The evolution of the B-17.

Aviation Buffs, please be gentle.

If I remember correctly, there was the top turret, the ball turret, two waist gunners and a tail gunner. The enemy figured out pretty quickly that there was a blind spot directly to the front because there were ‘Stops’ or some limits so we couldn’t shoot our own propellers off.

So, we put a .50 cal right in the nose to fill that void.

Then they figured out that it was fairly safe to attack in the gap between where the nose gun could traverse and the part protected by the propeller disks.

So, we added two more machine guns in the chin to cover that gap.

Is that even close to accurate, historically?

B-17 B, C and D didn’t have tail gunners. Saburo Sakai shot down Capt. Collin Kelly’s B-17 over Clark Field in December 1941 and it didn’t have a tail turret, so Kelly had to fishtail a lot to give the side gunners a clear shot to the rear. Only on the E was one added. The E also first featured the Sperry turret, at head and belly. The YB40 was the first to have the Bendix chin turret. Only with the B-17G did these features become standard, and a bomber’s armaments by not totaled 13.

Of interest perhaps is the tale of Old 666

It was a reconnaissance mission over Bougainville on June 1943, in preparation for a major amphibious operation. It was practically a suicide mission as there can be no fighter escort, and the recon plane was sure to encounter enemy zeros. Only volunteers were called out. So the crew set about reinforcing and arming the B-17 E for the mission. They gave each door gunner not one but two .50 cal each. All .30 cal MG’s were replaced with .50 cal, and a single .50 was mounted on the nose, along the pilot’s line of sight. I don’t know where they mounted the others but the bomber had a total of 19 operating .50 cal guns and several more were stowed on board as reserves. It was the most heavily armed bomber to see combat. The forward-firing .50 cal also made it the biggest fighter plane of the war.

They were constantly making improvements to the B-17. How many guns were in the nose of the pre G models was sort of fluid. There were two crewmen in the nose, some had a .50 cal for each crewman. There were, let’s call them “ports” for at least 2, one on each side.

The windows for the waist gunners were at first opposite each other. But they learned in combat that the gunners kept smacking into each other as they swung their guns around. Later models saw those windows being staggered to keep the gunners away from each other.

The first B-17s to see combat in Europe were flown by the RAF. The USAAF and Boeing got some complaints that the bomb bay doors wouldn’t open. Big fuss about that at Boeing, and ultimately Boeing sent some engineers to England to figure out what the problem was. By the time they showed up, the RAF had discovered the problem. There weren’t any relief tubes in those early models, so crewmembers would go to the bomb bay and urinate on the bomb bay doors. In the sub freezing temperatures at the altitudes they were flying in, it would freeze the doors closed.

I remember reading about a plan to modify some B-17s to carry no bombs, and use the weight savings to mount extra guns. Some planes would have them on the right side, some on the left. The planes were to fly on the edges of the bomber formations to give extra firepower where needed.

The plan was abandoned. The regular planes would have dropped their bombs; having shed so much weight they could fly higher and faster on the way back. The modified planes would be too heavy to keep up. Breaking up the formation would make both groups more vulnerable to attack.

Anybody else ever heard of that proposal?

Yip, it was the YB-40 mostly remembered because the chin turret developed for it was added to later B-17 models.

The same experiment was tried with the B-24 as the XB-41

Yah, that was the XB/YB-40. It was pretty much as you recall.

The early B-17s had streamlined “blisters” instead of turrets on the top, and bottom of the airframe, as well as blister waist guns/windows, all manually aimed. They all had the ability to have a manual gun mounted in a small “cheek” window on each side of the nose, as well as a manual gun mounted in the nose glass. The nose gun had to be small 30 caliber to avoid damaging things from recoil. The cheek guns could point to the sides, but not really directly forward. Only the usually single (and small) nose gun could do so. There were no tail guns.

The C and D models got rid of the blisters for a more flush mounted top gun, the waist guns were more flush mounted/streamlined. The belly gun was put in a “bathtub” that stuck out more. No changes to the nose armament.

The E model was a revolution, with the larger tail. It got the power top turret, as well as keeping a manual gun upward from the radio room. Got large openings and very flexible waist guns, plus a tail gunner with twin 50s, the first in a B-17. The bottom turret was remote controlled at first, but after a few hundred was replaced with the now stereotypical “ball turret”. Through all this the nose armament was the same, narrow cheek window guns and a small nose gun

The F started out the same, but combat reports were showing how bad the nose armament needed help. Lots of field fixes, and then factory/ and/or post factory modifications. There were field modifications to allow manual 50 cals in the glass nose, lots of combinations. The cheek windows were enlarged for a better view, and usually staggered so the two crew wouldn’t bump into each other. Then they started flaring out the cheek windows so they could point forward as well as out the sides. Mind you, there are two guys in the nose trying to bounce between two or three or four manually operated machine guns trying to fire at targets closing at 400+ MPH. Not a great situation

In that timeframe was the YB-40 escort that others have mentioned. Pretty much a failure but it introduced the remote controlled chin turret with twin 50s, which was eventually added to VERY LATE production B-17Fs and then onward to the Gs. When there is a chin turret there are no guns in the nose glass.

This finally closed up the nose gun weak spot. So much so that they got rid of the enlarged cheek guns in early chin turret production…until they decided to add them in again probably due to “needing more firepower!”

Then the Gs eventually staggered the waist window guns for more room, not to forget adding a better tail gun turret along the way as well.

There are LOTS of details and this is a general glossing over, but might help