Tag Archives: Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress

18 September 1947

In a visual reminder of United States Air Force heritage, a World War II-era Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bomber flies in formation with a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress eight-engine strategic bomber. The B-17 is a Lockheed Vega B-17G-105-VE, 44-85718. This B-52, 60-0054, has been in active service for more than 55 years. (U.S. Air Force)

18 September 1947: The United States Army Air Forces become a separate military service, the United States Air Force.

2000px-Seal_of_the_US_Air_Force.svg© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 July 1944: Rose of York

Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, with Colonel Claude Putnam, commanding officer, 306th Bombardment Group, Heavy, at the christening of Rose of York, R.A.F. Thurleigh, 6 July 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

6 July 1944: In honor of Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth, a United States Army Air Forces heavy bomber, Boeing B-17G-55-BO Flying Fortress 42-102547, was christened Rose of York. The ceremony took place at R.A.F. Thurleigh (U.S.A.A.F. Station 111), 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of Bedford, Bedfordshire, England.

Named for Princess Elizabeth Windsor (now, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II), 42-102547 was originally named Princess Elizabeth but that did not meet with any official approval. (There were concerns about the propaganda value to the enemy, and the effect on civilian morale, should the bomber named for a member of the Royal Family be lost in combat.) The aircraft was renamed Rose of York instead and was christened by the Princess on her royal visit to the airfield.

Rose of York. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Following the ceremony, the bomber was flown to RAF Molesworth, where a number of photographs were taken.

Rose of York at RAF Molesworth, 6 July 1944. (Vintage Wings)

42-102547 was built by the Boeing Airplane Company at its Plant 2, south of Seattle, Washington, in early 1944. The new bomber was not camouflaged, but left in its natural metal finish. It was flown to the Cheyenne Modification Center, Cheyenne, Wyoming, on 12 March 1944, for installation of the latest combat modifications. It was then taken to the B-17 training base at Grand Island Army Air Field in central Nebraska. From there, it flew to Dow Army Air Field, Bangor Maine, arriving 3 April 1944, and then ferried across the North Atlantic Ocean to England.

A Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress of the 306th Bombardment Group, England, 1944–1945. (American Air Museum in Britain)

The Flying Fortress arrived in England, and on 2 May 1944, was  assigned to the 401st Bombardment Group, Heavy, at R.A.F. Deenethorpe (A.A.F. Station 128). Three days later, though, 42-102547 was transferred to the 306th Bombardment Group, Heavy, at R.A.F. Thurleigh. It was assigned to Captain Perry E. Raster of the 367th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy. The group’s identification code, “Triangle H”—a white capital “H” centered on a black triangle—was painted on the vertical fin above the serial number. A black capital “F” was painted below, identifying the individual airplane within its squadron.

42-102547 had completed 13 combat missions by 6 July 1944.

The crew of Rose of York, 6 July 1944.  Front row, left to right: Engineer and Top Turret Gunner, Sergeant Eugene E. Kelley; Radio Operator and Top Gunner, Technical Sergeant George G. Roberts; Ball Turret Gunner, Sergeant Donald F. Urban; Waist Gunner, Sergeant Herman Shore; Ball Turret Gunner Sergeant William E. Landrum; and Tail Gunner, Sergeant Watson R. Vaughn. Standing, left to right: Unknown, possibly Master Sergeant Edward S.  Gregory, maintenance crew chief; Aircraft Commander, Captain Perry E. Raster; Co-Pilot, Lieutenant Talmadge E. McDonough; Navigator, Captain William E. Pleasant; Bombardier, Lieutenant Marion J. Northway; the crew’s previous bombardier, Captain Steven Tanella; and unknown, possibly assistant crew chief Mark Madsen.
B-17G 42-102547 with the name Princess Elizabeth.

On Saturday, 3 February 1945, the Eighth Air Force, under the command of Lieutenant General James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, executed Mission No. 817. 1,003 B-17 Flying Fortresses, 434 B-24 Liberators and 948 P-47 and P-51 fighters were sent to attack Berlin, the capital of the Third Reich. The B-17s’ primary target was the city’s railroad marshaling yards, while the B-24s attacked the Braunkohle Benzine A.G. synthetic oil refinery at Rothensee.

23 B-17s, 2 B-24s, 7 P-51s and 1 P-47 were lost. 6 B-17s and 2 P-51s were damaged beyond repair, and another 339 B-17s and 58 B-24s were damaged.

18 airmen were killed in action, with 11 wounded and 216 missing.

