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Jon 28th May 2005 11:42

Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load
Although the B17 is classed as a heavy bomber it only carried a small bomb load when compared with the City destroying capabilities of the RAF bomber command Lancaster and Halifax.

Both these types carried a bomb load the B17 could only dream about, on looking at Duxfords Sally B against the Lancaster is is appart that the bomb bay on the B17 is very small compared the the Lancasters massive bay

The Lancaster did in some varients carry the 24,000 pound Grand Slam.

What was the biggest bomb a B17 could carry and was it incapable of carrying heavier bomb loads or was it simply the small bomb bay that restricted the weight of the load it could carry.

Shouldn't it have been classed as a medium bomber?

Jim Oxley 28th May 2005 14:23

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load
America didn't class it's bombers by weight carrying ability, but by size, armour protection and armament. Hence a four-engined bomber was classed as a Heavy Bomber.

As to load carrying ability below are listed some figures that may be of interest to you.

Empty Weight: 33,280lb
Loaded weight: 53,000lb
Max Bomb Load: 4,000lb
Range: 1100 miles with 4,000lb

Empty Weight: 34,000lb
Loaded weight: 65,500lb
Max Bomb Load: 8,000lb
Range: 1,250 miles with 6,000lb

Empty Weight: 38,000lb
Loaded weight: 65,500lb
Max Bomb Load: 9,600lb
Range: 1200 miles with 6,000lb

Empty Weight: 32,605lb
Loaded weight: 71,200lb
Max Bomb Load: 12,000lb
Range: 1400 miles with 8,000lb

Empty Weight: 38,000lb
Loaded weight: 71,200lb
Max Bomb Load: 12,800lb
Range: 1540 miles with 8,000lb

Empty Weight: 71,360lb
Loaded weight: 138,,000lb
Max Bomb Load: 20,000lb
Range: 1950 miles with 20,000lb

Halifax Mk.I:
Empty Weight: 33,860lb
Loaded weight: 55,000lb
Max Bomb Load: 13,000lb
Range: 980 miles with 13,000lb

Halifax Mk.III
Empty Weight: 39,000lb
Loaded weight: 65,000lb
Max Bomb Load: 13,000lb
Range: 1260 miles with 13,000lb

Lancaster B.I:
Empty Weight: 41,000lb
Loaded weight: 72,000lb
Max Bomb Load: 14,000lb
Range: 1040 miles with 12,000lb

Lancaster B.III:
Empty Weight: 41,500lb
Loaded weight: 72,000lb
Max Bomb Load: 14,000lb
Range: 1040 miles with 14,000lb

Lancaster B.I (Special):
Empty Weight: 36,000lb
Loaded weight: 72,000lb
Max Bomb Load: 20,000lb - Grand Slam
Range: 660 miles with 20,000lb

Heinkel He 111H:
Empty Weight: 17,000lb
Loaded weight: 30,8650lb
Max Bomb Load: 7,165lb
Range: 910 miles with 6,000lb

Heinkel He 177A-5:
Empty Weight: 37,038lb
Loaded weight: 68,343lb
Max Bomb Load: 13,225lb
Range: 1200 miles with 11,000lb

As can be seen from the above the load carrying of the B-17 (any model) is really quite poor. But the built-in survivability, which accounts for miuch of it's loaded weight, was legendary.

The B-24 could carry more, and over a greater distance. One reason why it was the popular choice with Pacific air force generals. But it was a more difficult aircraft to fly than the B-17, especially in formation and did not have quite the same strength to combat damage.

The Halifax could carry a (slightly) larger load than the standard Lancaster, and over a greater distance. But it too was more difficult to fly than it's counterpart, and was more susceptible to damage.

Of all the bombers shown above, only the Lancaster could carry more than it's rated max bomb load. That was the Grand Slam. But that was only in the specially modified B.I's, which were stripped of much equipment to assist in lift. And to it's extremely long bomb bay.

Interestingly the German bombers also had very good lift capabilities, especially the He 111. But at the expense of protective armour and armament. But pound for pound the german bombers could out bomb any equivalent Allied bomber.

Now the B-29.....well that's in a class all by itself. A truly outstanding aircraft. If it had flown over Germany the Luftwaffe, in all probability, would have been as ineffective against it as the Japanese.

Alex Smart 28th May 2005 14:31

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load

Just to say that you forgot to include the Mosquito in your list, it too could match the B17 .


Jon 28th May 2005 17:36

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load
Wow! thanks Alex for the very comprehensive answer.

Interesting that the humble Mosquito carried the same load as the B17 but obviously the same weight in fewer bombs i would imagine.



