Posts Tagged With: #B-17

Most. Unusual Distinguished Flying Cross. Ever.

The Philippine Air Lines hangar at Nielson Field in 1941. PAL flew Beech 18's and a Staggerwing (at right).

The Philippine Air Lines hangar at Nielson Field in 1941. PAL flew Beech 18’s and a Staggerwing (at right).

When the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, thirty-three year old Harold Slingsby was employed as a pilot with Philippine Air Lines, working for the legendary Paul “Pappy” Gunn from the company’s hub at Nielson Field outside of Manila. Far Eastern Air Forces had no transport force in 1941, and in those dark December days, the huge hole that left in MacArthur’s air capabilities was keenly felt. With no way to move personnel or supplies around by air, General Louis Brereton drafted Philippine Air Lines’ pilots and aircraft into the USAAF. Slingsby became an instant captain.*

At the end of December, it was decided to move General Brereton’s headquarters to Australia. Key staff officers were ordered out of the Philippines to help establish the new HQ. Slingsby was one of the pilots who flew those officers to Northern Australia. Upon arrival, he was pulled into the nascent Air Transport Command as part of the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron (the only cargo squadron in theater at that point) and spent much of the rest of 1942 flying the PAL Beech 18’s, Lockheed Lodestars and C-47’s around from base to base before returning to the States in early 1943.

The 5th Air Force was just being set up, and things were pretty chaotic in Australia in early 1942, so these transport missions were often anything but routine. On February 23, 1942, he was tasked with flying to Brisbane to haul back to Batchelor FIeld the intact wing of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Pappy Gunn, who commanded the 21st, was probably on this flight with “Buzz” Slingsby and took photos of this remarkable salvage job. They arrived at Brisbane and somehow shoehorned the wing under the fuselage of their transport. Exactly what aircraft Slingsby was flying is unknown, but it was probably an ancient B-17D the ATC pilots had been using since it had been flown out of the Philippines. The  B-17 wing was lashed to the underside of the fuselage, and they took off the following night to get it back up to Northern Australia where ground crews were waiting to pair the salvaged wing with another damaged Fort so it could be returned to service.

In times of great peril, the men of the 5th Air Force rose to the occasion and figured out a way to stay in the fight without adequate supplies, spare parts or aircraft. If Buzz and Pappy had been flying the old 19th Bomb Group B-17D’s that day, and nothing else in theater could have handled such a load, they were piloting an aircraft whose engines were so worn out and unreliable that the 19th had cast it off as uncombat worthy at a time when they were desperate for flyable bombers. Every minute in the air must have been a gut-check for them, but Slingsby made three landings and take-offs with the heavy, awkward load and got the vital wing up to the Darwin area.

For this incredible feet of ingenuity, Pappy put Slingsby in for a DFC. Here is his award citation:

G86A5185

 

 

 

*Kenney’s book, The Saga of Pappy Gunn states that Slingsby was a Consolidated employee ferrying PBY Catalina flying boats to the Dutch East Indies when the war broke out, but other sources state he was an employee of PAL in December 1941.

Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Saviors: Flying Dutchmen B-17’s

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A Flying Dutchman B-17 awaiting its next mission at Ie Shima in August 1945. 5th Rescue Group.

 

The 401st Bomb Group over Germany, December 30, 1943.

 

As the war ended in Europe and the air offensive against Japan became the focus of the USAAF’s last efforts in WWII, the B-17’s day as America’s work horse bomber came to an end. Most of the Forts still remaining in service with the 8th and 15th Air Forces would soon be scrapped or sent to bone yards. A few dodged that fate when the USAAF converted about 130 to perform a much needed and unheralded role in the Pacific.

The vast distances between targets in Japan and the B-29 bases in the Marianas assured that many crippled Superforts would end up in the Pacific.

b29 tail t 4x6Submarines were posted along the strike routes to help save the crews that went into the drink, but the USAAF needed their own Search And Rescue squadrons to help find those men. A number of air rescue squadrons were already in service in the Pacific, mainly flying the venerable PBY Catalina. In the final months of the war, the USAAF began employing modified Forts in the SAR role.

 

 

 

A 5th Rescue Group B-17H at Ie Shima, July 27, 1945

 

Dubbed the B-17H “Flying Dutchmen,” the planes carried an A-1 Higgins lifeboat under the fuselage. Twenty-seven feet long, self-bailing and self-righting, these boats could be dropped by the Forts to downed crews bobbing on the Pacific swells. Three parachutes would deploy and help ensure the boat landed in the water safely. Once aboard, the wet airmen would find blankets, provisions and survival gear waiting for them, all carefully stowed in the A-1.

