The Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber’s first flight was on 28th July 1935. In total, 12,731 units were built between 1936-1945! The nickname “Flying Fortress” was concocted by an American reporter, then the Boeing Company registered the name as a trademark.
The first 18 B-17E bombers arrived to equip the US 8th Air Force units in mid-1942 and flew their first mission against rail yards in occupied France on 17th August 1942. With the newly devised Norden Bombsight, this mission was much more successful than the British experience earlier in the European War.
The B-17 was a fast, high-flying, long-range bomber that was able to defend itself. It carried a superb bomb load and was able to return home despite extensive battle damage. Its reputation quickly took on mythic proportions, and widely circulated stories and photos of notable numbers and examples of B-17s surviving battle damage increased its iconic status – B-17 “fortress” fully deserved its nickname.
As of May 2015, ten aircraft remain airworthy. None of them are combat veterans. Additionally, a few dozen more are in storage or on static display. The oldest is a D-series combat veteran with service in the Pacific and the Caribbean.
Boeing Y1B-17 (pre-production version of the B-17) in flight [US Air Force]. B-17 carried General MacArthur to observe a parachute invasion of Nadzab. 5 September 1943. Bomber belonged to the 43rd Bomb Group 63rd Bomb Squadron [ Via]. US bombers B-17 “Flying Fortress” during the bombing of Brasov, Romania [Via]. Crews examine flak damage to B-17G Fortress at RAF Bassingbourn, England. Damage sustained on a mission to Munich, Germany, 6 July 1944. Note “Mickey” Pathfinder radar dome in place of ball turret [United States National Archives]. US bombers B-17 “Flying Fortress” on the airfield at Poltava [ Via]. Burning B-17 “Flying Fortress” was shot down by a direct hit from anti-aircraft missile over the Ruhland [ Via]. Bombers B-17F “Flying Fortress” of the 390th Bomb Group (8AF)bombs their targets in France [ Via]. B-17G formation of the 91st Bomb Group, 324th Bomb Squadron [ Via]. Boeing B-17G of the 95th Bomb Group Raid in 1944 [ Via]. Bombers B-17 “Flying Fortress” under anti-aircraft fire over Debrecen, Hungary [ Via]. Bombardier of the “Flying Fortress” returns from a mission. In the background are visible other B-17s of the 96th Bomb Group US Air Force [ Via]. B-17G Fortresses of the 381st Bomb Group are escorted by a P-51B of the 354th Fighter Squadron, Summer-Fall 1944. [ Via]. B-17 “Flying Fortress” with a damaged tail (by German fighter missiles) in flight near airfield Villaorba, Italy [US Air Force]. B-17 bombers of the 303rd Bomb Group flying in the gaps of the German anti-aircraft fire [ Via]. United States planes in echelon formation. B-24 “Liberator”, Douglas DC-4 and B-17 “Flying Fortress” [ Via]. B-17 Flying Fortress bomber at rest, silhouetted by the setting sun, Langley Field, Virginia, United States, July 1942. Note B-18 Bolo and two A-20 Havoc aircraft in the background [ Via].
Wreck of B-17C bomber at Hickam Field, US Territory of Hawaii. 7 December 1941 (United States National Archives).
B-17E Flying Fortress converted to XB-38 with Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engines as an experimental testbed in the event the radial engines became unavailable, 1942 [ Via]. B-17F “Flying Fortress” aircraft “Spotted Cow”, assembly ship of 384th Bomber Group, 547th Bomber Squadron, based in RAF Grafton Underwood, England. 1943 [ Via].
B-17F “Mary Ruth – Memories of Mobile” and the 401st Bomb Squadron flying toward the German U-boat pens at Lorient, France. 17 May 1943. This photo was taken from B-17 “Memphis Belle” on her last combat sortie (United States National Archives).
B-17 Fortresses of the 91st Bomb Group nearing the Dornier Assembly Plant at Meulan, France at dawn, Aug 13, 1943 (United States National Archives)
Overhead view of the B-17H bomber in flight (US Air Force).
B-17F Fortress flying over Monte Cassino as smoke rises from the abbey. 15 February 1944 (US Air Force)
B-17G Fortress ‘Miss Donna Mae II’ drifted under another bomber on a bomb run over Berlin, 19 May 1944. A 1,000 lb bomb from above tore off the left stabilizer and sent the plane into an uncontrollable spin. All 11 were killed (United States National Archives)
Damian is a history geek that’s working for War History Online for almost a decade. He can talk about the history and its chain of events for hours and is 100% legit fun at parties. Aside of history, geography and etymology of all things are no less exciting for him! An avid video game player, meme distributor, and your comment section moderator all in one. Mythologies of all cultures are fascinating to him, Greek, Nordic, Slavic – you name it, and he’s in!
In his spare time, assuming he has some left, he gives it all to his family, enjoying morning walks, a good book, an exciting FPS, and a long nap…or a few. Definitely a cat person.