The US 8th Air Force Almost Goes Out of Business

American bomber doctrine developed between the wars was based on the assumption that a heavily armed strategic bomber, such as the B-17, which was equipped with up to thirteen .50 caliber machine guns, could execute a mission over enemy territory and return safely home without requiring a fighter escort. The American “Bomber Barons” were so convinced of this theory, they did not proceed with plans to design and build a long range escort fighter. Their assumption proved disastrously wrong.

The generals in charge only changed their minds when the US 8th Airforce was almost completely destroyed in a brief series of fierce air battles over Germany.

On 17 August 1943, in what is known as the Schweinfurt–Regensburg raid, 60 US bombers were shot down, 20% of the attacking force. Another 100 bombers were so badly damaged they had to be scrapped.

The Americans had received such a bloody nose that the 8th did not fly a deep penetration mission again for three weeks.

B-17 going down after severe flak damage.

On 6 September 1943, during a raid on Stuttgart, 45 US bombers went down in flames – 17% of the attacking force.

On 8 September 1943, thirty bombers went down in a raid on Bremen – a loss of 8% of the attacking force.

On 9 September 1943, in a raid on Anklam-Marienburg, 28 US bombers were shot down – a loss of 8% of the attacking force.

On 10 September 1943, 30 bombers went down in flames during a raid on Munster. That was 13% of the attacking force.

On 14 October, the US 8th Air Force flew a mission known as the Second Raid on Schweinfurt, the location of Germany’s main ball bearing manufacturing plants. 60 US bombers were shot from the sky – 26% of the attacking force.

This Boeing B-17F had its left wing blown off by an Me-262 over Crantenburg, Germany.

Over a two month period, 148 four engine US bombers had been shot down, almost 40% of the US bombers in England. More than that number had been so badly shot up they had to be scrapped. There wasn’t much left to the 8th Air Force. Nor was there much left of the theory that bombers could execute missions over enemy territory without long range fighter escort.

Hap Arnold, commander of the USAAF, ordered that a long range fighter be produced and operational within six months.

It is worth noting that in US infantry units in World War Two, three men were wounded for every man who was killed. In the US Army Air Force, three men were killed for every man who was wounded.

Bailout from a Boeing B-17F of the 483rd Bomb Group, 815th Bomb Squadron, over the Weiner Neustadt, Austria rail yards, at 5:10 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1943. The aircraft is at 22,500 feet with two engines feathered. Two crewmen had already bailed out.

Sources: To Command the Sky: the Battle for Air Superiority Over Germany, 1942-1944 by Stephen L McFarland and Wesley Phillips Newton (3 stars) and Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany by Donald L. Miller.

[Images courtesy of the National Museum of the US Air Force.]

The Continuing Mystery of U-234 (Part 2 of 2)

Who Were the Twelve Passengers Aboard?

As I mentioned in my post about U-234 last week, it was almost suicide to go aboard a German U-Boat in the last months of the war if it were going anywhere outside of German controlled waters and even then it wasn’t safe because of constant Allied anti-submarine patrols. And while the U-Boat men did not know it – and would not know till the story of the “Ultra Secret” broke in 1974 – the Allies were reading all top secret German radio messages and knew exactly where each U-boat was.

So what was the ostensible reason each passenger was aboard?

Two were Japanese. Germany and Japan were allies, although they repeatedly failed to bridge the cultural gap between the two societies. Italy was part of the alliance as well and these three countries were known as the Axis Powers. (Other smaller European countries joined over time as well).

The first Japanese passenger was Lieutenant Commander Tomonaga Hideo of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a naval aviator and submarine design specialist. He had been in Germany for two years and had been studying advanced German submarine design. He had made the hazardous trip to Germany via submarine in 1943 – the first part of the trip aboard Japanese submarine I-29, which took him to a rendezvous with German submarine U-180 off Mozambique which took him onward to its home port of Bordeaux in German occupied France.

I-29 was a Japanese type B-1 submarine. This model is of special interest because each B-1 submarine carried a seaplane in a hanger forward of the conning tower. The seaplane was launched by catapult.

The second Japanese passenger was Lieutenant Commander Shoji Genzo, an aircraft specialist who had been studying German swept wing jet fighters. One such fighter, an ME 262, had been disassembled in Germany, packed in special crates, and loaded aboard the submarine. When the U-Boat kommandant, Kptlt Fehler, announced he was obeying the last orders of U-Bootwaffe command and surrendering to the Allies, the the two Japanese officers committed suicide by taking an overdose of the barbiturate, Luminal.

This took thirty-six hours to kill the two Japanese officers, which much annoyed the Germans according to the interrogation report of the U.S. Navy. The Germans buried the two Japanese officers at sea before surrendering.

My next post will cover the German passengers.