B-17 Bombers Military Aircraft History with the RAF

  1. B-17
  2. January 28, 2013 11:30 pm

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Heavy Bomber was developed for high altitude precision bombing with the ability to take enormous damage while performing their missions. The B-17C was first introduced into World War II military operations in 1941 by the Royal Air Force (RAF) because of their lack of having their own heavy bomber. While the RAFs first use of the B-17C can hardly be a success, 8 bombers had been lost to engine trouble, mechanical failure or combat accidents by September of 1941. These initial military operations showed that the Flying Fortress was not ready for combat, requiring greater reliability and improved defenses.

The B-17C, in the service of the Royal Air Force had become known only as the Fortress, since the British military policy was to use names rather than designations to identify their aircrafts. The RAF, like the Luftwaffe, had the same problem when conducting daylight heavy bombing missions in that their bombers were susceptible enemy interception. This extreme vulnerability of the B-17C heavy bomber, prompted the RAF to conduct their bombing missions under the cover of darkness, while reserving their faster low flying light bombers for the daylight bombing runs.

The RAF Bombing Command figured that the only way to successfully utilize the B-17C would be employ it in high altitude daylight bombing missions and raids, and flying at maximum ceiling. The Royal Air Force planned to operate the Boeing Fortresses at 32,000 ft (9,750 m), the most advantageous height because all the known types of enemy fights would have great difficulty in attaining an altitude to engage the B-17C in combat. This high altitude was 10,000 ft (3,050 m) higher than the US Army Air Corps had planned to conduct bombing raids in, however, in any event, this extra altitude proved critical in the B-17C having a dramatic impact on the war.

On September 8, 1941, the RAF had a mission to Oslo and the first B-17C Fortress was shot down by the enemy. Another Fortress had also failed to return from the days raid, believed to be lost from the result of an accident, rather than combat. The extremely high altitude of 32,000 ft (9,750 m), had taken its toll on bombing accuracy because of the fatigue and physical and mental strain that flight crews had from being required to use oxygen and heating equipment while on bombing runs. Despite the lack of RAF military success, both the Royal Air Force and Air Corps received valuable information for Boeing to include in future B-17 designs.

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