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B-17 "Flying Fortress" in the USSR

Boeing B-17G from the 99th Bomber Air Group is one of the aircraft that made the first shuttle raid with a landing in Ukraine on June 2, 1944.

In March 1936, the leadership of the Air Force, in a memo addressed to the People's Commissar Voroshilov, proposed to include the "4-engine Boeing" in the list of aircraft, samples of which they wanted to purchase from the United States. Air Force Chief of Staff Lavrov wrote: "This aircraft combines the data we urgently need - high speed and long range." The SUAI had already looked after the "Fortress" and a place for production - a new plant No. 124 in Kazan, and it was going to master a large complex machine only on the basis of a model, without a license, independently. On the other hand, in April of the same year, at a meeting at the UVVS, Ya.I. Alksnis offered to buy technical assistance in the USA for mastering the production of the "Boeing 4-engine bomber". Through the mediation of Amtorg, negotiations began with the company, which, however, were unsuccessful. In the summer of 1941, when, after the German attack on the USSR, the United States offered its military assistance, President Roosevelt, among other things, promised Stalin and heavy bombers. On August 1, the presidential administration discussed the supply of 10 heavy bombers per month by the Western allies. America was to provide five, England - five. In the project with which A. Harriman arrived in Moscow, it was recorded that the United States was going to deliver 27 such machines by June 1942. It was, undoubtedly, about the B-17, since the production of another similar aircraft, the B-24, was only being mastered at that time. Opinions about the value of the "Flying Fortresses" for the Red Army Air Force in our country differed. For example, the Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff sent a document to the government, which said: "The Boeing B-17 aircraft, in all its modifications, is an obsolete type of 4-engine bomber." The scouts called for in every possible way to achieve the supply of a newer B-24. On the other hand, the General Directorate of the Air Force informed the People's Commissar of the Aviation Industry Shakhurin: "The most suitable type of bomber is the American Boeing B-17 aircraft." The aviators' point of view seems to have won out. It was for the "Fortresses" that a group led by MM Gromov arrived in the States, delivered along the Northern Sea Route by flying boats to Alaska. Its members were to accept the first batch of five B-17s, quickly master the new technology (personnel were recruited from experienced testers who flew on many types of aircraft) and fly across the Atlantic to England. There they were going to load the cars with bombs and head for Germany. After bombing targets in the Reich, the Fortresses were to land near Moscow. But the Americans did not give us the B-17, offering instead the B-25, B-26 and A-29. General Arnold spoke out sharply against the transfer of heavy bombers to the Soviet Union, citing the shortage of them in the US aviation itself. Indeed, on August 1, 1941, there were only 40 B-17s and one B-24 in service. As a second argument, they put forward the presence of secret equipment on board the Fortresses, in particular, bomber sights. Gromov had to be content with a batch of B-25s, unsuitable for the grandiose raid planned. But we did not stop trying to get the B-17. At a meeting of the trilateral commission in Moscow on September 29, 1941, at which future Lend-Lease deliveries were discussed, Shakhurin asked General Chanei, representing the US Army Air Force: "Will it be possible to get Boeing-type aircraft?" Chanei replied, "They cannot be delivered yet." The question was closed for a long time. Another attempt to get these machines was made in 1944, when the Soviet side sent a request for the supply of aircraft under the IV protocol on military assistance. Ordered 240 V-17. And again they did not receive a single one.

In June 1944, B-17Gs became closely acquainted with us - American air bases were organized in Poltava, Mirgorod and Pyryatyn, providing the so-called "shuttle operations". The fact is that with an increase in the flight range, the bomb load of the B-17 (like any other bomber) dropped sharply. Instead of bombs, the car had to take more fuel. Therefore, targets in East Germany, Hungary, Poland were practically inaccessible for effective air raids. The Soviet Union had practically no heavy bombers. With this in mind, an agreement was reached on the use of bases on Soviet territory by the Americans. To receive B-17 airfields were reconstructed, equipped with collapsible metal runways, barracks and workshops were built. It was planned that the "Fortresses" of the 8th and 15th Air Armies would start from their bases in England and Italy, bomb them out and continue their way to Ukraine. There they will be refueled, new bombs will be suspended and sent back.

