For Aircraft Enthusiasts: 85 years of the B-17, part 3. In his majesty's service, the RAF

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by Blazer, Jun 29, 2020.

  1. Blazer


    Nov 27, 2003
    The Netherlands
    Rogue luthier employed at Knooren Handcrafted bass guitars
    Well then let's continue our history lesson about the B-17 and today we'll talk about the type going to war for the first time.
    Prior to the war starting, representatives of the Royal Air Force went to the United states to check out their inventory of planes, they would fly in anger against the Germans if the likelihood of war starting would ever come true, which as we all know, did.

    Air Marshall Keith Park wasn't too impressed with the flying fortress which he described as being more a plane for spoiled rich kids, rather than a war machine. Regardless, the pilots disagreed with his notion and were enthusiastic about the Big Boeing as it was a pleasant flyer and had a far larger range than the Vickers Wellington Bombers they had been flying.
    The Wellington, like so many planes at the start of the war had been designed with a completely different idea of what aerial warfare should be in mind. This picture shows the Wellington's main weakness: it had a turret at the front and another at the tail but fighters could bring it down by either attacking it from the side or from below.
    Bomber Command crews getting into a B-17D or as they called it "Fortress Mk.1" Clearly visible are its blister shaped side windows from which the gunners could fire and the ventral gondola which also held twin fifty calibers.

    But when the planes carried out their first raid, bombing the German port of Wilhelmshaven, the crews quickly discovered that their B-17's had a couple of kinks in their armor. The bombers didn't have self sealing talks, the windows from the blister shaped side gun positions were difficult to open when in flight, the machine guns themselves were prone to freezing, the bomb aiming mechanism wasn't accurate and the fact that even with triple the amount of gunners as the Wellington, it still wasn't enough as German pilots quickly caught on that the lack of a tail gunner made the Bomber vulnerable from attack from behind.

    But the biggest problem was that the planes weren't equipped with oxygen tanks, so the only way to have a crew flying at cruising altitude of 30,000 feet was for them to be as young as possible, some captains not older than 21, anybody older would die from asphyxiation.

    So when Bomber Command saw the losses they decided to abandon the B-17. But not before telling Boeing and the USAAF about what the problems were. Boeing was listening, the USAAF's high command on the other hand was NOT listening but more about that in part four.

    But the planes quickly found a home at Coastal command.
    This is a fortress Mk.2A AKA, a B-17E, as I said before, Boeing was paying very close attention to what the Brits were telling them. The B-17E was the result of their input. The vertical tail was redesigned to improve stability and to allow the fitting of a tail gunner, in addition, the blister shaped windows from the side gunners were replaced by a square window which slid open to the other side but most of the times, the gunners never closed them as they allowed the gunners to move around freely. But also the fitting of Oxygen tanks and improving general creature comforts made it a much better platform.

    Both versions of the plane were operated by Coastal command as maritime patrol aircraft, being loaded with depth charges instead of bombs, to fight against submarines of the German navy who were wreaking havoc on the vital merchant shipping which were keeping the UK in the war.

    Coastal command used their B-17's which were later augmented by F and G models to moderate success as the 23 planes they operated had been credited 11 submarine kills during the war. Before Consolidated B-24 Liberators replaced them.

    But the Boeing wasn't done yet, Coastal command then found another use for their B-17's, 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.

    But the most creative use of the B-17 in RAF service was when those crafty Brits began using them as jammers, the planes would fly along with actual bomber fleets but would disrupt German Radio operations and send out phony messages to the German night fighter pilots in fluent German, posing as the radar command center, giving the fighter the wrong directions. The operation was known as "Airborne Cigar" or ABC.
    One of the Airborne Cigar Jammers, note that the nose turret has been replaced with a radar dome.

    After the war ended, in accordance to the terms of the lend-lease agreement, the RAF handed over their fortresses back to the USA, the oldest of which being Fortress Mk1.
    nutdog, frnjplayer, kobass and 7 others like this.
  2. roller

    roller Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2014
    As always, big thanks, Blazer! Appreciate you putting these together!

  3. bobba66


    May 18, 2006
    Arlington, Texas
    My second favorite airplane, right after the B-36.:woot: