from the B-17 and searched the station for several days. On 1 June, Seigrist and Price returned and picked up Smith and LeSchack using a Fulton Skyhook system installed on the B-17. [169] N809Z was used to perform a Skyhook pick up in the James Bond movie Thunderball in 1965. This aircraft, now restored to its original B-17G configuration, is on display in the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

The B-17, a versatile aircraft, served in dozens of USAAF units in theaters of combat throughout World War II, and in other roles for the RAF. Its main use was in Europe, where its shorter range and smaller bombload relative to other aircraft did not hamper it as much as in the Pacific Theater. Peak USAAF inventory (in August 1944) was 4,574 worldwide. [75]

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Austria[170]
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Colombia
  • Denmark
  • Dominican Republic
  • France
  • Germany as Beuteflugzeug (captured aircraft)
  • Iran
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Norway
  • Peru
  • Portugal
  • South Africa
  • Republic of China
  • Soviet Union
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

46 planes survive in complete form, nine of which are airworthy, and 39 of which reside in the United States.

The B-17 Flying Fortress became symbolic in the United States of America's air power. In a 1943 Consolidated Aircraft poll of 2,500 men in cities where Consolidated advertisements had been run in newspapers, 73% had heard of the B-24 and 90% knew of the B-17. [139]

After the first Y1B-17s were delivered to the Army Air Corps 2nd Bombardment Group, they were used on flights to promote their long range and navigational capabilities. In January 1938, group commander Colonel Robert Olds flew a Y1B-17 from the U.S. east coast to the west coast, setting a transcontinental record of 13 hours 27 minutes. He also broke the west-to-east coast record on the return trip, averaging 245 mph (394 km/h) in 11 hours 1 minute. [171] Six bombers of the 2nd Bombardment Group took off from Langley Field on 15 February 1938 as part of a goodwill flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Covering 12,000 miles (19,000 km) they returned on 27 February , with seven aircraft setting off on a flight to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, three days later. [172] In a well-publicized mission on 12 May of the same year, three Y1B-17s "intercepted" and took photographs of the Italian ocean liner SS Rex 610 miles (980 km) off the Atlantic coast. [173] [note 6]

Many pilots who flew both the B-17 and the B-24 preferred the B-17 for its greater stability and ease in formation flying. Its electrical systems were less vulnerable to damage than the B-24's hydraulics, and the B-17 flew better than a B-24 when missing an engine. [174] During the war, the largest offensive bombing force, the Eighth Air Force, had an open preference for the B-17. Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle wrote about his preference for equipping the Eighth with B-17s, citing the logistical advantage in keeping field forces down to a minimum number of aircraft types with their individual servicing and spares. For this reason, he wanted B-17 bombers and P-51 fighters for the Eighth. His views were supported by Eighth Air Force statisticians, whose mission studies showed that the Flying Fortress's utility and survivability was much greater than those of the B-24 Liberator. [139] Making it back to base on numerous occasions, despite extensive battle damage, the B-17's durability became legendary [137] [138] stories and photos of B-17s surviving battle damage were widely circulated during the war. [139] Despite an inferior performance and smaller bombload than the more numerous B-24 Liberators, [175] a survey of Eighth Air Force crews showed a much higher rate of satisfaction with the B-17. [176]

  • All American – This B-17F survived having her tail almost cut off in a mid-air collision with a Bf 109 over Tunisia but returned safely to base in Algeria. [177]
  • Chief Seattle – sponsored by the city of Seattle, it disappeared (MIA) on 14 August 1942 [178] flying a recon mission for the 19th BG, 435th BS [179] and the crew declared dead on 7 December 1945.
  • Hell's Kitchen – B-17F 41-24392 was one of only three early B-17F's in 414th BS to complete more than 100 combat missions. [180]
  • Mary Ann – a B-17D that was part of an unarmed flight which left Hamilton Air Field, Novato, California on 6 December 1941 en route to Hickam Field in Hawaii, arriving during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The plane and its crew were immediately forced into action on Wake Island and in the Philippines during the outbreak of World War II. It became famous when its exploits were featured in Air Force, one of the first of the patriotic war films released in 1943. [181]
  • Memphis Belle – one of the first B-17s to complete a tour of duty of 25 missions in the 8th Air Force and the subject of a feature film, now completely restored and on display since 17 May 2018 [182] at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
  • Miss Every Morning Fix'n – B-17C. Previously named 'Pamela'. Stationed in Mackay, Queensland, Australia during World War II. On 14 June 1943, crashed shortly after takeoff from Mackay while ferrying U.S. forces personnel back to Port Moresby, with 40 of the 41 people on board killed. It remains the worst air disaster in Australian history. The sole survivor, Foye Roberts, married an Australian and returned to the States. He died in Wichita Falls, Texas, on 4 February 2004. [183]
  • Murder Inc. – A B-17 bombardier wearing the name of the B-17 "Murder Inc." on his jacket was used for propaganda in German newspapers. [184]
  • Old 666 – B-17E flown by the most highly decorated crew in the Pacific Theater [185]
  • Royal Flush – B-17F 42-6087 from the 100th Bomb Group and commanded on one mission by highly decorated USAAF officer Robert Rosenthal, it was the lone surviving 100th BG B-17 of 10 October 1943 raid against Münster to return to the unit's base at RAF Thorpe Abbotts. [186]
  • Sir Baboon McGoon – B-17F featured in the June 1944 issue of Popular Science magazine [187] and the 1945 issue of Flying magazine. [188] Articles discuss mobile recovery crews following October 1943 belly landing at Tannington, England.
  • The Swoose – Initially nicknamed Ole Betsy while in service, The Swoose is the only remaining intact B-17D, built in 1940, the oldest surviving Flying Fortress, and the only surviving B-17 to have seen action in the Philippines campaign (1941–1942) it is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum and is being restored for final display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. [189]The Swoose was flown by Frank Kurtz, father of actress Swoosie Kurtz, who named his daughter after the bomber.
  • Ye Olde Pub – the B-17 that Franz Stigler did not shoot down, as memorialized in the painting A Higher Call by John D. Shaw. [190]
  • 5 Grand – 5,000th B-17 made, emblazoned with Boeing employee signatures, served with the 333rd Bomb Squadron, 96th Bomb Group in Europe. Damaged and repaired after gear-up landing, transferred to 388th Bomb Group. Returned from duty following V-E Day, flown for war bonds tour, then stored at Kingman, Arizona. Following an unsuccessful bid for museum preservation, the aircraft was scrapped. [191]

Medal of Honor recipients Edit

Many B-17 crew members received military honors and 17 received the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the United States: [193]

  • Brigadier General Frederick Castle (flying as co-pilot) – awarded posthumously for remaining at controls so others could escape damaged aircraft. [194]
  • 2nd Lt Robert Femoyer (navigator) – awarded posthumously [195]
  • 1st Lt Donald J. Gott (pilot) – awarded posthumously [196]
  • 2nd Lt David R. Kingsley (bombardier) – awarded posthumously for tending to injured crew and giving up his parachute to another [197]
  • 1st Lt William R. Lawley Jr. – "heroism and exceptional flying skill" [198]
  • Sgt Archibald Mathies (engineer-gunner) – awarded posthumously [199]
  • 1st Lt Jack W. Mathis (bombardier) – posthumously, the first airman in the European theater to be awarded the Medal of Honor [200]
  • 2nd Lt William E. Metzger Jr. (Co-pilot) – awarded posthumously [196]
  • 1st Lt Edward Michael[201]
  • 1st Lt John C. Morgan[202]
  • Capt Harl Pease (awarded posthumously) [203]
  • 2nd Lt Joseph Sarnoski (awarded posthumously) [204]
  • S/Sgt Maynard H. Smith (gunner) [205]
  • 1st Lt Walter E. Truemper (awarded posthumously) [199]
  • T/Sgt Forrest L. Vosler (radio operator) [206][207]
  • Brigadier General Kenneth Walker Commanding officer of V Bomber Command, killed while leading small force in raid on Rabaul – awarded posthumously [208]
  • Maj Jay Zeamer, Jr. (pilot) – earned on unescorted reconnaissance mission in Pacific, same mission as Sarnoski [209]

