Volume 04, Issue 9
How interned U.S. Army Air Force B-17s came to help Sweden in World War II
BY MIKE LOMBARDI
March 6, 1944: As part of the campaign to pave the way for the allied invasion of Europe, the U.S. Army Air Force made its long-anticipated strike on Berlin. It was the first massive daylight raid on the capital of Hitler's Reich; as was predicted, the Luftwaffe rose up in force, resulting in heavy losses for both sides.
One of the planes that did not return was a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress named A Good Ship & Happy Ship. After being hit by antiaircraft fire and dropping out of formation, the crew realized that their lone damaged B-17 would not have a chance of making it back to England. Their only hope was to turn north and make for neutral Sweden.
It was the last mission for A Good Ship & Happy Ship, but it would not be its final flight.
During the war Sweden maintained strict neutrality. That declaration allowed the nation to become a refuge for the crews of damaged aircraft from both sides, including more than 1,400 Americans.
By the rules of Sweden's neutrality, the planes and their crews were interned. Early in the war this was not a problem as Allied and German personnel were generally returned on a one-for-one basis. But as the war progressed, a far greater number of Allied planes and crews ended up in Sweden, and they were forced to remain there.
Along with this growing population of Allied airmen that could not be repatriated, Sweden had another problem. Swedish airline ABA (AB Aerotransport) had lost two of its five DC-3s to Luftwaffe fighters while flying the dangerous route between Sweden and Scotland. The airline needed to replace those lost planes, preferably with long-range planes that could fly the safer route over northern Norway.
ABA President Carl Foreman and U.S. Air Attaché Col. Felix Hardison worked out a solution to both problems. They negotiated the delivery of nine of the already interned B-17s to the Swedish government, in exchange for the release of interned American airmen.
Of the nine B-17s, seven were converted into 14-seat airliners by Swedish automobile and aircraft manufacturer Saab. The company advertised the conversion program using the biblical quote, "From swords into plowshares," signifying conversion of the former warbirds to peaceful use.
The converted bombers were officially designated "Felixes" in honor of the U.S. Air Attaché, and were delivered to the forerunners of today's SAS (Scandinavian Airline System). Five went to Swedish airlines ABA and SILA (Swedish Intercontinental Airlines), and two were sold to DDL (Danish Airlines). The Felixes served the airlines until 1948, when the last was retired.
One of these converted bombers was the former A Good Ship & Happy Ship, whose crew was able to guide the damaged plane to a safe landing in Sweden. Saab delivered the plane to ABA/SILA on May 6, 1944, and it was given the new name "Tom." Tragically, after 1,117 hours of service, the plane and its crew of six were lost on Dec. 4, 1945.
In December, on the 60th anniversary of that accident, representatives from Boeing, Saab, SAS and the U.S. Embassy, along with family members of the crew, returned to the crash site to place a memorial plaque honoring the crew. Representing Boeing was Jan Narlinge, acting regional president, Northern and Western Europe.
"The ceremony was attended by children and some grandchildren of all of the crew. I felt that this visit to the crash site gave them comfort and opened the door to their heritage," Narlinge said. "The memorial was also a reminder that the U.S.-provided Boeing B-17s were essential in the early stages of SAS."
The memorial brought to light once more this obscure episode of World War II. Sweden gave a new career to seven Boeing bombers while providing refuge to thousands of Allied airmen who otherwise might have perished in the North Sea while trying to make their way back to England.
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