Black Thursday - Martin Caidin - ebook

Black Thursday, first published in 1960, is the masterful retelling of the U.S. bombing raid on Schweinfurt, Germany on October 14, 1943. The mission's objective was to destroy Nazi ball-bearing factories (ball-bearings were critical in most machinery). Of 291 B-17 Flying Fortresses involved in the attack, 60 planes and 650 men were lost over this heavily defended region. Black Thursday provides an exciting look at the mission: the B-17's background, the briefings, the flight crews and ground crews at work, and, of course, the fateful mission itself. Includes photos and drawings.

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Martin Caidin

Drawings by Fred L. Wolff

Copyright © 1960 by Martin Caidin

First edition eBook, 2018

Published by

ISBN 978-82-93684-25-1

In Memory of


Lieutenant Colonel, USAF,

whose third combat mission was Number 115,

Schweinfurt, 14 October 1943.


Mission 115, up to 1440 hours

Mission 115, from 1440 to 1630 hours


I am deeply grateful to Colonel Budd J. Peaslee, United States Air Force, Retired, who spared no effort to assist me in the task of bringing this epochal air battle back to life. As the air commander of Mission 115, the daylight bombing attack on Schweinfurt, Germany, on October 14, 1943, Colonel Peaslee's contribution is unique. Both as a fighting man and as an observer, he is rich in emotion, courage, and understanding. Without his unselfish assistance and suggestions and kind permission to study and quote from the manuscript of his recollections of the attack, this book would not have been possible. As with any such project, of course, many other people have also contributed greatly to it. My sincere thanks to Beirne Lay, Jr., formerly Lieutenant Colonel, U.S.A.A.F., a great combat pilot and a gifted writer of the air. The staff of the Research Studies Institute, Air University, United States Air Force, have also spared no pains in their close cooperation; among them I wish to extend my thanks particularly to Margaret Kennedy and to Colonel Lawrence Macauley, U.S.A.F. I am no less grateful for the aid of Dr. Albert F. Simpson, chief, U.S.A.F. Historical Division, who has brought to the documentation of the history of air warfare remarkable skill and knowledge of the subject.

For many hours spent in the air with him, in airplanes small and large, and for his patience and skill as a teacher, my thanks to the late Lieutenant Colonel Keith M. Garrison, U.S.A.F. Keith Garrison was in a B­17 on Mission 115; the machine in which he flew his last mission, seventeen years later, was the mighty B­52 of the Strategic Air Command. I am grateful for the ready assistance and suggestions of Carl B. McCamish and of H. M. Mason, Jr., who have always supported and aided my projects. Major Raymond Houseman over the last several years has kept up his own private project to accumulate material for this book, and I owe much to him for his efforts. These acknowledgments would be far from complete if they did not express, finally, my gratitude to Major James F. Sunderman, U.S.A.F., who has worked for many years with me on air­power projects, and whose ready and willing support of these efforts has contributed to them greatly.



The battle fought on Black Thursday stands high in the history of American fighting men. It will be long remembered, like the immortal struggles of Gettysburg, St. Mihiel and the Argonne, of Midway and the Bulge and Pork Chop Hill.

Tens of thousands of our airmen fought in desperate battles in the sky during World War II. From China to the Aleutians, from Australia through the Philippines and across the Southwest Pacific, through the Central Pacific, in Africa and the Mediterranean, and across the length and breadth of Europe, American fliers engaged in combat with the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians.

In all these battles one stands out among all the others for unprecedented fury, for losses suffered, for courage. This was the battle on Black Thursday, Mission 115 of the VIII Bomber Command from bases in England to the savagely defended German city of Schweinfurt. It was a battle in which we suffered unprecedented losses, and a battle that we cannot in honesty remember as having produced the results we had hoped for, or that hurt the enemy's war effort as much as we had believed.

Yet it is an aerial struggle remembered with great pride, for it demanded the utmost in courage, in skill, in carrying on the fight in the face of bloody slaughter. All these things, and more, make up the story of Black Thursday, of this book.

Re­creating the events of the Schweinfurt attack presented complex problems in assembling and coordinating the experiences of a great many men and units and arranging them in relation to time and movement. The air is a fluid medium, and the fight raged across many hundreds of miles thousands of feet above the earth. There were thousands of participants, friendly and enemy, and a vast expanse of the European sky was their battleground.

You cannot revisit the scene of conflict, for there is only the sky, washed clean and unscarred. You cannot walk the battleground, pointing out a hill or a road, a valley or a pass, a stretch of level or rocky ground, and say: "This is where it happened."

You cannot query bystanders or noncombatant witnesses to the fight, for they were far below, on the ground and saw only the war­tossed debris of that struggle in the form of flaming craft, drifting parachutes, trails of smoke, charred bodies, and terrible explosions.

