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Northstar Gallery


Aviation Photography

B-17 Flying Fortress


Fine art photography exploring the Beauty, 0f  classic World War II Aircraft

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain

Statistics published by the Army Air Forces tell a dramatic story about the air war against Germany. During the course of the war, 1,693,565 sorties were flown by 32,263 combat aircraft.! 14a

Incredibly Fifty-five percent of these 32,263 aircraft were lost in action while 29,916 enemy aircraft were destroyed. On the human side, there were 94,565 American air combat casualties with 30,099 killed in action. 51,106 American airmen were either missing in action, POWs, evaders, or internees. 14a

The B-17 was one of the major offensive weapons of WWII with the G model playing the major role in Allied bombardment.

The B-17G was introduced onto the Fortress production line in July of 1943, and was destined to be produced in larger numbers than any other models. The most readily-noticeable innovation introduced by the B-17G was the power-operated Bendix turret mounted in a chin-type installation underneath the nose. This turret was equipped with two 0.50-inch machine guns. This installation had first been tested in combat by the YB-40 and was found to be the only viable innovation introduced by the unsuccessful escort Fortress. Another innovation introduced by the G was having the waist guns being permanently enclosed behind windows instead of being mounted behind removable hatches. This made the rear fuselage somewhat less drafty. The cheek nose guns introduced on the late B-17F were retained, but were staggered so that the left gun was in the forward side window and the right gun was in the middle side window, which reversed the positions used on the late Fs. The cheek gun mounts bulged somewhat outward into the air stream, which helped to improve the forward view from the cheek gun positions. 2a

The B-17G now had the defensive firepower of thirteen Browning 0.50-inch machine guns that included two chin guns, two cheek guns, two dorsal turret guns, two ventral turret guns, two waist guns, tail guns and one gun in the roof of the radio operator's position. B-17Gs were built by all three members of the "B.V.D." production pool which included: Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed-Vega 2a


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain

The B-17G entered service with the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces in late 1943. Camouflage paint was deleted from production B-17Gs starting in January of 1944. B-17Gs were delivered in natural metal finish and the Cheyenne tail gun modifications were also incorporated. These tail gun mountings also had a reflector gunsight instead of the previous ring and bead. With this installation, these B-17Gs were five inches shorter than the earlier versions. On later production versions, it was necessary to stagger the waist gun positions so that the two gunners would not get in each other's way. On the last production batches the radio compartment gun was not installed. The ammunition capacity of the waist guns was increased to 600 rounds per gun. When production ended in 1945, a total of 4035 B-17Gs had been built by Boeing, 2395 by Douglas and 2250 by Lockheed-Vega. The last Boeing-built B-17G was delivered on April 13, 1945 was redesignated XB-17G when assigned to test work. 2a

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain



Total production of B-17 totaled 12731, comprised of: 1 Model 299, 13 Y1B-17, 1 Y1B-17A, 39 B-17B, 38 B-17C, 42 B-17D, 512 B-17E, 3405 B-17F and 8680 B-17Gs; 4035 by Boeing, 2395 by Douglas, 2250 by Lockheed-Vega. 2a

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

A normal crew consisted of six to ten airmen which included a pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier, radio operator, two waist gunners, a tail gunner and a gunner in the belly turret. The bombardier's compartment is in the nose nose. The cockpit seats the pilot and co-pilot side-by-side with dual controls in front of leading-edge of wing. Aft of pilot's position is the upper electrically-operated two-gun turret. Radio-operator's position is amidship with two waist gunner positions aft of the wings.  2a

The B-17 G was powered by Four 1200 h.p. Wright R-1820-97 nine-cylinder radial air-cooled engines with General Electric Type B-22 exhaust-driven turbo-superchargers. 2a

Maximum speed was 472km/h at 25,000ft and could Climb to 25,000 ft in 41 minutes. The Service ceiling was 35,000ft. Normal range with maximum bomb load was 955 nm at 190 kt at 25,000ft. 2a

Weight empty was 32,720lb, normal weight loaded 49,500 lb and maximum overloaded weight 60,000lb. 2a

The wing span was103ft 9in, length 74ft 9in, height 19ft 1in, wing area - 1420sq ft. 2a

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain



In the 1930's, the nation's military leaders debated bomber doctrine strenuously. Among the most influential views were those of Billy Mitchell and his bomber advocates. 6a.

For them, the B-17 was a godsend - a manufactured, tangible embodiment of a "Flying Fortress. In 1934, the Army issued specs for a "multi" engine bomber, which Boeing interpreted as having to have four engines. While the Martin B-10 bomber was considered adequate to defend the continental United States, Boeing designed an altogether heavier, faster, higher-flying, and longer-range bomber. This bomber would prove invaluable in the strategic air war over Germany that would be fought in the coming years.6a

