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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Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant

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A Führer conference in May discussed the heavy air attacks and noted the loss of a pair of Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant transports near Alghero, Sardinia.

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

A development of the Messerschmitt Me 321 heavy glider, the Me 323 Gigant (Giant) was the largest transport aircraft of the war. They were first deployed in the Mediterranean, where they helped establish German and Italian forces in Tunisia in the wake of Allied victories in Operation TORCH and at El Alamein. These aircraft took on even greater importance as the Italian merchant fleet dwindled in the face of Allied naval superiority in the central Mediterranean.  

Months later, when the Allied navies sealed the Sicilian Strait, these same transport aircraft attempted to maintain an air bridge between Europe and Tunis. They paid a dear price for their efforts. On 22 April 1943, a formation of 27 fully-loaded Me 323s was nearly wiped out when its Bf 109 escort was overwhelmed by seven squadrons of Spitfires and P-40s. Twenty-one of the transports were lost at a cost of just three P-40s.

The German transport fleet (Ju 52s and Me 323s) played an important role during Operation Husky. They airlanded the 1st Parachute Division in Sicily just in time to thwart General Montgomery’s push to Catania and Messina. The transport crews took another thrashing for their efforts and the Germans withdrew them after losing 10 percent of the force to RAF Spitfires on 25 July 1943. By the end of 1943, the Allies had decimated the German transport force and air mobility ceased to be a meaningful Luftwaffe capability.


Specifications (Me 323 D-6)

Type: five-seat heavy transport with accommodation for 130 troops or 10 to 12 tonnes of equipment

Powerplant: six 868kW (1180hp) Gnome-Rhône 14N-48/49 14-cylinder two-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 285km/h (177mph); ceiling 4,000m (13,123ft); range 800km (500 miles)

Weights: empty 27,330kg (60,260lb); maximum take-off 43,000kg (94,815lb)

Wingspan: 55.2m (181ft 0in)

Length: 28.2m (92ft 4in)

Height: 10.5m (33ft 3.5in)

Armament: multiple 7.92mm (0.30in) MG 15, MG 81, or 13mm (0.51in) MG 131 machine guns


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The following Luftflotte 2 units flew the Me 323 Gigant during Operation HUSKY:

  • Transportgeschwader (TG) 1
    • III/TG 1
  • TG 2
    • III/TG 2
  • TG 3
    • IV/TG 3
  • TG 5
    • I/TG 5
  • II Fliegerkorps Transportstaffel
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Martin Baltimore

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The Martin Baltimore was an American design ordered by the French in May 1940, just as the Battle of France took shape. The French armistice with Nazi Germany forced the Glen L. Martin Company to look for another buyer. They found a willing customer in the Royal Air Force.

The RAF only used these aircraft operationally in North Africa and the Mediterranean. They were used as light attack bombers with the Desert Air Force, which later became part of the Northwest African Tactical Air Force for campaigns in Tunisia and Sicily. By this time, the Tactical Air Force included more advanced bombers like the Douglas Boston. Nevertheless, three squadrons (one of which was South African) continued to operate the Baltimore. These units were a common sight above the British 8th Army, attacking Axis lines of communication, artillery, and troop concentrations.

The Baltimore also served as a maritime reconnaissance, search and rescue, and anti-submarine aircraft. Two squadrons, one with the Northwest African Coastal Air Force and another with Air Headquarters Malta, served in maritime aviation roles during Operation Husky.


Specifications (Baltimore V)

Type: four-seat light bomber

Powerplant: two 1268kW (1700hp) Wright GR-2600-A5B geared radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 488km/h (305mph); range 1577km (980 miles)

Weights: empty 7253kg (15,991lb); loaded 10,900kg (23,185lb)

Wingspan: 18.7m (61ft 4in)

Length: 14.8m (48ft 6in)

Height: 4.32m (14ft 2in)

Armament: four wing-mounted 7.62mm (0.30in) fixed, forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing, two to four 7.7mm (0.303in) trainable rearward-firing machine guns in the dorsal turret, two 7.7mm (0.303in) machine guns in the ventral positions, plus an internal bomb load of 910kg (2000lb)  


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The following Mediterranean Air Command units flew the Martin Baltimore during Operation HUSKY:

Northwest African Coastal Air Force

  • No. 52 Squadron RAF

Northwest African Tactical Air Force

  • No. 21 Squadron SAAF
  • No. 55 Squadron RAF
  • No. 223 Squadron RAF

Air Headquarters Malta

  • No. 69 Squadron RAF
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Junkers Ju 87 Stuka

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Made famous by its part in the Blitzkrieg that led to early German victories in 1939 and 1940, the Junkers Ju 87 was designed as airborne artillery for the army. Even during its early successes in the war, the Stuka was highly vulnerable to enemy fighters. By mid-1943, modern Allied fighters like the Spitfire V, VIII, and IX made the Ju 87’s mission hazardous without air superiority.  

