Chapter 9: The Strategic Bomber Strikes Ahead
THE contribution of the strategic air forces to the initial success of OVERLORD had been decisive. The long and costly offensive against German air power had produced the air supremacy required by the liberating armies, and the destruction of railway centers, airfields, and coastal defenses – vital preliminaries to the invasion – had been for the most part the work of the Eighth Air Force and RAF Bomber Command. And the strategic air forces would continue to play a conspicuous part in making possible the progress of the land armies until the war was won.
During the summer of 1944, most of the bombing effort expended by the heavies went into so-called tactical operations for the benefit of the ground forces: attacks on marshalling yards, bridges, airfield installations, and supply dumps behind German lines, as well as the spectacular saturation of enemy positions at Caen on 18 July and near St.-Lô on 25 July.* Also, they were called upon for extensive CROSSBOW operations,† and late in the summer some of the strategic bombers were converted into transports in order to remedy the supply emergency brought about by Patton’s brilliant drive across France. Even the most staunch proponents of strategic air warfare usually appreciated the necessity of furnishing direct assistance to the land forces, and the praise of ground force commanders was gratifying.1 But it was clear that the offensive against German war production suffered whenever the heavy bombers devoted their tonnages to tactical targets. As the strategic air commanders judged the situation, they were now for the first time in a position to implement a truly systematic campaign directed at Germany’s war-making capacity. They possessed sufficient
† See below, pp. 527-34.
forces for such an undertaking, they ruled the air, and they had amply fulfilled their commitments to blast the way for a successful D-day. However greatly the strategic bomber could contribute to the success of the land campaign, its primary role was to weaken and destroy the enemy’s ability and willingness to wage war.
The temptation of land and tactical air commanders to demand assistance was particularly strong during the discouragingly protracted period when the armies were confined to the narrow lodgment area in Normandy. General Spaatz became quite concerned about the urgent insistence of Montgomery and Leigh-Mallory that the heavy bomber commands be made continuously available for plowing up battle areas2 The armies did not always make significant advances once the bombings were over, and their slowness in breaking out of the beachhead evoked considerable criticism in air force and other circles to the effect that ground commanders were too hesitant in spirit and too reluctant to take advantage of favorable situations which air effort had brought about.3 Spaatz insisted to General Eisenhower that the bombing of Germany should take overriding priority whenever visual conditions were satisfactory, except for major emergencies on the battlefield and for attacks on rocket-firing installations.4 Air Chief Marshal Harris of RAF Bomber Command was also uneasy about the long respite from strategic bombing.5 Fortunately, General Eisenhower fully comprehended the importance of strategic air warfare and he favored giving USSTAF and Bomber Command their opportunity,6 as of course did Headquarters AAF, the Air Ministry, and the U.S. component of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force.7
As early as 10 June 1944, USSTAF had drawn a plan defining the objectives of a renewed strategic campaign.8 The priorities it recommended were in the order of oil production, the ball-bearing industry, tank production and ordnance depots, and the motor transport industry. The German Air Force would be policed as frequently as seemed necessary. General Eisenhower gave his assent and, except for battle emergencies and reservations concerning CROSSBOW, he left Spaatz, Doolittle, and Harris free to develop their strategic bombing campaign as they thought best. Priorities during the summer of 194 for industrial targets were usually in the rank of oil, GAF and jet, V-weapons, ball bearings, and tanks. RAF Bomber Command continued its general campaign to disorganize German production areas, and like the Eighth Air Force responded to every call for assistance from the
ground forces that ‘cleared SHAEF. The arrangement, in other words, was a flexible one based on the mutual esteem and common purposes of the top officers in SHAEF and in the strategic air commands, and it worked extraordinarily well. Not only did the armies receive vital support whenever they needed it but a huge bombardment of Germany was begun. Fortunately, forces were at full strength. In terms of heavy bombers on operational status in combat units, the Eighth Air Force at the close of June 1944 possessed 2,100, the Fifteenth Air Force almost 1,200, and the RAF 1,100.9 As events were to prove, this was strength enough for the task.
It was none too soon to resume the strategic bombing of Germany. By D-day only three important production systems had been seriously affected by air attack: oil, aircraft, and ball bearings. The oil campaign was only in its first stage and the Germans could soon restore their position. USSTAF believed the German Air Force would never again be as dangerous as it had been in 1943, but the Germans were making vast efforts to disperse their aircraft factories and they were producing twice the number of fighters estimated by the western Allies.10 furthermore, the enemy had a new jet-propelled fighter which might appear in the skies any day and which, the Americans knew, could outperform any aircraft they or the British possessed.11 As for ball-bearing production, USSTAF had overestimated the effects of its previous bombings, for production of this item did not decline in proportion to the unmistakable physical damage wrought on plants.* Finally, German armaments production in nearly all categories had increased sharply in early 1944 and promised to rise to very impressive peaks during the second half of the year.12 No one knew what further V-weapons might be forthcoming, and German propaganda was full of threats. If the resilient and expanding production of the enemy was only partly understood by the Allies,13 they found in their optimistic belief that the German economy was badly stretched an equally strong argument for the renewal of strategic bombardment.
The Oil Campaign
Since March 1944 General Spaatz had kept his eye on the enemy’s oil production as the most promising objective for strategic attack, and the vast damage ensuing from Fifteenth Air Force missions against Ploesti and the Eighth Air Force operations of 12 and 28–29 May
* See above, p. 45.
† See above, pp. 172-79.
had now served to overcome serious RAF opposition to an oil campaign.14 Only two days after the Normandy landings, on 8 June 1944, Spaatz issued a historic order to both component air forces of USSTAF that their primary strategic aim henceforth would be to deny oil to the enemy’s armed forces,15 an order which remained in force until the strategic air war ended. The general arrangement was to assign to the Fifteenth Air Force the crude-oil refineries around Ploesti, Vienna, and Budapest, together with such synthetic petroleum plants in Silesia, Poland, and the Sudetenland as Brüx, Oswiecim, Blechhammer North, Blechhammer South, and Odertal. The RAF’s 205 Group, which operated from southern Italy with the Fifteenth, continued its immensely effective work in mining the Danube so as to obstruct oil shipments to the Reich. The Eighth Air Force undertook to destroy synthetic oil plants in central and eastern Germany (Pölitz, Zeitz, Magdeburg, Merseburg-Leuna, Ruhland, etc.) and crude-oil refineries around Hamburg, Bremen, and Hannover. RAF Bomber Command entered the offensive with an initial list of ten synthetic oil plants in its familiar target area, the Ruhr Valley.16
For the Fifteenth Air Force the new campaign represented no more than the continuance of a task already begun, albeit somewhat unofficially. By June 1944 that air force had inflicted at least partial damage on twenty-nine of the sixty-odd oil refineries which lay within its range,17 in an arc extending northward and eastward some 700 miles from its chief base at Foggia, Italy. And within a week after Spaatz had named oil as the first of its objectives, the Fifteenth carried out large-scale attacks on the major Hungarian refineries, all of the Yugoslav producers, and all but one of the Italian refineries.18 To the Fifteenth belonged also the premier oil target of the continent, which was the fabulous oil field in central Rumania near Ploesti from which the Nazis drew approximately one-fourth of their petroleum supplies. The largest refineries in this area were already well known to Fifteenth Air Force intelligence officers and flyers, who found in the stout defense put up by the enemy there convincing evidence that their commanders had chosen wisely in selecting oil as the first priority. Following the ruinous attacks of April and May 1944, the Germans began to experiment with a new defensive measure, one which proved very satisfactory to them for some time. Whenever their warning system indicated the approach of air fleets over Yugoslavia toward Rumania, the Germans would use the forty minutes available
to them before the attack to light hundreds of smoke pots around the Ploesti fields, with the result that most of the area would be concealed by the time the bombers arrived. Thus precision attack was impossible. In an effort to overcome this obstacle the Fifteenth dispatched on 10 June 1944 not bombers but P-38’s, thirty-six of which dived on the refineries with 1,000-pound bombs while thirty-nine others fended off the pugnacious fighter units which the Germans always kept around Ploesti. At best this experiment was only an equivocal success.19 Captured records subsequently revealed that three of the refineries received partial damage20 but twenty-three Lightnings were lost, some of them to flak, which was worse than ever, for Ploesti by now had become the third best-defended target on the continent.21 Second place was held by Vienna, where five crude-oil refineries were attacked on 16 June with moderately good results by a force of 658 heavy bombers and 290 fighters. Losses showed fourteen heavies and six fighters shot down, for which a toll was exacted of at least twenty-three German fighters.22 It would soon become evident that bombers of the Fifteenth suffered a considerably higher loss ratio than did those which flew from English bases.23
Ploesti was the object of attack again on 23 June, when the Fifteenth Air Force sent 761 bombers to Rumania. While they damaged an oil storage installation at Giurgiu, the smoke screen at Ploesti forced resort to blind bombing with results unobserved.24 On the next day, 377 heavies went back to Ploesti and again dumped their bombs blindly into the smoke. Later it was learned that one refinery suffered hits.25 Oil storage facilities in the south of France were targets on 25 June, along with objectives preparatory to the invasion of southern France. On 26 June approximately 550 Fortresses and Liberators ranged over Hungary, attacking marshalling yards and aircraft plants, and penetrated the Vienna area to bomb the large Moosbierbaum, Löbau, and Floridsdorf oil refineries. Bombing results were generally satisfactory, and 44 or more German fighters were shot down around Vienna. Marshalling yards in Hungary and Yugoslavia which served German front lines caught substantial tonnages from 331 heavy bombers on 27 June, and on the 28th more than 200 Liberators bombed oil refineries at Bucharest.26 From the Spanish border to the Russian lines the Fifteenth Air Force during June busily carried its share of the air offensive.
The Eighth Air Force at this time could spare only a few missions
for strategic bombing. Not only did multitudinous tasks in connection with OVERLORD and CROSSBOW interfere but the weather, which caused unexpectedly poor visual bombing conditions over Germany, prevented a steady prosecution of the air campaign even on a limited scale. The first opportunity for a large mission against oil targets came on 18 June. Weather forecasts were far from encouraging, but fifteen combat wings of B-17’s were dispatched against eleven oil installations in northwestern Germany. Nine of the wings attacked the Hamburg area, where no fighter defenses were in evidence but flak was the heaviest many of the flyers had ever seen. While it was necessary to drop the 1,150 tons on pathfinder indications, a practice at which the Eighth Air Force was not expert, results at Hamburg were considered good. The other wings also ran into poor visual conditions and bombed blind with little effect on objectives near Bremen and Hannover.27 On 20 June the Eighth sent a record force of 1,361 heavy bombers and 729 escorting fighters against oil targets at Hamburg, Harburg, Osterrnoor, Misburg, Pölitz, and Magdeburg. Antiaircraft barrages were intense and accurate at most of the targets, and the bomber force attacking Pölitz had to beat off about 120 enemy fighters. Forty-eight heavy bombers were lost and 468 suffered damage on this mission, one of the rare operations after 1943 in which the GAF enjoyed a temporary air superiority. But twenty-eight German fighters were destroyed, all of the primary targets were attacked visually, results were excellent, and the synthetic oil plants at Magdeburg and Pölitz were forced to shut down for extensive repairs.28
A mission to Berlin was the order for 21 June 1944. In the back ground of this operation, the largest American attack yet mounted on the Nazi capital, lay a conflict of views between the RAF and the AAF. Long devoted to area bombing and suffering from the cruel V-1 bombardment of London, the British proposed to send 1,000 heavies along with every available American bomber to smash Berlin in an unprecedented daylight raid. The proposal made Spaatz uneasy, for he looked with strong disapproval on projects to break German morale through what he considered terror bombing,29 and he won the support of Eisenhower and AAF Headquarters in Washington in his determination to direct his own forces only at legitimate military targets. Accordingly, the American target plan for the projected mission meticulously singled out aircraft factories, railroad facilities, and governmental areas in the enemy capital as the objective. Even so, it
was evident that the raid would probably be devastating to much of the city. Nearly 3,000 heavy bombers, flying in twos instead of in standard formations and protected by enormous fighter forces, would drop about 6,000 tons on the city. As it turned out, the British withdrew from the mission when Harris concluded that fighter escort, which was unexpectedly drained by tactical demands from the French battlefields, would be insufficient to defend his heavies in daylight.30 Since the American plan was not contingent on RAF participation, nearly 2,500 aircraft – twenty combat wings of heavy bombers and twenty-three fighter groups – took off and flew over the North Sea to Jutland and then turned southeastward to Berlin. There they dropped more than 2,000 tons from 25,000 feet and started large fires and scored direct hits on most of the primary targets; 400 of the heavies bombed successfully various aircraft engine factories and railroad centers in the outskirts of the city and the oil plant at Ruhland. Flak was exceedingly heavy, as was to be expected, but serious fighter opposition materialized only during the penetration phase of the operation, when ninety German aircraft attacked. Forty-four of the heavy bombers failed to return to England, and twenty-two German fighters were shot down.31
During the last of June the Eighth Air Force was chiefly absorbed in CROSSBOW and in operations against French airfields and bridges. On 24 June it was possible to send six B-17 combat wings against an oil refinery at Bremen, which was selected because of its favorable location with respect to H2X identification landmarks. This particular mission was not at all encouraging in the tedious course of experiments being conducted by the Eighth to overcome weather and smoke-pot obstacles by means of radar devices. The bombs missed the oil refinery completely, although docks, railways, and an aircraft factory received hits.32 On 29 June the Eighth dispatched almost 1,000 B-17’s and B-24’s against the synthetic oil plant at Böhlen, the V-1 (formerly Volkswagen) works at Fallersleben, and eleven small targets in the Leipzig area involved in aircraft production. Enemy fighter reaction was unaccountably limited, although the bombers were widely scattered and in one phase formed a stream 200 miles long. Only twenty aircraft were lost. While twenty-one targets were bombed, and all work ceased at Fallersleben, General Doolittle thought the total results of the mission were disappointing.33
By the first of July the Allies were highly enthusiastic about the
oil offensive. During the month of the Normandy invasion 20,000 tons had been dropped by the strategic air forces on oil-producing installations. The two American forces had delivered most of this tonnage, but RAF Bomber Command had conducted very successful attacks on Gelsenkirchen and Buer. The amount of petroleum available to Germany declined to 472,000 tons in June, compared to 715,000 tons in May and 927,000 tons in March, as the Allies learned after the war.34 Contemporaneously, they estimated with unusual accuracy that about half of Germany’s production had been destroyed.35 It had been agreed to keep estimates secret, and some embarrassment arose when General Arnold announced at a press conference that enemy oil production was down to 30 percent.36 Afterward, the Allies guarded their estimates carefully, and comparison with captured records was to show that they came remarkably close to the truth.
As mounting evidence, from all sorts of intelligence sources and from observation of ground movements, indicated that the Germans were suffering desperate local shortages, the tactical air forces intensified their attacks on oil trains and storage dumps near the front lines.37 The Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces showed improvement in the use of H2X radar devices, and RAF Bomber Command was employing Gee-H to better advantage as its crews became more experienced.38 It was discovered that synthetic oil plants lent themselves to successful air attacks more easily than oil refineries, since the former could be put out of action by relatively small damage to critical parts of their complicated machinery. Furthermore, the synthetic plants were much larger than the refineries and were more likely to appear on radar screens because they usually stood some distance outside of cities. The Fifteenth Air Force sharply raised its level of accuracy and developed techniques, such as the use of diamond-shaped formations, which insured more safety for the bombers as well as greater precision in attack.39
A further strengthening of the effort came from the Joint Oil Targets Committee set up in London to supervise the oil campaign more scientifically. This organization, which drew membership from USSTAF, the Air Ministry, and the Ministry of Economic Warfare, evaluated methods of attack and checked data from the continent concerning German oil difficulties. One of its first decisions was to recommend intensification of attacks on gasoline production, thus giving highest priority to the Bergius-type synthetic oil plants and to crude oil refineries in Rumania, Hungary, Poland, and Germany – in that order.40
the Germans were far from apathetic in the face of the oil offensive. As Albert Speer, the Nazi minister of armaments and war production, later declared, the Eighth Air Force attack of 12 May 1944 made real what “had been a nightmare to us for more than two years.”41 Speer rightly feared that this mission was the beginning of a planned campaign, and he poured a series of apocalyptic memoranda upon the Führer, who was properly alarmed. Hitler was particularly wrathful because Germany’s synthetic oil plants had been built in clusters which the Allies could easily bomb now that the Luftwaffe was so distracted and weak. But the Nazis were not beaten. With Hitler’s full backing, Speer put the capable Edmund Geilenberg in charge of a vast reconstruction and dispersal program, for which he had the highest priorities in materials and labor. Soon he had 350,000 workers, most of them foreign slaves, engaged in repairing damage as soon as the plants were bombed and in building smaller units in places difficult for the Allies to find and attack.42 The entire program was carried through with a speed and efficiency that compelled admiration from the British and the Americans, whose intelligence officers were taxed and frequently confounded in seeking out the new plants, and whose air forces had to bomb and rebomb the old installations far more often than they had expected to. Thus the individual targets became more resilient and the target system itself multiplied.