To write Black Thursday I have talked at length with many survivors of the mission. The recollections and written notes of Colonel Budd J. Peaslee, Air Commander of the bomber force that invaded Germany on October 14, 1943, to whom I am indeed grateful for having kept so disciplined a record of his participation in that fight, have been especially valuable. But dozens of other men have also told me of that memorable day in the air. I have compared their recollections with the official histories of Mission 115. At the Research Studies Institute of the Air University of the United States Air Force I have pored over thousands of sheets of paper, the official records of the mission. The handwritten notes of returning crews, the official reports of pilots and bombardiers and gunners and radiomen and navigators, have also been examined. The interrogation reports of intelligence and debriefing officers have been studied. I have read the detailed reports of men who fought that day and returned to their bases, of men who were shot down, later escaped from the German Stalags, evaded pursuit, and eventually returned to England.

I have gone through the final reports of the headquarters of the Eighth Air Force and of its combat arms, the VIII Bomber Command and the VIII Fighter Command. There were also the records of the United States Strategic Bomb Survey, which afford a 20­20 hindsight of the attack and its results, and include the papers of German industrialists whe were in the attacked ball­bearing plants during the raids and afterward. I have also studied German fighter command reports, and have talked with German pilots who flew that October day against our bombers.

In addition to all these firsthand verbal reports and documentary records, accounts, and analyses, there were thousands of feet of film to be studied: films taken by the Germans, taken by gun cameras in the Messerschmitts and Heinkels, Junkers and Focke­Wulfs and other fighters, and films taken by crewmen aboard the battered Flying Fortresses of VIII Bomber Command.

These are the sources that made up this story. When the manuscript was completed, it was read by the Historical Division and the Security Review Branch of the United States Air Force, by Colonel Peaslee, who led the mission; and by others who flew Mission 115 and in so doing contributed to a brilliant accomplishment in the history of our combat in the air. I am "grateful for their valuable suggestions. Responsibility for any inadvertent errors, however, is mine.

What you read in Black Thursday is a compilation of all this material, and has been derived from the sources described above, except where other sources are specifically identified in the text.

This does not, of course, tell of all of the many contributors to this book, some of whom are named in the acknowledgments. Lieutenant Colonel Garrison, for example, as we cruised high above the earth in a bomber, would describe some of the things that happened that day seventeen years ago. I had hoped to be able to weave into this story of Mission 115, in detailed incidents, and with his name, more of the story of my good friend Keith Garrison. Much of the combat material in Black Thursday comes from men such as Keith.

When I was preparing my notes for this book, I received a letter from Keith Garrison, telling me of the material he was preparing for my use. "I hope," he wrote, "to have the material assembled before too long and I will quickly send it along for your evaluation. It won't be a finished or a polished job; SAC doesn't afford us the luxury of secretaries, and I'm getting this out late at night, after flying all day. It will come—all of it­straight from the old ticker, as I can remember most of the details as if it happened only yesterday, and not seventeen years ago.

"My story will be different, as it will be from the other side of the ledger. We were anything but in the policy­making end of the game at that time—as a matter of fact, you couldn't get much farther down on the totem pole as far as chain of command was concerned. We were nothing but a line combat crew hanging on by our toes and trying just to stay alive. By virtue of surviving this mission, my third, and several following in which we suffered heavy losses, I inherited the job of squadron navigator and then started flying group, wing, and division lead missions, even though I was only nineteen years old and less than six months out of flying school. At the October 14 stage of the game, however, we were flying in the low squadron of the low group over the target, near the end of the bomber stream in the order of battle, and you can't get much more vulnerable than that.

"I'm sorry for the delay in getting all this stuff to you. I have been so busy learning my new job and getting a recheck in the B­52 that I haven't had a moment of spare time. But this is something that I really want to do —and I will make the time."

It is painful to write that Keith never found the time that he needed. Three days after he wrote this letter to me Keith Garrison was killed in the flaming crash of his B­52 bomber.

In a way, I hope that this book will stand as a strong and living memory to Keith and the men with whom he flew then, and through all the years since Mission 115. You will not find Keith Garrison's name throughout this book, as you will find the name of his former commander, Budd Peaslee, but he is there, for this, too, was Keith's battle.

I have flown also with Budd Peaslee, and he, too, recaptured some of the feelings, the emotions, the fears that occupied his mind on that terrible day in the air.

This is the story of these men and thousands of other American airmen—a story of which our nation can be most proud.



Over the English countryside a thick fog saturates the air. The pre­dawn darkness of October 14, 1943, is black, cold, and dismally wet. The morning fog squeezes its dank touch into the barracks room, one of many at a sprawling bomber airdrome in the Midlands. It pervades the nostrils and chests of sleeping men, hangs in a tenacious and clammy grip to the curving walls and ceilings of the Nissen hut, slicks the floor with a greasy film. The blankets feel wet, clothes are damp; one could almost reach out and squeeze the water from the air.

It is the bottom of a black ocean of dampness.