Stukas — short for the German translation of dive bomber — adorned with black crosses were a common sight above Malta and in the Western Desert in 1941-1942. The Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) also flew various models of the Ju 87 during these campaigns. During its defence of Sicily, at least one Italian dive bomber unit flew the aircraft. These obsolete warplanes were part of the Axis force tasked with the impossible mission of stopping the Allied invasion.


Specifications (Junkers Ju 87D-1)

Type: two-seat dive-bomber and close support warplane

Powerplant: one 1044kW (1400hp) Junkers Jumo 211J-1 12-cylinder inverted-Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 410km/h (255mph); climb to 5000m (16,405ft) in 19 minutes 48 seconds; service ceiling 7300mm (23950ft); range 1535km (954 miles)  

Weights: empty 3900kg (8598lb); maximum take-off 6600kg (14,550lb)

Wingspan: 13.8m (45ft 3in)

Length: 11.50m (37ft 9in)

Height: 3.88m (12ft 9in)

Armament: two 7.92mm (0.31in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing and one 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable two-barrel rearward-firing machine gun in the rear of the cockpit, plus an external bomb load of 1800kg (3968lb)


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The following Regia Aeronautica units flew the Junkers Ju 87 during Operation HUSKY:

  • 121 Gruppo Tuffatori
    • 237 Squadriglia
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Douglas C-47 Skytrain / Dakota

As the lead C-47 transport began to unload its charges, red anti-aircraft tracer fire lit up the night sky. By the time the firing stopped nearly two dozen aircraft had been shot down with an estimated 410 paratrooper casualties.

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

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C-47 Skytrain, Sicily by Roy Cross

General Dwight Eisenhower, who was commander-in-chief for the Sicily operation and later went on to command all Allied forces in Europe, called the C-47 one of his tools of victory. The Americans designated the C-47 as the Skytrain, while the British referred to it as the Dakota. These aircraft played crucial roles in troop transport, equipment and supply airlift, and casualty evacuation.

The airborne insertions tied to Operation Husky were undoubtedly the worst failures of Allied inter-service cooperation in Sicily. Poor weather, routing, inexperience among aircrews, and itchy trigger fingers among anti-aircraft gunners caused the loss of dozens of aircraft and hundreds of airborne troops. It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that friendly fire cost the Allies more transport aircraft during Operation Husky than the enemy did.

The airborne troops who did survive their drops or glider tugs from C-47s and other transport aircraft made a difference on the ground. Just like on D-Day a year later, the airborne troops confused the German and Italian defenders. They also helped to hold up crucial Axis counter attacks, especially in the sector of American landings near Gela. In the British sector, airborne troops helped capture intact a pair of bridges that facilitated Montgomery’s advance towards Catania.


Specifications (C-47)

Type: two/three-seat transport with accommodation for 28 troops, or 14 litters plus three attendants or 10,000lb (4536kg) of freight

Powerplant: two 895kW (1200hp) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 14-cylinder two-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 370km/h (230mph); climb to 3050m (10,000ft) in 9 minutes 36 seconds; service ceiling 7315m (24,000ft); range 2575km (1600 miles)

Weights: empty 8103kg (17,865lb); maximum take-off 14,061kg (31,000lb)

Wingspan: 28.90m (95ft)

Length: 19.63m (64ft 5.5in)

Height: 5.20m (16ft 11in)

Armament: none


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The following Northwest African Troop Carrier Command units flew the Douglas C-47 Skytrain in the invasion of Sicily:

US 51st Troop Carrier Wing

  • 60th Troop Carrier Group
    • 10th Squadron
    • 11th Squadron
    • 12th Squadron
    • 28th Squadron
  • 62nd Troop Carrier Group
    • 4th Squadron
    • 7th Squadron
    • 8th Squadron
    • 51st Squadron
  • 64th Troop Carrier Group
    • 16th Squadron
    • 17th Squadron
    • 18th Squadron
    • 35th Squadron
  • 316th Troop Carrier Group
    • 36th Squadron
    • 44th Squadron
    • 45th Squadron

