Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.
The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.
Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that, although both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.
During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,
“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”
Royal Air Force aircraft:
Highly recommended:Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.
13 June 1943: On Mission Number 63, 76 Eighth Air Force B-17F Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers of the 4th Bombardment Wing were sent to attack the U-boat pens at Kiel, Germany.
German submarine attacks on transatlantic convoy were a major threat to the Allies. Destruction of the submarine bases and repair facilities was therefore a very high priority for the Eighth Air Force. These were often very heavily reinforced concrete bunkers where submarines could be serviced and repaired, safe from air attack.
60 bombers made it to the target but were met with the heaviest fighter attacks to that point of the war. 22 B-17s were shot down. Of those that returned to England, 24 were damaged, 1 so badly that it was beyond repair.
3 airmen were killed, 20 wounded and 213 were listed as Missing In Action.
Before the war, it was thought that the defensive machine guns of the Flying Fortress would be able to protect it against enemy fighters, but losses like those suffered in this raid proved the necessity for escorting fighters to defend the bomber formations.
NOTE: A very detailed analysis of this mission, “USAAF Mission #63: Bremen and Keil” by Andreas Zapf can be found at
9 June 1943: After completing 25 combat missions over Western Europe from its base at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England), Memphis Belle, a U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 41-24485, assigned to the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy), was flown home by Captain Robert K. Morgan and Captain James A. Verinis.
The daylight bombing campaign of Nazi-occupied Europe was very dangerous with high losses in both airmen and aircraft. For a bomber crew, 25 combat missions was a complete tour, and they were sent on to other assignments. Memphis Belle was only the second B-17 to survive 25 missions, so it was withdrawn from combat and sent back to the United States for a publicity tour.
The B-17’s name was a reference to Captain Morgan’s girlfriend, Miss Margaret Polk, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. The artwork painted on the airplane’s nose was a “Petty Girl” based on the work of pin-up artist George Petty of Esquire magazine. (Morgan named his next airplane—a B-29 Superfortress—Dauntless Dotty after his wife, Dorothy Morgan. With it, he led the first B-29 bombing mission against Tokyo, Japan, in 1944. It was also decorated with a Petty Girl.)
Memphis Belle and her crew were the subject of a 45-minute documentary, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” directed by William Wyler and released in April 1944. It was filmed in combat aboard Memphis Belle and several other B-17s. The United States Library of Congress named it for preservation as a culturally significant film.
After the war, Memphis Belle was put on display in the city of Memphis. For decades it suffered from time, weather and neglect. The Air Force finally took the bomber back and placed it in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where it has been undergoing a total restoration for the last several years.
The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 9 inches (22.784 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9-3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1 inch (5.187 meters). Its empty weight was 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) loaded, and the maximum takeoff weight was 56,500 pounds (25,628 kilograms).
The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. War Emergency Power was 1,380 horsepower. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine is 47.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 55.10 inches (1.399 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).
The B-17F had a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).
With a normal fuel load of 2,520 gallons (9,540 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 2,880 miles (4,635 kilometers). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).
The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. A pair of machine guns were mounted in the tail, and single guns on flexible mounts were placed in the nose, radio compartment, and right and left waist positions.
The maximum bomb load was 20,800 pounds over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.
The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The Manufacturer Codes, -BO, -DL and -VE, follow the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.
Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses remain in existence. Memphis belle is scheduled to go on public display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force on 17 May 2018, 75 years after it flew its final combat mission.
Memphis Belle ® is a Registered Trademark of the United States Air Force.
20 April 1941: Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St. John Pattle, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, commanding No. 33 Squadron, was killed in action during the Battle of Athens, when his Hawker Hurricane fighter was shot down by two or more Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters. Pattle’s airplane crashed into the sea near the Port of Piraeus, southwest of Athens.
Squadron Leader Pattle may have been the highest-scoring Allied fighter ace of World War II. The exact number of enemy aircraft destroyed cannot be determined precisely because records were lost or destroyed during the Battle of Greece. The last officially acknowleded score was 23 airplanes shot down, mentioned in The London Gazette with the notice of the award of a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. It is widely acknowledged that he shot down many more, and on at least two occasions, shot down five enemy airplanes in one day. Authors who have researched Pattle’s combat record believe that he shot down at least 50, and possibly as many as 60 aircraft.
