Posted by lex, on January 13, 2008
The heroics of the 8th Air Force over France and Germany are fairly well known to enthusiasts of the literature. Their mission was to conduct massive, daylight bombardment of the German war machine in Western Europe from airfields in Britain. By 1944 8AF could launch a 2,000 strong wave of B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers over Europe, escorted by a thousand fighters. They flew over 400,000 sorties into that sharply contested continental air space. Their crews went out day after day, even though – with 25% casualty rates on some missions, and roughly half of the US Army Air Corps’ total casualties – their losses were appalling.
Less well known were the logisticians and ops planners who coordinated these missions while the aircrew rested in preparation for their mission. Over at Michael Yon’s place, retired USAF LCOL Leslie Lennox tells this tale:
(What) was going on over England, each morning, could get just as scary to the crews as the time spent over some of the targets. The planning, and coordination, that had to be accomplished during the night, by the operations planners of each Group, so that the crews could be briefed, was unbelievable. If the planners had failed to do their jobs properly, there would have been a free for all among Bomb Groups, in the skies over England.
The rendezvous points, altitude, and times had to be precise, and known by all of the crews, before the Eighth Air Force could get in formation. The success of the planners, in accomplishing their mission, enabled the Eighth Air Force to become the most powerful air armada ever assembled. In my view, how this was accomplished is one of the major untold stories of the war.
Serendipitously, Tailspin Tom carries the tale of one crew from 8AF that experienced a very unfortunate “blue on blue,” when an onboard fire – initiated by another B-17 clearing guns in formation – forced them to bail out over France. One joins the resistance, some are captured – all have tales to tell. There is no way to excerpt these tales of ordinary men accomplishing extraordinary things. Just go there, and read it all for yourself.