US 52nd Troop Carrier Wing

  • 61st Troop Carrier Group
    • 14th Squadron
    • 15th Squadron
    • 53rd Squadron
    • 59th Squadron
  • 313th Troop Carrier Group
    • 29th Squadron
    • 47th Squadron
    • 48th Squadron
    • 49th Squadron
  • 314th Troop Carrier Group
    • 32nd Squadron
    • 50th Squadron
    • 61st Squadron
    • 62nd Squadron
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Messerschmitt Bf 110

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The Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter (Zerstörer — “Destroyer” in German) was a pre-war design that went through many upgrades during the Second World War. The aircraft was one of the few long-range fighters the Luftwaffe possessed but, while heavily armed, could not compete with smaller and more nimble Allied planes. Its heavy armament and the extra space its airframe afforded made it a good candidate as a night fighter, fighter-bomber, and long-range reconnaissance aircraft.


Specifications (Bf 110F-2)

Type: two-seat heavy fighter

Powerplant: two 1007kW (1350hp) Daimler-Benz DB 601F 12-cylinder inverted-Vee engines

Performance: maximum speed 565km/h (351mph); climb to 6000m (19,685ft) in 9 minutes 12 seconds; service ceiling 10,900m (35,760ft); range 1200km (746 miles)

Weights: empty 5600kg (12,346lb); maximum take-off 7200kg (15,873lb)

Wingspan: 16.20m (53ft 2in)

Length: 12.10m (38ft 8in)

Height: 4.13m (13ft 7in) with the tail up

Armament: two 20mm (0.79in) forward-firing cannon and four 7.92mm (0.31in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the nose and one 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable rearward-firing machine gun in the rear cockpit


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The following Luftflotte 2 units flew Messerschmitt Bf 110s in defence of Sicily:

Night Fighters (Bf 110 or Ju 88)

  • Nachtjagdgeschwader (NJG) 2
    • II/NJG 2

Twin-Engine Fighters (Bf 110 & Me 210)

  • Zerstörergeschwader (ZG) 1
    • II/ZG 1
  • ZG 26
    • Gruppenstab ZG 26
    • III/ZG 26
    • X/ZG 26
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Supermarine Walrus

Beyond Courage (Book Cover, Grub St)
The rescue of W/C W. G. G. Duncan Smith DSO DFC by a Walrus of 284 Squadron, 2 September 1943, off the Italian coast, whilst being attacked by Me109s of JG 52 (Barry Weekly)

The Supermarine Walrus owes its existence to R.J. Mitchell, the same aeronautical engineer who designed the Spitfire in its early stages.

In the early days of the Second World War in the Mediterranean, the Royal Air Force’s air-sea rescue (ASR) capabilities were small. The air fighting above Malta was serviced by motor launches, while most of the air fighting in the Western Desert occurred over land. That all changed with Operation Torch and Operation Husky.

In February 1943, No. 283 Squadron became the first RAF ASR squadron in the western Mediterranean. In anticipation of the invasion of Sicily, No. 284 Squadron formed in the United Kingdom and transited to Malta just in time for the assault. Both units flew the Walrus. With Allied aircraft flying to targets in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy from North Africa, Malta, and Pantelleria, these ASR crews would be busy during the campaign.

In fact, according to Beyond Courage, aviation historian Norman Franks’s book on Walrus squadrons in the Mediterranean, these squadrons made 36 rescues (of Allied and Axis aircrews) between the end of fighting in North African and the end of fighting in Sicily. It must have given Allied aircrews some confidence to know that if they went down over water there was a chance of rescue.


Specifications

Type: 3-4 seat amphibious reconnaissance aircraft

Powerplant: one 510kW (680hp) Bristol Pegasus VI radial engine

Performance: maximum speed 215km/h (135mph) at 1450m (4750ft); range 965km (600 miles); service ceiling 5650m (18,500ft); rate of climb 318 meters per minute (1050ft per minute)

Weights: empty 2220kg (4900lb); maximum take-off 3650kg (8050lb)

Wingspan: 14m (45ft 10in)

Length: 11.45m (36ft 7in)

Height: 4.6m (15ft 3in)

Armament: two or three 7.7mm (0.303in) Vickers K machine guns, plus 600lbs of wing-mounted equipment.


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The following Northwest African Coastal Air Force units used the Supermarine Walrus in the invasion of Sicily:

  • No. 283 Squadron RAF
  • No. 284 Squadron RAF