America’s airborne military might in Europe during World War II was hammered home by thousands of four-engine B-17 “Flying Fortress” and B-24, four-engine “Liberator” heavy bombers that dropped thousands of tons of bombs on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” from 1943 until the end of the war two years later. By then, there was little left of most of Germany’s major cities except piles of bricks and rubble from bombing raids by Allied air forces.
Designed by Boeing in the 1930s, the B-17 became a mainstay in the Army Air Corps arsenal of daylight, precision. Strategic bombers used against the Nazis, coupled with the Norden Bombsight, that was suppose to provide pinpoint bombing of targets, the B-17 was a potent weapon.
The final version of the bomber, the B-17G Model, carried 13, .50 caliber machine-guns, thus the moniker: “Flying Fortress.” It could drop up to 8,000 pounds of bombs on enemy targets.
Flying out of 8th Air Force bases all over England and 15th Air Force bases around Foggia, in Southeastern Italy, the “Flying Fortress” was a weapon of mass destruction. During the war 17s put 580,631 metric tons of bombs on European targets.
Unlike the sleek, silver racehorse-like “Fortress,” the B-24 “Liberator” was a big, bulky, hard to fly, four-engine bomber that was painted olive drab or black and looked more like a work horse. Looks can be deceiving as “Liberator” crews like to tell their “Fortress” counterparts. The “Liberator” carried a larger bomb load, further and faster than its “Fortress” competition, which B-24 crews never let the B-17 crews forget.
As one B-24 pilot said, “I liked to pull up beside a flight of B-17 shift into second gear and leave them in the dust.”
The “Liberator” was initially built by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, Calif. Thanks to Henry Ford and his Willow Run auto plant, converted during the war to a B-24 factory, the “Liberator” became the most produced bomber during World War II. In the spring of 1941 the first B-24 rolled off the assembly line late at Willow Run. By 1945 Ford’s bomber plant was building 650 B-24s a month at the plant.
2nd Lt. Leonard Pogue of Port Charlotte was the bombardier on an 8th Air Force B-17 called: “Straighten Up and Fly Right” flying out of a base in England. His bomber was part of a mission comprised of 1,200 heavy bombers and 650 fighter planes sent to knock out German ball-bearing plants and synthetic oil refiners around Merseburg, Germany on Nov. 2, 1944.
Attacked by German 262 jet fighters his “Fortress” was badly shot up after the bomb run and went down in Belgium. Pogue and seven of the eight-man crew were rescued by the Dutch underground. He and his buddies spent the next six months behind enemy lines ducking German patrols and the Gestapo. Eventually members of his crew were reunited with the Canadian 1st Army in Holland and returned to the Americans.
*Pogue died November 16, 2010.
2nd Lt. Carl Citron of North Port was the pilot of a “Liberator,” part of the 8th Air Force flying from a base in Attenborough, England in the fall of 1944. He flew 33 combat missions, including several against the German submarine pens at Brest along the coast of France.
“The B-24 right next to us took a direct hit from a flak gun. It turned into a big, black puff of smoke as it disintegrated. My crew wet their pants when that happened, but we stayed in formation and dropped our bombs.
“At the end of the first month, we were down to 10 crews. Most of them died down at the end of the runway from mechanical failure or pilot error. We had a hell of a lot of planes over there that were old clunkers,” Citron said.
* Carl Citron died Sept. 1 at 89. His funeral was held at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23 at Farley Funeral Home, North Port.
2nd Lt. Martin Fetherolf of Punta Gorda Isles, Fla. was navigator aboard a B-17 bomber called “Sitting Bull” shot down over Schweinfurt, Germany. He spent more than 20 months in “Stalag Luft-3″ as a guest of the Furher.
The day their bomber was shot out of the sky scores of B-17s were headed for Nazi Germany. Enemy resistance from Messerschmitt-109s and Focke Wulf-190 fighter planes was deadly and flak from German anti-aircraft batteries was equally fierce.
“It soon became evident the Luftwaffe had been expecting us. There were German fighters attacking each group. Before the day was over we were to admit loss of 60 B-17s. The Germans lost approximately 275 fighters,” he wrote.
Their plane was hit first by flak from a German 88-anti-aircraft gun. It was finished off by fighters.
“I started combat in the summer of 1943 flying missions out of New Guinea in the Pacific,” the 84-year-old former Air Force sergeant Hager Blair recalled. “I transferred to four-engine B-24 ‘Liberators’ flying from Owi Island, part of the Schouten island group northeast of New Guinea.”
Of the 58 missions Blair flew during the Second World War, the one that made the biggest impression on him was the mission his squadron made on Oct. 10, 1944, to knock out the Japanese oil refinery at Balikpapan, Borneo.
“All at once our aircraft shuddered, and I was looking at the sky. I thought we had been shot down, but we hadn’t. What happened was our pilot nosed the plane down steeply to gain speed and get us away from the target area and the fighters. In a moment we were back over the water headed for home,” he said.
When they reached home base on Owi Island once more, the members of the 2nd Bombardment Squadron, 22nd Bombardment Group of the 20th Air Corps had made their longest mission of the war — 18.5 hours. Four of the 36 B-24s in their group had been shot down over the target.
Without thousands of B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers, the U.S. would have been hard-pressed to win World War II. These two work horses brought the Second World War to Germany and Japan in a big way.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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