The Fortress was originally designed to meet a bomber specification issued by the U.S. Army Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Air Corps in 1934.2a On August 8th, 1934, the Army Air Corps put out a tender called ‘Proposal 32-26’ for a 250 mph bomber with a range of 2000 miles and an operating ceiling of 10,000 feet. An ailing Boeing Company, headed by Edward C. Wells, took up the challenge. Wells used almost all of the spare capital and manpower Boeing had to complete the bid. The name of the project was Model 2-99. 1a. The prototype, Boeing Model 299, first flew on July 28, 1935. A month later, the sleek, silver aircraft flew to Wright Field in Ohio in record time. It later crashed at its USAAC evaluation flight in October. Despite this accident, which was traced to human error, the Air Corps recognized the potential of the Model 299 aka XB-17, and ordered thirteen service-test models Y1B-17 for evaluation. Among the notable changes incorporated into the Y1B-17, were use of the 930-hp Wright Cyclones rather than the original 750-hp Pratt & Whitneys a change which lost 70,000 engine orders for the East Hartford company. The first Y1B-17, of a production order of thirteen, was delivered to the Air Corps in March of 1937. In January, 1939 an experimental Y1B-17A fitted with turbo-supercharged engines was delivered to the Army Air Corps. Following successful trials, an order for 39 additional planes was placed for this model under the designation B-17B. 2a

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


The name "Flying Fortress" was coined by Richard Williams, a reporter for the Seattle Times who gave this name to the Model 299 when it was rolled out showing off its machine gun installations. Boeing was quick to see the value of the title and had it trademarked for use. 8a

The B-17 was a low-wing monoplane that combined aerodynamic features of the XB-15 giant bomber and the Model 247 transport. The B-17 was the first Boeing military aircraft with a flight deck instead of an open cockpit and was armed with both bombs and five .30-caliber machine guns mounted in clear blisters. 9a

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress over New York City

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


All Y1B-17s were delivered between January 11 and August 4, 1937. Twelve of the Y1B-17s were delivered to the 2nd Bombardment Group based at Langley Field, Virginia for evaluation. A thirteenth Y1B-17 was delivered to Wright Field for experimental tests. At this time, the dozen Y1B-17s of the 2nd Bombardment Group comprised the entire heavy bombardment capacity of the United States. 10a

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress over Washington DC

USAAF Photo - Public Domain

The 2nd Bombardment Group spent its time working out the bugs in the B-17. One of the recommendations was the use of a check list that the pilot and copilot would go through together before takeoff, hopefully preventing accidents such as the one which resulted in the loss of the Model 299. 10a

In early 1938, Colonel Robert C. Olds, commander of the 2nd Bombardment Group flew a Y1B-17 to set a new east-to-west transcontinental record of 12 hours 50 minutes. He immediately turned around and broke the west-to-east record, averaging 245 mph in 10 hours 46 minutes. 6a

In 1937 the 2nd Bombardment Group was equipped with B-17s. They were used to perfect high-altitude, long-distance bombing. At the time the only foreseeable use of such a capability was the defense of the nation's shores from enemy fleets, the U.S. Navy fiercely opposed the Army's development of the four-engine bomber. By way of a compromise the Army ordered 39 more B-17B's. The Air Corps' air doctrine planned for large formations of fast, high-flying B-17 bombers, defending themselves against enemy fighters with their own massed machine-gun fire. Fighter escort was considered impractical, and even undesirable by the bomber advocates. In a way, any admission that fighter escort was necessary would imply that enemy fighters posed a real threat and that the Flying Fortresses were not invulnerable. 6a

The B-17 first saw combat in 1941, when the British Royal Air Force took delivery of several B-17s for high-altitude missions. As World War II intensified, the bombers needed additional armament and armor and each successive model was more heavily armed. 9a


B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty




There is no doubt that FDR and Churchill set the policy and probably more importantly the tone of the war effort. Allied bombing policy was clearly established at Casablanca in the POINTBLANK directive of 14 May 1943. The policy semantically gave both nations what they wanted in theory and achieved the same result in practice. That objective was the eventual disruption of Germany's ability to support its fighting forces and in conjunction with the ground forces to defeat Germany. Much has been written on Harris’s aversion to panacea targets.15 Yet Curtis LeMay also wrote against "panaceas" comparing them to the "Fountain of Youth."16 Whether oil or ball bearings both men knew that only a sustained campaign against all the targets identified in the POINTBLANK Directive, which was in fact almost all industrial and military targets in Germany, could victory be won. It should be noted that the tonnage dropped by the 8th AAF on "precision" targets was substantially less than the total tonnage dropped by Harris' Bomber Command.17

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

General LeMay was an innovator, "probably the most innovative air commander of World War II.18 One biographer stated that "his fame and ingenuity as an air commander far exceeded that of Gen. George Patton as a ground commander.19 His ability to maintain the objective was clearly demonstrated in his great tactical innovations, formation flying against Germany and low level night bombing against Japan. The story of how as commander of the 305th Bombardment Group Curtis LeMay improved bombing accuracy is indicative of his ingenuity. He reasoned that in order to bomb accurately and with the shortest exposure to enemy fire, and hence less chance of becoming a casualty, was to fly in a straight line. Only with accuracy, which could not be attained during evasive maneuvers, would bombing be effective and achieve the aim of winning the war. LeMay also addressed the need for better protection from fighters with the creation of the Combat Box formation.20 The effectiveness of these radical innovations was confirmed as the entire 8th USAAF adopted LeMay's strategies. The result of these discoveries, coupled with long range fighter support, not only meant better results but also fewer casualties. 5a 

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

LeMay personally lead many of the missions he sent his troops on, including the infamous Schweinfurt/Regensburg shuttle raid in October 1943. This ensured that the aircrews knew that he was risking himself to prove his ideas. Harris due to many factors, including the fact the Chief of Air Staff would never have let him, never was able to fly missions as commander of Bomber Command. Yet his airmen still knew that he cared for them and was doing everything possible for their welfare.5a 

In 1930, Billy Mitchell gave  a clear statement of his doctrine. 

