View Full Version : Boeing B-17 Fortress in RAF Coastal Command Service

1st May 2010, 10:07
Further to post last year, the book is published on 20th May

Boeing B-17 Fortress
in RAF Coastal Command Service
Author(s): Robert M Stitt
Illustrator: Juanita Franzi
ISBN: 978-83-89450-88-3
Date: 20th May 2010
Series: White
Catalogue Number No. 9113
Category Forthcoming
Format A4 - Pages - 248 (64 in colour)
Price: 0 GBP
Rejected as a bomber by the RAF, the B-17 was used extensively as a long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft by Coastal Command. This book tells the fascinating story of these operations, a vital but often overlooked part of the fight against the U-Boats. All the aircraft involved are listed, and the tedious but essential work of their crews described, including some epic encounters with enemy submarines. Fully illustrated with many wartime photos, and scale plans of the airframe modifications. Full colour profiles of representative aircraft.

Lightning Mate
1st May 2010, 11:03
Thank you ob.

That'll be one for the top shelf I'm sure. :ok:

Neptunus Rex
1st May 2010, 15:04
OK LM, the B17 was a small part of Coastal Command's inventory.
Another little known fact is that in WWII four Coastal Command officers won the Victoria Cross.

1st May 2010, 17:52
Wasn't the B17 originally designed as a "patrol bomber" to exactly this kind of job ?

Brewster Buffalo
1st May 2010, 18:43
Coastal Command had to battle hard to get any Fortresses or Liberators allocated to them as the Chief of Air Staff wanted them for the bomber offensive and the americans were "restive about the use of Fortress aircraft in Coastal Command on tasks other than high level bombing raids."

IIRC the Fortress and Liberator could fly higher than RAF bombers but had smaller bomb loads...

1st May 2010, 20:14
Battle of the Atlantic was not highest priority for many, B17 was useful but the VLR Lib was a key part in the final victory for the Allies, 17+ hours of flying time was exceptional and probably did more to close the Atlantic Gap than any other aeroplane.

Libs over occupied Europe were an inflammable liability with limited bomb loads. The wonders of hindsight indicate that the daytime raids should have been undertaken by Mossies accompanied by whatever escort fighters the Americans were using. The Mossies could always stooge around for a bit if the Yanks had difficulty keeping up...

2nd May 2010, 09:25
I am advised by Robert that the answers to all the questions set out above are in the book!

Fyi my interest in this is that my Pop (who is still around) was a Flight Eng on 220 Sqdn (B17) and 547 Sqdn (B24) and has assisted Robert with input to the book.


2nd May 2010, 18:01
Not sure of the exact era this book covers, but by late in the war the B-17G with its chin turret was greatly preferred for the strategic bombing mission. Earlier marks were probably released for other roles.

2nd May 2010, 19:33
The USAAC sent the B17 into the ETO (European theatre of operations) with the idea that being so heavily armed together with its specialised flight formation would enable B17s to fly over enemy territory in daylight without fighter escort - But regretably this policy produced near disastrous results

The B24 was its counterpart - but among many US aircrews it had a reputation for being a heavy difficult a/c to fly - needing constant hands
on controls at all times - Ready to catch any unwary pilot out.

Later in the war the Liberator was converted into the heavily armed
extra long range Privateer PB4y - with extended nose, single high fin
and extra power operated side and nose turrets. Used mostly by
the USN in the Pacific and South Asian waters and war zones.

For every day of WW11 Coastal Command lost one of its airmen.

2nd May 2010, 20:03
Is there any reason why it was deemed unsuitable for Bomber Command use? After all it was the workhorse of the American bomber effort in Europe, and served with some distinction in the far east as well.

Is it possible that the B17 with its precision bombsight was deemed more useful for Britain if deployed, daytime, against shipping targets?

Load Toad
2nd May 2010, 23:17
I very much doubt that precision at all. It had a bomb sight supposedly capable of precision bombing - but that was on a clear day against a stationary target and not in combat conditions.

I recall reading - I think in Human Smoke - that the RAF were not impressed with the B-17 but there was a lot of pressure from the govt to publicize they were being used on bombing missions and to overplay their contribution. No doubt to foster more support in the USA.

But I don't know why the RAF didn't rate the B-17 as a bomber.

Dan Winterland
3rd May 2010, 07:55
The first evaluations of the B17 by the RAF were a failure. They had the B17C model which they called the Fortress Mk1. They attempted bombing from 30,000' and had very little sucess - no hits were recorded at all in the first two raids. And the guns froze. I suppose it found it hard to shake off this initial impression.

