Bruce Dickinson Warplane Diaries: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Bruce Dickinson Warplane Diaries: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The Bruce Dickinson
Warplanes Video Diaries Welcome to the B-17. The B-17 was the heavy
bomber for the American forces during the Second World War. It had four radial piston
engines and was designed to go deep into the heart of enemy
territory and deliver bombs accurately. The Americans placed
great faith in their ability to bomb accurately
during daylight hours. They had a thing called
“the Norden bombsight”, which they regarded as top secret, must not fall into the
enemy hands for any reason. The idea was there would
be so many machine guns and so much defensive capability in each individual bomber
and in the bomber formation itself that this gigantic rigid balbo of
airplanes would transport itself slowly in daylight into the heart of
Germany and then return unscathed. Sadly, it was not to be. The Germans ripped
the bomber formations apart, and there were no adequate fighters that could pursue the bombers
deep into the heart of Germany— they didn’t have enough petrol. So the bombers in the early
days of the war were on their own. And oh my goodness, did they suffer. It was known as the Flying
Fortress; it had ten machine guns. Ten! All manned. Almost more
machine guns than it carried bombs. Famously, Arthur
“Bomber” Harris in the RAF took the armor plate
out of Lancasters— the armor plate that
was protecting the aircrew. He took it out, because it meant
that they could carry more bombs. The Americans went the other way, and they just packed
it full of machine guns, and armor plates,
and protection for the crew. Kind of wonderful for the crew, but this airplane, even
though it’s a very big airplane, only carried half
the bombload of a Lancaster. Which meant that you had
to go back twice to do the job. There were some famous raids,
which illustrated the shortcomings of the American policy
of daylight precision bombing. Notably, the one on the oil fields
in Ploiești, which was an absolute disaster. Nearly 50% of the bombers
failed to return. Nevertheless, as an airplane, you couldn’t want for a more
simple, reliable flying machine. A delight to fly; an incredibly stable
bombing platform; and very easy to land. Well loved by its crews, and rightly so. But it was weak on its
ability to deliver munitions. It didn’t carry very many munitions, because it carried an awful
lot of other things as well.

Eugene Islam

44 thoughts on “Bruce Dickinson Warplane Diaries: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

  1. The only reason America bombed during the day was somebody had to bite the bullet and take that "shift". The British bombed at night. The net result was Germany was being bombed 24/7.

  2. There is just one problem with Bruce's videos!
    They are too bloody short!!!
    20mins will do fine next time!

  3. Great video but Bruce forgot to mention the B-17s legendary durability which also contributed to its reputation and popularity with bomber crews. This is in contrast to the B-24 which, despite being newer, faster, and able to carry more bombs, was trickier to fly and much more susceptible to damage.

  4. Umm…. how do you bomb at night? It’s like the Brit being like whoops I just bombed a German village not the factory

  5. The Americans had the proverbial chip on their shoulder. Figured they knew more than the Brits and wanted to prove it. Was a horrible failure until long range fighters were available.

  6. Great video indeed. I agree the video was too short in length. The B-17F models were used mainly in Europe from 1942 until the end of the war. The B-17F models were very vulnerable to frontal attacks by German fighters. It wasn't until late 1944 that the B-17G model (shown in this video) was introduced which features a Sperry nose gun turret carrying twin 50 caliber machine guns. The nose gun turret on the B-17G models proved to be so successful in warding off frontal attacks by the Germans in combat that Sperry manufactured nose gun turret kits that could be installed on B-17F models in the field. There is virtually no armour plate in a B-17. B-17 crews relied on wearing their flak vests for protection more so than anything else. The reason I know so much about the B-17 is because my father was a B-17 instructor pilot. In June 1944, the famous B-17F "Memphis Belle" was assigned to the Training Command at MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida after it had finished its War Bond Tour across the United States. Yes, my father flew the Memphis Belle at MacDill Field as an instructor pilot where he had 5 flights in this famous B-17F, where he taught both B-17 pilot and co-pilot training in this aircraft. The Belle still had its nose art and its bomb bay was outfitted with gondolas that would carry sand bags to simulate a bomb load. My father would fly his students over the Gulf of Mexico and drop the sand bags there. This introduced the student B-17 pilot to how the B-17 aircraft reacts to the sudden change in weight and balance once the bombs were released. I was one of among several museum restoration volunteers at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force that helped restore the Memphis Belle back to its combat configuration you see today. It was a great honor and privilege to help restore a great piece of military aviation history for future generations to enjoy.

