Streamed live on Mar 21, 2024

Experts Colin Heaton and Joe McCarthy join Glenn Flickinger to discuss the tactics of aerial combat in World War II, focusing especially on how the Luftwaffe attempted to bring down B-17 formations, and the defenses those formations used to get through to their targets. Glenn also shares his thoughts on the finale of the Apple TV mini-series “Masters of the Air.”

During World War II, the German Luftwaffe executed various strategies to counter the formidable threat posed by B-17 Flying Fortress squadrons, the iconic American heavy bombers. Fast and maneuverable fighter aircraft, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190, surrounded the B-17s on all sides, making it challenging for the American bombers to defend themselves.

The German pilots aimed to exploit the vulnerable areas of the B-17, such as the unescorted belly and rear positions, as they were less heavily armed. To counter these attacks, B-17 crews developed defensive formations and tactics. The Flying Fortresses were equipped with multiple .50 caliber machine guns, strategically positioned to provide overlapping fields of fire.

The most common defensive formation was the “combat box,” where B-17s flew closely together, forming a defensive wall of firepower. The concentration of defensive armament in these formations made it difficult for German fighters to penetrate without facing intense opposition.

Furthermore, B-17s often employed the “fighter weave” maneuver, where adjacent bombers would take turns moving to the front of the formation to engage attacking fighters. This coordinated defensive maneuver allowed the B-17s to present a continuous front, making it harder for the Luftwaffe to exploit weak points.

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