Rose of York was one of the B-17s on that 1,000-bomber mission to Berlin. On its sixty-third combat mission, and with a different crew, 42-102547 was hit by heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire. The last contact indicated that one engine was out of operation and another was streaming gasoline. The Flying Fortress went down in the English Channel with all nine crew members and a civilian news reporter.¹

HRH The Princess Elizabeth; His Majesty King George VI, Marshal of the Royal Air Force; Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth; Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces, commanding Eighth Air Force. (American Air Museum in Britain)

The B-17G was the final production variant of the Flying Fortress. It entered service with the United States Army Air Forces in 1943.

The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a combat crew of nine to ten men. It was 74 feet, 8.90 inches (22.781 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.38 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1.00 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edges are swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters). The B-17G had an empty weight of 35,972 pounds (16,316.6 kilograms), and the maximum takeoff weight was 67,860 pounds (30,780.8 kilograms).

The B-17G 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 a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-97 had a Normal Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for Takeoff and Military Power. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine was 3 feet, 11.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

The B-17G had a cruising speed of 172 knots (198 miles per hour/319 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The maximum speed was 285 knots (328 miles per hour/528 kilometers per hour) at 26,700 feet (8,138 meters). The service ceiling was 38,450 feet (11,720 meters) at maximum power.

The B-17G had a fuel capacity  of 2,780 gallons (10,523 liters) in twelve wing tanks. Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). The B-17G combat radius of 689 nautical miles (793 statute miles/1,276 kilometers) with max bomb load, and a maximum ferry range of 2,624 nautical miles (3,031 statute miles/4,878 kilometers).

The B-17G was armed with thirteen Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the nose, dorsal, and ventral positions. Two guns could be installed in flexible mounts in the nose compartment, one in the radio compartment, two in the waist and two in the tail. 5,970 rounds of ammunition were carried.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17G was 12,800 pounds (5,806 kilograms). The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of ten 1,000 pound bombs,  eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs or two 2,000 pound bombs. The physical size of each type limited the number that could be carried in the bomb bay.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was in production from 1936 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 8,680 of these were B-17Gs, with 4,035 built by Boeing, 2,395 by Douglas and 2,250 by Lockheed-Vega.

Boeing B-17G-85-BO Flying Fortress 43-38412, 306th Bombardment Group, Heavy. This bomber survived the War and was placed in storage at Kingman, Arizona, 5 December 1945. (American Air Museum in Britain) FRE 005936

¹ Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 12283: Aircraft Commander, Lieutenant Vernon Daley; Co-pilot: 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Carbine; Navigator, 1st Lieutenant Paul Becker; Bombardier/Nose Gunner, Staff Sergeant Robert Crede; Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner, Technical Sergeant Reisel Horn; Radio Operator/Top Gunner, Technical Sergeant Porfirio Marquez; Ball Turret Gunner: Staff Sergeant George Petrillo; Waist gunner, Staff Sergeant Silvio DeZolt; Tail Gunner: Sergeant Okey Coplin; and British Broadcasting Company (BBC) war corresponent Guy Byam (civilian). 10 Killed in Action.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 April 1944

First Lieutenant Edward Stanley Michael, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

First Lieutenant Edward Stanley Michael

United States Army Air Forces

Rank: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps

Organization: 364th Bombardment Squadron, 305th Bombardment Group (H), 8th Air Force

Place and Date: Over Germany, 11 April 1944

Entered Service: Chicago

Born: 2 May 1918, Chicago, Ill.