The GAF, Rockets, and Oil
In July, Allied air commanders began to worry about the resurrection of the German Air Force. It had made a pitiful showing against OVERLORD, and its opposition to strategic bombing had been feeble or nonexistent during most missions for weeks past. Yet, the GAF occasionally had put up ferocious resistance to heavy bombers, particularly around Vienna, Pölitz, and Ploesti, where the Fifteenth Air Force had run into spirited and skilful opposition on several of its recent missions. Spaatz soberly considered the possibility that the GAF might recuperate.43
His experts differed widely about the production figures of German aircraft and grossly underestimated them,44 but there was evidence that the GAF had some life left, and key members of his staff knew acute concern over the threat of jet-propelled fighters. It was known that a few Me-163’s and Me-262’s were active, although none as yet had interfered with the bomber fleets. USSTAF estimates of their probable effects varied radically, ranging from the opinion that they would not be a factor for many months to the fear
that they might soon drive all daylight bombers from the skies.45 Doolittle’s dire predictions on this matter disturbed General Arnold, and Spaatz pressed Washington for rapid development of American jets as the best counterweapon.46 Meanwhile, the strategic bombers could attack such GAF production facilities as were identifiable. While USSTAF bombers had aimed only 2,842 tons on such targets in June, they would drop 7,398 tons in July and 8,442 tons in August.47
Illogically, it seems, German aircraft production had continued to rise during the months immediately following the great POINTBLANK successes of early 1944. The impressive nature of the aerial victory is clear only when the figures for planned production are compared with those for actual production (not overlooking the “missing” 26,000 fighters which cannot be accounted for except as an effort of certain German officials to lull the fears of their superiors)48 and when the GAF of mid-1944 is weighed against the air force the Germans had intended to dispose. The GAF accepted 2,177 single-engine fighters in June 1944, compared to 1,016 in the preceding February, and acceptances during July, August, and September amounted to 2,627, 2,779, and 3,031, respectively.* Much of the credit for this resurgence went to the ubiquitous Albert Speer, whom Goering not inappropriately called “a great genius.”49 When Speer brought aircraft production under the control of his ministry, he began to disperse the entire industry and to accelerate the repair of bombed plants. Dispersal may have proved ultimately to have been wasteful, but until late 1944 it was highly successful. The factories were so small, concealed, and scattered that Allied intelligence found it exceedingly difficult to locate them and bombers often failed to hit their vital parts. Allied air leaders failed to assess the German effort with complete accuracy, and with some reason were often uneasy and occasionally pessimistic during the summer of 1944.
Another source of concern was the V-1, which had come into operation on 12 June and was joined in September by the V-2 rocket. The German V campaign against the London area might be described properly in military terms as a harassing operation, but the anguish and danger endured by the English people caused British officials to insist urgently upon all possible countermeasures. The only permanent remedy was to overrun the launching sites on the coast of France and Belgium, which the armies did not accomplish in any considerable
* See above, p. 61.
measure until late summer. Until then, other methods had to be tried. The launching sites were almost impregnable to bombing, now that the Germans had rebuilt them following the Allied raids earlier in the year.50 But some good might be achieved, although American air leaders generally doubted it, by covering them regularly with bombs and by destroying everything around them. General Spaatz protested to Eisenhower about the disproportionate share awarded the Eighth and the apparent precedence which Leigh-Mallory intended for CROSSBOW to take over the strategic bombing of Germany.51 In view of Spaatz’s reluctance, RAF Bomber Command took on most of the targets and the Eighth Air Force agreed to attack launching sites whenever it could not operate against German industry. The aggregate tonnage directed by the two forces at all phases of V manufacture or firing sites during the summer of 1944 would amount to better than 70,000.52 No doubt the diversion of bombing effort was of serious proportions, as the Germans had probably planned for it to be, and ultimately it was judged that it had been of little effect in crippling the V campaign,53 while higher headquarters pondered these problems and shifted the emphasis of bombing from time to time, the bombers continued to go out as frequently as possible on missions which seem monotonously repetitious when chronicled in short spaces, although each sortie for the aircrew involved was a hazardous and often costly experience. The Eighth Air Force devoted the first week of July mostly to tactical operations over France. On the 7th it dispatched 1,103 heavy bombers to attack synthetic oil plants at Böhlen, Merseburg, and Lützkendorf, which were recovering from previous bombings, and to various aircraft factories in the Lepzig area. On the way to the target areas Liberators which comprised one of the three main forces ran into deadly opposition from German fighters and suffered the loss of an entire “clay pigeon” squadron and painful destruction in others, and GAF resistance might have proved even more serious but for a simultaneous operation by the Fifteenth Air Force against Silesian oil targets which drew off enemy fighter strength.” In all, the Eighth lost thirty-seven heavy bombers and six fighters. All of the bombing was visual and the results ranged from fair to excellent; on the whole it was a very successful attack.54
The Eighth Air Force operated over northern France with large
* see below, p. 291.
forces on 8 July, with small forces on 9 July, and was altogether grounded by the weather on the 10th. On 11 July, a break in the overcast seemed likely to develop around Munich, where abundant aircraft engine plants and marshalling yards offered attractive targets. It was a mission of considerable length and it was expected that the GAF would attack at the point of greatest strain for the fighter escort. But the Luftwaffe was not at all in evidence. Nor was a break in the overcast. The bombers had to employ H2X on all the targets; Munich and Augsburg received 2,353 tons from the 1,048 attacking bombers. On the next day the Eighth hoped to revisit Berlin, which the RAF had recently bombed, but weather conditions were too forbidding. Accordingly, 1,117 of its bombers returned to Munich, where 2,708 tons fell on the center of the city. Again the bombers used H2X and again they encountered no GAF fighters. For the third successive day, on 13 July, the Eighth dispatched more than 1,000 heavies to Munich and bombed it by H2X methods and attacked marshalling yards at Saarbrücken as well. While forty German fighters showed up on the 13 July mission, they made only reluctant and ineffective efforts to intercept the bombers.55 Losses of the Eighth Air Force on all three of these Munich attacks amounted to fifty heavy bombers, most of which were victims of antiaircraft guns and operational troubles. When the weather cleared up sufficiently to make assessments, it appeared that the railway facilities in the city and the great Bayerische Moterenwerke aeroengine plant were very severely damaged.56
Meanwhile, the Fifteenth Air Force was heavily engaged in operations to facilitate the advance of the ground forces in Italy and in preparing for the invasion of southern France.* But its strategic bombing was also impressive, and its battle losses in July reached the total of 3 18 heavy bombers, the worst month of the war for the Fifteenth and a higher ratio of loss than the Eighth was suffering.57
In the first week of July, Fifteenth Air Force bombers attacked a wide variety of targets from France to Rumania. On 2 July, 712 B-17’s and B-24’s bombed Budapest, which contained oil refineries, aircraft factories, and railway targets. Reinforced by Eighth Air Force Fortresses temporarily based in Italy after a shuttle mission to Russia, the Fifteenth sent almost 1,000 aircraft over the Balkans on 3 July. The targets most successfully bombed were oil and transportation objectives in Bucharest and Belgrade. On the 4th, 656 heavy bombers attacked various
* see below, pp. 420-26.
† see below, pp. 314-15.
small oil refineries in Yugoslavia and Rumania, achieving conspicuous success at the Brasov installation notwithstanding the opposition of 50 enemy fighters. The largest mission of the week took place on 5 July, when southern France was subjected to a softening-up process in anticipation of DRAGOON. The most colorful results of the day’s bombing were firing the inactive French battleship Dunquerque and covering the submarine pens at Toulon with explosives. On the 6th, the Fifteenth’s bombers turned their attention to targets in Italy: bridges, steel works, marshalling yards, and ports. Coordinating with the Eighth Air Force mission to central Germany on 7 July, the Fifteenth sent more than 1,000 B-17’s and B-24’s against synthetic oil plants. Approximately 300 German fighters attempted to prevent the bombing of the precious oil producers, and they shot down 25 bombers. While the synthetic oil plants at Blechhammer North, Blechhammer South, and Odertal received damage, the results of the Fifteenth Air Force mission were on the whole disappointing.58
The weight of attack was directed at Vienna on 8 July, where good blows were administered to oil refineries, airdromes, and oil storage depots. As was usual in a mission to Vienna, the bombers were threatened by about 100 aggressive German fighters, 18 of which fell to the American guns59 On the 9th the Fifteenth Air Force attempted again to damage the Ploesti fields and refineries. On this mission the bombers used H2X methods in the hope of overcoming the smoke screen, but subsequent assessment showed that hits had been haphazard. And the Germans still employed flak and an unusually combative force of fighters to advantage.60 After four days of bad weather and employment on tactical commitments, the Fifteenth resumed the bombing offensive on 14 July with gratifying success against four oil refineries and a marshalling yard in Budapest. Six hundred heavies returned to Ploesti on the 15th and again tried to bomb the area by means of H2X. While the mission seemed only partly successful at the time, captured records later revealed that most of the refineries had sustained damage.61 Vienna was punished on 16 July when the Fifteenth Air Force bombed oil storage facilities, aeroengine works, and marshalling yards. The crews correctly claimed they had shot down half of the ninety or more intercepting German fighters, and American bomber losses came to nine.62
After bombing railway targets in France on 17 July, the Fifteenth Air Force undertook on the next day to destroy a complex of factories
at Friedrichshafen, in southern Germany, where jet aircraft plants were concentrated. The GAF sent up nearly 300 fighters to contest the 500 American bombers but the mission was carried out with good results, and at least 45 enemy aircraft were destroyed, with claims for a total of 54.63 On 19 July aircraft factories around Munich received attacks from 222 heavies. Since the ruinous Eighth Air Force attacks of 11, 12, and 13 July, the Germans had greatly increased their flak defenses, and many of the bombers suffered damage. The campaign against Friedrichshafen was concluded, at least temporarily, when 200 B-24’s of the Fifteenth Air Force bombed the jet factories again on 20 July. A postwar survey estimated that these bombings of Friedrichshafen deprived the Germans of 950 jet aircraft.64 The destruction of an estimated 350 German aircraft on the ground at the Memmingen base on 18 and 20 July constituted a substantial bonus.65
Throwing its power back into the oil campaign, the Fifteenth Air Force struck the large Sudeten synthetic oil plant at Brüx on 21 July, where 143 bombers produced excellent results. Tactical bombings in southern France and in Italy absorbed most of the Fifteenth’s effort for the remainder of July, but Ploesti was not neglected. A heavy attack on 22 July by almost 500 bombers was not regarded as successful because of failure to overcome the smoke obstacle. But good results, including the interruption of work at two refineries, were obtained on 28 July, one reason being the employment of a weather ship to reconnoiter the region in time to inform the main fleet of 325 bombers where the smoke screen was thickest over the refineries. The same tactic was employed on 31 July, when bombing again proved fairly effective. Not only were three refineries hit but the crews deluged the countryside with pamphlets, “Rumania under a smoke screen,’’ urging the population to revolt.66 The determined bombardment of the great Ploesti concentrations was slowly disrupting this key source of Axis oil, even though individual missions seldom seemed to achieve conspicuous success.