    As for the low level raid on the German synthetic oil refineries in Polesti, Romania, these raids were carried out by B-24 Liberator bombers. Imagine taking a large 4 engine bomber, fly at only 50 feet to avoid detection by enemy radar and dropping bombs on target at only 50 feet above ground level while being pounded by German 88mm anti-aircraft guns! That's exactly what the 512th Bomb Squadron of the 376th Bombardment Group, 12th Air Force flying B-24s did in 1943. The B-24 could not absorb as much damage as a B-17 could. The Davis wing on the B-24 would lose efficiency one it became damaged. My father flew on this Polesti raid as a co-pilot in one of the B-24D model Liberators and his B-24 was one of the lucky ones to make it back to base. One of the requirements the U.S. Army Air Force had for its instructor pilots was that they had to have no less than 5 combat missions under their belt to be instructor pilots.

  7. Heck, even the De Havilland Mosquito could carry a 4000 lbs bomb load to Berlin. The Mosquito needed to be a late mark fitted with bulged bomb bay doors. But! Then it could theoretically bomb Berlin twice in the same amount of time a single sortie in B-17's lasted. And exposing the two crewmen to less danger from Luftwaffe fighters. The Mosquito's forte were two Rolls Royce Merlin engines, lightweight wooden airframe, superior areodyamics, NO defensive armament and manovuerability.  The Mosquito was so difficult to intercept and shoot down that Luftwaffe nightfighter pilots got credited with two 'kills' for shooting down one…… Not diminishing the bravery and valiant effort of the USAAF aircrews in the skies over Europe in WW II. Just using the power of hindsight, OK?

  8. Of course Bruce is partial to the English plane! That's okay I'll let him get away with it. He's Bruce freaking Dickinson for crying out loud! UP THE IRONS!!!

  9. If you go to Wendover Air Base in Utah, you can go to the hangar where the Enola Gay was kept, where the nuke was loaded onto the plane, and the safe that the air crew would keep the Norden bombardier sight in. Bruce should do the P-38 next!

  10. Actually there were more B-24s produced than B-17s, and both served throughout the war in all theatres. The Ploesti raid that Mr. Dickinson refers to was all B-24s, IIRC.

  11. If the B-17 had the same bomb load as a mosquito, why didnt they just use mosquitoes to deliver bombs?

  12. Now there are a lot of things about the eighth Air Force that the general public doesn't know about because of the censors keeping it secret. After many years after the end of the war, the truth came out and it shows a history riddled with misinformation, incompetence of leadership, human suffering and very little of the glory they so well deserved.

    But let me start with the beginning. The eighth was founded in January 1942 after the USA entered the war in Europe. Even back then it was brought forth that an invasion for Europe was crucial in defeating Hitler's forces and to successfully pull that off it was recognized that the first thing they had to do was to put Hitler's powerful air force out of commission. Because as the Pearl Harbor attack had painfully shown, ships are very vulnerable, so skies empty of enemy planes would be the crucial thing.

    So an Air force would be assembled of Bomber squadrons and fighter squadrons which would attack the German aircraft factories and industrial heartland which would hit the Germans right were it hurt. The Squadron would be based in RAF Dawes Hill in High Wycombe, England. The squadron would be a subordinate of the to the VIII Bomber command of the RAF, which is what gave the Eighth their name.

    When it came to hardware the Eighth was supplied with the most state of the art heavy Bombers of the day.
    The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (Upper) and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. Both planes were already road tested, so to say by the British. And the USAAF took what they had to say by heart.
    This is an early production version of the B-17 as used by the RAF and while pilots and crew praised the plane for being a pleasant flyer and the fact that it had good creature comforts, they were less impressed with the fact that its defensive armament of five machine guns didn't really hold enemy fighters at bay. In addition, the lack of self sealing tanks and the lack of oxygen masks also did NOT play in the B-17's favor.

    So the R&D of Boeing went to work and the eighth would be supplied with a very Different B-17 than the one that the RAF had bloodied during the first few years of the war. The resulting B-17E had twice the amount of Machine guns, of the far heftier 50 caliber variety. They also came with motorized turrets, oxygen masks for the entire crew and self sealing tanks which in theory would make it a world beater. And thus crews were recruited and trained to take the theory in practice.

    To make sure the bombers would have sufficient protection on their missions a fighter Squadron called VIII Fighter Command was established and they too were given what was back then a state of the art plane. The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was a powerful heavily armed fighter which would keep the Messerschmitt 109 and Focke-Wulf FW 190's at bay while the bombers did their thing. Known affectionately as "The jug" British pilots joked that their American counterparts would probably hide in the enormous fuselage of the plane during dogfights.

    But while the P-47 was a good fighter, it had one crucial shortcoming, even when carrying drop tanks, its range was not enough to keep along with the bombers and half way they would fly back, to refuel and meet up with the bombers as they would return from their raids.

    But that shouldn't be an issue, the bombers could defend themselves and each other accordingly with all their machine guns and when flying in close formations the sheer barrage of bullets would create a shield which German fighters couldn't possibly penetrate. The training had shown how effective it was after all.

    In August 1943 the Eighth air force went to war for the first time with strategic raids on the industrial heartland of Nazi occupied France and it quickly became apparent that there was a flaw in the way the training was handled. Of 91 bombers dispatched, 55 didn't return, with every bomber having a crew of 10, you can do the match on heavy the loss was.