General Orders: War Department. General Orders No. 5. January 15, 1945

Citation: The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Edward Stanley Michael, United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as pilot of a B-17 aircraft on a heavy bombardment mission to Germany, April 11, 1944. The group in which 1st Lt. Michael was flying was attacked by a swarm of fighters. His plane was singled out and the fighters pressed their attacks home recklessly, completely disregarding the Allied fighter escort and their own intense flak. His plane was riddled from nose to tail with exploding cannon shells and knocked out of formation, with a large number of fighters following it down, blasting it with cannon fire as it descended. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit, wounded the copilot, wrecked the instruments, and blew out the side window. 1st Lt. Michael was seriously and painfully wounded in the right thigh. Hydraulic fluid filmed over the windshield making visibility impossible, and smoke filled the cockpit. The controls failed to respond and 3,000 feet were lost before he succeeded in leveling off. The radio operator informed him that the whole bomb bay was in flames as a result of the explosion of 3 cannon shells, which had ignited the incendiaries. With a full load of incendiaries in the bomb bay and a considerable gas load in the tanks, the danger of fire enveloping the plane and the tanks exploding seemed imminent. When the emergency release lever failed to function, 1st Lt. Michael at once gave the order to bail out and 7 of the crew left the plane. Seeing the bombardier firing the navigator’s gun at the enemy planes, 1st Lt. Michael ordered him to bail out as the plane was liable to explode any minute. When the bombardier looked for his parachute he found that it had been riddled with 20mm fragments and was useless. 1st Lt. Michael, seeing the ruined parachute, realized that if the plane was abandoned the bombardier would perish and decided that the only chance would be a crash landing. Completely disregarding his own painful and profusely bleeding wounds, but thinking only of the safety of the remaining crewmembers, he gallantly evaded the enemy, using violent evasive action despite the battered condition of his plane. After the plane had been under sustained enemy attack for fully 45 minutes, 1st Lt. Michael finally lost the persistent fighters in a cloud bank. Upon emerging, an accurate barrage of flak caused him to come down to treetop level where flak towers poured a continuous rain of fire on the plane. He continued into France, realizing that at any moment a crash landing might have to be attempted, but trying to get as far as possible to increase the escape possibilities if a safe landing could be achieved. 1st Lt. Michael flew the plane until he became exhausted from the loss of blood, which had formed on the floor in pools, and he lost consciousness. The copilot succeeded in reaching England and sighted an RAF field near the coast. 1st Lt. Michael finally regained consciousness and insisted upon taking over the controls to land the plane. The undercarriage was useless; the bomb bay doors were jammed open; the hydraulic system and altimeter were shot out. In addition, there was no airspeed indicator, the ball turret was jammed with the guns pointing downward, and the flaps would not respond. Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, he landed the plane without mishap.

 

LT Michael's B-17G-20-DL 42-37931, Bertie Lee, at RAF Grimsby, 11 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Michael’s Douglas-built B-17G-20-DL Flying Fortress, 42-37931, WF-D, “Bertie Lee,” at RAF Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England, 11 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

By 11 April 1944, four of Lt. Michael’s original crew had been replaced. For the six remaining, Eight Air Force Mission 298 would be their twenty-sixth combat mission. (The combat tour had just been increased from 25 missions to 30.)

On that day, 917 B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator heavy bombers, along with an escort of 819 P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang fighters were dispatched to strike aircraft production centers in Germany. The mission was divided into three sections. Lieutenant Michael’s B-17 was one of the 341 in the first section, and one of the 127 which were assigned to attack a ball bearing plant at Stettin, Germany (now, Szczecin, Poland).

While on the approach to the target, Bertie Lee came under continuous attack by enemy fighters. The airplane was heavily damaged and several crew members, including Lieutenant Michael, were severely wounded. Two engines were out and several incendiary bombs in the bomb bay caught fire.

When Michael found that he was unable to jettison the bomb load, he ordered his crew to bail out. Four gunners and the airplane’s navigator jumped. The flight engineer/top turret gunner was badly injured and could not put on his parachute. Lieutenant Michael put on the ‘chute for him, and as he jumped, Michael pulled the parachute’s rip cord.

All of those who escaped from Bertie Lee were captured and held as prisoners of war. One was so badly injured, though, that Germany repatriated him to the United States.

Boeing B-17G-30-BO Flying Fortress 42-31820, WF-E, of the 364th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy), trails smoke during a combat mission, 25 February 1944. It went down soon after this photograph was taken. “Bertie Lee” was marked WF-D. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Of the original aircraft sent on the mission, 52 B-17s were lost, 4 (including Bertie Lee) were damaged beyond repair, and another 313 damaged. 12 B-24s were lost, 1 damaged beyond repair, and 63 damaged. Seven of the P-47s were shot down and 16 damaged. Nine P-51s were shot down and 13 damaged. The P-38s were unscathed.

19 U.S. airman were listed as Killed in Action, 31 wounded, and 668 missing in action.

Gunners and fighter pilots claimed 124 enemy fighters shot down.

Mission 298 was one of the worst single-day losses of World War II.

1st Lieutenant Michael was hospitalized for months while he recovered from his wounds, and was sent back to the United States to recover.

The Medal of Honor was presented to 1st Lieutenant Edward S. Michael by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States of America, in a ceremony at The White House, Washington, D.C., 10 January 1945.

President Roosevelt congratulates 1st Lieutenant Edward S. Michael at The White House, 10 January 1945.

Edward Stanley Michael was born at Chicago, Illinois, 2 May 1918. He was the son of Stanley William Michael and Lillian Harriet Konior Michael. He attended Chicago High School, graduating in 1936. By 1940, Edward Michael was employed as a machinist.

