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Hope Chronicles: Mellie Blake

Welcome to the final day of The Hope Chronicles.

The Hope Chronicles is a blog hop and journal between 5 historical romance authors. Our desire is to bring you lasting hope through these letters, grounded in the hope of our Lord that does not disappoint, and written from the fictional viewpoints of each book’s heroine. We’re so glad to have you join the event. Each day this week, a new Hope Chronicles post will go live, complete with a journal entry and a new giveaway for that blog post.

Today’s entry comes from Lt. Mellie Blake, US Army Nurse Corps, written on February 22, 1943 from Oran, Algeria, where she has just landed in order to serve as a flight nurse for wounded Allied soldiers in North Africa. Mellie is the heroine of my most recent novel, With Every Letter (Revell, September 2012), Book 1 in the Wings of the Nightingale series.

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin
Anna at work

 

Here is a copy of Mellie’s entry in the Hope Chronicles journal and the nightingale drawn in the journal by my talented daughter, Anna…

The Greater Hope: Mellie’s Letter

Dear Papa,

My heart sings with the joy of hope fulfilled, muted by the tension of hope deferred. Today I received a letter from the Red Cross stating you are alive but in a Japanese prison camp for civilians at Santo Tomas in the Philippines.

At last I can write you! However, the Japanese allow only a paltry twenty-four words in the body of the letter, so I’ll express the rest of my thoughts on these pages instead.

Over a year has passed since the Japanese invaded the Philippines, and even longer since you persuaded me to return stateside. If only I’d convinced you to join me, but I know my botanist father would never leave when his favorite flowers are in bloom.

Flight nurses in training at the School of Air Evacuation
Bowman Field, Kentucky

We’ve always been a pair, and I hate the thought of you alone. I wish I could relieve your worries. I am doing well. As we discussed, I joined the Army Nurse Corps. Recently I became a flight nurse, an exciting new profession that combines my call to nursing with my love of adventure. When you named me Philomela, meaning “nightingale,” did you know one day I’d truly bring mercy on wing?

While I wish they could have sent my squadron west to the Pacific, closer to you, we sailed east to the Mediterranean. The Americans and British landed in Morocco and Algeria in November and are now fighting the Germans in Tunisia. Yesterday we landed in Oran, Algeria. You would love the hibiscus and bougainvillea.

For the past year I’ve lived in dread for you, scarcely overcome by hope. With no word about your safety, I faced the possibility of a life alone. But God provided others to comfort and encourage me.

Two of the nurses in my squadron, Georgie and Rose, have become such dear friends. I also correspond anonymously with an Army engineer I’ve nicknamed Ernest. He and I have much in common, things we can share in the freedom of anonymity. He’s a good man, Papa, and you needn’t worry about broken hearts. Anonymity is too precious for each of us.

I don’t know what conditions you face in Santo Tomas, whether you’re getting enough food or how you’re treated. But I pray for you constantly.

I pray the Americans will invade the Philippines soon, and you’ll come home safe and healthy and whole. This hope may or may not be attained.

While the possibility of not seeing you again on this earth grieves me, I cling to the greater hope.

No matter what the Japanese do, no matter what disease and deprivation do, no matter what shells and bombs do, nothing can strip away this hope.

No matter what, you and I will be united in heaven forever with our beloved Savior! The joy I experienced today is nothing compared to the joy of that glorious day!

Jeremiah 17:7 says, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.” Oh, Papa, this is so true. Despite our hardship and separation, we are blessed when we trust in Him.

These are evil days, ruled by evil men, but “Thou art my hope in the day of evil” (Jeremiah 17:17).

The Lord is present in our separation, comfort in your suffering, and strength in my weakness. He is Father to me and the truest friend in loneliness. That is the hope no enemy can kill.

My dear Papa, while I rejoice in the news that you live, I rejoice more deeply knowing you share this strength-giving hope.

As I finish this letter—never to be mailed—but one day, I pray, to be shared in your presence—I sing one of your favorite hymns, “The Solid Rock.”

