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  B-17F-10-BO "Old Baldy" Serial Number 41-24455  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
63rd BS

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43rd BG c1943

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Norman Brown March 1943

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43rd BG October 1943

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors Number 3140. On July 7, 1942 delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress serial number 41-24455. Ferried by pilot Lt. James G. DeWolf via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.

Wartime History
On August 14, 1942 assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG), 63rd Bombardment Squadron (63rd BS) and the same day flown to Torrens Creek Airfield. Assigned to pilot Major James G. DeWolf. Nicknamed "Old Baldy" in capital letters on the left side of the nose with the nose art of a bald eagle in flight inside a circle with stars on the right side of the nose below the forward window.

A black line was painted below the cockpit canopy window extending rearward with an arrow tip extending below the top turret. Both sides of the nose had larger square windows with the edge painted black that replaced the original rectangular windows. The left side of the nose had an enlarged square window replacing the center window with a socket for a machine gun. The right side of the nose had a large square window replacing the forward window with a socket for a machine gun.

Both sides of the nose had a scoreboard below the cockpit canopy with 66 bomb markings indicating missions flown (36 top row, 30 lower row) and silhouettes of claims including three aircraft, three ships, two searchlights and a gun. Above the bomb markings were medals earned to the crew: two Purple Hearts, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals).

On February 25, 1943 at 1:30am took off piloted by piloted by 1st Lt. James C. Dieffenderfer armed with eight 500 pound bombs as one of five B-17s on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Inbound to the target, weather was poor and hit pockets of rough air that caused a bomb to come loose from one of the two lugs in the bomb rack. Attempting to jettison the bomb, they opened the bomb bay but the bomb did not fall out and was steadied until they left the storm. Meanwhile, an engine ran rough and the propeller was feathered and two bombs were jettisoned to reduce weight. Over the target, they were unable to spot any ships in Simpson Harbor and instead bombed Vunakanau Airfield with unobserved results.

On March 2, 1943 during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea took off Mile Drome piloted by 1st Lt. James C. Dieffenderfer with co-pilot 1st Lt. Jack L. Campbell as part of the second element of five B-17s attacked the Japanese convoy, but they were alerted by previous attacks. After completing their bomb run from 5,000' intercepted by A6M Zeros and went into a steep dive to evade their attacks and reached 280 mph before pulling out at roughly 1,000' over the sea. During the dive, the tail stabilizer fabric was torn and returning the pilots only had minimal flight controls. Afterward the left stabilizer control surfaces had to be replaced.

On March 26, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome piloted by 1st Lt. James C. Dieffenderfer on a night bombing mission against enemy shipping in Wewak Harbor. Over the target, nothing was sighted and harbor installations were bombed instead.

On May 7, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome piloted by 1st Lt. James C. Dieffenderfer on a bombing mission against Finschafen then returned to land with a malfunctioning top turret.

On July 23, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome piloted by Captain Van Trigh armed by 500 pound bombs as one of seven B-17s from the 63rd BS from a formation of 25 43rd BG bombers on a mission against Bogadjim but returned early due to mechanical issues.

On August 2, 1943 at 1:00am took off from 7-Mile Drome piloted by Captain Herbert O. Derr on a bombing mission against Hansa Bay but five minutes after getting airborne aborted the mission due to a gyro compass failure and returned to base bit due to heavy fog was forced to circle out to sea and salvo their bomb load at sea and circle for seven hours until conditions improved.

On August 28, 1943 took off from 7-Mile Drome armed with 500 pound bombs flying as part of the second element on a bombing mission against Lae and bombed Voco Point and bombed the target area hitting two barges and caused a fire ashore causing heavy smoke.

On October 8, 1943 took off piloted by Captain Jack L. Campbell as one of five B-17s on a reconnaissance mission over Wewak, Rabaul and the Bismarck Sea. Over Garove Island, hit in the fuselage by a burst of gun fire that injured radio operator TSgt Louis J. Calitri in the chest and head. Returning, the bomber diverted to land at Dobodura Airfield where he was hospitalized.

This B-17 flew combat missions until late October 1943 when the squadron converted to B-24 Liberators and was one of the last B-17s in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).

On October 26, 1943 took off from 7 Mile Drome piloted by Major James G. DeWolf and flown to Eagle Farm Airfield near Brisbane and waited for two days for orders to fly back to the United States. Afterwards, flown across the Pacific and were temporarily delayed at Canton Airfield by land gear brake drum failure and had to wait for replacement part from Oahu and TSgt Paul L. Barbus came down with dengue fever and was hospitalized. Once repaired the B-17 finished the last leg to Hickam Field then back to the United States.

During November 1943, returned to the United States and used for training at Biggs Field, Texas. During September 1944 salvaged and likely scrapped sometime afterwards.

Relatives
Jake DeWolf (grandson of James G. DeWolf):
"I'm the grandson of James G. DeWolf pilot of Old Baldy my family and I have photos and records of Old Baldy."

References
USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24455
"24455 (5th BG, 63rd BS, "Old Baldy") returned to USA late 1943"
Pride of Seattle (1998) pages 6-7
Diary of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group
"26 March 1943 –  Departed Jackson at 0130. Target: shipping Wewak Harbor. Bomb load; 4 ships with 8 X 500# inst demo, 3 with 4X 100# inst demo.
554 Murphy didn't take off on account of engine trouble. Nothing was sighted by the remaining crews.
358, Denault, 537 O'Brien, 574 Derr dropped their bombs on harbor installations.
455 Diffenderfer, 543 Staley, 417 Trigg dropped theirs on the town and runway.
543 Staley landed at Dobodura on the way back because of lack of gas. Search party consisting of Lt Murphy and Capt Thompson's crew were organized and were about to take off when 543 landed. Squadron on readiness at 1500."
Ken's Men Against The Empire The Illustrated History of the 43rd Bombardment Group During World War II Volume I: Prewar to October 1943 The B-17 Era (2015) pages 55 (August 14, 1942), 56 (photo), 132 (February 25, 1943), 135 (photo damage March 2, 1943), 178 (May 7, 1943), 213 (photo color), 248 (July 23, 1943), 251 (August 2, 1943), 266 (August 28, 1943), 284 (October 8, 1943), 285 (photo), 306 (photos), 308 (October 1943), 324 (63rd BS, 41-24455), 337, 339 (photo nose right bald eagle nose art), 346 (photo nose left), 390 (index Dieffenderfer), 399 (index)
Thanks to Steve Birdsall for additional information

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Last Updated
August 27, 2022

 

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