Thursday, 1 June 2017

Memphis Belle - the story of the 1989 movie

The 1989 Catherine Wyler/David Puttnam Movie
The cliches dropped like bombs...’

Why do a good thing once, when you can have several bites of the same cherry? Hollywood has a penchant for ‘remaking’ movies, but very rarely is a so-called ‘documentary’ refurbished as a work of fiction!
    The Memphis Belle remake - released in 1990 - came about when in 1986, English film-maker David Puttnam, the new head of Columbia Pictures recruited William Wyler’s daughter Catherine as his new Senior Vice-President of Production, responsible for developing non-fiction properties for feature films. Catherine had previously had experience in television administration and production, first with Warner Brothers and then with the US Public Broadcasting Service.
    In her new job, one of the development projects was a movie about Eighth Air Force bomber crews, similar to the 1943 film her father made. After a screening of the 1943 original, Puttnam asked Catherine to proceed further. As Catherine Wyler said in an interview after the film came out; ‘I’ve known about the Memphis Belle all my life because my father made the documentary during the war. It’s about the crew of a B-17 - the first crew to make twenty-five missions. And basically it’s the story of that twenty-fifth mission.
    Puttnam’s career with Columbia was short-lived and in 1987 he returned to Great Britain. The Eighth Air Force project was not abandoned however, and he proposed that his own company, Enigma Films, take it on, and that Catherine Wyler join him as co-producer.
    It might be worthwhile to explain here that ‘Producers’ have the final responsibility for all aspects of a film's production. They are frequently the first to become involved in a project; they participate directly in all the main producing phases; and see the project through production, to post-production, marketing and distribution. The Producer's role is to turn story ideas into profitable cinematic entertainment, and to persuade others to share in their commercial and creative vision. Producers usually report to the production company, or to the Executive Producers appointed to supervise the production on behalf of the financiers and Distributors. The ‘Director’ on the other hand, is the person who sets the tone of the movie and interprets the script as he sees it. They typically see the story as a whole and gives it their own stamp. They instruct the actors on how to say their lines, their facial expressions and tone. Virtually anything that happens on a movie set is subject to the approval of the Director. The final product is the direct result of decisions made by the director - therefore if it turns out wrong - blame the Director!

Locations and machines
To make a movie, you need many things, one of the most obvious being a script, so young US playwright Monte Merrick was hired. As for the filming locations, they were dictated by the availability of aircraft and Catherine had located at least eight airworthy B-17s in the USA, including one owned by her uncle, restaurant chain owner David Tallichet and wartime B-17 pilot with the 100th Bomb Group at Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk. It was initially proposed to film all airfield and aerial sequences in the USA, with studio work shot in England.
    The Director was to be Michael Caton-Jones, who would be making his second movie after attending the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England. Michael Jones had married Beverly Caton and they both changed their surnames to Caton-Jones. Puttnam’s instructions to Caton-Jones was simple: ‘Please - amaze me’!
    Production Designer Stuart Craig and Associate Producer Eric Rattray scoured the USA to find suitable locations for filming - and even visited Memphis to see and measure up the real aircraft - but found nothing that satisfactorily represented either East Anglia and Bassingbourn. There were also problems with a number of the US-based B-17 operators refusing to accept the fees offered. Negotiations were then conducted with the operators of the three European-based B-17s with much more favourable results so, it was decided that if they could get two of the US B-17s flown over, then all the filming could be done in the UK.
    Stuart Craig’s first task then was to find a main location site that could be used as a replacement for Bassingbourn, for that airfield had already been ruled out. By 1989 Station 121 was now an British Army Camp with associated access problems created by levels of security. It had lost at least 50% of its runways and what remained of the airfield site was being used as a training range and leisure area for the Army with an artificial ski-slope by the old 324th dispersals and a huge lake by the old bomb dumps! The remainder had either been returned to nature or used for agriculture. Predannack and St Eval airfields in Cornwall were considered but rejected as the surrounding landscape was not correct. Then Craig heard of the recently-vacated airfield at Binbrook in Lincolnshire. It had a similar layout to Bassingbourn, the same C-type hangars and was remote enough not to have modern developments close by. Permission was then sought and gained to use the Cambridgeshire County Council and Imperial War Museum airfield of Duxford as a base for all the main flying sequences, for it had all the engineering and technical facilities present that were essential to keep the aircraft flying.
    Space inside a B-17 fuselage is somewhat at a premium - there is certainly not enough room for the actors and a film crew, so a complete mock-up interior that could be split into six sections was built by Bill Welch and his team at Pinewood. This mock-up was to incorporate as many pieces of authentic equipment as possible.
    In addition to the B-17s, the script called for a number of enemy and Allied fighter types. The Luftwaffe could only be represented by a number of Hispano Buchons, Spanish-built versions of the Messerschmitt Bf-109s but fitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines which gave a different nose profile. Enigma decided to use P-51 Mustangs as fighter escorts.

What's in a name?
The movie may have started out under the title of ‘Memphis Belle’, but it then went through a name-change to ‘Southern Belle’, for a whole set of complicated reasons. As with the original 1943 film, the movie storyline follows the supposed 25th and final mission of the ten-man crew of a B-17 who are scheduled to be returned to the US. The rest of the plot of the Wyler/Puttnam movie is a pure flight of fantasy, with fictitious crewmembers and engineered drama. As the script created only tenuous links at best with real people and events, it was decided to separate things even further, for the lawyers were concerned about using the name ‘Memphis Belle’ and 91st Bomb Group markings it might become possible for an unknown veteran to claim that he had been portrayed in a defamatory way. Thus the title was changed to ‘Southern Belle’ and the unit represented was no longer the 91st Bomb Group.
    This situation was, however, to change again after Warner Brothers signed up to back the production, for when their legal team took a closer look at the ‘Southern Belle’ concept they decided that in using that name, the matter was even worse! They thought there were at least three B-17s wearing that nickname and that there may well have been well over one hundred veterans with association to these aircraft - all of whom could sue if they did not like the way ‘their’ aircraft was portrayed! Our own research indicates that it could have been even worse, for there was the likelihood of five B-17s by the ‘Southern Belle’ name in England: ‘283’ and 41-24445 from the 92nd BG, 42-30376 from the 94th BG, 42-29694 from the 95th BG and ‘17’ from the 285th BG. As all the surviving members of the original Memphis Belle’s crew had read and more importantly already approved the script - despite apparent misgivings when the film eventually premiered - and there was only one Memphis Belle, the name was changed back.

Historical accuracy vs dramatic license.
Film-makers dismissively and somewhat scornfully refer to people who have objections as to the historical accuracy of their products as being ‘purists’ - and use the word in a derogatory manner. Well, these purists had a number of things to object to in the Wyler/Puttnam movie. All of the ‘objections’ come about as a result of using the name ‘Memphis Belle’, for it is the very use of that name which firmly locks into place the timescale, organisation and detail. Use of any other name would have made the movie complete fiction and remove all possible reasons for complaint.  However, Enigma - and Warner Brothers - insisted on using the name.
    On some levels Enigma went to incredible lengths and spent a very great amount of money to ensure historical accuracy. Vincent  Hemmings, who at the time was Curator of the East Anglian Aviation Society’s Tower Museum at Bassingbourn, remembers the company borrowing, amongst other things, an authentic beer bottle and wooden beer-crate so as to be able to reproduce the label on all the beer bottles that would sit in replica crates which appear in an early sequence at the hangar dance - as if anyone would be able to read them! They made a large photo-print of a flak-area map that was on display in the Tower Museum. Enigma also spent £32,000 building a complete new control tower at Binbrook on the edge of the apron, as Binbrook’s tower was of the wrong design. They then screwed that idea up by building a balcony on the replica, something the building at Bassingbourn never had at that time!
    All the B-17s were re-configured where required to visually match the external B-17F appearance, replacing the tail gunner’s position with the correct model, and fitting ball and upper turrets where required, at the same time removing and blanking off the chin turret position. When the modification programme was finished and the aircraft painted, they were almost indistinguishable from true B-17s of spring 1943 vintage. The five B-17s were each to represent an individually named aircraft in the storyline, but they were also to represent the thirty or so aircraft that made up a Bomb Group. The Art Department applied one set of identity markings to one side, and a different set on the other. Only one aircraft - David Tallichet’s  N3703G - appeared in genuine B-17 markings Memphis Belle, 41-24485 and DF:A. All the others wore tail numbers a few removed from genuine F-model serials of the correct period. In addition to the authentic 324th BS code letters of DF, the aircraft wore spurious code letters DP, MJ and ZQ.
    So, as can be seen, the Wyler/Puttnam movie was to become a montage of high accuracy, spurious detail and fantasy drama before even a single frame had been shot. From all of that comes one main area of highly contentious historical deviancy. This was the choice of using P-51 Mustang fighters as escorts. Historically, to pursue the Memphis Belle storyline, the spring of 1943 would have seen RAF Supermarine Spitfires and USAAF Republic P-47 Thunderbolts used as escort fighters. Use of Thunderbolts was not possible for there was only one airworthy aircraft in the UK at the time. Spitfires were available - and in copious numbers - but it seems that the type was not acceptable to the production committee because ‘...the viewing public associates Spitfires with the Battle of Britain’. This may well have been the official line, but one suspects that the real reason was that the financial backers wanted to pander to the American film-going public and make the USAAF look totally self-sufficient and capable of defeating the Nazi’s by itself! Interestingly though, as late as July 1989 the screenplay and shooting script was still using the word ‘Thunderbolts’ as escort fighters!
    Nevertheless, Enigma contracted five airworthy P-51Ds to appear, even though the use of this type was totally alien to the story timeframe. To put this into accurate historical context, the P-51 Mustang as a type did not appear in USAAF operational service in the United Kingdom until late 1943 and the actual model P-51Ds used in the Wyler/Puttnam movie were not available to the USAAF until early 1945! It seems that despite Enigma having numerous ‘historical advisers’ on board, their opinions and advice was overruled by the Directors decisions.
    Air Vice Marshal Ronald Dick, CB, RAF (Retd) was hired by Enigma as one of the Air Advisors and wrote to Harry Friedman on December 6th 1989: ‘It was good to get my hands on a B-17 again and I found the process of making a movie absolutely fascinating, even through the film people could be infuriating over innacuracies in the script.  They were scrupulous about getting our five B-17s to look exactly right, but they insisted in using P-51Ds as friendly fighters - Mustangs they said would be better box office than Spitfires! I despair of the crass commercialism which drives such decisions - however, the flying sequences should be worth seeing’.
    Then there is the matter of the Memphis Belle’s nose-art. Since the movie came out, many people wondered why, since the original aircraft must have been the most photographed B-17 of World War Two, was the name written in script writing, not block capital letters? One popular reason oft-quoted, was that it allegedly originated from the merchandising department, who thought that ‘script letters look better on the jackets, hats and posters we are going to sell!’ Although that as a potential reason it is perfectly feasible - in fact, highly believable - the real reason is much more mundane.
    Enigma sought and gained permission from the Memphis Belle Memorial Association, custodians of the original aircraft to use the name and artwork, and it was agreed that in order to differentiate between the movie and the original, the style of script would be changed.