Other military achievements or events Edit

    , tail-gunner on a B-17 in the 483rd Bombardment Group. He received a Distinguished Unit Citation, and set two individual records in a single day: (1) most German jets destroyed by a single gunner in one mission (two), and (2) most German jets destroyed by a single gunner during the entirety of World War II. [210] (1917–2006), a B-17 pilot who was awarded numerous military decorations, and was ultimately promoted to the rank of major general and served in active duty until 1971. [211]
  • 1st Lt Eugene Emond (1921–1998): Lead pilot for Man O War II Horsepower Limited. Received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, American Theater Ribbon and Victory Ribbon. Was part of D-Day and witnessed one of the first German jets when a Me 262A-1a flew through his formation over Germany. One of the youngest bomber pilots in the U.S. Army Air Forces. (1918–1988): Second-generation German-American whose 91 combat missions were the most flown by any Eighth Air Force pilot in World War II. [212]
  • Capt Colin Kelly (1915–1941): Pilot of the first U.S. B-17 lost in action. [213]
  • Col Frank Kurtz (1911–1996): The USAAF's most decorated pilot of World War II. Commander of the 463rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), 15th Air Force, Celone Field, Foggia, Italy. Clark Field Philippines attack survivor. Olympic bronze medalist in diving (1932), 1944–1945. Father of actress Swoosie Kurtz, herself named for the still-surviving B-17D mentioned above.
  • Gen Curtis LeMay (1906–1990): Became head of the Strategic Air Command and Chief of Staff of the USAF.
  • Lt Col Nancy Love (1914–1976) and Betty (Huyler) Gillies (1908–1998): The first women pilots to be certified to fly the B-17, in 1943 and to qualify for the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. [192]
  • SSgt Alan Magee (1919–2003): B-17 gunner who on 3 January 1943 survived a 22,000-foot (6,700-meter) freefall after his aircraft was shot down by the Luftwaffe over St. Nazaire.
  • Col Robert K. Morgan (1918–2004): Pilot of Memphis Belle.
  • Lt Col Robert Rosenthal (1917–2007): Commanded the only surviving B-17, Royal Flush, of a US 8th Air Force raid by the 100th Bomb Group on Münster on 10 October 1943. Completed 53 missions. Earned sixteen medals for gallantry (including one each from Britain and France), and led the raid on Berlin[214] on 3 February 1945, that is likely to have ended the life of Roland Freisler, the infamous "hanging judge" of the People's Court.
  • 1st Lt Bruce Sundlun (1920–2011): Pilot of Damn Yankee of the 384th Bomb Group was shot down over Belgium on 1 December 1943 and evaded capture until reaching Switzerland 5 May 1944. [215]
  • Brig Gen Paul Tibbets (1915–2007): Flew with the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy) with both the 8th Air Force in England and the 12th Air Force in North Africa. Later pilot of the B-29 Enola Gay, dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
  • The final crew of the bomber Ye Olde Pub (20 December 1943): Flew home from Bremen, Germany in a bomber that was a miracle in the fact that it was flying. The crew earned a total of 9 Silver Stars and 1 Air Force Cross.

B-17 in popular culture Edit

Hollywood featured the B-17 in its period films, such as director Howard Hawks' Air Force starring John Garfield and Twelve O'Clock High starring Gregory Peck. [216] Both films were made with the full cooperation of the United States Army Air Forces and used USAAF aircraft and (for Twelve O'Clock High) combat footage. In 1964, the latter film was made into a television show of the same name and ran for three years on ABC TV. Footage from Twelve O' Clock High was also used, along with three restored B-17s, in the 1962 film The War Lover. An early model YB-17 also appeared in the 1938 film Test Pilot with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, and later with Clark Gable in Command Decision in 1948, in Tora! Tora! Tora! in 1970, and in Memphis Belle with Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Billy Zane, and Harry Connick Jr. in 1990. The most famous B-17, the Memphis Belle, toured the U. S. with its crew to reinforce national morale (and to sell war bonds). It starred in a USAAF documentary, Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress. [217]

Royal Air Force Boeing Fortress Mk.Is are seen in the British wartime features Flying Fortress and the immediate postwar film The Way to the Stars.

In the closing scene of "Thunderball" 1965, A sky hook-equipped CIA B-17 rescues James Bond and Domino.

The song, "Icarus II (Borne On Wings Of Steel)" by Kansas, from their album Somewhere to Elsewhere, has lyrics sung by Steve Walsh that describe the heroic sacrifice a B-17 pilot makes to save his crew after they are hit and going down, ordering them to jump, leaving him to steer the dying plane to its end.

The Flying Fortress has also been featured in artistic works expressing the physical and psychological stress of the combat conditions and the high casualty rates that crews suffered. [218] [219] Works such as The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell and Heavy Metal 's section "B-17" depict the nature of these missions. The Ball turret itself has inspired works like Steven Spielberg's The Mission. Artists who served on the bomber units also created paintings and drawings depicting the combat conditions in World War II. [220] [221]

A B-17 was featured in a sequence of the same name in the 1981 Canadian adult animated sci-fi-fantasy film "Heavy Metal"

The B-17 has been the subject of two video games: B-17 Bomber released for Mattel's Intellivision in 1982, and B-17 Flying Fortress released in 1992 for MS-DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST PCs.


Rank and File Delegates Seek to Halt UAW Plunge into Retreat – But Union Officialdom Triumphs over Leaderless Opposition

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 33, 17 August 1942, p.ك.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The seventh annual convention of the United Automobile Workers of America closed last Sunday. On the whole the convention was a victory for the bosses, Roosevelt and the war-comes-first top bureaucrats of the international: Thomas, Addes, Frankensteen and Walter Reuther.

The chief role of this quartet was to attempt keeping the brakes on so tightt that nothing could be done to halt the plunge of the UAW into complete capitulation to Roosevelt and the bosses. They were, there, all four of them, sweating, cajoling, pleading and maneuvering against any action that might be taken to rescind their beloved “equality of sacrifice” slogan, their “no-strike” promises and their double-time pay surrender.

This wasn’t all that the Thomas-Addes-Reuther-Frankensteen quartet had in mind for the convention. There were such matters as creating two new posts in the international: two vice-presidencies to be filled by Walter Reuther and Frankensteen. Also the little matter of biennial conventions which they tried last year at Buffalo. Next these, bureaucrats were present to push up the dues in the international from $1.00 a month to $1.50. And lastly they came to Chicago with a well-oiled scheme to boost the pay of Thomas, and Addes nearly 100 per cent.
 

Rival Duets Form Harmony Quartet

These leaders, some of whom were not friendly to each other at the Buffalo convention a year ago, have now kissed and made up. At Buffalo, Reuther organized a bloc, comprising the most reactionary delegates, to support Leonard against Addes for secretary-treasurer. At this same convention Frankensteen, fresh from the North American sell-out, maneuvered between the Reuther and the Stalinist cliques to become vice-president. Addes, very cautiously, blew hot and cold, pro-Stalinist or anti-Stalinist, depending on the needs of the moment, to assure his re-election. Thomas announced his support of the war but came out against an AEF and voted for Addes.

After the convention the maneuvering continued. President Thomas and Frankensteen nestled together and Addes and his erstwhile enemy Reuther cuddled over to each other.

By the time of the Chicago convention, however, all was sweetness and light and what might have become two discordant duets was turned into a quartet of harmony and cooperation. At Chicago, Walter Reuther seconded the nomination of Addes for secretary-treasurer and Addes urged the delegates “assembled here to cast a unanimous ballot for the nominee, Brother Walter Reuther.” Thomas, in a few well chosen words, urged the convention to, “support my good friend, Dick Frankensteen.” Previously Frankensteen had seconded the nomination of Thomas for president.

This accord, of course, was imperative if the leadership was to have any chance at all to control the convention and keep the UAW tied to Roosevelt, the bosses, and the war. They knew that the membership was fighting mad. That grim joke about “equality of sacrifice” which the Thomas-Addes-Reuther-Frankensteen quartet had put over at the April conference had served only to throw the UAW for a loss. The “no-strike” capitulation of Murray-Thomas had made the UAW locals the prey of every plant manager and every little foreman. The double pay surrender of Murray-Thomas had not only resulted in the loss of income for UAW workers but also had worked to the advantage of the AFL, notably the IAM in the Curtiss-Wright elections in Buffalo.
 

