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Blog topic: The B-17 in Combat

March 13, 2015

B-17 damaged in head-on attack

B-17 damaged during mid-air collision during frontal attack from a German fighter. The bombardier of the B17 was killed, but miraculously, the aircraft made it back to the base. Obviously the German fighter misjudged his timing. U.S. Air Force photo.

The German fighters would fly head on toward the B-17 at high speed, then slow down just a little as they got into range. As soon as they fired at the B-17, the German fighter would speed up over or under the bomber at the last instant to avoid a head on crash.

The addition of the front end turret to the B-17 mitigated some of the German advantage of the frontal attack. The tactic was dangerous for the German fighter pilots, however it was used since it focused on a relatively weak point in B-17 defense. So the addition of the turret on the front end of the B-17G was a major improvement, adding twin machine guns that were motorized. The gunner could use a controller to maneuver the power assisted guns to fend off the forward attacks.

The main German fighters used in the frontal attacks were the BF 109 (Me 109),1 and then the Focke Wulf 190. The third fighter that the B-17s encountered was the twin engine BF 110 fighter, and it tended to stand off at a distance and attack B-17 formations with either bombs or rockets.

German Messerschmitt Me 262A jet fighter

German Messerschmitt Me 262A jet fighter. U.S. Air Force photo.

In the very late stages of the war, late 1944, early 1945, the B-17s were also subject to attack by German jet fighters and rocket fighters. The Messerschmitt 262 was a twin engine jet fighter that could attack from any angle and was was almost 100 miles per hour faster than any American or British fighter. The Messerschmitt 163 Comet was a rocket propelled fighter that had only a few minutes of flight time because of its limited fuel supply. In a very short time, it would literally rocket up from ground level to the 25-30,000 feet altitude of the allied bombers. The Comet would make its attack and glide back down earth in a matter of minutes.

There were other German jets, but the ME 262 was the most advanced German jet fighter that had a reasonable number of planes operable (over 1300 were built), clearly not enough to make a difference in the outcome of the war, but certainly more than just the few of the other experimental German aircraft.


1 The name of the aircraft was later changed to Messerschmitt (Me) 109 because it was felt to be a more prestigious name. The original BF was named after Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Aircraft Works) and Messerschmitt was a world recognized aircraft designer.


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