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For aircraft enthusiasts: the eighth air force.

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by Blazer, Jul 5, 2018.

  1. Blazer

    Blazer Doctor of Teleocity

    Dec 2, 2003
    The Netherlands
    It must be one of the most legendary squadrons ever and one who played a crucial part in winning the European part of the second world war for the allies.

    But there are a lot of things about the eighth Air Force that the general public doesn't know about because of the censors keeping it secret. After many years after the end of the war, the truth came out and it shows a history riddled with misinformation, incompetence of leadership, human suffering and very little of the glory they so well deserved.

    But let me start with the beginning. The eighth was founded in January 1942 after the USA entered the war in Europe. Even back then it was brought forth that an invasion for Europe was crucial in defeating Hitler's forces and to successfully pull that off it was recognized that the first thing they had to do was to put Hitler's powerful air force out of commission. Because as the Pearl Harbor attack had painfully shown, ships are very vulnerable, so skies empty of enemy planes would be the crucial thing.

    So a Squadron would be assembled of Bombers which would attack the German aircraft factories and industrial heartland which would hit the Germans right were it hurt. The Squadron would be based in RAF Dawes Hill in High Wycombe, England. The squadron would be a subordinate of the to the VIII Bomber command of the RAF, which is what gave the Eighth their name.

    When it came to hardware the Eighth was supplied with the most state of the art heavy Bombers of the day.
    The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (Left) and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. Both planes were already road tested, so to say by the British and the USAAF took what they had to say by heart.

    This is an early production version of the B-17 as used by the RAF and while pilots and crew praised the plane for being a pleasant flyer and the fact that it had good creature comforts, they were less impressed with the fact that its defensive armament of five machine guns didn't really hold enemy fighters at bay. In addition, the lack of self sealing tanks and the lack of oxygen masks also did NOT play in the B-17's favor.

    So the R&D of Boeing went to work and the eighth would be supplied with a very Different B-17 than the one that the RAF had bloodied during the first few years of the war.
    The resulting B-17E had twice the amount of Machine guns, of the far heftier 50 caliber variety. They also came with motorized turrets, oxygen masks for the entire crew and self sealing tanks which in theory would make it a world beater. And thus crews were recruited and trained to take the theory in practice.

    To make sure the bombers would have sufficient protection on their missions a fighter Squadron called VIII Fighter Command was established and they too were given what was back then a state of the art plane.
    The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was a powerful heavily armed fighter which would keep the Messerschmitt 109 and Focke-Wulf FW 190's at bay while the bombers did their thing. Known affectionately as "The jug" British pilots joked that their American counterparts would probably hide in the enormous fuselage of the plane during dogfights.

    But while the P-47 was a good fighter, it had one crucial shortcoming, even when carrying drop tanks, its range was not enough to keep along with the bombers and half way they would fly back, to refuel and meet up with the bombers as they would return from their raids.

    But that shouldn't be an issue, the bombers could defend themselves and each other accordingly with all their machine guns and when flying in close formations the sheer barrage of bullets would create a shield which German fighters couldn't possibly penetrate. The training had shown how effective it was after all.

    In August 1943 the Eighth air force went to war for the first time with strategic raids on the industrial heartland of N@zi occupied France and it quickly became apparent that there was a flaw in the way the training was handled. Of 91 bombers dispatched, 55 didn't return, with every bomber having a crew of 10, you can do the match on heavy the loss was.

    The problem was that the escorts were trained to keep enemy fighters at bay but were forbidden to otherwise engage in combat. One P-47 pilot recounted that he would be so enraged as he would watch the German pilots waggle their wings to mock them as they were forced to return to base. As if to tell them "Thank you for leading the lambs to the slaughter."