Assembling the Stars

With the aircraft in place, it was time to consider the human stars. None of the crew featured aboard the Memphis Belle were ‘real’. This was another strange quirk of Enigma - why go to such great lengths to use the real aircraft name, then populate it with fictitious characters - especially when all surviving crew members had approved the script?  The matter was confused even further when  as a ‘meet the press’ and publicity exercise, Enigma flew over to England the six surviving crewmembers of the real Memphis Belle, along with crew Chief Joe Giambrone.
    For the record, the movie crew of the aircraft were as follows. Pilot, ‘Dennis’ played by Mathew Modine - he had already appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Co-pilot ‘Luke’, was played by Tate Donovan. Navigator, ‘Phil’ was played by Daniel Sweeney. Bombardier ‘Val’ was played by Billy Zane. Radio Operator ‘Danny’ was played by Eric Stoltz who had previously appeared in Mask, with the singer Cher. Engineer ‘Virge’ was played by Reed Diamond. Ball Turret Gunner ‘Rascal’ was played by Sean Astin. Waist Gunners ‘Jack’ was by played Neil Giuntoli and ‘Eugene’ was played by Courtney Gains.  Tail Gunner ‘Clay’ was played by Harry Connick Jnr. There was no place in the script for anyone to play Margaret Polk.
    At the time, Bob Morgan was not sure who Mathew Modine was. “’s kind of hard to tell about somebody playing your part. But having read the script I think he’ll probably fit into it real well. I rented Full Metal Jacket. He was one of the soldiers who lived through the movie”. Morgan’s wife Elizabeth was not so sure about the dark-haired actor. “Bob’s never had dark hair. It’s kind of sandy. But who are we to say who they should pick?’
    Bob Morgan and the rest of the crew were interviewed extensively by the media. Morgan on meeting with Mathew Modine, his counterpart in the movie: ‘After meeting him last night, if I can teach him to be a little more egotistical, I think he will make it! Bob also gave other insights into the film. “...they are taking a lot of liberties. They have researched a lot of crew stories and things about other B-17 bombers and other incidents and more or less put them together and made one exciting mission out of it”.
    The rest of the crew were less frivolous. Jim Verinis: In walked this group of ten handsome guys. I could’ve almost cried! That was the most memorable thing so far. It brought it all back - they were all like we were. Eugine Atkins: I was 21 years old, 125 pounds, just doing my duty. I was no hero, just an ordinary old gunner. Tony Nastal: ...anyone who said they were not scared - there HAD to be something wrong with them!
    Catherine Wyler: The day I invited the Memphis Belle veterans to the location I really felt I had done something special that day.  There was so much real feeling between each actor and his respective veteran. It was a special moment.
    While over in the UK Bob Morgan and some of the other veterans went up with David Tallichet aboard N7303G, Morgan even getting to handle the controls for a while. He was later heard to comment “... it was like five Christmases all on the same day.” Radio Operator Bob Hanson revealed that he thought that his former crew-mates viewed the script and the movie with a mixture of incredulity and amusement. “... they seem to have taken all the rough times we had in 25 missions and put them into one.”

Let Aerial Filming Commence...

Filming started with the aerial sequences - making use of Duxford as their base - on June 26th 1989. The first Press Day occurred on July 2nd which saw all five B-17s lined up on the grass alongside the taxiway against a typical English backdrop of low grey-black clouds which threatened impending rain. David Tallichet had arrived in N3070G three days before filming commenced, the two French B-17s, F-AZDX and F-BEFA arriving on the 26th. Bob Richardson with N17W had been delayed at Gander, and so did not arrive until Thursday 29th June. Ellinor ‘Elly’ Sallingboe’s G-BEDF was, of course already present at Duxford. It is not surprising therefore that the first few days concentrated on the Mustangs and ‘Bf109s’.
    To avoid conflict with military and civil air traffic over East Anglia, the Memphis Belle aircraft were directed to the skies of the marginally quieter east Norfolk and Suffolk by the RAF Air Traffic Controllers at Honington.  Flights were of around two hours duration with action photography taking place between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, below the level for which aircrew and film-makers alike needed oxygen.
    Use was made of cloud cover - not from above, but from below for, as pretty as the bright yellow fields of oilseed rape looked and as arrow-straight as the tractor tire marks may have looked symmetrical in the growing crops, both were out of context in the 1943 timeframe.
    G-BEDF was slated to become the workhorse of the gathered B-17s, for it was fitted with chemical smoke generators  on #1 and #2 engines to simulate an aircraft in distress.  It also had the greatest number of working .50 machine guns to fire blank ammunition from the cheek, waist, ball and tail positions. Tallichet’s aircraft also had operative .50s in the cheek and waist positions.
    The smoke and fumes from the blank cartridges when fired in the guns caused many problems for the B-17 crews - there were also problems with the rounds jamming in the ammunition feeds and the links flying out of the aircraft windows - hasty modifications had to be made to keep all on board so that no-one far below received a nasty injury from on high!
    Things at times got somewhat ‘interesting’. On June 30th F-AZDX lost the #1 engine cowling over Diss in Norfolk after the engine blew an entire cylinder.  The cowling flew back in the slipstream and scraped the tailplane. It was recovered by the Police near Stowmarket and returned to Duxford, in somewhat ‘battered’ condition. Of course, every flight was proceeded by a full briefing between aircrew and Enigma Productions. As agreed, all would use the internationally recognised ‘clock’ system to indicate relative position. This was fine until after the fleet got airborne, when it was discovered that the Assistant Director was using it in the VERTICAL, not horizontal plane. After that there was always someone on board to ‘translate’ the film-crew’s requirements into pilot’s language!
    Such was the intensity of flying from Duxford, mechanical problems started. The B-25 camera-ship suffered engine problems, so the Old Flying Machine Company’s Grumman Avenger was rapidly pressed into service. The open rear gun position was used by the cameramen, but was not a popular perch!
    The filming from Duxford finished on July 16th when all aircraft were due to transit to Binbrook, but not before the the B-17 fleet fulfilled two ‘civic duty’ flights.  The first was when three Flying Fortresses overflew 91st BG veterans visiting the Tower Museum at Bassingbourn. The next day all five B-17s overflew the re-dedication ceremony of the memorial in Royston.

Binbrook Bound!
The B-17 fleet left for Binbrook on the afternoon of Sunday July 16th - but Enigma - in the shape of Art Director Alan Tompkins, his construction manager Bill Welch and his crew -  had already been busy on the Lincolnshire airfield for around a month. Some sixty-five genuine wartime vehicles had been located by John Sargeant of ‘Motors for Movies’ and hired from enthusiasts. Two Nissen Huts had been transformed into a Communal Mess and Briefing Rooms and a bomb dump, complete with fibreglass bombs, had been constructed and offending post war structures either removed or disguised. There was also a number of B-17 mock-ups constructed out of timber and canvas. From close-up these looked very crude, but from the right angle and distance they looked very effective!
    Kevin Westley was another early arrival at Binbrook - his task was to find some eight hundred ‘extras’  required for some scenes, in particular the Hangar Dance. The extras were also needed to faithfully replicate the hive of activity on a wartime bomber airfield, some dressed as aircrew, some as ground personnel. There were even a few girls dressed in WAC uniforms!
    The Hangar Dance sequence was to be truly spectacular, causing massive demands on Wardrobe Master David Murphy and his team in the Wardrobe Department. Some five hundred extras had to be clothed and shod in authentic uniforms and dresses. The Makeup Department also had their hands full for not only did every girl have to have the correct style of summer dress and shoes, they had to have the correct 1940s hairstyle! Bob Richardson’s B-17F N17W had undergone a name-change from C-Cup to Buckaroo and was installed in the hangar as a background item. We should be thankful that Enigma and Caton-Jones resisted the temptation to have Glenn Miller and his Orchestra performing in the hangar, but it was rumoured at the time that they actually thought about doing it!
    Michael Catton-Jones spoke with the Press while at Binbrook: be here, with people running about in uniform and Jeeps and trucks and all the hardware is like a big ‘Airfix kit’. It’s all highly enjoyable and gives me a chance to play with some American actors and what have you.
    The weather during filming was good - so good in fact that it played havoc with the script. For instance, in the scene where the crew boarded a Jeep outside the briefing room, the script called for it to be muddy - the only way that could be done was to call upon the local Fire Service to hose down a patch of turf! The warm spell of weather and the early ripening of the harvest eventually forced Enigma to give up an pretence that it was the spring of 1943. The air-to-air filming from Duxford had been problematic with difficulties in obtaining a good ‘cloud match’ when filming of scenes had to be done over two days, but the fine weather at Binbrook meant that filming was ‘on schedule’ - until the afternoon of July 25th.

