Bill Brandt, June 24, 2022
I just started a book that Hogday recommended, about the 8th Army Air Force in England. I know that they suffered tremendous casualties, but just cold numbers really don’t tell the whole story. Yes, more were killed flying those bombers and fighters into Nazi-occupied Europe than all of the Marines killed in the Pacific. Over 26,000 airmen were lost in those skies.
One had to complete 25 missions before you could rotate home and the odds, particularly in 1943, of doing that were if not stacked against you, pretty heavy. I’m trying to remember a statistic citing death or seriously wounded before those 25 missions were complete, but 1:3 seems to come to mind.
By the way, did you know that the Memphis Belle wasn’t the first to complete those 25 missions? It wasn’t even the 2nd, but the 3rd bomber to reach that milestone. She and her crew were sent back to the US to do a war bond tour. It was the Memphis Belle that William Wyler based his movie on, and it was a few years ago that his daughter took all of the unused footage, digitalized it and renewed it, to make the wonderful documentary The Cold Blue. A few years ago, I did a write-up on this wonderful production. What made it so special was not only the work they did on the old film, making you think it was shot yesterday, but all of these old veterans they interviewed telling you what it was like to go on a mission.
I never will forget what one of them said – that every mission was akin to walking up and lining up against a wall waiting to be shot.
And they did that, day after day.
But back to the issue of “who was the first“? It was the crew of a bomber named Hot Stuff. But this plane crashed in Iceland under severe weather conditions on its flight home.
The second bomber to have completed 25 missions is said to have been the Hell’s Angels, but it wasn’t widely promoted since its name wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to the War Department. It therefore fell to Memphis Belle as the face of bomber aircraft during the war.
So the Memphis Belle got that honor.
What was it like to serve in the 8th AAF?
Besides the crewmen telling the viewer in The Cold Blue, author Martin Bowman quotes some in his book.
Imagine that you have just arrived at your base from the States.
“We arrived April 11 with three other crews. Later in the mess hall we learned that four crews failed to return on this day from Poznan, Poland. Such news to hear on arrival. For the month of April, 25 crews were lost. What would be our fate?”
Wilbur Richardson, Gunner, 94th Bomb Group
“When we arrived at our Quonset hut at Deopham Green, so many officers had been killed there was no room to hang our clothes. One door was blocked with piles of uniforms. In the interim, our crew borrowed a wheelchair from supply and moved clothing and footlockers out. It took us two days to empty the barracks.”
John A. Holden, Navigator, 731st Bomb Squadron, 452nd Bomb Group.
“While training in the states, my pilot’s wife, Donis Campbell, a tall nice looking girl and four other pilots wives, followed their husbands from base to base in an old beat up car loaded down with what possessions they could get in. They were at the gate in the morning we left the states to tell their husbands goodbye. Donis Campbell was the only one of the five to have her husband return.”
Howard H. Hernan
Puts it into better perspective than just cold numbers, I believe.