Officers Face a Hostile Convention

These bureaucrats knew they would face a hostile convention that would be difficult to control and keep tied to Roosevelt and the automobile-aircraft bosses. They wanted to consolidate their domination of the international. They wanted to be sure that they would be in position to deliver the international to Roosevelt and the bosses whenever Roosevelt called Thomas and Murray in for a conference.

Therefore it was necessary to do away with annual conventions. This is an ancient trick of all bureaucrats who want to hold on to their jobs, salaries and to continue to wield influence and exercise power. Annual conventions give the rank and file the opportunity each year to review the stewardship of the leaders and to question them as to their delinquencies and failures. If you can postpone this for two years it may be possible later to postpone it for thirty years, as in the case of the. common laborers’ union.

Also it was necessary to have unity in the leadership and the international board if new posts with fat salaries were to be created and if the two leading officers were to get their’ increase in pay. The scheme was to increase Thomas from $5,500 to $10,000, Addes from $5,000 to $9,500, IEB members from $3,500 to $6,000 and to create two new posts of vice-president, for Frankensteen and Reuther, at $8,000 per year each.

The opposition was so strong that, faced with a minority report calling for lower pay, the committee withdrew and clipped $1,000 from each amount. This was approved by the delegates.

All of what we have been discussing could only be effected by constitutional amendment: raising the salaries, creating the two vice-presidents, biennial conventions and raising the dues from $1.00 to $1.50 a month. These matters, therefore, would be handled by the constitution committee.
 

What the Stalinists Did at Chicago

It is interesting that Lindahl, a Stalinist, was chairman of this important and powerful committee. It is difficult to believe that this was not done deliberately. And it wasn’t done to neutralize the Stalinists. If this were necessary, which it wasn’t, there were other ways of doing this. (In fact, the introduction and passage of the second front resolution the first day of the convention took care of the Stalinists for the rest of the week. They only made one feeble effort after that, which we will mention later.) The fine hand of Brother Walter Reuther sticks out in this.

Since the Stalinists were already in line on all the serious pro-war political resolutions that were to come before the convention – in what better way could they be used than in the necessary maneuvers to push through the organizational and constitutional changes the bureaucrats had in mind. That is, they let the Stalinists take the rap and make the proposals for all changes that the membership was known to be violently opposed to. This would save the inner circle from embarrassment. and let the blow fall on the Stalinists. As we remember it, the chairman of the constitution committee last year was, Victor Reuther, but this year it was Lindahl, the Stalinist.

While we are on the subject of the Stalinists we may as well complete the report. We said above that they were appeased, if this was necessary, when the second front resolution was passed. They came back once again, however, in the attempt to split Region 4 and establish, a new region. Nordstrom is director of Region 4, which includes Wisconsin and Chicago. The biggest war industries are in the Chicago sub-region. The Stalinists planned to leave Nordstrom with Wisconsin and the agricultural areas westward and establish a new region with Chicago as the center. This would have given them control of an important region. The move was defeated and Region 4 remains intact.

The only other remarks necessary on the Stalinists is to say that they were the most blatant patriots in the. convention. They have all reformed and corrected their past “errors.” There were Bridges, Michener and Board Member Montgomery. In a long speech Bridges told the convention how hard he is working to tie his international to the bosses and their war, despite the fact that these same bosses have moved heaven and earth to frame him and railroad him out of the country. Montgomery, once a very militant West Coast aircraft worker, closed a short speech with the following:

“We are coming again, not only with our tanks and our guns, but with our men, the sons of our men who fought at Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood and won the last war. We are coming again. Don’t make any mistake about that. That is our pledge and it is people like Brother Bridges who are going to make that possible.”
 

What Was Mayor Kelly Doing There?

The convention was greeted by Edward Kelly, the same Kelly who was mayor of Chicago during the Little Steel massacre and whose cops formed the murder squads. In the course of his harangue, Kelly said: “As I sat here I wondered why we could not have more audiences such as this . I only wish that every city in the country could have this same kind of convention.” The obvious reply to Butcher Kelly, of course, is that if he had his way there would be no militant workers anywhere to hold a convention. For the clear reason that Kelly and his cops would by this time have murdered all the workers who dared fight for a decent standard of living. Of course the chairman, Nordstrom, IEB member, did not make this reply. Nordstrom told this man Kelly that “I think you can count on the UAW-CIO as being a friend of yours.” Of course this is a lie, but Nordstrom said it. In fact there was some protest heard around against Kelly speaking.
 

Central Debate on “Premium Pay”

Perhaps the most important items to come before the convention were the resolutions on overtime pay and on the WLB, presented by the War Policy Committee. This resolution was presented to the convention on the second day but in the face of very strong opposition the resolution was withdrawn. On the third day the War Policy Committee came in with a revised resolution on overtime pay and a resolution dealing with the National War Labor Board.

The longest and most acrimonious debate of the convention revolved around these two resolutions. There was such violent opposition to the original draft of the resolution on overtime pay that it was withdrawn in the face of defeat and presented the next day in revised form. The wording of these two resolutions made it clear that what motivated them was the sting and the rebuke that the UAW leadership felt at the loss of various elections to the AFL. This was especially true in the case of the election at the Buffalo Curliss-Wright Plant.

The resolution on premium pay was centered on the fact that while both the AFL and the CIO had concurred in the giving up of premium pay, only the CIO had attempted to carry out this promise made to Roosevelt. Not only were the UAW bureaucrats sore at the AFL, particularly the International Association of Machinists, but they were also fighting mad at the employers who persisted in the practice of giving the workers double time for Sundays and time and a half for Saturdays.

They whine and whimper as follows:

“In the case of the Curtiss-Wright plant at Buffalo, by reason of the adherence by the UAW-CIO to its determination to sacrifice and the refusal by the IAM to make such sacrifice and its repudiation of the President of the United States and of the announced policy of the AFL, the workers within the plant were prevailed upon to select the International Association of Machinists as their bargaining agent.”

Also, the resolution says that there are some independent unions and company unions which have refused to follow the UAW and the President. These company unions, says the resolution, are holding out for the premium pay.

But worst of all: “Many employers approached by the UAW-CIO local unions for the purpose of revising their contracts to conform to the policy enunciated by the President of the United States have flatly refused to do so and have insisted upon payment of premium time.”

These practices, says the resolution, have resulted in “dangerous demoralization” in the local unions of the UAW. They have “virtually paralyzed the UAW-CIO in its effort to bring organization to the unorganized workers of the industry.” The resolution complains that the UAW is “penalized” for its compliance with the President’s request. Not only this, but those who have repudiated the policy and defied the President are “being rewarded for their repudiation and defiance.”
 

Kittenish Resolve Won’t Scare Bosses

Then the resolution resolves that the “no premium pay” policy should be of “universal application” and furthermore, “unless the policy of relinquishing premium pay for Saturdays, Sundays and holidays is universally applied throughout industry within the next thirty days, the UAW-CIO shall deem itself released from its commitment and shall demand and insist upon the abandonment of this policy and the reversion to the payment of premium pay as previously practiced.” This was the first draft of this section.

There was so much objection to the effect that the whole resolution was too weak that it was revised. It was changed to read that unless there is industry-wide application in thirty days, “local unions” will be “legally and morally justified in refusing to recognize as valid any contractual provisions by which such premium pay was relinquished in pursuance of the action of the War Emergency Conference.”

Addes is to notify all employers of this action by the convention. Murray is asked to call the CIO board to consider the matter. Not only this, but the international officers are to initiate a campaign for the putting over of Roosevelt’s seven-point program.

This of course is all just so much twaddle and nonsense. It was presented to the delegates who were prepared to kick the whole thing in the teeth along with two-year conventions, increases in dues and vice-presidents and increases in salaries. The bureaucrats knew this, squirmed in their pants and threw in a few militant but harmless “resolves.”