The Flying Dutchmen also carried search radars in place of chin turrets. Operating from Ie Shima Island in the final weeks of the war, the Flying Dutchmen of the 5th Air Rescue Group saved a number of B-29 crews before the Japanese surrender. They continued in USAAF and USAF service, performing their vital duties in the Korean War and beyond until 1956. After 1948, they were redesignated SB-17G’s.

 

 

Professor Edward Mooney has shared a link that shows how the Higgins Boat was deployed. Thank you Dr. Mooney!

http://members.peak.org/~mikey/746/boat.htm

 

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The 5th Rescue Group’s B-17H’s at Ie Shima Island, near Okinawa. Seen in August 1945.

 

 

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Skip Bombing in Forts

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Men of the 64th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group prepare for a mission against the Japanese on November 17, 1942. The photo was taken at Mareeba, Australia. L-R: Captain David Hassemer, 2nd Lt. Jacob Franz, Lt. John Crockett, Lt, Raymond Holsey, Captain Eugene Halliwill, Lt. Jack Ryan and Sgt. John Rosenberger.

Though the B-17’s role in Europe has been studied for decades, the Flying Fort started its USAAF combat career in the Pacific. The 19th Bomb Group, stationed in the Philippines in 1941, carried out the first American B-17 raids of WWII. Later, the 19th moved to Australia, supporting the Dutch East Indies campaign along with the 7th Bomb Group before joining the fight over New Guinea and Rabaul. The 7th later went on to serve in the China-Burma-India Theater.

A B-17 in Northern Australia, May 1942.As the 19th held the line, the first squadrons of the 43rd Bomb Group began to arrive in Australia. By late summer, as General George Kenney took command of the 5th Air Force, the entire 43rd had reached the SWPA, giving him two groups of heavy bombers with which to strike the Japanese. Being an unconventional thinker, Kenney and one of his aides, Major Bill Benn, talked through how to better employ their Forts. Pre-war doctrine called for mass formations of B-17’s to hit both land and naval targets, but Kenney knew he’d never get very many heavies. Bombing ships from 20,000 feet with a half dozen or less B-17’s on any given mission had resulted in almost no hits. Had a hundred or two hundred Boeings been used to saturate an enemy naval force with bombs, perhaps they would have had more success. As it was, Kenney had to make do with somewhere between twenty and forty B-17’s available for operations on any given day. With a percentage always performing long range reconnaissance missions, the 5th Air Force rarely had more than a dozen B-17’s free for bombing missions.

 

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Bombing up a Fort at Mareeba, November 17, 1942.

As the 19th held the line, the first squadrons of the 43rd Bomb Group began to arrive in Australia. By late summer, when General George Kenney took command of the 5th Air Force, the entire 43rd had reached the SWPA, giving him two groups of heavy bombers with which to strike the Japanese. Being an unconventional thinker, Kenney and one of his aides, Major Bill Benn, talked through how to better employ their Forts. Pre-war doctrine called for mass formations of B-17’s to hit both land and naval targets, but Kenney knew he’d never get very many heavies. Bombing ships from 20,000 feet with a half dozen or less B-17’s on any given mission had resulted in almost no hits. Had a hundred or two hundred Boeings been used to saturate an enemy naval force with bombs, perhaps they would have had more success. As it was, Kenney had to make do with somewhere between twenty and forty B-17’s available for operations on any given day. With a percentage always performing long range reconnaissance missions, the 5th Air Force rarely had more than a dozen B-17’s free for bombing missions.

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General George Kenney (left), aboard the USS Nashville in 1944. His willingness to try anything and everything led the 5th Air Force to be one of the most innovative and flexible USAAF units of WWII.

Kenney and Benn decided to see if the B-17 could be used in low altitude anti-ship attacks. They’d read reports of the British using such techniques to bounce bombs across the surface of the water and into the sides of Italian ships in the Mediterranean Sea and thought that might be workable. Others in the 5th Air Force, including the legendary Paul “Pappy” Gunn, had concluded through experience that wavetop attacks were the only way to take out Japanese ships.

Kenney sent Benn to command the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group, which was used as an incubator for such tactics. Simultaneously, the 3rd Attack Group also began working on the technique. Soon other units began training on the new tactics as well.

That fall, the B-17’s of both the 43rd Bomb Group and the 19th began launching night skip bombing attacks against Japanese vessel. Operating in small numbers, or sometimes as lone wolves, the B-17’s prowled the night skies over the northern coast of New Guinea and New Britain in search of targets. They repeatedly struck heavily defended Simpson Harbor, Rabaul, which was the main Japanese base in the area.

