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Timeline of the history of B-17D 40-3097, "The Swoose"


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In Conjunction with my walk around of The Swoose as she sits today posted below, I present this Chronology in a separate thread so it may be followed, copied and downloaded easier. The following is a bit lengthy, but it is an accurate as possible portrayal of the timeline of the life of "The Swoose". No doubt and hopefully additional data will come to light. This chronology was put together by G. Hays and W. Moyer of the Dayton Area Plastic Modelers Society Chapter of IPMS. - Mark Young IPMS 5494



The Swoose

Wayne E. Moyer

Geoff Hays


The Swoose, B-17D serial number 40-3097, is one of the best-known B-17s of World War II. The Swoose fought a losing battle a long way from correspondents and photographers, and was damaged and repaired several times before being relegated to second line service while her younger siblings carried the fight to Japan.


She was battered and re-built, modified more than once, and finally preserved only through the efforts of the pilot she‘s most associated with. The Swoose is one of the few American combat airplanes to see continuous service from December 7, 1941 to August 14, 1945.


B-17D S/N 40-3097 was accepted by the US Army Air Corps on April 28, 1941, and assigned to the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group at March Field, California. In a demonstration of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ (USAAC) ability to reinforce Hawaii by air, 21 B-17Ds including 3097 commanded by Lt. Henry Godman, were flown from Hamilton Field, CA to Hickam Field, Hawaii on 13 May 1941. These 21 aircraft were re-assigned to units of the 11th Bomb Group and flew reconnaissance, exercise and patrol missions over the next few months.


On 5 September 1941 (during which time the USAAC had become the US Army Air Force or USAAF) nine aircraft from the 14th Bomb Squadron (whose insignia was the famous Capital Dome once carried by the Bolling Field Detachment) carrying the 11th’s “11B” tail markings departed Hickam Field to reinforce the US Army Forces in the Far East (formally known as the Philippine Department Air Forces). All nine arrived at Clark Field, Luzon, Philippines on 12 September 1941. This was the first USAAF trans-Pacific aerial reinforcement in history.


On 16 October 1941 a second force of 26 B-17C and D models from the 19th Bomb Group began a staggered departure from Hamilton Field, CA, the second heavy bomber reinforcement for the Philippines. Between late October and 6 November 1941 25 of these aircraft arrived at Clark Field (one remained in Darwin Australia for engine maintenance but was in the Philippines by 8 December). The flight’s route was Hamilton Field to Clark Field via Hickam, Midway Island, Wake Island, Port Moresby, New Guinea, and Darwin, Australia.


By 5 December the 33 B-17s in the Philippines were dispersed between Clark Field (17) and the recently established landing strip at Del Monte Plantation (16), some 600 direct air miles to the south, on the island of Mindanao. With combat operations imminent, efforts to tone the natural metal surfaces of the B-17s began. Although camouflage painting was directed by T.O. 07-1-1 in April 1941, it appears that only one B-17 was properly camouflaged in the maintenance hangars at Clark Field. Pilots observed that Clark Field could be found from 25 miles away by seeing the sun reflecting off parked B-17s.


With war approaching, 3097 was one of the B-17s selected to be moved to Del Monte Field on December 5, 1941. At that facility mops, brushes, and a single spray gun were used in an attempt to camouflage the B-17s. The only paint available was glossy and no primer was used, so the field-applied paint quickly peeled away. Described in Kurtz's book as a “drab muddy green-brown”, its fair to speculate that only a few, likely less than 4 or 5 aircraft were toned down, and how many were B-17s will likely never by known. What is known is that 3097 was among the ones "toned down".


Units of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) 11th Air Fleet and the Imperial Japanese Army Fifth Air Force based on Formosa attacked the Philippines on 8 December 1941, local time and proceeded to inflict severe heavy damage to USAAF units at Clark and Iba Fields. Likely 15 of the 17 B-17s at Clark were destroyed or severely damaged on the ground in these attacks (including the single B-17 at Clark that had been camouflaged), mostly from strafing. In one attack the again re-designated Far East Air Force had lost half of its bombardment capability.