"War is the attempt of one nation to impress its will on another nation by force after all other means of arriving at an adjustment of a dispute have failed. The attempt of one combatant, therefore, is to so control the vital centers of the other that it will be powerless to defend itself. The vital areas consist of cities where the people live, areas where their food and supplies are produced and the transport lines that carry these supplies from place to place."21

Hence, in any future war "aircraft will project the spear point of the nation's offensive and defensive power against the vital centers of the opposing country."23 In spite of its horror, the new weapon would humanize war. "The result of warfare by air will be to bring about quick decisions. Superior air power will cause such havoc, or the threat of such havoc, in the opposing country that a long drawn out campaign will be impossible."24 A strong air force in would discourage any potential assailants, but "woe be to the nation that is weak in the air."25

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty


Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7,1941 brought the United States into the war and production of the B-17 rapidly increased. By July 1942 the US began forming the Eighth Air Force in Britain, equipped with B-17Es. The 'E' represented an important improvement over the earlier B-17s, in that it had a tail turret, eliminating a previous defensive blind spot.  11a

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

The first Eighth Air Force units arrived in Britain on May 12, 1942. The first USAAF Flying Fortress arrived at Prestwick in Scotland on July 1, 1942. The first Flying Fortress raid over Europe was launched on August 17, 1942 by 18 B-17Es of the 97th Bombardment Group against railroad marshaling yards at Rouen-Sotteville in France. Twelve planes made the actual attack and the remaining six flew a diversionary sweep up the coast. Brig General Ira Eaker flew B-17E 41-9023 "Yankee Doodle". The formation was escorted by Spitfires and no opposition was encountered from the Luftwaffe. 10a

For a list of units in the USAAF using B-17s click here.

Schweinfurt, was an industrial city of 50,000 people located on the Main River in northern Bavaria, and was a center for the manufacture of anti-friction ball bearings. As the U.S. 8th Air Force built up its strength in in 1943, planners decided to concentrate on industrial targets that would most hurt the German war effort, particularly the aircraft industry. Low-friction ball and roller bearings were essential to all aspect of military and commercial machinery. Military intelligence indicated that half of the German ball bearing production capacity was located in Schweinfurt concentrated at five factory sites on the western side of town. The 8th Air Force Bomber Command theorized that if they could strike hard enough at Schweinfurt, the results might cripple the German war effort. 12a.

Fichtel & Sachs company

The U.S. 8th Air Force engaged in precision daylight bombing; however, that left the B-17 bombers vulnerable to the Luftwaffe for most of their flights to and from the target since the Allies did not yet have fighter escorts with a range to accompany the bombers beyond German borders. Bomber Command concluded that the "combat box" formations of the heavily-armed "Flying Fortresses" would provide sufficient interlocking firepower to defend against the Luftwaffe fighters. 12a.

The VKF-Werk II ball bearing factory

Schweinfurt was first attacked on August 17, 1943. 230 B-17s were mounted for the attack, but the Luftwaffe marshaled over 300 fighters in opposition. 184 B-17s reached Schweinfurt and 36 either crash landed or were shot down with bomber crews experiencing 341 casualties. The defensive effectiveness of the box formations had not been sufficient to defeat the lethal attacks of the Luftwaffe. Coupled with a loss of 24 bombers and 200 men from a strike on Regensburg that same day, this was a heavy blow to the 8th Air Force. In addition, reconnaissance indicated the Schweinfurt bombing was not as accurate as had been hoped and the ball bearing factories had not been critically damaged. 12a.

After three months of rebuilding its strength, the 8th Air Force again attacked Schweinfurt on October 14, 1943. The day would go down in history as "Black Thursday." 291 B-17s left England, 229 bombers reached the target, and 60 bombers were lost. Crew casualties amounted to 639 men, a loss the 8th Air Force could not afford and which for all practical purposes stopped unescorted deep bombing penetrations into Germany. The bombing of Schweinfurt was more accurate this time, but strike analysis indicated that it did not impose a crippling blow to the German ball bearing industry. 12a. 



Whenever I see them ride on high
Gleaming and proud in the morning sky
Or lying awake in bed at night
I hear them pass on their outward flight
I feel the mass of metal and guns
Delicate instruments, deadweight tons
Awkward, slow, bomb racks full
Straining away from downward pull
Straining away from home and base
And try to see the pilot's face
I imagine a boy who's just left school
On whose quick-learned skill and courage cool
Depend the lives of the men in his crew
And success of the job they have to do.
And something happens to me inside
That is deeper than grief, greater than pride
And though there is nothing I can say
I always look up as they go their way
And care and pray for every one,
And steel my heart to say,
"Thy will be done."

— Sarah Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston.



In 1943, it was estimated that one third of all B17 crews would not survive the war. Huge losses sustained in daylight raids nearly caused a decision to end Allied daylight bombing.  1a. 



I sweep the skies with fire and steel
My highway is the cloud
I swoop, I soar, aloft I wheel
My engine laughing loud
I fight with gleaming blades the wind
That dares dispute my path
I leave the howling storm behind
I ride upon it's wrath.

I laugh to see your tiny world
Your toys of ships, your cars
I rove an endless road unfurled
Where the mile stones are the stars
And far below, men wait and peer
For what my coming brings
I fill their quaking hearts with fear
For death...is in my wings.

— Gordon Boshell, written after watching Battle of Britain dogfights from the streets of London.



The 8th Air Force did not attack Schweinfurt again until February 1944, by which time the Allies had long-range escort fighters and the Luftwaffe was on the wane. In total, Schweinfurt was bombed 22 times by 2285 aircraft. A total of 7933 tons or 592,598 individual bombs were dropped on Schweinfurt. However, after "Black Thursday" the bearing industry was dispersed and it was no longer possible to cripple the industry by concentrating on isolated industrial targets. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey indicated that production fell in early 1944 to about half of the pre-attack totals, it rose again to about 85 percent by mid-1944. The German war machine never suffered from a significant loss in bearing supply throughout the war.  12a.

On August 19, twenty four Fortresses took part in an attack on the German airfield at Abbeville in support of the disastrous raid at Dieppe. All planes returned safely to base, but the landing force at Dieppe was decimated. 10a.

The next ten raids went fairly well, with only two planes being lost.


B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress photo by Dennis FeltyA study done by the 8th Air Force in 1943, showed that over 50% of plane losses resulted from B17’s leaving the protection of their formation. As bombers would fall behind, the German Luftwaffe would pick off the stragglers. In 1944 a new pattern of defensive flying was introduced. B17’s had traditionally flown in wings of 18 bombers, now the B-17s were to fly in wings of 36, with each wing  comprised of three flights of 12 B17s flying in close formation. Each wing of 36 bombers possessed massive firepower. The new Model Gs had increased defensive capacity from additional machine guns at the front of the plane to fight off frontal assaults. The Model G mounted thirteen .50 caliber guns giving each plane increased firing capacity and a powerful defense against fighter assaults. The massive close formations did contribute to an increased incidence of mid air collisions.












Miscellaneous equipment







On January 3, 1943 the new bombing-on-the-leader technique was introduced. Instead of each plane dropping its bombs individually, all bombardiers released their bombs when the saw the bombs leave the bay of the lead aircraft. This technique usually resulted in better accuracy, since the most skilled bombardier was generally in the lead plane. 10a.

The successful completion of the North African campaign resulted in the resumption of the bomber offensive against the Germans in northern Europe. The first USAAF mission over Germany was a raid on January 27, 1943 against the U-boat construction yards at the port of Wilhelmshaven. It was carried out by a force of B-17Fs drawn from the 92st, 303rd, 305th, and 306th Bomb Groups.

March 18 saw first use of Automatic Flight Control Equipment (AFCE) in a raid on the Bremer Vulkan shipbuilding yards at Vegesack. AFCE was a system in which the Norden bombsight controlled the aircraft during the final bomb run via a link with the autopilot. Luftwaffe fighters put up strong opposition that day, but their attacks were relatively uncoordinated. 3a.

On April 17, 1943, the Focke-Wulf plant at Bremen was attacked by a force of 115 Fortresses. The Luftwaffe came out in full strength and 16 B-17s did not return, the heaviest loss rate to date. After that date, German fighter attacks began to become increasingly more effective and better coordinated, and bomber losses frequently were over ten percent of the attacking force, especially whenever the Fortresses went beyond the limited radius of their fighter escorts. The German fighters began to attack the Fortress formations from the "twelve o'clock high" spot directly head-on. This innovation was supposedly introduced by Luftwaffe Oberleutnant Egon Mayer, who had noticed that the firepower from the B-17 was weak in the nose area, with there being significant blind spots that neither the nose guns nor the top-turret gunner could adequately cover from the front. Additional guns were hastily added to the nose in an attempt to beef up the forward firepower. However, the much-publicized vulnerability to frontal attacks was due more to the lack of armor that was properly positioned to protect the crew against gunfire coming from the front than it was due to the lack of enough front-firing guns. Another problem was the unfortunate tendency of the B-17 to catch fire when hit by flak or cannon fire, which was never really cured. 10a.

German FW 190 fighters carried armor plate on the underside the plane. Frequently on a frontal attack they would roll to an inverted position while attacking, exposing only the armored underside of their aircraft as they passed under the targeted B-17.

By September 1943, the Flying Fortress showed its final shape. During firepower tests on the XB-40, a modified B-17F, the advantage of a chin turret was clearly proven and a new series, labeled the B-17G went into production. The Bendix nose turret mounted two .50-cal. guns and this model had a total of twelve of these weapons with 6,380 rounds of ammunition. 11a.


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in formation

USAAF Photo - Public Domain

By 1944, the B17’s began to benefit from P-51 fighter protection. The Mustangs were fitted with extra fuel tanks and could accompany the B17’s all the way to Berlin. With the increased fire power of the G and the Mustang escorts, the B17 was able to effectively concentrate on two primary targets; aircraft factories and Berlin proper.

A critical tactical decision was made to permit the P-51 and P-38 to hunt German Messerschmits as well as defend the B-17s. This caused the Luftwaffe to have to engage in defensive tactics and permitted many successful victories in both the air and on the ground. The number of kills resulting from these offensive tactics played an important roll in achieving Allied air superiority over Germany.

