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by Gene Eric Salecker
Da Capo Press 2001
Order now at amazon.com
|Fortress Against The Sun
The B-17 Flying Fortress in the Pacific
The famous Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress" is usually associated with "F" and "G" models, flowing by the 8th Air Force in Europe. Yet, the story of the B-17really began in the Pacific - where it flew for the first years of the war, before being phased out by the longer range and bomb load of the B-24 Liberator. Author Gene Salecker tells the story of Pacific Flying Fortresses in combat in "Fortress Against the Sun".
Pacific B-17's literally flew into WWII, as two flights arrived over Hawaii as the Japanese surprise attack was in progress. In the Philippines, America's B-17 force were caught on the ground at Clark Field. During the first dark months of the Pacific war, despite overwhelming odds by numerically superior Japanese, violent weather and overworked equipment. This book does a superb job of documenting some of the "forgotten" history of B-17's. The story of B-17's in the Philippines, and falling back to Australia, and flying out of Dutch bases in Java in early 1942. The later naval battles of Midway and Coral Sea are most famous for the role of Naval aircraft, but a handful of B-17's had an influential role in both battles. Immediately, crews acknowledge there was something special about this airplane and it immediately won the respect of its crew and pilots.
Early Model Fortresses D's, E's and later F's
The book follows the fascinating developments of the B-17, from the early model C and D Fortresses at the start of WWII, flying without spare parts and logging hours of flight an punishment. As the book progresses, it documents the different models of Fortresses to serve in the Pacific, including changes in armament and layout, in later model E and F bombers that had the characteristic armament, ball turret and tail positions. America's "Europe First" policy insured that only a handful of Fortresses were sent to the Pacific, and combat units retained older models flying combat missions out of necessity and lack of spare aircraft or parts.
For detail oriented readers, the author docments each fortress crew, serial number and nickname when mentioned. Each mission is summarized from start to finish, including results and medals awarded to crews. Each day of the war is laced into context of earlier and later actions, and together form the patchwork of Pacific B-17 actions that earned the plane fame with crews for its durability, while correcting the operational issue with this otherwise outstanding bomber. Accounts of combat are told from operational records, diaries and interviews with veterans, and the occasional recollection from Japanese side, including ace Saburo Sakai. Every page of the book also emphasis the important work of ground crews that keep the B-17 flying in the most harsh jungle and tropical conditions.
New Guinea, Solomons and the B-24
Throughout 1942 and late into 1943 fighting the Japanese in New Guinea flying form Port Moresby and Guadalcanal in the Solomons, with important roles against Buna / Gona, the battle of the Bismarck Sea and interdicting the "Tokyo Express" in the Solomons Slot. By the middle of 1943, the longer range, larger bomb load B-24 "Liberator" was replacing the B-17 in the Pacific. The remaining fortresses were dispersed between transport & troop carrier roles, private aircraft for the top generals, and others were flown back to the United States. Although no longer at the forefront of bombing missions, the legacy and love for the Flying Fortress was not forgotten by the crews who flew them.
Appendixes & Notes
The book has an extensive section of appendixes and notes. Included is a reference to all B-17 units in WWII, including Bomb Squadron, Bomb Groups and Air Forces. Also, a specific appendix of Pacific B-17's, listing serial numbers, nicknames and comments. Finally, extensive chapter footnotes, bibliography and index.
For anyone interested in the B-17's this is the book to read. With an emphases on the missions, pilots, crews, and in the cockpit accounts of combat. For readers of every interest level, there is something in this book for everyone, including documenting the largely forgotten history of the early operations of B-17's in the darkest months of WWII.
Interview with author Gene Eric Salecker
Review by Justin Taylan
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