The room is dark, and from different directions, in this center of damp nowhere, comes the low sound of Fortress gunners breathing deeply. Most of them breathe steadily. But not all. From one bunk there issue sounds of unease, of a body moving under the blankets. Tn the dark it cannot be seen, but the gunner's face is contorted, he cries out soundlessly, his fingers twitch and curl back on unseen triggers.

Perhaps, if these men could foretell that October 14 would be seared into the history of the United States Army Air Forces as the fateful Black Thursday, their sleep would not be so deep, there would be more figures moving in nightmare, more fingers closing around imagined gun handles, twitching toward unreal firing buttons. But no man ever knows, the night before, and most of these men, already veterans of the growing, flame­lashed air battles over the continent of Europe, have found little solace in idle or fearful speculation about the morrow. There is no pattern by which they may ever know which one of the hundreds of targets, near or far, is to be their next.

Not all the men sleep. Some are awake, but their consciousness is a heavy thing. They stare sightlessly into the dark, feel the discomfort of the cold and the dismal humidity. Others are shapeless mounds, invisible faces beneath the tiny red glow, alternately brightening and dimming, as a man draws deeply on a cigarette, glimpsing briefly the swirl of smoke as it vanishes into the blackness. They are awake, and now sounds—sounds they have been expecting and waiting for—impinge on their troubled rest. There are the first subdued noises of the awakening of other men. A distant door slams faintly somewhere beyond the corrugated­steel wall. Then there comes the growing tread of approaching footsteps. A man can check off these steps; if he has been here long enough, survived enough battles, he knows exactly when they will pause at the door of his hut. In the darkness he sees in his mind a hand reaching for the knob, hears a shuffle of those feet, the barely perceptible sound of the door opening on damp hinges. The feet are inside; the door is closed once more and pushed tight. The feet move again, very close now, past the cot; then they stop and there is the sound of a hand brushing against clothing.

A single match flares yellow, stabbing through the blackness, lighting a grotesque figure, thick and bulky in his heavy sheepskin jacket and flying boots.

Then blinding light as the squadron operations officer hits the wall switch. The room is cold and wet and stinking, but if a man snuggles down deep enough into his blankets and wraps the ends around his feet and burrows his head into the pillow, he can elude the cold. The light is more than a disagreeable glare in unaccustomed eyes; it means a rude and unpleasant entry into the wet and the cold.

The men who are awake lift their heads wearily to stare at the officer. Eyes follow him silently, blankly, as he reaches the center of the hut in a measured stride, then stops. Because not all the men are flying today, and because sleep is a precious thing, he reads from the list in his hand in a low voice. As the names are spoken, those men who have been tagged by the operations roster groan wearily, or without sound push their blankets aside and slide their feet to the cold floor. Some sit there, unfeeling, unthinking, for long seconds; others light cigarettes or curse softly for the sheer sake of cursing. Almost all shiver slightly from the dampness and chill that swiftly replace the pleasurable warmth of the bunks. When he has read the last name, the officer looks around for a moment, absently folding the little white piece of paper and shoving it into a pocket. The summons to fly into Germany has been given. "Briefing's at 0700," he says softly, and walks to the door. It opens and closes, and the officer, outside, treads once again through the wet and cold toward the next hut, where the same scene will be re­enacted. Another slip of paper, another list of names, another summons. To what? Death, wounds, terror? Death and wounds are imponderables; they are maybes. But terror is not, and many will feel its suffocating embrace before the day is out. They do not even think of it; they know, and accept its inevitability.

Some miles away, across the flat countryside of the Midlands, a light, cold, persistent rain falls from the sullen clouds hanging low over another heavy bomber base at Thurleigh, about fifty miles north of London, where the 40th Combat Wing has its headquarters.

On his cot, Colonel Budd J. Peaslee opens his eyes. Later, much later, when October 14, 1943, has entered into history, Colonel Peaslee will think of what has passed. Of this moment he will write in his personal notes: "I can see nothing but complete darkness. I hear water dripping from the eaves of my hut, spatting sharply against the sodden ground. In the distance I can hear the muted rumble of many engines—they have been rumbling all night. At times the rumble changes to a high, penetrating tone as some mechanic ­winds one up to full throttle, but there is always that dull, monotonous background of sound. Thousands of men have been working while I slept—they have worked throughout the black night in the rain and cold. They have worked on bombers and fighters, repairing previous battle damage, tuning engines, loading bombs, and readying thousands upon thousands of rounds of .50­caliber ammunition. The lights have burned all night behind the blackout curtains of our headquarters as navigators pored over their charts and intelligence officers studied flak maps and plans of enemy fighter fields."

Today Colonel Peaslee will be the air commander of the First Bomb Division. He will lead the Eighth Air Force over Germany.

"I went to bed but I did not go to sleep at once," he recalled as we talked. "It's more than difficult to go to sleep at will when you are planning a long trip over strange and hostile roads, along which there will be known hazards. Scenes from past missions meandered across my memory as brightly as they did on the nights immediately after those raids....

