Massacre of B-17s Attacking Ball-Bearing works at Schweinfurt



A B-17F of the 99th Bomb Group, with the nearly frameless clear-view bombardier’s nose. (Photo courtesy US Army Air Force in public domain)


B-17s Massacred Over Schweinfurt

The ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt was one of the most heavily defended industrial complexes in the Third Reich. Since ball-bearings are critical to machines of every type, the works were circled with huge numbers of anti-aircraft batteries manned by Luftwaffe personnel. (The anti-aircraft system in Nazi Germany came under the command of the German Air Force).

There were ten crewmen in every B-17 which led to very high casualty rates when dozens were shot from the sky by the Germans.


Boeing B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, on Aug. 17, 1943. (US Air Force photo).

In this catastrophic daylight mission against the ball-bearing works in Schweinfurt, Germany, sixty B-17s were lost to enemy action with dozens more having to be permanently withdrawn from operations because of damage.

According to Wikipedia, “The purpose of a ball bearing is to reduce rotational friction and support radial and axial loads. It achieves this by using at least two races to contain the balls and transmit the loads through the balls.”

Explanation of Ball Bearings from wikipedia

We knew that ball-bearings were critical to the German war effort as they were critical to ours. So did the Germans. The ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt were one of the most heavily defended bombing targets in Germany.


B-17s flying through heavy flak over Germany (Photo courtesy US Air Force).


Two B-17 Flying Fortresses’ vapor trails light up the night sky over Eastern Europe (photo courtesy of US Air Force and in the public domain)


The first big raid by the 8th Air Force was on a Focke Wulf plant at Marienburg. Coming back, the Germans were up in full force and we lost at least 80 ships-800 men, many of them pals. 1943. (Photo and caption from the US National Archives in the public domain).

208-YE-7. National Archives Identifier: 535972


 Photograph made from B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 Dec. when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris, France 1943. (Photo and caption from US National Archives in the public domain. Photo info: 208-EX-249A-27. National Archives Identifier: 535712

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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: