B-17 at 85: Mediterranean Mud-Movers

Boeing’s B-17 Flying Fortress is most celebrated for its strategic bombing with the Eighth Air Force from bases in Britain. However, the Fifteenth Air Force performed a similar but seldom publicised mission over southern and central Europe. Malcolm V Lowe assesses the type’s importance to this organisation’s operations

The US Fifteenth Army Air Force (usually abbreviated to Fifteenth Air Force) was activated on November 1, 1943 as a strategic air asset. Its first headquarters was at Tunis, Tunisia in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations (MTO). It mirrored the famous British-based US Eighth Air Force and, like the ‘Mighty Eighth’, it comprised fighter and heavy bomber units – the latter being equipped either with the more numerous B-24 Liberator or B-17 Flying Fortress (B-17s flew in greater numbers over northwest Europe with the Eighth than the Fifteenth). Nevertheless, the type fought a long and ultimately successful campaign in this often-forgotten aspect of the air war over Europe.

Several B-17Gs of the 97th BG, led by 44-6544 ‘Kwiturbitchin II’ of the 414th BS, fly in a sunlit sky. USAAF. Inset: Three very important USAAF generals, left to right: Carl Spaatz, leader of USSTAF, Nathan F Twining, commander of the Fifteenth Air Force and Ira Eaker, formerly head of VIII Bomber Command. ALL MALCOLM V LOWE COLLECTION UNLESS STATED

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