And subsequent marks failed to address the problems of the B17s limited load after more crew, defensive guns and armour were added. A typical B17 load was 4,500lbs of bombs. The Lancaster was carrying between 12 and 16,000lbs, and modified eventually carried 22,000lbs. Even the Mosquito could manage 4,000lbs.

3rd May 2010, 09:33
Heavies were a UK invention, 1935/36, to extend inland Britain's traditional mode of warfare, which was to visit mass destruction upon our enemy's infrastructure. Long the task of RN, blockade and bombardment, RAF was to be a Force of aerial Monitors. From April,1938 much of UK engineering industry was turned to producing Warwick, Manchester, Stirling, Halifax. France's nationalised aero-industry was riddled with Communist Unions, who presumed Heavies would be used against the Workers' Paradise, so French Govt. funded its 4-motor from Consolidated, LB-30.

1936/37-US had no need for any of this, but funded a batch of B-17B as maritime patroller: nose-gun-only to strafe and to deal with rising carrier-borne interceptors; "walking" release of small bombs, Norden-aimed, to scatter the Imperial Navy approaching Philippines, to be disposed of by USN. Boeing mispriced it and faced bankruptcy; UK ordered 20 B-17C (for cash money): that plus a French order on Douglas for 240 DB-7 (Boston I), subbed to Boeing in April,1940, paid by UK, kept them alive.

The Task of deep inland bombardment given to RAF in 1935/36 was not given to USAAF until mid-1940. FDR funded Very Heavy B-29/B-32, to be preceded by B-17E/F/G, took over (to be) B-24, and converted non-aero resources - Rosie the Rivetter - into a shadow production system (Govt. Plants at Renton, Wichita, Douglas and Vega for B-17s, Ford's Willow Run phenomenon for B-24) and made the human investment to operate thousands...maybe from 1943. From March,1941 Lend/Lease was on offer to the King's Forces (US, remember, was neutral!), but UK chose not to request large quantities of distant B-17 (D, in build: E, onway), because UK Heavies would arrive sooner (Stirling already here, Halifax imminent) and tried instead to have Lancasters licence-built in US. From 8 December,1941 it suited both US and UK to turn US/Canadian bauxite into US designs in US and into UK designs in UK/Canada.

RAF did take c.200 B-17E/F/G, confined to Coastal and to ECM; the King's Forces did operate more B-24s (2,443) than Stirlings (2,369), largely in Commonwealth/overseas Units. Reasons are your choice of: ops. were complex enough just mixing up Forces of multiple-Brit types; no Norden sight; supply chain must be wholly separate for MilSpec bits from BS bits. Mull gently on Targeting Policy: UK/US agreed the Combined Bomber Offensive at the highest policy level, then left daily detail to the men at the coal face. FDR could have taken very close interest, say in "area" as opposed to "panacea" targeting, if UK had been using his kit.

Load Toad
3rd May 2010, 11:10
Some of what I've read (Human Smoke being one recent example) implies that 'The bomber will always get through' was a belief held by FDR, WC and many others and the bombing of Germany and Japan as a way to win the war were considered a very, very good option (take the war to the civilians - show them what the horror of total war is etc). So much so that when it wasn't working there was a great deal of pressure to say that it was working and would work.

The B-17, bought from the US... The RAF (trying to show bombing would work) tried it - flying high enough to keep away from too many fighters it could not carry many bombs, needed a lot of crew. Fly low - attracted too many fighters. At this time before the US was trying to bomb in daylight over Europe, the US was saying 'Oh - fly lower - fly more planes in and use covering fire - easy peasy lemon squeazy.' Which as we know turned out to be not a good idea at all. But remember - as with all things the 'Management' bring out - you have to be very careful how you disagree with it.

So then the RAF had a bunch of planes that it couldn't bomb Europe with but could fly about and look for submarines and such. Hence it got that job. Fair comment?

7th May 2010, 15:53
If interested in photos of aerial combat over Singapore and Johore involving a Privateer and Liberators then google following -


or try - CONSOLIDATED PB4Y-2 Privateer Saga

The Japanese airstrip shown under the tail would later be utilised by
the RAOC as a huge vehicle storage unit (221 VEH BN) when the
British returned to Malaya.

7th May 2010, 18:33
There is a great book by the authour, Murray Peden, entitled 'A Thousand Shall Fall'
In the appendix there is a copy of a letter by Sir Arthur Harris who writes to Peden.

