Black Thursday: The Bombers Don’t Always Get Through… Again

On 14 October 1943, the Eighth United States Army Air Force launched Mission 115, the second raid on Schweinfurt, Germany to destroy the production of ball bearings, a key bottle neck in the German wartime economy. Nearly 350 B-17 Flying Fortresses of the US 91st, 92nd, 305th, 306th, 379th Bomb Groups made the raid. Because of the distance to Schweinfurt from their bases in Great Britain, there were no escorting fighters for a portion of the raid.
Like the previous raid on Schweinfurt in August, this was also a disaster. 60 B-17s were shot down by Luftwaffe fighters and flak defenses around the city, 17 more were so damaged they were scrapped, and 125 more were damaged. Most bombs fell on massive sheets of cloth spread on farm fields which were painted to look like factories from the air. Those bombs that did actually hit their targets only disrupted German production of ball bearings for six weeks. On-hand stocks easily kept up with the demand during that time.
The Eighth Air Force was crippled for the next four months and did not resume serious operations until new Merlin-engined P-51 Mustang long range fighters could provide escort to the bombers all the way to the target and back. The idea that a heavy bomber could adequately defend itself against determined defensive fighter attack was found to be wanting, once and for all. Douhet’s theory that bombers could win the war all by themselves exemplified by the quote “the bomber will always get through” was relegated to the dustbin of history… Well, at least until a new shinier version was proposed in 1947… and 1973… and 1999…

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s