During the last of July the Eighth Air Force and RAF Bomber Command received many special missions to assist the land armies in breaking out of the Normandy beachhead. Air force operations involved heavy commitments in the way of bridge and railway destruction, airfield attacks, CROSSBOW, supply missions, and occasional attacks upon naval objectives in the Channel. Absorbing as such operations were, the promise of the oil campaign and the imperative need
to keep the GAF down demanded that pressure on the Reich not be relaxed. Hence the heavy bombers would fly against tactical targets in France or strategic targets in Germany depending on weather forecasts for the best visual bombing conditions, and on many days the forces were split between the two types of objectives. The scale of operations mounted impressively; the seven days following 15 July 1944 surpassed the celebrated Big Week of February 1944 in the tonnage dropped by USSTAF. And RAF Bomber Command likewise eclipsed its previous records during this period by attacking France or Germany or both almost every day.67
The Eighth Air Force mission of 16 July illustrated the twin tactical and strategic commitments of the heavy bomber forces. Since weather conditions seemed suitable for visual bombing only in parts of southern and western Germany, approximately 450 B-24’s were dispatched to bomb marshalling yards at Saarbrücken, which served the German forces in France, while almost 650 B-17’s departed on the familiar route to Munich. The Liberators found Saarbrücken covered with clouds and had to bomb with H2X, and some of them got mixed up with the B-17 force and followed it almost to Munich before grasping the error. Ground fog in England delayed some of the fighter escorts from taking off and thus unhinged the schedule for support, but luckily German fighters were not available to take advantage of the situation. As for the B-17’s, they encountered an unpredicted cloud front which reached up to 30,000 feet and made flying exceedingly hazardous. Two of the eleven B-17 combat wings had to abandon the primary target and attack secondaries. But, in spite of the bad luck and complications, the bombers achieved at least fair results at both Munich and Saarbrücken. Spaatz congratulated the crews who went to Munich for their excellent performance under highly difficult flying conditions.68
Bridges and other tactical objectives in France engrossed Eighth Air Force effort on 17 July, and on the 18th carpet bombing near Caen required the attention of the RAF and nearly 600 American B-24’s.* But on that day 750 B-17’s conducted a strong assault on the ominous scientific establishments at Peenemünde and Zinnowitz and on a synthetic oil refinery near Kiel. The Fortresses took an overwater route to Jutland, where the Kiel force turned off to attack its objective with good results notwithstanding an undercast. Bombing was
* See above, p. 208.
visual at Peenemünde and Zinnowitz, where the Germans were known to be producing rocket fuel and devising V weapons. The results were considered good, and operations were not disturbed by the presence of enemy fighters. The evidence of structural damage was unmistakable and Spaatz commended the Eighth Air Force for what he called the finest example of precision bombing that he had ever seen.69
A gigantic operation took place on 19 July, when weather conditions were promising over most of the Reich. Aside from the aforementioned Fifteenth Air Force mission to Munich on that day,” the Germans had to contend with almost 1,250 bombers of the Eighth Air Force and its full fighter strength. The England-based heavies fanned out to bomb aircraft engine factories, fighter assembly plants, airfields, marshalling yards, ball-bearing works, chemical establishments, and numerous targets of opportunity all over southern and western Germany. Most of the bombing was good, and the loss of twenty-nine bombers was not excessive in view of the breaking up of the bombing forces into small units and of spirited German fighter opposition which cost the enemy seventeen airplanes.70 A wide-scale attack of comparable size, coordinated with the Fifteenth Air Force operation against Friedrichshafen, took place on the next day, 20 July. One force of the Eighth bombed aircraft factories in Saxony; another struck the key synthetic oil plants at Merseburg-Leuna and Lützkendorf; a third bombed a variety of railway and aircraft installations in south-central Germany; and the last damaged an important motor vehicle works at Rüsselsheim. Results were for the most part good and only ten heavy bombers failed to return, while thirty German fighters were shot down, two more than were claimed. Although the GAF was active in a few cases, it was clear that the enemy’s defense system had been hopelessly distracted by the American attacks.71
On 21 July all continental targets were expected to be overcast except those in central and southern Germany. Even the carpet bombing laid on for St.-Lô prior to an assault by the U.S. First Army had to be called off for that day. Thus, 1,068 heavy bombers were dispatched to attack airfields and aircraft factories in southern Germany and the dubiously significant ball-bearing targets at Regensburg and Schweinfurt. Only 414 of the heavy bombers were able to bomb their primary objectives, and one force encountered 80 German fighters. But losses were not heavy and the prime objectives, Regensburg and Schweinfurt,
* See above, p. 292.
seemed very badly damaged. USSTAF announced that its heavies had dealt a staggering blow to the enemy, and Spaatz regarded the Regensburg bombing as exceptionally good. But, as was usual in the ball-bearing campaign, the destruction of factories led to exaggerated estimates of the effect on production.72
On 23 July, Eighth Air Force heavies plastered German airfields in France on the eve of the great breakthrough of the Allied armies. Then, on 24 and 25 July, they participated almost 1,600 strong on each day in the carpet bombing ahead of the First Army’s path near St.-Lô.* Exhaustion from these stupendous operations in France fortunately coincided with a two-day spell of bad weather and gave the Eighth Air Force a welcome respite. On 28 July, 569 Fortresses conducted a highly successful assault on the synthetic oil plant at Merseburg–Leuna, although other attacks that day against oil targets were frustrated by poor bombing conditions. The sixty or so enemy fighters that were airborne around Merseburg did not cause serious trouble for the bomber fleets, but a highly disquieting feature of the day’s operations was the long-feared introduction of jets into the air war. Although the seven Me-163’s sighted by the Americans refrained from attack and confined their activity to tricks seemingly intended to demonstrate the jet’s superiority to Allied aircraft, these antics served to warn USSTAF commanders that daylight supremacy in the skies might not be theirs much longer.73 Jets were not in evidence, however, on the next day, 29 July, when 647 B-17’s went back and definitely placed the Merseburg-Leuna oil installation on the inactive list for a period of several weeks, but opposition from conventional-type fighters was unusually vicious. The Americans were fortunate in losing only seven heavy bombers, and the gunners, who claimed twenty-six, certainly shot down no less than nineteen of the enemy. Also on that day 444 Eighth Air Force bombers attacked crude-oil refineries in the Bremen area, but bombing was blind because of smoke and clouds and results were poor or at best fair. Noting the extremely difficult bombing conditions under which the Eighth operated on 28 and 29 July, Spaatz concluded that the flyers deserved much credit for accomplishing as much as they did.74 Weathered in on 30 July, the Eighth sent 1,169 bombers out on the 31st to southern Germany, the only area where good visibility might be expected. As had happened before, however, cloud cover forced a resort to blind bombing.
* See above, pp. 228-33.
About 2,500 tons were dropped on Munich and Ludwigshafen by means of pathfinder indications.75
As the American armies raced across France early in August, tactical considerations again took precedence over strategic bombardment. The Eighth Air Force devoted most of its effort to keeping German airfields out of condition, to destroying bridges and railway installations, to carrying emergency supplies to forward ground units which had outrun their normal means, and to CROSSBOW. But bombing conditions were poor in France on 4, 5, and 6 August and propitious in Germany. Accordingly, strategic missions were carried out while the opportunity lasted.