"I have just finished your book---in fact I found it hard to put down.

I consider it is not only the best and most true to life 'War' book I've read about this war, but the best about all the wars of my lifetime---from the Boer war onwards".

Murray Peden was a young lad from Winnipeg who trained as a pilot under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan at various bases across the Canadian prairies. He went overseas and flew many missions on Stirlings. Later, he converted to the Fortress with many more missions accomplished. Lots of good stories about the B-17.

In the words of Sir Arthur, hard to put this book down.

Hopefully, for anyone interested, it might be available at a local library.


mr fish
7th May 2010, 21:31
ok, can anyone put this oft heard rumour to bed.

during the 8TH airforce war apparently there was much "friendly" banter between B17 and B24 crews as to which was the better aircraft.

on a B17 training flight, a lone B24 dives out of cloud cover with 2 engines feathered and pulls ahead of the formation, fooling the fortress crews into believing a liberator is faster on TWO engines!!

any truth??

longer ron
7th May 2010, 21:42
ISTR that B24 crews called the B17 a 'Medium Bomber' :ok:

Load Toad
8th May 2010, 00:54
But the B24 couldn't take so much punishment and ISTR that the US air Force wanted a B17 only bomber force in Europe?

longer ron
8th May 2010, 06:10
But the B24 couldn't take so much punishment and ISTR that the US air Force wanted a B17 only bomber force in Europe?Sounds like Boeing propaganda to me ...
relative production figures from WRG...

B17 = total 12731
B24 = total 19203

Similar in the UK,the other manufacturers tried to get the Lancaster scrapped and Avro to build Halifax etc,only a very quick mod programme by Chadwick saved the a/c,istr mostly chucking out any equipment which was not absolutely necessary - thereby bringing the basic weight down and improving the already impressive load carrying capabilities of the Lanc.
I think the Boeing PR team convinced most people that the B17 won the war.

However...given the choice of B17/B24 to fly...I would go along with B17....because (allegedly) it was akin to flying a 4 engine Cub :ok:

Brewster Buffalo
9th May 2010, 12:28
ISTR that the US air Force wanted a B17 only bomber force in Europe?

In August 44 the decision to build up the B-17 force in preference to the B-24 lead to two bomb groups to convert from the B-24 to the B-17. Aircrew were generally enthusiastic about the B-17 with its better handling, more spacious nose compartment and better heating.

I would go along with B17....because (allegedly) it was akin to flying a 4 engine Cub http://images.ibsrv.net/ibsrv/res/src:www.pprune.org/get/images/smilies/thumbs.gif

Probably because its wing loading was 30% less than the B-24..

10th May 2010, 11:54
A google came up with the following:


Semms the B24 killed many more crew than the B17 in accidents.

Nealy did the same for for my Pop as well, as he ended up in the Irish sea when a constant speed unit ran away and the wing came off in a training accident after VE day. Seems that the high aspect rato wing of the B24 was not up to the job required.

Cheers ***

Just been corrected by Dad, It was a Mk 8 Lib and the failure was the electronic control of the turbo supercharging system. Resulting in a complete engine failue and Dad thinks large parts of the engine entered the cockpit when it blew up.

Load Toad
10th May 2010, 14:05
Crikey - my memory didn't fail me. Good find orionsbelt...

The extensive use of the B-24 is inconsistent with the blunt fact that it is
the most extravagant killer of any airplane in the AAF. Since Pearl Harbor
through September 1944, B-24 accidents in the U.S. have resulted in 2,188
fatalities. In the first 9 months of 1944, B-24s did only 6% of total flying
in the U.S. but accounted for 26% of all fatalities. They flew 5% less than
B-17s but had 105% more fatalities and 85% more wrecks.
Had the B-24 had as good accident rate as the B-17 during the period 7
December 1941 through September 1944, there would have been a saving
of 230 aircraft wrecked, 904 lives, and approximately $60,000,000.3

Well worth a read.