You cannot hear my voice, but the Lord will carry the message to your heart…

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way.
He then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand—
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

With all my love,
From your little nightingale,
Mellie

On Distant Shores – The Book Cover Is Here!

On Distant Shores by Sarah SundinI’m thrilled to reveal the book cover for On Distant Shores, the second book in the Wings of the Nightingale series! As always, the team at Revell did phenomenal work! On Distant Shores will be released August 2013 (not June as I originally announced), and is already available for pre-order at ChristianBook.com, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

The Wings of the Nightingale series follows three World War II flight nurses as they find friendship, love, and peril in the skies and on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Here’s the back cover copy for On Distant Shores:

“Lt. Georgiana Taylor has everything she could want. A comfortable boyfriend back home, a loving family, and a challenging job as a flight nurse. But in July 1943, Georgie’s cozy life gets decidedly more complicated when she meets pharmacist Sgt. John Hutchinson. Hutch resents the lack of respect he gets as a noncommissioned serviceman and hates how the war keeps him from his fiancée. While Georgie and Hutch share a love of the starry night skies over Sicily, their lives back home are falling apart. Can they weather the hurt and betrayal? Or will the pressures of war destroy the fragile connection they’ve made?

“With her signature attention to detail and her talent for bringing characters together, Sarah Sundin pens another exciting tale in her series featuring WWII flight nurses. Fans new and old will find in On Distant Shores the perfect combination of emotion, action, and romance.”

Vesuvius and Pompeii are important settings in the story, and the photo on the cover was taken by my husband on our vacation to Italy in July 2011!

So what do you think of the cover?

Lessons from the 1940s – Yes, I Can!

US poster promoting canning, 1943

US poster promoting canning, 1943

My plum tree overfloweth. Right now, two bags full of ripe plums are sitting on my kitchen counter, saying, “We want to jam!” 

Soon I’ll boil jars, pit and puree plums, measure sugar, and emotionally bond with my ancestors.

Something about canning appeals to me. I love my food processor, heavy-duty mixer, and modern stove. I love buying my meat already butchered and wrapped in clear plastic. I love my pantry and refrigerator bulging with food. But all of this distances me from reality.

Food comes at a price. Food takes work. Food is precious.

US poster promoting canning, 1944

US poster promoting canning, 1944

In the 1940s, everyone knew that. While most people didn’t have to do their own butchering, meat was rationed and scarce. Housewives had to come up with dishes that didn’t require meat or used whatever was available.

Everyone was encouraged to plant Victory Gardens to grow ration point-free produce for their families. Canning was a necessity to preserve these fruits and vegetables for year-round use. Each household was even allowed an extra ration of precious sugar just for canning use.

I make my own jam for many reasons. It uses up the fruit so it doesn’t go to waste. It saves me a bit of money. It makes the house smell divine. And homemade jam is yummy. But I also love the sense of continuity with the past, and the reminder that food is a gift from God to be cherished and never taken for granted.

How about you? Do you have any canning memories? Do you enjoy canning?

Girl Scouts in World War II

This week, the Girl Scouts celebrated their 100th birthday. Founded by Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Georgia on March 12, 1912, the Girl Scout organization promoted character building through outdoor activities, community service, arts and crafts, and homemaking skills.

When World War II started, the Girl Scouts were well poised to take a solid role on the Home Front.

Organization

In the 1940s, the Girl Scouts had three levels: Brownies (ages 7-9), Intermediates (ages 10-14), and Seniors (ages 14-18). Troops existed throughout the United States – and even flourished in the internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

UniformsGirl Scout catalog 1943

The official Girl Scout uniform of the 1940s consisted of a brown dress for Brownies, a medium green dress for Intermediates, and a darker green for Seniors. Mariner Scouts (Girl Scouts who specialized in boating and water skills) had a special blue uniform. Wartime restrictions on the use of metals led to replacing the zippers in the uniforms with buttons. Compare the catalog from 1942 above with the catalog from 1943 on the right. Badges were sewn on the sleeve, a challenging task.

