Friday, January 18, 2008

B-17 vs. B-24

B-24 Liberator bombers skim the landscape as they attack the oilfields at Ploesti, Romania, one of the greatest aerial attacks of WWII.

A B-17 Flying Fortress banks, showing its classic lines.

My good friend Dan Culler, a former B-24 flight engineer, wrote me today and wondered why the B-24 always seems to get the short end of the stick when compared to the B-17. Dan wrote:

"Seeing how you and others are wrapped up in B-17 Flying Fortress WWII history, it makes me wonder how the B-24 Liberator groups are ignored from the air war in Europe, it as if we never were there. This even though more B-24s flew then B-17. When the B-24s flew the low level Ploesti raid, one of the most daring and costly raids in WWII, it was said if one B-17 was on that raid it would have been headlines Flying Fortresses hit Ploesti...I remember after the war and even today when people ask where I flew and when I say 'Europe', their first remark, Oh you flew the Flying Fortress? When I say B-24 or Liberators, they remark they never heard of it. Jimmy Stewart commanded a B-24 Squadron, shortly after I was shot down."

I emailed Dan back that I'd tried very hard not to stiff the B-24, which is every bit as good a plane as Dan says it is, in my book. While the B-17 may have been more durable, the B-24 was faster, carried a heavier bomb load, and was used in larger numbers. One of the keystone chapters of my book Untold Valor is about Dan, a B-24 man. In any case, I threw the question to one who knows more on the subject that myself, former B-17 bombardier Maurice Rockett, also a good friend and someone I trust as a straight-shooter. My own take on the B-17 vs. B-24 controversy is that the B-17 simply got more ink. It flew out of London, a city bursting at the seams with war correspondents, while the B-24 flew many missions out of North Africa and Italy, not a favorite for war correspondents. It was the media baby, the sexy plane, and the B-24 never got the same attention. Maurice basically agreed that it was a matter of ink, of publicity.


I know many men who flew on B-17s, and also many who flew on B-24s. I find it interesting and telling that B-17 men all consider the Fort to be a great plane, and the 24 men--to a man--swear by the 24. Suffice it to say that both were simply outstanding bombers and that the 24 is one of the unsung heroes of the war.
So here is a tip of the hat to the B-24 Liberator Bomber.
So please, readers, comment! What do you think?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I flew as a radio operator in both types of planes, and everyone in our crew considered the B-17 better in most categories: namely: stability, climbing, strength, ease of control.

bdfisk3 said...

My father was a B-24 navigator with the 44th b.g., based at Shipdham. He flew 30 combat missions over Europe, plus anti-submarine patrols pre-deployment and one trans-atlantic flight in the B-24. Having been through basic pilot training, he was allowed to take the controls occasionally during the anti-submarine patrols.
He says that the B-24 was harder to fly than the B-17; possibly because the B-17, equipped with a control column that pivoted at the floor, had better leverage on the control cables than the B-24's system of pushing/pulling the telescoping steering wheel into/out of the 'dashboard'(control panel).
He also says that some of the control problems cleared up when someone cut the single huge tailfin off of a B-17 and grafted it onto a B-24. Air currents around the tail were changed and control became easier. Consolidated standardized this setup on the last production models, and it was called the 'Privateer' rather than the 'Liberator'. I believe that this model was mostly issued as a Navy long-range patrol bomber.

The long, thin 'Davis Wing' that made the B-24 faster and longer-ranged than the B-17 would not support the plane as well if engines were out, and aircrews were justifiably more likely to jump ship if multiple engines were lost. Also, when ditching in the water, the B-17 with its relatively solid bomb-bay doors would take to the water like a duck and hold together until the crew was able to exit and deploy the rafts; statistically, out of a crew of 10, 9 would successfully exit a 'splashed' B-17. The B-24, however, with its 'softer' roll-up bomb bay doors (picture an old roll-top desk) would crush the doors when hitting the water; the plane would scoop water so violently that it would be torn in half, the 2 halves (especially the rear half) instantly filling with water and going down. The statistics for a B-24 were 2 survivors out of 10 in a water landing.

My father clearly remembers that the 'G' model with the front turret, was much draftier and far colder than the 'D' model with its solid nose.

One thing I noticed when I got the opportunity to compare a B-24 and a B-17 side-by-side: The B-24's bomb bay is about twice as large as a B-17's. The -17 has a big radio room, or living room, or lounge, or something in the middle of the plane, while Consolidated chose to fill that area with bombs.

