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Target - B-17

Unable to keep its plans secret, Boeing unveiled its “mystery” plane at Seattle in July 1935. On August 20, Boeing test pilot Leslie R. Tower flew the big, four-engine ship nonstop from Seattle to Dayton at an average speed of 252 miles per hour.

Overall, there are serious gaps in the paper trail. According to official Tinker history documents, the Oklahoma City Air Depot repaired and calibrated the then top-secret Norden MK15 bombsight during the war years. However, besides photos showing standard overhaul and maintenance and some armament upgrades, there is little else mentioned about the B-17. This gap in information is likely due to the aircraft having the highest security classification and records were destroyed before being downgraded.

In March 1936 the leadership of the Soviet Air Force [Voenno Vozdushnie Sily] in a report addressed to the People's Commissar Voroshilov proposed to include "4 motor Boeing" in the list of aircraft, the samples of which they wanted to buy in the US. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force Lavrov wrote: "This aircraft combines the data we need - high speed and long range of flight."

The General Directorate of the Aviation Industry (GUAP) of the People's Commissariat of Industry had already looked after Fortress and the place for production would be a new plant No. 124 in Kazan, and it was going to master a large complex machine only on the model, without a license, independently. On the other hand, in April 1936 at a meeting in the UVVS Ya.I. Alksnis offered to buy technical assistance in the US to develop the production of the "4-engine Boeing bomber." Through the intermediation of Amtorg, the company started negotiations, which, however, did not succeed.

In accordance with the Lend-Lease agreement concluded on March 11, 1941, the US War Department was authorized to sell, provide or rent military material to "the government of any country whose defense the president deems vital to the protection of the United States." Almost immediately after the conclusion of the treaty, the Royal Air Force (RAF) expressed a desire to receive a significant number of B-17s. USAAC was extremely reluctant to transfer twenty aircraft from the order to 38 aircraft of the new B-17C model. These twenty-B-17Cs were sent to the UK immediately from the Boeing plant. The aircraft transmitted by Great Britain were, in essence, similar to B-17C for USAAC. Before dispatch, the aircraft were upgraded to Wright Field, during which all machine guns, except for the 7.62 mm nos, were replaced by 12.7 mm Colt-Browning machine guns that corresponded to British standards.

Despite the fact that the US Air Force did not consider the B-17C to be combat-ready (an E model based on combat reports from Europe was already on the way), the RAF position was quite serious and these planes were thrown into battle. The commbat debut of the B-17 was not too successful. The crews of the B-17 encountered numerous mechanical problems during the sorties. But despite the difficulties, the British crews were very pleased with the Fortress I, as the aircraft was light and pleasant to drive, maneuverable enough and aerodynamically stable when dropping bombs.

In the summer of 1941, after the 22 June German attack on the USSR, the US offered military assistance to the Soviet Union. President Roosevelt, among other things, promised Stalin heavy bombers. On 01 August 1941, the presidential administration discussed the issue of the supply of 10 heavy bombers a month by Western allies. Five had to be provided by America, five by England. In the project with which A. Harriman arrived in Moscow, it was written that the United States undertook to deliver up to June 1942 as many as 27 such machines. The matter was undoubtedly about the B-17, as the production of another similar aircraft, the B-24, was only being mastered.

Opinions on the degree of value of the "Flying Fortresses" for the Air Force of the Red Army were at variance. For example, the Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff sent a document to the government that said: "The B-17 B-17 aircraft, in all its modifications, is an obsolete type of 4-engine bomber". On the other hand, the Air Force Chief Directorate informed the airman of the aircraft industry, Shahurin:" The most suitable type of bomber is the American Boeing B-17". It seems that the Aviator's point of view won.

A group led by famed Russian aviator Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gromov arrived on the route of the Northern Sea Route for the "Fortresses", flying to the United States to accept the first batch of five B-17s. Personnel were recruited from experienced testers flying on many types of aircraft. They were to fly across the Atlantic to England where the machines were going to be loaded with bombs and take a course for Germany. After bombing the targets in the Reich, the Fortresses were to land near Moscow.

But the Americans did not give the Soviet Union the B-17, offering instead B-25, B-26 and A-29. General H.H. "Hap" Arnold (Commanding Generalq USAAF) was against the transfer of heavy bombers to the Soviets, referring to the lack of them in US aviation. Indeed, on 01 August 1941, there were only 40 B-17 and one B-24 in service. As a second argument, secret equipment, in particular bomber sights, was on board the Fortress. Gromov had to settle for the B-25, which for the planned grand raid unsuitable.

But the Soviets did not stop trying to get the B-17. At a meeting of the tripartite commission in Moscow on September 29, 1941, at which future deliveries under Lend-Lease were discussed, Shahurin asked the representative of the US Army Air Force: "Can Boeing aircraft be obtained?" But the reply was " they can not be delivered yet." The bomber question was closed for a long time. The extension of the Lend-Lease Act to cover the Soviet Union, formally announced in November 1941, was of great consequence as a measure of the President's willingness to base American international policy on the principle of the common international interest in supporting resistance to armed aggression.

