Tag Archives: World War II

Schweinfurt Two: sixty B-17s downed, 650 airmen killed

I hope that you were able to read my blog post about the American Eighth Air Force’s first raid on the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt. This brave action took place on August 17th 1943, and was a catastrophe. As I wrote a few weeks ago…

“The raid caused a 34 per cent loss of production at Schweinfurt but this was soon made up for by surplus supplies from all over Germany The industry’s infrastructure, while vulnerable to a sustained campaign, was not vulnerable to destruction by a single raid.”

I quoted the casualty figures…

“230 bombers had taken part, and sixty of these were destroyed. Five hundred and fifty two men were killed in the air, and seven poor souls made it back home, but, alas, had already succumbed to their injuries. Twenty one men were badly wounded. Beyond the sixty B-17s shot down, between 55-95 further aircraft were badly damaged. Of these many were too severely damaged ever to be repaired.”

Despite these huge losses, the Eighth Air Force plan had always been to go back to Schweinfurt a second time. It was to take the best part of two months to rebuild their forces, but on October 14th 1943, the B-17s returned to attack the factories where, at the time, American wartime intelligence thought ball bearing production had been permanently reduced by up to a third.
This time, changes would be made. Instead of a two-pronged attack on the ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt aircraft works at Regensburg, the entire force would attack Schweinfurt alone.

2 photos contrails

Secondly, additional fighter escorts were added to protect the vulnerable bombers as much as was possible during both the outward and return journeys of the operation. Each of the three bomber wings, therefore, was to be escorted by multiple squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts. For an unknown reason, though, none of the P-47s were equipped with drop tanks, an important mistake which significantly limited their escort range. And one outfit of fighters previously allocated to the Flying Fortresses was given the job of acting as an escort to the 29 B-24 Liberator bombers on a diversionary mission to Emden.

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At first, though, things went quite well. When the bombers were initially intercepted as they crossed the coast the P-47s succeeded in shooting down seven Bf 109s. But over the Netherlands the P-47s came to the end of their range and the B17s were left alone and virtually defenceless.  Large numbers of Focke-Wulf FW 190s and Messerschmitt Bf 109s  made repeated attacks exactly as they had done in August. The 305th Bomb Group lost 13 of its 16 B-17s in just a few minutes. Further into Germany, this second Schweinfurt Raid would soon follow the same pattern as the first one.

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As well as single engined fighters, twin engined Messerschmitt Bf110s and Junkers Ju88s were encountered. They carried much heavier cannon.

two by two

This time, many more aircraft were armed with Werfer-Granate 21 rocket launchers, firing unguided stand-off rockets.

two rockets

Here are two wonderful pictures from the Life Magazine of  the day, showing the heroic efforts of the brave young Eighth Air Force gunners.

As in August, although the ball-bearing factories were badly hit, the mission did not achieve any long lasting effects. Ball bearing production was halted for around six weeks but these losses were again easily made up by the large stocks the Germans already had. After this second attack, all of the ball bearing facilities were dispersed from Schweinfurt across the whole of Germany to reduce the risk of their being bombed for a third time.
General “Hap” Arnold claimed that “Black Thursday” and its losses were just incidental, but daylight bomber raids deep into Germany without fighter escort were suspended until further notice. Cynics might well have asked just how many B-17s did the Eighth Air Force have left on strength anyway?
Long distance bombing raids would only recommence in February 1944 with the advent of Operation Argument, a series of missions later to be called the “Big Week”. By then, escorts were available in the form of P-51B Mustangs.

Arnold’s “incidental losses” on the second Schweinfurt raid were astounding. Of the 291 B-17s on the mission, 60 were shot down over enemy territory.

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Another 17 bombers were damaged so heavily that they had to be scrapped. A further 121 B-17s were damaged to a greater or lesser extent and many of the crippled bombers would require a great deal of time and effort to repair them.

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These B-17 losses represented more than 26% of the attacking force. The losses of aircrew were equally devastating, with 650 men killed out of 2,900, some 22% of the bomber crews. Certain units were hugely affected. The 306th Bomb Group lost 100 men, with 35 either killed in the air or died of wounds and 65 made Prisoners of War. The 305th Bomb Group lost 130 men with 36 killed outright. This constituted 87% of their complement.

fighting man

My own father, Fred, even if he seems never to have had a great deal of contact with the Americans of the Eighth Air Force, always had enormous respect for their almost unbelievable bravery. Some thirty years after the war, as I returned from university, Fred was to accompany me, one dull autumn day, on a visit to the American Cemetery at Madingley near Cambridge.