 

What? No Cookies?

For those of us who live for Girl Scout cookie time, one wartime sacrifice seems especially painful. Rationing and shortages of sugar and butter meant a discontinuation of Girl Scout cookies for the duration. While they were sold in 1942 and 1943, they were unavailable in 1944 and 1945. In 1944, the Girl Scouts first sold calendars on a nation-wide level to fill the funding hole.

Wartime Activities

Girl Scouts were very active on the US Home Front. The girls sold war bonds, conducted scrap drives, and cultivated Victory Gardens. During the war, Girl Scouts collected 1.5 million items of clothing for war refugees. Many girls also worked as farm aides or operated bicycle courier services.

Girl Scouts War BondsIn 1942, the Girl Scouts started a hospital aide program for Senior girls. These high schoolers were trained to help in hospitals–feeding patients, performing clerical work, serving as messengers, preparing supplies and equipment, and making beds. No official uniform was provided, but many girls made smocks of green-and-white striped cloth, or wore white smocks over their Girl Scout uniforms.

Liberty Ship

To honor the Girl Scouts, a Liberty ship was named for the organization’s founder. The S.S. Juliette Low was launched on May 12, 1944 at the Southeastern Ship Yards in Savannah, Georgia, Juliette Gordon Low’s hometown. The ship was christened by Margaret Gordon, the first Girl Scout and Juliette Gordon Low’s niece.

Sources:

http://www.girlscouts.org (the official website of the Girl Scouts)
http://vintagegirlscout.com (a fun unofficial website with all sorts of pictures and memorabilia)

With Every Letter – The Book Cover Is Here!

With Every Letter by Sarah SundinI’m so excited to reveal the official book cover for With Every Letter, the first book in the Wings of the Nightingale series, coming in September 2012! Once again the cover team at Revell managed to capture the feel of the story! The book is now featured on my publisher’s website at Revell Books, and is available for pre-order on ChristianBook.comAmazon.com, and Barnes & Noble.

The Wings of the Nightingale series follows three World War II flight nurses as they find friendship, love, and peril in the skies and on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Here’s the back cover copy for With Every Letter:

Lt. Mellie Blake is a nurse serving in the 802nd Medical Squadron, Air Evacuation, Transport. As part of a morale building program, she reluctantly enters into an anonymous correspondence with Lt. Tom MacGilliver, an officer in the 908th Engineer Aviation Battalion in North Africa. As their letters crisscross the Atlantic, Tom and Mellie develop a unique friendship despite not knowing the other’s true identity. When both are transferred to Algeria, the two are poised to meet face to face for the first time. Will they overcome their fears and reveal who they are, or will their future be held hostage to their past? And can they learn to trust God and embrace the gift of love he offers them? Combining excellent research and attention to detail with a flair for romance, Sarah Sundin brings to life the perilous challenges of WWII aviation, nursing, and true love.

So what do you think of the cover? Bridges play an important role in the story, and the cover features an actual bridge at Termini Imerese on Sicily, where Tom and Mellie are based.

Make It Do – Metal Shortages During World War II

US poster encouraging conservation of metal for military purposes. Read more: "Make It Do--Metal Shortages in World War II" on Sarah Sundin's blog.

US poster encouraging conservation of metal for military purposes, WWII

Imagine going to the store and not finding batteries, thumbtacks, alarm clocks, or paper clips on the shelves.

During World War II, both metals and factories were needed for military purposes. Ships and planes and jeeps and guns and ration tins and helmets took precedence over civilian products. After the United States entered the war, factories quickly shifted from manufacturing civilian goods to military material. The last car rolled off the assembly line on February 10, 1942. And on April 2, 1942, the War Production Board ordered a reduction in the use of metals in packaging. This resulted in the rationing of canned foods (Make It Do – Rationing of Canned Goods in World War II).

