17 August 1942

A formation of Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers o fteh 97th Bombardment Group (heavy) forms up over England, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
A flight of Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers of the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy) forms up over England, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

17 August 1942: Mission No. 1. The United States VIII Bomber Command made its first heavy bomber attack on Nazi-occupied Europe when eighteen Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress four-engine bombers of the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, headed for the railroad marshaling yards at Rouen-Sotteville, France, at 1530 hours. This was the largest and most active railroad yard in northern France. The group was escorted by several squadrons of Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire fighters.

While six B-17s flew along the French coast as a diversion, twelve bombers flew to Rouen and were over the target from 1739 to 1746. From an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,010 meters), they dropped 39,000 pounds (17,690 kilograms) of general purpose bombs. Accuracy was good. One of the aim points, the locomotive shops, was destroyed by a direct hit. The overall results were moderate.

Rouen-Sotteville target assesment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)
Rouen-Sotteville target assessment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

All the bombers returned to their base, with the first landing at 1900. Two B-17s had been damaged. American gunners claimed damage to one Luftwaffe airplane.

brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded the raid from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, here being serviced between missions. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded Mission No. 1 from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, shown here being serviced between missions. (U.S. Air Force)

The raid was commanded by Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker aboard Yankee Doodle, B-17E 41-9023, leading the second flight of six B-17s. The 97th Bombardment Group Commander, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., flew as the co-pilot of the lead ship, Butcher Shop, B-17E 41-2578, with pilot Major Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. Tibbets was in command of the 97th’s 340th Bombardment Squadron. He would later command the 509th Composite Group and fly the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, was lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France, flown by Major Paul W. Tibbets and Colonel Frank A. Armstrong. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17 in the 8th Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.