‘Lights, Camera, Action - CRASH!’

Filming had been going well. Early on in the movie there was to be a highly spectacular crash sequence cumulating in a massive explosion after a crippled a B-17 comes in to land. This was to be shot by the special effects team, using a combination of techniques, initially with a radio-controlled model for the ‘approach’ part of the sequence, followed by a specially-prepared 16-foot wingspan model used for the ‘landing’ and subsequent ‘crash’. The set-up called for the model to be towed behind an out-of-shot ground vehicle on a pre-planned line, partially sliding the model over the grass. Unfortunately the guide-wire failed and the model veered off-course directly into a cameraman, hitting him and putting him in hospital. For the actual explosion, an ex-Royal Air Force Percival Pembroke was bought from a scrapyard down the road in Horncastle then suitably painted and ‘distressed’ to look like the wreck before it was ‘exploded’ and set on fire by the pyrotechnic team.
    In a strange echo of life imitating art, during the afternoon of July 25th, the Institut Geographique National  B-17 F-BEFA Chateau de Vernieuil - aka Baby Ruth - started its take-off run along runway 21 in the hands of pilot Jean Gattegno when, as the speed began to build up, the aircraft suddenly began to pull to the right. By the time it reached the perimeter track, it was travelling at about forty-five degrees to its original course and just became airborne. Unfortunately the #4 propeller impacted with a large pile of stone chippings that had been deposited on a disused aircraft parking stand. This had the effect of slewing the aircraft around to the left, causing the port wing to strike the branches of a tree. The aircraft then crossed the airfield boundary fence, over a depression and came to a stop in a field of ripe wheat. There were ten people on board.
    Luckily nine people managed to evacuate with the wreck with some speed and only a few cuts and bruises, One of the IGN crewmembers suffered a broken leg and one of the passengers a broken collarbone. One of the girl passengers remained on board strapped into her seat - Mike Woodley of classic aircraft operators Aces High Ltd was one of the first on the scene, having driven straight through the perimeter fence. Mike, along with a IGN crewmember and a another passenger re-entered the wreck and brought the girl out before a fire, which had started in one of the engine nacelles, took a firm hold and totally destroyed all but the engine blocks and tail. It was thought that the accident was initially caused by a binding brake or failed wheel bearing
    With one machine destroyed, one suffering engine problems and another ‘grounded’ and trapped inside one of the hangars for filming the dance sequence, the remaining two aircraft were worked even harder. The filming of the take-off sequence was particularly hard work, for each aircraft took off, made a circuit and landed, to be set upon by the Art Department who rapidly changed the nose art and aircraft codes before repeating the whole process again!
    Towards the end of the filming at Binbrook B17 Preservations G-BEDF had its vertical tail removed and fitted with a fake unit in order to simulate severe battle damage for the climax of the film. Additional ‘battle-damage’ was attached to the airframe, silver foil making an excellent simulation for bullet holes!
    August 4th 1989 and the contract for the B-17s ran out, so the main filming switched to Pinewood Studios for a further two months filming with the actors and the fuselage mock-up. The Second Unit remained at Binbrook for a time, filming some of the ‘miniature’ B-17 models. We use the term ‘miniature’ loosely for in reality each of the five models had a sixteen foot wingspan, electric motors driving the props and radio-controlled crewmen inside to move about!
    The film was declared ‘in the can’ on October 6th and then it was off to the editing suite to bring the whole thing together!

The clichés dropped like Bombs...

The film was released in the United Kingdom on September 7th 1990 - in the USA on October 12th. It opened to mixed reviews.
    Sitting in the darkened movie theatre watching the picture, there were parts that looked incredible, others, well let’s be kind and say not so good! The general consensus of opinion was that the movie was an anthology of just about every aviation movie cliché ever filmed. Not a trick is missed - as Jack Garner of the Green Bay Press-Gazette said in his review; ‘Memphis Belle even has a crew-members dog, wagging his tail in anticipation of his master’s return, and you cannot get more old fashioned in the movie buisiness to drag out the dog’.
    Everyone agreed that the flying sequences were superb, but that the script was, at best, turgid. Apart from the usual continuity errors, a number of mistakes were spotted; for example, on the return flight, Val clearly administers closed chest compressions with his hands. This type of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation was not advanced until the 1960s and would not have been used in 1943. But was it a mistake? The July 1989 version of the script - as shown above - shows Val pounding Danny’s chest in frustration - obviously the Director decided to take artistic license here!
    Disaster after disaster struck - one wheel would not lower, a crewmember slipped, forcing open the bomb-bay doors and he nearly fell out while hand cranking the recalcitrant wheel into position, they were down to one working motor... Would they make it? Of course they would!
    The B-17 slews off the runway and comes to a halt, at least one engine smoking. The crew leap out and an ambulance pulls up, the medics diving to assist Danny. In the cockpit co-pilot Luke and pilot Dennis complete the shut-down checks - then Luke gets out of his seat, leaving Dennis alone with his thoughts.
    The camera goes close up to the pilot’s side of the instrument panel. There, tucked under the coaming is a small oil and tomato soup splattered picture of a girl. Dennis gently pulls it out, and the camera closes in and pauses on it. The sequence lasts less than five seconds - and certainly does not appear in our copy of the script, so it clearly must have been an ‘afterthought’.
    We guess that out of the millions of people who saw the movie, less than ten realised or even cared that it was the only tangible link between the Catherine’s 1990 movie, her father’s 1944 picture and the real, historical happenings of 1942 and 1943. Someone, somewhere decided to add it as a tribute - for they realised the importance of this person to the story. The instant we saw it, we knew that the picture was not of an actress dressed up and photographed for the movie - without doubt it was the real Memphis belle, the real Margaret Polk.

Taken from mine and Dr Harry Friedman MD's book 'Memphis Belle - Dispelling The Myths'

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The lost sound.... of Amy Johnson

The internet has been wonderful for both discovering and preserving images from the past -
it's not always the same for what I call 'lost' sound recordings - everyone goes for the flashy pictures it seems!

Recently I came across an old acetate recording of pioneer aviatrix Amy Johnson talking about flying her DH Moth 'Jason' from England to Australia - she really does not sound how I was expecting her to!

Please enjoy, and leave comments as to what you think  - I do have a source of some more!


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

London Heathrow expansion? Please, get it right!

So… at last the UK Government has at last announced their approval of a third runway at Heathrow to expand UK airport capacity following a cabinet committee meeting on Tuesday.
Let us set aside the mathematical error that there will actually be two runways built, not one – they have actually approved one strip of concrete, that is actually two runways, for aircraft can land or take off in either direction.
The other thing is that in all the garbage reporting it seems to have been forgotten that London Heathrow was originally built with six strips of concrete totaling twelve runways – all are still there, just that most of them have been covered with Terminal buildings and are used for taxiways or aircraft parking.

Then we come to all the other shock-horror reporting as to why cannot Stansted – or Gatwick – or Manston – or Maplin – or Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh be expanded instead.  All sorts of reasons have been given, but none seem to realise the actual reason - or are afraid to state the truth. The airlines themselves do not want to move any of their services out of London Heathrow.  They see Heathrow as the prime place to fly in and out of.
Twenty years ago I know a survey was done by one airline asking passengers and companies using air freight which would be their preference to fly in and out of -  Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted. Overwhelmingly the majority selected Heathrow, despite that at this time the airline ran it’s own tests how long it took to reach each of the airports listed by public transport from Piccadilly Circus – with Gatwick the winner!
It was around this time that attempts were made by the airport operators to persuade the travelling public that there were ‘other’ London Airports – hence  what could be termed the ‘re-branding’ of London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted, London Luton and even recently London Southend!
New runways or not – London Heathrow will get busier, we will hear endless complaints from the NIMBYs and I guess the media will continue to get all the reporting wrong!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

What's in a name?

What’s in a name?
The publishing of an historical story often comes about through accidental discovery. One stumbles across a snippet of information that leads to something else, and then the chase is on!
For me, one such event was the discovery in the National Archives here in the UK of a report about an attack on Constantinople from the Hellenic island of Mudros in 1917. Wait a minute, Mudros? – never heard of it!
A quick search shows no such island, but, given that this attack took place at the height of the British Empire, there was a good chance that this could be a case of the usual British military practice of ‘cannot pronounce a foreign word, so convert it to something that sounds similar’. Further research eventually solved the mystery. Moudros (Μούδρος) is a town and a former municipality on the island of Lemnos in the North Aegean.
On 13 1917 Squadron Commander Kenneth Stevens Savory, DSO, was recalled from 2 Wing, Royal Naval Air Service, in the Aegean Theatre and placed on the naval Special Service List for a highly secret mission.
Briefed by the Air Department of the British Admiralty, he was told of his appointment to investigate the possibility of ferrying one of the latest and largest of the new British bombers to the Aegean Theatre for strikes at the Turkish capital, Constantinople, where the ex-German battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau were based. In 1914, in order to circumvent neutrality requirements, Germany transferred the two ships to the Ottoman Navy on 16 August, though the supposed sale was simply a ruse. The Breslau was renamed Midilli while the Goeben was renamed Yavûz Sultân Selîm; their German crews remained with the ships and donned Ottoman uniforms and fezzes. The British did not accept the sale of the ships to the Ottoman Empire and stationed a blockading force outside the Dardanelles with orders to attack the ships if they appeared, regardless of the flag they flew.