My father's pilot, Howard Hinshaw of Liberty, North Carolina, LOVED the B-24, and flew them at any and every opportunity. He would always volunteer to take a repaired bird up for a flight test, or to 'slow-time' ('wear-in') a new engine. He had such a deft hand on the controls that when returning from a mission, he would be among the last to land because he still had ample fuel reserves, even (especially?) when other pilots were dropping white 'Low on Fuel' flares to claim priority when landing. Hinshaw successfully landed their plane twice after sustaining severe battle damage; the second time he did so with the nose turret shot OFF of the plane, with scrap metal waving in the slipstream, both engines on the port wing 'out', and the rudder pedals shot out from under his feet. My father was especially grateful for Hinshaw's superhuman efforts and skill, because my father's parachute had been blown off of his chest and was trailing throughout and behind the plane in ribbons...

bdfisk3 said...

My father was a B-24 navigator with the 44th b.g., based at Shipdham. He flew 30 combat missions over Europe, plus anti-submarine patrols pre-deployment and one trans-atlantic flight in the B-24. Having been through basic pilot training, he was allowed to take the controls occasionally during the anti-submarine patrols.
He says that the B-24 was harder to fly than the B-17; possibly because the B-17, equipped with a control column that pivoted at the floor, had better leverage on the control cables than the B-24's system of pushing/pulling the telescoping steering wheel into/out of the 'dashboard'(control panel).
He also says that some of the control problems cleared up when someone cut the single huge tailfin off of a B-17 and grafted it onto a B-24. Air currents around the tail were changed and control became easier. Consolidated standardized this setup on the last production models, and it was called the 'Privateer' rather than the 'Liberator'. I believe that this model was mostly issued as a Navy long-range patrol bomber.

The long, thin 'Davis Wing' that made the B-24 faster and longer-ranged than the B-17 would not support the plane as well if engines were out, and aircrews were justifiably more likely to jump ship if multiple engines were lost. Also, when ditching in the water, the B-17 with its relatively solid bomb-bay doors would take to the water like a duck and hold together until the crew was able to exit and deploy the rafts; statistically, out of a crew of 10, 9 would successfully exit a 'splashed' B-17. The B-24, however, with its 'softer' roll-up bomb bay doors (picture an old roll-top desk) would crush the doors when hitting the water; the plane would scoop water so violently that it would be torn in half, the 2 halves (especially the rear half) instantly filling with water and going down. The statistics for a B-24 were 2 survivors out of 10 in a water landing.

My father clearly remembers that the 'G' model with the front turret, was much draftier and far colder than the 'D' model with its solid nose.

One thing I noticed when I got the opportunity to compare a B-24 and a B-17 side-by-side: The B-24's bomb bay is about twice as large as a B-17's. The -17 has a big radio room, or living room, or lounge, or something in the middle of the plane, while Consolidated chose to fill that area with bombs.

My father's pilot, Howard Hinshaw of Liberty, North Carolina, LOVED the B-24, and flew them at any and every opportunity. He would always volunteer to take a repaired bird up for a flight test, or to 'slow-time' ('wear-in') a new engine. He had such a deft hand on the controls that when returning from a mission, he would be among the last to land because he still had ample fuel reserves, even (especially?) when other pilots were dropping white 'Low on Fuel' flares to claim priority when landing. Hinshaw successfully landed their plane twice after sustaining severe battle damage; the second time he did so with the nose turret shot OFF of the plane, with scrap metal waving in the slipstream, both engines on the port wing 'out', and the rudder pedals shot out from under his feet. My father was especially grateful for Hinshaw's superhuman efforts and skill, because my father's parachute had been blown off of his chest and was trailing throughout and behind the plane in ribbons...

bdfisk3 said...

My father was a B-24 navigator with the 44th b.g., based at Shipdham. He flew 30 combat missions over Europe, plus anti-submarine patrols pre-deployment and one trans-atlantic flight in the B-24. Having been through basic pilot training, he was allowed to take the controls occasionally during the anti-submarine patrols.
He says that the B-24 was harder to fly than the B-17; possibly because the B-17, equipped with a control column that pivoted at the floor, had better leverage on the control cables than the B-24's system of pushing/pulling the telescoping steering wheel into/out of the 'dashboard'(control panel).
He also says that some of the control problems cleared up when someone cut the single huge tailfin off of a B-17 and grafted it onto a B-24. Air currents around the tail were changed and control became easier. Consolidated standardized this setup on the last production models, and it was called the 'Privateer' rather than the 'Liberator'. I believe that this model was mostly issued as a Navy long-range patrol bomber.

