This B-17G made it home to England with pilot Allyn Lewis still aboard. He had his crew bail out.. they all made it back to friendly lines. Source.
In World War II, the Giulio Douhet-inspired saying, “The bomber will always get through,” was on every set of lips in the command structure of the British and American bomber elements. What they didn’t say out loud was, “If you start off with enough bombers to saturate the defenses, and steel yourself to some staggering losses.”
Quite a few B-17s lost their noses (usually to flak, sometimes to fighters or bombs from another bomber overhead) and kept flying.
RAF Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force did indeed take some staggering losses. The 8th had it relatively easy compared to their British cousins — and there were more killed in the 8th than in the whole United States Marine Corps in World War II. Yeah, all those bloodbaths on all those islands? The 8th got creamed worse than that. But just about always, they got through, and bombed, if not the intended target, something belonging to Jerry.
But losing the tail meant losing control. The crew had seconds only to abandon ship. None of the ten men on this B-17 were able to, and they joined the 8ths long honor roll.
The Germans threw everything they had at the bomber offensive, although it took them a while to get serious about it. By “everything” we mean:
- single-engine and heavily-armed twin-engine day and night fighters, armed with a range of guns, cannons and rockets;
- the most saturated gun air defenses the world has ever seen, with guns from light machine cannon of 20mm up to big bruisers of 105 and 128 mm (or as the German nomenclature ran, 10,5 and 12,8 cm), fighters and guns alike; all controlled by,
- a radar and radio control network of a sophistication unequaled until the development of NORAD and SAGE in the 1950s; and finally,
- jet and rocket planes, and developmental air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles, too late to do the Germans any good but in plenty of time to give Russian and American aeronautical engineers (and even British aeronautical engineers, which were still a world-class thing in 1945) lots of good ideas for the next arms race.
For an 8,8 cm or 10,5 cm Flakanone, or a battery, battalion or great veritable screaming forest of the guns, destroying the plane was relatively assured — hitting it, that was the hard part. The fighter drivers had the opposite problem — they could hit Lancasters, B-24s or B-17s, but more often than not they’d blow all their ammo into (or at least in the direction of) their targets, and watch the stately bombers fly on to rain death and destruction on German industries and cities. A plane couldn’t carry a bomber-busting 88, or even a 75 (they tried, with a recoilless 75. It was more trouble than it was worth). So they decided to try to teach the fighter pilot to kill, not just hit, the enemy.
“If a Fortress begins to suffer, don’t yet dream of victory palms. Keep shooting! Many have come to regret celebrating too soon.”
The mechanism for this instruction: a mock-grade-school primer, like the ones we’ve already seen for German tanks. Horrido, the Fighter’s Shooting Primer, had a cover graced with a cartoon of a smiling German FW-190 jock zeroing in on a doomed Russian in a Lavochkin. The cartoonist signed “Trautloft,” which makes us wonder if it was Luftwaffe ace Johannes Trautloft. (The internal illustrations and cartoons were done by Berlin commercial artist Thomas Abeking, a second-generation first-call illustrator for German industry at the time). The Fibel, published 23 June 1944 as Dienstvorschrift (Luft) 5001, was a tactical guide, complete with a warning: “Do Not Bring on Combat Flights!” lest the tactics, techniques and procedures inside be captured by the enemy.
Sight picture drill, using a woman.. “get closer”… then in the last image, she’s homely: “Break away!”
Lower, a B17. Using the wingspan to estimate distance..600m “closer in!”.. 300m “open fire, still closer in”… 150m “keep shooting!”
Written in a familiar tone with lots of cartoons, the principal parts of the book were a general discussion of air combat ballistics and marksmanship; a specific overview of the fire control systems and switchology of the two most numerous day fighters, the Me109G-6 and the Fw190A-6; and hortatory, motivational content.
Instead of a lot of instruction in air combat maneuvering, this is all about how to get hits, and enough hits to justify risking your neck approaching a formation of day bombers. The biggest “secret,” something every fighter ace had stressed since Boelcke’s Dicta of 1916: get close, don’t miss.
Closer in is 9 times more effective. “At this distance, don’t shoot! Save ammo, it’s very expensive.” “And it’s also embarrasing when one gets there” (200m) “and would really like to, but can’t any more.” The pilot’s looking at an empty round-counter at right.
The problem with any manual, even one as informal as this, is that tactics constantly evolve in an environment of enemy contact. This had happened with fighter tactics with, for example, the frontal attack, not discussed in the booklet, proving devastating against the F-model and earlier B-17s, which could only bring two to three guns to bear forward. The advent of the G-model with its remote-controlled chin turret , and the B-24J equipped with a full, manned gun turret in the nose, raised the risk of the frontal attack. German fighters quickly adapted to the new risk profile, changing to a preferential use of multidirectional attacks.
Note also that the mini-manual is aimed only at the individual junior pilot. There is absolutely nothing here about organizing or leading fighter combat, or operational unit tactics, something to which squadron leaders and higher officers gave much thought and discussion. It’s beyond the scope of this small attempt to increase the efficiency of the air defense of the Reich.
“What good is all the bullet spraying, if they’re only hitting the general area?”
As the Schießfibel was not published into a vacuum, but into a constantly changing tactical and operational environment, the historian’s question, borrowed from Mark Rylance’s character Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies, “Did it help?” can’t be quantified, or even, really, answered. So we have to answer the question of its effectiveness with an unsatisfying, inconclusive shrug. We don’t know if it did any good. We know it didn’t win the war for Nazi Germany, but by the Summer of 1944 nothing would have done Nazi Germany any good, with the possible exception of overthrowing Hitler.
Here’s a .pdf version of the Fibel for your enjoyment. We are hosting it here to spare them the bandwidth, but we found it on this Czech war-history site.
Horrido Jagers Schiessfibel.pdf