Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

“[F]ighters were raising hell. On several occasions I would be safe in saying that every plane [B-17] was sending bullets at fighters – most vivid 4th of July I’ve ever seen, with tracers all over the sky, a formation of bombers, fighters darting in and out and black puffs all around. The fighters followed for 40 minutes, then it ended rather abruptly.”

– Technical Sergeant Robert S. Lash, quoted in Eagles over Husky

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The Collings Foundation B-17G “Nine-O-Nine”

The Luftwaffe inspector of fighters, General Adolf Galland, singled out American four-engine bombers for the defence of Sicily. These efforts were unsuccessful. Unlike the situation over the Reich in 1943, long-range fighter escorts were available to the Allies. P-38 Lightnings would fly with the bombers from bases in North Africa, while Spitfires based in Malta often escorted the bombers in the vicinity of Sicily.  

The B-17 Flying Fortress was one of two heavy bombers serving with the Allied air forces during Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 (the other was the B-24 Liberator; the RAF had Halifaxes in theater, but they were used as transports). These aircraft focused their efforts on Axis aerodromes, lines of communication, and industry in Sicily, Sardinia, and mainland Italy. Nearly all B-17s in the Mediterranean were under the command of Major-General James H. Doolittle and the Northwest African Strategic Air Force.

The lone exceptions were the B-17s of the US 15th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron. These specialist crews were under the command of Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, one of the US president’s sons. As part of the Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing, these modified bombers (F-9s) had their bombarding equipment replaced by photographic equipment and flew with a reduced defensive armament. They flew crucial missions, gathering intelligence for future strikes, damage assessments, cartographers, and army and navy planners.


Specifications (B-17F)

Type: 10-seat heavy bomber

Powerplant: four 895kW (1200hp) Wright R-1820-97 nine-cylinder single-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 523km/h (325mph); climb to 6095m (20,000ft) in 25 minutes 42 seconds; ceiling 11,430m (37,500ft); range 7113km (4420 miles)

Weights: empty 16,206kg (35,728lb); maximum take-off 32,659kg (72,000lb)

Wingspan: 31.63m (103ft 9in)

Length: 22.78m (74ft 9in)

Height: 5.85m (19ft 3in)

Armament: two 7.92mm (0.3in) trainable forward-firing machine guns in cheek positions, three 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in dorsal positions, two 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in the ventral position and one 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable lateral-firing machine gun in each of the two waist positions, plus an internal bomb load of 4761kg (10,496lb)


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The following Northwest African Air Force units flew the Boeing B-17 during Operation Husky:

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 340th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 341st Bombardment Squadron
  • US 342nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 414th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 20th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 49th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 96th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 429th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 346th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 347th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 348th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 416th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 32nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 352nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 353rd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 419th Bombardment Squadron

Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing

  • US 15th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
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