"I did not know that before another night had come I should have witnessed a play—a drama of life and death —whose every action would never fade from my mind. It would be set on a vast stage, the sky over Germany, and the actors would be my flying friends, my brothers in arms, with the German Luftwaffe portraying a bloody and unrelenting villain. I did not know. Sometime during the night I drifted off to sleep."

And now it is almost morning. The darkness begins slowly to lighten toward the east, although almost imperceptibly through the fog and the drizzle. At these two American bomber bases and sixteen others, all across the Midlands, the men dress quietly, more than three thousand of them. They do not wish to disturb the oblivion of their sleeping comrades. They pull on boots, jackets, pick up helmets, gloves, oxygen masks, and other personal items. They file out­of­doors. The last man in each barracks switches off the light and eases the door shut quietly, envying the others in their slumber, huddled islands among the sea of empty beds.

An empty bed. Who could believe it holds such meaning? How many men have slept in one particular bed? Men never to return, never to come home from the terrible arena of the thin, high air over Germany, men who failed to run successfully the gantlet of machine guns, cannon, anti­aircraft shells, rockets, aerial bombs and mines, broken wings and flaming tanks and shattered cockpits....

Empty beds. Tonight, as October 14, 1943, passes into history, more than six hundred of those beds will remain empty.




Even experienced veterans of strategic air warfare in the European Theater of Operations found it difficult to believe, in October, 1943, that only fourteen months had passed since the first American heavy bombers had ventured forth from British soil into the skies over German­dominated Europe.

At thirty­nine minutes past three o'clock in the afternoon of August 17, 1942, the last of 12 B­17E Flying Fortresses of Colonel Frank K. Armstrong's 97th Bomb Group, first American heavy bomber unit to arrive in England, lifted from the main runway of the American airdrome at Grafton Underwood. The names of these giant four­engine raiders spoke of crew enthusiasm— baby Doll, Peggy D., Big Stuff, Butcher Shop, Yankee Doodle, Berlin Sleeper, Johnny Reb, Birmingham Blitzkrieg, Alabama Exterminator.

The bombers assembled in tight formation, and in a steady climb wheeled for the English Channel, pointing their noses toward the target in France—the city of Rouen. Four Royal Air Force squadrons of Spitfire IX fighter planes flew close escort to the target area. Five Spitfire IX squadrons picked up the bombers as they left the smoking target, and escorted them back to England.

In that first attack by American heavy bombers in the European Theater of Operations, the tiny force dropped a total of 36,900 pounds of bombs from an altitude of 23,000 feet. Approximately half the bombs fell in the target area.

Anti­aircraft fire inflicted slight damage on two bombers. Three Messerschmitt Me­109 fighters attacked the formation, but failed to damage any of the B­17's. The only casualties of the Flying Fortress debut over Europe occurred on the return flight from the target. A bombardier and navigator of one B­17 were slightly injured when a pigeon smashed itself against the plexiglas nose and showered the crewmen with flying particles.

The target—the Sotteville marshaling yard in Rouen, with its large locomotive depot and rolling­stock repair shops of the Buddicum concern—was not seriously damaged, and operations were affected only negligibly. The attack, however, was immeasurably more important in terms of policy decisions for the United States than it could possibly have been in respect to the bombed marshaling yard. For behind the 12 bombers as they droned over France lay a story of long debate and bitter controversy.

In this summer of 1942 the strategic and logistic plans of the Allies, most especially those concerning the proposed aerial bombardment by the Army Air Forces of occupied Europe and Germany, floundered in a state of extreme uncertainty. That Germany must be subjected at the earliest opportunity to the greatest possible weight of heavy aerial attack was beyond dispute. The question around which revolved the uncertainty of decision was to what extent the United States would commit its heavy bombardment strength to Europe at the expense of offensive operations in the Pacific, where the Japanese still enjoyed the heights of their overwhelming victories.

As part of the preparation for the invasion of Nazi­occupied France under the code name of BOLERO, the United States during the spring of 1942 committed its operational planning to building up a major heavy bombardment striking force in the British Isles, with the goal of eventually crippling the German war machine. On January 28, 1942, the Army Air Forces had activated the Eighth Air Force; three months later, in April, the Eighth was committed to BOLERO. One month later, in May, the paper plans assumed initial substance, when advance units of the fledgling air command—which was to become the most powerful striking force in the world­crossed the Atlantic and arrived in England. It was a harrowing transfer of air power to an advanced base, for the Flying Fortresses and the Liberators had to fight wild Atlantic storms, and more than a few bombers and their crews disappeared in the reaches of the angry ocean expanse.

The early life of the new command was essentially a frenzied nightmare of jumbled logistics and shortage of men and planes. Under the leadership of Major General Carl A. Spaatz, the Eighth was organized into bomber, fighter, composite (training), and service commands. General Spaatz's headquarters for the Eighth Air Force was located in the suburbs of London, at Bushy Park, Teddington, and carried the coded designation of WIDEWING.

To Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker went all the headaches of the Eighth's initial bomber force, the VIII Bomber Command. On April 15 General Eaker established his headquarters for the Bomber Command in a girls' school (from which the students and other tenants had been hurriedly evacuated) at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, some thirty miles west of London. This headquarters became well known by its code name of PINETREE.

Easing the burden of Eàker's problems was the superb cooperation offered by the British. The Royal Air Force Bomber Command was a combat­proved organization, and its growing strength and skill in air operations were beginning to exert a telling effect upon Germany's industrial war machine. While the forces under Eaker were still embryonic and struggling to gain some semblance of aircraft strength, the British were hammering with massive blows at Germany.

Those were the days when the Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force was hurling massed waves of bombers at the industrial might of the Ruhr, and when the heavyweights of that command—the Stirlings, Halifaxes, and Lancasters— began to lift bomb tonnages well above a thousand to two thousand tons per raid. The Royal Air Force's campaign of aerial attack against Germany was accomplished fact, as were the increasing number and violence of the raids against the enemy.

Early in 1942 British authorities began their buildup of the airdromes and installations that would house and maintain the many elements of the Eighth Air Force. If there were differences of opinion and at moments some bitter arguments, these arose more from the vexing problems created by the Americans' constantly changing their plans than from any vacillation in operations on the part of the British.

To meet the requirements of its varied organizations, the Eighth Air Force received from the British a total of 127 airdromes and all other installations and facilities necessary to sustain the bombers, fighters, service, and maintenance units, and supporting organizations.

As for the growing pains of the VIII Bomber Command, they arose almost inevitably from the rapidly growing size and changing organization of the command. The British, however, managed the greater portion of the time to keep pace with the needs of the American units that flooded into England.

Originally the proposals set forth under mutual agreement stated that the VIII Bomber Command would take over from the Royal Air Force five areas in the region of East Anglia, northeast of London, with 15 airdromes contained within each area. In addition, the VIII would also assume tenancy of any satellite airfields that might be necessary to accommodate additional aircraft, personnel, and facilities for operations.

By May of 1942 the British and Americans were in agreement on the location of the bomber airdromes. Into the Huntingdon area and adjacent sections of East Anglia went the Army Air Forces heavy bombers, and the airdromes of Grafton Underwood, Thurleigh, Molesworth, Little Staughton, Kimbolton, Polebrook, Chelveston, and Podington became the "veterans" of VIII Bomber Command.

There is ample evidence of the outstanding cooperation afforded the American bombing organization by our British Allies. In General Eaker's report of June 19, 1942, to General Spaatz, he wrote of the British that they had "cooperated 100 per cent in every regard. They have lent us personnel when we had none, and have furnished us clerical and administrative staffs; they have furnished us liaison officers for Intelligence, Operations, and Supply; they have furnished us transportation; they have housed and fed our people and they have answered promptly and willingly all our requisitions; in addition they have made available to us for study their most secret devices and documents. We are extremely proud of the relations we have been able to establish between our British Allies and ourselves...."

As the VIII Bomber Command gained experience, it was eventually able to reduce its requirements from the 75 major airdromes originally authorized to 62 fields. Originally the United States bombing arm included three wings in East Anglia, the 1st Bombardment Wing under the command of Colonel Newton Longfellow, with headquarters at Brampton Grange; the 2d Bombardment Wing under Colonel James P. Hodges, at Old Catton; and the 3d Bombardment Wing, under Colonel Charles T. Phillips, at Elveden Hall. For smooth functioning in combat, the internal organization of the command was adapted as quickly as possible to the communications system of the Royal Air Force and finally the American Bomber Ann was permanently organized into bombardment wings. B­17 heavy bomber groups went, in this reorganization, into the 1st and 4th Wings; B­24 heavy bomber groups into the 2d Wing; and the B­26 medium bombers into the 3d Wing.

No one in those days would have anticipated that Eaker's disorganized bomber force would within the next thirty months expand and grow in power until it constituted fully half the anticipated combat group strength of the entire Army Air Forces.

The Rouen attack involved a total of 160 officers and enlisted men airborne. Two and a half years later a single mass bomber attack by the VIII would send—in heavy bombers alone—more than twenty­five thousand fighting men into the air over Germany.

As subsequent events proved with overwhelming impact, the original Allied planners who formulated the machinery to attack the German positions in Europe tended in the first place grossly to underestimate the fighting skill and capacity of the Germans, and, secondly, to overestimate in even more unrealistic fashion the fighting capacity of the Allied forces. It is difficult to accept the validity of the strategy established in April, 1942, under Operation ROUNDUP, which called for an Allied invasion across the English Channel in the spring of 1943. But even more bizarre was the conviction at that time that, if urgently required, the Allies could accelerate their invasion plans and—successfully—move up their proposed assault against the Continent to September, 1942. Despite its impressive code designation, this Project SLEDGEHAMMER would have been, we are aware today, doomed to murderous defeat at the hands of the more seasoned, better­organized, and better­equipped German defense forces.