B-17 Fuddy Duddy machine gun 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty


With conventional German tactics proving increasingly futile, desperate expedients arose. In summer 1944, the Luftwaffe command created the “assault fighter groups.” Modified FW 190s, with increased armor plating and packing heavy armament, formed into “flying wedges” of 48 aircraft. The massed juggernaut, heavily escorted by conventional fighters, would approach a B-17 combat box from directly astern. The rationale was simple: to ensure the greatest possible number of kills, shatter enemy morale, and disrupt formation discipline. As one Sturmgruppe pilot recalled, “We positioned ourselves about 100 yards behind the bombers before opening fire. From such a range we could hardly miss, and as the 3 cm explosive rounds struck home we could see the enemy bombers literally falling apart in front of us.”27 If all else failed, the Sturmgruppe pilot was to ram his target. According to official Luftwaffe High Command instructions, “the guiding principle for the Sturmgruppe is: for every assault fighter that encounters the enemy, a sure kill.”28  These special units achieved some noteworthy successes, but the overall cost was high—especially when the American fighter escort caught the formation while it was still assembling. 5a

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty 2005

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

The German technological innovation that has received the greatest amount of postwar scrutiny was the development of turbojet interceptors. Because airpower and air superiority have increasingly depended upon technology since 1945, it is hardly surprising that studying the German “wonder weapons” has become something of a growth industry. Many authorities single out mismanagement of these weapons as one of the cardinal reasons for the Luftwaffe’s defeat. Certainly, the Me 262, with its top speed of 540 mph and powerful armament of four 3 cm cannons (and eventually racks of air-to-air rockets), was an awesome weapon. Galland, echoed by many other writers, attributes this aircraft’s delayed debut to Hitler’s untutored meddling in air force matters. The Führer, so the argument runs, decreed that the Me 262 enter service as a high-speed bomber; this decision ensured that it did not reach operational units in time to turn the tide. 29

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress "Hells' Angel"

USAAF Photo - Public Domain

The idea of the Me 262 as the potentially decisive wonder weapon is one of the most enduring myths in airpower history. Hitler’s oft-quoted order forbidding the employment of this aircraft as a fighter dates from May 1944, by which time no Me 262s were in service. Because design and technical faults still plagued the aircraft, its employment in any role would have to await their resolution—as would the training of a sufficient number of pilots, many of whom found it difficult to master the temperamental interceptor. It is unlikely that the jet could have appeared in combat much earlier than it did, even without Hitler’s interference. The 262, although a deadly aircraft in the hands of the right pilot, remained essentially a prototype pressed into combat service. Throughout its short service life, the aircraft suffered from an abnormally high accident rate and scored only a minuscule number of combat victories. 5a

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain

In February 1944, the B17’s of the Eighth Air Force mounted an all out effort to destroy the factories that produced the Messerschmitts in Leipzig, Augsburg, Regensburg, Schweinfurt and Stuttgart. In February of 1944 "Big Week" took place.  3,500 B17s participated in coordinated bombing raids on German factories. 244 Allied bombers and 33 fighters were lost  however the Luftwaffe was severely damaged and it never recovered its strength. The production capacity of HItler's aircraft factories had been fatally broken and while the Luftwaffe had planes, many were grounded because there weren't adequate parts to keep them combat ready. 6a  War production in America continued to expand. Combined with a effective crew training and a continuous torrent of fighters, bombers, tanks, ships and submarines, the industrial might of the west overwhelmed the Nazi juggernaught and destroyed Germanys capacity to prosecute the war.


USAAF Photo - Public Domain


Berlin was the ultimate target. It was the most heavily defended city in the world at this time. The Luftwaffe marshaled reserves as best it could to defend the city. On March 6th, 1944, in a massive raid on Berlin, 69 B17’s were lost – but the Luftwaffe lost 160 planes. The 8th Air Force was able to recover from these losses, but the Luftwaffe could not. By the end of the war, The 8th Air Force and the RAF had destroyed most of Berlin.


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


B-17 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby 2005, photo by Dennis FeltyAfter Berlin, the 8th Air Force turned its attention to Germany’s synthetic oil factories. Attacks on these essential factories started on May 12th. In just one month, the USAAF dropped 5000 tons of bombs on these factories. In August 1944, 26,000 tons were dropped and in November 1944, the attacks peaked at 35,000 tons. The attacks decimated the Germany military’s ability to move. The Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s attempt to push back the advancing Allies in Europe, ended because of the lack of fuel to keep his tanks moving. Albert Speer, in his book “Inside the Third Reich” commented after the war that there were 300 King Tiger tanks at Munich rail station waiting to be moved to the front – but the Germans had neither the railways nor the fuel needed to move these tanks; both targets of Allied bombing. However, the raids on the oil factories took a great toll – 922 B17’s were lost with nearly 10,000 airmen being killed, wounded or captured. 1a. The photo above by Dennis Felty is Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby at the USAF Museum in Dayton Ohio.


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


USAAF Photo - Public Domain


The bombing raids by the 8th Air Force and the RAF’s Bomber Command, took the heart out of Germany’s industrial production capacity. By September 1944, Germany had lost 75% of its fuel production. Out of the 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Germany, the B17 delivered over 500,000 tons. During the European air war the 8th Air Force had fired over 99 million rounds of ammunition and it is thought that over 20,000 German planes were destroyed. In total, over 12,000 B17’s were built in the war and nearly 250,000 Americans served as crew members. 46,500 airmen were either killed or wounded. However, despite the high cost the roll played by the B17 and its heroic crews in the European theatre of war was critical to the Allied victory. 1a. A chart on total WWII casualties by country can be referenced by clicking here.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain

B-17 Sweet and Lovely


P-51 Mustand USAF Museum Dayton, photo by Dennis Felty 2005

P-51 Mustang USAF Museum 2005, photo by Dennis Felty


The following month, March 1944, Mustangs escorted the B-17s all the way to Berlin. When Goering saw Mustangs over Berlin, it is reported that he later admitted "he knew the war was over." From that date, Allied bombers ranged freely all over Germany, and while not immune from losses, with fighter escort they were able to keep Allied losses at an acceptable level and continue to seriously erode Luftwaffe strength. Allied air superiority was essential to the Allied victory. During D Day and the Normandy invasion the Allied forces encountered no opposition from the Luftwaffe. Germany's inadequate pilot training and its short-sighted non-rotation of pilots made it impossible for the Luftwaffe to replace its losses, while competently trained American aircrew filled, replaced, and expanded the 8AF bombing and fighter capacity. 6a.