The Goeben was renamed Yavûz Sultân Selîm.
 The four-funneled Breslau was renamed Midilli
Difficulties was being experienced in the cooling of the Rolls-Royce Eagle engines powering the new bombers, so Savory was posted to the Handley Page Squadron at Manston in Kent to assess the feasibility of a 2,000-mile flight.  This unnumbered squadron, acting as a depot for the Royal Naval Air Service heavy bomber units based in France, allotted Savory a Handley Page 0/ 100 for flight trials.
Savory had been chosen because he knew the hazards in attacking the Turkish capital, having already made one attack from Lemnos on the evening of 14/15 April 1916. The raid was led by Squadron Commander Smyth-Piggott, and Savory was accompanied by Flight Sub-Lieutenant C. W. Dickinson and J H W Banarto. Flying B.E.2Cs, which had been shipped out, they had started out on their 360-mile flight in fine weather that soon deteriorated into rain and thunderstorms.

The BE.2c that bombed Constantinople - with Flt Lt Savory (left) and Sub-Lt Dickenson.

Savory dropped proclamations and went down to five hundred feet in an attempt to locate the Zeitunlik Powder Works, his primary target. These works were seven miles from the entrance to the Bosphorus, with the Demirkhan gun foundry one mile to the east, marked by a huge chimney. He was heavily fired upon and his aircraft received two hits. Spotting an airfield he dropped eight incendiary bombs on the hangars, causing a fire and returned to base. Dickinson dropped his eight bombs near the powder works and set off back, meeting strong head winds over the island of Marmara.
Now, having assured the Air Department of his confidence in the Handley Page O/100, Savory, was allotted No. 3124 for another attack on the capital. Only one machine could be spared from the Admiralty commitments of attacking German U-boat bases.
Handley Page had been asked to produce a floatplane version, since the route involved much over-water flying, but the company did not consider this practicable. As it was, No. 3124 came straight from the Cricklewood works to nearby R.N.A.S. Hendon to be prepared in the utmost secrecy for its operation.
As well as hammocks and rations for crew comfort at stops along the route, the aircraft carried spares including the stripped-down parts of a Rolls-Royce Eagle IV engine and a four-bladed propeller strapped on the fuselage top. The selected crew were:
Squadron Commander K. S. Savory, D.S.O. (Pilot)
Flight Lieutenant H. McClelland, D.S.C. (2nd Pilot)
Lieutenant P.T. Rawlings, R.N.V.R. (Navigator)
Chief Petty Officer (Engineer) J. L. Adams (Fitter)
Leading Mechanic (Carpenter) B. Cromack (Rigger)
Ready on 22nd May 1917, the O/100 was flown to Manston, where Savory collected the latest intelligence on the airfields en route. He was ordered to proceed at the earliest possible date and the aircraft was readied that night. With perfect weather next morning, Savory left Manston at 10.30 hrs. and touched down at Villacoublay on the outskirts of Paris three and a half hours later.

 Handley Page O/100 3124 flown by Squadron Commander Kenneth Savory DSO about to set of from Manston to Lemnos.
With fair weather holding, Savory set off next morning to Fort Bron, a large airfield near Lyons. The weather then deteriorated and a day was wasted before the next stage when visibility was poor, particularly along the Rhône Valley. The airfield at Fréjus proved to be quite unsuitable for heavy aircraft. A three-day wait until the 29th was necessary before the leg to Pisa in Italy.
Following a coastal route, the Handley Page was subjected first to a beam and then a head wind. At times the aircraft was driven down to 400 feet above the water’s surface. At least the landing was easy. Pisa had two airfields, San Giusto and Coltano, which was described as having a perfect surface.
Next day, the sector to Rome was flown in constant rain. Good visibility was needed for landing at its Centocelle aerodrome as there was a high Marconi transmitting tower located near the airfield’s edge. Fine weather the following morning led to the flight to Naples and the Campo di Marti aerodrome. There, mist caused a further delay. To everyone's horror, the arrival of the Handley Page was reported in the Italian papers – and then picked up and repeated in the British press. It was inevitable that German intelligence would see the reports, but at least its final destination was not reported and it’s importance might not be realised.
The route taken.
It was 3 June before the flight across the toe of Italy to Otranto was made. There the Royal Naval Air Service had recently opened an airfield in connection with the naval barrage across the Strait, established to pen the Austrian fleet in   the Adriatic. The field was small with a rough stony surface.
Now came the first difficulties. On the next stage the mountains of Albania proved higher than charted and the loaded aircraft could not climb over them. The aircraft returned to Otranto where some of the spares were off-loaded for forwarding by ship. The mountains were eventually crossed on 7 June with a landing at Thessaloniki - some reports suggest a place called Amberkui - before flying on to the new base, Marsh Aerodrome on Lemnos, was reached the next day. The precise location of this airfield is not known, but a study of the island and by looking at the name used, suggests that it was in the region close to the salt pans on the west of the island.
 The O/100 3124 at Oranto. Note the four-bladed propeller strapped to the top of the fuselage just behind the wing.
In all, 1,955 statute miles had been covered in thirty one and a half  hours' flying time, without any problems. For the bombing of the warships, a torpedo attack had been mooted but discarded in favour of 112-lb. bombs, the largest in the theatre, as it was thought that while in harbour the ships would be protected by anti-torpedo nets.
On 3 July all was ready. The 0/100 was bombed up in the afternoon in preparation for an attack that night. Shortly after dark 3124 took off on its first operational mission. Unfortunately on its flight northward it flew into a hot wind from the south. The warm air caused the engines to overheat and the loaded aircraft lost height rapidly. Savory was forced to drop a few of his bombs to prevent hitting the water. He then set a course that would take him over the enemy positions at Bulair [sic] where he dropped the remainder of his bombs. Bolayır is a town in the Gelibolu district of Çanakkale Province, situated on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the european part of Turkey.
Savory was taking no chances with his valuable and irreplaceable aircraft. The next night conditions were not quite right and he could afford to wait. So far it was assumed that the enemy were unaware of the presence of the threat. Even if Turkish troops had spotted the aircraft that warm starry night, it is unlikely that they knew a Handley Page. A number of B.E.2Cs and Henry Farmans had been sent out over the Turkish lines that night to confuse the defences. Only if an aircraft had penetrated 100 or more miles into their territory would the Turks be suspicious, and the Handley Page had turned back after barely an hour's flight.
 The airship shed on Lemnos was used for the partial hangarage of the only O/100 in the Aegean theatre - 3124. The frames either side of the canvas hangar were also covered canvas and used as wind-breaks when airships were put into or removed from the building.
Weather reports for 5 July were favourable and the aircraft was bombed up. The crew boarded, the engines started, the ground crew dragged away the chocks and the Handley Page rolled forward - then one of the massive tyres exploded and the giant aircraft slewed round. Savory cut the engines and the flight abandoned. Quickly repaired, it was hoped it would be a case of third time lucky after take-off the following night, but halfway to Constantinople bad weather forced Savory to turn back.
The next evening a start was made before nightfall and shortly before midnight, the Goeben and Breslau were located in Stenia Bay near Constantinople. Savory circled three times before attacking from 800 ft. The first salvo of four 112-lb. bombs fell among adjacent moored destroyers and submarines, causing a fire and the second salvo of four appeared to hit Goeben just forward of amidships.
Turning towards the upper waters of the Golden Horn, Savory dropped two bombs from 1,300 ft. at the S.S. General, reputed to be the German liaison Headquarters, and the final two bombs were aimed at the Turkish War Ministry. Up to this time the defences had been taken by surprise and not until the aircraft was setting course for base was sporadic anti-aircraft fire sent up by the enemy. Records indicate that the Handley Page landed back at Lemnos at 0340 hrs.
Reports filtering back from Turkish agents reported that a destroyer had been sunk and a transport damaged, but that Goeben had not been hit. Bombs had fallen near the S.S. General and a bookshop near the Turkish War Office had been destroyed. A total of twenty-nine people were killed and five wounded.
Following this attack the Handley Page was given a complete overhaul. A major problem with the aircraft was its tyres which wore quickly under the great weight of the fully loaded machine on the stony airfield surface. Unfortunately there were no further spares were available in the Aegean.
On 4 August it was intended to use the aircraft for attacks on Panderma – or to give it it’s correct name, Bandırma (Πάνορμος, Panormos) in conjunction with a bombing flight of Henry Farmans. For this attack there was a change of crew, the original members being recalled for duty in Handley Page squadrons in France. Lieutenant John W. Alcock (later of Atlantic flight fame) was at the controls, with Flight Lieutenant S. H. Gaskell, and Sub-Lieutenant A. E. Sole ex-H.M.S. Ark Royal based in Lemnos, navigating and observing.
Although the worn tyres were reinforced with fabric, three burst on an attempted take-off. Tyres from a Short Bomber were fitted to 3124 for a second attempt on Panderma in the early hours of 7 August. Dumps and warehouses around the harbour area were the target. The town was blacked out and there was no anti- aircraft gunfire.
The same day enemy aircraft had set out from Suvla Salt Lake airfield on the Aegean coast of the Gallipoli peninsula in European Turkey, south of the Gulf of Saros to bomb the R.N.A.S. station on the island of Imvros at the time under Greek administration. Alcock passed one aircraft in flight on his way back.
On 1 September, again with Alcock and Gaskell, but this time with Engineer Warrant Officer S. J. Wise aboard, the Handley Page set out to bomb Adrianople. Off Samothraki a submarine was sighted and two delayed-action bombs were dropped as it submerged. Passing Kuleli Burgas, heavy anti-aircraft fire was met and a bomb was aimed at the battery. At Adrianople a variety of targets was attacked, including the railway bridge over the River Arda, warehouses, the station and railway workshops and a fort. Fires caused by the bombs could still be seen by the crew from 60 miles distant on their homeward leg.
The Turks, now fully understanding that their major towns were threatened, had finally realized that Lemnos was the base for the Handley Page. While the bomber was absent on the Adrianople raid, an 75 minute  long air attack by seven aircraft was launched on the island. Bombs were dropped on the salt lake, presumably in mistake for Marsh aerodrome. Sixteen bombs also fell on the base depot, damaging two aeroplanes in their cases, pumps and a searchlight engine. There were no casualties.
With Alcock at the controls and Flt Lt H. R. Aird, commanding "A" Flight of  2 Wing at Thasos, as second pilot, together with the engineer Wise, O/100 3124 set course on 30 September to bomb railway stations on both sides of the Bosphorus. After 90 minutes' flying an engine failed and Alcock was forced to jettison his bombs and turn back. Unable to maintain height, the aircraft was ditched near the coast in the Gulf of Xeros some five miles north of Sulva Bay. For nearly two hours while the aircraft floated, Very signal lights were fired to alert rescue craft, but to no avail and all three crew swam ashore where they were taken prisoner by the Turks and then, taken to Constantinople. - Meanwhile on Lemnos, where the aircraft was declared overdue at dawn on 1 October, aeroplanes were sent up in different directions, bombed up to combine anti-submarine patrolling with a search for 3124. All that was found was a strut that was picked up off Imvros by a patrol boat, indicating that the Handley Page was probably not in enemy hands.
Then local intelligence picked up from papers for 3 October the report: ‘ln the Gulf of Xeros an English aeroplane was compelled to come down by anti-aircraft fire from our land batteries. The crew which was composed of three men fell into our hands.’ The primary object of disabling Goeben and Breslau had failed as both ships put to sea later and the R.N.A.S. made further attacks on the ships with DH.4s which started to reach the theatre in late 1917. What was achieved was the diverting of German and Turkish aircraft and anti- aircraft guns to the protection of Constantinople and other Turkish towns that might otherwise have been used on the Palestinian Front.
So ends a little-known but fascinating story that was almost certainly the world’s first inter-continental air strike that took days of unraveling due to multi-lingual spellings, slang and changes of national ownership! Such is the task of a historian!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

