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Although the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was less important than the B-24 Liberator in the Mediterranean theatre, six Bombardment Groups did serve in North Africa or Italy, two of them serving from 1942 until the end of the war. That involvement began in November 1942 when two Bombardment Groups, the 97th and 301st, were moved from the Eighth Air Force in England to the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. These were two of the most experienced B-17 units, and their departure from England slowed down the development of the Eighth Air Force’s offensive. In North Africa the B-17s were used against German and Italian military targets in North Africa, and to attack German shipping in the Mediterranean. Two more groups joined them in early 1943 (2nd and 99th). The four groups took part in the bombardment of the Italian stronghold of Pantelleria, the invasion of Sicily and the invasion of Italy.
Once the Allies were firmly established on the Italian mainland, the B-17 squadrons moved Italy, joining the 15th Air Force in November 1943 and making the actual transfer in December. They were joined by two more units, the 463rd and 483rd Bombardment Groups, in the spring of 1944, bringing the total up to six. At their peak there were 669 B-17 crews stationed in the Mediterranean theatre.
From their bases in Italy the six B-17 bombardment groups performed a mix of tactical and strategic missions. Tactically they supported the campaign in Italy itself, most famously bombarding the monastery at Monte Cassino, and also took part in the invasion of southern France. Strategically they ranged widely across occupied Europe, attacking targets in Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania and Greece. By the end of the war the B-24 was the dominant American heavy bomber in Italy and the Mediterranean, but unlike in the Pacific the B-17 was never phased out.
|Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Frederick A. Johnsen. A well researched and illustrated history of the B-17, with a very strong section on its combat record, an interesting chapter on the efforts made to improve the aircraft (including a number of suggestions that didn't enter production) and a good selection of colour pictures of the aircraft. [see more]|
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