The Flying Fortress

The Flying Fortress is one of the most famous airplanes ever built. The B-17 prototype first flew on Jul. 28, 1935.

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The first B-17s saw combat in 1941, when the British Royal Air Force took delivery of several B-17s for high-altitude missions. As World War II intensified, the bombers needed additional armament and armor.

The B-17E, the first mass-produced model of the Flying Fortress, carried nine machine guns and a 4,000-pound bomb load. It was several tons heavier than the prototypes and bristled with armament. It was the first Boeing airplane with the distinctive — and enormous — tail for improved control and stability during high-altitude bombing. Each version was more heavily armed.

B-17 Vs H6K Mavis

As we have already explained, in the Pacific, the B-17s earned a deadly reputation with the Japanese, who dubbed them “four-engine fighters,” a claim confirmed by Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Lt. Hitsuji, Kōkūtai (851 Air Group), who was commanding a Kawanishi H6K ‘Mavis’ flying boat in Nov. 21, 1942 when his aircraft was attacked by B-17E 41-2433 Miss Fit.

As reported by Edward M. Young in his book Kawanishi H6K ‘Mavis’ and H8K ‘Emily’ Units, Hitsuji recalled the combat in his book Saigo No Hikotei (The Last Flying Boat) excerpted below;

‘“Okay we’re ready”, someone said. At an altitude of 30 metres and a speed of 150 knots, we headed towards squally skies in the direction of our base. The enemy didn’t start its attack immediately. It flew alongside us and passed us. I figured that it was avoiding our tail cannon. It would probably be making a frontal attack. The shoot-out was about to begin.

‘“Here it comes?” someone shouted, and at the same time, the enemy’s front guns and all four of our starboard machine guns started firing. As we passed each other, I could see the enemy’s tail gun firing, but the tracers were way behind us. No hits on either side. We didn’t change our course and headed toward the squall. The faster enemy caught up quickly and crisscrossed our path, attacking as it passed us.

Imperial Japanese Navy H6K Mavis pilot recalls when a B-17 bomber attacked and nearly shot down his Flying Boat
Kawanishi H6K in flight.

‘We were at very low altitude, and the sea behind us whitened with machine gun fire. As the shooting went on, this started moving closer and closer. I could not hear anything other than the roar of the machine guns and the engine noise.

93 holes

‘I couldn’t keep my eyes off the enemy for a moment. The enemy made its fourth pass, and as it crossed our path, a 0.50-cal shell flew into the cockpit.

‘On their sixth pass, the moment I saw their tail gun fire, there was an enormous banging noise up front. Gunner PO1 Takahashi pointed to the floor beneath the pilot’s seat and I noted a big hole about 30 cm in size in the keel of our bow. I could see the waves through the hole. “If worse comes to worst we’ll ram him, okay?” I patted the shoulder of the main pilot, Ens Kobayashi, with my pistol. He nodded lightly. “Okay, we’re ready then”. “Not yet!” I yelled, thinking that he was about to ram the B-17, but I soon realised that our co-pilot, PO1 Kira, had evaded a collision with the enemy who had come in from the side. The enemy passed about 30 metres behind us. The tail gunner poured an entire drum of 20 mm cannon shells into the B-17.’

After this final pass, the Flying Fortress broke off the combat, briefly flying alongside the ‘Mavis’ before disappearing into a rain squall. Hitsuji and his crew flew their badly damaged flying boat back to their Shortland Islands base. Here, it was discovered that the H6K had been holed some 93 times.

Kawanishi H6K ‘Mavis’ and H8K ‘Emily’ Units is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

B-17G print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-17G Flying Fortress – 42-31076, LG-V “Chief Sly’s Son” 91st BG, 322nd BS – 1944

Photo credit: Jack Fellows illustration via Weapons and Warfare