For most World War II history buffs, like me, there is only one bomber worth taking about…the B-17 Bomber. I’m sure there have been many bombers since, but the B-17 will always stand out in my mind. I’m sure that is partly because my dad spent his entire time in World War II as the Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer on a B-17G Bomber, stationed at Great Ashfield in Suffolk, England, about nine miles from Bury Saint Edmonds.
Dad was so proud of the beautiful, brand-new B-17G Bomber. The thing he might have known, but that I certainly didn’t, is that when those shiny brand-new B-17 Bombers came out and were sent out to battle, they were already considered to be outdated. Of course, outdated, does not mean they couldn’t be used, because they not only could be used, but they were very effective. I suppose that the fact that they were outdated could have meant that they were slower, more awkward, or less accurate, but during World War II, they were very effective, and the people they protected were extremely grateful for their prominent presence on the battlefield. Those planes were almost indestructible…short of losing a wing anyway.
While the reality is that far more Consolidated B-24 Liberators were produced and were used more extensively than B-17s, both as bombers and in other roles. Nevertheless, the B-17 had a following. It was beloved by so many people…even though it was predominantly used in the Eighth Air Force. Really, it is most likely because the historians, who were mainly focusing on the war in Europe, and who have devoted so much coverage to the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, that the B-17 is often thought of as the only American bomber of the war, or at least until the much larger B-29 Superfortress was introduced by Boeing. Still, the B-29 Superfortress, in the minds of many people anyway, couldn’t hold a candle to the B-17 if the minds of the people. In fact, while thousands of Douglas A-20s, North American B-25s, and Martin B-26s, as well as excellent British bombers such as the Lancaster and Wellington, served in all theaters of war, it was The Fort, as it has lovingly been called, that has come to symbolize the air war perhaps more than any other bomber…of any era. For me, the B-17 will always be the most awesome, and greatest bomber ever built. When one flies overhead, I recognize the sound. I can pick one out while it is flying, even if it is too far away to hear the engines. If I had to pick an airplane that will always be iconic, the B-17 is it, and always will be.