The Soviet side provided air defense of airfields, supply and partly maintenance of aircraft. For this purpose, the 169th special-purpose airbase was specially created under the command of Major General A.R. Perminova. The first "shuttle" raid was carried out on June 2, 1944. On that day, 128 B-17Gs and 64 escort fighters landed in the Ukraine. The Germans tried to interfere with the work of the bases. On June 22, they organized a massive night raid on Poltava, and the next night on Mirgorod. In Poltava, 44 Fortresses were destroyed and another 24 damaged. All vehicles found unsuitable for recovery were subsequently abandoned at airfields. "Shuttle operations" (the Americans coded them as Operation Frantic) continued until September 19, 1944. 1030 aircraft took part in them, including 529 Fortresses, which dropped 1995 tons of bombs on the Germans. By the beginning of autumn, Soviet troops had gone far ahead, and the use of bases in Ukraine became impractical.

The Red Army has already entered the territory of Eastern Europe. More and more often, English and American aircraft, including the B-17, who had made forced landings and abandoned by their crews, began to come across. Initially, work on the search and restoration of such machines was carried out independently, in separate parts or formations. For example, in Hungary and Austria, the 449th Bomber Regiment was initially engaged in the collection and restoration of American heavy bombers. The senior engineer of the regiment N.A. Kuzmin independently, without instructions, studied these machines. In a few days, he figured out the structure of motors, devices, units and systems, determined the procedure for their maintenance and operation. With a group of specialists, Kuzmin put in order several bombers. The vehicles were demonstrated to the commander of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, Marshal F.I. Tolbukhin and the commander of the 17th Air Army, General V.A. Sudts, with one B-17 in flight. On April 10, 1945, a directive appeared obliging all units and subunits to report such finds to the headquarters of the 18th Air Army (the successor of the ADD). Heavy bombers were badly needed by the Soviet aviation. The released Pe-8s were not enough to arm even one division, attempts to get such equipment from the allies failed. We decided to collect and restore the abandoned B-17 and B-24, and then to equip the regiments of the 45th long-range air division with them, then the only four-engine bomber formation in our country. On April 13, a B-17G bomber (No. 43-38902) made an emergency landing in Poland, north of Rzeszow, near the airfield of the 341st regiment. On April 22, after repairs, it was transferred to Poltava. It was the first "Fortress" to enter the 45th division. By mid-May, according to reports from places in various regions of Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, 73 B-17s of various modifications were identified. The office of the American military attaché in Moscow knew that ours were collecting abandoned equipment, but was instructed not to interfere. Interestingly, according to American estimates, the number of aircraft restored by the Soviet Air Force was more than half of what it actually was. One practically serviceable B-17G, which landed in Yasenki (Poland), was returned to the Americans. It was not possible to find four "Fortresses" in the indicated places. The rest had injuries of varying severity. The planes fought on landing, secret equipment was blown up according to the instructions of the crews, something was plundered by the local population and soldiers. Most of the B-17s were located on the territory of Poland, where units of the "Home Army" operated, which attacked Soviet troops. On May 29, 1945, in Demblin, they blew up a B-17, which was being restored by a group of specialists from the 45th division. Despite all the difficulties, by July 1, the 890th regiment was armed with nine Pe-8, 19 V-25 and 12 V-17. They were stationed at the Balbasovo airfield near Orsha. "Flying Fortresses" gradually replaced the worn-out Pe-8 and twin-engine B-25. By the beginning of October, the arrival of the four-engine bombers assembled in Europe had ended; in the ranks of the regiment were 16 serviceable B-17. All of them belonged to modification G. One aircraft of an earlier type, the B-17F, entered the LII NKAP, where it underwent short flight tests. American bombers were considered temporary equipment of the regiment until the development of production of modern domestic aircraft of this class. They carried out flights according to the plan of combat training of long-range bomber aviation - to maintain the uniform of the flight personnel. The Flying Fortresses enjoyed a good reputation among Soviet pilots. Compared to the domestic Pe-8, the American turbo-charged bomber had a higher speed and ceiling. The armament was much more powerful, the equipment was more perfect. The aircraft were equipped with all the most modern navigation aids, excellent bomb sights, and excellent radio equipment. Designed for hours of long-distance raids, the Fortresses provided their crews with a level of comfort unimaginable in Soviet vehicles. We noted the very good sealing of the aircraft - for our aircraft, cracks and drafts were then the norm. The B-17 was very easy to fly.

