After the Mosquito title, Pen & Sword asked for one on the B-17 - I never could resist a challenge! It was time to get the partnership I had when I did the Memphis Belle title...
The history of what is possibly the most famous of all United States military aircraft from the Second World War era, the Boeing B-I7 Flying Fortress, has been substantially documented. In fact, an understandable reaction to this book could be - ‘Oh no, not another book on the Flying Fortress!’
In recent years the design and use of the B-17 has achieved an almost mythical, ‘god-like’ status through the activities of a few so-called ‘third generation veterans’ - whatever that means - who love to over-glamourise the war-horse of their ancestors. To read some authors, one would have to believe that this huge bomber sprang fully formed out of the box it was delivered in clad in more armour than a tank and carrying more guns than a battleship!
As a result of the critical acclaim our ‘Memphis Belle - Dispelling the Myths’ received, we decided that there was a need for a similar work on the B-17 - to subject the design, in all its forms, to close scrutiny. Without doubt there is a clear, strong requirement to ‘put the record straight’ using primary source documentation to record the undoubted achievements alongside and in context with the shortcomings to the types design and operation that have otherwise received scant attention. There is also a matching need to look into the murky world of power politics and intrigue that hovered around the design through the early years.
This is not a book that details the many thousands of combat operations flown by incredibly brave aircrew in both the European and Pacific theatre of operations - we prefer to leave that to the likes of good friend and colleague Martin W Bowman, who does a far better job at that than we could ever do!
For around the first six years of its life the Boeing 299 design received what appears to be only grudging support from the Army Air Corps. It was Great Britain who took the design into battle with what was then an un-developed machine, operating outside the original design envelope with only a small a number of aircraft instead of the massed formations of a few years later.
Lessons were learned and soon the ‘big assed bird’ - the B-17E appeared. Production increased dramatically with the Model F and G - so much so that the Boeing-Lockheed Vega - Douglas conglomerate was created, that in turn brought into being the Block Numbers and later Staging Lists systems that helped keep track of what modification state each aircraft was at.
Post-war, some Flying Fortresses had a brief but colourful career with the US Navy, the US Coastguard, and a few overseas air arms, while others were used for research projects or converted into pilotless drones and Borate bombers, all of which we decided to look at in some detail.
For many years there have been endless battles as to which was ‘best’ the B-17 or the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. We decided to carefully study not only those two designs in comparison, but also to put the B-17 up against other Axis and Allied designs of the time - the results were interesting to say the least!
‘The overall result is...’, as David Lee, the former Deputy Director of the Imperial War Museum at Duxford said upon reading the final proofs ‘...all you never knew about the B-17!’