By Wayne Litke
The first day of summer has already passed and from this point forward it’s all downhill as the days get shorter. That’s what I was told, which is a terribly negative approach to summer to say the least. The source of this information claims the summer solstice this year occurred June 20, not on the 21st as has been the case in years past.
Making this year’s event more memorable was a full moon on the solstice. It is apparently interesting because it is the first time the phenomenon has occurred since 1967. Furthermore, I was told the full moon and June solstice will not fall on the same calendar date again until June 21, 2062.
It’s not like I really care or pay attention to that sort of stuff. However, I have to appear interested when my wife is talking to me and the contents of this column will again prove how much I value her input, even at times when I am busy working on something important that requires deep thought – meditating is what it’s actually called. At those times I am typically working on a solution to a problem or way to improve a design or procedure. Contrary to what most women think, men actually hear their spouse’s words at such times, even if they fail to acknowledge their communication or respond with a grunt or “uh huh.”
I state all this because my wife and I spent the last few days on Vancouver Island visiting our oldest son, Jordan, and his family which has grown by one since we last saw them and that was the reason for our visit (as I recall). Angela and I had many conversations as we traveled to and from our destination, all of which I remember well. Unfortunately, my wife’s recollections are not as accurate as mine and she sometimes or often tries to correct me by referring to her version of events. Sometimes I agree with her accounts simply to keep the peace, but there is an area in which she excels, and that is birthdates and anniversaries.
She does not excel in regards to the Second World War and the weapons that were used. I was reminded of that when we touched down at Victoria International Airport. While taxiing to the terminal, I spotted a well-known vintage bomber that was preparing to take off. It was a Boeing B-17 and my heart leapt when I saw it because as a child I had read about the bombers’ role in the last world war and its armaments for which it was nicknamed: The Flying Fortress. As an adult, the reality of the war sunk in when I learned about the huge number of the bombers and crewmen that succumbed to attacks by enemy fighter planes and anti-aircraft fire.
As it turned out, the bomber I saw at the airport was a flying museum and was on display to the public. Jordan and I jumped at the opportunity and were able to learn a lot about the craft as we walked through it and listened to guides speak. It was easy to imagine enemy shells tearing through the light aluminum shell as machinegun fire was returned from any gunner who was fast enough to get an attacking fighter in his sights.
I would have really enjoyed a flight in the bomber, but at $610 a person the cost was little more than my budget would support. We were told the four massive engines on the B-17 consume about $3,500 in fuel each hour. In any case, it certainly was a treat to clamber around the aircraft and see it lumbering overhead at a slow and economical speed. One of the most surprising aspects of the plane was the small size of the belly turret and the way the gunner had to literally squeeze into the ball. Furthermore, his legs were pulled back into a semi-fetal position and he had to look down his belly to put the gun sight on a target. This meant his butt and manhood was always the first thing exposed in a gun battle.
Regarding the plane’s use in the war, precision bombing conducted in the daylight raids crippled German military production, but often required a huge sacrifice of life and equipment. On one raid (Oct. 14, 1943 – Black Thursday), 291 B-17s attacked Germany. They encountered stiff resistance in the form of 300 enemy fighters. 60 bombers were shot down, five crashed when approaching Britain on the return trip and 12 more had to be scrapped due to heavy damage. Altogether 77 planes and crewmen were taken out in one raid. Furthermore, a total of 122 bombers were damaged and had to be repaired before their next flight. Only 33 bombers landed without damage.
In terms of human costs, approximately 650 of the 2,900 crewmen did not return, but some survived as prisoners of war. Such losses were not sustainable, so tactics were changed.
The B-17 became the most massed-produced bomber of the Second World War with over 12,000 planes built before the war ended. The bomber that was on display at Victoria (named Aluminum Overcast) never saw military service because it was manufactured at the end of the war. However, it has all the modification that earlier models lacked such as 13 50-calibre machineguns (eight more than the first model) including a gun turret mounted below the nose of the aircraft. The extra armament was required before long-range fighters such as the P-51 Mustang were produced to escort and protect the bombers. The extra guns added 10,000 pounds to the weight of the craft and made it noticeably slower than earlier models.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea about my priorities, Angela and I had a wonderful time playing with our two-year-old granddaughter and seeing our grandson, who is four weeks old and growing fast.