Graham Boak 28th May 2005 23:56

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load
The normal Mosquito bombload was up to 4x500lb, or half that of a normal B-17. Some modified aircraft could (and regularly did!) carry a single 4000lb bomb, but the aircraft was overloaded and unstable.

The difference between the Halifax and the Lancaster was that the Halifax had a shallow bomb-bay, designed to carry the prewar weapons no larger than 2000lb, but not significantly greater in diameter than the standard 500lb. It was not possible to fully close the bombbay doors when carrying the wider 4000lb bomb. (The 8000lb and 12000lb bomb were simply 4000lb cases connected together.) Apparently the 4000lb bomb was carried in this configuration with no noticable drop in performance - a statement I find very hard to believe. HP plans to introduce a bulged bombbay (as the Mosquito did) for these weapons was not approved by the Ministry, even for the superior Hercules-engined variants. The shape can be seen as the pannier on transport variants.

ArtieBob 29th May 2005 01:52

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load
Just to note, left out of the equation were two items, first, the B-17 was almost a full generation older (in aircraft terms, first flight july 1935 IIRC!) of all the other bombers mentioned, except the He 111. Second, IIRC, the specified bombing missions for which it was designed, IIRC, were actually for long range unescorted anti-naval missions. Foreign based launching points for targets like Germany were not really contemplated by many in the USA when the specifications were set in 1934. That being said, I have seen references indicating the US B-24s were regularly operated at well past maximum gross design weights. I can only wonder if the same applied to B-17s. I also know the exceeding gross missions was also true (first hand accounts by very credible pilots) of US transports.

Best regards,

Artie Bob

George Hopp 29th May 2005 03:09

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load
Apparently the Davis wing and the control setup of the B-24 made it so stable that you could always tell who were the pilots on the early B-24s because they had arms like Arnie Schwarzenegger, from the strength they needed to turn the sucker.

The Lancaster may be well liked by many people, and especially historians, but it was very hard on its crews in that they, especially the pilots, had the lowest survival rate of any WW2 bomber. In comparing the two bombers ex-S/L David Leicester, who flew a tour in Halifaxes and then one in Lancasters, noted that while the Lancaster could carry heavier bomb loads on less fuel than the Halifax, and was easier to fly than the Halifax, he preferred the Halifax because it would respond to the controls faster than the Lancaster--very important for avoiding flak and fighters--and its radial engines were more reliable than the in-lines of the Lancaster. And, he thought that with the square fins and rudders fitted, it was just about the nicest bomber in the world to fly. Oh yes, according to S/L Leicester, the survival rate per 7-man crew was 1.3 for the Lanc as opposed to 2.45 from the Halifax. (This is from p. 117-118 of "Night Airwar" by Theo Boiten).

George Hopp 29th May 2005 03:34

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load
Sorry for 2 postings in a row, but in my estimation the argument about the small bomb load of the B-17 is a bit of a red-herring, and feel that the question should be: who caused greater damage and production loss to German industry, Bomber Command by burning down cities, or the USAAF by destroying factories and refineries?

Kutscha 29th May 2005 05:29

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load

Originally Posted by Graham Boak
The normal Mosquito bombload was up to 4x500lb, or half that of a normal B-17. Some modified aircraft could (and regularly did!) carry a single 4000lb bomb, but the aircraft was overloaded and unstable.

Would say that the 400 B MkXVIs built were more than 'some'. Mossies also could, and did, make 2 missions to Berlin in one night using seperate crews. B-17s needed at least, at a minimum, a day, but usually more between missions.

The B-17s bomb load is something like this:

load 1 - 12 x 500lb
load 2 - 6 x 1000lb
load 3 - 24 x 100lb
load 4 - 10 x100lb + 6 x 500lb

Only load 2 had much chance at damaging/destroying machine tools which are much harder to replace than a roof.

George, BC, at least in Nov '44, dropped more bomb tonnage on oil targets than the 8th AF.

Graham Boak 29th May 2005 10:15

Re: Small B17 bomb bay and bomb load
At the severe risk of splintering this thread, I would point out that the quoted survival rate for the crews is almost certainly that applied after the aircraft had been shot down (I'd appreciate confirmation if otherwise!) as the loss rate of the Merlin Halifax was considerably higher than that of the Lancaster. So much so that it eventually had to be withdrawn from BC operations before the superior Hercules-engined Mk.III was available.

Re Mosquitoes: I admit I was thinking of the modified Mk.IVs rather than the Mk.XIVs, but 400 is still a small number - and how many of those were dedicated to the 4000lb rather than just being replacements for the older machines?

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