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A 64th Bomb Squadron crew at Mareeba, November 17, 1942.

Flying from bases in Northern Australia, the B-17 crews would stage out of Seven Mile Drome at Port Moresby, New Guinea, before heading out against their assigned targets or patrol areas. The attacks proved to be far more successful than all previous B-17 anti-shipping raids done from altitude. The 5th Air Force later estimated the hit rates against shipping increased from 1% to over 70%. Nevertheless, using Forts like this was a stopgap measure at best. Low and large, they were vulnerable to Japanese anti-aircraft fire, and they lacked the firepower needed to suppress those defenses during bomb runs. To counter that, the crews learned to make fast approaches from two thousand feet. They would dive down, level off below five hundred, pickle their bombs and run for home on the deck.

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“The Old Man,” one of the 19th Bomb Group B-17’s. During a photo recon mission over Gasmata, New Britain in March of 1943, this Fort was intercepted by thirteen Japanese Zero fighters. The A6M’s made repeated runs on the bomber, wounding both pilots, the top turret gunner, the navigator and bombardier. The top turret gunner, who had washed out of flight school back in the states, ended up landing the B-17 with the help of one of the pilots back at Dobodura. When the forward hatch was opened, blood poured out onto the ground. Miraculously, everyone lived. The Old Man was repaired and later became General Whitehead’s personal aircraft.

Eventually, the A-20 and B-25 gunships became the 5th Air Force’s primary anti-ship aircraft, along with Australian Beaufighters and Beauforts. The B-17’s were replaced by longer-ranged B-24’s which were mainly used for conventional bombing from altitude. Still, for a brief period in late 1942-43, Kenney’s Fort crews carried out some of the most unusual B-17 attacks of the war.

 

 

b25 skip bombing tanker842 5x7

 

During the war, the USAAF, Marines and Navy tried to share their combat experiences and developments as much as possible. Part of this process included interviews with officers freshly returned to the States from combat. This document is an interview with one of the key leaders in the 19th Bomb Group conducted by a Marine Air Group Thirteen officer in late 1942. In it, Felix Hardison describes the tactics employed by the 19th Bomb Group, as well as the limitations of the B-17 in that role.

Gunn Documents 0923114p076

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Moments with the 379th

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Men of the 379th take a break to play football beside the flight line at Kimbolton in the spring of 1944. The shadow of what the air crews faced lingers in the backstory of the B-17 parked nearby. That’s “Pansy Yokum,” a Douglas-built B-17G that joined the group right at the end of Big Week in February 1944. On March 8th, it was hit by enemy fire during the Berlin Raid and one of the waist gunners was killed in action. Shortly after this photo was taken, this B-17 vanished on July 9, 1944. The crew failed to form up as the 379th assembled for the mission, but apparently the pilot, Lt. Hugh Frye, decided to press on. They either joined up with another group, or went off in search of the 379th. Either way, the Fort was hit by flak over France, limped back toward England, only to crash at sea off Le Havre. All nine aboard perished, including the 23 year old bombardier, Lt. Orval Epperson, a small town kid from Neosho, Missouri. He was his family’s only son.

In November 1942, the 379th Bomb Group was activated at Gowen Field Idaho, just outside of Boise. The crews trained incessantly through the winter and early spring, then deployed to England in April 1943. The group arrived just as the 8th Air Force was ramping up for the ’43 strategic bombing effort against Germany.

Men of the 379th entertaining local English kids and their families at Kimbolton. The B-17 was “Tampa Tornado,” a battered Fort that had first seen service with the 303rd Bomb Group before joining the 379th in September ’43. It was retired from combat service in October, and was the aircraft the group used for tours when civilians came on post.

 

Commanded by LTC Maurice A. Preston, a Class of ’37 graduate of West Point, the 379th was a sharp, well-disciplined outfit that would soon prove to be one of the elite groups of 8th Bomber Command. Preston held command until October 1944 when he moved up to take over the 41st Wing. He was a combat leader all the way, flying forty-five missions through the worst phase of the air war over Europe. He led the 379th during the August ’43 Schweinfurt raid, and returned to that city the following spring. He went on to have a very successful USAF career, ultimately commanding both the 5th Air Force in the Pacific and all USAF forces in Europe during the height of the Cold War.

The group performed so well in combat that it earned two Presidential Unit Citations, and was recognized for its bombing accuracy, low abort rates, tight formation flying and bomb tonnage delivered on targets. The aircrews pioneered new formations and new bombing tactics that were later adopted throughout VIIII Bomber Command, and completed 300 combat missions faster than any other USAAF heavy bombardment group in England. The group paid a brutal price during its two years in combat. Altogether, 141 of the 379th’s Forts went down over Europe.