Hero of the Soviet Union S.S. Sugak later wrote: "The planes had excellent control, were sensitive to rudder deflection. They turned out to be easier to control than our Pe-8, which I had a chance to fly a lot." . For its simplicity in piloting, our pilots called the "Fortress" "four-engine U-2".

Of the shortcomings, the take-off and landing characteristics were somewhat worse compared to the Pe-8 (although the B-17 was easier to keep in a straight line when taking off with a heavy weight) and a more limited view from the pilot's cabin.

In 1946, the 890th regiment was transferred to Kazan. Several faulty "Fortresses" were abandoned in Balbasov. They stayed there until 1948. In Kazan, the planes were often examined by employees of the local aircraft plant, which was just beginning to master the production of the Tu-4, copied from the American B-29. The elements of the latter's equipment had much in common with those installed on the B-17. In the summer of 1947, the regiment began to receive the first Tu-4s. The B-17s were gradually sent to the parking lot, and then cut into scrap metal. In total, 21 B-17Gs passed through the 890th regiment. "Flying Fortresses" were used in our country not only in this combat regiment, but also in various research institutions. The number of civilian "Fortresses" gradually increased. If on October 1, 1947, there was only one such machine in the country, which belonged to the Ministry of the Aviation Industry (at the LII), then on January 1, 1949, there were already two of them. In the third quarter of the same year, by decision of the Council of Ministers, the military handed over to the MAP another B-17, which received the number I-1006. Five B-17s served at NII-17 as flying laboratories for testing radio equipment. In 1952, one of them tested the Sokol radar intended for the Yak-25 interceptor. One B-17 in 1948 was used at the Air Force Research Institute to test new parachutes, from which group high-altitude jumps were made. When the last Soviet "Fortress" was decommissioned remains unknown.

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October 31, 2019
Episode from Golovanov's memoirs:
“… In 1943, at the Central Airport, I had a chance to inspect an American Boeing-17 aircraft, the so-called“ flying fortress ”.
An American brigadier general showed it, and the necessary explanations were given through an interpreter by a healthy, red-cheeked, cheerful American pilot who involuntarily attracted to himself. After examining the plane, I got to know the entire crew and asked where he was flying. In response, I heard that the crew was flying to America. I was surprised and asked without much ado:
- Why don't such young and healthy guys want to fight anymore?
- And we have already fought, - the commander of the crew answered.
I was somewhat puzzled and asked:
- And what do you mean "won back"?
- Very simple, - was the answer. - We made twenty-five combat missions, participating in the raids on Nazi Germany. We flew in the afternoon. For each sortie, our aviation lost five percent of its aircraft and personnel. After twenty sorties, we should have been in the afterlife, but we were lucky. We have already made five more sorties "from the other world", and therefore our work is over, and we are flying home, having flown off our norm ...

Meanwhile, the Americans spent, as I was told, 600-700 flight hours to prepare for combat operations of such a crew.
This is how the war ended for these guys, the end of which had not yet been seen, including for the Americans. And then I involuntarily thought: how many times have Soviet pilots - Russians and Ukrainians, Georgians and Belarusians, Uzbeks and Kazakhs - visited "the next world" ... And, in particular, the crews of Long-Range Aviation, who made 100, 200, 300 more sorties in the deep rear, operational depth and the front line of the enemy's defense ... "

--- Source: A.E. Golovanov Long-range bomber ... - M .: OOO "Delta NB", 2004