Shortages

Many everyday items became hard to find – can openers, kitchen utensils, steel wool, batteries, bobby pins, hair curlers, razor blades, wristwatches, thumbtacks, paper clips, pins, needles, zippers, garden tools, and bed springs. People learned to take care of what they had – or make do without.

Appliances

Both large and small appliances were not manufactured during the war, so appliance stores shifted their business focus from sales to repairs. Often families or neighbors would share appliances. In July 1944, to encourage home canning but prevent botulism, 400,000 pressure cookers were released for sale, preferably for community use. In Antioch, California, the PTA purchased a pressure cooker to share within the community.

Toys

Many popular children’s toys couldn’t be manufactured during the war due to restrictions or shortages of rubber, tin, and steel. Manufacturers converted to wood or even cardboard.

US poster, WWII

US poster, WWII

Typewriters

Not only did typewriters contain metal, but they were vital to a paperwork-dependent military. In July 1942, a call went out to the public to turn in any late-model, nonessential typewriters to the military. Typewriters were rationed from March 1942 to April 22, 1944, requiring a certificate from the local ration board for a purchase.

Failures

Some shortages ended up as humorous failures. In July 1942, the government proclaimed a stop to the manufacture of beauty products – but a great uproar led to the repeal four months later. Sliced bread also briefly became unavailable. On January 18, 1943, the sale of sliced bread was banned in order to conserve the metal blades. This ban lasted only until March 8. Alarm clock production stopped July 1, 1942. However, employers all over the nation lobbied to resume production to reduce chronic absenteeism. In March 1943, alarm clocks were produced again.

Which of these shortages would have been most difficult for you?

Sheep in Chutes

Conducting research for historical fiction is usually interesting, sometimes dull, but occasionally yields an odd or funny story. I found this little story while reading The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume 1: Plans and Early Operations: September 1939 to August 1942 by Wesley F. Craven and James L. Cate (Washington DC: Office of Air Force History, 1948).

When the Italian army invaded Ethiopia in 1935, they faced a serious supply issue. The army was operating hundreds of miles inland from ports, with few good roads for transporting supplies by ground, and few good airfields for supply by cargo planes.

At the same time, the Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) had developed a fleet of bomber aircraft. Italy’s General Giulio Douhet had published the controversial book, Command of the Air, in 1921, which called for aggressive aerial bombing. His doctrine stated that prolonged bombing of a civilian population could break the will of the people so that they would convince their government to surrender, thus making ground armies completely obsolete.

However, the Regia Aeronautica found few targets in Ethiopia. Instead the bomber aircraft were used to drop supplies to ground troops, including food, water, and ammunition.

In an odd twist – one that would never happen today! – the Italian Air Force experimented with dropping live sheep and goats in parachutes. The animals then joined the march through the desert until they were needed for fresh meat.

Let the jokes begin…or let the protests begin…

Flying in a Fortress

B-17G Aluminum Overcast of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, 2 May 2011 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

B-17G Aluminum Overcast of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, 2 May 2011 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

On Monday, May 2, I had the privilege of flying in a B-17 Flying Fortress. The Experimental Aircraft Association visited Buchanan Field in Concord, California with their beautifully restored B-17G, Aluminum Overcast. I’ve enjoyed walking through this plane for years and always dreamed of taking a flight. This year one of my readers, who volunteers with EAA, arranged for me to participate in the media flight.

What an experience!

The video below includes footage on the ground, takeoff, my rollicking tour of the plane in flight, and the landing. I hope you enjoy! Here’s the direct link if the embedded video doesn’t work: Sarah’s B-17 Video

My flight included journalists from local newspapers and news blogs, two World War II B-17 veterans, and me. After we were briefed on safety, we were strapped into military-style jump seats. I was seated in the waist compartment, toward the rear of the plane.