Frank Kurtz’ Old 99 and eight of her crew perished at Clark Field that morning. Kurtz was now a B-17 commander without an airplane and it would be three months before he would become the pilot of The Swoose. After the attack on December 8, Lt. Godman flew a reconnaissance mission with 3097, and on December 9, she was part of a three-ship mission to attack Japanese naval forces from Clark Field. Capt. Colin Kelly, leading the mission, was shot down. Lt. Godman flew additional missions in 3097 from Philippine bases until December 30, when the airplane and crew evacuated to Java.


Sometime during this period 3097 received an unusual modification. The transparent portion of the tail cone was removed and a fixed aft-facing .30-caliber machine gun was installed in the aft fuselage. Cables to arm and fire the un-sighted gun were run to the waist compartment. This installation provided at least some protection against attacks from the six o'clock position.


3097 continued to fly combat missions from Java and the Celebes until January 10, 1942, when it was badly damaged during a fight in which it was credited with two Japanese fighters shot down

while flown by Maj. Cecil Combs. It was ferried to an overhaul facility at the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) field at Laverton, in the State of Western Australia in the latter part of January.


While at Laverton, parts of the tail of 3097 were replaced with those from B-17D 40-3091. For years it was assumed that the entire rear fuselage was replaced at the aft production break, the rear of the radio compartment. However later references and close inspection of The Swoose indicate that possibly only the fixed and/or movable tail surfaces themselves were replaced. Almost certainly the improvised tail gun position was removed at this time.


Capt. Weldon Smith picked up the repaired 3097 at Laverton in late February, 1942 and christened it The Swoose because it was a hybrid, rebuilt from parts of two B-17s. Capt. Smith designed and painted the original Swoose emblem on 3097. The name came from a popular song by Kay Kyser, “Alexander the Swoose, Half Swan, Half Goose” with the added notation “It Flies?”


The Swoose flew 38.5 hours in February, 1942. While the nature of these missions is not known, they probably included reconnaissance, anti-submarine patrols, and providing navigation services to fighter aircraft being flown to forward operating bases. Most of the bombing missions

to the Philippines were being flown by B-17Es at this point since they possessed more armament,

tail guns, and self-sealing tanks, but the possibility of bombing missions by an overhauled B-17D

to the P.I. or Indonesia, Java, or Sumatra cannot be ruled out. There can be no doubt that The Swoose, in camouflage and bearing The Swoose name and emblem flew in a fully-armed B-17D configuration including all armament, at least one bomb bay fuel tank, and bomb carrying capability during those 38.5 hours flown in February, and during the first half of March, 1942.


On March 17, 1942 Capt. Arthur Fletcher of the 28th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group, returned The Swoose to Laverton due to poor condition of the engines. Later that month, the B-24A used by Gen. George H. Brett as a command transportation aircraft was destroyed during a Japanese raid on Darwin. Frank Kurtz, now a captain and recently selected as Gen. Brett’s pilot, went to Laverton to select the best “war weary” airplane he could find for use as Brett’s personal transport.


After reviewing the records and personally inspecting all available aircraft there, he chose B-17D 40-3097. A primary factor in Kurtz’s selection of The Swoose was that “it still had its radio equipment and guns installed.” Since the airplane would have to carry Brett and his staff into combat areas, original armament was retained. Kurtz himself noted that he always felt that the old Swoose was a few miles faster and answered the controls a little more smoothly than the others.”


From the time of its return to flying status in April 1942 until August 1, 1942, Kurtz estimated that The Swoose was flown about 150 hours a month. He noted that “We in The Swoose were making weekly trips into the war zone from headquarters to… far-flung outposts on the battle line.” Brett was determined not to have The Swoose caught on the ground. Her crew chief, Master Sergeant Vaerner, related the story of being given only a minute and a half’s notice that Japanese bombers were inbound to Port Moresby. “The General wanted to save that plane and we had to run like hell with the General leading. Hastily boarding we slammed the doors and took off downwind. The Col. (Kurtz) wiggled in and out of gullies and stayed at 40 feet off the ground until we could get out to sea”


In May 1942, The Swoose was loaned to RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett, who needed to get to England via Hawaii as quickly as possible. After picking up Marshal Burnett in New Zealand, the guns and armor plate were removed, along with a temporary plywood floor in the bomb bay and the manual bomb hoists. The Swoose set a new trans-Pacific record during that flight. Apparently after returning to the combat zone the armament was re-installed. Lyndon Johnson wrote of his flight in The Swoose “It’s bitter cold at 15,000 feet. The only place to sit is on the floor.”