For comparison, Air Vice Marshal James Edgar (“Johnnie”) Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, is officially credited by the Royal Air Force with shooting down 34 enemy airplanes. Colonel Francis Stanley (“Gabby”) Gabreski, United States Air Force, was credited with 28 kills during World War II. In the Pacific Theater of Operations, Major Richard Ira Bong is officially credited with 40 enemy airplanes shot down.
Marmaduke Thomas St. John Pattle was born at Butterworth, Cape Province, South Africa, 23 July 1914. He was the son of Sergeant-Major William John Pattle, British Army, and Edith Brailsford Pattle. After failing to be accepted by the South African Air Force, at the age of 21 years, he traveled to Britain to apply to the Royal Air Force. He was offered a short-service commission and sent to flight school.
Pattle was commissioned as an Acting Pilot Officer on probation, effective 24 August 1936. He trained as a fighter pilot in the Gloster Gauntlet, and was rated exceptional. He was then assigned to No. 80 Squadron, which was equipped with the newer Gloster Gladiator. He was confirmed in the rank of Pilot Officer 29 June 1937.
No. 80 Squadron was sent to Egypt to protect the Suez Canal. With the United Kingdom’s declaration of war on the Axis powers, Pattle and his unit were soon in combat with the Regia Aeronautica (the Italian Royal Air Force) across North Africa. He shot down his first enemy airplanes, a Breda Ba.65 and a Fiat CR.42, on 4 August 1940. Unfortunaely, Pattle was also shot down and he had to walk across the Libyan desert to friendly lines.
Pattle was promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 3 September 1940. He is credited with having shot down at least 15 Italian airplanes with the Gladiator.
In February 1941, No. 80 Squadron began flying the Hawker Hurricane. This was a huge technological advance over the Gladiator, and the Hurricane’s eight .303-caliber machine guns doubled the firepower of the biplane. The squadron was sent to Greece, where it would engage the Luftwaffe.
Flight Lieutenant Pattle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 11 February 1941. The following month, 12 March 1941, Pat Pattle was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader, and given command of No. 33 Squadron at Larissa, Thessaly, Greece. Squadron Leader Pattle was awarded a Bar to his DFC (a second award), 18 March 1941.
The Hawker Hurricane Mk. I was 31 feet, 5 inches (9.576 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 0 inches (12.192 meters), and overall height of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). Its empty weight was 5,234 pounds (2,374 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 6,793 pounds (3,081 kilograms).
The Mk.I’s engine was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 27.01 liter (1,648.96 cubic inches) Rolls-Royce R.M.1.S. Merlin Mk.III single-overhead-cam 60° V-12, rated at 990 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 12,250 feet (3,734 meters), and 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 10,250 feet (3,124 meters), using 87 octane aviation gasoline. The Merlin III drove the propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction ratio. It weighed 1,375 pounds (624 kilograms).
The fixed-pitch propeller was soon replaced with a three-bladed, two-pitch propeller, and then a three-bladed constant-speed propeller. Speed trials of a Mk.I equipped with a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meters) diameter Rotol constant-speed propeller achieved a maximum True Air Speed in level flight of 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,500 feet (5,334 meters). The service ceiling was 32,250 feet (9,830 meters). The Mk.I’s range was 600 miles (966 kilometers) at 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour).
The Hurricane Mk.I could climb to 20,000 feet in 9.7 minutes.
The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303 Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings, with 334 rounds of ammunition per gun.
26 March 1967: Colonel Robert Ray Scott, United States Air Force, commanding the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, was leading 20 Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers from Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, on an attack against an enemy military barracks near Hanoi, North Vietnam. Colonel Scott’s airplane was Republic F-105D-6-RE, serial number 59-1772, and his call sign was “Leech 01.” As he came off the target, he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 17 fighter with the 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon of his fighter bomber.
The third MiG-17 destroyed during the month was credited to the 355th TFW, Colonel Scott, who was leading an F-105 flight on a strike mission not far from Hoa Lac airfield on 26 March. His account follows:
“I had acquired the target and executed a dive-bomb run, while heading approximately 250°, altitude approximately 4,000 feet, I observed a MiG taking off from Hoa Loc airfield. I began a left turn to approximately 150° to follow the MiG for possible engagement. At this time I observed three more MiG-17s orbiting the airfield at approximately 3,000 feet, in single ship trail with 3,000 to 5,000 feet spacing. MiGs were silver with red star. I then concentrated my attention on the nearest MiG-17 and pressed the attack. As I closed in on the MiG it began turning to the right. I followed the MiG, turning inside, and began firing. I observed ordnance impacting on the left wing and pieces of material tearing off. At this time the MiG began a hard left-descending turn. I began to overshoot and pulled off high and to the right. The last time I saw the MiG it was extremely low, approximately 500 feet, and rolling nose down.”
— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Page 45.
The pilot of the MiG 17, Second Lieutenant Vũ Huy Lượng, 923rd Fighter Regiment, Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force, was killed.
As a Northrop P-61 Black Widow pilot with the 426th Night Fighter Squadron during World War II, Colonel Scott had shot down two enemy airplanes. By destroying the MiG-17, he became only the second U.S. Air Force pilot, after Colonel Robin Olds, to achieve aerial victories during World War II and the Vietnam War.
Robert Ray Scott was born at Des Moines, Iowa, 1 November 1920. He was the first of two children of Ray Scott, a railroad worker, and Elva M. Scott. He graduated from North High School in Des Moines, January 1939. He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Iowa for two years before he enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 15 August 1941. Scott was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall and weighed 144 pounds (65.3 kilograms). He was trained as a pilot and and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, 16 March 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot in California, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 15 December 1942.
Scott was transferred to the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, flying the Northrop P-61 Black Widow in India and China. He was promoted to captain, 3 May 1944, and to major, 16 August 1945. Major Scott was credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
Following World War II, Major Scott returned to the University of Iowa to complete his bachelor’s degree. He also earned two master’s degrees.
In 1952 he graduated from the Air Force test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, then served as a project pilot on the North American F-86D all-weather interceptor. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.
Scott flew the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre during the Korean War. From January to July 1953, he flew 117 combat missions. From 1953 to 1956, Lieutenant Colonel Scott commanded the 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, at Langley Air Force base, Virginia.
On 9 October 1955, Scott set a transcontinental speed record by flying a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak fighter bomber from Los Angeles International Airport, California, to Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in 3 hours, 46 minutes, 33.6 seconds. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.
Scott was promoted the rank of Colonel in 1960.
During the Vietnam War, Colonel Scott commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying 134 combat missions in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.
Colonel Scott’s final commanding was the 832nd Air Division, 12th Air Force, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. He retired 1 September 1970 after 29 years of military service.
Colonel Robert Ray Scott flew 305 combat missions in three wars. During his Air Force career, Colonel Scott was awarded four Silver Star medals, three Legion of Merit medals, six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 16 Air Medals. He died at Tehachapi, California, 3 October 2006 at the age of 86 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Republic F-105D 59-1772 is credited with another air-to-air victory. Just over a month after Colonel Scott’s Mig-17 shoot-down, on 28 April 1967 Major Harry E. Higgins, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, shot down another MiG-17 with the fighter bomber’s cannon, for which Major Higgins was awarded the Silver Star.
The Thunderchief, though, met its own end when it was shot down by 37 mm anti-aircraft gunfire 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Ko Hinh, Laos, 27 January 1970. The pilot was rescued.
Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York factory. 610 of those were single-seat F-105Ds. The F-105D Thunderchief is 64 feet, 3 inches (19.583 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 8 inches (5.994 meters). It has an empty weight of 27,500 pounds (12,473.79 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 52,546 pounds (23,834.47 kilograms).
The Thunderchief was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 17,200 pounds of thrust (76.51 kilonewtons), and 26,500 pounds (117.88 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).
The maximum speed of the F-105D is 836 miles per hour (1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea level and 1,420 miles per hour (2,285 kilometers per hour) at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). The combat ceiling is 48,500 feet (14,783 meters) and combat range is 778 miles (1,252 kilometers).
The F-105D is armed with one 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan rotary cannon and 1,028 rounds of ammunition. It has an internal bomb bay and can carry bombs, missiles or fuel tanks on under wing and centerline hardpoints. The maximum bomb load consisted of 16 750-pound (340 kilogram) bombs.
The F-105 Thunderchief was a supersonic tactical fighter bomber rather than an air superiority fighter. Still, during the Vietnam War, F-105s shot down 27 enemy MiG fighters. 24 of those were shot down with the Thunderchief’s Vulcan cannon.
Of the 833 F-105s, 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.