They started the engines, which set the plane to bumping and rocking. After the pilot taxied into position, he ran up the engines. I couldn’t hear my own voice, so I’m stunned that the camcorder continued to pick up my narration. It didn’t take long to get us airborne, and as soon as the landing gear was raised, the volunteers gave us the thumbs-up to move around – while the plane was still climbing and banking. I didn’t waste any time getting up!

Sarah Sundin with B-17G Aluminum Overcast of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, 2 May 2011 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Sarah Sundin with B-17G Aluminum Overcast of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, 2 May 2011 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Moving around the plane was challenging and not for the fainthearted. At five foot six, I had a bit of room over my head, but not much. Climbing around the ball turret apparatus and through the doors requires some maneuvering, watching what you hold onto, and giving yourself plenty of clearance so a sudden dip or turn won’t make you bonk your head. I gained even more appreciation for our airmen moving through the plane wearing full high-altitude flight gear.

I made my way from the waist compartment through the radio room and bomb bay, and into the cockpit. This particular restoration does not include the apparatus for the top turret in the back of the cockpit, leaving more room for spectators. I spectated.

Then I stepped down into the passageway between the pilots’ seats and crawled – yes, on hands and knees – into the nose compartment. The clear conical nose allowed great visibility for World War II bombardiers – and now gives the same great visibility to aviation buffs. I turned around and enjoyed watching the engines and whirling propellers from the front. As I did so, Mount Diablo came into view. Oh my goodness. For once I had the presence of mind to take a still picture.

View of Mount Diablo from the nose compartment of B-17G Aluminum Overcast of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, 2 May 2011 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

View of Mount Diablo from the nose compartment of B-17G Aluminum Overcast of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, 2 May 2011 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Not wanting to hog the best seat in the house, I made my way back to the waist compartment. Only a few minutes later it was time to sit down for the descent and landing. That was one of the smoothest landings I’ve ever experienced. The WWII veteran pilot was extremely impressed and remarked that it was a crosswind landing, which is more difficult.

I am so thankful for groups like the EAA that make history come alive and commemorate the outstanding things our airmen did. The combat airmen flew long missions in unpressurized, unheated aircraft at over 25,000 feet, where the temperature often falls to forty degrees below zero. They endured antiaircraft fire and fighter attacks over enemy territory. They watched too many of their friends, promising young men, come to early deaths. One of the veterans on our flight admitted, “We were scared.” They didn’t consider themselves heroes, but they were. Despite their fear, they acted. And because of their actions, we live in freedom today.

To learn more about the B-17 Flying Fortress and the men who flew in them, please see my articles on the B-17 Flying Fortress and on the B-17 crew.

The B-17 Flying Fortress, Part 2 – Crew

 

B-17G Aluminum Overcast owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, 2 May 2011 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

B-17G Aluminum Overcast owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, 2 May 2011 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

 

Few World War II airplanes have captured the imagination like the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

Today I have the privilege in taking a flight in Aluminum Overcast, the restored B-17 owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association. This is the second of a three-part series on the legendary Flying Fortress – a starring side character in my novels.

Last week I talked about the plane (Part 1), today about the crew, and soon I’ll share photos and video from my flight.

Crew Loyalty

Both the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator were used by the United States Army Air Force as long-rage, high-altitude, four-engine heavy bombers. A friendly rivalry grew between crews of the “Fort” and the “Lib.” On paper, the B-24 seems to be the winner, with a higher speed, larger bomb load, and longer range. But fans of the B-17 not only liked its graceful lines and the ability to fly at higher altitudes, but its ruggedness. While the B-24 had a tendency to break up when ditching at sea, the B-17 was more likely to stay intact, and the survival rate from ditching was far higher in the B-17.

All-American, a B-17F almost severed in half by a collision over Tunisia. The pilot compensated for the lost and damaged controls and brought the plane home. Miraculously, even the tail gunner survived. (US Air Force photo)

All-American, a B-17F almost severed in half by a collision over Tunisia. The pilot compensated for the lost and damaged controls and brought the plane home. Miraculously, even the tail gunner survived. (US Air Force photo)

The Flying Fortress could take lots of damage and still get the crew home. The photo above shows the All-American, a B-17F almost severed in half by a collision over Tunisia. The pilot compensated for the lost and damaged controls and brought the plane home. Miraculously, even the tail gunner survived. Numerous stories like this brought fierce loyalty from B-17 crews.

