B-24 Liberators: Cold and Numerous

The American made bomber, the B-24 Liberator, had a wingspan of 110 ten feet, a length of 64 feet, and weighed 41,000 pounds, which is 20.5 US short tons or 18.3 metric tons. Over 18,000 B-24’s were produced for the war effort – half of which were built at the Willow Run manufacturing plant by Ford Motor Company. At its peak, Willow Run built 650 B-24’s per month in 1944.

B-24s were not pressurized. Above ten thousand feet in attitude, the men went on oxygen. If your oxygen hose was cut by shrapnel, which often happened, you quickly went into anoxia and blacked out. If no one saw you were in trouble, then you quickly froze to death.

Operational altitude for B-24s was 20,000 feet or 6100 meters. At this altitude, the temperature inside the plane would drop to as low as 50 (F) degrees below 0 (F). On each side of the aircraft, were large openings through which the two waist gunners fired their .50 caliber machine guns. The hatches over the openings were raised and locked into position after takeoff and the frigid air came howling through the openings.

The US 8th Airforce (the Mighty Eighth), stationed in England, suffered more casualties from frostbite than enemy action. (Source: Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down Over Germany in World War II by Thomas Childers). This doesn’t include men who were injured when their planes were shot down. The figure is a comparison between frostbite and those crewmen aboard the aircraft injured by German flak or fighter attacks but whose aircraft made it back to England.

When the B-24s reached their initial point (IP) from the target, they had to fly in perfect formation without deviating to ensure maximum accuracy. The time from the IP to the target was approximately 15 minutes during which the bombers flew in a straight line without changing their altitude. In order to maximize the firepower of their numerous .50 caliber machine guns, the bombers flew in a very tight box formation, wingtip to wingtip.

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]

B-24 Liberators under construction at Ford’s Willow Run line during World War II between 1941 and 1945.
B-24 seen flying from above.
Formation of B-24s of the 450th Bomb Group, Italy, World War II in 1944.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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