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reconnaisance of Truk

Posted: Tue Feb 28, 2017 10:58 am
by ColdWarsChild
Curiosity has led me to learn about the use of bombers in the Pacific early during WW2.

Up the street in the neighborhood in which I grew up was a WW2 veteran of the US Army Air Corps.
He had flown B-17s in the Pacific and told me a war story about a reconnaissance mission he flew against a target he identified as "Truk".
He said that, just prior to his mission, there were two failed attempts in which B-17s were sent out and did not return.
In his account, he indicated that, in the two failed attempts, the orders they were given had specified all the details (the altitude, directions of approach, etc.).
He and his crew were determined to return, so they ignored the details in their orders and approached the target at low altitude from the North as though they were coming from Japan.
Per his account, he flew over a mountain range, then reduced altitude over the lagoon and then flew down the enemy runway at low altitude with his crew taking photos during the overflight.
He then headed out over the Pacific at low altitude with the engines firewalled, heading back to base.
They were pursued by Japanese fighters which could not attack from the side because of the low altitude.
He said that the 0.50 cal guns in the rear of the B-17 had greater range than the 20mm guns in the Japanese fighters and that his crew shot down two on the way back to base.
He said that the US Army Air Corp later learned that what had happened to the first two B-17s was that the Japanese fighters would intercept and determine the altitude and airspeed of the B-17
which they would radio back to their antiarcraft batteries, and then the antiaircraft batteries would shoot down the B-17.

His next assignment was to train Chinese pilots to fly the B-24 in Pueblo, Colorado. Per the internet, that had to be between August 1944 and May 1945. So I guess it was possible that the timeframe could have been early 1944, but I find no B-17 missions then - it seems that after Rabaul, all long range missions were by B-24s.

His name was Floyd Robertson.

I cannot find any record of airborne reconnaissance against Truk early in WW2 on the internet.

From what I can tell, even as late as mid 1943, the US Army Air Corps had a limited number of forward airfields from which to fly bombers:

Location Approximate Distance to Truk in miles
Guadacanal 1350
Iron Range Airfield, AUS 1450
Espiritu Santo 1800
Funafuti 2050
Kanton 2450
Midway 2450

On the internet, the longest range of the B-17 (with a 6000 payload) is 2000 miles.
I'm not sure how much additional range there is when the B-17 carries no bombs and is stripped down for a reconaissance mission.
The distances to Truk are so long that such a mission looks impractical during that time period, except maybe for a mission out of Iron Range
or Guadalcanal.

From the data offered by Pacific Wrecks, there is a mission that roughly resembles the description I was given, but it is against Wake, not Truk:

"FRIDAY, 31 JULY 1942
1 B-17, from Midway Island, flies photo reconnaissance of Wake Island. The B-17 is Intercepted by 6 fighters; in the ensuing fight US gunners claim 4 fighters destroyed."

The time period and mission description seem to fit.
The approminate distance from Midway to Wake is about 1380 miles.
The target geography does not match the description I was given.

Do your records indicate who flew the mission on July 31, 1942?

Do you have any data on B-17 reconnaissance against Truk?


Re: reconnaisance of Truk

Posted: Thu Apr 13, 2017 4:05 am
by john21wall
Buried in this story I see two points: 1. The B-24 did not get good press, thus this article provides provides compensation. 2. Twice the article notes that in similar missions, the loss rate of the B-24 was higher than the 17…but overall the 24 had a lower loss rate per sortie.