The targets for the 4 August mission were oil refineries at Bremen, Hamburg, and Harburg; aircraft plants at Rostock and elsewhere in northern Germany; the V-weapon experimental works at Peenemünde; and a torpedo plant at Kiel suspected of manufacturing jet parts. In four separate forces 1,246 bombers and all of the Eighth’s fifteen fighter groups reached the targets. Bombing was visual only at Peenemünde and Kiel; elsewhere H2X was employed. Accuracy was not particularly good at any of the targets, but the 3,000 tons dropped that day caused many fires and explosions. On the following day 1,146 heavies revisited the Reich, this time happily encountering visual conditions and inflicting notable damage to oil refineries and aircraft and armament plants in the Magdeburg–Brunswick–Hannover region. On this mission the Americans fought off some 100 enemy fighters, 29 of which they destroyed (claims that day were 30) while losing 14 of their own bombers and 6 fighters.76 The outstanding mission of early August occurred on the 6th, which proved to be one of the best days the Eighth had ever experienced in bombing. A total of 999 heavies with twelve supporting fighter groups attacked visually four oil refineries in Hamburg, two in Harburg, the torpedo plant at Kiel, and a number of factories in the suburbs of Berlin which produced parts for airplanes, tanks, and V weapons. A USSTAF press release could proclaim without exaggeration that ten major targets had been severely damaged.77
The Fifteenth Air Force, meantime, had continued to operate on an impressive scale. During the latter part of the summer its twenty daylight missions against Ploesti, with the aid of the four night missions flown by the RAF’s Italy-based Wellingtons, would deny the Germans
Fifteenth Air Force wrecks Ploesti refineries
Eighth Air Force attacks oil refineries
an estimated 1,800,000 tons of crude oil,78 and the steady pounding of oil refineries and synthetic petroleum plants scattered widely about Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, and Yugoslavia vastly aggravated the fuel crisis faced by the Axis. At the same time, frequent bombings of aircraft factories in southern Germany, Austria, and Hungary complemented the work of the RAF and the Eighth Air Force in assuring continued Allied air superiority at least until the jets were ready.
With Ploesti in shaky condition following the July bombings, the Fifteenth on 3 August sent more than 400 of its heavies against four aircraft factories in southern Germany while other forces attacked railway targets in the Brenner Pass in the hope of cutting German lines into Italy. After an interval of tactical bombings, 365 bombers on 7 August attacked the great synthetic oil plants in Silesia, Blechhammer North and Blechhammer South, where damage was disappointing although production was temporarily stopped.79 On 9 August, more than 250 heavies ranged over Hungary attacking refineries, oil storage depots, and airfields with a fair degree of effectiveness. Nearly 300 B-17’s and B-24’s took the well-known course to Ploesti and greatly damaged five of the refineries. The once aggressive German fighter defense had suddenly deteriorated with the result that the bombers were able to attack in a long stream which took so much time to pass over the target that the smoke screen thinned out considerably.80 A few more blows of this type and Ploesti would be inoperative.
All of the refineries in the rich cluster had been damaged or knocked out, the Russians were closing in on Rumania, and the region was by now isolated from Germany because of broken railways and the effective mining of the Danube River. It remained only to smash the refineries completely to make certain that the Germans could not withdraw machinery or finished oil products as they retreated before the Russians. Fortunately, the invasion of southern France on 15 August went off so successfully that little diversion from the strategic air campaign was required after the landing, and the Fifteenth Air Force was able to mount large assaults on Ploesti on each of the three days from 17 through 19 August. With the aid of a night attack by the RAF, these assaults brought production down to an estimated 10 per cent of original capacity, and by 24 August all work had ceased. Soon afterward the Russians occupied the region and allowed American survey parties to examine the wreckage and look over the records –
one of the few instances in which the Russians were cooperative in such matters.
The opportunity thus provided for an immediate check of the results of strategic bombardment against a critically important target was unique, and General Eaker, who himself flew to Ploesti in August, gave to the study his own close personal attention. In addition to the mute testimony offered by the devastated area, there was other information available concerning the results of the campaign. Unfortunately, the evidence found does not afford a detailed picture of the effects of each bomber mission. What does seem to be clear, however, is that the Fifteenth’s sustained attack hurt the enemy both early and badly, that by the end of the campaign in August destruction, in terms of productive capacity, was virtually complete, and that the key to this success lay in the sustained character of the offensive. The Fifteenth’s own statistics relating to that offensive offer impressive evidence of the cost of such a sustained effort. If the repeat performances of many crews be not considered, a total force of 59,834 airmen had flown against Ploesti. A total of 13,469 tons of bombs had been dropped, and 350 heavy bombers had been lost.81
Happily, not all airmen shot down beyond enemy lines remained permanently on the casualty lists. When Rumania abruptly changed sides in the world struggle late in August 1944, the rescue and repatriation of American airmen from that country provided a buoyant episode in the grim Balkan war. AAF flyers held in prison camps near Bucharest were in danger of being evacuated to Germany or having to spend a long period of time in Russian hands before they got home. Taking advantage of the general confusion, one of the internees, Lt. Col. James A. Gunn III, squeezed into the radio compartment of an Me-109G, which had been painted judiciously with stars and stripes, and with a Rumanian officer as pilot, flew to Italy in the hope of getting assistance for his fellows. There, with the situation in Rumania explained, men of the Fifteenth Air Force hurriedly converted fifty-six Fortresses into transports and flew to Popesti airport, outside Bucharest. At no great distance from falling shells the former prisoners crowded into the bombers and flew back to Italy in relays, 1,162 of them in three days. Deloused, fattened up, and mightily cheered, these beneficiaries of Operation REUNION, as it was called, were soon on their way to the States.82
The recovery of aircrews imprisoned in Bulgaria, Operation FREEDOM,
was a less heartening affair. When that nation surrendered in September 1944, the Fifteenth Air Force immediately made plans for the rescue of the 303 AAF prisoners in Bulgaria. But the Bulgarians precipitately placed the men in railway cars and sent them to Turkey, a neutral country, from which they went on by train to Aleppo and from there to Cairo via ATC. The Fifteenth was then able to fly the former prisoners from Egypt to Italy, but it was evident that they were in wretched condition. Their bodies were weak and their spirits were low as a result of months of beatings, insults, inadequate food, and crude medical treatment. A small party led by the deputy commander of the Fifteenth Air Force, Brig. Gen. William E. Hall, went to Sofia to investigate the atrocities and to apprehend the guilty Bulgarian authorities. The Americans filed charges against various individuals but left Bulgaria early in 1945 with the feeling that the new government would not exert itself in prosecuting the cases.83
With Ploesti off the target list after mid-August, the Fifteenth Air Force was able to pay closer attention to Germany’s remaining oil resources. On 20 August almost 500 B-17’s and B-24’s bombed oil refineries in Poland and Czechoslovakia with gratifying results. Since only four aircraft failed to return, this mission was hailed as the least costly operation of such depth and size in that air force’s history.84 On the 22nd a still larger mission brought damage to widely scattered targets, chief among which were the synthetic oil plants at Odertal and the Blechhammers. Vienna’s oil, aircraft production, and railway targets received a heavy load of bombs in a well-executed operation of 23 August.85 And a vast Eighth-Fifteenth assault on oil refineries throughout Czechoslovakia and western Germany on 24 August, which will be described below, brought praise from General Spaatz, who called it the most effective coordinated attack yet conducted on enemy oil production.86
For more than a week after its very effective effort of 6 August, the Eighth Air Force had contributed little to the strategic air offensive. Allied ground forces were sweeping across France from Normandy and were about to pour in from the Mediterranean. The might of the air forces necessarily went into tactical operations in order to complete the liberation of France and in the hope of finishing the war before autumn. One attempt to carry through a large strategic operation against aircraft and tank plants and oil storage depots in southwestern Germany on 9 August proved unrewarding. On that occasion 824
heavy bombers went out in three forces. But one of the forces turned back because of a 28,000 -foot cloud front, and the others bombed with poor or fair results a few of the secondary targets.87 On 14 August, while B-24’s operated over France, 730 B-17’s attacked aeroengine and jet plants in Stuttgart and Mannheim and the synthetic oil establishment at Ludwigshafen. Bombing results were rated good.88 Another opportunity for a strategic mission came on 16 August, when 1,090 heavies visually attacked several vital oil refineries and aircraft plants in central Germany. Chief among the former targets were Zeitz, Rositz, Böhlen, and Magdeburg, while the aircraft plants were those at Halle, Schkeudin, Dessau, Köthen, and Magdeburg. Dampening the cheer over the unusually good bombing was the fact that 200 German fighters had intercepted the bomber fleets and shot down 24 heavies. Returning crews claimed 36 of the enemy, whose records support a claim for at least 27, but by either count the trade was uneven. Notable also was the fact that German interceptors included six jet Me-163’s which made passes both at the B-17’s and P-51’s.89
When next, on 24 August, the Eighth became free to conduct another assault on strategic targets in the Reich, it proved possible to stage in coordination with the Fifteenth Air Force one of the AAF’s largest efforts of the war. More than 1,300 Eighth Air Force heavy bombers attacked synthetic oil plants at Merseburg-Leuna, Ruhland, Brüx, Misburg, and Freital and aircraft plants in Brunswick and Hannover, while the 600 planes committed by the Fifteenth divided their attention between the oil refineries of western Germany and Czechoslovakia. Severe damage to targets resulted, and enemy opposition to the widely spread attack was generally slight and ineffective.90 Eighth Air Force gunners claimed in all 30 planes shot down, of which number enemy records concede 19; it has not been possible to check the Fifteenth’s claim of 43 planes, all of them destroyed outside the Reich.