‘Colourisation’ – and why it is creating a false history.

In recent times there is a growing trend to ‘colourise’ (or colorize) monochromatic images. Some claim that this ‘process’ is recovering lost information.
I would like these so- called ‘Photoshop artists’ – who say that they are using computer software to determine the colour values of a mono print to try a little experiment.  The image below is made up of three colours, separated by two black stripes. I reduced the colours to monochromatic values – now please tell me the actual colours. (the answer is at the end of this article).

At best – and I’m being charitable here – the so- called ‘Photoshop artist’ is using known colours from external sources to apply those colour values to the mono image – A mono image of a London Transport double-decker bus in a busy London street taken in the 1960s is likely to be something approaching post office red. Likewise a picture of a Court Line Lockheed L-1011 TriStar taxiing past the Vauxhall car-park at Luton is either three shades of yellow/orange or three shades of pink – and if you know the registration of the aircraft in the picture, you know which, as there was only two aircraft painted in these colours.

London Transport Routemaster bus - right?

Post office red - right?

But how do you actually KNOW the colours of things in the background? Grass is grass, so there is a fair chance it’s green, but wait – sunburnt grass is often brown – quite a difference there!
Lets go back to that London bus – what’s the colours of the cars alongside it?  What’s the colours of the clothes the people are wearing? What is the colours of the goods in the shop windows – or the actual colours of the shop fronts for that matter? The same applies to the cars in the car-park at Luton. Do we actually KNOW?

So, it’s clear that experience, knowledge and research plays a huge part in determining the colours used. But how many ‘Photoshop artists’ actually spend the time and effort in doing that – preferring instead to make a best guess and coming up with something that ‘looks good’.

Now there is nothing wrong with that if the resulting image is just for their own pleasure – but given the nature of the internet, images do not often stay ‘private’ – people are proud of their work and like to show it off, therefore it’s not long before these images are in the public domain in places like Facebook – the next thing you know is that they are copied, and instead of stating, ‘….hey folks, look what I have colourised’. They resurface as ‘colour photo of XXX discovered’ with people claiming that they are 100% authentic!

This is what I mean by faking history – I know I’m screaming into the wind, and no matter what I say I’m not going to stop it – but I still think it’s wrong – and in terms of future historians, dangerously wrong. Oh… and the colours at the start of this?.... R G B!

Monday, 31 August 2015

B-17 Comparson

Recently I have witnessed some total garbage written on the web about just how good some perceived the Boeing B-17 to be. I thought it time to drag out my analysis I used in my B-17 book for Pen & Sword...

Assessing the worth of a bomber aircraft by comparison with its contemporaries is not easy, for different operating parameters, along with the fast pace of change, especially during the war years, makes any form of correlation particularly difficult.
            Different national requirements and varying operational methods of achieving the desired goal resulted in great variation in bomber design. Weapons or stores carried - ‘size’ - became the yardstick and bombers were classified into light, medium, heavy and very heavy categories. However, tactical needs brought about different roles and design developments also blurred these basic classifications.
            The Model 299 B-17 was originally designed as a long-range maritime reconnaissance bomber of medium capacity during a period when the US government was actively pursuing an isolationist policy and when any form of military expenditure was only acceptable if it was for defence purposes.
            With a change of administration, and faced with the expansionist policies of Germany and Japan, the B-17 became the prime aircraft design around which the USAAC's doctrine of daylight precision bombing was developed.
            A key figure in this was Harold Lee George. An American aviation pioneer and an outspoken proponent of the industrial web theory, George taught at the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) and through his teachings, influenced a significant group of airmen passing through it - who were to have powerful influences during and after World War Two. He has been described as the leader of the so-called ‘Bomber Mafia’, a group of men who advocated an independent military arm composed of heavy bombers.
            George studied aeronautics at Princeton University and learned to fly at Love Field, Texas, receiving his wings on 29 March 1918. He went to France that September with an initial assignment to the 7th Aviation Instruction Center at Clermont. Two months later he was posted to the Meuse-Argonne front, piloting a bomber with the 163rd Bomb Squadron, 2nd Day Bombardment Group. In the one week that it saw action, the 163rd flew 69 sorties. George observed that massed bombers, flying in formation, swamped enemy defences and so reduced the attacker's casualties.
      In France, George met William ‘Billy’ Mitchell and became convinced that Mitchell's vision of an independent Air Force was the best future direction for the American military.
    After the war, George was assigned to the 49th Bombardment Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas, where he was promoted to First Lieutenant in April 1921. He next served with the 14th Bombardment Squadron at Langley Field, Virginia, and with the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. From 1921 to 1923, George assisted Mitchell in his bombing demonstration against old battleships, and helped develop air-to-ship tactics. In August 1925, George went to Washington as chief of the Bombardment Section in the United States Army Air Corps Operations Division.
            In July 1929, George was ordered to Hawaii for two years with the 5th Composite Group at Luke Field serving Pearl Harbor. In September 1931, he went to Maxwell Field, Alabama, to study at the ACTS where he helped refine the precision daylight bomber doctrine taught there. Following graduation, George became an instructor at ACTS, teaching air tactics and precision bombing doctrine and became de facto leader of the ‘Bomber Mafia’. With Haywood S Hansell, Laurence S Kuter and Donald Wilson, George researched, debated and finally codified what the men believed would be a war-winning strategy that Wilson had termed as the ‘industrial web theory’. This was a military concept which stated that an enemy's industrial power could be attacked at nodes of vulnerability, and thus the enemy's ability to wage a lengthy war could be severely limited, as well as bring down his morale - his will to resist.
            In 1934, George was made director of the Department of Air Tactics and Strategy, and vigorously promoted the doctrine of precision bombing. It was through his directorship of ACTS, that George became known as the unofficial leader of the men in the USAAC who closed ranks and pushed exclusively toward the concept of daylight precision bombing as a strategic, war-winning doctrine using massed air fleets of heavy bombers commanded independently of naval or ground warfare needs. This concept was to influence more than a generation of thinkers within the USAAC, USAAF and even the USAF and, apart from a period when the USAAC adopted the RAF-style area bombing tactics using B-29s over Japan that cumulated in the dropping of the two atomic bombs in August 1945, continued right through to the 1970s and Linebacker II missions over Vietnam. It was also to strongly influence the designers and manufacturers of bomber aircraft.
            George was promoted to major in July 1936. He graduated from the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the following year and returned to Langley as commanding officer of the General Headquarters (GHQ) Air Corps 96th Bombardment Squadron. George flew to South America as a part of a series of USAAC goodwill flights in February 1938 and November 1939. In 1940, George took command of the 2nd Bombardment Group.
            With intelligence gained from the early months of air fighting in Europe, the B-17 was re-designed to improve its defensive firepower and to give it improved high altitude stability to provide a better bomb sighting platform. It received a further re-design following the experiences of the RAF operating a small number of B-17Cs in actual, not simulated, combat.
            From concept and through the re-designs, the B-17 was tailored to operate in the sub-stratosphere altitudes of between 20,000 to 30,000 ft, and in daylight. The effective turbo-supercharging of engines, an excellent crew oxygen supply system and an accurate high altitude bombsight - without doubt for which extreme preference was given to the Norden version - were crucial elements in this development. The thinking behind this was that the higher the altitude, the less effective anti-aircraft artillery would be against the bomber, and any intercepting fighters would suffer a heavy drain on fuel in climbing to reach these heights, severely limiting their endurance.
            Bombardiers liked to boast that with the Norden bombsight they could drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from 20,000 feet. When asked if that was true, inventor Carl Norden is supposed to have responded, ‘Which pickle would you like to hit?’ Norden’s President, Theordore H Barth is said to have postulated ‘We do not regard a fifteen foot being a 'very difficult' target to hit from an altitude of 30,000 feet, provided the new Army M-4 bombsight together with Stabilized Bombing Approach Equipment is used’.
            Postwar evaluation of this battle between Norden and Sperry showed that precision high-altitude bombing was much less effective than believed during the war. Although the visual bombsights worked, the generally poor weather over Europe interfered with their success. By the end of the war, both radar-guided and television guided bombs were under development.
            Although based on technology from the early part of the century, the Norden sight was important because of its popularity and its role as a morale booster and ultimately because it did equip three quarters of US bombers. Although less well known, the Sperry sight was based on later technology that ultimately facilitated the development of avionics for all-weather flying. Its legacy lasts to this day, in electronic autopilots and in the gyro-syn compass that is still the standard heading reference on most commercial and military aircraft.
            How much of what has been quoted about the Norden was factual, and just how much was hyperbole depended much on where the aircraft was being flown. In the clear, peaceful skies over the deserts of the south-western USA performance figures were considerably different to the cold, wet combat-filled air of northern Europe.