    The problem was that the escorts were trained to keep enemy fighters at bay but were forbidden to otherwise engage in combat. One P-47 pilot recounted that he would be so enraged as he would watch the German pilots waggle their wings to mock them as they were forced to return to base. As if to tell them "Thank you for leading the lambs to the slaughter."

    And if that wasn't enough, the gunners of the bombers who had been trained to shoot at stationary targets found out that shooting at a Fighter which whizzed by at 500 MPH was something very different indeed.

    During the first operations that the eighth did, they lost an inexcusable amount of bombers and ditto crews but the high command of the eighth wouldn't listen. The crews had been trained accordingly and the post-raid photographs taken showed how effective the raids were. In addition, the press was raving at how well the Eighth was doing in papers in the USA itself, morale was high and that was more important than a few hundred airmen who had lost their lives during those raids.

    Living in the UK also showed the men of the Eighth how different the attitude of their British counterparts was. For bomber crews of the RAF the war was personal, German bombers had laid Liverpool, Coventry and of course London in ruins. The fact that for American bomber Crews their own homeland was literally a world away, they emphasized with them but couldn't really fully understand what it was like, the pure hatred the British had against Germany. This was another thing their training couldn't possibly teach them about.

    During 1943 and 1944 the Eigth and the RAF Bomber Command began round the clock bombing, the Eighth would bomb by day light and the RAF would bomb by night, the biggest difference was the targets, the RAF would drop incendiary bombs on cities such as Hamburg while the Eight would drop high explosives on industries, holding on to their wasteful tactics which costs many crew their lives.

    One such disastrous attack was the double Schweinfurt/Regensburg raid, two divisions of the Eighth would take off from different airfields, meet each other while over the European mainland giving the impression that a massive raid was going to take place but then split up with one part of the raid heading the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt and the other to Regensburg to hit the Messerschmitt factory. The split up meant that the German fighters would be split up too, meaning that the Luftwaffe couldn't use their full force against them.

    But bad weather and bad communication between both divisions meant that the bombers were delayed in take off, meaning that they missed each other with a margin of a whopping three hours, meaning that both divisions had to deal with the full might of the Luftwaffe. In addition the damage control of the Germans was severely underestimated, Both factories were up and running once more in no time.

    With several hundreds of aircraft lost and several thousands of men, it was decided that enough was enough, the Eighth was desperately in need of a thorough reshuffle. The first thing the USAAF's high command did was to detach the eighth from RAF's Bomber command which made them an autonomous force.

    The second thing they did was to lay off commanding officer Lt. General Ira C. Eaker and replace him with Major General James "Jimmy" Doolittle, who of course was already a war hero thanks to his daring bomber raid on Tokyo. It was up to him to get the Eighth back to full capacity and the first thing he did was cut the P-47's loose.

    Now the fighters were cleared to attack anything they encountered, do strafing runs, hit any target of opportunity, do as much damage as they could. And then Doolittle got even better news, finally there was a fighter available which could follow the bombers all the way into Germany and follow them back again too.
    The P-51 Mustang was a revelation, it was equal to anything the Germans could throw at it.

    But one decision Doolittle made didn't really earn him much friends, the Bombers would now attack German cities, such as Berlin and basically serve as live bait, lure the Luftwaffe out and have the Mustangs have their way with them.

    At the end of the war the Eighth air force lost a staggering 26000 men which is more than the Marine corp lost in the entire war.

    So was it all worth it?

    – The double raid on Schweinfurt/Regensburg meant that the Luftwaffe had to outsource planes from other factories, which meant that many top secret and potentially lethal planes like the ME-262 jetfighter were delayed in development and thus couldn't be used to full potential.
    – The Bombing raids on the oil refineries in the Balkan meant that the Luftwaffe was rapidly running out of fuel.
    – The Strafing runs that Doollittle gave the go ahead for, meant that many airfields and train stations were put out of commission.

    So what did that all add up to?

    It meant that when D-day started, there was no Luftwaffe to attack the invasion force from above, with their airfields and their train stations strafed, there was no way for Germans to send in reinforcements and with their fighter force busy keeping the bombers at bay in defense of their cities, they weren't available to keep allied fighters at bay from providing close air support during the landings.

    So yes, the object on why the eighth was founded in the first place was reached but it took so many lives.

  13. The U.S made up for the low bomb payload by sending 10x the amount of bombers than Britain or Germany could produce lol.

  14. I flew on the "Yankee Lady" at a local airshow and LOVED IT . Granted , the plane was just loafing along at low altitude , but it flew as smooth as a baby's bottom. I'd love to go again !

  15. Another problem is that this plane was far too expensive and the germans didn't have a problem destroying them, they didn't destroy these bombers only when they didn't have aa guns or fighters left

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