Good visual conditions prevailed for the Eighth again on 25 August with the result that 1,191 heavy bombers attacked aircraft plants and component factories at Rostock, Lübeck, Schwerin, and Wismar and badly damaged the synthetic oil plant at distant Pölitz just after it had resumed operation following the knockout blows of June.* Also, the experimental stations at Rechlin and Peenemünde caught punishing bomb loads. The mission of 26 August was less successful. Bombing was poor at the giant I. G. Farbenindustrie oil-chemical complex
* See above, p. 284.
at Ludwigshafen and good at two minor oil refineries near the Dutch frontier. The entire operation of 27 August involving 1,202 heavy bombers had to be canceled because of high clouds on the route to the objective, which was Berlin, and bad weather kept the Eighth Air Force away from all strategic targets on 28 and 29 August. On the 30th, 637 B-17’s achieved moderately good results against the low priority U-boat and shipyard targets at Kiel, but their accuracy was dismally low when they bombed aircraft and motor plants in Bremen.91
Weather conditions continued to be unfavorable into September. On the 3rd of that month 325 B-17’s got through to Ludwigshafen, where they inflicted some damage to the chief synthetic oil plant, and on 5 September 277 Fortresses rebombed this target with satisfactory results.92
But not until 8 September did a long overdue spell of good weather begin. On each of the following six days the Eighth Air Force dispatched 1,000 or more bombers against Germany, thus enabling USSTAF public relations officers to celebrate another Big Week.93
The great oil-chemical works at Ludwigshafen was attacked effectively on 8 September, when tank and armored vehicle factories near Mainz were also bombed, but with only fair results. On 9 September the large armaments plant at Düsseldorf was severely damaged, and on the 10th a variety of jet, tank, ordnance, and aircraft targets in such German cities as Nürnberg, Gaggenau, Sindelfingen, and Stuttgart were bombed by 1,145 heavies.94 On 11 September an eventful mission involving 1,131 heavy bombers and all Eighth Air Force fighter groups brought substantial damage to synthetic oil plants at Ruhland, Böhlen, Brüx, Merseburg-Leuna, Lützkendorf, Misburg, and Magdeburg, a military vehicle plant at Chemnitz, engine works at Hannover, and an ordnance depot at Magdeburg. For the first time since 28 May 1944 the GAF rose in great strength to meet this full-scale attack. Perhaps 400 enemy fighters were sighted by the bombers, and 125 broke through the protective fighter screen to shoot down 20 heavies, at a cost to the defenders of 97 planes. Jets, this time estimated at about 25 in number, zoomed about menacingly, easily outdistancing the American P-51’s, but as on previous occasions when they put in their appearance, they refused combat.95 Enemy opposition was vigorous again on 12 September, when 888 heavy bombers visually attacked oil targets at Ruhland, Brüx, Magdeburg, Böhlen, Misburg, and
Hemmingstedt. Twenty-three Fortresses were known to fall to the enemy fighters and 22 others did not return to base. Gunners’ claims to 108 German planes, though exaggerated to the extent of the difference between that figure and 41, bore testimony to intense air battles.96 The GAF exhibited strength again on 13 September, as 748 heavies attacked aeroengine factories in Stuttgart and synthetic oil plants at Ludwigshafen, Merseburg, and Lützkendorf and the ordnance depot at Ulm. But American losses were light and 23 of the 150 or more attacking fighters were destroyed by crews who claimed a total of 33.97 Thus, the summer phase of the strategic air war was terminated with a series of gigantic missions which brought critical injury to German industries and to American air commanders new cause for apprehension regarding the GAF.
The Fifteenth Air Force brought its summer campaign against the German oil complex to completion with large and successful attacks on the Silesian Blechhammers and the main Austrian refineries at Moosbierbaum, Schwechat, and Lobau. Otherwise, most of its effort went into an attempt to hasten the collapse of the Balkan front which by September seemed, deceptively, imminent. In addition to stepping up aid to partisan groups and demolishing whatever remained of Axis oil installations on that peninsula, the Fifteenth gave its attention largely to key points along the railway trunk line between Athens and Belgrade in the hope of preventing German evacuation. These rail attacks hampered and reduced enemy troop movements, it became clear, but they failed to interdict the traffic to the desired degree.98 Despite extensive air operations by the Americans and a strenuous effort on the ground by the Russians, the Germans managed to avoid a rout and succeeded in stabilizing the Balkan front for a few more months.
Bombing Results, Tactics, and Morale
During the summer months of 1944 the Eighth Air Force, the Fifteenth Air Force, and RAF Bomber Command had exerted their maximum power against the German enemy. The bomb tonnages dropped by the Eighth alone amounted to 36,000 in May, 60,000 in June, 45,000 in July, 49,000 in August, and 40,000 in September. Even though the weather was perversely unseasonable for some weeks after D-day the Eighth’s bombers flew on 28 days during June, 27 in July, and 23 in August. The ratio of losses was correspondingly high, notwithstanding the weakened state of the Luftwaffe, because flak was
more deadly now and because bombers often went out under conditions that would have been regarded as unflyable a year before. Out of its 2,100 operational heavy bombers, the Eighth Air Force lost 280 in June, 324 in July, and 318 in August. VIII Fighter Command losses for those months were 242, 153, and 279 out of about 900 fighters that were constantly available for combat units.99 The 1,100 operational heavy bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force suffered a still higher ratio of losses, considerably exceeding staff planning estimates.100 After the record loss of 318 heavy bombers in July, General Eaker estimated in August that 30 per cent of the Fifteenth’s crews who engaged the enemy were brought down on hostile territory, and MASAF actually lost more men during that month than did the Fifth and Eighth Armies in their ground fighting.101 RAF Bomber Command’s losses were comparably high. Air Chief Marshal Harris pointed out that the casualties of his forces exceeded those of the British Second Army for some weeks after the invasion, and Ambassador John G. Winant commented with much feeling on the terrible rate at which RAF operations were consuming Britain’s young manhood.102
If the human and material cost of the summer’s operations was great, so were the achievements. The bombardment of German oil refineries and synthetic petroleum plants, together with the final exclusion of the Germans from any of the resources of Ploesti, brought the enemy’s fuel position to the point of catastrophe by September. USSTAF estimated that German oil production in that month was only 32 per cent of the pre-attack level;103 and later and better evidence placed the percentage at 23, with gasoline production several points lower.104
For some weeks the decline of oil output had signified more to the Germans than portentous statistics. At the battle of Caen they had been compelled to employ their stranded tanks merely as small forts dug into the ground they could not traverse for lack of fuel and lubricants. Later in the summer they were abandoning their tanks and motor vehicles all over France, fleeing on foot, rescuing what equipment they could with horses, or surrendering in droves.105 Training in tank warfare became for the Germans a luxury beyond reach, and even the Luftwaffe reduced its training period to a few insufficient weeks because aviation gasoline could not be spared.106 The scientifically planned Allied bombings were strangling the German war machine, leaving to the enemy no hope as he desperately
rebuilt his damaged plants, save that the autumn and winter weather might shield his oil production system.
The threatened resurgence of the Luftwaffe was thwarted, or at least postponed, by the combined effect of the oil attacks and of seventy-six Eighth and twenty Fifteenth Air Force raids on aircraft industry during the summer.107 German bombers were now rare sights, and Allied leaders were confident that conventional German fighters would never endanger the strategic bombing program. Even when Allied claims of German aircraft destroyed in the air or on the ground are discounted as being too full of duplications and insupportable optimism, captured enemy records show that approximately 500 aircraft were destroyed each week during the summer of 1944.108 And combat losses in the Luftwaffe (killed and missing) rose from 31,000 to 44,000 between 31 May and 31 October 1944.109
Jets, however, were another matter. That deadly jet fighter forces could make Allied losses intolerable in the near future was a possibility frankly faced by both SHAEF and USSTAF.110 All the Allies could do was to smash suspected jet plants wherever they could be found and speed up the development of the American P-80. Both programs they pursued with an air of urgency.
The operations of the heavy bomber commands against other target systems had brought less satisfying results by September than the oil and aircraft campaigns. The several missions against ball-bearing plants were effective in terms of mechanical destruction, but not in preventing or seriously delaying German armaments production. A few raids on tank manufacture and assembly marked the beginning of an inconclusive campaign which lasted until November 1944. And several attacks on ordnance depots were likewise the start of an offensive of dubious wisdom.
The management of the strategic air offensive after D-day posed no special problems that had not been anticipated. The directives throughout the summer were very similar, all of them giving first priority to assisting the land campaign, second priority to depriving the enemy of oil and gasoline, and usually a third priority to counter-air force operations. Special instructions regarding tank production and ordnance depots came out toward the end of the summer.111 CROSSBOW occupied an uneasy and uncertain priority among the objectives of the American air forces in fact, if not always on paper, until its demise at the end of August. Air Chief Marshal Tedder complained on several
occasions that insufficient American effort was going into this campaign,112 but USSTAF rightly believed that most of the CROSSBOW’ bombings at this stage were ineffective. Ordinarily, it was the weather and not formal lists of target systems which governed the day-to-day selection of objectives. In the long run all of them were duly bombed. Spaatz steadfastly resisted all proposals to attempt to terrorize the Germans into capitulation. To Doolittle and Twining, he explicitly restated the AAF doctrine of precision bombing,113 and it was adhered to. Altogether, his command relationships with Eisenhower and the RAF were highly satisfactory. The commanders directed the war with all their skill, and the crews performed with a dogged heroism that had become by this time routine among them.