B-17 vs B-24
The only operational bomber that stands a direct comparison to the B-17 was its running mate in the strategic bombing campaign over Europe, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. A later design by four years, the Liberator understandably embodied some of the new developments in aircraft engineering and equipment that was not available when the B-17 first appeared.
            Inevitably the virtues and vices of the two aircraft have been endlessly discussed over the ensuing years, but nowhere more avidly than among those who flew or serviced them. Basically the two bombers had similar specifications and performances, being designed and developed for the same purpose. On the other hand each had distinctive handling qualities and operational characteristics. For the men who entrusted their lives to one or the other there was no debate: if you flew a ‘Fort’ then the ‘Lib’ was the inferior aircraft, and vice versa. Reason just did not enter into it. Verbal antagonism was common. To the Fortress men the B-17 was the 'Queen of the Sky' and the B-24 '...that Banana Boat'. To the Liberator adherents the Fort was 'that heavy bombardment training plane' while their own charge was 'a real man's ship'.
            Many of the derogatory remarks were aimed at the B-24; ‘ having been designed as a flying boat but leaked so badly they decided to put wheels on it instead’. Then there was ‘...the B-24 was the packing case they sent the B-17 over in'.
            A more truthful jibe, supposedly originating from a B-17 Group Commander: 'Who needs escorts when there are B-24s around?' - a statement referring to the lower altitude at which B-24s were forced to operate, thus making them inviting targets for both flak and fighters.
            This battle was known to be expressed in more dangerous ways. Performing some aerial manoeuvre for which a B-17 or B-24 was not designed in the presence of operators of the other type was a not infrequent occurrence, although liable to get the rogue pilot grounded if witnessed by authority. Reports exist of a B-17 formation ploughing across an overcast at 150 mph during a training mission who were amazed to see an old B-24 go sailing past at apparently twice their speed with a pair of naked backsides framed in the waist window in a vulgar gesture. The Liberator pilot apparently attained this turn of speed in a dive from higher altitude.
            Another story relates to what could be called the ultimate in B-17 one-upmanship,  a prank performed by a pilot assigned to the ‘Aphrodite’ unit at Fersfield. Gremlin Gus II as already described was sometimes called ‘The Roadster’ and this unique machine caused considerable interest wherever it appeared. Being some three tons lighter than an empty combat Fortress due to its gutted state, Gremlin Gus II had a considerable turn of speed. A Liberator could normally out-pace a Fortress so that every B-24 pilot knew he was unlikely to be overtaken by the Boeing. The operators of Gremlin Gus II delighted in exploiting this situation. A story is told about how Major Hayes of the Aphrodite unit would allegedly stalk a B-24 formation, amble alongside and then smartly advance all throttles to full power, whereupon Gremlin Gus II would speed by. As the head of the formation was passed, Hayes would stand up in the open cockpit and salute!
            What is clear from the facts and figures is that the B-17 was more suited to the type of operations undertaken by the USAAF, primarily because it had better high altitude performance. A loaded B-17G was a relatively stable aircraft, even at 25,000 ft, and was not difficult to control at 30,000 ft. A fully loaded B-24J required constant pilot attention to maintain position in formation at 20,000 ft, at 25,000 ft it was floundering around the sky.
            The characteristics of the B-24's high aspect ratio wing, the so-called ‘Davis’ wing, named after designer David R Davis, were not suited for flight in thin air while supporting a heavy load. Above 18,000 ft the B-24 became progressively demanding of the pilot on the controls as altitude increased, while the Fortress presented no detrimental change until over 30,000 ft. However, at lower altitude most pilots with experience of both bombers considered the B-24 easier to handle.
            Both types of aircraft had turbo-supercharged engines but the B-24 used the Pratt & Whitney 1830 whereas the B-17 had the longer stroked Wright 1820. The 1830 demonstrated better reliability and did not use, or disgorge, oil to the same extent as the Wright. The take-off horsepower rating of 1,200 was the same for the two makes so the B-24's slightly better performance can be attributed to cleaner aerodynamic design.
            Both the B-17 and the B-24 had bomb bays the full depth of the fuselage. The B-24's bay was divided into a front and rear section which together provided almost double the space of that in the B-17. However, the design of the bay and racks limited the largest size of individual bomb to 2,000 lb, of which the Fortress could carry two and the Liberator four. With combinations of smaller bombs the load could be substantially increased, particularly with the slim 1,600 lb armour piercing bombs, of which the B-17 could accommodate six totalling 9,600 lb and the B-24 eight with a total of 12,800 lb.
            If the under-wing racks were used then heavier bombs could be lifted, but these very heavy loads brought flight stability problems. In practice, tactical considerations - of range and altitude - were the influencing factors and average bomb loads for the B-17 and B-24 in the USAAF high altitude daylight operations were 5,000 lb and 6,000 lb respectively. In operations over Europe, to reach more distant targets, loads were often l,000 lb less than the average. The heaviest operational load known lifted by a B-17 was two 4,500 lb Disney rocket bombs on under-wing racks and this demanded caution at the flight controls. The racks were used to supplement bomb bay loads when attacking short range targets, but the effect upon high altitude climb through the increased fuel consumption at high engine temperatures limited their use.
    At similar loadings and at the same altitude the maximum speeds of the B-17G and the B-24J were much alike, 280 mph and 290 mph at 25,000 ft. The difference in combat cruise speed was more marked; 208 mph true airspeed for the B-17G as against 220 mph for the B-24J at 20,000 ft, due to the slightly higher power settings required by the B-24. This difference in airspeed was enough for it to be undesirable to fly the two types in adjacent formations.
            When it came to range with the same amount of fuel and the same altitude, the B-24 could achieve up to 100 miles more than the B-17. Both aircraft had provision for additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay which would add an additional 1,000 miles to range. The larger bomb bay of the B-24 still allowed for a reasonable bomb load, whereas in the B-17 this was seriously curtailed. It was for this reason that the B-24 was the preferred type for maritime patrols or in the Pacific war zones, where much greater distances than in Europe had to be flown on combat missions.
            Range considerations were the principal reason for the B-24 replacing B-17s in the Pacific. In Europe the reverse was the case. The Fortress's better high altitude behaviour found it the more favoured type with USAAF commanders. The B-17's excellent flight characteristics, the foremost being directional stability with little requirement for trim, made it far more suited to survive damage than the B-24. Several Fortresses were landed successfully with complete tail stabilisers shot off and major damage to wings. B-24s were in general less able to keep flying with comparable damage to flight surfaces.

B-17 vs the Soviets
The Russians were mainly interested in air support for their ground forces, although a few four-engined bombers were produced. One was the Petlyakov Pe-8, which was originally known by the Soviet bomber designation T-7 until that system was dropped in favour of acknowledging the leader of the design team responsible for an aircraft. Most of the total of 79 Pe-8s reputed to have been completed were on hand before the German invasion of the USSR in August 1941, but the type remained in service until the end of hostilities. During the war years many Pe-8s were extensively modified and re-engined, once with diesels to enable these bombers to attack Berlin.
            In comparison with the B-17G, the Pe-8 was a slightly larger and more powerful aircraft. An auxiliary engine in the fuselage provided supercharging that enabled the Pe-8 to be operated at between 20,000ft and 25,000ft. At this altitude its maximum speed was some 20 mph below the B-17G's. Maximum range with a 4,408 lb bomb load was 2,900 miles at a speed of 174 mph with fuel overload amounting to a massive 4,120 US gallons. Bomb load could be doubled but this severely curtailed range and altitude performance. The B-17 could only equal or better this range by using bomb bay fuel tanks which then reduced its payload to 2,000 lb.
            The armament of the Pe-8 featured a 20mm cannon in the nose, tail and dorsal turrets, all manually manipulated, and a single machine gun in manned emplacements at the rear of each engine nacelle. Although heavier weapons were employed, the Pe-8 was less well defended than the B-17, particularly as the US type's power turrets were far superior in operation to those on the Russian aircraft. The Pe-8, like the other non-US bombers, operated chiefly at night with a view to improving its chances of survival in hostile airspace.

