Flying Into Hell : “Mission No. 84”
“LeMay’s force was expected to take the brunt of the German counteroffensive, allowing the Schweinfurt armada to proceed to the target with only light resistance. With LeMay escaping over the Alps, the Schweinfurt force would be left to face the full fury of the Luftwaffe on its return to England. The plan was brutally simple: LeMay would fight his way in and Williams would fight his way out.”
The Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission was a bombing mission that took place during World War II on August 17, 1943. It was carried out by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and targeted two German cities: Schweinfurt and Regensburg. The mission was part of the Allied strategic bombing campaign against Germany, which aimed to disrupt the country’s industrial and military capabilities.
The Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission was one of the most controversial and heavily debated operations of the war.
The USAAF had conducted a similar mission in May 1943, but it had resulted in heavy losses for the American bombers. Despite this, the USAAF decided to carry out another mission to Schweinfurt, which was a key center for the production of ball bearings, a vital component in the German war effort.
On the morning of August 17, 1943, a force of around 376 B-17 bombers set out from their bases in Britain at altitudes of between 23,000 and 26,500 feet . Accompanied by escort fighters for only a limited range thanks to (inexplicably) not employing drop tanks, escorting P-47 Thunderbolt fighters would be able to protect the bombers only as far as Eupen, Belgium, which was roughly an hour’s flying time from both of the targets.
The bombers were to attack the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt, while the fighters provided cover and engaged any German fighters that they might encounter.
The bombers flew over Germany for over two hours without fighter escort! 60 bombers shot down; and as many as 95, though they made it to bases in Allied territory, were so badly damaged that they never flew again.
55 air crews (552 men) were listed as missing in action.
- The primary goal of the mission was to destroy the German ball bearing industry, which was considered a critical component of the Nazi war machine. However, the bombing campaign was not successful in achieving this goal. The factories in Schweinfurt and Regensburg were only partially damaged, and production of ball bearings quickly resumed, however at a slower pace.
- The mission suffered from poor planning and execution. The bombers were not provided with adequate fighter escort, and as a result, they came under heavy attack from German fighters. Many bombers were shot down, and the rest were severely damaged.
- The loss of life was also high. Of the 376 bombers that participated in the mission, 60 were shot down, and another 130 were damaged. Over 600 airmen were killed, captured, or missing in action. Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190’s immediately started attacking the group and were relentless throughout the mission. Once in German airspace Bf 109 G-6 fighters would also pick off bomber after bomber.
- The mission had a significant psychological impact on the American airmen. The high loss of life and the lack of success in achieving the primary objective demoralized the airmen and made them more hesitant to participate in future bombing missions.
146 B-17s of the 4th Bombardment Wing attacked Regensburg, 126 dropped their bombs. This would total 298.75 tons (271.02 Metric tons).
1st Bombardment Wing (Heavy) sent 230 B-17s to Schweinfurt and 183 bombers made it to the target and dropped 424.3 tons (383.9 Metric tons) on the five factories in the target area.
“As soon as the reconnaissance photographs were received on the evening of the 17th, Generals Eaker and Anderson knew that the Schweinfurt raid had been a failure. The excellent results at Regensburg were small consolation for the loss of 60 B-17s. The results of the bombing were exaggerated, and the high losses were well disguised in after-mission reports. Everyone who flew the mission stressed the importance of the escorts in reducing losses; the planners grasped only that Schweinfurt would have to be bombed again, soon, in another deep-penetration, unescorted mission.”
— Donald Caldwell
In conclusion, the Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission was a significant blow to the USAAF, and it led to a temporary suspension of daylight bombing raids by the Eighth Air Force. Lastly, the heavy losses sustained during the mission also led to a debate within the US military about the feasibility of strategic bombing as a means of defeating Germany. Despite the controversy surrounding the mission, it is generally became seen as a turning point in the strategic bombing campaign. As it led to the development of new tactics and technologies that would become used to greater effect in later missions.
Flying Into Hell : “Mission No. 84”