The 8th Air Force

They Carried The Air War in Europe

Boeing’s B-17 Flying Fortress

I met a guy today who was in the 8th Air Force during World War 2. It gave me pause as I had just watched a TV documentary on the 8th Air Force.

I don’t know why and when I first started to have an interest in military history. It was sometime when I was a boy. Usually in school, whatever the grade I was in, the history book I was assigned was read in the first week.

Perhaps in all of my readings, the heroics of individual may have been the spark that kept me reading far more about military actions.This continued into my teen years when I read the book, “The First and the Last”. This book detailed the air war over England prior to America’s entry into the conflict. Typically known as the “Battle of Britain”, the story relayed the heroic actions of Hurricane and Spitfire pilots fending off air attacks by the German Luftwaffe.

(This refurbished B-17 appeared at the Hernando County Regional Airport two years back)

As Veterans know, the British lost many a fine young man during the German attempt to wipe the RAF out of the skies as a prelude to invasion. The Luftwaffe head, Hermann Goering, had to admit failure when those on a tiny country surrounded by water successfully stopped the German air force.

It was in 1943 when American pilots and bomber squadrons arrived in force in an attempt to destroy the enemy. What the 8th Air Force lacked in expertise was made up in an unwillingness to contemplate failure.

Young crews stepped into planes like the British Lancaster, rated by some as the finest bomber of the war, while Americans manned the B-17 Flying Fortress or the B-24 Liberator.

During this period the British took on bombing missions during the cover of nighttime, the Americans taking on daytime missions. Early on, bombing missions did not venture much farther than targets in France.

Targets for the 8th Air Force within Germany came about that year but there were problems.

For one, fighter escorts, typically made up of P-47 Thunderbolts, only had the fuel capacity to reach the German border then had to turn around. With the loss of the fighter escort the Germans tore into the bomber groups with a vengeance. The TV program mentioned earlier put the losses of U.S. Airmen at 26,000, an amount higher than all of Marines lost in WWII.

The purpose of the day and night bombing of Germany was to hit hardest at the war machine of Hitler. Cities like Hamburg and Dresden took terrible hits from Allied bombing.

Even though first built before America entered the war, the P-51 Mustang eventually became one aircraft that helped turn the tide of war in Europe.

P-51 Mustang Fighter Plane

The P-51D was the culmination of everything that was state-of-the-art in combat aircraft. When the Merlin 12 cylinder engine was added, it solved the problem of maintaining speed at high altitude. This plane also sported six 50 caliber wing-mounted machine guns along with a fuel capacity to take it deep into Germany and return.

With the bombing and fighter aircraft capabilities of the Allies near the end of 1944 and early 1945, the Luftwaffe and the German war industry was brought to its knees. But not before many a hero made the ultimate sacrifice.

Today we salute all veterans of the 8th Air Force during World War II.

Update: I later learned my Bride’s Uncle had served as a tail gunner and a waist gunner on a B-17 in Europe during World War II. He survived the required 25 missions.