B-17 vs the Axis
 The Luftwaffe was created to support land forces and was in reality a tactical air arm. German interest in long range heavy bombers was limited and only one model in this classification entered service, but others were under design and development before the end of hostilities. Luftwaffe bombers of the early war years were in the twin-engined light or medium classification. There were no plans for strategic bombing forces prior to hostilities, air power being centred on support of army and navy operations. The Luftwaffe's sole heavy bomber to go into service was the Heinkel He. 177 Greif. Of similar dimensions to the B-17 and the other Allied four-engined bombers, it had the novel feature of using two coupled liquid cooled engines in each nacelle, thus driving a single large propeller on each wing in order to minimise drag. This proved to be the weak feature of the design, as the He.177 was plagued with recurrent engine overheating problems that took the best part of three years to resolve.
            In comparison with the B-17G, a much older design, the He.177A had a lower operational altitude — around 15,000 ft — against the B-17's 25,000 ft. The service ceiling of the Heinkel was 25,250 ft against the Fortress's 35,600 ft. The He.177's maximum speed was 314 mph at 20,000ft, some 25 mph higher than the B-17G at the same altitude, chiefly due to far more powerful engines. The Heinkel could lift ordnance loads as heavy as the British bombers, but much of this had to be carried externally. The normal operational load was only 4,480lb although this corresponded with that of the Fortress on very long range flights; but even so it was able to haul this load some 500 miles further than the Fortress could at 20,000ft. The He.177 flew at night during its limited bomber operations over Britain and the USSR but was also used in a long-range anti-shipping role. The defensive armament was good, albeit nowhere as extensive as the B-17Gs, but on some versions it included two 20mm cannon.
            The Japanese, like their Axis partners, concentrated on employing air power in support of army and navy operations. A solitary four-engine heavy bomber design was produced and first flown in 1936, but never reached quantity production. They did not produce a modern four-engined heavy bomber until 1944 and this type never entered service.
            The only other four-engined heavy bomber to be employed operationally by the Axis air arms was the Italian Piaggio P.108B. First flown in November 1939, this type was of similar configuration to the early B-17 and is said to have had excellent handling characteristics. However, the aircraft proved to be mechanically unreliable and production was curtailed after only 26 had been completed. Nevertheless, during 1942 and 1943 the only unit of the Italian Air Force - the Regia Aeronautica - equipped with the P.108B did undertake 29 operational sorties. During these operations five of the bombers were shot down and three lost through mechanical failure or accident.
            Compared with the B-17G, the P.108B had a much lower operational altitude range, 15,000ft being the optimum with a service ceiling of 20,000ft. Its top speed was also some 20 mph slower than that of the B-17G at 15,000ft despite higher rated engines. With a normal bomb load of 2,2051b the Piaggio's range was approximately the same as the Fortress's. The Piaggio had a greater maximum internal load capacity amounting to 7,716 lb for short range flight but engine difficulties precluded such heavy lifts on operations. An advanced feature of the P.108B was the two remote controlled twin machine gun barbettes mounted at the rear of each outboard engine nacelle and sighted from stations on the fuselage. A single machine gun in a retractable 'dustbin' type turret provided underside defence but this was both cumbersome and considered ineffective. Overall the seven or eight machine gun defensive armament was vastly inferior to the B-17G's but, in fairness, this bomber was more the contemporary of the B-17F model than the G, even though in the matter of comparison the same judgements apply.

B-17 vs British designs
In contrast to the USAAF, the heavy bombers developed for the Royal Air Force were expected to operate mainly under cover of darkness and at much lower altitudes. When comparing the B-17 with the three major British four-engined bombers, there are two major differences - the amount of defensive armamant carried and the maximum bomb loads.
            The Short Stirling, earliest of the British designs, could accommodate and lift 14,000 lb, the Handley Page Halifax 13,000 lb, and the Avro Lancaster 14,000 lb in standard, unmodified form. The more extensive bomb bays in the British aircraft, in contrast to the B-17 and B-24, only occupied the fuselage area below the wing spar and were not encumbered by walkways. This allowed the carriage of more bombs and, in the case of the Halifax and Lancaster, larger bombs, with single 4,000 lb bombs being dropped regularly by Lancasters in amongst other munitions carried. Much larger single bombs were also carried and modified Lancasters were quite capable of carrying and dropping 22,000 lb deep penetration missiles.
            The normal maximum loads of the British bombers could only be carried some 750 miles at operational altitude by the Stirling, 1,000 miles by the Halifax and 1,500 miles by the Lancaster. Loads were substantially reduced for long ranges but Lancasters and Halifaxes regularly hauled 10,000 to 12,000 lb loads to the Ruhr and 8,000 lb loads to Berlin.
            Unlike the USAAF day bombers, RAF heavies operating at night did not circle to gain altitude before setting course to penetrate enemy airspace. Normally the British heavies made their ascent during the run up to the enemy coast. The Stirling could not operate with a combat load at much above 15,000ft and the Halifax Mks I and II above 18,000ft. The radial engined Halifax Mk II did operate successfully at 20,000ft, which was also the optimum level for Lancaster sorties. The B-17G had better range than the Stirling and Halifax and marginally better than the Lancaster while flying at similar altitudes. All the British bombers had, on average, double the pay load for similar ranges but the Lancaster's larger fuel load allowed it, even with a 10,000 lb load, to match the B-17 on radius of action.
            In the matter of armament differences the B-17G had far superior firepower to the British bombers: thirteen .50in calibre machine guns to the usual eight .303in machine guns in three power turrets of British bombers. Moreover, the US .50 weapon had a higher muzzle velocity and much more destructive power than the rifle calibre weapons which defended the RAF bombers. To improve matters Lancasters of one Bomber Command Group had two .50s as tail turret armament during the final months of hostilities. The British bombers did not have underside defences and were very vulnerable to attack from that quarter, albeit that in any event, an approach from below by an interceptor could rarely be seen at night until it was too late. In fact, the difficulty of being alerted to an enemy fighter's presence in any quarter during the times of darkness was the greatest problem of bomber defence. Given the technology available at the time, there was almost a fatalistic inevitability amongst RAF bomber aircrews that not much could be done.
            Instead the RAF turned to different tactics - by making use of the small, fast, highly maneouverable De Havilland Mosquito twin-engined night fighter flying within the bomber stream to act as ‘bait’ to German night-fighters. When spotted on the tail warning radar in the Mosquito, the pilot would quickly loop around, picking up the German machine on his main radar and then bring his four 20 mm cannon to bear on the rapidly closing target.
            The wooden composite De Havilland Mosquito - originally designed as an unarmed high-speed bomber but also produced in Photo-Reconnaissance, Fighter and Figher-Bomber variants - sacrificed the weight of excessive armament for the safety gained from performance could uplift the same bombload internally as that of a B-17. The two-man crew could also theoretically make two trips to Berlin from England in the same time it took a 10-man B-17 to make one!
            Fortresses were experimentally employed on night operations, but the limitations on bomb load made such sorties uneconomical. By daylight the precision that could be achieved and the mass formation drops employed were regarded as the proven means of using the type successfully.
            Lancasters and Halifaxes frequently took part in daylight bombing of Ruhr targets during the final year of the war, by which time the Luftwaffe was in demise and fighter escort was provided to and from the target. Formations flown were much looser than those of the USAAF and target sighting was performed from individual aircraft. Attack altitudes - 15,000 ft to 18,000 ft - were generally lower than those of the US heavies. Each of the British bombers delivered a more destructive load but post mission reconnaissance showed that this was more scattered than the formation drops of the B-17s and the B-24s. However, the USAAF did use exactly the same area bombing techniques over Japan.

