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: 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
Book News

YouTuber Features ‘Eagles over Husky’

Eagles over Husky is on YouTube! 

The Military Aviation History channel features the book in its latest video. It’s a great script, including accounts from Johannes Steinhoff, a Luftwaffe ace who experienced the Allied onslaught first-hand. For Steinhoff, Operation Husky was the moment he realized that the tide had turned, and Nazi Germany was on an inevitable road to defeat.

Check the video out below!

Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Supermarine Walrus

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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

 

Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Martin B-26 Marauder

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The Martin B-26 Marauder was introduced to the Mediterranean Theatre by No. 14 Squadron RAF in mid-1942. No. 14 Squadron used these aircraft in the long-range maritime reconnaissance, minelaying, and anti-shipping roles. In March 1943, as the end in North Africa neared, the squadron began using their aircraft in the anti-submarine role. They also had a role in the slaughter of German and Italian air transports desperately trying to resupply the Tunisian bridgehead.

The USAAF first deployed the B-26 in the Mediterranean during Operation Torch. For the campaign in North Africa, these medium bombers deployed in low-level attacks against heavily defended targets. Heavy losses forced their reorientation as a medium-level bomber.

For Operation Husky, the bulk of Martin B-26 Marauders served in the Strategic Air Force under Major General James Doolittle. These B-26s were part of the 2686th Medium Bombardment Wing (Provincial), established from 6 June to 3 September 1943. Flying missions from North Africa, these aircraft struck enemy aerodromes, war industry, and lines of communication in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy.


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Specifications (B-26A)

Type: seven-seat medium bomber

Powerplant: two 1379kW (1850hp) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-5 18-cylinder two-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 507km/h (315mph) at 4570m (15,000ft); climb to 4570m (15,000ft) in 12 minutes 30 seconds; service ceiling 7620m (25,000ft); range 1609km (1000 miles)

Weights: empty 9696kg (21,375lb); maximum take-off 14,515kg (32,000lb)

Wingspan: 18.81m (65ft)

Length: 17.07m (56ft)

Height: 6.05m (19ft 10in)

Armament: one 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable forward-firing machine gun in the nose position, two 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in the dorsal turret and one 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable rearward-firing machine gun in the tail position, plus an internal and external bomb load of 4800lb (2177kg)


The following Mediterranean Air Command units flew the Martin B-26 during Operation HUSKY:

Northwest African Coastal Air Force

  • No. 14 Squadron RAF

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 34th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 37th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 95th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 432nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 437th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 438th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 439th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 440th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 441st Bombardment Squadron
  • US 442nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 443rd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 444th Bombardment Squadron
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk / Kittyhawk

After surviving the German pass, Charles “Seabuster” Hall spotted what he identified as a pair of Fw 190s angling in on the egressing bombers. He positioned his P-40 on the tail of the trailing fighter and loosed a long burst from his .50 caliber machine guns. This time the Tuskegee airman was able to follow his victim as the machine dove abruptly toward the ground. The Fw 190 hit the ground in a “big cloud of dust.”

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

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The Vintage Wings of Canada “Stocky” Edwards Kittyhawk in No. 260 Squadron RAF colours

The Curtiss P-40 was the workhorse of the Allied air forces in the middle years of the Second World War. For Operation Husky, most US fighter squadrons flew the Warhawk, the code-name for the P-40F/L/K/M and N variants. Squadrons like the 99th Fighter Squadron — the famous Tuskegee originals — flew combat air patrols over the beaches and escorted bombers of the Tactical and Strategic Air Forces on missions around Sicily and Sardinia.

The British code-named these variants the Kittyhawk. They saw extensive use with the Desert Air Force as both fighters and fighter-bombers. By mid-1943, the Desert Air Force had received large stocks of Supermarine Spitfires, relegating Kittyhawks to the fighter-bomber role. These ‘Kittybombers’ provided close air support to Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army in Sicily. Some French units also flew Kittyhawks on local air defence missions with the Coastal Air Force.  


Specifications (P-40M)

Type: single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber

Powerplant: one 895kW (1200hp) Allison V-1710-81 12-cylinder Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 552km/h (343 mph); climb to 6095m (20,000ft) in 8 minutes 48 seconds; service ceiling 9450m (31,000ft); range 1207km (750 miles)

Weights: empty 2812kg (6200lb); maximum take-off 5171kg (11,400lb)

Wingspan: 11.37m (37ft 4in)

Length: 10.16m (33ft 4in)

Height: 3.23m (10ft 7in)

Armament: six 12.7mm (0.5in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing, plus an external bomb load of 680kg (1500lb)


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The following Mediterranean Air Command units used the Curtiss P-40 / Kittyhawk in the invasion of Sicily:

Northwest African Coastal Air Force

  • No. II/5 (French) Squadron
  • No. II/7 (French) Squadron

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 317th Fighter Squadron
  • US 318th Fighter Squadron
  • US 319th Fighter Squadron

Norwest African Tactical Air Force

  • Desert Air Force
    • No. 3 Squadron RAAF
    • No. 5 Squadron SAAF
    • No. 112 Squadron RAF
    • No. 250 Squadron RAF
    • No. 260 Squadron RAF
    • No. 450 Squadron RAAF
    • US 64th Fighter Squadron
    • US 65th Fighter Squadron
    • US 66th Fighter Squadron
    • US 85th Fighter Squadron
    • US 86th Fighter Squadron
    • US 87th Fighter Squadron
  • XII Air Support Command
    • US 58th Fighter Squadron
    • US 59th Fighter Squadron
    • US 60th Fighter Squadron
    • US 99th Fighter Squadron