16th May 2010, 19:16
L.T. and flight, this from a close family friend who "was there":

"A very interesting web site [PPRuNe], but I could not enter comments since I was not signed-up. I would prefer answering to you, anyway. As for the commentaries, I had not heard before of the Brits flying B-17s for any purpose, so that was news to me. However, the discussion as to the mission for which the B-17 was designed, there is no question it was designed as a long-range bomber. The Army Air Corps Chief was Major General Benjamin Folois from 1931 to 1935 (I actually had the privilege of knowing him) was the person who initiated the development of the B-17, which saw the light of day in 1935. The B-24 came along in 1939. Those were very lean years for the American military right up to Pearl Harbor. There are no technical reasons why the B-17, which I have flown, could not accomplish the missions assigned to the Coastal Command. They may have flown U. S. coastal patrols - I have not researched the item - but I know first-hand that the B-24D was used for that purpose as my bomb group, 491st (B-24), was formed from a cadre of coastal patrol officers and men. The type of back-and-forth banter on the web site is fun but very esoteric and speculative - that is why it is fun, but illustrates how history is sometimes re-written.

There were several comments that I found particularly interesting. Comments #10 ("PASIR") AND #11 (Jetex Jim) are generally true. A good part of Comment #14 ("Tornadoken") is BS, but stated as a certainty, and reads like the author was a college professor. Comment #18 ("Mr. Fish") is amusing and reminded me of similar stories. It was a common story when I was in England in WW-II about a Martin B-26 crew cruising around the cloud-filled skies of England when they spotted a Mosquito flying below and in front heading in their same direction. It was well-known to all of us that the Mosquito was the fastest twin-engine aircraft around, so the Yanks decided to have fun. "Cruising" around England was common in order for crews to get more flight time. We went to England with minimum of experience. So the crew of the B-26 decided to have fun. They dove the hell out of the plane, behind and approaching the Brit. By the time they reached the Mosquito, they were pushing ahead at a high-speed, whereas the Brit was just cruising. Just as they reached the Mosquito, and still out of view of Brit pilots, the "Marauder" pilot feathered both engines and went sailing by the Mosquito. I doubt that ever happened, but it illustrates how these stories get told, revised and live-on forever.

There is some truth in the circumstances. When I was flying P-51s, we were encouraged to get extra flying and engage in mock dog fights because we had so little time in the aircraft. I had ten hours in the P-51 when I reported for duty with the Second Air Division Scouting Force. One "cloud-filled skies" day I was tooling around and did spot a Spitfire below and in my front going in the same direction, just as with the B-26/Mosquito. Having at least the grand total of 11-15 hours in the P-51, "fighter pilot" Bill decided to jump the Spit. Mistake! As I dove down on his tail to get into a good mock firing position, the Spit pilot - who obviously saw me coming like any real fighter pilot - just pointed his nose straight up, full-throttle obviously, and climbed. I quickly went after him and stalled out in a short time as the Spit continued to climb happily into the heavens. At least that is a true story."

(Posted here with permission. Bless all those who served, who survived, and those who didn't).



16th May 2010, 21:07
One of Robert Craig Johnson's Articles from 2005 (how I miss his articles) republished in PDF format with Permission in May 2009.
Chandelle Article - First Fortresses: 90 Sqdn RAF and the Boeing Bomber (http://www.cue-dih.co.uk/aerospace/aeropdfs/chandelle-b-17-raf.pdf)

18th May 2010, 08:45
Supportive industrial biography R.J.Serling, Legend & Legacy, the Story of Boeing and its People, St.Martin's Press,1992,P.34: "before WW2 B-17 was considered to be primarily a defensive weapon; its future role in strategic bombing...wasn't clearly defined yet." P.29: It was designed to 1934 Army Spec 98-1800 (1 ton warload, 2,000 miles, >200 mph) envisaging an order for 20. US' tiny post-Depression Army was for garrison duty in the island chains to its territories (colonies) of Panama Zone and Philippines. Funding for more awaited events of May,1940.

Feather #3
19th May 2010, 06:08
Opssys, that link goes to the EE P10. Any chance of a revision, please?

G'day ;)

19th May 2010, 08:40
tornadoken (http://www.pprune.org/members/123792-tornadoken)

Interesting post, thanks. The author, Robert J. Serling, just passed away a few days ago at age 92. He was the older brother of Rod Serling who created Twilight Zone.



20th May 2010, 17:07
Feather #3 spotted my stupid error of inserting the wrong link. Whilst I have updated my original post to be safe here it is :
Chandelle Article - First Fortresses: 90 Sqdn RAF and the Boeing Bomber (http://www.cue-dih.co.uk/aerospace/aeropdfs/chandelle-b-17-raf.pdf)

I as punishment for this I shall now read the first 8 Chapters of the IATA AHM with my eyelids held open by matchsticks.

Feather #3
20th May 2010, 21:42
Thanks for that! Fascinating read.

G'day ;)