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No military aircraft of World War II wrought more havoc and destruction on an enemy than did the Boeing B-17 bomber -- the Flying Fortress. From December 10,1941, when B-17 pilot Colin Kelly earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism in combat in the Pacific theater, until the end of the war in 1945, the Flying Fortress was in almost continuous action.
The prototype of the B-17, the Boeing 299, was built in 1934 as part of the Army Air Corps Project, a heavy-bomber development program. And throughout World War II, the high-flying, heavily armed four engine B-17 was continually modified and improved.
The aircraft, which began long range daylight bombing raids over Germany in August of 1942, was constructed in numerous configurations, one of the most potent of which was the B-17G. It was powered by four Wright Cyclone engines of 1,200 horsepower each, giving the bomber a top speed in excess of 300 miles per hour. Armed with thirteen .50 caliber machine guns, heavily armored, and ruggedly constructed with exceptionally thick wings, the B-17G was a dangerous aircraft for enemy flyers to attack and a difficult one to bring down with antiaircraft fire.
The B-17 could take a tremendous amount of structural damage and keep flying, but it was not an invulnerable airplane, and the toll of B-17s--and their nine man crews--was extremely heavy in the fierce airwar over Europe. Approximately one-third of some 12,700 Fortresses built during World War II were lost in combat. In fact, on October 10, 1943, during a single raid on the city of Schweinfurt, deep inside Germany, no Fewer than 65 in an attacking force of 300 B-17s failed to return.
Still, flying at altitudes of up to 35,000 feet and being able to remain aloft for more than eight hours, the Flying Fortress was able to reach targets well inside Germany from its bases in England. From bases in North Africa, it could attack targets along the entire length of Italian peninsula.
During all of World War II, the B-17 dropped almost 650,000 tons of bombs on Europe. The devastating raids of the Flying Fortress helped end Hitler's dream of a 1,000-year Reich.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
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Updated: March 12, 2004