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Aces of Aviation

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress of Frederick W. Castle

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress of Frederick W. Castle

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress from the 487th Bomber Group of the USAF, piloted by Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle the 24th December 1944.

Wingspan: 31.62 meters.

Length: 22.66 meters.

Height: 5.82 meters.

Engine[s]: Four Wright Cyclone R-1820 of 1200 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 462 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 10850 meters.

Range: 3200 kilometers.

Armament: Thirteen Browning M2 12.7-millimeter machine guns; normal bomb load of 1815 kilograms.

General Frederick Walker Castle was the officer of highest rank of the United States 8th Air Force who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, being this reward the last of its kind that the 8th Air Force received during the Second World War. It was awarded posthumously, and at the moment of his death in action Castle was in possession of an impressive array of condecorations: the United States Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Silver Star, the United States Distinguished Flying Cross with three Oak Leaves, the Air Medal with four Oak Leaves, the Purple Heart, the Belgian War Cross with one Palm, the French Legion of Honor, the Polish Military Virtues and the Russian Order of Kutuzov. He was, thus, one of the few aviators holding the highest condecorations to valor of three different nations.

Born the 14th October 1908 in Manila, Philippines, the 2nd October 1924 Castle enlisted as civilian in the National Guard in New Jersey and, after obtaining a place in West Point, the 12th July 1930 he graduated as Second Lieutenant of the Engineers Corps. He was transferred to the Air Corps and recognized as a qualified pilot the 22nd December 1931. From that moment Castle piloted the Boeing P-26 Peashooter with the 17th Pursuit Squadron, based in Selfridge, until the 17th February 1934, when he left the Air Corps to join the Sperry Gyroscope Company. Castle became Deputy President of this organization, notwithstanding keeping his military status in the reserve, and it was during his stay in the company when he and Colonel Ira C. Eaker became friends.

Castle did not return to active service until the 19th January 1942 and, despite being a mere Captain, he was one of the seven officers selected by Major General Eaker to accompany him to England, to be part of the High Staff of the 8th Bomber Command (which later became the 8th Air Force), arriving there the 20th February 1942. Castle was promoted to the rank of Colonel the 1st January 1943 and he asked to take command of the 94th Bomber Group in June 1943. This unit, based in Bury St. Edmunds and equipped with the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, had suffered strong casualties and its moral was severely battered. Under Castle's command, the 94th Bomber Group achieved two mentions as a distinguished unit for the role played in the bombings of Regensburg, the 17th August 1943, and Braunschweig, the 11th January 1944.

The 14th April 1944 Castle received the command of the 4th Combat Bomber Wing and the 20th November he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. The 24th December the 8th Air Force took off towards which would be its most important operation against enemy ground forces in the Ardennes in a single day. Among the 1034 American bombers sent was the B-17G with the serial number 48444 from the 487th Bomber Group, belonging to the 3rd Bomber Division of the 4th Combat Bomber Wing, onboard which Castle flew as commander of the attacking Air Force. Due to the bad weather which lashed the ground, the fighter escort arrived late to its meeting with the bombers and the flagship aircraft was hit hard by the German fighters.

With all of the engines severely damaged, the bomber quickly lost altitude and Castle ordered his crew to parachute, action which saved the life of all of the members. But the General, reluctant to the possibility of bombing allied ground forces, decided to remain at the controls of his aircraft in an effort for landing it. However, enemy fighters attacked again the damaged bomber, torning apart one of its wings and dooming the aircraft to fall ablaze into a spin. The fate of Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle, a veteran of 29 aerial missions, was to die in the cockpit of his bomber.