One of the costliest campaigns of World War Two was the aerial bombing of the Axis powers in Europe. The American B-17 and B-24 bombers were the backbones of the Allied bombing campaign over Nazi-occupied Europe.
YESTERDAY’S AIR FORCE
The idea behind the strategic bombing campaign is that airpower could be decisive. Airpower could go far behind the front line, and strike the enemy in their homeland, and be decisive, and in the end, the strategic bombing campaign conducted by the U.S. Army Air Forces did just that.
The heavy bombing campaign in Europe was incredibly important to the Allied effort in World War 2, and it was uniquely American.
Only America had the right kind of platform, and the right kind of systems, and the right kind of strategy to conduct a daylight bombing campaign in Europe in World War 2, and the goal of this campaign was to essentially destroy Germany’s ability to produce war material and continue fighting.
Now, it wasn’t a linear campaign. In fact, there were all kinds of problems. We were actually essentially defeated about halfway through the campaign, but in the end, this campaign absolutely wrecked Germany’s ability to move and produce war material.
The reason why this campaign was uniquely American was, in part, because of the platforms that we used, namely the B17 and the B24. Those two aircraft had turbo supercharged engines, and the United States was the only country in World War 2 that used turbo supercharged aircraft in large numbers, so we also had, with these B17s and B24s, tremendous ability to carry load, and the range it took to fly from bases in England and Italy to strike targets deep in Europe.
Also, these aircraft had tremendous firepower in their defensive armament, about 10 to 12 50-caliber machine guns, typically.
While this wasn’t enough for the bombers to fly these missions on their own, it did take fighter escort to be fully successful, they did shoot down a number of German fighters during the campaign. The strategic bombing campaign had a huge impact on Allied victory in Europe, but it came at a tremendous price.
There were more than 30,000 Army Air Forces heavy bomber crewmen who were killed in combat. That’s an extraordinary number, and it’s not well understood or known, the tremendous sacrifice of our heavy bomber crewmen.
Early in the bombing campaign, for the first year, or year and a half, or so, the odds of finishing a tour were only about one in four, and those other three airmen would’ve been shot down and captured, or would’ve been killed, or would’ve been wounded so badly, they couldn’t continue their tour, and that’s at a time when 25 missions meant a ticket home.
So the odds of even finishing 25 missions were only about one in four for that early part of the campaign.
Another example of the cost is just how many of these heavy bombers that we lost. No other country could produce aircraft like the United States.
When you look at the B17 and the B24, there were nearly 13,000 B17s built and more than 18,000 B24s built, so more than 30,000 heavy bombers were built, and of those 30,000 or so aircraft, more than 8,000 were lost in combat in the fight against Germany in Europe.
B17 and B24 Bomber Pilots
Stunning numbers, and these young men, typically, they’re in their early 20s, the average age is about 22, 23, these young men knew the odds that they were facing.
They weren’t blind. They could see what was happening, and yet, mission, after mission, after mission, these young men got inside of these aircraft, and even knowing that they’re probably not going to survive their tour, or they’re going to end up in a German POW camp, they did their duty, and as a result, the war was certainly shortened by the effort of those crewmen against Germany.
Thank you Staff Sgt. AnastasiaA Tompkins for the video and U.S. Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Mark Thompson for the photo.