The Swoose set more trans-Pacific records returning from Australia to the United States in August, 1942. Photographs taken at Hammer Field, Fresno, CA clearly show the airplane in scruffy paint, likely some RAF or RAAF shade of Dark Green, Forest Green, or Olive Drab over RAF or RAAF "Night" or black applied at Laverton. The upper colors were very likely painted over the hastily applied "muddy" green-brown originally applied at Del Monte the previous December. The bathtub and other gun positions remained intact, though no guns appear to have been installed for the trip home.


In November 1942 Brett became the commanding officer of the Caribbean Defense Command, and took The Swoose and Frank Kurtz with him. While at Albrook Field, sometime between November 1942 and June 1943 the “bathtub” gun position was removed. In January of 1943, The Swoose, as a combat type, was no longer suitable for its primary mission and was redesignated as an RB-17D.


In August of 1943, Kurtz, now a Lt. Col., was assigned as commanding officer of the 463rd Bomb Group and Captain Marvin Peterson became pilot of The Swoose. (Kurtz, by the way, immediately named his new B-17G Swoose.) Brett used The Swoose to travel throughout Latin America, making formal visits and often carried heads of state on orientation flights.


Photographs show that sometime between October 1943 to February 1944 The Swoose’s badly worn camouflage paint was striped off, but the Swoose emblem was repainted, and the flags of the 17 countries she had visited and her speed records were apparently added at this time. With Captain Jack Crane now assigned as Gen. Brett’s pilot, The Swoose flew more than 50 hours a month throughout South America.


During a routine overhaul in February 1944, the inner wing panels were found to have cracks

in the spars and quite a bit of corrosion. Although The Swoose was scheduled to be scrapped, Captain Crane remembered that B-17Bs had been stationed at Albrook before war. Checking the nearby France Field depot, he found some crated, brand-new B-17B inner-wing panels that were identical to those of The Swoose. General Brett was delighted with the find and arranged for The Swoose to have a major overhaul that included installation of those B-17B inner wing panels, which apparently remain on the airplane today.


During that overhaul the Automatic Flight Control Equipment that connected the Norden bombsight to the autopilot was removed and a larger, more substantial carpeted floor was installed in the bomb bay. Curtains were installed and seats scavenged from a C-45 were fitted to The Swoose. Sometime later the original multi-faceted B-17D nose transparency was replaced with a two-piece unit from a B-17G.


Patches covering bullet holes in the fuselage, tail, and control surfaces were found and apparently damaged areas were replaced with new skins at this time. As a final touch, the bare metal surfaces were polished to a high shine. The number “97” was either painted on the vertical tail in late 1941 or after battle damage was repaired and the airplane was polished.


The Swoose’s last official act was to return General Brett to the USA for retirement. She left

Albrook Field on October 14, 1945 for a flight to the West Coast, and from there to Kirtland Field where the airplane was to be decommissioned and scrapped. But that was not to be. Frank Kurtz discovered that The Swoose was being prepared for dismantling at Kingman Field and convinced the city of Los Angeles to purchase her as a “war memorial” for the princely sum of $350.00. After a few weeks work Kurtz flew his favorite airplane from Kingman Field to March Field where she was re-painted in her war colors olive drab and black. Apparently the entire panel with the flags was simply masked over; bare aluminum showed between the flags after painting.


Paul Garber of the Smithsonian Institution learned that The Swoose had survived and during a visit in 1948 found it to be in a very deteriorated condition. He managed to convince the owners to donate the B-17 to the Smithsonian Institution. With Col. Kurtz pushing from the Air Force side, the Air Force agreed to restore to the airplane to airworthy condition for a flight to the Smithsonian’s holding facility at Orchard Park, Illinois.


