Ernie Pyle. They describe the experience of seeing and hearing the 8th Army
Air Force approach an enemy target and then unleash its fire power upon its tar-
get. More specifically, they come from the journalist's account of the July 25,
1944 bombing of the Panzer Lehr Division near St. Lo, France. At the time of
the air raid, American troops were approximately 1,500 yards from the targeted
Panzer Lehr troops, making the air raid a surgical military operation:
had about it the aura of such ghastly relentlessness." ...
... "The Germans began to shoot heavy, high ack-ack (88mm canon fire).
... "And all that time the great flat ceiling of the sky was roofed by all
noise on earth. Our own artillery was crashing all around us, yet
we could hardly hear it."
A narration of the same event, as was seen by General Fritz Bayerlein,
General Bayerlein also wrote:
in the center of the bombardment and could experience the tremendous
effect. For me, one who, during this war, was at every theater of opera-
tion, and who had been assigned to the places of the main efforts, this
was the worst thing I ever saw."
Bayerlein summarized the aftermath in the following way:
The airmen of the 8th Army Air Force enlisted for the entire duration of the war that
was started by Adolph Hitler and his war machine. These airmen were literally in
it till death ... of either themselves or their heavily equipped enemy. During their
tours of duty, there were multiple occasions when 88, 108, and 128 mm canon fire
would barrage them so intensely that the surviving airmen would wonder how they
made through it the high speed metal hailstorms. They would return to British air
bases, only to be impressed by the amount of battle damage that their B-17 Flying
Fortresses and B-24 Liberators endured in flight.
During WWII, if you were in Germany during daylight hours and heard a thunder-
ous roar of airplane engines approaching you, it was always the Americans in all
their audacity, coming in plain sight, in order to have a better chance at hitting the
Nazi industrial war machine. This included V1 rocket sites, Luftwaffe air bases,
Tiger Tank factories, warplane assembly lines, truck assembly lines, military rail
yards, chemical plants, fuel depots, buzz bomb sites, gun positions, and even the
Panzer Lehr Division which, within one ninety minute span of time, was no longer
the Fatherland's impenetrable armored division. When compared to the strategic
8th Army Air Force, and even the tactical 9th, the mighty Panzer Lehr Division
was no stronger than cardboard boxes and coastline sand castles.
In a nutshell, if the 8th Army Air Force didn't knock out the Nazi German war in-
dustry, World War II would have endured much longer than it did, resulting in far
more casualties than it did. In fact, if the 8th AAF didn't make a dedicated effort
in bombing Nazi rail yards in France, the allied invaders of Normandy would have
been met with far more resistance than they did.
As a general rule, the easiest missions where those made to submarine bull pens
and V1 Rocket sites. Close encounters with death often occurred during those
missions that targeted the various Nazi marshaling yards, tank factories, and war-
plane assembly plants. A marshaling yard, incidentally, was a railway staging area
that sent Nazi troops, supplies, and ordnance rolling. The 8th Army Air Force
stopped the rolling, but only at a heavy price, being that the Nazi marshaling yards
were so heavily defended.
The 8th Army Air Force carried on its bombers men as iconic as Jimmy Stewart,
Walter Cronkite, Clark Gable, and the famous 60 Minutes Tour de Farce master,
Andy Rooney. In performing its missions during daylight hours, it was a corps
of sitting ducks in the sky.
The Presence of the 8th Army Air Force
in the European Theater of Operation
Of the 115,332 casualties sustained by the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII, 41%
"Over this target, I saw one ship go down in a ball of fire. At the
in 1944, 86.2% of the Eighth Army Air Force's casualties were due to flak.
"The flak over the target was terrific; very heavy and very accurate.
"As we peeled away from the target, I saw a B-24 blow up in mid-air.
ing war plane was "Hit the silk(s)." American parachutes were made of silk, and
a number of wedding gowns were made from American parachutes.
"We were ready to bail out when the pilot finally stabilized things."
run." However, milk runs were not worthless. Some of them inflicted pivotal
damage upon the Nazi War Machine.
None the less, one crew's
milk run was another crew's
"While going in, a flak gun
at the Siegfried Line shot
down one of our planes."
food to Orleans, France. These flights were called "grocery runs." They were
were also called mercy missions.
all wrecked and burnt. I must have seen at least a million bomb craters
and foxholes. I saw a lot of wrecked planes. Dead cows and horses were
laying in the fields. There was evidence of a battle everywhere along
"As we were falling back (out of formation), fighter escorts stayed
"The railroad cars at the marshaling yards were a mass of wreckage."
number of flak guns in the region.
ing on this page are readings such as "10/10 cloud cover." In as much, 10/10 stood
for 100% cloud cover, while 9/10 stood for 90% cloud cover, so on and so forth.