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, photo by Dennis Felty 2005

B-17 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby 2005, 

photo by Dennis Felty



51,106 airmen were missing in action or taken as prisioners of war. The POWs were held in Stag Luft prision camps at multiple locations in Germany as shown in the map below (click on map for a larger version)

USAF Academy Stalag Luft Archives 15a


There are a total of forty-four complete B-17 airframes world wide today. Of these, eleven are in operational status and fly on a periodic basis. Two airworthy airplanes are in long term maintenance. Twenty-one B-17s are on static display available to the public, four B-17s are under restoration and six B-17s are in storage, two of which are with the National Air and Space Museum.

P-51 and P-38 fighters were equipped with wing tanks and were able to accompany the bombers all the way to Berlin and back. This tactic would eventually lead to Allied air superiority in German air space. Despite the diminished roll of the Luftwaffe fighters, flack remained a major threat. 

To assure bombing accuracy the B-17s would fly straight and level from the initial point to bomb release. This leg could be as long as 12 minutes and would give the German gun crews on the ground ample time to lock in on Allied bomber altitude and direction. Luftwaffe fighters would stay out of the flack fields but would radio bomber altitude to the gun crews. Altimeters on the flack shells would be set to explode at the prescribed altitude. There were instances where flack shells would pass through a bomber and explode at a higher altitude. Flack could send shrapnel through the aircraft or if it exploded close to the bomber it could take off; a wing, the nose or the tail. The B-17 was a true fortress and many were able to return home with massive battle damage. While exiting the flack fields was always a relief, it only meant that the fighters were poised to resume their air attack. 


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

"Hang the Expense II" heavy flack damage to the tail

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


During the European air war, some forty B-17s were recovered and repaired by the Luftwaffe after being crash-landed or forced down in German territory. These B-17s were codenamed "Dornier Do 200," given German markings to disguise their origin and were then used by the Luftwaffe for clandestine spy and reconnaissance missions. 8a.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress "Pride of the Kiarians"

B-17 Pride of the "Kiarians"

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


Other captured B-17s retained their Allied markings and were used to to infiltrate B-17 formations, then report their position and altitude to German ground-control stations. The practice was initially successful, but it did not take the Army Air Force combat aircrews long to figure out the tactic. Standard procedures were established to first warn off, and then fire upon, any 'stranger' trying to join a group's formation. 8a.


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in formation

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty

B-17 Fuddy Duddy 2005, photo by Dennis Felty


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" by Dennis Felty 2005

B-17 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby 2005, photo by Dennis Felty


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress


USAAF Photo - Public Domain

One of the most unusual B-17s was the three B-17Gs converted to engine test beds and designated JB-17Gs. The nose section was modified and strengthened with a mount for a fifth engine. The Pratt & Whitney XT-34, Wright XT-35, Wright R-3350, and Allison T-56 engines were all flight tested on JB-17Gs.


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

B-17G with combat nose damage

USAAF Photo - Public Domain


USAAF Photo - Public Domain

The character of "Rosie the Riveter" was one of the best-known symbols of the U.S. government's public information campaign encouraging women to join the war effort. Widespread male enlistment left vacancies in essential industries such as airplane and munitions production, and nearly 3 million women answered their country's call to serve in defense plants. Norman Rockwell's Rosie is a strong woman capable of doing a "man's job," and she appeared on the cover of a magazine that actively encouraged women to join the workforce during World War II. Rockwell painting enhanced her patriotism by placing a flag in the background and her feet firmly on Hitler's Mein Kampf. Millions of women who played a critical role in achieving the industrial production that would eventually win the war, were displaced when the "boys came home".



Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress waiting for salvage

B-17s awaiting salvage

USAAF Photo - Public Domain

As the war ended and the aircrews and their B-17s returned home the majority of planes were taken out of service and sold for scrap. Of the 12,731 planes produced, about 40 airframes survive today. The photo above shows B-17s in storage prior to salvage.



World War II bomber nose art is a powerful symbol that is as compelling today as in the trying years of the great world war. These images call us to understand their hold on us and their important contribution to the human experience. 

This genre of figurative art emerged in the form of "nose art" on thousands of bombers and fighters flying missions over France, Great Briton, Germany, Africa and the Pacific. Nose art served as the aviator's unique calling card and as personal escorts during missions of great danger and uncertainty. The Army Air Force attempted to ban and censor nose art on many occasions. Ultimately the power of the art prevailed for its value in boosting crew morale was unquestioned. 

The inspiration for many of the "Bomber Girls" was pin-up art, from magazines such as Esquire. George Petty was one of the first pin-up artists to find fame in “pin up art.” Petty began his career for Esquire in the late 1930s and moved on to a successful advertising career in 1942.