Not a single manufacturer will be scared by this kittenish 30-day threat of the UAW leaders. The WLB and Nelson will not move an inch. Roosevelt will flick the ashes from his cigarette and soothe the troubled spirits of Murray and poor Thomas. Rounds one, two and three were his and the future rounds will be his. That is – if the UAW rank and file leave the organizing of the fight to Murray and Thomas. The rank and file lost at the April conference and they lost at the Chicago convention.
 

Pass Whimpering Resolution on WLB

As a further sop to the clamor of the convention delegates, the bureaucrats brought in a resolution condemning the War Labor Board “for its continued failure and refusal to set up such regional boards and such machinery as may be necessary to effect the speedy adjustment of disputes without loss to the workers involved.”

This resolution whimpers around also, because after

“the CIO and its affiliate organizations have voluntarily given up their right to strike for the duration of the war to insure speedy and complete defeat of the Axis aggressors . in an ever-increasing number of cases there exists a refusal on the part of employers to treat in good faith with the workers . and it is being made very clear that this attitude on the employers’ part is prompted by their knowledge that labor has committed itself to refrain from resorting to strikes.”

All of the positive representations made by these bureaucrats of course are all too true. The employers and the WLB are doing just as they say. But didn’t these flunkies of Roosevelt, Nelson and the bosses know this when they “patriotically” sold labor down the river in giving up the strike and the premium pay for the duration of the war? At the April conference Manning made the remark that the UAW would be in a queer position if six months later the bosses were forced back to the premium pay by a labor shortage.
 

Opposition Delegates Leaderless

The tragedy and the pity of the whole situation is not the stupidity, the whimpering of the UAW leadership or their rank betrayals – but the leaderless strivings of the UAW membership. They were against everything that happened at this convention, just as they were in April. They really wanted to repudiate the whole line of capitulations of the leaders. They wanted to withdraw the no-strike agreement which was made for them behind their backs and without their consent by Murray and Thomas. They wanted to take back the premium pay they had been cajoled and tricked into giving up by the same bureaucrats who sneaked into the Chicago convention with a demand for “premium pay” for themselves.

But the mass opposition which really existed was leaderless. It was not organized and it had no program adequate to deal with the real situation.

The real situation was that the leadership very cunningly has, been exploiting the anti-fascist patriotism of the UAW membership in order to chain them to the Roosevelt government in its prosecution of the Second World Imperialist War.

This is the main job today of the “socialist” Reuthers, the “communist” Addes, the shyster Frankensteen, the “democrat” Thomas and the pious but bureaucratic simpleton Murray.

This will go on until there is such a wave of resentment, such determination to go through with a program for the protection of the rights of labor that the bureaucrats will fear to oppose it. The membership of the UAW has not done so well by itself this year. Perhaps between now and the next convention they will learn what a boss is, the meaning of capitalism and its imperialist wars and how to devise a program for labor that will not only defeat Hitler fascism but also uproot their own misery at home.

(Another article on the UAW convention will appear in the next issue of Labor Action. – Editor)


Death on the High Road: The Schweinfurt Raid

B-17s from the 379th Bomb Group head toward Schweinfurt on August 17, 1943.

Schweinfurt translates as ‘pig ford’ or ‘pig crossing.’ But it is unlikely that many of the 3,000 airmen who clambered into their Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses during the cold, damp morning hours of October 14, 1943, gave much thought to the meaning of the word. For them, Schweinfurt meant only one thing: a killer town that was one of the most savagely defended targets along the aerial high road, above Hitler’s Third Reich.

Its reputation was well-founded. Before the day was over, more than 600 of those airmen would be killed or captured, the future of the American daylight bomber offensive would be in doubt and Mission 115 to Schweinfurt would be known as ‘Black Thursday’ in U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) folklore. In mid-1943, using air power to cripple the military and industrial capability of a nation was not the accepted fact that it became later in the war. Thus, USAAF’s Eighth Air Force was fighting not just to survive in the lethal skies over Europe, but to prove a concept—that daylight precision bombing could play a decisive, if not the most decisive, role in modern war.

British and American planners had concluded during the 1930s that aerial bombardment would play a key role in future wars, and Great Britain and the United States were the only nations to develop and make extensive use of four-engine bombers in World War 11. But the British, because of their early war experiences and those of the Germans before them, insisted that area night bombing was the only way to fly bombers unescorted into hostile territory without sustaining crippling losses. American airmen stood alone in their faith that B-17 and Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers with their heavy defensive armament could survive in daylight, with or without fighter escort. As a result, there had been argument and sometimes bitter debate before and after the Eighth mounted its first 12-plane B-17 raid on August 17, 1942, against Rouen, France.

The British aimed what seemed to be a constant barrage of criticism at the Americans’ pride and joy, the Fortress. Following an inspection of one of the first B-17s to arrive in England, RAF officers said its defensive fire was ‘too weak’ to afford reasonable protection, the tail gun position was ‘too cramped,’ and the belly turret was ‘so awkward as to be useless.’ Critic Peter Masefield, writing in the London Times, contended that ‘American heavy bombers—the latest Fortresses and Liberators—are fine flying machines, but not suited for bombing in Europe. Their bomb loads are small, their armour and armament are not up to the standards now found necessary and their speeds are low.’ And although the British had given the Eighth excellent cooperation during its buildup in 1942 and 1943, there were other philosophical differences between the two allies. Britain’s Bomber Command, headed by Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, believed a saturation bombing of major German cities was the best way to cripple the Reich. American planners, including Generals Ira Eaker and Carl ‘Tooey’ Spaatz, countered that precision attacks against selected industrial targets like oil production facilities, aircraft and ball bearing plants were the best use of bomber strength. ‘It is better to cause a high degree of destruction in a few essential industries…than to cause a small degree in many,’ the USAAF Committee of Operations Analysts agreed in March 1943. Harris, however, expressed contempt for this concentration on a limited number of targets, calling them ‘panacea targets.’


B-17Fs hold their formation over an already-burning Schweinfurt. The Eighth Air Force dropped a total of 485 tons of high-explosive and 88 tons of incendiary bombs on the city’s ball-bearing manufacturing plants. (National Archives)

The Bavarian city of Schweinfurt, with its heavy concentration of ball bearing factories, was a classic example of one of these so-called panacea targets. It was obvious that anti-friction bearings played a vital role in any industrial economy, but 1940s-era German machinery was believed to be more dependent on ball bearings than most. It was estimated, for example, that the German aviation industry consumed an average of 2.4 million bearings per month. The fact that bearing construction was concentrated in just a few plants, with Schweinfurt accounting for more than 40 percent of production, made the ball bearing industry in general—and Schweinfurt in particular—an obvious target. Making Schweinfurt even more attractive was its small size, which would make it easy for bombardiers to locate and hit the bearing plants—a factor that also made it a poor target for Harris’ night bombers. German planners had belatedly realized the vulnerability of the bearing plants and began making plans to disperse them, but to do so would take time as well as disrupt production of the precious bearings.

Before any deep penetration raids into Germany could be mounted, the Eighth had to build up a reservoir of strength and experience. The first sorties were against targets in France and the Low Countries, and the low losses incurred seemed to suggest that the American strategy was vindicated. In fact it was not so, at least not yet. These shortrange strikes were usually within the operating range of escort fighters, and the Germans did not consider the raids to be a serious enough threat to justify commitment of large numbers of its day fighters to Reichsverteidigung (defense of the Reich) duties. Meanwhile, the British were becoming impatient. As 1943 arrived, Winston Churchill noted pointedly that the USAAF had ‘yet to drop a single bomb’ on Germany. There were calls for the USAAF to retrain for night bombing, but Eaker, using a number of arguments, bought additional time to prove the value of precision bombing.

By 1943, the Eighth felt confident enough to strike at cities on the German frontier, but these missions proved as useful to the Luftwaffe as to the Americans. Among other things, they enabled the Germans to perfect their daylight, defense operations by gaining experience in plotting bomber-formation speed, strength and probable destination. Thus, the Germans could place every available aircraft in interception position on the bomber route. The effectiveness of this experience became apparent when the Eighth first targeted Schweinfurt as part of a ‘double strike’ mission on August 17, 1943, a year to the day after the first B-17 mission to Rouen. The anniversary was not a happy one—24 Fortresses were lost from the Schweinfurt force and another 36 from the formation assaulting a Messerschmitt complex at Regensburg. American losses totaled 19 percent, but the strategists felt the results gained over Schweinfurt were good enough (bearing production at one major plant was believed to be cut by two-thirds) to justify another mission.

