As a crewman in the ETO, would you rather serve in a B-24 or a B-17?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by michaelmaltby, Jun 8, 2011.

  1. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    More than anything, the B-24 Liberator reflects the sheer productivity of American industry in WW2. By the end, Ford was rolling one an hour off the Willow Run line.

    Most-built American heavy bomber of WW2. More modern than the B-17.

    Yet when I see photos of B-24's collapsing under fire it makes me sick. When I see photos of wrecked B-17's limping home to England missing tail pieces and wing sections it makes me very respectful of Boeing engineering, :).

    I want to love the Lib. My uncle Arthur flew Lib's all over the world in Ferry Command out of Dorval, Quebec, after 1941. But they were pigs to fly in formation - their fuel efficient Davis Wing and slab-sided design being no friend of struggling box-formation flying pilots. And when they failed, they folded up like a cheap suit.

    More modern than the B-17, yes; more manufacturable (perhaps), but was the B-24 really the right design for the ETO daylight campaigns?

    MM
     
  2. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    #2 Lighthunmust, Jun 8, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2011
    I like to have the best chance of personal survival.

    The people buying the B-24s were concerned about performance more than crew survival. The commitment to the B-24 occurred before reports of battlefield damage comparisons with the B-17 accumulated. From a performance standpoint, both flight and bomb load, the B-24 was a better Bomber. Some missions would never have occurred, and been hindered without the B-24. Without the Liberator there would have been no Tidal Wave, and patrols over the Atlantic and Pacific would be seriously hindered. The Fortress was easier to fly and more rugged, both of which increased aircrew survival.

    I have flown as a passenger in the CAF B-17 Sentimental Journey and the Collins Foundation B-24 Witchcraft. During the flights I was in every crew position other than the pilot seats, ball turret, and tail-gunner position in the B-17. Even though it was peace time with good preventative maintenance, with no bombs or heavy fuel load, the stories of fuel leaks in B-24s resulting in explosions did cross my mind once or twice. I felt much more secure in the B-17. Perhaps it was due to a life long indoctrination of how tough and reliable the B-17 was, but I think the layout of the aircraft also influenced the feeling. I am 5’11” 220lb and was amazed I fit into the tail and nose turrets of the B-24. Most of the crewman in WWII were considerably smaller in stature, but I guess with the flight suits they wore they were about the same in girth. In the turrets you are just hanging out there at the end of the plane with a fabulous view. These positions were the closest thing to the freedom of skydiving I have ever felt in an aircraft. If you’ve never done a free fall skydive, do it!

    It could be argued that the Liberator had a better gun defense than the Fortress due to the tail turrets, and nose turrets in later versions. A deceased family friend was a B-24 tail-gunner. He was about 5’7” tall. He flew some Ploesti missions. I have a piece of flak he picked up. It is about 1.5 inches long by 1” wide, and viciously jagged. You do not handle it carelessly. Flak not fighters was the real bomber destroyer. Now you know why I would want to be in an easy to fly and rugged B-17.
     
  3. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    The only factor which matters for heavy bomber crew as statistical odds for survival were rather low.
     
  4. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    I should coca...

    Bomber Command crews also suffered an extremely high casualty rate: 55,573 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4% death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war. This covered all Bomber Command operations including tactical support for ground operations and mining of sea lanes.[clarification needed. A Bomber Command crew member had a worse chance of survival than an infantry officer in World War I. By comparison, the US Eighth Air Force, which flew daylight raids over Europe, had 350,000 aircrew during the war, and suffered 26,000 killed and 23,000 POWs. Of the RAF Bomber Command personnel killed during the war, 72% were British, 18% were Canadian, 7% were Australian and 3% were New Zealanders.

    Taking an example of 100 airmen:
    55 killed on operations or died as result of wounds
    three injured (in varying levels of severity) on operations or active service
    12 taken prisoner of war (some injured)
    two shot down and evaded capture
    27 survived a tour of operations
    In total 364,514 operational sorties were flown, 1,030,500 tons of bombs were dropped and 8,325 aircraft lost in action.

    You would be better off in the infantry !
    Cheers
    John
     
  5. Greyman

    Greyman Active Member

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    I would think your position in each aircraft would matter more than the type of aircraft:

    8th AF casualty survey (110 killed, 1007 wounded)

    Bombardier - 196 (17.6 %)
    Waist Gunner * - 233 (20.9 %)
    Tail Gunner - 140 (12.5 %)
    Navigator - 136 (12.2 %)
    Radio Operator - 95 (8.5 %)
    Top Gunner - 94 (8.4 %)
    Pilot - 83 (7.4 %)
    Co Pilot - 74 (6.6 %)
    Ball Gunner - 6 (5.9 %)

    * Keep in mind there's two gunners, so it skews the number a bit.
     