Petty was followed by a young Peruvian artist, named Alberto Vargas. Vargas signed his work Varga, and quickly achieved commercial success with his amazing lifelike paintings of beautiful women. By the end of World War II the Varga pin-up was as popular as the pin-up photos of Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable. The Varga girls inspired much of the WWII "Bomber Girl" nose art in all theaters of the war. Pin-up art was so much a part of the GI lifestyle that Glenn Miller added a song to his repertoire when he toured the war zones, “Peggy the Pin-Up Girl.”

Hal Olsen served as a mechanic while stationed on Tinian Island in the Pacific. Olsen, in spite of his hectic military schedule, was a prolific painter, painting over 100 pieces of nose art. Olsen was frequently paid $50.00 for a nose are commission by the crew. During the war he earned enough for a honeymoon and tuition to art school.

Olsen recounts: “Nose art for the crew was a personalized reference to a piece of military hardware. You are trusting your life to the plane to get you back safely. You have to go through enemy territory.… So nose art brought the crew together. It provided a signature for the unit. By putting a girl on a plane, the crews felt they were protected on their way out to bomb and patrol. It inspired the crews and gave them a sense of belonging to an organized team. The main purpose, I guess, was to inspire the crews to have faith they’d be coming back.”

Nose art also drew on some very old traditions. “My story really started 400 years ago, said Olsen. “Nose art isn’t new. The British man-of-wars had female figureheads and Norwegian and Swedish Viking ships had ornate mast heads carved out of wood.”

Some of Olsen’s nose art paintings were modified, not by enemy bullets, but by the commanding officers of the unit. After a visit to the Pacific theater in 1944 by none other than Charles Lindbergh, some units began to censor their artists. The GIs, always looking for a way to circumvent the rules, came up with many ways to appease their commanding officers. Water based paint was a popular method of censoring artwork, but crews would used whatever they had on hand. Hal Olsen even remembers one crew using mud to temporarily clad their female mascot!

Most important the beautiful female figures play a goddess role serving as escorts during times of danger, transition and uncertainty. They offer powerful symbols that have emerged though out man's history in myth and story and draw on themes of rebirth, purity, innocence, fertility, renewal and mother earth. They frequently explore the powerful connection between Thantos and Eros. In retrospect it is hard to conceive of a more powerful and relevant symbol than that of the beautiful "Bomber Girls" of WWII.  


  • 12,731 B-17 were produced during WWII.

  • B-17s first saw combat in 1961 with the British Royal Air Force

  • Fully equipped the cost of each B-17 was $238,329

  • B-17Gs carried 13 Browning .50 caliber machine guns

  • B-17Gs carried 6,380 rounds of ammunition 

  • The largest number of B-17s participation in a single raid was 3,500

  • The peak number of bombs dropped in one month was 35,000 tons.

  • Of the 1,500,000 tons of bombs dropped, the B-17 delivered 500,000 tons.

  • 250,000 Americans served as B-17 aircrew members

  • There were 94,565 air combat casualties 

  • 30,099 airmen were killed in action

  • 45,500 American airmen were either killed or wounded

  • 44 B-17 airframes exist today

  • B-17G top speed 300 mph

  • B-17G range 1,850 miles or 3,630 if equipped with Tokyo Tanks.

  • B-17G cruise speed 170 mph

  • 1,693,565 sorties were flown

  • 29,916 enemy aircraft were destroyed



Jan 30, 1933 - Adolf  Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany.

Sept 5, 1939 - United States proclaims neutrality.

April 9, 1940 - Nazis invade Denmark and Norway.

June 14, 1940 - Germans enter Paris.

July 10, 1940 - Battle of Britain begins.

Aug 23/24, 1940 - First German air raids on Central London.

Nov 5, 1940 - Roosevelt re-elected as U.S. president.

March 11, 1941 - President Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act.

April 6, 1941 - Nazis invade Greece and Yugoslavia.

May 24, 1941 - Sinking of the British ship Hood by the Bismarck.

May 27, 1941 - Sinking of the Bismarck by the British Navy.

June 22, 1941 - Germany attacks Soviet Union as Operation Barbarossa begins.

June, 1941 - Nazi SS Einsatzgruppen begin mass murder.

July 31, 1941 - Göring instructs Heydrich to prepare for the Final Solution.

Dec 7, 1941 - Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor

Dec 8, 1941 - United States and Britain declare war on Japan.

Dec 11, 1941 - Germany declares war on the United States.

Dec 16, 1941 - Rommel begins a retreat to El Agheila in North Africa.

Dec 19, 1941 - Hitler takes complete command of the German Army.

Jan 26, 1942 - First American forces arrive in Great Britain.

May 30, 1942 - First thousand bomber British air raid (against Cologne).

June, 1942 - Mass murder of Jews by gassing begins at Auschwitz.

Aug 12, 1942 - Stalin and Churchill meet in Moscow.

Aug 17, 1942 - First all-American air attack in Europe.

Sept 13, 1942 - Battle of Stalingrad begins.

June 10, 1943 - 'Pointblank' directive to improve Allied bombing strategy issued.

July 27/28 - Allied air raid causes a firestorm in Hamburg.

Aug 17, 1943 - American daylight air raids on Regensburg and Schweinfurt in Germany.

Feb. 13-26, 1944 - "Big Week" - 3300 planes from 8th AF and 500 from 15th AF dropped 10,000 tons to destroy Luftwaffe factories in central Germany

March 18, 1944 - British drop 3000 tons of bombs during an air raid on Hamburg, Germany.

