Did you know that the Red Army had ‘Flying Fortresses’ from the U.S.?

Tim Van Patten/Apple Studios, 2024
Despite Americans refusing to supply this aircraft to the USSR, the Soviets still managed to get their hands on over a dozen of them.

The American B-17 heavy bomber was considered one of the best combat aircraft of World War II. Reliable, well-protected and survivable, it was widely known as the ‘Flying Fortress’.

The Red Army Air Force, meanwhile, was in dire need of heavy bombers, as it was woefully short of its own Pe-8s. Moscow repeatedly appealed to Washington to include the B-17 in deliveries under the Lend-Lease program, but always received a polite refusal.

On the eve of the Cold War, the U.S. was in no hurry to supply the potential enemy with its best bombers (as well as its best fighter, the P-51 ‘Mustang’). The Soviets had to "get" them their own way. 

Many of these airplanes had to make forced landings in Eastern Europe. Many of them were damaged and their secret equipment, including classified bombing sight info, would be destroyed by the fleeing crews. Nevertheless, Soviet specialists managed to begin an orderly restoration of the salvaged planes.

The Americans knew that the Russians were secretly assembling their bombers, but pretended not to know. At the same time, the USSR officially returned some of the discovered airplanes to the United States. 

The first B-17s began arriving in service with the 45th Long Range Aviation Division in April 1945 and did not have time to take part in combat operations. By mid-October, the collection of "fortresses" ended – a total of 16 bombers were in service. 

"The planes had excellent control, responsive to the deviation of rudders,” recalled pilot Sergei Sugak. “They were easier to fly than our Pe-8s, which I had a chance to fly a lot." 

The B-17s served in the Soviet Union until the end of the 1940s, when they were finally decommissioned and scrapped.

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