After an emergency landing in Sweden, a B-17G became a bargaining chip for hundreds of American internees.
During World War II, 143 U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft made unscheduled arrivals in neutral Sweden, 69 of them B-17 Flying Fortresses. Ten of the bombers were handed over to the Swedish government, slated for conversion into 14-seat airliners for use on the Sweden-Scotland route. In return, hundreds of interned USAAF personnel were repatriated.
The Fortresses were designated F-17s in Swedish service, with the F honoring Felix Hardison, the U.S. air attaché who had greatly assisted in the exchange. The first F-17 entered service with Swedish Intercontinental Airlines in early October 1944, and the last was withdrawn on August 7, 1947. Through a fortuitous series of circumstances, one of those converted bombers survives today, now restored to its original configuration.
B-17G-35-BO, serial no. 42-32076, was one of 4,035 B-17Gs built by Boeing in Seattle, Wash. After delivery to the USAAF on January 24, 1944, the new Fortress was ferried across the Atlantic, arriving at Burtonwood on March 2. Subsequently assigned to the 401st Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force, at Bassingbourn, it was one of the first 50 Fortresses sent to Great Britain in bare metal finish rather than camouflage. The B-17G was assigned to Lieutenant Paul C. McDuffee, whose crew chief, Tech. Sgt. Hank Cordes, named it after a popular Andrews Sisters song, “Shoo Shoo Baby.”
The new bomber’s first mission, against Frankfurt, came on March 24, 1944. McDuffee and his crew went on to fly 20 missions in Shoo Shoo Baby, including two raids on Berlin. Arguably their most interesting sortie took place on April 9, when Gdynia on the Baltic coast in Poland was the assigned target. The 91st Bomb Group war diary entry for that mission reads “9-4- 44. Gdynia—recalled,” with a cryptic addition: “1 A/C Marienburg, Completed.” The story behind this terse entry is remarkable.
McDuffee and his crew took off from Bassingbourn in miserable weather. Entering a holding pattern, the lieutenant spotted a formation of Forts from another bomb group, though he couldn’t see any other 91st B-17s. “We’d found a home,” McDuffee recalled, “and we weren’t about to be dispossessed!”
The Forts were heading northeast, toward the Baltic Sea, but their target was not Gdynia. South of Sweden they turned toward the German coastline. McDuffee recounted: “When we approached the coast the navigator immediately picked up Gdynia and Danzig, which obviously were not the targets, and we changed to a course of 190 degrees. About that time we hit a terrific flak barrage and hundreds of fighters. We opened the bomb bay doors and headed for the target when the others did, though we really didn’t know what it was.”
Having bombed a target at Marienburg, the crew encountered an unusual problem. “A shell burst ahead and above us,” McDuffee said, “emitting what appeared to be a big puff of brown smoke. Immediately, another burst just above us, and the whole plane was covered with what looked to be brown tobacco juice. The windows and windshields were completely covered, and the wipers only made it worse. The only way we could see to fly for the rest of the trip was to slide back the windows a bit and sort of stick one eye out.”
Just after McDuffee landed at Bassingbourn, having been airborne for 12 hours and 55 minutes, his engines stopped dead due to fuel exhaustion. When he asked how many other Forts had made it back, the response was, “Nobody, because nobody else left!” Due to a malfunctioning radio, Shoo Shoo Baby hadn’t received the recall message.
McDuffee’s last mission in Shoo Shoo Baby took place on May 24. Command then passed to Lieutenant Robert J. Guenther, formerly McDuffee’s copilot. It appears that the third “Shoo” was added to the bomber’s name at this juncture. Guenther’s first mission as aircraft commander came on May 27. Two days later, he and his crew participated in a raid on an aircraft factory at Posen, Poland. The navigator, 2nd Lt. J.M. Lowdermilk, recalled: “[I] always got to the plane late, as the rest of the crew was ready to go, and I remember that as I walked up to the plane Bob [Guenther] asked me if I knew the way to Sweden because we might run out of gas. I stated that I did and that I had the course charted. This was all in jest, but I have actually wondered what would have happened had this been overheard by the ground crew, since actually we did go to Sweden.”
As they neared the target, the bomber’s no. 4 engine began smoking, so it was shut down. Further trouble cropped up over the target, when another engine was damaged by flak. Knowing Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby was a sitting duck, the crew decided to head for Sweden. “As we approached the coastline,” said Lowdermilk, “Bob was interested in knowing whether or not it was Sweden. I confidently stated that it was, but after the flak started coming up as we got over land, I wasn’t so sure. All of it was low, and I believe the Swedes were just telling us ‘Don’t try anything.’ Just before we reached land we lost the third engine, and we were losing altitude fast. A Swedish fighter came up and led us to Malmö, where a B-24, also in trouble, landed just ahead of us.”
Guenther touched down at Bulltofta airfield, outside Malmö. Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby’s crew was repatriated in late October, but the aircraft remained in Swedish hands.
Following diplomatic wrangling, a deal was struck in which hundreds of interned USAAF aircrewmen were repatriated in re – turn for 10 B-17s, including three spare recovery airframes. Saab converted seven of the Forts at Linköping. All military equipment was removed, two passenger cabins (seating six and eight) were installed and the bomb bay was converted into a cargo compartment, complete with mechanical lift.
In October 1945, the last two Fortresses were transferred to the Danish airline DDL. One of them, the converted Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby, was subsequently registered as OYDFA, and remained in DDL service until early 1948. On April 1, 1948, it was sold to the Danish army air corps, which used the F-17 for aerial survey duties over Greenland.
Withdrawn from service in 1954, the former bomber was sold the next year to the French Institut Géographique National (IGN). It was issued the civil registration F-BGSH in January 1956, and again rebuilt. This time the nose section was modified and two cameras were installed in the belly for aerial survey flights. On its last flight, on July 15, 1961, the front fuselage was damaged in a ground collision, after which the venerable Fortress was simply pushed to the side of the airfield at Creil and left there. F-BGSH had flown a total of 3,364 hours.
In 1968 Australian aviation historian Steve Birdsall researched F-BGSH’s provenance and notified the U.S. Air Force Museum of its unusual history. Unlike most surviving Fortresses, it had been flown operationally in WWII. The French would eventually donate the airplane to the USAF.
Disassembled, it was trucked to Frankfurt in 1972, then shipped to the U.S. With no plans to restore the bomber to flying condition, its main wing spars were cut up to ease transport. As the museum had limited funding, the B-17 remained stored in 27 crates.
In 1977 Tech. Sgt. Michael Leister of the 512th Organizational Maintenance Squadron at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware contacted the USAF Museum about the possibility of restoring one of their aircraft, with work to be carried out by Air Force Reserve volunteers. Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby was chosen for the project, and the dismantled B-17 was trucked to Dover in July 1978. On hand to receive the crated Fortress was former pilot Paul McDuffee and Stanley T. Wray, one-time commander of the 91st Bomb Group. It was an emotional moment for McDuffee, who said, “I’ve just got to go over and kiss her”—then did just that.
The 512th Antique Aircraft Restoration Group was formed to oversee the project. Work continued for a decade to return the bomber to B-17G configuration and flightworthy status. In the end, instead of retaining its original natural metal finish, Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby was painted olive drab. The rebuilt Fortress was flown to Dayton on October 14, 1988.
Now that the B-17G has been on display at the Air Force Museum for 25 years, plans call for it to be moved to the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. In exchange, NASM’s B-17D Swoose was transferred in 2008 to Dayton, where it is currently being restored for display.
This feature originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Aviation History. Subscribe here.