Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles It was the most potent symbol of the American airpower in military history. Designed to fend off ferocious attacks from the German Luftwaffe, it dealt a death blow to Nazi wartime industrial production, and erased Hitler's capital to the ground. "To me, it was the most beautiful plane ever built, really great airplane and still is." Each crewed by 10-men, thousands of them would fly the most perilous missions of the 2nd WW. Many would never return. "If it hadn't been for a B-17, I more likely wouldn't be sitting here talking to you." Using color reenactments and rare archive film, 《Battle Stations》 takes to the skies in the legendry B-17 Flying Fortress. 1918, with the conclusion of 'The War to End All Wars', military powers around the world recognized the warfare would never be the same. Military thinking moved away from the stalemate of trench warfare, and focused on the use of the new wonder weapons --- aircraft. It had become apparent that bombers would prove decisive in any future conflict. The bomber was believed would always get through. In the 1930's, this bomber doctrine got real momentum. Attention now turned to modernizing America's obsolescent Air Corps. Modern bombers were needed to replace the fabric and wood aircraft of the last war. On August the 8th 1934, the US Army Air Corps issued a circular proposal that called for a bomber with a maximum speed of 250 miles per hour. That's operated 10,000 feet and have a range of 2,000 miles. Designs would be company funded and submitted for testing within a year. The victor would win a production run up to 120 aircraft. Titling on the brink of bankruptcy, the Boeing Aircraft Company left to the challenge. In a bold move, Boeing under the visionary leadership of Edward C. Wells committed most of its capital and manpower to the project they called Model 299. It was a fantastic gamble. In August 1934, Boeing began building a radical, all metal, 4-engine aircraft. "It had beautiful lines and was a long wing airplane and that all the turrets were attractive, just a nice looking airplane and Boeing had always been noted for making beautiful airplanes." Boeing's new plane would be fitted with an array of machine guns and an internal weapon's bay. It was a bold design, one that far exceeded the requirements of the proposal. On July the 28th of 1935, just 11 months after the competition had started, Boeing's model 299 rolled out of the company's factory in Seattle becoming America's first all metal, 4 engine bomber. "Closely guarded, the Army newest bomber and America's largest ?land scene is prepared for its 1st flight at Seattle. It's Boeing 299. With all her machine gun turrets, it weighs 15 tons, and is reported to have cost nearly half a million." A newspaper reporter attending the event was impressed by the immense size and the number of gun emplacements on the aircraft, and exclaimed why it's a flying fortress. "While my father used to say, 'Look at all that armor you got and I said, "Dad you could put your finger to the side of the airplane, if you really pushed really hard." "It was just an aluminum box flying in the skylight and all it was with some guns sticking out of it with the load of bombs like a paper bag." "With all the hardware and all the guns it had on it, it truly was a flying fortress." Boeing's legendry aircraft was born. But the all important contract was still to be won. Alongside Boeing's offering, 2 rival twin engine designs were also evaluated by the Army Air Corps, Martin's B-12 and Douglas's DB-1. On the morning of the 30th of October, disaster struck. During the evaluation, the Boeing prototype bomber stalled after take-off and crashed to the Wright Field. "Between the aircraft company it had invested in the Model 299 Projects, now __ __ from the Army Air Corps and now the program ?lay in tatters. In addition, they lost their two pilots which effectively put them out of running for the contract." Boeing's Model 299 was disqualified from the competition, and the company lost the contract. Douglas's DB-1 triumphed, and 133 of the bombers were ordered. But despite the crash, Model 299 had impressed the Air Corps, and a small number were purchased for further evaluation. It was not the order Boeing had hoped for, but it was a start. Modifications to the aircraft followed, and in February 1937, the Air Corps ordered 10 more aircraft, now called YB-17's. These aircraft fitted with superchargers had a ceiling of 30,000 feet. But in the dark days of September 1939 as Europe descended into war, Douglas's bombers were taking too long to get off the production lines, and were proving underpowered. Boeing's B-17 was the only operational heavy bomber in the United States, but the