‘Productiondropped by 38 percent,’ Nazi armaments minister Albert Speer said after the war. Had the USAAF not made a ‘crucial mistake’ by dividing up its 376 B-17s between two objectives, he added, damage would have been much worse.


Schweinfurt was not the Eighth Air Force’s only target on August 17. Its B-17s also penetrated to Regensburg to attack the Messerschmitt factory there. (National Archives)

Meanwhile, the losses to the bomb groups continued unabated. During the week prior to Black Thursday, the Eighth Air Force lost nearly 90 bombers on three missions. It was obvious to everyone, including the Germans, that not even America’s vast resources could sustain such losses indefinitely.

As expected, bomber crew morale began to falter as the losses piled up. The situation was aggravated somewhat by the Luftwaffe tactic of targeting one particular bomb group for heavy losses or, if possible, extinction, The 100th Bomb Group (BG) earned the nickname ‘Bloody 100th’ after it lost 12 out of 13 aircraft following an October 10 Munster mission, while the 492nd BG, a B-24 outfit, was nearly wiped out after becoming a ‘marked group’ the following year.

Joseph W. Baggs, 384th BG lead bombardier, recalled that as early as August only eight of the group’s original crews were left. Four days before Mission 115, the 381st BG’s medical officer wrote that ‘morale is the lowest that has yet been observed.’

This was the prevailing mood at Eighth Air Force bomber stations throughout the East Anglian countryside when crewmen were awakened during the pre-dawn darkness of October 14, 1943. Stumbling into briefing rooms, they were soon jolted wide awake when the red target string on the map was stretched to Schweinfurt. There was some grumbling about the need to hit the town again after the August 17 mission, but pilots and officers could not afford the luxury of griping very long There was too much planning to be done to ensure that Mission 115 went smoothly. Fear had to be put aside temporarily, while information on weather, fuel consumption, the target, squadron readiness, formations and myriad other details were absorbed and memorized. As the minutes ticked away and tension mounted, men from 16 B-17 bomb groups donned flight suits and performed other preflight duties. They included members of the 91st Bomb Group, based at Bassingbourne the 92nd, at Alconbury the 303rd, at Molesworth the 305th, at Chelveston the 306th, at Thurleigh the 351st, at Polebrook the 379th, at Kimbolton the 381st, at Ridgewell and the 384th, at Grafton-Underwood. These groups represented the 1st Bomb Division, and their Fortresses were marked by a white triangle on the vertical fin.

From the 3rd Bomb Division (whose aircraft were identified by a white square) were the 94th Bomb Group, at Bury-St. Edmonds the 95th, at Horsham St. Faith the 96th, at Grafton-Underwood the 100th, at Thorpe Abbotts the 385th, at Great Ashfield the 388th, at Knettisham and the 390th, at Framlingham. Two B-24 groups, the 93rd and the 392nd, were to fly a route to the south of the B-17 formations and rendezvous with them near the target.

On fog-shrouded hardstands the bombers waited, their tires almost flattened under full combat loads. A variety of U.S. markings were employed, ranging from the early white-star-on-blue circle to the later design with white bars added. Some had red or yellow surrounds to the insignia, and many crews had ‘grayed out’ the white areas of their markings to reduce visibility. The olive-drab upper surfaces of many of the older B-17s had faded to a greenish tan shade that bore little resemblance to the original colors.

Shortly before 10 a.m., the silence of the aerodromes was abruptly shattered. Wright Cyclone radial engines coughed, shuddered, spat smoke and burst into life. The three-bladed props seemed to windmill for a second, then faded into a blur as the engines settled into a smooth roar. Soon, almost 1,400 engines were flattening the grass behind the bombers, and the din rolled across the English countryside.

Colonel ‘Budd’ J. Peaslee, Mission 115 commander, would fly to Schweinfurt as copilot in Captain James K. McLaughlin’s 92nd BG B-17, and about 10:15 he saw the signal flare that indicated the mission was on. Because of the dense fog and the overcast, which limited visibility to a quarter-mile, Mission 115’s status had gone down to the wire. But word finally came that weather over the continent was clear, and this was enough to put the mission into operation.

Takeoff proceeded without incident, but conditions began to unravel shortly after the bombers climbed above the overcast. Because the 305th Bomber Group could not locate the 40th Combat Wing to take its assigned position, the 305th was forced to link with the 1st Wing. The 40th Combat Wing, now composed only of the 92nd and 306th bomber groups, tagged along with the 41st Wing.

Because of the thick fog, only 29 of the 60 Liberators scheduled to fly the mission could take off eight of these could not form up and returned to base. The remaining 21 Liberators made a diversionary sweep toward Emden.

As the B-17s flew toward Schweinfurt, 26 aborted for various reasons. Thus, of the 351 bombers that set out to hit Schweinfurt, 86 were not on hand when the force reached the German frontier.

The overcast also disrupted a scheduled escort by four P-47 Thunderbolt groups. The 353rd and 56th fighter groups rendezvoused successfully with the bombers and eventually shot down 13 fighters, but the 4th Fighter Group could not locate its B-17s and returned to base. The 352nd Fighter Group wound up escorting the B-24s on their diversionary sweep. The 55th Fighter Group, flying P-38 Lightnings, did not become operational in time to participate.

The Luftwaffe was apparently aware of the range limitations of the P-47s, and most German fighters delayed their attacks until the escort turned back. What at first could be mistaken for mere specks on B-17 Perspex windshields became fighters—swarms of them, getting larger as they queued up to attack. B-17 interphones immediately came alive as gunners called out ‘bogies,’ first at 12 o’clock (straight ahead on the clock-based locator system), then at every position on the clock. Gunners were warned to keep chatter to a minimum and to not waste ammunition.

‘The opening play is a line plunge through center,’ mission commander Peaslee later told Martin Caidin, author of the 1960 book Black Thursday. ‘The fighters whip through our formation, for our closing speed exceeds 500 mph. Another group of flashes replaces the first, and this is repeated five times, as six formations of Me-109s charges us….I can see fighters on my sidetheir paths marked in the bright sunlight by fine lines of light-colored smoke as they fire short bursts. It is a coordinated attacktheir timing is perfect, their technique masterly.’

Although they were still far from the target, smoking Fortresses started to fall out of formation-37 in all. That left 228 to actually bomb the target, about two-thirds of the original strength.

The saga of the 94th Bomber Group’s B-17F Brennan’s Circus was typical of the heroics that became routine on Mission 115. Ten minutes from the target, Circus lost an engine and began to fall behind when the bombs could not be jettisoned. To escape the circling fighters, pilot Joseph Brennan put the B-17 into a dive. The crew eventually got rid of the bombs, but another engine ‘ran away’ into high rpm and had to be feathered. Over Holland and Belgium, a burst of flak took out a third engine. Circus struggled out over the North Sea, kept barely aloft by the one remaining engine, to within a few miles of the English coast before settling into the water. The crew was credited with four German fighter kills and one damaged for the mission.


Pilot Joseph Brennan and the crew of “Brennan’s Circus” have their photo taken prior to the mission that had them ditch in the North Sea on the way back from Schweinfurt. (National Archives)

Meanwhile, back over the target, fighter attacks stopped abruptly as German pilots turned their attention to groups of bombers still en route to the target. It was to be the only respite for the beleaguered crews in more than three hours of ceaseless combat.

On the return trip, the fury of air combat was entered anew, as many of the German fighters that had left the fight to refuel and rearm returned. But the attacks were not as precise as they had been earlier because many of the fighters had lost their original units and had formed up with any friendly aircraft in the area.

It was estimated that more than 300 German fighters participated in the day’s combat at some point. Most were the familiar single-engine Messerschmitt Bf-109G and Focke-Wulf Fw-190, but the Luftwaffe also made extensive use of night-fighter Junkers Ju-88 and Messerschmitt Bf-110 twin-engine craft. The use of these aircraft was controversial because their pilots, used to night attack techniques, often left themselves wide open to American gunners.

Other aircraft reportedly in the fray included the ungainly, fixed-landing gear Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber, the Fw-189 tactical reconnaissance aircraft and the experimental He- 100 fighter of 1940 vintage. Although it seems unlikely the Luftwaffe would risk such unsuitable, specialized aircraft for bomber interception, the mystery of their alleged appearance contributed to the jumbled patchwork of the running fight.

‘The fighters were unrelenting it was simply murder,’ recalls Carl Abele, who was serving as navigator on a 544th Squadron, 384th BG, B-17F unofficially called Blackjack on the mission. Schweinfurt was the crew’s fourth mission, and there had been no time to paint the name on.

‘As it turned out, the name was destined never to be painted on,’ Abele remembers. ‘We lost an engine to flak and another to fighters, but the prop on one of the engines couldn’t be feathered. The drag of the dead engine was tremendous, and helped doom the plane. Our pilot held her steady while we all bailed out, then he came out last. I never saw my chute open. The next thing I knew I was lying down in the back of a Totenkopf [Death’s Head SS Army Division] truck on the way to POW camp.’

The punishment being meted out was not always one-sided, however. Fortress gunners claimed 186 aircraft shot down, although German documents reviewed after the war placed their losses at approximately 40. Some overclaiming by gunners was inevitable, since several gunners within a combat ‘box’ of bombers would fire on the same plane.

The fighter attacks continued without letup throughout the return flight, since poor weather had grounded the Spitfires and Thunderbolts that were to have provided cover for the bombers’ withdrawal. A few German fighters continued their attacks almost to the British coast.

Soon after the drone of the returning bombers was heard, it was apparent that a disaster had occurred bomber after bomber failed to return to its hardstand. Then the results were tabulated: 60 bombers down over Europe, five more lost near or over England, and 17 aircraft damaged beyond repair. Although other targets produced equal or greater total losses, the 26 percent loss figure recorded during Schweinfurt II gave it the dubious honor of being the most costly mission of the war for the Eighth Air Force.


This Flying Fortress was one of nine bombers the 100th Bomb Group lost by the end of the day. The crew crash-landed their damaged B-17 near Zurich, Switzerland, where both the plane and crew were interned. (National Archives)

The element of chance involved in death, injury or capture was never more evident than on Black Thursday. Some bomb groups were almost annihilated, while others were untouched. The 305th lost 13 out of 15 Fortresses dispatched and the 306th lost 12, while three other 1st Bomb Division groups—the 92nd, 379th and 384th—lost six each. The 3rd Bomb Division fared much better, with its seven groups losing only 15 aircraft overall and three, including the Bloody 100th, losing none. From the vantage point of the Germans, had the raids been repeated at two-month intervals for a six-month period, the bearings industry ‘could not possibly have survived.’

But it would have mattered little if Speer had telephoned that information directly to Allied Bomber Command, because the Eighth Air Force did not have the resources to follow up. Without fighter escort to minimize losses, several more missions would have wiped out the Eighth’s Bomber Command, and no projected results would justify that. The answer was at hand, though, and that was the North American P-51 Mustang long-range fighter, which began to arrive in England in December.

In the aftermath of Schweinfurt 11, it would appear that the British doctrine of night bombing was vindicated and the American daylight precision concept discredited. But that was not the case, for several different reasons.

It was true that B-24s and B-17s could not withstand determined fighter opposition without sustaining prohibitive losses. But the key word was ‘determined.’ American heavies were far more able to withstand fighter assault than other bombers, which was why the Germans were forced to add cannon and rockets to their aircraft to provide the necessary firepower to bring bombers down without being shot down themselves by the heavy defensive screen. The extra weight and drag resulting from the added weaponry made them much more vulnerable to Allied fighters—which meant that the Germans needed large numbers of fighters to penetrate the bombers’ defensive screen, and that they usually stayed outside the screen or waited for stragglers or cripples if they could only attack singly or in pairs.

Had the bombers been completely naked to fighter attack, it would have been well into 1944 before the USAAF had enough escort fighters to cover the hundreds of bombers that took part in raids. As it was, the toughness and defensive firepower of the B-17 and the B-24 made the job of fighter escorts easier. ‘Without their own fighter escort they [bombers] were no match for enemy fighters,’ Cajus Bekker wrote in the book Luftwaffe War Diaries. But the effect of their guns, multiplied by the overlapping firepower coverage of the combat box, resulted in a ‘veritable barrage. The whole aircraft bristled with guns, leaving no blind spots.’

In addition, the Luftwaffe was forced to bleed other fronts of precious day fighters to counter the effectiveness of day bombing, allowing these aircraft to be hunted down and destroyed by Allied fighters.

Night area bombing, while destructive, had little measurable effect on the Nazi armaments industry, as Speer and others have emphasized repeatedly. It did not destroy civilian morale when used against either England or Germany, and American fire-bombing raids against the Japanese had little appreciable effect until the awesome power of the atom bomb ended that conflict. ‘It was notarea bombing by night that struck the vital blow at German survival,’ Bekker wrote. ‘This mission was accomplished to a far greater extent by the selective and precision bombing of the Eighth Air Force in daylight. By careful choice of target…this finally brought the whole German war machine to a standstill.’

Moreover, night bombers were not immune to fighter interception. On the night of February 19-20, 1944, over Leipzig, the British Royal Air Force lost 78 bombers. Another 72 were lost March 24-25 en route to Berlin, and another 94 over Nuremberg March 30-3 1. These catastrophic losses forced the temporary suspension of the night bombing offensive.

But the march of history during the past 50 years has relegated competing arguments over strategic bombing to academic theories only. Schweinfurt is quiet now, having returned to the anonymity it enjoyed before 1943. There is not much there to commemorate the carnage that took place overhead so many years ago, and that is too bad, because Schweinfurt should rank with Pickett’s Charge, Bataan, Chosin and other battlefields as an epic of American heroism. As it is, we can only look at grainy wartime pictures of the bombers going down in flames, and try to imagine what it was like for the men trapped inside.

This article was written by Bruce Crawford and originally published in the September 1993 issue of Aviation History magazine. For more great articles subscribe to Aviation History magazine today!


World War II Today: August 17

1940
Hitler announces that a total maritime blockade is to be placed around Britain, with any neutral ships transporting cargo to Britain to be sunk without warning.

Axis financial meeting decides Berlin will replace London as European financial centre after victory.

Duke of Windsor sworn in as governor-general of Bermuda.

British warships bombard Italian ports in Libya. The 5th Indian Division is deployed to the defense of Sudan.

1941
Army Group North in its drive toward Leningrad captures Narva.

The Romanians seal off and begin a siege of the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Sinking of the US-Panama freighter Sessa.

The USA reply’s to Admiral Nomura’s proposals of the 6th August, rejecting any high level meeting until the present differences between Japan and the USA have been resolved.

1942
US Eighth Air Force flies first official bombing mission: 12 B-17s of 97 th Bomb Group hit marshalling yards in Rouen, France.

US Marine Raiders “Carlson’s Raiders” made up of 221 Marines conduct two-day raid on Makin in the Gilbert Islands to destroy a radio station first amphibious landing from subs.

The Germans claim to have reached the Don, less than 100 miles from Stalingrad. Fighting starts in foothills of the Caucasus.

1943
The first Quebec summit opens with the allied plans for the invasion of France being approved by Roosevelt and Churchill.

597 RAF bombers attack Peenemunde on the Baltic coast, the birthplace of the ‘V’ weapons. 376 B-17’s and B-24’s of the US 8th Air Force carry out double raids against the ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt fighter works at Regensburg, losing 80 aircraft in the process.

German and Italian forces successfully evacuate Sicily across the Strait of Messina, with little interference by the Allies. This allows Montgomery and Patton enter Messina. The whole of Sicily is now in allied hands. The shelling of the Italian mainland from Messina begins.

Heavy US air attacks on the Japanese airfields at Wewak on the North coast of New Guinea, with 215 Japanese planes destroyed for loss of just six USAAF aircraft.

In New Guinea, a Japanese plane is hit during a raid and crashes into a church. The chaplain is killed and several soldiers attending the service are injured.