By August, 1942, as a result of unremitted controversy at high levels as to the distribution of American bomber strength between the northern European, Pacific, and Mediterranean theaters, the plans for BOLERO were waxing uncertain. The invasion of North Africa in the autumn of 1942 had been decided upon in July, and this new venture, designated as TORCH, led to the further diversion of the air build­up that had been planned for BOLERO.

Thus the aspirations of the Army Air Forces for an early and growing assault against Germany, from their very inception, had to suffer from the more pressing demands of areas where sea and ground forces, as well as those of the air, were engaged or would be soon engaged with the enemy. Simultaneously with its series of disappointments, the Eighth Air

Force watched its British contemporaries in the Royal Air Force Bomber Command accelerate their own powerful effort in the mass bombing of German cities. The Royal Air Force program was simplicity itself: hurl every possible ton of high explosives and incendiaries into Germany, and rip and burn the cities to the ground.

After the landings in Morocco and Algeria in November, 1942, the fighting in North Africa, which sorely taxed the already heavily strained American and British capabilities, forced the Allies to postpone indefinitely their plans for a strike across the Channel. As the North African campaigns progressed through the winter and into the spring of 1943, however, it seemed that the requirements of that theater would wane appreciably, to the benefit of BOLERO. The British in the Western Desert had at least swept the Germans from their main positions in that area, and the American and British forces moved slowly toward a meeting in Tunisia where the surviving German elements could be crushed and all of North Africa secured. By early spring, 1943, these objectives were in sight; BOLERO, however, suffered once again from demands of other theaters for air­power forces which the BOLERO planners had expected would be placed in their hands.

Commanders in the Pacific Theater were up in full cry for air power. Fifteen bombardment groups that had originally been committed for assignment to BOLERO instead went the other way around the world, dispatched to the air forces fighting the Japanese.

As this internal struggle to obtain weapons and man power was fought in the high command and within the Army Air Forces, the master plan called CBO—Combined Bomber Offensive—went into higher gear. CBO was conceived early in the war, and received its official authorization at the Casablanca conference early in 1943, and as rapidly as possible it was implemented with the growing strength of the VIII Bomber Command into a functioning reality.

CBO is the best defined as the combined effort on the part of the United States Army Air Forces and the Royal Air Force to prepare the way for the storming by invasion of Europe, with each air force operating on the basis of its own particular capabilities and concepts, the Royal Air Force with its operations at night in attacks against strategic areas, and the Army Air Forces striking at particular targets in daylight.

As it was planned and defined in early 1943, CBO specified a mission in which the Luftwaffe was to be engaged and destroyed in aerial battle, and through bombing, as a prerequisite to OVERLORD, the invasion by ground forces of the European continent.

By the end of June, 1943, the strength of the Eighth Air Force passed the 100,000 mark. During this same period VIII Bomber Command reached a strength level of 40,000 men, or nearly half of the entire Eighth Air Force. Its new commander, who took over from General Eaker, was Brigadier General Frederick L. Anderson, who had served as Deputy Director of Bombardment at Army Air Forces headquarters since January, 1942. Thirty­eight years of age, General Anderson, a West Point and Kelly Field graduate, had served five years in the Philippines and had later directed bombardier instruction at the Air Corps Tactical School.

By mid­1943 the organization of the combat bases in England had stabilized around a set pattern. The combat group of each base comprised the core of the installation, and around this central unit revolved the remainder of the base organization. Each combat group of heavy bombers was made up of three or four squadrons, averaging 1,600 men to each bomber group. To service each of these bases there were usually an ordnance company; quartermaster, signal, chemical warfare, and military police detachments; a service squadron, a detachment of the service group headquarters, and a headquarters squadron. In addition, there were units for finance, weather, gas defense, and other specialized services, and attached infantry. The service units added approximately five hundred men to the combat group, bringing the total strength at each base to an average of 2,000 men.

In September, 1943, just before Mission 115 against Schweinfurt, the VIII Bomber Command underwent command reorganization. The 1st and 2d Bombardment Wings were redesignated as the 1st and 2d Bombardment Divisions (H) [Heavy.], and the 4th Bombardment Wing was redesignated as the 3d Bombardment Division ( H ). The old 3d Bombardment Wing—made up of B­26 Marauder medium bombers—had been transferred in June to the VIII Air Support Command.

Under the new system, several bomber groups flew in combat under command of a wing, and several wings made up an air division. Each wing organization was identified only by its command status, and the personnel maintained their headquarters at a group airdrome.

By the close of September, 1943, there were active in the VIII Bomber Command these groups: the 100th, 381st, 384th, 385th, 388th, 390th, 482d, 389th, and 392d.