    And if that wasn't enough, the gunners of the bombers who had been trained to shoot at stationary targets found out that shooting at a Fighter which whizzed by at 500 MPH was something very different indeed.
    During the first operations that the eighth did, they lost an inexcusable amount of bombers and ditto crews but the high command of the eighth wouldn't listen. The crews had been trained accordingly and the post-raid photographs taken showed how effective the raids were. In addition, the press was raving at how well the Eighth was doing in papers in the USA itself, morale was high and that was more important than a few hundred airmen who had lost their lives during those raids.

    Living in the UK also showed the men of the Eighth how different the attitude of their British counterparts was. For bomber crews of the RAF the war was personal, German bombers had laid Liverpool, Coventry and of course London in ruins. The fact that for American bomber Crews their own homeland was literally a world away, they emphasized with them but couldn't really fully understand what it was like, the pure hatred they had against Germany. This was another thing their training couldn't possibly teach them about.
    During 1943 and 1944 the Eigth and the RAF Bomber Command began round the clock bombing, the Eighth would bomb by day light and the RAF would bomb by night, the biggest difference was the targets, the RAF would drop incendiary bombs on cities such as Hamburg while the Eight would drop high explosives on industries, holding on to their wasteful tactics which costs many crew their lives.

    One such disastrous attack was the double Schweinfurt/Regensburg raid, two divisions of the Eighth would take off from different airfields, meet each other while over the European mainland giving the impression that a massive raid was going to take place but then split up with one part of the raid heading the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt and the other to Regensburg to hit the Messerschmitt factory. The split up meant that the German fighters would be split up too, meaning that the Luftwaffe couldn't use their full force against them.
    The Messerschmitt factory after the raid.

    But bad weather and bad communication between both divisions meant that the bombers were delayed in take off, meaning that they missed each other with a margin of a whopping three hours, meaning that both divisions had to deal with the full might of the Luftwaffe. In addition the damage control of the Germans was severely underestimated, Both factories were up and running once more in no time.

    With several hundreds of aircraft lost and several thousands of men, it was decided that enough was enough, the Eighth was desperately in need of a thorough reshuffle. The first thing the USAAF's high command did was to detach the eighth from RAF's Bomber command which made them an autonomous force.

    The second thing they did was to lay off commanding officer Lt. General Ira C. Eaker and replace him with THIS man.
    Major General James "Jimmy" Doolittle, of course was already a war hero thanks to his daring bomber raid on Tokyo. It was up to him to get the Eighth back to full capacity and the first thing he did was cut the P-47's loose.

    Now the fighters were cleared to attack anything they encountered, do strafing runs, hit any target of opportunity, do as much damage as they could.

    And then Doolittle got even better news, finally there was a fighter available which could follow the bombers all the way into Germany and follow them back again too.
    The P-51 Mustang was a revelation, it was equal to anything the Germans could throw at it.

    But one decision Doolittle made didn't really earn him much friends, the Bombers would now attack German cities, such as Berlin and basically serve as live bait, lure the Luftwaffe out and have the Mustangs have their way with them.

    At the end of the war the Eighth air force lost a staggering 26000 men which is more than the Marine corp lost in the entire war.

    So was it all worth it?

    - The double raid on Schweinfurt/Regensburg meant that the Luftwaffe had to outsource planes from other factories, which meant that many top secret and potentially lethal planes like the ME-262 jetfighter were delayed in development and thus couldn't be used to full potential.
    - The Bombing raids on the oil refineries in the Balkan meant that the Luftwaffe was rapidly running out of fuel.
    - The Strafing runs that Doollittle gave the go ahead for, meant that many airfields and train stations were put out of commission.

    So what did that all add up to?

    It meant that when D-day started, there was no Luftwaffe to attack the invasion force from above, with their airfields and their train stations strafed, there was no way for Germans to send in reinforcements and with their fighter force busy keeping the bombers at bay in defense of their cities, they weren't available to keep allied fighters at bay from providing close air support during the landings.

    So yes, the object on why the eighth was founded in the first place was reached but it took so many lives.