Cambridge_American_Cemetery_and_Memorial

How strange to think that these neatly kept graves may well have been the last resting place of some of the brave young airmen he had watched flying high above him in the frosty blue sky of East Anglia so many years previously.

If your navigational skills are up to it, this is Part One of a ten film series about  the Schweinfurt raid.

In another blog post, I will look at what the Eighth Air Force did after the two disastrous raids on Schweinfurt, and how their airmen’s lives were saved, and arguably the Second World War was won, thanks to Ronnie Harker, a New Zealander who at the time was working at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire, just six miles to the north west of where I am sitting right now as I write the conclusion to this post.

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The monster lurked in the crowd

This is my first attempt at being creative in a blogpost. Given the subject matter I have chosen, World War I, or the Great War as it was called until 1939, it would be easy to offend people. That is not at all my intention. Indeed, I am trying to draw the attention of the living to just how much those 888,246 young casualties were asked to give up….all the rest of their young lives, the wives and husbands they never had, the children, the careers, their quiet old age. Everything.
Cue the first section of this well-known song, written by John Lennon…

“I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man…..”

Well, to be absolutely precise, not just one lucky man, but all 888,246 of them.
Every single one, in actual fact, of the military fatalities of World War One from Great Britain and the British Empire, each one of which will be commemorated by a ceramic poppy, planted on his or her behalf in the dry moat of the Tower of London.

“And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh”

Well, I felt closer to crying actually.  So many young men were slaughtered, so many young lives came crashing to a halt, and above all, the unknown potential of so many young minds was snuffed out.

What might some of those 888,246 young people have discovered for the benefit of the rest of Mankind? And how would all of them have spent another fifty or sixty years of family life, if they had been lucky enough to have had one?
The war started more or less, by pure chance.

“On Sunday, 28 June 1914, Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a group of assassins organized by the Black Hand. Earlier in the day, the couple had been attacked by Nedeljko Čabrinović, who had thrown a grenade at their car. However, the bomb detonated behind them, hurting the occupants in the following car. On arriving at the Governor’s residence, Franz angrily shouted, “So this is how you welcome your guests — with bombs?!”
After a short rest at the Governor’s residence, the royal couple insisted on seeing all those who had been injured by the bomb. However, no one told the drivers that the route had been changed. When the error was discovered, the drivers had to turn around. As the cars backed down the street and onto a side street, the line of cars stalled. At this same time, Princip was sitting at a cafe across the street. He instantly seized his opportunity and walked across the street and shot the royal couple.”

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“I saw the photograph.
They blew his life out in a car.
He didn’t notice that the route had changed.
A crowd of people stood and stared

They’d seen his face before

Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords”

What a pointless reason for the deaths of millions and millions of people, not just from this country and the British Empire, but from our fellow members of the present day European Community: Belgium, France, Italy, and of course,  our good friends in Germany and the USA.
The total number of deaths worldwide, was between 15,163,603 and 17,989,782.

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“I saw a film today, oh boy
The English army had just won the war”

“A crowd of people turned away”

Perhaps they were disgusted when they were told that the paperwork for the Armistice had been signed at 5.00 a.m. but that 11,000 more men were to be killed over the course of the next six hours. And of course, there were lots of excuses at hand for this heartless bungling by people to whom the ordinary soldiers’ lives were, ultimately, of little or no consequence.

Worse than that, in many places on the front line, well after that 11.00 a.m. deadline, combat continued, and men died pointlessly.

“But I just had to look
Having read the book”

Except that there is no book. No book with the list of the names of the eight to ten million dead soldiers, the twenty one million wounded soldiers, or the fifteen to eighteen million dead civilians.

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There is no record of who looked after and loved those 40 million horses, dogs, pigeons and other animals which perished.

Nobody will ever know what the world could have done with the £109,000,000,000 that was spent on the conflict.
And just in case you didn’t know, here is how a very large proportion of those desperately young men were to end their lives….

And while the ordinary working man came to understood the real truths of international brotherhood and comradeship…


The real monster lurked in the crowd…

1-Hitler

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