B-17 Flying Fortress units of the United States Army Air Forces
This is a list of United States Army Air Forces B-17 Flying Fortress units of the United States Army Air Forces including variants and other historical information. Heavy bomber training organizations primarily under II Bomber Command in the United States and non-combat units are not included.
The B-17 Flying Fortress was perhaps the most well-known American heavy bomber of the Second World War. It achieved a fame far beyond that of its more-numerous contemporary, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. The first pre-production Y1B-17 Fortress was delivered to the 2d Bombardment Group, Langley Field, Virginia on 11 January 1936; the first production B-17B was delivered on 29 March 1939 also to the 2d Bombardment Group. A total of 12,677 production Fortresses was built before production came to an end. In August 1944, the B-17 equipped no less than 33 overseas combat groups.
The last Boeing-built B-17G was delivered to the USAAF on 13 April 1945. Following the end of World War II, the Flying Fortress was rapidly withdrawn from USAAF service, being replaced by the B-29 Superfortress. Literally thousands of Fortresses used in combat in Europe by Eighth or Fifteenth Air Force or in the United States by II Bomber Command training units were flown to various disposal units. A few were sold to private owners, but the vast majority were cut up for scrap
Aircraft in the final early 1945 production manufacturing block by Boeing or Lockheed-Vega (Block 110) were converted to the B-17H search and rescue model, being modified to carry a lifeboat under the fuselage. Postwar B-17s were used by the Military Air Transport Service Air Rescue Service, in 1948 being re-designated SB-17G. Some RB-17Gs were also used by the MATS Air Photographic and Charting Service (APCS). A few SB-17s were used by the Air Rescue Service in Japan during the Korean War, but all of the postwar B-17s were retired from MATS by the mid-1950s, becoming Air Proving Ground Command QB-17 Drones or DB-17 Drone directors. The drones were operated primarily by the 3205th Drone Group, Eglin AFB, Florida.
The last operational USAF B-17 mission was on 6 August 1959, when DB-17P 44-83684 (Originally a Douglas/Long Beach B-17G-90-DL) directed QB-17G 44-83717 which was expended as a target for an AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missile fired from an F-101 Voodoo, near Holloman AFB, New Mexico. 44-83684 arrived at Davis-Monthan AFB for storage a few days later. The few DB-17P remaining operational drone controllers remaining on Air Force rolls afterward were transferred to various museums in 1960.
Fifth Air Force
Prior to the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the 19th Bombardment Group had 35 B-17s in the Philippines. By 14 December only 14 remained. Beginning on 17 December, the surviving B-17s based there began to be evacuated to Australia, then were sent to Singosari Airfield, Java on 30 December 1941.
The 7th Bomb Group was originally scheduled to reinforce the Philippines in December 1941 from Fort Douglas, Utah, and the ground echelon had already left by ship from San Francisco. Pearl Harbor Attack led to ground echelon being returned to United States and the air echelon remained at Hamilton Field, California flying antisubmarine patrols. 9th Bomb Squadron deployed to Southwest Pacific in mid-December, travelling east via Floria, Brazil, across central Africa to the Middle East. Then via Arabia to Karachi, India via Singapore to Singosari Airfield, Java, joining the 19th BG on 14 January.
Both units would remain on Java until March 1942, taking part in the brave but ultimately futile attempts to defend the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. The B-17s were never present in large enough numbers to make any real difference to the course of the campaign. The 19th BG withdrew to Australia with the B-17 survivors of the 9th Bomb Squadron, which was re-equipped with B-24s in India as part of Tenth Air Force. Nine of the survivors were eventually sent to the Middle East in July to defend Egypt against the advancing German Afrika Corps.
The 19th BG received some replacement aircraft and was joined by the 43d Bomb Group in Australia in March. The two units took part in the campaign on Papua New Guinea, before the 19th BG was moved back to the United States at the end of 1942, transferring its assets to the 43d. The 43d BG flew combat missions with B-17s until August 1943 when they were replaced by B-24s.
Note** Formed with 7th BG B-17E aircraft and personnel that arrived in Australia, Mar 1942 and 10 Sierra Bombardment Group B-17Es, arrived in Australia c 20 January.
Sixth Air Force
About thirty B-17s (B/D/E/F) served in the Caribbean and Antilles Air Commands during World War II, the first (B-17D 40-3058) arriving in Panama Canal Zone during March 1941. However, usually less ten were operational at any one time. They were mostly R- (Restricted from combat) RB-17Bs and Ds stationed at Río Hato Field, but some were at Albrook Field. Later E and F models no longer suitable for training were obtained as replacement aircraft. Some were based at Waller Field, Trinidad. They were used for long-range antisubmarine patrols over the Caribbean, South Atlantic and Eastern Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal. Were also used for long-distance flights to Ecuador, Peru, British Guiana and Brazil as transports. In addition to the Sixth Air Force B-17s, F-9 photo-mapping Fortresses of the 1st Photographic Group were frequently in the command's AOR, as well as in South America on aerial survey and mapping missions.
Seventh/Thirteenth Air Force
The B-17 was to achieve its first taste of combat during the Pearl Harbor Attack, when the 5th Bombardment Group based at Hickam Field, Hawaii had 12 B-17Ds parked on the ramp. Five of these B-17s were destroyed, and eight were damaged in the attack. On December 7, The 38th Reconnaissance Squadron (Heavy), 11th Bombardment Group, with four B-17Cs and two new B-17Es was inbound from Hamilton Field, California to Hickam on their way to the Philippines to reinforce the American forces there. They arrived at Hickam at the height of the attack. One was destroyed, three others badly damaged. Remaining in Hawaii after the attack, in June 1942, B-17s from the 5th and 11th Bomb Groups were used in the Battle of Midway, but with little effectiveness.
Both the 5th and 11th Bombardment Groups joined the Thirteenth Air Force during 1942 and took part in the American campaign in the south west Pacific, fighting during the campaigns in the Solomon Islands (including the battle for Guadalcanal) and the return campaign to the Philippines. By the middle of 1943 both units had replaced their B-17s with B-24 Liberators
Eighth Air Force
- See: Eighth Air Force
Was primary operator of B-17 Flying Fortresses in overseas combat theaters during World War II. The B-17 may have first seen combat in American markings in the Philippines, but it would earn its enduring fame with the Eighth Air Force, based in England and fighting over Occupied Europe. The story of the B-17 would become the story of the VIII Bomber Command (later Eighth Air Force) strategic heavy bombardment campaign of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II
Initially equipped with B-17Es in 1942, the Eighth Air Force received B-17Fs in Jan 1943 and B-17Gs in Nov 1943. Flying Fortresses were employed in long-range strategic bombardment operations over Occupied Europe and Nazi Germany, August 1942 – May 1945 attacking enemy military, transportation and industrial targets as part of the United States' air offensive against Nazi Germany.
Twelfth/Fifteenth Air Force
Although less important than the B-24 Liberator in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO), six B-17 Groups did serve in North Africa and Italy, two of them serving from 1942 until the end of the war. Two B-17E groups (97th and 301st) deployed to Morocco and Algeria from VIII Bomber Command in England during November 1942. These were two of the most experienced B-17 units, and their departure from England slowed down the development of the Eighth Air Force’s offensive. Later, two newly trained II Bomber Command groups (2d, 99th) deployed from the United States. The four B-17E groups formed the heavy bomber component of XII Bomber Command (and Northwest African Strategic Air Force).
In North Africa Flying Fortresses were used against German and Italian military targets in Algeria and Tunisia, and to attack German shipping in the Mediterranean. Flying Fortresses took part in the bombardment of the Italian stronghold of Pantelleria, the invasion of Sicily and the invasion of Italy.
Once the Allies were firmly established on the Italian mainland, the B-17 squadrons moved Italy, joining the Fifteenth Air Force in November 1943 and were upgraded to B-17Gs. They were joined by two more groups (463d, 483d) in the spring of 1944, bringing the total up to six. At their peak there were 669 B-17 crews stationed in the Mediterranean theater. From bases around Foggia, the Fortresses engaged in long-range strategic bombardment of enemy military, transportation and industrial targets in the Balkans, Italy, Austria, France and southern Germany as part of the United States' air offensive against Nazi Germany. B-17s were also employed in tactical missions, supporing Fifth Army's campaign in Italy itself, most famously bombarding the monastery at Monte Cassino, and also took part in the invasion of southern France.
US Army, Middle East Air Force (USAMEAF)/Ninth Air Force
USAMEAF was a provisional organization formed at RAF Lydda, British Palestine on 1 July 1942. It consisted of nine B-17Es and nineteen B-24 Liberators formerly of the 9th Bombardment and 88th Reconnaissance Squadrons, 7th Bombardment Group which arrived from Allahabad Airfield, India to aid British Forces in Egypt after General Erwin Rommel advanced the Afrika Corps toward the Suez Canal. The B-17s transferred to the Middle East were older aircraft that had escaped from the Philippines or were sent from the United States in January 1942 that had fought in the Netherlands East Indies with Fifth Air Force. They would be organized into the 1st Provisional Bombardment Group on 20 July. It was the core of what would eventually become the 376th Bombardment Group, Ninth Air Force, which was transferred to RAF Abu Sueir, Egypt on 12 November.
B-17s would be flown on combat missions from RAF Lyddia and RAF El Fayid, Egypt, attacking the harbor at Tobruk, Libya seven times with day and night raids throughout July, continually raiding the harbor shipping and disrupting Axis storage areas. It is believed that the Fortresses were sent to the secret Gura Army Air Base, Eritrea (Project 19) in August for depot-level maintenance, which was not possible at the British bases and had which been deferred since the beginning of the war in December.
The B-17Es would not engaged in combat again until mid-October, when raids on Tobruk began again on 12 October, and attacking a coastal road near Bardia, Libya on 20 October after a mission against Tobruk was cancelled due to cloud cover. They were also engaged in attacking harbor facilities and Axis naval targets on Crete and Benghazi, Libya through which Afrika Korps supplies were landed. The B-17s made a final raid against installations at Sousse, Tunisia before being taken out of front-line service with the arrival of newer B-24 and B-25 units from the United States.
- Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, AL: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) . Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (PDF) (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-405-12194-6. LCCN 70605402. OCLC 72556.
- Bowman, Styling (2003), B-17 Flying Fortress Units of the Pacific War, Osprey, ISBN 1-84176-481-7
- Hagedorn (1997), Alae Supra Canalem : Wings over the Canal: The Sixth Air Force and the Antilles Air Command, Turner, 1563111535
- Combat Chronology, US Army Air Forces Mediterranean – Jun–Dec 1942
- Project 19 – US repair base for British aircraft in Eritrea
- Lend-Lease and Project 19