Beautiful Bombers

A new book documents the glory of the World War II aircraft

b-17 cascade mountains
A Boeing YB-17 flies over the Cascade Mountains. Though the B-17 program initially lost out to the cheaper Douglas B-18, the U.S. Army Air Corps saw so much potential in the B-17’s design that funds were made available to continue developing the aircraft. John R. Bruning Collection

In his latest book, Bombs Away! The World War II Bombing Campaigns Over Europe (Zenith Press, 2011, $50), author John Bruning has assembled 450 archival photographs, many of them rarely seen. The images show Allied aircraft from all angles, revealing the gorgeous lines of the Boeing B-17 and the Hawker Hurricane.

Just as engaging as the aircraft photos are the images of the young men who made up the Allied and Luftwaffe air crews, and in Bruning’s book we see them posing formally and relaxing playfully between missions.

See more of Bruning's photos in the gallery below.

A.G. "Sailor" Malan

A South African by birth, A.G. “Sailor” Malan became one of the great Royal Air Force fighter leaders during the Battle of Britain. In the summer of 1940, Malan commanded the legendary 74 Squadron, which helped stop the advance of Germany’s Luftwaffe.

Growing Pains

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

In the 1930s, the British aviation industry struggled to bring to production an entire crop of new bombers, such as the Short Stirling, which took five years to go from concept to combat operational. As these growing pains hampered the expansion of the force, older designs, such as these Bristol Blenheims, were forced to remain in front-line service long after they had become obsolete.

381st Bomb Group

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

Bombers of the 381st Bomb Group line up for take off at a Royal Air Force base in Ridgewell, England. In such a crowded environment, catastrophic accidents were depressingly common.

YB-17

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

A Boeing-built YB-17 at Langley Field in Virginia (center) dwarfs the other aircraft at the base.

Safety

(John R. Bruning Collection)

To protect themselves from flak, U.S. airmen wore metal helmets.

Strategic Bomber

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

The Douglas B-18 Bolo was the U.S. Army Air Corp’s first purpose-built strategic bomber. Unfortunately, it had many drawbacks, including a light payload and a short range.

Boeing B-17

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

A Boeing B-17 fires up its radial engines. When bomb groups of the Eighth Air Force were ordered to launch daytime bombing raids, the combined engine noise created an unmistakable sound that resonated for miles across the English countryside.

96th Bomb Group

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

A 96th Bomb Group B-17 flies over Belgium. The 96th, flying out of Snetterton Heath airfield in England, was the only bomb group that did not lose any aircraft during a raid on targets in Regensburg, Germany on August 17, 1943.

Pilot's Best Friend

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

A Luftwaffe pilot and his dog in the cockpit of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter.

Messerschmitt Me 262

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

An American patrol comes across a Messerschmitt Me 262 in Austria. The Me 262 was the world’s first operational jet-powered fighter, and German jet technology became one of the most sought-after prizes following the war. Both the Russians and the Americans searched what was left of the Third Reich to locate engineers who had designed the 262 and other Nazi “wonder weapons.”

Ritual

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(John R. Bruning Collection)

U.S. bomber crews had rituals that no doubt eased the stress of flying combat. When an airman completed his final mission, he received a dunking. Here Major Jim McPartlin gets the treatment in front of an Eighth Air Force B-17.