The long, thin 'Davis Wing' that made the B-24 faster and longer-ranged than the B-17 would not support the plane as well if engines were out, and aircrews were justifiably more likely to jump ship if multiple engines were lost. Also, when ditching in the water, the B-17 with its relatively solid bomb-bay doors would take to the water like a duck and hold together until the crew was able to exit and deploy the rafts; statistically, out of a crew of 10, 9 would successfully exit a 'splashed' B-17. The B-24, however, with its 'softer' roll-up bomb bay doors (picture an old roll-top desk) would crush the doors when hitting the water; the plane would scoop water so violently that it would be torn in half, the 2 halves (especially the rear half) instantly filling with water and going down. The statistics for a B-24 were 2 survivors out of 10 in a water landing.

My father clearly remembers that the 'G' model with the front turret, was much draftier and far colder than the 'D' model with its solid nose.

One thing I noticed when I got the opportunity to compare a B-24 and a B-17 side-by-side: The B-24's bomb bay is about twice as large as a B-17's. The -17 has a big radio room, or living room, or lounge, or something in the middle of the plane, while Consolidated chose to fill that area with bombs.

My father's pilot, Howard Hinshaw of Liberty, North Carolina, LOVED the B-24, and flew them at any and every opportunity. He would always volunteer to take a repaired bird up for a flight test, or to 'slow-time' ('wear-in') a new engine. He had such a deft hand on the controls that when returning from a mission, he would be among the last to land because he still had ample fuel reserves, even (especially?) when other pilots were dropping white 'Low on Fuel' flares to claim priority when landing. Hinshaw successfully landed their plane twice after sustaining severe battle damage; the second time he did so with the nose turret shot OFF of the plane, with scrap metal waving in the slipstream, both engines on the port wing 'out', and the rudder pedals shot out from under his feet. My father was especially grateful for Hinshaw's superhuman efforts and skill, because my father's parachute had been blown off of his chest and was trailing throughout and behind the plane in ribbons...

r morris said...

Excellent comments, anonymous and bdfisk. Thank you.

Jack said...

My father was a flight engineer in the B-24 and flew in them from flight training in June 1944, until he arrived in ETO Nov 1944. He returned home to Savannah,GA in July 1945.

Here were his comments about the B-24. The B-24 was flown way over its designed gross weight. The wing on the B-24D was the same wing on the B-24M, and Command continued to overload them with fuel, people, guns, bullets and bombs. Since the Davis wing had higher performance with respect to drag, it caused it to have a more narrow flight envelope.

Any one that thinks that the B-24 wasn't as tough as the B-17 should examine the statistics of the war. In statistical terms there was no significant difference between the two.

(I have complete set of the original manuals issued to each B-24 by Consolidated. In the general maintenance manual the four hoist points on the wing of the B-24 are OUTBOARD of #1 and #4 engines). That wing had incredible strength.

My father said there really were no words to describe flying through flak in 1945. As the Germans were pressed back by the Russians, the Germans had the strongest flak batteries of the war in the end of the war. He said his preference for the B-24 could be summed up like this: "You are flying at 200 mph at 24,000' being shot at by guns whose range was to 35,000'. My preference for the B-24 stemmed from the fact that it flew at least 20 MPH faster than the B-17 in theater. Would you rather be shot at in a slower plane or in a faster plane? Would you rather spend more time being shot at or less?. If you look at either plane and the fact that there was effectively no armor for flak, both are covered by paper thin aluminum, full of aviation gas, oxygen bottles and tons of TNT until you drop the bombs, I was glad the B-24 got me out of there as quickly as possible."

I interviewed my father's co-pilot after dad passed away and his view of flying the B-24 was that properly loaded it was a steady and solid aircraft in every condition except ditching at sea as previously mentioned.

Both veterans felt strongly with the previously stated comment that the Press glorified the B-17 because they were all in England.

My only other comment is that the B-17G was the first B-17 model to get a nose turret and the B-24J was the first to get the nose turret.