Each new bomber group airdrome assumed an appearance familiar from the other fields spread through the Command's area. Great pains were taken in construction to assure the maximum benefit of camouflage, and the fields with their many installations blended skillfully into the surrounding countryside. A rule in construction was the widest possible dispersion of all major installations and facilities in order to reduce vulnerability to German air attack.

Bordering the runways were the repair and supply services; from two thousand feet to a mile from this area would be found the headquarters site, and here were the offices of administration and operations. Close to the living quarters, as a general rule, were the mess halls, post exchange, a large shower bathhouse, clubs for officers and enlisted men, and quartermaster supply warehouses.

From seven to eight housing sites, widely separated by a mile or more, contained the group and base personnel, and this dispersion, while promising greater protection from German bombs, was a curse on the men. The main form of transport was the bicycle, not because of a love for athletics; a bike was simply a necessity for getting around without long and wearying trudges, often in rain or fog, through the thick mud of the fields. Technical personnel had the choice of walking ( or riding their bicycles) over a distance each day of up to nine or ten miles, simply to move between the areas where they worked, ate, and slept.

Each of these group airdromes was the scene of a constant influx of new strength, of more bombers; of construction work carried on at all hours; of steady toil by mechanics and ground crews modifying the bombers as fast as they arrived from the States; of endless training in the air and on the ground—a vast, churning activity heralding the build­up of strength to that point when an armada, in fact as well as description, could penetrate Germany's skies and inflict punishing blows on the Reich's war machine.

Behind this build­up of strength was a burning question of strategic import, the solution of which would decide beyond further readjustment of plans the logistics and strategy of BOLERO. Could the combined British and American heavy bomber forces strike the German industrial machine and the war economy so effectively that the planned cross­Channel invasion would be accomplished at appreciably less cost? The use of strategic air power to cripple the industrial strength of the enemy was in every respect, at that time, little more than a concept, and not a policy which had proven itself.

Accordingly, it suffered sorely from continuing opposition from the more conventional planners, who held strongly to the role of air power subservient to the established needs of sea power and ground forces.

And, supposing that strategic air power could so weaken the German industrial and war machine as to make surface attack against the Continent possible without the frightful losses it would otherwise cost, could it accomplish this objective without stripping other combat theaters in the world of their critical air­power requirements? To win the battle over Europe while losing half the rest of the contested planet would indeed be a worthless venture.

There existed one great final question, which still had to be answered, presuming even that the first two were satisfactorily resolved. Could this promised ravaging of the German industrial complex and its military defense structure be achieved within a percentage of acceptable losses in combat? This was the greatest of the many unknowns at the time: assuming all else lay within the potential of the heavy bombers as a striking force, there hung over the entire campaign the threat of disastrous losses at the hands of a fighter defense system acknowledged to be the equal of any in the world. The Flying Fortress was an aerial porcupine of sorely questioned ability; no less so was its sister craft, the B­24 Liberator.

The British made no attempt to conceal their feelings about these two bombers; bluntly they informed the American commanders that their daylight attacks were doomed to catastrophic losses and defeat at the hands of the powerful German defense system. The Germans had tried daylight bombing against England, and been shattered in the attempt; later, the British had attacked European targets in daylight, and suffered appalling losses both from German fighters and from anti­ aircraft. The same, they warned, would be the lot of the American heavy bombers.

It was difficult for the British to accept the defensive power that the B­17 promised. It featured extraordinary structural strength, and its ruggedness meant that the airplane would return from combat missions even when slashed to ribbons by enemy fire. Its one great fault lay in its susceptibility to fire; throughout the war there was a continuing attempt to reduce the inflammability of the Flying Fortress in respect to its fuel tanks.

In firepower, nothing like this airplane had ever before been seen. As many as thirteen .50­caliber machine guns, firing from hand­held gun positions plus power turrets, gave the B­17 an unprecedented field of defensive fire. The B­17F models mounted two to four machine guns in the nose, two guns in a power turret atop the fuselage directly behind the pilots' compartment, a single machine gun farther aft that was operated from the radio room, two guns in a power­operated ball turret in the belly, a single gun firing from waist positions to the rear of the airplane, and two machine guns in the tail.

No matter what its position in the air, a fighter could be subjected to a withering blast of fire from the many guns of the bomber; often several gun positions could bring their weapons to bear on a single airplane. As the war progressed, improvements in the firepower arrangement were incorporated into the bombers; gun positions were modified for better field of fire, turrets were "cleaned up" and afforded the gunners better visibility, and a power­operated "chin turret," mounted directly beneath the nose, gave better protection against the deadly frontal attack of German fighters.

Like its B­17 sister ship, the B­24 Liberator was a big, heavily­defended bomber. It lacked the total number of guns of the Fortress, but the B­24 nevertheless featured power turrets with two guns each in the nose, upper fuselage, belly, and tail, plus the two waist guns, for a total of ten .50­caliber weapons.

The Fortress was not only rugged and superb on the controls, but it was the steadiest flying platform ever built. This was of vital importance in maintaining tight defensive formations, where the crisscrossing field of defensive firepower, plus the controllability of the plane and its ability to absorb staggering punishment, often meant the difference between acceptable losses or an outfit's being cut to pieces and scattered.

In these characteristics the Liberator was less richly endowed. Faster than the B­17 and able to carry a heavier bomb load over a greater distance, it could not sustain the battle damage that the B­17 accepted and survived. Attempts to improve the defensive firepower and armor plating of the B­24 so overloaded the airplane that it assumed dangerous flying characteristics, and its stability was sorely compromised; the modifications were dropped. The B­24 was an excellent weapon, and because of its flight performance characteristics, it proved to be of outstanding success in the vast reaches of the Pacific Theater. Against the "big league" of German opposition, however, it was the B­17 Flying Fortress that ranked as the prime combatant.

Each airplane flew with a normal crew of 10 men; depending on the mission to be flown, this could vary from nine to 11 crew members. Both machines had four radial engines, each of 1,200 horsepower; the B­17, fully loaded—thirty tons—had a speed of approximately one hundred and seventy miles per hour. The B­24 was slightly faster.

They were both able to operate at altitudes up to 27,000 feet in formation; what was a valuable weapon in the Pacific— height—became meaningless against the superb German fighters, which with no effort flew to 38,000 and 40,000 feet and streaked down, the sun behind them, to rip into the bombers.

With all its armor, guns, self­sealing tanks, and special equipment, the B­17 had a normal radius of action from England of 600 to 700 miles, carrying 5,000 pounds of bombs. For shorter missions the bomb load could be increased by several tons; over a radius of 700 miles, the bomb load had to be decreased. In this area the B­24 was a slightly better performer; it carried over the same range from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds more bombs than the B­17.

These are basically technical comparisons; it should be emphasized that despite any shortcomings, both the B­17 Flying Fortress and the B­24 Liberator were the weapons that, eventually, with long­range fighter protection, penetrated to all points of Europe and inflicted grievous blows against the Germans. They were not always employed wisely, but that is the fault of the planner, and not the machine. Perhaps the best proof of the quality of these machines, besides their superb combat records, was that the best German aeronautical science could not produce an aircraft to rank with these great American bombers.

This, then, was the background out of which eventually developed the massive bombardment of Germany from the air. At this time the Royal Air Force had amassed a vast body of experience; but unhappily for the VIII Bomber Command, not even the constantly growing might and mounting successes of the British could provide the insight desperately required for the solution of the weighty problems of the Army Air Forces. The British technique for the use of long­range bombers was diametrically opposed to the American plan. Their selections of targets, their preference for lightly armed bombers, striking in nocturnal raids; the very bombs and methods of attack they employed, yielded little experience that the VIII Bomber Command could usefully apply to its own future role.

The British clearly preferred attack by the stars. They had whipped the German Air Force at its peak in daylight defense, and had demonstrated beyond all question the inability of the Luftwaffe to maintain daylight raids. The Germans had, however, proven themselves capable, even with a sorely weakened bomber force, of inflicting punishing damage and destruction upon England under the mantle of darkness. For these reasons, and because of their firm belief that daylight attacks were suicidal 'in the face of the vigorous and highly capable German fighter force, the British disdained the daylight bombing campaign.

The VIII's hopes could not have been more different. Essentially the Army Air Forces program called for a sustained daylight bombing campaign, carried out with high precision, which, rather than attempting to destroy entire cities in saturation raids, would wreck carefully chosen industrial objectives. The VIII's planners worried their hair gray trying to resolve the complex and interwoven factors of the excellent German anti­aircraft defense, the depth and efficiency of their own radar and fighter­control operations, and the known excellence of the Luftwaffe's. Still unresolved was the crucial question of the ability of the American heavy bomber to enter German air territory without escort and defend itself against the superb German pilot and his airplane. The curse of it all was that the best­laid plans could be measured only through the sustained test of battle.


This message would be read to all crews at mission briefings the morning of October 21, 1943, prior to take­off for the attack against the city of Schweinfurt:

To all leaders and combat crews. This air operation today is the most important air operation yet conducted in this war. The target must be destroyed. It is of vital importance to the enemy. Your friends and comrades that have been lost and that will be lost today are depending on you. Their sacrifices must not be in vain. Good luck, good shooting, and good bombing.

 (Sgd.) F. L. Anderson,

Brigadier General, U.S.A.A.F.



Anti­friction bearings, as essential components of virtually every mechanical device and weapon used in World War II, occupied a highly critical position in the war economy of Germany. Aircraft, tanks, armored and motor vehicles, a diversity of weapons, submarines and warships, electrical equipment, precision instruments, and plant machinery all depended on anti­friction bearings for speed and efficiency of performance. Bearings were literally the mechanical lubrication of the entire German war effort.