A few problems of logistics arose. In July it seemed that the supply of air fuel was dangerously low, and in the same month Eisenhower warned Marshall that expenditure of bombs was critically exceeding imports from the United States.114 Neither situation became serious, however. Theater opinion strongly favored the B-17 over the B-24115 and preferred the P-51 to the P-38 and the P-47. As a consequence, five groups of heavy bombers in the Eighth Air Force exchanged Liberators for Fortresses by September, and five fighter groups were converted from Lightnings and Thunderbolts to Mustangs. Finally, General Arnold suggested in August that a number of heavy bomber groups make use of bases in France. But both Eisenhower and Spaatz believed that the facilities of French ports would be overtaxed if this were done and that English bases were adequate.116
The tactics of the huge bomber fleets of the Eighth were slightly altered in view of the continued weakening of the Luftwaffe and the increasing effectiveness of German flak. Smaller formations were often used in order to reduce exposure to antiaircraft fire, and fighter escorts ranged out more aggressively than ever in search of airborne foes instead of covering the bombers closely. Also, the Eighth Air Force began to use flights of fighter aircraft with bomber pilots flying them to lead the mass bomber forces around weather fronts and persistent condensation trails.117 The Fifteenth Air Force, on the other hand, meeting stronger opposition from FW-190’s and Me-109’s over its targets, had to devise more compact formations to safeguard its bomber fleets.118 The bombing accuracy of both the Eighth and the Fifteenth increased markedly, partly because of better visibility afforded by summer weather. The percentage of bombs falling within
1,000 feet of the target grew from 18 in April 1944 to 32 in June and 50 in August in the case of the Fifteenth Air Force, and from 29 to 40 and 45 for the Eighth in those months.119 In both air forces more was learned about the proper mixture of fragmentation, incendiary, and high-explosive bombs for each individual objective, a matter of precise adjustment which had to be worked out painstakingly for every mission. Of greater significance was the growth and improvement of pathfinder forces employing H2X to lead the bombers to targets hidden by cloud or smoke. By autumn USSTAF had abundant experience in the use of H2X and a fair supply of these valuable instruments.120
Low morale among the aircrews, particularly in the Eighth Air Force, was a nagging problem during the middle of 1944. The intensive scale of operations, high operational losses and wastage, the absence on occasions of sufficient fighters for escort, and the almost unbearable pace of missions on consecutive days all contributed to fatigue and a pessimistic outlook on the part of the flyers. The suspension of the rotation program before the Normandy invasion caused many of them to feel that they were being unnecessarily exposed. When, later in the summer, a well-intended program of temporary duty for rest and recuperation in such stateside resorts as Atlantic City, Miami Beach, and Santa Monica was instituted, the reactions of the men were unfavorable. Most of them did not enjoy their vacations, or so they said, because of the prospect of an early return to combat. And they often expressed their resentment of civilians and of military personnel who had not yet been sent overseas. Some of their remarks were interpreted as revelations of bitter hatred of their senior officers and as opposition to the prosecution of the war.121 An investigation undertaken on General Arnold’s order indicated that such inferences were extreme or unwarranted.122 But the AAF soon abandoned the program and resumed rotation. Arnold himself had long planned to provide two crews for each bomber so that every man would feel that he had an even chance of surviving his tour.123 By July 1944 the Eighth Air Force attained this ratio, and by December so did the Fifteenth.124 Another measure to raise morale was the expansion of Special Services activities, which General Doolittle ordered when he observed that ground crews as well as airmen were suffering from weariness and overwork.125 An informal investigation carried out for General Arnold in September concluded that the morale
of forces in England showed much improvement. Not only were the airmen confident of their airplanes, their methods, and themselves, but they felt sure they were doing more to win the war than either the ground forces or the RAF.126
A situation that gave rise to mischievous interpretations was the growing number of forced landings or parachutings by American bomber crews in neutral Sweden and Switzerland. By the end of July 1944 there were 94 Eighth Air Force crews interned in Sweden and 101 in Switzerland,127 and rumors of the comfortable sojourn enjoyed by the flyers circulated literally on a global scale, wherever U.S. armed forces were. Diplomatic officials who interrogated the men reported that a disproportionate number of the emergencies which caused the forced landings were not genuine, that cowardice was a major factor. Spaatz grew indignant when he read such reports, which he labeled as base slander, and he demanded that air officers as well as civilians be permitted to interview the internees.128 When this was done, in August 1944, practically all, if not all, of the charges were dispelled. Neutral officials were able to confirm in most cases that the bombers had been too badly damaged to return to England. Also, the investigations supported Spaatz’s conviction that few if any of the flyers had gone down deliberately in order to avoid further combat. As late as mid-September 1944 not a single instance of unnecessary internment had been proved.129 Military authorities were convinced that diplomatic interrogators had been misled by the characteristic nonchalance and contempt for heroics displayed by most American airmen in World War II. One report indicated that the main problem was nearer that of dissuading the internees from escaping their benevolent hosts.130 General Eaker, in commenting on this question and on the morale problem in general for Arnold, seems to have hit the nail on the head: “Our crews, like all normal human beings, do not want to get killed. They therefore look upon this business very grimly and they are happy when they get through what they consider all that a man can be asked to stand, and all of them, almost without exception, are glad to return home when their time comes up for rotation. This does not mean low morale. It means they are normal human beings.”131
Still another aspect of the morale situation remained in the back of most airmen’s minds: the plight of the caged warbirds. Every aircrew member knew that he might at almost any time find himself in a Stalag Luft, and the number of flyers who reached the enemy’s prison compounds
increased heavily as a result of the steadily mounting air offensive. To the older prisoners many of the new arrivals seemed conspicuously youthful, cocksure, uncooperative, and invariably convinced that the war was on the point of terminating. The prison camps bulged and took on more of a character reminiscent in superficial ways of stateside army life, with military formations, compulsory exercise, games, reading, improvised entertainment, arguments, fights, criticisms of the British, speculation about escape, prophecies (always optimistic) about the end of the war, and other familiar aspects. But there were also overcrowding and underfeeding and a lurking fear of what the Nazis might do when their doom became imminent. The sight of Fortresses and Liberators would throw a compound into exultation; older prisoners would marvel when they saw American long-range fighters over eastern Germany. News and rumors about the aircrews who had been lucky enough to reach Sweden or Switzerland would make them envious. United Nations victories would produce a surge of optimism. But by the end of the summer of 1944 it became clear to most “Kriegies” that their liberation would not take place in the immediate future. Morale sagged, and they became bitter and gloomy while they prepared to stretch their Red Cross parcels and rations through more dismal months.132
The AAF in Russia
Since the early days of the war AAF leaders had been attracted by the idea that shuttle bombing between widely separated bases might pay huge dividends. The experience gained with shuttle operations between British and North African bases, notably in the Regensburg–Schweinfurt mission of 17 August 1943, had introduced a note of caution into AAF planning, but opportunities for shuttle bombing were among the reasons advanced for the establishment of the Fifteenth Air Force in the fall of 1943* and by that time the United States was urging upon the U.S.S.R. the use of Russian bases for the same purpose. It was well known that the Germans were relocating many of their plants in the east, and it seemed reasonable to expect that American bombers operating out of Russia could strike targets in eastern Germany which were beyond the reach of aircraft flying from England or Italy. It would be helpful, moreover, to compel the Axis to spread out its defenses against air attack and to impress upon the enemy high command
at about the time of OVERLORD that Germany was exposed from all directions. Perhaps of even more importance was the desire to demonstrate to the Russians how eager the Americans were to wage war on the German enemy in every possible way and to gain from the Russians a fuller appreciation of the contribution of the strategic air forces to the war effort, for to date they had revealed scant regard for the work of the heavy bombers. And if these shuttle operations proved effective, it might be easier to secure Soviet approval for the use of Siberian bases later on in the war against Japan – a consideration seldom lost sight of by the American high command. The manifold advantages expected from FRANTIC, as the project came to be called, were considered ample justification for the effort and expense involved.
It was in October 1943 that General Arnold secured CCS approval for inclusion of the shuttle-bombing proposal as one of the objectives of a U.S. military mission about to be established in Moscow under the leadership of Maj. Gen. John R. Deane. General Deane and Brig. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, who accompanied him, stopped off in London on their way to Moscow and discussed the FRANTIC project with Eighth Air Force and RAF officials. RAF authorities, though promising cooperation, could see little advantage for their own night bombers in having Russian bases available; in fact, they seem to have regarded the whole project as something of a stunt,133 but American air officers were quite receptive. In Moscow, Deane and Vandenberg found Soviet air and army officials unresponsive. Apparently startled by the proposal, they declined to discuss it further until they had discovered the wishes of their superiors.134 Within two days Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov, however, made known Soviet “approval in principle” for FRANTIC to the premature rejoicing of the Americans,135 who were not then aware of the obscurities often implied in the Russian usage of this phrase.