After repairs, with Kurtz in the left seat and Garber in the right, The Swoose returned to her natural element once again for a flight to March Field where additional repair work was done by Air Force mechanics. On March 26, 1949, with an escort of 12 F-51s, The Swoose departed March Field for the flight to Chicago. In addition to Kurtz as pilot, several members of her crew from the Australian days were aboard. On at least one of the legs of this trip, Margo Kurtz and daughter Swoosie Kurtz were aboard The Swoose. The final leg was completed on March 31.


Though the airplane was to be hangared at Orchard Park until it could be moved to the

Smithsonian, the demands of the Korean War led to it being made airworthy once again and flown to Pyote, Texas, where it was disassembled and stored outdoors alongside the Enola Gay. More than two years later, The Swoose was made airworthy yet again and on December 2, 1953, she departed Pyote on the first leg of a flight to Andrews AFB and the Smithsonian.


During the last leg that flight, Number 1 engine lost power and was shut down. Then an oil line to Number 3 broke and that prop was feathered. About ten minutes out of Andrews, Number 2 began vibrating badly and was also shut down. The battered, worn, and oft-condemned Swoose continued her flight on one engine for a safe landing at Andrews on December 5. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the tough old B-17 had really made its last flight. It sat outdoors at Andrews, with souvenir hunters carrying off anything that could be removed, until 1961 when it was disassembled and placed in storage at Silver Hill, Maryland.


There is no doubt that Swoose presents a major challenge to restore. The first challenge may be to decide just how to restore her. A gleaming, pre-war bare-metal B-17D S/N 40-3097 would represent the period when the B-17 was the pride the Army Air Corps. A war-worn mop-and broom olive drab over natural metal camouflaged airplane would represent the low period of World War II when Allied forces were being chased out of the Philippines, Java, and other Southwest Pacific bases. An unarmed olive drab (or dark green) and black version would represent the months when Allied forces began to hit back at the enemy from Australian airfields. But none of those airplanes would be The Swoose, they’d simply be B-17D 40-3097, sometimes called Old Betsy.


A roughly camouflaged (olive drab or some shade of RAF or RAAF Dark of Foliage Green over Night or black, fully armed bomber carrying The Swoose logo and name would represent her combat period from February 1942 to March 17, 1942 as well as the months she served as General Brett’s combat transport until May 1942, and as she was hailed as a returning veteran of the Pacific war when returned to the States in 1942. Finally, as a gleaming polished airplane with a B-17G nose, a VIP interior, and without the bathtub gun position, carrying her Swoose logo and all the flags on her nose, would represent the final incarnation of The Swoose as she carried out Army Air Force and US diplomatic missions throughout South America.


While the first three possibilities have valid arguments, B-17D 40-3097 is known now as The Swoose, the only survivor of the Army Air Forces that helped to hold the line in the Southwest Pacific. And while the final bare-metal version of The Swoose is certainty a legitimate and the easiest option, it is perhaps not the best. Her post 1942 role was little seen and largely unknown in the States, and paled in comparisons to the impact her simple survival as a ragged veteran of a dark time had on the American public. Just to have survived showed that there was hope when the known world was quite literally being destroyed before their eyes. It is memory of this hope, and the grim determination to prevail that it inspired, we believe should be preserved.


Recently completed and exceptionally researched histories of the early Southwest Pacific War in northern and western Australia have revealed the existence of a wealth of previously unknown data on this period. Works such as Zero Hour in Broome by Dr. Tom Lewis and Peter Ingram offer hope that as yet undiscovered images and records about The Swoose may be found. Libraries, newspaper morgues and photo files in the Laverton, Bachelor Field, and Darwin areas of the Western Australia and Northwest Territories states will yield answers to the numerous questions that surround The Swoose and her brief but famous combat career. If any readers have photos or know of archives (Australian perhaps?) with documentation of The Swoose in 1942, are asked to please contact the authors via Hyperscale and the IPMS Forums.

Edited by MarkYoungCrewChief
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