June 6, 1944 - D-Day landings.

Aug 25, 1944 - Liberation of Paris.

Oct 14, 1944 - Allies liberate Athens; Rommel commits suicide.

Oct 30, 1944 - Last use of gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Dec 16-27 - Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes.

Dec 17, 1944 - Waffen SS murder 81 U.S. POWs at Malmedy.

Dec 26, 1944 - Patton relieves Bastogne.

Jan 26, 1945 - Soviet troops liberate Auschwitz.

Feb 4-11 - Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin meet at Yalta.

Feb 13/14, 1945 - Dresden is destroyed by a firestorm after Allied bombing raids.

April 12, 1945 - Allies liberate Buchenwald and Belsen concentration camps;
President Roosevelt dies. Truman becomes President.

April 18, 1945 - German forces in the Ruhr surrender.

April 21, 1945 - Soviets reach Berlin.

April 28, 1945 - Mussolini is captured and hanged by Italian partisans; Allies take Venice.

April 29, 1945 - U.S. 7th Army liberates Dachau.

April 30, 1945 - Adolf Hitler commits suicide.

May 2, 1945 - German troops in Italy surrender.

May 7, 1945 - Unconditional surrender of all German forces to Allies.

May 8, 1945 - V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. 16a, 17a



Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Yankee Lady B-17

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress  Aerial Photography

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress  WWII Time Line

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress  USAAF Units using B-17s

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress  Warren Z. Felty 8th Air Force

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress  WWII Causalities by Country

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress National Museum of the United States Air Force

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Historical B-17 Photos

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress B-17 Links


Internet Sources:

   1a. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/b17_flying_fortress.htm

   2a. http://www.airliners.net/info/stats.main?id=391

   3a. http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b17_21.html

   4a. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-17_Flying_Fortress

   5a. http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/delleman.html

   6a. http://www.acepilots.com/planes/b17.html

   7a. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/I/AAF-I-2.html

   8a. http://www.answers.com/topic/b-17-flying-fortress

   9a. http://www.boeing.com/history/boeing/b17.html

   10a. http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b17_2.html

   11a. http://www.aviation-history.com/boeing/b17.html

   12a. http://www.thirdreichruins.com/schweinfurt.htm

   13a. http://www.fleetairarmarchive.net/RollofHonour/POW/StalagLuftIII.html

   14a. http://www.usafa.af.mil/df/dflib/SL3/AirWar/AirWar.cfm?catname=Dean%20of%20Faculty

   15a http://www.usafa.af.mil/df/dflib/SL3/capture/Map.html

   16a. http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/ww2time.htm

    17a. http://history.acusd.edu/gen/ww2Timeline/start.html



 Print Sources:

  1. Flying Fortress, Edward Jablonski, Doubleday, 1965.

  2. Famous Bombers of the Second World War, Volume One, William Green, Doubleday, 1959.

  3. Boeing Aircraft Since 1916, Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1989.

  4. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  5. Boeing B-17E and F Flying Fortress, Charles D. Thompson, Profile Publications, 1966.

  6. American Combat Planes, Ray Wagner, Third Edition, Doubleday, 1982.

  7. Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Military Press, 1989.

  8. Hess, William N. (1998). Big Bombers of WWII, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Lowe & B. Hould. ISBN 0681075708.

  9. Jablonski, Edward (1965). Flying Fortress, New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0385038550.

  10. Johnson, Frederick A. (2001). Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (Warbird Tech Series, Volume 7), Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press. ISBN 1580070523.

  11. Lloyd Alwyn T. (1986). B-17 Flying Fortress in detail and scale, Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers. ISBN 0816850291.

  12. O'Leary, Michael (1999). Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (Osprey Production Line to Frontline 2), Botley, Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1855328143.

  13. Thompson, Scott A. (2000) Final Cut: The Post War B-17 Flying Fortress the Survivors: Revised and Updated Edition. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company. ISBN 1575100770

  14. Encyclopedia of American Aircraft

  15.  Arthur Harris, Bomber Offensive (London: Collins, 1947), 75.

  16. LeMay, Mission, 289.

  17. Frank W. Heilenday, "Night Raids by the British Bomber Command: Lessons Learned and Lingering Myths from World War II" Rand Paper P-7916 (1995), 26.

  18. Crane, Bombs, 125. See also Thomas M. Coffey, Iron Eagle The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay (New York: Crown Publishers Inc., 1986).

  19. Coffey, Iron Eagle, 3.

  20. The story is best told by himself LeMay, Mission, 230-239.

  21. Skyways, p. 253.

  22. Ibid., p. 255.

  23. Ibid., p. 269.

  24. Ibid., p. 256.

  25. Ibid., p. 269.

  26. Alfred Price, The Last Year of the Luftwaffe: May 1944 to May 1945 (Osceola, Wis.: Motorbooks International, 1991), 111.

  27. Ibid., 52.

  28. Oberkommando der Luftwaffe, Lw. Führungsstab Nr. 2300/44 geh. (Ia/Ausb.), “Taktische Bemerkungen des Oberkommandos der Luftwaffe Nr. 6/44,” 25 August 1944, BA/MA RH 11 II/76,

  29. Manfred Boehme, JG7: The World’s First Jet Fighter Unit, 1944/1945, trans. David Johnston (Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1992), 180–89.



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