Fortress Against the Sun: The B-17 Flying Fortress in the Pacific
By Gene E. Salecker
Hardcover in dustjacket, 488 pages with appendix, chapter notes, and index
Published by Combined Publishing February 2001
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.4 x 9.0 inches
The B-17 Flying Fortress is best known for its role in bombing Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Lesser known is the story of the Fortresses which fought against the Japanese in the Pacific. Salecker goes a long way to fill this void with this epic reference work, detailing the important missions of every Fortress assigned to the Pacific Theater.
In the Pacific the U.S. heavy bomber units fought against a competent foe, along with disease, fatigue and the weather. They found themselves at the ragged end of an unreliable supply chain with little hope of significant reinforcement or replacement. While individual aircraft and crews did dribble into the forward airfields, it wasn’t until 1943 that significant numbers of B-24 Liberators began to arrive which allowed the B-17 units to be relieved. Even then, many of the veteran Fortresses remained, being modified to serve as armed transports delivering supplies or the personal aircraft of Generals.
The book offers several anecdotes gathered first hand from reports and interviews. The Fortresses involved in the actions described are identified by serial number and name if one was given, making it easier to follow the story of individual aircraft. Sources for information are credited in the chapter notes and there is an extensive bibliography. While there is a lot of detailed factual content, the narrative flows well with many first-hand descriptions of the combats to keep things interesting.
Damage assessment is difficult under the best of circumstances and over-claiming in combat is something which is common to all air services. One thing I would have liked to have seen was more cross-referencing of Japanese records. Often the ships which are claimed to have been hit are not named, but only described by type or tonnage. Defending fighters are almost always described as Zeros and suffer greatly in the action reports. While this would have added another layer of research to an already detailed account, it would have been interesting to know the Japanese units involved and what actual damage they may have suffered.
Overall I can highly recommend this book to anyone interested in B-17s or the first half or the Pacific War in general. There is a lot of detailed information here, and I know I’ll be using this book for reference for years to come.
Here are some nice color shots of the interior of a Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress showing aircrew at their positions. These are of the thirteenth B-17E produced, serial 41-2405 with the Sperry remote turret in the ventral position. The pictures were taken by famed aviation photographer Rudy Arnold on 25JUN42.
A couple of notes. While the descriptions associated with the negatives in the NASM archive all describe the aircraft as being 41-2405, there are a few photographs in the series which are obviously of other Fortresses, so take that identification with a grain of salt on the interior pictures. Several of the negatives in the collection have water damage so if you notice unexpected color shift or mottling it is possibly a defect on the negative.
All photographs credit National Air and Space Museum Archives, Rudy Arnold Photo Collection unless otherwise noted.
The B-17 Flying Fortress Story: Design-Production-History
By Roger A. Freeman with David Osborne
Hardcover in dustjacket, illustrated, 319 pages
Published by Arms and Armour August 1998
Dimensions: 9 x 1.2 x 11.2 inches
This book is not for everyone, it is intended to be a researcher’s reference. It does not contain crew interviews, unit histories, color profiles, or mission reports. If you read reviews of this book, in several cases there is a disconnect between what is covered and what the customer hoped would be covered.
It is helpful to view this book in two parts. The first part is a design history written by Freeman which describes the technical details and design evolution of the B-17. This includes several annotated factory drawings which identify every window, access panel, and interior component, something which is sure to please even the most pedantic B-17 aficionado. Each modification to the armament is described and illustrated regardless whether this was a factory change or developed in the field. Production changes are listed by the factory block number and U.S. Army serial number ranges. There were three factories producing B-17s during the war (Boeing at Seattle (-BO), Lockheed Vega at Burbank (-VE), and Douglas at Long Beach (-DL)). Each manufacturer assigned production blocks differently, and introduced production changes at different times, so a B-17F-25 from one factory differs in detail from those produced at the other two even though they share the same block numbers. Using the serial numbers the changes can be determined for each individual aircraft.
Performance data is presented in a large table which makes it easy to determine the relative capabilities of each variant. There is also an interesting section on post-war service and developments applied to the surviving Fortresses. The B-17s served in a wide variety of roles after the war with various operators and these are some of the more interesting modifications and are not widely described, such as engine test beds, air/sea rescue, and civilian airliners.
The second section of the book is devoted to Osborne’s research into the individual record cards for each of the 12,731 B-17s produced. This is arranged by U.S. Army serial number and gives the locations and dates detailing the movements and unit assignments preserved in the records. Fates and aircraft names are listed where known. Here you get a good feel for what happened to the aircraft within the United States, but the information recorded gets less detailed as it gets further away from the U.S. Obviously, this is a massive undertaking and can never be complete, but here a researcher has a place to start when tracking down any given B-17 serial. A table allows correlation with the manufacturers’ production numbers as well. This section comprises the bulk of the book and totals almost 250 pages.
As I said earlier, not a book for every reader, but an invaluable asset for a researcher or a modeler who wants to get every little piece of equipment right for a particular aircraft. If that’s you, this is your book!