A Horrific Day over Schweinfurt

Today in History, October 14, 1943:

During it’s Second Raid on Schweinfurt, Germany’s ball bearing plants, the Mighty US Eighth Air Force loses SIXTY B-17 Flying Fortress bombers to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.

That number becomes more ominous when you know that each aircraft had at least a 10 man crew, meaning that 600 airmen either lost their lives or were captured that day.

The casualties in the Eighth Air Force over Europe accounted for more than half of the losses for the entire US Army Air Corps.

With over 26,000 dead, it surpassed the horrific losses of the US Marine Corps during the war by far…the USMC having lost almost 18,000 dead in the bitter battles in Pacific Islands.

25 Missions

Today in History, May 17, 1943:

The Memphis Belle, a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th Air Force, completes it’s 25th mission and it’s crew has the opportunity to return to the states.

The event would be documented in an Army Air Force documentary, and later a blockbuster movie. What wasn’t documented in the original documentary was the fact that over 30,000 airmen lost their lives taking the skies over Europe, 8,000 bombers destroyed.

More airmen died in the skies over Europe than Marines in the Pacific.

Today (literally) the Belle was unveiled after years of restoration at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

Flying Tigers Enter Combat

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Today in History, December 20: 1941 –

Nearly two weeks after the surprise attack by the Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the First American Volunteer Group (AVG) enters combat for the first time in defense of Kunming from Japanese Air Force bombers.

The AVG was made up of pilots and air crews who were allowed to resign their positions in the USAAF, US Navy and US Marines before the US entered World War II in order to fly for the Nationalist Chinese Air Force defending the Burma Road…China’s primary access to military supplies.  The AVG members had been recruited by a retired USAAF officer, Claire Chennault, who had been training and supervising Chinese flyers for Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek since the 1930’s.  The covert program had begun in April 1941, and by the time the AVG’s pilots, crews and their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighter aircraft had arrived in Asia and trained, the US had entered the war.

In their first combat the Flying Tigers destroyed 5 of the attacking bombers.  In the coming months they destroyed nearly 300 Japanese aircraft with a loss of 14 of their own aircraft.  In the dark months after Pearl Harbor the Japanese were “sweeping the table” across the Pacific, and the victories of the small Flying Tigers units provided much needed morale boosters for the Allied powers.  In July of 1942, after little more than six months, the unit would be absorbed into USAAF units in the Asian theater of operations.  Most of the pilots returned to US service, including “Tex” Hill and Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.

Pearl Harbor…An Unmitigated Failure for Japan

Today in History, December 7: 1941 –

Did you know that the Japanese surprise attack on the bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was…a tremendous failure? In spite of the horrific losses in lives and the loss of combatant ships and aircraft, the Japanese Task Force missed their primary targets. The battleships and most of the aircraft they destroyed were obsolete…and they knew it.

They were after the American aircraft carriers, which they recognized as the next generation capital ships. Their intelligence was that the American carriers were in port at their berths, but the Kawanishi flying boat that provided that info couldn’t catch that the carriers left soon after it’s recon mission.

The Japanese aircraft failed to destroy the dry dock facilities at Pearl…allowing the repair of many of the ships damaged during the attack, and importantly, the USS Yorktown after the Battle of the Coral Sea, allowing her to take part in the tide-turning Battle of Midway.

And due to Admiral Nagumo’s decision to cancel another sortee, the attack failed to destroy or damage the fuel storage depot at Pearl. Had they done so, the entire fleet would have been forced to retreat the 2500 miles to San Diego (if they could make it there). The US fleet could not have operated from Pearl for nearly a year if they had lost that fuel depot. So while the attack was a flashy victory for the Empire, it was a tactical loss. America’s industrial capacity quickly replaced the losses. God bless our heroes that lost their lives that day.

What was supposed to be the backbone of the US Pacific Fleet, several Battleships, were either completely destroyed or so badly damaged that it would take years before they could put to sea again. the Arizona was virtually blown apart by a direct hit that ignited her magazines (her ammunition stores); the Oklahoma rolled over and capsized; only one of the behemoths managed to get steam up and make a run for the sea. But her commander wisely beached her, fearful that she might be sunk in the channel and put the entire harbor out of commission for months.

The Army commander, more worried about sabotage than air attacks, had ordered all of the Army Air Corps’ aircraft lined up wingtip to wingtip so they could be more easily guarded. They made easy targets for strafing Japanese fighters. Only two Army fighters made it into the air to do battle with the enemy (my father grew up with one of the pilots).