B17G History

Flying Fortress 43-38856 was one of 13,000 Fortresses built at the giant Boeing company Factory in Seattle, Washington. Following completion and flight testing the aircraft was delivered to the USAAF on 30th September 1944. The following month the B17G flew the 3,000 mile North Atlantic supply route from Maine via Greenland and Iceland to arrive in the United Kingdom.

Upon arrival it was assigned to the Eighth Air Force, 381st Heavy Bombardment Group, 534 Squadron, based at Army Air Force Station 167, Ridgewell, Essex. The station was then under the command of Colonel Conway S. Hall. The aircraft carried the squadron codes GD and the identification letter ‘M’.

The principal operations carried out by the 381st while this B17G was with the group were mixed and varied. During the German offensive in the Ardennes (the Battle of the Bulge) in December 1944, the 381st struck at airfields and communications in the battle zone. In March, 1945, the group provided air support for the Rhine crossing and then operated against communications and transport in the final push through Germany.

Towards the middle of April 1945, the talk at Ridgewell was of the war coming to an end. Operations though, were still on and from April 9th to April 21st the 381st flew ten combat missions, all deep into Germany, to Dresden, Neumunster, Regensburg and Brandenburg. From all ten missions all aircraft returned safely.

The atmosphere at the base was becoming more relaxed. At this stage in the air war, the Flying Fortress had fighter escort protection to and from the target, which greatly accounted for the reduction in aircraft losses but even at this late stage in the war the Luftwaffe was still very active.

On Monday 23rd April, 1945, no operations over Germany were planned for the group. A buzz of excitement was felt around the station as a flight had been organised to take a group of servicemen from nine different units, on a week’s leave to Northern Ireland. The men chosen for the leave were not high ranking officers or combat crews, although these men also, were in need of a break. The men chosen to go were the support servicemen, the groundcrews, armourers, mechanics and fitters. These were the people who kept the aircraft flying, combat ready and safe. Some of these men had been at Ridgewell since the 381st arrived in June, 1943 and for most this was their first real break.