On 16 April 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt discussed air strategy with General H.H. Arnold. The President asked Arnold if he thought there was any military utility in asking to use Soviet air installations in European Russia to support U.S. bomber operations. Perhaps the President recalled an August, 1941 Army Air Force war plan that envisioned a possible use of air stations in the European USSR in the event of war with the Nazi state. In any event, Arnold gave his whole-hearted backingj to the concept, stating: "I should like nothing better than shuttle-bombing between England and Italy to Russia, hitting targets in Eastern Europe en route." By June of 1942 some of the central ideas that would soon comprise the FRANTIC shuttle bombing project were out and about under discussion.

Another soviet attempt to get the B-17s was done in 1944, when the Soviet side sent a request for the supply of aircraft under the IV protocol on military assistance. They ordered 240 B-17s. And again they did not get one.

The mutual struggle against Adolf Hitler's Germany linked the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as allies in the great common cause. Few distinctly military projects were attempted. An arrangement of aerial maneuvers code-named FRANTIC comprised the largest and most complete such program. This was the only direct combat cooperation between the American and Soviet war efforts. The United States Army Air Force conducted FRANTIC as an extension of the Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) in Europe. The 8th and 15th Air Forces flew hugh fleets of powerful B-17 Flying Fortresses deep into central Europe to blast German war materiel and military bases, then continued east to land in the Ukraine. Soviet troops (many of them women), serviced and protected the Army Air Force units, which rearmed and flew off to hit more targets enroute to their home stations.

To receive B-17, the Soviet airfields were reconstructed, equipped with collapsible metal runways, barracks and workshops were built. The first "shuttle" raid was carried out on June 2, 1944. That day, 128 B-17Gs and 64 fighter escorts landed in Ukraine.

Increasingly, the British and American planes, including the B-17, made forced landing and abandoned crews began to come across. Initially, work on the search and recovery of such machines was carried out independently. April 10, 1945, a directive appeared, requiring all units and units to report such findings to the headquarters of the 18th Air Army. By early October, the arrival of the four-engined bombers assembled in Europe was over; in the ranks of the 890th regiment were 16 serviceable B-17s.

"Flying fortresses" enjoyed a good reputation among Soviet pilots. Compared with the domestic Pe-8 American bomber due to turbocharging had a great speed and ceiling. Much more powerful was weapons, better equipment. The aircraft were equipped with all the most modern navigation aids, excellent bomb sight, excellent radio equipment. Designed for hours of long-range raids, the "Fortresses" provided the crew with a level of comfort simply unthinkable on Soviet aircraft.

In Kazan, aircrafts were often inspected by workers of the local aircraft factory, which was just beginning to master the production of the Tu-4 copied from the American B-29. Elements of the equipment of the latter had much in common with the ones installed on the V-17. In the summer of 1947, the regiment began to receive the first Tu-4s. B-17 gradually went to the parking lot.

One of the most obscure users of the Fortress was the USSR. Late in the war, RAF and USAAF bombers that had been damaged in raids over the Reich would put down in Soviet-controlled territory rather than try to make it back to Western bases, and in April 1945 the Red Air Force issued a directive to its units in the field to report the location of any aircraft of its Western Allies that were in Soviet hands.

The Soviets found about 162 aircraft, including 73 B-17s and an equal number of B-24 Liberators. The Fortresses and Liberators that were in the best condition were returned to the USAAF, but a number were retained as interim heavy bombers until the USSR completed its reverse-engineering of Boeing B-29 Superfortresses that had fallen into their hands, landing in Siberia after suffering battle damage in raids over Japan. The B-29 was to go into production in Soviet state factories as the "Tupolev Tu-4", which would be given the NATO codename "Bull".

The Red Air Force crews had no training in flying the American bombers, and their maintenance crews had neither training nor proper spares. Many of the aircraft had been damaged, which is why they had ended up in Soviet hands to begin with, and their original crews had often trashed vital items such as bombsights, radar, and radios after they landed. However, the Soviets proved ingenious at keeping them flying, and in fact Red Air Force crews were delighted with the B-17's handling, comparing it to a "swallow" and the nimble PO-2 biplane trainer. In contrast, they called the B-24 "Iron", in reference to its sluggish takeoff characteristics and lumbering handling.

One of the oddities of the matter was that Soviet officials, with the humorlessness and peculiar prudery that often seems to afflict ruthless dictatorships, were indignant at the sometimes-lurid nose art on the bombers, and ordered the "filthy pictures" removed or painted out. The big American bombers were in principle used as part of heavy bomber units, but their main purpose was to give the Red Air Force experience in flying such types of aircraft preparatory to flying the Tu-4. The B-17s remained in service until 1948, when the Tu-4 began to arrive at operational squadrons.




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Page last modified: 24-07-2019 19:19:59 ZULU