WWII B-17 Bombers and Their Crews, in Color

1942 photos by Margaret Bourke-White. (via The Lexicans)


Women building airplanes during WWII, in color

The London Blitz, in color

Dresden: a meditation on strategic bombing

ShrinkWrapped has published his father’s recollections of flying 50 missions as a B-24 tail gunner. There are 6 different posts at the link–start at the bottom for the first one–and one more post here.

8 thoughts on “WWII B-17 Bombers and Their Crews, in Color”

  1. I decided to go back to Germany, 20 years after I left the Army. Actually I was going to my class reunion in Virginia, and my mother suggested since I was “in the area” , keep going to Germany ;-)

    What a change I saw.

    Since I obviously didn’t do much traveling in what was East Germany, I rented a car in Berlin and drove to Dresden.

    Dresden had just opened up to the West 2 years prior, and getting a hotel – or pension, was impossible there – businessmen were flooding the city.

    I describe the Autobahns there as perfectly maintained 1939 highways.

    But on the advice of a local this family who had a 200 year old farm in the hills surrounding the city — had a building where they rented out rooms, completely with an old B & W TV from the DDR days.

    It was one of those trips where despite things going wrong, it was a lifetime memory.

    Over a beer at night the farmer and I discussed life in the DDR vs the west

    I thought it a bit ironic since I was in Army Air Defense, stationed in a NATO bunker, knowing that some counterpart was listening in on my over-the-air transmissions, and here was an old closed down East German radar facility close to his farm.

    Despite the war being over for 47 years you could still see the blackened roofs of the old town – mainly stone buildings.

    And the Frauenkirche – (ladies’s church?) – must be a more realistic translation – was still a pile of rubble.

    Word was that IBM had developed a program that calculated the bomb energy and knew where each stone in the pile originally went.

    It was a surrealistic visit, with Russian soldiers still there – their country unable to bring them back – and western tourists all around.

    I probably wouldn’t recognize it today.

  2. My mother quit college and went to work putting parts in B-24’s transiting to Europe. That was after her fiancee’ was killed in N. Africa, and she needed to do something for the war.

    Always had a soft spot for the 24 after I learned about that.

  3. The best description I heard about flying a 24 was that it was like “flying a house”.

    The book Unbroken is about the incredible survival of Louis Zamperini, who was adrift in the Pacific for (57)? days without food/water, after crashing his 24 into the Pacific.

    Always wondered why the 17 got all the publicity while the equally-capable 24 got very little.

  4. Bill…”Unbroken”

    I haven’t read the book, but a friend who had no particular interest in military history happened to read it…she said it was outstanding.

  5. @David – it is outstanding – it is really a story of the triumph of the human spirit and perseverance against the background of WW2.

  6. There is one flying B 24. I’ve flown in it and the experience was great. It is smaller than it looks and crawling up to the nose compartment involves crawling on a catwalk 18 inches wide past the nose wheel which is huge and still spinning 20 minutes after you take off. The waist gunner openings are not covered and you can lean out if you feel immortal enough.

    I also flew in the B 17 which smaller yet and interesting. I paid for my son to go for his birthday present. I do wish that they had been available when my cousin was still alive. He was a bombardier flying out of north Africa. I knew a lot of guys who flew in B 17s. Several of them were shot down and survived. After the war was over, my parents had parties for all the guys coming home. I was about 8. I envied them all but knew nothing of what they had gone through.

  7. @Mike K – I think the informal nickname for the B24 was “The Widowmaker”.

    A passage from Unbroken that always stuck with me – well, 2 things – but fully loaded, taking off from a Pacific coral atoll the crew could see the tops of palm trees scraping against the belly of the fuselage – seen though the cracks in the bomb bay doors.

    That – and if you had to ditch in the ocean – it was usually a watery coffin with the wings on top of the fuselage – that cabin filled in a hurry.

  8. I think the B 26 was the “widowmaker” but the B 24 was called much easier to fly than the B 17 by Jimmy Stewart when he was asked about it. It’s interesting to walk from the rear fuselage to the front of the plane along that 18 inch wide catwalk in the bomb bay. The doors look like it wouldn’t take much to open them. A friend of mine had his cellphone fall out of his pocket while crawling forward along the nose wheel. It ended up on the door and fell out when they landed. He could call it and it rang but he never found it. The approach to John Wayne Airport goes over a bunch of low industrial buildings. It must be on a roof somewhere.

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