 

“Lost Angel” returns to Kimbolton on April 10, 1944. This Fort joined the 379th in February ’44, and this crash landing was one of at least two crews of the group experienced in her. On September 28, 1944, Lost Angel and the rest of the 379th ran into scores of German fighters on a mission to Magdeburg. During the bomb run, another nearby B-17 (Queen of Hearts) took a direct AA hit that touched off one of its fuel tanks. As it fell, the tongue of flame it trailed engulfed Lost Angel so completely that the tail gunner thought their B-17 had been hit as well. He bailed out and was taken prisoner. Just after the bomb run, the fighters struck. Lost Angel’s navigator later wrote, “Most horrible sight I’ve seen. Sky filled with burning planes. Too many to count. Had to look away.” For details on that mission, see, “http://b17navigator.com/dads-log-book/mission-no-seventeen-september-28-1944/” Lost Angel was repaired repeatedly and sent back into battle. After the September mission, it was sent to the 384th Bomb Group. Miraculously, it survived the war, only to be scrapped in October 1945.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Hard Day for the 549th Bomb Squadron

Piccadilly Queen returns home to Great Ashfield with wounded aboard on June 14, 1943. This Fort was a B-17F and was part of the 385th Bomb Group’s original contingent of aircraft. It soldiered through the harshest air battles of the 1943 campaign only to be shot down by Luftwaffe fighters during a raid on Frankfurt on January 29, 1944. Piccadilly Queen crashed near Kaiserlautern, where about half the crew survived to be taken prisoner.

 

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Last View of a Doomed Flying Fort, Chelveston 1943

Rum Runner was one of the original B-17F’s that equipped the 305th Bomb Group when it reached England in late 1942. This photo was taken shortly before the Fort was lost with Boomerang on the February 16, 1943 raid over France.

In the Fall of 1942, the 305th Bomb Group arrived in England after a six month work up cycle in Utah, California and Washington. When the men reached East Anglia that fall, the Army Air Force assigned them a batch of factory-fresh Boeing B-17F Flying Fortresses with which they would soon begin operations against German targets in Western Europe. One of those original B-17’s was #41-24611, which the crews named “Boomerang.”  The 305th was one of the first bomb groups to reach the 8th Air Force, which attracted a lot of media and PAO attention. This film clip was taken at the start of one of the unit’s earliest combat missions, either in late 1942 or early 1943. Seen taxiing toward its take off run is Boomerang and her crew.

On February 16, 1943, the 305th flew a bombing mission over Brittany, France. The Forts were hit by flak and fighters, and the Luftwaffe interceptors singled out Boomerang. Firing passes knocked out two of the B-17’s engines, and it dropped out of formation on fire. Other members of group saw a number of parachutes blossom from the aircraft just before it disappeared into a layer of clouds. Another Fort was cut out of its squadron box and sent down in flames at about the same time. Both B-17’s crashed near Molac, France, with one crew member from each aircraft dying in the ordeal.

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Battle damage suffered by a 305th Bomb Group B-17 during one of the February raids over Western Europe in 1943.

Boomerang’s surviving crew tried to escape and evade. Several of them were able to avoid capture–at least at first. They were split into two groups, and one eventually was run down by the Germans and taken prisoner. Two men successfully evaded and returned to Allied territory.

 

Boomerang’s crew that day:

Pilot: Charles Steenbarger

Copilot: Thomas Mayo

Navigator: John Carpenter Jr. (Killed in Action)

Bombardier: Joe Varhol

Radio Operator: Carey Ford

Top Turret Gunner: Fred Dewig

Ball Turret Gunner: Charley Gilbert

Tail Gunner: Lowell Lewis

Waist Gunners: Dale Markland and Don Wall

Norris Miller was also aboard the aircraft.

 

Here is the film clip:

 

Ford and Markland were the two who successfully evaded capture.

The townsfolk in Molac later erected a monument honoring the two crews shot down that day. It can be seen here:

http://www.uswarmemorials.org/html/site_details.php?SiteID=762

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Home from Frankfurt

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A 381st Bomb Group Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress crew returns to England following a bombing raid to Frankfurt, Germany on February 4, 1944. The group had lost twenty men the week before when the 8th Air Force struck Frankfurt on January 29th. That was the 381st’s 61st combat mission. On the 4th of February, everyone came home, a rare moment to celebrate in the dark days of America’s air war over German-held Europe.

 

Categories: World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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