    Last edited: Jul 5, 2018
    BobbyZ, 6stringcowboy, Dan R and 10 others like this.
  2. Stubee

    Stubee Poster Extraordinaire Gold Supporter

    Jan 22, 2007
    Good recap, Blazer.

    My dad was a bombardier in the 8th/96th Bomb Group. His B-17 was shot down on his last mission, though luckily only one crewman was killed. That ended the war for my old man.

    It is difficult for us today to imagine the scope and devastation of that war in Europe. I’ve read a number of books on the subject and still find it hard to believe.
    Zepfan and uriah1 like this.
  3. telleutelleme

    telleutelleme Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Jan 15, 2010
    Great write up Blazer. I had an A/C in Vietnam named Tomas Rankin who started out as a waste gunner flying the Ploiești oil field raids in WW II. Some of his stories about the damage to the bombers and crew were horrific. He was a "Mustang" starting as enlisted, sent to OTS and finally to flight school. He was a Lt. Col. when I flew with him.

    I was lucky get to take a flight on a CAF B-17 a few years back. Amazing and very noisy plane.
    Dan R and Zepfan like this.
  4. titan uranus

    titan uranus Tele-Meister

    Sep 22, 2017
    36.395884, -78.710617
    My Father-In-Law


    Paul was in the 836 Bomb Squadron (H), part of the 487th Bombardment Group. They were originally trained on B-24s, then transitioned over to B-17s just after D-Day.

    He's 4th from left in the back row of that second picture. Due to his impressive stature (ahem), he got the glamorous job of being belly turret gunner on a lot of his missions. Talk about an interesting way of seeing Europe....
    Dan R, JayFreddy, Zepfan and 4 others like this.
  5. buster poser

    buster poser Tele-Holic Ad Free Member

    May 1, 2018
    Pretty sure I was under the 8th while at Castle AFB, not sure about that though. Great post.
  6. Shidoin

    Shidoin Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

    Jan 7, 2009
    Ventura CA
    Great write up as usual, Blazer. Really enjoyed it.
    The RAF found out right away daylight bombing was too costly, and switched to nite raids. The USAAF, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, stuck to their belief that tight formations of bombers could protect each other during daylight raids, costing many lives.
    The USAAF’s claim of ‘precision bombing’ was also far from accurate, as the Schweinfurt/Regensburg raid proved.
    A lot of bravery and good intentions, but worth the cost? We’ll never know.
  7. stxrus

    stxrus Friend of Leo's

    May 25, 2007
    St. Croix, USVI
    Bravo!! Another excellent read
    OneHenry likes this.
  8. trapdoor2

    trapdoor2 Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

    Feb 23, 2018
    Nawth Alabama

    The 8th AF is not a 'squadron'. It is an Air Force. The next step down is a Division (there were 3 Divisions making up the 8th in WWII: 1st Bombardment, 2nd Bombardment and 3rd Bombardment). Below the Division level were "Wings" (Bombardment Wing or Fighter Wing, for instance), then "Groups", below that were Squadrons.

    Doolittle was absolutely an amazing guy. You'd think his bio was fiction...but it ain't. The guy should have been issued a cape. Fun fact: Doolittle was never a full Colonel. He was jumped two grades after the Tokyo raid...from Lt. Colonel to Brigadier General.

    When Doolittle let the fighters loose in early 1944, it wasn't with just P-47's. P-38 squadrons were also part of the mix (the P-38 was somewhat of a poor performer in Europe but excelled in the Pacific Theater). Doolittle had his choice of flying any aircraft to observe the D-Day landings. What did he fly? A P-38...which he really liked.

    Otherwise, fun read. Carry on! :D
    emisilly and Stubee like this.
  9. slauson slim

    slauson slim Friend of Leo's

    Mar 16, 2003
    By The Levee
    The father of an ex-girlfriend was a B-17 pilot in the 306th Bomb Group, 8th AF and survived his missions. A first generation Greek-American he received a Silver Star and a Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters. He later flew in Korea and SE Asia. Originally from North Carolina he was kind, smart, courtly and low-key, and he retired from the USAF. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

    I once asked him about his WWII service. He told me that he wanted to get away from home, thought the uniform looked good and wanted the flight pay. That's all, he told me nothing else.
    OneHenry and Matt G like this.
  10. Blazer

    Blazer Doctor of Teleocity

    Dec 2, 2003
    The Netherlands
    I spoke with a WW2 veteran in London about the Lancaster and I expressed how claustrophobic those Turrets looked. He told me rather grumpily "Well nobody is telling YOU to get in there, are they?"

    I understood how traumatic it must have been so I didn't inquire further into his experiences and just thanked him for his services.
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  11. Cesspit

    Cesspit Tele-Meister

    Oct 16, 2014
    Oxfordshire England
    Thanks Blazer. Bomber commands casualties totalled 55,000 aircrew lost. This was the highest casualty rate the allies suffered of any command in the war. But as you say, without that round the clock bombing the outcome would not have been the same. One of my uncles was a wireless operator in Wellington bombers. I hold uncle Bill in extremely high regard.
  12. OneHenry

    OneHenry Tele-Holic

    Apr 16, 2018
    North carolina
    The B29 wasn't a stellar bomber in Europe, but it was just what was needed in the Pacific. The range of the B29 became a huge advantage in the Pacific, as did it's bomb carrying capacity. The bombing accuracy of the B29 was more than adequate in the Pacific, especially when dropping nukes.
  13. Andy B

    Andy B Tele-Afflicted Gold Supporter

    Mar 16, 2003
    My Father served in the 8th Air Force. He was in charge of electronic repair at a fighter group in England.
  14. Zepfan

    Zepfan Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 30, 2013
    Horn Lake, MS
    My Dad's oldest brother was a waist gunner in a B-17. Never knew what Air Force designation he was in or bomb group. He didn't talk much.
  15. Blazer

    Blazer Doctor of Teleocity

    Dec 2, 2003
    The Netherlands
    The B-29 never appeared in Europe until well after the war.

    So why would you say it wasn't a stellar bomber in the ETO when it never came there in the first place?
  16. stxrus

    stxrus Friend of Leo's

    May 25, 2007
    St. Croix, USVI
    “Half A Wing, Three Engines, And A Prayer” is a fantastic read. I highly recommend it
  17. beyer160

    beyer160 Friend of Leo's

    Aug 11, 2010
    On Location
    In WWII, the concept of "precision bombing" was kind of relative. At the end of the war when allied bombers were operating at peak accuracy, half the bombs dropped missed their target by over two miles. The RAF bombed cities because cities are too big to miss.

    German armament production kept increasing until the very last month of the war. You could see this as a failure of the bombing campaign to stop production, but what we'll never know is how much more they would have been able to produce if the allies hadn't been bombing them day and night.
  18. Rowdyman

    Rowdyman Tele-Meister

    May 17, 2013
    Eastern Canada
  19. slauson slim

    slauson slim Friend of Leo's

    Mar 16, 2003
    By The Levee
    As to effects of bombing, massive amounts of manpower, raw materials, petroleum, manufacturing and armaments went into defending against the bombers. All of this could have gone into the war efforts in North Africa, and the Eastern and Western Fronts. Of course the same thing could be said for the Allies’ efforts put into strategic bombing.
  20. BobbyZ

    BobbyZ Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 12, 2011
    Snellman MN
    At 19 I was tuning up a guy's Cadillac in Dallas and he started telling me about being a flight engineer/top gunner on a B17, Eropean theater.
    Over thirty years latter what remember most about that conversation was when I said, "you're lucky to be alive" and he looked me in the eyes and said "you're telling me!" and chuckled.
    Looking back I wonder if he ever told his own kids what he told me about WWII that day.
    That was by far the slowest tune up I ever did because I wanted to hear his story, just wish I could remember everything he said now.
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