"We had about 6/10 cloud cover all the way."
in their foxholes and dugouts or else they were killed and buried by the
blast. Infantry and artillery positions were blown up. The bombed-out
area was entirely transformed into a field covered with craters, where no
human was left alive. Tanks and guns were destroyed and overturned,
unable to be recovered, because all roads and passages were blocked."
men got crazy and were unable to carry out anything. I was personally in
the center of the bombardment and could experience the tremendous effect.
For me, one who, during this war, was at every theater of operation, and
who had been assigned to the places of the main efforts, this was the worst
mandy Beach. The truth is that Nazi armored units would have been decimated
near the Normandy shoreline the same way in which the Panzer Lehr Division
was decimated near the town of St. Lo.
Concerning the bombing of Dresden, it was the 8th Army Air Force's First Air Di-
vision who participated in that bombing, and even at that, the participating Ameri-
can bomb groups only bombed the Dresden rail system. The RAF was the entity
who deliberately bombed civilian targets as a matter of policy, and the Americans
and British conducted their own operations independent of each other. The 1st Air
Division's bombing of the Dresden rail system had the strategic effect of impeding
the Nazis from sending reinforcements to the Eastern Front.
"Our target for today was a Heinkel aircraft plant in Rostock, Germany.
The plant was one of the largest in Germany, but now it is no more. Our
target was previously hit, but more damage needed to be done to it. We
smashed the target flat this time. The bombing was visual, and I could
see the bombs hit, blowing the place sky high. "
precisely limited to those of military significance. The phrase was intended to con-
trast Area Bombing, the practice employed by RAF bomber command by which en-
tire civilian areas were targeted and indiscriminately bombed.
"... we went to our secondary target, which was a chemical and high ex-
plosives plant at Clausthal-Zellerfeld. We dropped our bombs and then
circled the target, to see what we did. By the looks of the place, it isn't
any good to the Germans anymore. The target was blazing, as smoke was
coming up to about 5,000 to 6,000 feet."
shaling yards. The mission which designated all of Hamm as the primary target
coincided with the recently failed Operation Market Garden which was once por-
trayed on Screen in, A Bridge Too Far, and in the TV serial, A Band of Brothers.
"Our target for today was one of Germany's larg-
"We were to hit the rail depot at the rail center of
- Crews of the 578th Bomb Group had already been briefed for a mission
to Stuttgart on the morning of the Second of October. They then found
themselves in a briefing room once again, being briefed on the Hamm mis-
sion shortly before takeoff time. Thus, there was a sense of urgency in the
third Hamm mission, as opposed to a premeditated plan.
crime against humanity. The bombing of merely one truck assembly plant did more
to defeat the Nazis than did the killing of a multitude of German civilians.
"Our target was a truck plant in Cologne, Germany. This was a very im-
plies to the front lines at Aachen and other places."
assigned target and then hitting a Swiss town or a German municipality.
"As we got back to our base, two of the planes in our group crashed into
each other and blew up. It was an unbelievable sight. I saw the planes
explode right off our left wing and then hit the ground. No one got out
alive. The weather was plenty rough when coming in. We lost another
plane in the channel."
"About 40 bombers were lost. I now know how a duck
"The flak was heavy and accurate.
"This bomber group's losses were heavy
"Only the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer, and radio operator were on
board. I don't know what we would have done if we had been attacked
by fighters. We were so low that we could see the French people wave
at us. Also a few GIs."
captured and interned American aviators who bailed out over Switzerland. Even
though the America prisoners of war were interned at Swiss ski resorts they were
subject to marginal diets of 1,500 calories daily and the gnaw of very poorly heat-
ed quarters. None the less, Switzerland proved to be a lifesaver for over a 1,700
soldiers of various nations and branches of service made their ways to Switzer-
land, along with 200,000+ civilian refugees.
"Gerry really had our number. I didn't see any ships go down, but one
crew in our barracks was shot up so badly that it had to go to Switzer-
If a bomber crew failed to drop its bomb load on a Nazi target during a mission, yet
flew through airspace under attack by enemy flak guns or fighter planes, it would still
receive credit for having performed a combat mission.
The United States Air Force did not become an independent branch of the American
military until 1947. Until then, it operated under United States Army command. It
originally carried the title, Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Signal Corps, followed
chronologically by Aviation Section (of the Signal Corps), the Division of Military
Aeronautics, and the U.S. Army Air Service. Then, in 1926, congress changed its
name to the United States Army Air Corps.
"Our group did not lose any planes, but the 8th Army Air Corps lost 51
heavy bombers. "
The airmen saw things as scenic as the White Cliffs of Dover and "the peaks of the
Alps protruding through the clouds." This is contrasted by the sight of airships go-
ing down in balls of fire, as well as the devastation that was seen in France, during
the grocery runs which occurred after the Liberation of Paris. The Eighth Army Air
Force, in traveling behind enemy lines, was pivotal in the Liberation of France, the
Netherlands, and Belgium.
"When we left the target, we could see the peaks of the Alps protruding
For more on an American daylight crew's tour of duty in Nazi airspace,
refer to the following: