The AAF at Midway: B-17 fantasies /or nightmares?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by oldcrowcv63, May 12, 2014.

  1. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #1 oldcrowcv63, May 12, 2014
    Last edited: May 12, 2014
    Found a wonderful summary of policies, OoBs and performance of the US Army Air Force at Midway portrayed from a USN perspective:

    Army Air Forces in WWII: Volume I -- Plans and Early Operations, January 1939 to August 1942

    I expect some of you may know this page backwards and forwards but on the outside chance it hasn't been seen before at least by some residents here are some excerpts:

    "...despite all the reinforcements which had come out to the islands in December following the Japanese attack, the Seventh Air Force, as it was designated on 5 February, was not yet an offensive air force--it would not acquire this status until November 1943. For the present, it would remain a holding force which by January could report the presence of 43 heavy bombers, 24 light and medium bombers, and 203 pursuit planes. These would have to suffice. in the ensuing four months, no more planes were to be sent to Hawaii…"

    "...by 1 May was to include 32 heavy bombers on hand with 17 more en route, 9 light bombers, and a total of 182 fighter aircraft, although only 87 of the latter were regarded as of modern types. On 18 May, the entire Seventh Air Force was placed on special alert in anticipation of the enemy threat, for an air raid on Hawaii or an attack upon Midway was expected any time after 24 May.84 In response to the urgent appeals from the theater, the War Department notified General Emmons that two additional heavy bombardment squadrons of eight B-17E's each, including air combat crews, would be organized from the 301st and 303d heavy groups in the Second Air Force. The estimated date of departure from the West Coast was 30- May, with completion of movement scheduled for 2 June."

    Most interesting from the standpoint of post-June 4 AAF operational capability:

    "In the ten-day period following the establishment of the alert (on May 24) , the old B-18's flew their search missions, carrying on the work of the newer B-17's which now were held on the ground, loaded with 500- and 600-lb. demolition bombs, in anticipation of their employment as a striking force. on the 18th, General Emmons had on hand for his 5th and 11th Bombardment groups a total of only 34 B-17's, 7 of which were older "C" and "D" models and were regarded as being insufficiently armed for combat. however, through the period of the alert, the VII Bomber Command received a steady influx of B-17's, with the result that by the last day of May it had in commission 44 out of 56 available B-17's, 14 of 16 B-18's, 4 of 6 B-26's, and 5 of 7 A-20's. For local defense, VII Fighter Command had in commission 101 P-40's out of 134 in the area, 17 P-39's of 22, and 22 obsolete P-36's of 28. Actually, fresh planes were coming out more rapidly than existing squadrons could absorb them; no less than 60 B-17's arrived in the period from 18 May to 10 June. These bombers, arriving from the mainland in the morning, were taken immediately to the shops of the Hawaiian Air Depot, where their extra fuel tanks used on the flight out from the West Coast were removed, auxiliary tanks were installed in the radio compartment, and equipment and armament were checked. Within 24 hours these new planes were turned over to the tactical units, but time was running out; there would be no opportunity to train all the crews in the operation of their new weapons. For example, the heavy increase made it necessary to convert the 72d Bombardment Squadron from a B-18 unit to a B-17 squadron, a process which began on 4 May, but the 72d was not fully equipped until approximately two days prior to commitment to actual combat. obviously it could not be trained adequately."

    While nominally inadequately trained, these units might have learned their trade quickly under the conditions that might have pertained in the event of a perceived USN defeat at Midway.

    Should be grist for an interesting thread as an addendum to the current one discussing the Midway battle's significance ....
     
  2. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    More:

    "it is pertinent to examine the conditions and handicaps under which AAF planes had operated. never were more than fourteen B-17's over a group of targets at any one time, and even these failed to attack the same vessel simultaneously, thus further decreasing the existing slight probability of hits. Furthermore, most of the attacks were carried out by small flights of four planes or less per target, a number far too small to meet the requirements set by standard AAF doctrine.* Thus, the number of aircraft available fell far below the minimum demanded in order to achieve a profitable pattern for attaining hits upon even one carrier maneuvering at high speed, causing air commanders to feel that severe criticism of the B-17 performance was not altogether justified, for Midway was not a test of the bomber. They noted that the AAF had played no part in planning the defense of Midway, nor had it retained operational control of the few planes actually sent up to the island outpost; they noted, too, that critiques of the battle had indicated a tendency to rush the attacks upon the carriers at long ranges without adequate planning for co-ordination, with the results that the torpedo squadrons had suffered disastrous losses. Even General Hale had no advance knowledge of the composition of the enemy surface forces his bombers would face.

    One of the most serious handicaps was the lack of adequate servicing facilities or personnel on Midway, where the combat crews not only flew long, exhausting, daily missions, but to a large extent were forced to do their own servicing and maintenance. Destruction of the powerhouse on Eastern Island by enemy bombing on 4 June further complicated this situation, completely disrupting the only available refueling system, thereby making it necessary for the tired crews to spend long hours servicing their planes from cans and drums, although in this task they were aided by marine ground troops on the island. A further factor was the rapid exhaustion of the crews of the combat planes in long 1,800-miles reconnaissance missions prior to combat; General Hale had protested in vain against the practice of sending out his B-17's against unknown targets, but he was overruled despite the fact that prior to the search mission of 1 June, his crews had not enjoyed seven hours' sleep in two days.
    "

    "* It is of interest to note that immediately prior to the Battle of Midway, Maj. Gen. Robert C. Richardson reported from Hawaii that a force of no less than 90 to 100 heavy bombers would be necessary to assure the probability of 7 per cent hits on an enemy force of five carriers. He based this figure on earlier bombing experience which indicated that even from the relatively low altitudes of 12,000 to 14,000 feet, at least eighteen to twenty planes would be required to insure 7 per cent hits on a single maneuvering surface craft, (Report from Maj. Gen. Robert C. Richardson to Chief of Staff, 1 June 1942.)"

    "But the AAF B-17 had proved itself superior to the PBY in fulfilling the vital requirement of continuous tracking. Both types could search the sea; yet once the contact was made, it was the B-17 rather than the PBY which could stand up to strong enemy air opposition and cling to the contact. Hence Admiral King placed a bid for sufficient number of B-17's and B-24's for naval use in long-range search and tracking."
     
  3. Donivanp

    Donivanp Well-Known Member

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    The B-17 use in the Pacific was minimal at best, The B-24/LB-30's were the early winners of the heavy bomber role as they had a longer range and a heaver bomb load. Though the B-17 was used in the PI and at Midway among other places it was as a recon platform it may have been best. With the extreme ranges between islands and the fact that Heavy bombers were nearly useless at bombing ships, they did have the range (though Cat and Libs could even out do that) to look for incoming task forces. In the Solomon's and south west pacific they had some good effect but once again the Libs took over as the 19th transitioned to the Lb-30/B-24. At Midway they did attempt some bombing of the Japanese fleet but were little more then a waste of bombs. Just saying.
     
  4. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #4 oldcrowcv63, May 12, 2014
    Last edited: May 12, 2014
    Considering that between December 7, 1941 and June 4, 1942, B-17s were introduced into combat in the PI and Java , NG and at Coral Sea in numbers rarely if ever exceeding half a dozen, we really don't know if we have a good idea of how formations of 20 or more heavies would do against anchored targets during an invasion. The only analog I can think of is the attempted IJN reinforcement of Guadalcanal by the Tokyo express. I have no idea whether large numbers of B-17s were employed against those efforts. I don't know of any other instances of B-17s being employed against an enemy amphibious landing. Anyone?

    (love your strangelove, ooops, I mean Dr. Merkwurdichliebe, references)


    View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so8NQficzZg
     
  5. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Love peter Sellers' work
     
  6. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    I HAD to watch the clip of Slim riding the bomb.
    Funny thing is, everyone was speaking German :shock:
     
  7. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    You aren't the only one Pars! I've read that Sellers work was so disruptive on the set, the director had to actually change the script so the other actors could actually perform without interrupting the filming with spontaneous laughter when he performed.
     
  8. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    LB-30s were far and few.

    "Six of seven YB-24s built and 20 B-24As were transferred to Great Britain for use beginning in March 1941. These planes were redesignated LB30 and given standard British serial numbers. LB was short for Liberator British. The U.S. Army adopted the Liberator nickname for its B-24s.

    The British received more than 500 Liberators for uses ranging from long endurance coastal patrols to long range transports (C-87). LB30s were delivered in upgraded models throughout World War II.


    Type Number built/
    converted Remarks
    LB30A 6 YB-24 to Britain (S/N AM258 to AM263)
    Liberator Mk. I (LB30B) 20 B-24A to Britain (S/N AM910 to AM929)
    Liberator Mk. II 165 Improved LB30
    Liberator Mk. III 156 B-24D
    Liberator Mk. IV to IX ? Numbers delivered varies by src."


    http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=2476

    This is what Wiki has to say about B-17s in the PTO. Although it's service wasn't stellar, it did a lot more than a "recon platform." :rolleyes:

    "B-17s were used in early battles of the Pacific with little success, notably the Battle of Coral Sea[105] and Battle of Midway.[106] While there, the Fifth Air Force B-17s were tasked with disrupting the Japanese sea lanes. Air Corps doctrine dictated bombing runs from high altitude, but it was soon discovered that only one percent of their bombs hit targets. However, B-17s were operating at heights too great for most A6M Zero fighters to reach, and the B-17's heavy gun armament was more than a match for lightly protected Japanese aircraft.

    On 2 March 1943, six B-17s of the 64th Squadron attacked a major Japanese troop convoy from 10,000 ft (3 km) during the early stages of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, off New Guinea, using skip bombing to sink three merchant ships including the Kyokusei Maru. A B-17 was shot down by a New Britain-based A6M Zero, whose pilot then machine-gunned some of the B-17 crew members as they descended in parachutes and attacked others in the water after they landed.[107] Later, 13 B-17s bombed the convoy from medium altitude, causing the ships to disperse and prolonging the journey. The convoy was subsequently all but destroyed by a combination of low level strafing runs by Royal Australian Air Force Beaufighters, and skip bombing by USAAF North American B-25 Mitchells at 100 ft (30 m), while B-17s claimed five hits from higher altitudes.[108]

    A peak of 168 B-17 bombers were in the Pacific theater in September 1942, with all groups converting to other types by mid-1943. In mid-1942, Gen. Arnold decided that the B-17 was inadequate for the kind of operations required in the Pacific and made plans to replace all of the B-17s in the theater with B-24s as soon as they became available. Although the conversion was not complete until mid-1943, B-17 combat operations in the Pacific theater came to an end after a little over a year.[109] Surviving aircraft were reassigned to the 54th Troop Carrier Wing's special airdrop section, and were used to drop supplies to ground forces operating in close contact with the enemy. Special airdrop B-17s supported Australian commandos operating near the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul, which had been the primary B-17 target in 1942 and early 1943.[110]"
     
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  9. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks J, that info is helpful to round out the picture of the 17's early PTO service.
     
  10. Donivanp

    Donivanp Well-Known Member

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    Wrote an essay on this movie for my collage history exam. I told every one I had four copies would they like to borrow one. Back to the B-17's though good point from Oldcrowcv63 that the number were just not there to prove or disprove the concept. But the B-24 were not very successful in doing the same at Truk or Rabaul though not landing craft. Hell the B-17's could not hit stationary none moving targets in Europe with much of a degree of accuracy. Robin Olds tells a story in his book "Fighter Pilot" about him having to fly a recon sortie in his P-51. He was supposed to fly out ahead of the bomb group and do a low level pass of the target before bombs drop. Then make a second pass during bomb drop and then a third after for bomb assessment. Needles to say he did not like this mission, once shame on you twice shame on me and third just dumb a55. He made the first run no one seems to have noticed and could not man guns fast enough. He made the second and the bombs were falling over a mile away from the target so he did not make the last. We were lucky to get 5 bombs out of 5000 with in 500 feet of the target. and that is not on something that can move.
     
  11. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    #11 gjs238, May 12, 2014
    Last edited: May 12, 2014
  12. Garyt

    Garyt Member

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    the RAF had some degree of success against the Tirpitz - and the Japanese some success at Pearl, though these were light bombers. And not much AA fire of note at Pearl.

    But as far as hitting any ship that is underway, I have seen about 0% chance of success, other than perhaps one hit on a very crippled Hiei circling at 5 knots with jammed steering gear.
     
  13. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    Even a blind squirrel is likely to find an occasional acorn? :rolleyes: The operative principle here is that the more blind squirrels the more chance of an acorn. :lol:
     
  14. BobR

    BobR Member

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    Absolutely!

    I have to read this carefully, thanks.
     
  15. Garyt

    Garyt Member

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    Well, if you have enough monkey pounding on a typewriter, one of them will eventually write a legible sentence. May take a few million of them though :D

    Interesting though, I looked at how many sorties were flown against the Tirpitz. Did not count Dive bombers or fighters or torpedo planes, only medium/heavy level bombers.

    It appears about 350 or so sorties were flown by these type of craft, resulting in 6 hits or damaging near misses and 13 planes lost (I think these were lost primarily to AA, but do not know how much "port" AA there was and how much was ship AA). Theses were mostly Halifaxes and Lancasters.

    That's about a 1.7% hit rate per sortie, per bomb of course would be lower. Many of these were very large bombs. And the Tirpitz was a rather large by naval terms and totally stationary target.
     
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  16. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Great information about the hit rate on the tirpitz. Compares very badly to a dedicated naval strike aircraft. Attacks by D3as in early 1942 against the Cornwall and Dorsetshire achieved the very exceptional accuracy rate of about 85%.

    Against the Illustrious, in January 1941, the Germans achieved 6 hits from 40 sorties, but only 24 actually dropped. 6/40 is 15%, 6/24 is 25%. IJN hits on the US carriers at Coral sea were about 30%, I forget what the hit rate at pearl was. Against the Italian Fleet in 1940, the FAA achieved (at night) a hit rate of 84.6%. swordfish dont miss if they can get to the target. Postwar with our A4s, dropping unguided iron bombs, the RAN could achieve hits of a standard target of just under 90%.

    1.7% is pretty terrible, but Tirpitz was anything but an easy target to hit. Surounded by flak, flanked by steep fjiords on twe side, protected by heavy amounts of torpedo netting, there was nothing like it in the Pacific.
     
  17. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    And smoke screens, which on numerous occasions during bombing raids made visibility very diffcult. I remember reading one account of Operation tungsten, the FAA's attacks on the ship using carrier aircraft, that the pilots couldn't see the ship, but saw bright flashes as it fired its main armament upward. That would be enough to unnerve anyone, knowing that a 15" shell could come hurtling past at any time.
     
  18. Garyt

    Garyt Member

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    Sounds to me about like an inferior version of the Japanese sankaidan shells, though these were not overly effective either.

    ANd the Flak I'll give you Parsifal, but the torpedo netting would do little vs. level bombing.
     
  19. Donivanp

    Donivanp Well-Known Member

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    The Tirpiz was not a hit on the ship, it was a near miss with a 22000 lb grand slam bomb. Mind you in this case it worked, but ti was very speliclzed crew in a specialized bomber, not just any heavy bomber crew on any heavy bomber. Let's keep that in mind.
     
  20. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    #20 nuuumannn, May 13, 2014
    Last edited: May 13, 2014
    It was actually hit by Tallboys. According to Bomber Command plots made from photographs taken during Operation Catechism, there were two that struck the ship, although their locations in the BC plots were slightly different to the actual locations. One port side amidships directly alongside the conning tower and the other port side alongside C Turret. See the illustration in the link below. One of these was dropped by Willie Tait, 617's sqn ldr, but the other is a little harder to verify. At least four bombs fell within a few 100 metres of the ship. One source I read states that there were three direct hits.

    Tirpitz - The History - Operation "Catechism"
     
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