The B-17 munitons
When one tries to compare the B-17 with other aircraft, one needs to consider the munitions available for use. As the B-17 was used more in the ETO than in any other theatre then this area is a good one to study.
            Munitions fell into a number of categories: General Purpose (GP) High Explosive (HE) bombs, Incendiary bombs, and then a whole swathe of what could be called ‘Special Use’ bombs.
            The glide bombs, the GB-1 and GB-4s, are covered elsewhere, as are the Disney rocket weapons. The B-17 could carry chemical weapons, by far the worst being the poison gas bombs, which were in two types - the 400 lb mustard gas bomb codenamed Flying Cow and the 500 lb phosgene bomb. In 1942 several thousand M47A2 HS unfilled incendiary bombs were set aside for use with mustard gas and held ready in muntion stores. Storage levels appear to have been 40,000 M47 100 lb mustard bombs and 50,000 phosgene bombs. There is no record of any being used.
            Another chemical weapon became available to the USAAF in the second half of 1944, when a refined petroleum jelly known as napalm became available. Handled in bulk it was intended for filling as required. Tested in various containers, the preferred type was the paper composition fighter fuel tank of 108 US gallon capacity. Known as Class C-Fire Bombs, napalm tanks were used on a few special missions where blanket fire cover was required, notably against German strong-points on the French coast in April 1945. Usually four napalm tanks were carried in a B-17; small incendiary igniter units were fixed to each tank.
            Fragmentation bombs, which were basically anti-personnel munitions, were used mostly in tactical attacks in support of ground forces. The 20 lb M41 was common to both the M1 and M1A1 - which were differing in attachment arrangement - clusters of 120 lb and the M26 clusters of 500 lb. The M1A1 was employed extensively in heavy bomber loads. To enable fragmentation bombs to be used in conjunction with the Norden sight it was necessary for special computation tables to be used as the maximum trail angle of the sight was not great enough for the light bombs.
            When they began operations, the 8th Air Force were using the old type of GP bombs of 100, 300, 500 and 1000 lb size ratings. It was not long before supplies of these were exhausted and the new AN (Army/Navy) bombs were used, these being categorised as the M30/100 lb, M31/300 lb, M43/500 lb, M44/1000 lb and M34/2000 lb.
            In general terms, the 500, 1000 and 2000 lb muntions were used against industrial targets while the smaller sizes were used against airfields. In practice, little use was made of the M30s. Likewise, use of 1000 and 2000 lb GP bombs were found to be of little use against the submarine pens themselves, for they either just bounced off or barely chipped the concrete, although significant damage was done to adjacent structures.
            At one time the 8th considered operating in two waves, the first dropping 1600 lb US Navy Mk 1 armour-piercing bombs which were expected to crack the concrete, and then to follow up with a second wave dropping 2000 lb GPs to blast through. Two attempts to achieve this were made at Lorient, but the only successful drop, on 30 December 1942, gave disappointing results, basically because it was not possible to obtain successive strikes with the two types of bombs.
            An intelligence report on the December 1942 Lille mission showed that 30% of bombs dropped failed to detonate. There were indications that the mechanical arming mechanisms of the fuses had frozen. Trials showed that things could be improved if the bombs were not fused until shortly before take-off, thus reducing the time the fuses were exposed to damp. Even so, a high percentage of detonation failures persisted, even in warmer weather. British fuses were adapted for American bombs and in the spring of 1943 US chemical action long delay fuses were received for service tests. These had an anti-withdrawal device to prevent defusing by the enemy. Fortunately a method was devised in the UK for removing these fuses safely, sometimes necessary with aircraft that crashed on take-off.            
            A new range of GP bombs became available late in 1943, the M57/250 lb replaced the M31, then there were the M64/500 lb, M65/1000 lb and M.66/2000 lb. These munitions made up the greater part of the tonnage delivered by the 8th during the final year of operations. A small number of M56/4000 lb bombs were received in 1944 but could not be carried internally by either B-17 or B-24. Experiments to use them on under-wing racks of B-17s were not successful and no record has been discovered to suggest that M56s were delivered on combat missions. While the large 1000 and 2000 lb bombs continued to be used on industrial targets, by January 1945 analysts were recommending 250 lb GP to be used against synthetic oil plants, refineries and storage tanks as well as against ammunition supply and dump targets. The 100 lb GP bomb was advised for attacking marshalling yards and for cratering airfields.
            The first incendiary bombs used by the 8th Air Force were British, either 250 lb or 500 lb. Both were filled with a rubber/gasoline mixture. It was not long before the American M50A1 4 lb magnesium incendiary in 100 lb clusters became available for use, along with a 500 lb cluster version and an 100 lb M47 type. However, these clusters proved unsatisfactory as they opened quickly, causing excessive dispersion, some aircraft in the formation being damaged by clustering material, so use was suspended. The 8th then began trial missions with the M47, and discovered that a full load only amounted to 24 due to the limited number of shackle points in a B-17 bomb-bay. It was not until July 1943 that a successful method of clustering M47s together was achieved. Wire cables with snap hooks were used to hold three or four bombs together, but in such a way that after release there was separation, the cables being carried down with one bomb. This not only allowed three or four M47s to be shackled to one station in the bomb-bay, increasing the total load to 42, but also avoided damage to other aircraft. This ‘shackling’ became standard operating proceedure for use with various other small bombs.
            Other incendiary munitions were the M52, a 2 lb magnesium type, and the M69, which weighed 6 lb and was filled with petroleum gel. The M69 was later packed in the M12 cluster. In January 1944 8th Air Force started to use the 500 lb M17 aimable cluster containing 110 M50A1s with better ballistics than the earlier M11 cluster; it had a primacord release that could be set to give the desired scatter. A larger petroleum gel filled bomb, the M76/500 lb, was introduced in 1944 and used with some effect during the rest of the 8th's campaign.
            The M50A1 which made up magnesium incendiary clusters had a hexagonal, cored magnesium alloy body with-hollow steel sheet fins containing thermite with an igniting charge and fuse. On ignition, the M50 burned for six to eight minutes at a temperature of 2300 degrees F. The preferred jellied-oil incendiary, the M47A2, had a thin-walled steel cylindrical body weighing 26 lb empty and on impact gave a 120 feet fire spread.
            All of this gave the B-17 a wide range of small-to-medium munitions that could be carried.

The failure of the industrial web theory.
American bombing leaders maintained that precision attacks were being carried out by B-17s and B-24s, but in early 1944 poor weather over Europe prevented visual sighting, and bombs were dropped indiscriminately by inaccurate radar methods through cloud cover, resulting in general population destruction. By September 1944, all pretence to precision was abandoned when General Dwight D Eisenhower ordered the area bombing of Berlin. By that time, bombing was not so much strategic as it was tactical, to soften Germany for invasion by ground troops. Thousand-bomber raids were not able to diminish industrial production of war materiel in time to prevent invasion. When arms production in Germany finally faltered in the third quarter of 1944, only 30% of the total of eventual bomb tonnage had been dropped on the country - this was after the French-German border had been reached and the war on the ground had seen its decisive breakthrough. It must be said that Germany was conquered by invasion; it did not surrender as a result of bombing. The morale of the enemy was not significantly affected; no population that was bombed in World War Two lost their will to resist, and it was the Emperor, not the people, who decided Japan must surrender.

The problem with the B-17...
The ‘designed in’ problem with the B-17 was the bomb-bay. From the outset the B-17 was a medium bomber and, because of the way the bomb-bay was designed and positioned, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to allow the internal carriage of the larger weaponry as it became available or was required.
            The B-17 bomb-bay was eight foot nine inches long by seven feet wide, but this had to be divided in two down its length and then subtract the nine inch wide walkway that formed part of the keel of the aircraft. This gives two ‘holes’ 105 inches long by 37.5 inches wide.
            Much has been made by those promulgating the abilities of the B-17 about the fact that there were 42 internal ‘positions’ on four racks that bombs could be hung on. This was certainly true, and indeed there were also two external racks as well. However, they also convienently forget to mention that depending on the size of the bombs carried and the distance from the operating airfield  to the target, virtually all of these positions were completely unusable mainly because of whatever was hung on them had to be ‘stacked’ one above the other and they had to pass through two ‘holes’ filled in by the bomb bay doors. Indeed, the pair of ferry fuel tanks were conformal in shape in order to maximise the possible uplift. Everything had to be fitted into two areas deliniated by the front and rear bulkheads of the bomb bay, the sides of the fuselage and the edges of the walkway. No matter what the volume of the bomb bay, this simple area restriction gave two apertures each slightly over twenty nine square feet in area for bombs to drop through, thus limiting the aircraft weaponry uplift.           
            The British Avro Lancaster, on the other hand, did not have that problem. The bomb bay in this machine was thirty three feet six inches long and sixty-two inches wide, with three ‘racks’ running the entire length. That is slightly over one hundred and seventy three square feet of completely unobstructed, usable bomb bay. If a bomb could fit in that area, it could be carried - and if it could not fit inside the bomb-bay with the doors closed, there was no problem - either bulge the doors or remove them all together!
            In the immediate post-war years a number of studies by the Allies were conducted, to coldly calculate losses and the so-called ‘efficiency’ of different aircraft designs.
            Overall, it was stated that as the ‘ultimate’ B-17, the B-17G had a superior high-altitude performance to all other Allied and Axis bombers. In maximum speed the only notably faster bomber was the He 177. In tactical speeds the Fortress was similar to its contemporaries except when flying in formation where uniformity demanded lower power settings and therefore lower speed. The B-17G's range was better than that of the British heavies, equal to the Piaggio but less than the Pe-8 and the He177 with similar bomb loads. In the matter of maximum loads it was at the bottom of the scale, particularly  in comparison with the British bombers. In the case of defensive armament the B-17 justified the name Fortress, for in number of guns, calibre and effectiveness it was the best armed, with the B-24 running a close second.
            If cautiously loaded, the B-17G had no really undesirable flight characteristics and was a pilot-forgiving aircraft, easy to fly. While it is extremely doubtful if any one pilot had experience of all the types reviewed it appears that, with the exception of the Lancaster and Liberator, the other types left something to be desired in mechanical ability or operation. Opinions from those who have flown Lancaster, Liberator and Fortress single out the last named as the least demanding, even at low and medium altitudes.
            Of all the ‘efficiency studies’ located, one is of particular interest, for it broke the figures down in a similar manner to how airlines of today cross-compare their statistics in load-factors and seat cost per mile to generate a common denominator. However, the originators of the study were somewhat selective in their choice of aircraft to compare.
            The first calculation it used was to divide the bombload by the number of crew on board - this gives a figure that describes the destructive weight uplifted per man on board the machine. The second was to state a nominal mission distance, in this case 600 miles, 1200 miles round trip, which happened to be an average distance from the UK to Berlin and to work out an average point-to-point time taken by each aircraft to cover that distance at the quoted combat speed.

            The original study compared the B-17G to the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster. Missing from the table was the Lancaster (Special) and the Mosquito, which was considered a light bomber anyway. It also did not take into account the different styles of operation between the RAF and USAAF in that the RAF did not require formation assembly, which could add at least an hour to the time. Both of these omissions create a somewhat slewed view. Today, inserting those two aircraft into the table gives a far better perspective.

In conclusion...
To try to make a comparison and then to say that one design is ‘better’ than another is too simplistic and just exhibits what today would be termed ‘blind brand loyalty’. Each design served, and in many ways met and exceeded, the purpose of its creation. Sometimes the urgent needs of combat - or political expediency - meant that this was outside the design parameters. This worked at times, failed at others, and in this the B-17 was no different than all the others.
            The passing of time and a number of over-active publicity machines have meant that many legends and myths have grown up surrounding both the B-17 and the Norden bombsight. Does the ‘Flying Fortress’ deserve it? That is for the individual to decide. Was it fit for purpose? Undoubtedly.