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B-17G in formation - Courtesy USAF Archives

Availability of planes dictated actual make-up of overall formation on any mission. This formation served a dual purpose. It gave the gunners the best shooting view and

created the best flying conditions by reducing turbulence from the planes next ahead. The less turbulence the tighter the formation could fly. This permitted better overall defense from enemy fighters. The rear or fourth plane in each Squadron was referred to as "Tail End Charlie," or "Coffin Corner" because this was the most vulnerable spot in the formation and attacked first by the enemy. Pilots who could not or would not fly the real tight formation were assigned this undesirable spot. "Flying Coffin" was the nickname German fighter pilots gave the early models of the B-17 furnished to the British in 1941. These models were poorly protected and therefore easy prey.

Courtesy USAF Archives

The following is a simple diagram of the normal combat formation used by the Mighty Eighth Army Air Force, as it came to be known, operating out of England:

1st Division 2nd Division 3rd Division
Each Division had BG 447 led
four Wings 4th Wing
   
Lead Lead Lead
X X X
Low X X High Low X X High Low X X High
X X X
Tail Tail Tail
     
Each Wing had four Sqdn. 710
Groups with above in lead Group
designation  
   
X X X
X X X X X X
X X X
     
Each Bomb Group had Crew 5303
four Sqdns. with above in High Sqdn.
designation  
   
X X X
X X X X X X
X X X
     
Each Squadron had four Crew 5003
elements (planes) with in #3 plane
above designation  
     
X X X
X X X X X X
X X X

 

PART 4