B-17F of US 94th Bomb Group over Marienburg, Germany, 9 October 1943 (US National Archives)

B-17F of US 94th Bomb Group over Marienburg, Germany, 9 October 1943 (US National Archives)

Over time, the B-24 became favored in the Pacific for its range and bomb load, while the B-17 became the heavy bomber of choice in the European Theater.

The Crew in the Cockpit

 

Cutaway diagram of a B-17G Flying Fortress (Sarah Sundin)

Cutaway diagram of a B-17G Flying Fortress (Sarah Sundin)

This cutaway view of a B-17G shows the positions of the ten crew members.

The pilot and copilot sat at position #1 in the cockpit. Both started as lieutenants. The pilot also served as crew commander, in charge of discipline and morale. The copilot assisted the pilot in flying the plane and could take control if the pilot was disabled. During a mission, the copilot took responsibility for interphone communications with the rest of the crew.

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress cockpit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress cockpit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Just behind the pilots stood the flight engineer/top turret gunner (position #4). A technical sergeant, this man knew the plane’s operating systems extremely well and took responsibility for repairs in flight. In combat he operated the top turret gun.

Crew in the Nose Compartment

Close-up view of nose of Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, June 2013 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Close-up view of nose of Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, June 2013 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

The nose compartment was separated from the cockpit by a narrow crawlway. The navigator, a lieutenant, sat at a desk at position #3, where he carefully charted the plane’s position and course using dead reckoning, pilotage, radio aids, and even celestial navigation. Although B-17s flew in large formations, each plane had to be able to find its way to the target and home if separated from the group. In combat, the navigator was responsible for the left cheek gun (in the B-17F) and for both cheek guns in later models of the B-17F and in the B-17G.

The bombardier also served in the nose compartment (position #2). A lieutenant, the bombardier was responsible for loading the bombs on the ground, arming the bombs in flight, and most importantly, for accurately aiming and dropping the bombs. He operated the Norden bombsight, a complicated piece of machinery that took into account the plane’s speed, wind speed and direction, and drift to more precisely hit the target. Later in the war, fewer bombardiers were trained, and a “togglier” served in most planes. The togglier released the bomb on the signal of the lead aircraft in the formation but did not operate the Norden. The bombardier operated the right cheek gun in the B-17F, the nose gun in the later B-17F models, and the chin turret guns in the B-17G.

Crew in the Radio Compartment

Heading back from the cockpit, we walk through the bomb bay along a narrow aluminum catwalk. On either side, racks hold bombs on the way to the target.

Behind the bomb bay sits the radio compartment, home of the radio operator (position #5), a technical sergeant in charge of the multiple radio communication and navigation devices on board the plane. In some models, the radio room contained a machine gun, which fired out of the roof to the rear. However, vision was limited and most groups did without the extra weight of this gun.

Close-up view of Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine, showing (L to R) the waist guns (center) and ball turret (below), open bomb bay doors, top turret. Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, June 2013 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Close-up view of Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine, showing (L to R) the waist guns (center) and ball turret (below), open bomb bay doors, top turret. Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, June 2013 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

Gunners in the Waist, Belly, and Tail

Four staff sergeants manned the guns in the ball or belly turret (position #6), to the left and right in the waist compartment (position #7), and in the tail turret (position #8). In addition to constantly watching for enemy fighter planes, these gunners also monitored the positions and condition of other planes in the formation. The ball turret was a cramped location, so the smallest crew member usually took this station.