  6. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    Humbling stats GM.
    I have read somewhere that after a certain number of tours there was no mathematical chance of survival for bomber crews.
    Cheers
    John
     
  7. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    If only Ford (USA) was rolling Merlins off the line like that! They had the info they needed from their Merlin production by Ford of Britain.
     
  8. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    This quote from Gekho's Commonwealth AF thread on the Liberator, this morning: ".... To those who flew the "Lib" she was an absolutely reliable aircraft - mild mannered, if somewhat ponderous; stable to the point of being unmanoeuverable; reliable; dry in wet weather; quiet on the flight deck and unbearably noisy aft; a long, gymnastic trek from nose to tail turret while in flight; reliable; and much maligned by Lancaster crews who insisted on behaving like fighter types when in the presence of a lady."

    For long over-water patrols, I guess that would be hard to complain about. :)

    MM
     
  9. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    The Liberator was also Churchill's personal choice of transport.
    That says a lot
    Cheers
    John
     
  10. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    I am not sure that the B24 might not have gotten a bad rap undeservedly as far as survivability goes. As far as serving in one or the other, the B24 generally flew missions at lower altitudes than the B17 so it was a little more comfortable for the crew but the B24 would be more likely to be hit by AA fire at lower altitudes. I talked once to a B24 pilot and he said that they could lose altitude more quickly after unloading bombs in order to confuse AA gunners than the B17.
     
  11. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    I recall reading that the B-24 required more physical effort from the pilots than a B-17 did to maintain formation.

    I recall reading that the B-24's "Davis" wing was much more vulnerable to catastrophic damage than the B-17's wing.

    I recall reading about B-24s flying with their bomb-bay doors slightly open to prevent the accumulation of fuel fumes from causing a catastrophic explosion.

    I recall reading that bailing out of a B-24 was more difficult than a B-17 because of its layout.

    Anyone else recall reading about these B-24 characteristics?
     
  12. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    A good read:

    Amazon.com: The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45 (9780743203395): Stephen E. Ambrose: Books

    This is Steven Ambrose's book on Presidential hopeful George McGovern's wartime experiences flying B-24's out of Italy. It's been years since I read it and, as a Canadian I have no particular political biases for or aginst McGovern, but I recall that flying the B-24 was very much a muscle job, with box formation flying, and heavily loaded take-offs being white-knuckle affairs.

    But, as Readie notes, the Lib was Churchill's choice for VIP transport -- that, I suspect, based on range capabilities and roominess. In solo long distance cruising the B-24 was probably quite serene.

    MM
     
  13. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    Even with additional efforts for comfort, I doubt it was a serene experience unless you were asleep. It is a testament to the strength of the man that a man of Churchill's age and habits endured long distance flights in such a loud and uncomfortable aircraft. I am sure he would have preferred the comfort of a Boeing 314. I suspect availability, range and speed were the primary factors in the choice of aircraft for his travels.
     
  14. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    B24.NET - WWII B-24 Aircraft Photos
    WW2 USAAF Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber - Moore Aircraft warbird aviation photograph pictures

    The RAF used Liberators till 1968! That is one long lived aircraft.

    Cheers
    John
     
  15. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    ".... The RAF used Liberators till 1968", not quite sure that's a fact, R :). The Indian Airforce, for sure. I believe that's where the Canadian air museum got its Lib from.

    MM
     
  16. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    I read it in the second link...The RAF still used Liberators until December 1968 when they were sold to the Indian Air Force.

    I have found this... When India gained independence in 1947, 37 Liberators were resurrected and gave service until their retirement in 1968. It is from the Indian Air Force that the majority of the remaining B-24s owe their existence.

    The answer...Consolidated B24L-20-FO Liberator airplane pictures aircraft photos - RAF Museums

    It was the Indians ex RAF Liberators that were retired in 1968 !!

    Never a dull moment eh
    Cheers
    John
     
  17. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    Did you find that Liberating?
     
  18. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    :lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::lol::


    Us former colonists always confounding the Brits!:p
     
  19. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    :

    That'll be me:D

    You beat me to that pun too:D

    Cheers
    John
     
  20. Jabberwocky

    Jabberwocky Active Member

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    Then you'd choose a B-24.

    Statistically, the B-24 had a slightly lower loss rate than the B-17 over Europe. Part of this is related to the fact that the B-17s flew the majority of missions in 1943, when loss rates were higher.

    A B-24 was more likely to be lost if it was hit, and less able to survive damage, but it flew slightly faster and slightly higher than the B-17, so was less likely to be damaged overall.
     
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