On 2 November 1940, Michael enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. He was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 148 pounds. He served at Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, and was present during the air attack of 7 December 1941. Private First Class Michael was appointed an aviation cadet, 5 June 1942. He graduated from flight training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 12 April 1943. He trained as a multi-engine pilot at Douglas Army Airfield, in Cochise County, Arizona, and then underwent training as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot at Geiger Army Airfield, Spokane, Washington.

Lieutenant Michael with the crew of his Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, 1943. Standing, left to right: SSGT Arthur Kosino, waist gunner; SSGT Pat Malone, tail gunner; SSGT Ray Ridge, flight engineer/top turret gunner; SSGT Anthony Russo, waist gunner; SSGT Fred Wilkins, ball turret gunner; SSGT Reynold Evans, radio operator/top gunner. Kneeling, left to right: 2LT Franklin Westberg, co-pilot; 2LT Sid Miller, navigator; 2LT John Lieber, bombardier; 1LT Edward S. Michael, pilot/aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Michael with the crew of his Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, 1943. Standing, left to right: Staff Sergeant Arthur Kosino, waist gunner; Staff Sergeant Pat Malone, tail gunner; Staff Sergeant Ray Ridge, flight engineer/top turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Anthony Russo, waist gunner; Staff Sergeant Fred Wilkins, ball turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Reynold Evans, radio operator/top gunner. Kneeling, left to right: 2nd Lieutenant Franklin Westberg, co-pilot; 2nd Lieutenant Sid Miller, navigator; 2nd Lieutenant John Lieber, bombardier; 1st Lieutenant Edward S. Michael, pilot/aircraft commander. (U.S. Air Force)

2nd Lieutenant Michael married Miss Bertie Lee Parks, whom he had met while training in Arizona, at Geiger Field, on 21 October 1943. He would later name his B-17G 42-37931, Bertie Lee, in her honor. They would divorce in 1956.

Michael was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 25 Jan 1944.

Lieutenant Michael remained in the Air Corps following the War. On 5 July 1946 his wartime Army of the United States rank was converted to 1st Lieutenant, United States Army Air Forces, with date of rank effective 12 April 1946.

Captain Michael returned to flight status ferrying aircraft from Love Field, Dallas, Texas, and was the assigned to Fort Totten, Washington, D.C., for air transport operations. When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service in 1948, Captain Michael was transferred.

Michael graduated from the Air University at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, in April 1949. He was next assigned to the 1729th Air Transport Squadron, Military Air Transport Service (M.A.T.S.) at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and remained there for three years. In September 1952, Captain Michael was assigned as operations officer of the 1503rd Air Support Squadron at NAS Agana, Guam, in the Marianas Islands, followed by assignment to the 1500th Air Base Wing, Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1957, Major Michael was trained as a B-47 Stratojet pilot at McConnell Air Force Base, near Wichita, Kansas, then served with the 4347th Combat Training Wing at McConnell.

Major Michael married his second wife, Ms. Louise Erdman, 21 November 1958, at Salt Lake City, Utah.

Major Michael was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 1 August 1963.

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Stanley Michael retired from the United States Air Force on 12 February 1971, after 30 years of military service.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, during his military service Lieutenant Colonel Michael was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Purple Heart; the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters (five awards); the Air Force Commendation Medal; Army Commendation Medal; Presidential Unit Citation; Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Army Good Conduct Medal; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one bronze service star; European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal with bronze campaign star; World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal; National Defense Servce Medal with bronze star (two awards); and the Air Force Training Ribbon with one silver and one bronze oak leaf cluster (six awards).

Edward Stanley Michael died at Fairfield, California, 10 May 1998, at the age of 76 years. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Springville, Utah.

A B-17G Flying Fortress. This is the same aircraft type as “Bertie Lee.” (American Air Museum in Britain)

Bertie Lee was a B-17G-20-DL Flying Fortress, 42-37931 (Douglas serial number 8897), built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Long Beach, California, in October 1943. It was delivered to Denver, Colorado, on 13 October. On 5 November 1943, the B-17 was flown to Grand Island Army Air Field, Nebraska; then to Bangor, Maine on 7 November. It was flown across the Atlantic Ocean to England, arriving at RAF Chelveston (USAAF Station 105) on 5 January 1944. The bomber was assigned to the 364th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and given the fuselage identification markings WF-D.

When 42-37931 was assigned to Lieutenant Michael and his combat crew, he named the airplane Bertie Lee, after his wife.

Bertie Lee was damaged beyond repair when it crash-landed at RAF Grimsby on 11 April 1944. It was later scrapped.

A B-17G Flying Fortress salvoes its bombs during a mission over Europe. Though unpainted, this airplane is the same type as Lt. Michael’s “Bertie Lee.” (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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