Air Corps owns just 30 New YB-17's would now be fitted with power-operated turrets above and below the fuselage. And 2 more sets of twin guns are added to the tail and radio operator's positions. By March 1941, B-17's were being transformed from an advanced prototype to a full-powered super-bomber ready for war. Under the terms of its Lend - Lease agreements, America sent 20 of these fortress YB-17s to Britain's Royal Air Force. But the B-17's first delivery flight ended in disaster. At high altitude over the skies of England, the bomber experienced a power failure and crashed. It was an inauspicious start. But despite these problems, on the 8th of July 1941, 2 Fortress 1's, belonging to the RAF, bombed Wilhelmshaven in Germany. "Wilhelmshaven, a main target, is a number one target for it's a major naval base and a great shipbuilding center." This first mission also ended in disaster. At high altitude, all of the guns froze and the bombs were dropped wide off the target. Later 8 fortress 1's were shot down. It looks as though the B-17 would go down in history as a failure. "The British experience of the fortress one was a resounding failure. The aircraft was found to suffer from a number of mechanical failures. The guns froze when at high altitude. It lacked defensive armament to fight off the determined attack by the enemy. And it was also difficult to put ordnance on target from that height. The RAF therefore concluded that the best thing would be to increase its defensive armament use it in greater numbers for protective purposes and also use it at lower altitudes." Now the RAF immediately pulled the Fortress from European combat and promptly reassigned it to the Middle East. As war intensified in Europe, and diplomatic relations between the USA and Japan deteriorated, America moved its YB-17's to bases in the Pacific. On December 7th, 1941, as a flight of unarmed YB-17's arrived at Hickam Field, Hawaii, Japan ended America's isolationism. At Pearl Harbor, 12 B-17's were destroyed on the ground. And all of the unarmed aircraft flying in were damaged or lost. From the ashes of destruction in Hawaii, Americas' troubled B-17's had to prove its doubt was wrong. With America at war, the Flying Fortress was about to be thrown into Pearl Harbor. As America rushed headlong into war, production of YB-17's went into full swing. On December the 8th 1941, Boeing Executive Jake Harman, made a phone call to Plant Two at Seattle. His conversation was concise and to the point. "Start building airplanes." "How many?" "Just start building. Never mind the schedules. Tell US how much money, and what things you need and when" As Harman made his call, B-17's in the Pacific started flying reconnaissance missions to track the Japanese battle fleet. Off the coast of Luzon, a Japanese convoy was spotted. Five YB-17's attacked and the Flying Fortress became the 1st US aircraft to drop its bombs in WWII. But it was in Europe that the Fortress would become a legend. By early 1942, in accordance with the Allied 'Europe First' policy, Major General Carl Spaatz, suggests that the 8th Air Force be designated the core of the Army Air Forces in Britain. Now America prepared to send its new 'heavies' to front line units in England. Recognizing the value of bombing to the war in Europe, Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt agreed on the use of airpower in the theatre. "Churchill and Roosevelt both unequivocally endorsed the strategic bombing. In January 1943, they had called for the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan and they saw strategic bombing as the overwhelming force that would quickly end the war by destroying the German industrial complex and demoralizing its civilian population, They reasoned that they could grind to a halt Hitler's war machine." Earlier in 1942, Allied command identified special targets to be given absolute priority. Submarine construction facilities, aircraft factories, ball-bearing production plants, and oil-refineries were at the top of the list. The RAF and 8th Air Force plan a co-coordinated non-stop day and night bomber offensive. From then on, B-17's would operate by day, in full view of the German Luftwaffe. Flying a B-17 in combat without the fighter escort was pretty close to being suicidal. It wasn't until they learned the lesson the hard way that you can't fly these airplanes. They were just not well protected because the enemy that we were contending with was highly sophisticated, good weapons and good airplanes." On August 17th 1942, the US launches its first raid of the war in Europe. With no fighter cover, the B-17's made the attack on their own. "At 15:26 hours, the first daylight mission from a base in England was launched. Strategic airpower was born."