My youngest son manning the waist gun in the Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, June 2013 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

My youngest son manning the waist gun in the Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine, Buchanan Field, Concord, CA, June 2013 (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

If you ever have the opportunity to walk through a B-17 – or fly in one! – imagine ten men at their stations, all wearing heavy high-altitude flight gear, including parachutes, life vests, and flak vests. Then imagine them at -40 degrees with flak and fighters in all directions. You’ll gain a deep appreciation for what our veterans did for the sake of freedom.

The B-17 Flying Fortress, Part 1

 

B-17G Flying Fortress Shoo Shoo Baby of the 91st Bomb Group (USAF Museum)

B-17G Flying Fortress Shoo Shoo Baby of the 91st Bomb Group (USAF Museum)

Few World War II airplanes have captured the imagination like the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

Next Monday, May 2, I’ll have the privilege in taking a flight in Aluminum Overcast, the restored B-17 owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association. Over the next three weeks, I’ll run a three-part series on the legendary Flying Fortress – a starring side character in my novels. Today I’ll talk about the plane, next week about the crew, and the following week I’ll share photos and video from my flight.

Development

In 1935, the US Army called for a multi-engine, long-range, high-altitude heavy bomber. On July 17, 1935, Boeing introduced Model 299, which made its maiden flight on July 28, exceeding Army specifications. With plenty of machine guns, it was dubbed the “Flying Fortress” by a reporter. Although Model 299 crashed on an early flight, Boeing received a contract to develop the YB-17 in 1936.

Wreck of B-17C bomber at Hickam Field, Territory of Hawaii, 7 Dec 1941 (US National Archives)

Wreck of B-17C bomber at Hickam Field, Territory of Hawaii, 7 Dec 1941 (US National Archives)

Improvements were made with each successive model – the B-17B in October 1939, the B-17C in July 1940, and the B-17D in February 1941. The C and D models were involved in America’s entry into World War II – shot up on the ground in Hawaii and the Philippines and flying early bombing missions. Since a squadron of twelve B-17Ds was expected in Pearl Harbor early on December 7, 1941, when radar showed the approaching Japanese planes, the officer in charge dismissed the warning. Read the story here.

Combat Models

The B-17E rolled out in September 1941, the first model to sport the distinctive bell-shaped vertical stabilizer (tail fin). This model was used in the Eighth Air Force’s first combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe in late 1942. Further refinements led to the F model in August 1942. One of the most famous B-17Fs was the Memphis Belle, the first plane and crew to finish 25 missions in Europe.

Boeing B-17E in flight, 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-17E in flight, 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Since no one expected dangerous head-on fighter attacks, the F model had weaker .30 caliber guns in the nose rather than the .50 caliber guns used in the rest of the plane. In addition, the nose guns could not be trained to twelve o’clock. The Luftwaffe quickly discovered this deficiency and adopted head-on attacks with devastating results to the Eighth Air Force. Desperation and ingenuity led airmen to shatter holes in the nose of the plane and suspend a .50 caliber gun with racks and retractable cords. Later B-17Fs incorporated a factory-installed .50 caliber nose gun and eventually a chin turret with two .50 caliber guns.

B-17 Memphis Belle and her crew, May 1943 (USAF Photo)

B-17 Memphis Belle and her crew, May 1943 (USAF Photo)

The last and most common model, the B-17G, entered combat in September 1943, but further refinements were made throughout the war.

Specifications

With a wing span of 103 feet and a length of 74 feet, the B-17G cut a graceful figure. Powered by four Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines, it could carry a crew of ten and a bomb load of up to 8000 pounds (but less on long-distance missions). The B-17G had a top speed of 302 mph and a ceiling of 36,400 feet. Depending on the model and theater of operations, B-17s carried ten to thirteen machine guns.

The B-17 was the first plane to use turbo-superchargers, which boosted engine performance at high altitude. The plane also featured the Norden bombsight, a complicated piece of machinery that allowed the bombardier to compensate for airspeed, wind speed, and drift when bombing. Purported to drop a bomb in a pickle-barrel, the Norden never reached that accuracy in combat, but did allow successful high-altitude, daylight strategic bombing.