1944
The remnants of the Vichy French regime in the French capital take flight for Germany as the Resistance comes out into the open and seizes strong points throughout the city. They establish a comic-opera “government-in-exile” in the German city of Sigmaringen until the end of the war. The Citadel at St. Malo surrenders after heavy fighting. Falaise falls to the Canadians and Monty orders the pocket to be sealed. U.S. armor frees Chartres, Orleans and Chateaudun. Field Marshal Model takes over command of German forces in the West from Field Marshal von Kluge who committed suicide because of his involvement in the 20th July bomb plot. Marshal Petain and his staff are interned at Belfort by order of the Fuhrer. The Vichy French government under Premier Laval resigns.

The mayor of Paris, Pierre Charles Tattinger, meets with the German commander Dietrich von Choltitz to protest the explosives being deployed throughout the city.

The Russians reach the East Prussian/Lithuanian border.

1945
U-977 arrives in River Plate estuary and surrenders. The 600-ton U-boat left Kiel on the 13th April.

Three of the Emperor’s family are dispatched to China to carry the news of cease-fire to Japanese troops still fighting there.

Upon hearing confirmation that Japan has surrendered, Sukarno proclaims Indonesia’s independence.


VIII Bomber Command

US and British Officers look out for the return of B-17 Flying Fortresses from the top of the Control Tower at Grafton Underwood after the 8th Air Force's first heavy bomber raid on 17 August 1942, over the Marshalling Yards at Rouen. General Carl A Spaatz stands to the left of the ladder, Beirne Lay behind the guide rope and Fred Castle on the near corner. Many other officers from 8th Air Force Bomber Command are also present. Image stamped on reverse: 'Photo Supplied Photopress Central.' [stamp], 'Passed for publication 18 Aug 1942.' [stamp], 'USA (BRI) CCC.' [written annotation] and '216036.' [Censor no.] Printed caption on reverse: 'Picture shows: Aerodrome Personnel on the Control Tower watching for the return of the planes from the raid.' Handwritten caption on reverse: 'USAAF 1, 17/8/42 A.'

A P-40E Warhawk ('U', serial number 41-35934) of a HQ flight of aircraft in 1943. The HQ flight was a part of VIII Bomber Command, a component of the 1942-44 Eighth Air Force, and forerunner of the more famous 1944-onwards Eighth Air Force. Handwritten caption on reverse: 'P04E. VIII BC. 41-35934? HQ Flt. 1943.' Major Glenn E. Hagenbuch, 303rd Bomb Group, 427th BS B-17 Pilot and 427th BS Commanding Officer, completed 25 missions on 29 June 1943. He was killed in the crash of P-40 41-35934 during a short flight in England, which occurred 8.5 miles north of Bovingdon, UK on 9 October 1943.

Wing Commander Raymond MB "The Dook" Duke-Woolley DFC*, DSO, DFC[US], 1939-45 Star, 1939-45 War Medal, Defense Medal. Leader of the Debden wing [Eagles] and 4th FG 8th AF USAAF. Pictured at time of presentation of US DFC.

"Brig General Newton Longfellow, VIII bomber command, England Jul-44."

"Brig General Newton Longfellow, VIII Bomber command. England."

"King George talks with Gen Carl Spaatz, Maj Gen Ira C Eaker and Brig Gen Newton Longfellow. VIII bomber command, 8th AF England Dec-42."

"King George VI reviews personnel of the VIII bomber command, 8th AF, England Dec-42."


17 August 1942 - History

Quentin C. Kaiser - 489th. Bombardment Squadron


(B-25's forming up over Mt. Vesuvius)

Activated on 20 August 1942. The 340th. Bombardment Group trained with B-25's for duty overseas. They arrived in the Mediterranean theater in March 1943. Assigned first to the Ninth Air Force and later (in August 1943) to the Twelfth. Served in combat from April 1943 to April 1945. Engaged chiefly in support and introductory missions, but sometimes bombed strategic objectives. Targets included airfields, railroads, bridges, road junctions, supply depots, gun emplacements, troop concentrations, marshaling yards and factories in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, France, Austria, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Also dropped propaganda leaflets behind enemy lines.

Participated in the reduction of Pantelleria and Lampedusa in June 1943, the bombing of German Evacuation beaches near Messina in July, the establishment of the Salerno beach head in September, the drive for Rome during Jan.- Jun. 1944, the invasion of southern France in Aug. and attacks on the Brenner Pass and other German lines of communication in Northern Italy from Sept. 1944 to Apr. 1945. Received a DUC for the period Apr. - Aug. 1943 when, although handicapped by difficult living conditions and unfavorable weather, the group supported British Eighth Army in Tunisia and Allied forces in Sicily.
Received a second DUC for the destruction of a cruiser in the heavily defended harbor of La Spezia on 23 Sept. 1944 before the ship could be used by the enemy to block the harbors entrance. Returned to the U.S., Jul. - Aug. 1945. Inactivated on 19 Aug. 1949.

Squadrons
486th: 1942-1945 1947-1949
487th: 1942-1945 1947-1949
488th: 1942-1945 1947-1949
489th: 1942-1945 1947-1949

Stations
Columbia AAB, SC, 20 Aug. 1942
Walterboro, SC, 30 Nov. 1942 - 30 Jan.1943
El Kabrit, Egypt, March 1943
Medenine, Tunisia, March 1943
Sfax, Tunisia, Apr. 1943
Hergla, Tunisia, 2 June 1943
Comiso, Sicily, 2 August 1943
Catania, Sicily, 27 August 1943
San Pancrazio, Italy, 15 October 1943
Foggia, Italy, 19 November 1943
Pompeii, Italy, 2 Jan. 1944
Paestum, Italy, 23 March 1944
Corsica, 14 April 1944
Rimini, Italy, Apr. - 27 July 1945
Seymour Johnson Field, NC, 9 Aug. 1945
Columbia AAB, SC, 2 Oct. - 7 Nov. 1945
Tulsa Mun Airport. Okla, 31 Oct. 1947 - 19 Aug. 1949

Commanders
Lt. Col. Adolph E. Tokaz, 3 Sept. 1942
Col. William C. Mills, 21 Sept. 1942
Lt. Col. Adolph E. Tokaz, 7 May 1943
Col. Charles D. Jones, 8 Jan. 1944
Col. Willis F. Chapman, 16 Mar. 1944 - 7 Nov. 1945

Campaigns
Air Combat, EAME Theater: Tunisia Sicily Naples-Foggia Anzio Rome-Arno Southern France North Apennines Central Europe Po Valley.

Decorations
Distinguished Unit Citations: North Africa and Sicily, Apr. 17 - Aug. 1943, Italy, 23 Sept. 1944.

Insignia
Shield: Per fess nubuly, azure and argent, in chief two cloud formations proper, one issuing from the dexter and one issuing from the sinister, in the base three stars of five points, of the first, two and one, all surmounted in fess, with an ear of wheat proper and a lightning flash, gules in saltire, an edge around the shield sable.

Motto
ANYWHERE - ANYTIME (approved 12 Sept. 1955)


Seventeen states put gasoline rationing into effect

On May 15, 1942, gasoline rationing began in 17 Eastern states as an attempt to help the American war effort during World War II. By the end of the year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ensured that mandatory gasoline rationing was in effect in all 48 states.

America had been debating its entrance into World War II until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The following day, Congress almost unanimously approved Roosevelt’s request for a declaration of war against Japan and three days later Japan’s allies Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. On the home front, ordinary Americans almost immediately felt the impact of the war, as the economy quickly shifted from a focus on consumer goods into full-time war production. As part of this transformation, women went to work in the factories to replace enlisted men, automobile factories began producing tanks and planes for Allied forces and households were required to limit their consumption of such products as rubber, gasoline, sugar, alcohol and cigarettes. 


The Eighth Air Force, “The Mighty Eighth” Was Born on This Day 1942

Just six weeks after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army Air Corps (later to become the Army Air Force) activated the 8th Bomber Command at Hunter Airfield in Savannah, Georgia. The Eighth was slated for duty in England. Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker took the Eighth Air Force Bomber Command Headquarters to England the next month and located at High Wycombe, about 40 miles west of London. As the men began pouring into England, the Eighth Air Force was born. MG Carl “Tooey” Spatz assumed command in May 1942 and established a headquarters at Bushy Park about 15 miles west of London on June 25, 1942.

At its peak, the Mighty Eighth was the most powerful airforce in the world with over 200,000 men assigned to it. During the war’s peak in early 1945, the 8th could send a bomber force of 2000 and 1000 fighters in the air at the same time.

Despite some early growing pains at being housed in Britain, a familiar British refrain was the “Yanks are overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here”, the two cultures meshed and became very close. So close in fact that 50,000 women married US servicemen.

Of the 350,000 men assigned to the Eighth in World War II, 26,000 men paid the ultimate sacrifice. When the Air Force became a separate branch in 1947, the 8th remained active and moved its flag to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana.

Heavy Air Combat Over Europe: The skies over Europe during the war were bloody and violently contested. The goal was for the U.S. and Britain to gain air superiority to the extent that they could launch an invasion of the European mainland.

There was a difference of opinion between the British and Americans over whether or not to use strategic bombing in the daytime or at night. The British favored night bombing the Americans were proponents of precision daylight bombing. They both learned that the Germans, who had a powerful air force, had no concept of strategic bombing and were suited to tactical support. In the end, it was decided the Americans would bomb by day and the British at night.

The 8th AF used the heavy B-17 and B-24 bombers as their main aircraft to take the fight to Germany. The U.S. developed the Norden bombsight that was so advanced at the time, the claim was a bombardier could drop a bomb from high altitude into a pickle barrel. While in combat situations, the results were far from that exact, it was normal for B-17s to drop its bomb load in good weather within 1000 feet of the target.

Read Next: Memphis Belle: The Legendary B-17 Flying Fortress

The United States didn’t have fighters that could escort the bombers to Germany and back until later in the war. They believed that the heavy armament of the bombers, flying in tight formation, could keep the German fighters at bay. They were wrong.

The 12 machine guns (.50 caliber) on each B-17 were insufficient to keep the German fighters away. Losses early in the war were staggering. The 8th Air Force lost over 26,000 men. Initially, air crew losses were at nearly 86 percent. An additional 28,000 men became prisoners of war. Aircraft losses were appalling: 10,561 planes of varying types were shot down, 4754 of those were B-17 heavy bombers. The attrition was so high that the Army capped a crew’s tour to 25 missions. If they survived 25, they could return to the states.

Coincidentally, the first B-17 to complete 25 missions was not the Memphis Belle. The Belle was the first to complete 25 and return home for a bond tour. Captain Irl Baldwin’s Flying Fortress, nicknamed after the Howard Hughes film “Hell’s Angels” in the 303rd Bomb Group, completed their 25 missions, nine days prior and volunteered to remain. They flew 48 combat missions without ever losing a man. I met Baldwin in 1998 at an 8th Air Force Reunion in Savannah. I asked him which was worse, the flak or the fighters. He smiled and said….”yes, both.” He relayed that in the early days of the German raids, you could seemingly walk on German flak for miles.

Hell’s Angels, piloted by Irl Baldwin of the 303rd BG was the first 8th AF bomber to complete 25 missions

During the 995 days of air combat against Germany, the 8th AF sortied 332,645 heavy bombers. Gunners on-board the bombers destroyed 6,001 enemy aircraft in air combat in addition to 3,073 planes destroyed or damaged on the ground. Some of the heaviest losses were against the Schweinfurt ball-bearing factories on August 17, 1943, and again on October 14. In the first raid, of the 209 bombers that crossed the coast, 145 were either lost or damaged. On the latter raid, 254 bombers crossed the coast and 198 were either lost or damaged.

On August 17, 1942, the first American heavy bomber mission was launched from England. Twelve B-17s of the 8th Air Force’s 97th Heavy Bombardment Group raided the Sotteville-lès-Rouen railroad yards, while six more made a diversionary strike. Three more daytime raids went out on August 19, 20, and 21.

By the end of 1942, the 8th Air Force was cutting its teeth on smaller, easily accessible targets along the French coast, much to the chagrin of their British cousins who were leading large night-time raids in Germany and doing heavy damage. In early 1943, the first daylight raids into Germany were hit hard by Nazi fighters.

The Americans switched their tactics and decided to bomb Nazi aircraft factories. The issue was, they were nearly inaccessible and heavily defended like the ones at Regensburg. This was followed by the attempt to cripple the German ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt. The Americans spent a week of flying thru waves of flak and fighters and lost 148 aircraft. And after the horrific losses, they found they did little damage to the German war machine and what damage was incurred was quickly recouped.

With the air war of Germany hanging in the balance, a cooperative effort between the British and Americans turned the tide of the war. The P-51 Mustang was an American built fighter. But from December 1943-March of 1944, the planes were refitted with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The results were dynamic. The Allies now had a fighter escort that could far outperform the German fighters and escort the bombers as far as Berlin and back.

Read Next: Wingate’s Chindits guerrilla warfare campaign against the Japanese

The German fighter command could no longer feel secure anywhere over the skies of Europe in daylight. The air war initiative tipped to the Americans nearly overnight. Everywhere the Germans flew, they faced an ever-increasing multitude of aggressive Mustang pilots.

The bombers, which up to the devastating Schweinfurt raids had been hammered, saw their losses drop dramatically. The skies over Europe became dominated by American air power. As a result, the American planners grew bolder, the results were much more accurate with bomber losses in March 1944 just a third of what they were in October.

By August of 1944, the Allies now well entrenched ashore in France at Normandy and beyond had nearly swept the Luftwaffe from the skies because they had overrun the German early warning radar sites and advanced fighter bases.

One German infantry soldier joked during the Normandy that “if you see a silver plane, it is American. If you see a black plane it is British and if you see no plane it is German.”

With the air war turned, in mid-1944 the Allies turned their sights on German fuel production and transportation networks. Up until 1944, German arms industries had not only kept up with losses but had increased its production. But the turning of the air war had resulted in devastating losses for German war production, especially in their fuel production. By September, Albert Speer, the Nazi architect, turned Armaments Minister, sent a memorandum to Hitler that fuel production was down to just 8 percent of the levels they had in April.

The rail networks were devastated as the Allies hammered the rail junctions by carpet bombing. The result was the slowing and tying up of vast amounts of war material. These were then ripe for fighter-bomber attacks. By January of 1945, air attacks had the entire military system of Germany on the verge of collapse.

The Germans tried a panic move to restore air superiority over Europe with an offensive designed to knock out Allied airfields. Over 950 fighters had been sent west from the Russian Front for “Operation Bodenplatte”. On 1 January, the entire German fighter force in the West, comprising combat aircraft from some eleven fighter wings, took off and attacked 27 Allied airfields in northern France, Belgium and the southern part of the Netherlands in an attempt by the Luftwaffe to regain the initiative.

It failed. The Germans lost 300+ fighters they could ill-afford to do without and the Allies’ losses were replaced in just weeks. The gamble, like the Battle of the Bulge in December, was a failure. No air superiority even briefly was achieved. The result was even less air support from the massive air attacks that were hammering the German’s industry, oil, and transportation systems already.

As Germany shrank, the number of targets did as well and the results were devastating. On April 7, 1945, 8th Air Force bombers in overwhelming force, attacked German airfields destroying 300 fighters on the ground. A week later they smashed 700 more on the ground, the once proud German Luftwaffe was no more.

After the surrender of Germany on May 7, plans were to shift the Mighty 8th, to the Pacific and bomb the Japanese mainland from Okinawa. General Jimmy Doolittle was setting up his headquarters there. The 8th was slated to get the new B-29s. But the two atomic bomb drops on Japan forced them to surrender and the war was over.

Today the 8th AF is part of the USAF’s Air Combat Command and took part in the Gulf War, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, as well as protecting American airspace.

In a future piece, we’ll look deeper at the US fighters and fighter groups in the 8th AF.


The Orange Leader (Orange, Tex.), Vol. 29, No. 194, Ed. 1 Monday, August 17, 1942

Daily newspaper from Orange, Texas that includes local, state and national news along with extensive advertising.

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