The most earnest importunities of Deane and his staff having failed to persuade the Russians during November 1943 to translate their formal approval into cooperative action, Ambassador W. Averill Harriman and Col. Elliott Roosevelt at the Tehran conference in December secured from Stalin himself what seemed to be assent for shuttle bombing.136 Later in that month Molotov again told Harriman and Deane that the Soviet staff had no objection in principle to the project,137 but January 1944 was to pass without any definite steps on the part of the Russians to implement FRANTIC, notwithstanding the persistent efforts
of Arnold, Deane, Harriman, and, by now, Eisenhower and Spaatz, to get things under way.138 But finally, on 2 February, Harriman had a long conversation with Stalin in which he stressed the advantages of shuttle bombing in destroying German industries and in facilitating the progress of the Red army, to which the Soviet ruler bluntly responded: “We favor it.” He then gave instructions for six airfields to be made ready to accommodate 200 American aircraft, and assured Harriman that in time the Americans could operate at least 300 heavy bombers from the coveted Siberian bases.139
As the situation thus suddenly thawed out and Russian air officials became cooperative, the Americans hastened to institute their plans. Spaatz, having received authority to communicate directly with Deane, sent to Russia a party of USSTAF officers to select the six airfields agreed upon, a smaller number, incidentally, than the Americans had originally hoped to obtain.140 It turned out, actually, that only three airfields would be made available: Poltava, Mirgorod, and Piryatin, not far from Kiev, and all three lay farther to the east than the Americans had desired. Because the three sites had been subjected to the Russian scorched-earth policy and to a vengeful German retreat, much reconstruction was required. Longer runways were needed for heavy bombers, moreover, and extensive steel mats, hangars, control towers, and other facilities would have to be provided.141
Work went ahead very rapidly during April and May. American supplies poured into Russia by way of the Murmansk convoys and the Persian Gulf Command. The Russians labored with visible enthusiasm to put the bases in readiness, employing female workers in some cases, but they were able to assign to the task only a fraction of the labor force originally agreed upon.142 Sometimes the Americans chafed at having to adjust Yankee plans to the more ponderous pace of the Russians, and irritation flared up occasionally. But the job was accomplished with a thoroughness which won praise from Deane and USSTAF.143 The most troublesome problem was that of bringing in AAF personnel to service the bombers and to handle other technical matters, since it had been agreed that Russians would maintain and defend the bases and that a minimum number of Americans would be admitted. Not only was the number of AAF technicians excessively restricted, but the 1,200 “bodies” permitted to come were held up in a very exasperating fashion until Deane finally pushed through an agreement to enter them under a group visa, a device which greatly disturbed
the lower echelon of Russian officialdom.144 Even then, key officers were sometimes delayed mysteriously at Tehran for days on end, a matter over which General Arnold expressed annoyance as late as 30 May 1944.145 Another difficulty arose from Russian unwillingness to let the AAF control its own communications in operational matters. Eventually the Russians relented, however, and they even granted permission for American aircraft to fly certain types of supplies straight into Russia.146
By the end of May 1944 the bases were in adequate condition to accommodate heavy bombers. A recent inspection by Maj. Gen. Fred Anderson and Colonel Roosevelt of USSTAF had revealed that things were going well and that shuttle reconnaissance flights preparatory to bombing missions could begin.147 USSTAF had established a branch organization, known as Eastern Command, on Soviet soil and placed it under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert J. Walsh, who in turn reported to General Deane in Moscow.148 It was considered of the first importance that the initial shuttle-bombing mission, dubbed FRANTIC JOE, should be a veritable model of air warfare in order to inspire the Russians with admiration and confidence. Since the Eighth Air Force was absorbed in preparations for the very imminent OVERLORD, Spaatz assigned the operation to the Fifteenth Air Force. Late in May 1944 he went over the details in London with General Eaker, who chose to lead in person the first mission.149 Nothing, the air generals felt, had been left to chance. All was in order to make a good impression on the Russians and to distract the Germans on the eve of the Normandy invasion.
A disconcerting problem arose, however, with regard to the targets to be bombed on the shuttle from Italy to Russia, from the new bases in Russia, and then on the return flight to Italy. Since the avowed purpose of FRANTIC was to enable the strategic air forces to attack objectives they could not ordinarily reach, it was planned to bomb the Heinkel aircraft works at Riga and at Mielec, a town near Lwów, in Poland.150 More as a courtesy to the Russians than anything else, Spaatz consulted Moscow about his choice of objectives. The Russian general staff replied that there were strong, but undefined, objections to his selection of targets. Instead, the Russians recommended that the first mission concentrate on various minor targets in Hungary and Rumania which were in easy range of Fifteenth Air Force bases in Italy. Harriman remonstrated vigorously, and so did Deane.151 But the Russians would
not clear Riga and Mielec for the bombings. Deane inferred that the Russians feared an attack on Riga might disclose Soviet intentions of beginning an offensive in that direction,152 but he never knew for sure why the target was not acceptable. Voicing his disappointment at the Russian attitude, he advised Spaatz to choose the targets he desired and merely to inform the Russians of his intentions.153
General Eaker was also disturbed, feeling that the Russians had not cooperated in the selection of targets as well as the AAF had a right to expect,154 but he spared no pains to make FRANTIC JOE a success. Four experience-hardened groups of B-17’s from the 4th Wing of the Fifteenth Air Force and a reinforced P-51 group from the 306th Wing were organized into a task force to fly to Russia on the first clear day after June 1. On the way they would attack a railway center in Debrecen, Hungary. All of the 130 bombers would land at Poltava and Mirgorod and the 70 fighters would base at Piryatin. They would remain on Russian soil for several days; during which time Eaker hoped to clear up the problem of additional targets and secure permission to bomb Riga and Mielec. Then, the task force would return to Italy, if possible attacking strategic targets on the way. Unusual care was taken regarding security, discipline, and personal conduct among the crews, who were instructed not to talk politics in Russia.155
At 0655 on 2 June 1944 the FRANTIC JOE task force took off from Italy. After an uneventful flight over Yugoslavia it reached Debrecen soon after 0900 and dropped a thousand 500-pound bombs from altitudes ranging from 21,000 feet to 25,000. All tracks in the main marshalling yards were cut and a large quantity of rolling stock was damaged or destroyed. The bombs blasted or fired the central railway station and the chief buildings of an engineering establishment. No enemy fighters appeared and there was no flak over the target, but one Fortress in Eaker’s squadron unaccountably exploded. It was the only loss.156 By early afternoon the main group of B-17’s, led by a flight of three in a triumphant V formation, landed at Poltava, where a large crowd of dignitaries stood in a light rain to witness the historic occasion.157 As prearranged out of deference to Russian sensibilities,158 Moscow made the first announcement of the inauguration of shuttle bombing. Deane thought the mission had been a huge success,159 and Eaker was very pleased with the bases. The general himself was most cordially received by his Russian hosts.
Eaker quickly obtained permission from the Russians to bomb the
originally scheduled target at Mielec. There seemed reason to believe there would be no further misunderstandings about target selection, and Eaker was mightily pleased at the cooperative attitude he found.160 But weather conditions prevented an attack on Mielec for several days. Finally, on 6 June, a force of 104 B-17’s and 42 P-51’s attacked an airfield at Galatz, Rumania, with moderately good results and no bomber losses. Two Mustangs were shot down, however, and the Americans claimed eight enemy aircraft.161 The weather showed no signs of clearing up sufficiently to allow the Americans to bomb Poland or eastern Germany, but Spaatz cabled Eaker to remain in Russia for a few more days in order to pose a threat, psychological if nothing more, to the Germans during the Normandy invasion.162 Since there was no flying, the crews wandered about the bases and the devastated towns near by. They made friends with Russian civilians, who were hospitable and willing to go out of their way to entertain the visiting airmen.163 Despairing of a break in the weather, Eaker finally led his task force back to Italy on 11 June. On the way it bombed Foscani airfield in northeastern Rumania, where the Americans achieved fair results and lost one B-17.164
The return to Italy was an occasion for commendations and jubilant publicity, as well as optimistic plans for the future. Eaker felt certain that the Russians admired the Americans greatly and that they were deeply appreciative of the assistance being offered them.165
On 21 June 1944 the Eighth Air Force began its participation in FRANTIC with a mission that was to prove historic in more than one respect. It began well. As part of the previously described operation on that day,* a task force composed of 114 B-17’s and 70 P-51’s bombed the synthetic oil plant at Ruhland, south of Berlin, in perfect weather and proceeded to the Russian bases. Unknown to the Americans, a German He-177 trailed the Fortresses to Poltava. Within five hours the Russian warning system reported that a large force of German bombers and fighters was crossing the front lines, and shortly after midnight these airplanes were over Poltava. The Germans dropped great numbers of flares which illuminated the airfield and the B-17’s on it. Then they deposited approximately 110 tons of bombs – demolition, incendiary, and fragmentation – and fairly wrecked the target area. Some of the German aircraft flew low over the airdrome, strafing it thoroughly and scattering murderous antipersonnel bombs. The enemy’s blow was
* See above, pp. 284-85.
brilliantly successful.166 Forty-three B-17’s were destroyed and twenty-six were damaged. Besides, fifteen Mustangs and miscellaneous Russian aircraft were destroyed, American ammunition dumps were fired, and 450,000 gallons of gasoline which had been brought into Russia so laboriously were ignited. Only one American was killed, but the Russians, who fought the fires heroically and refused to let the Americans endanger themselves, suffered twenty-five fatalities. And not a single German aircraft was brought down. A few months later Spaatz told Hermann Goering that this was the best attack the Luftwaffe ever made against the AAF, and the prisoner reminisced, “Those were wonderful times.”167
The Poltava disaster was not the end of the story, for the elated Germans returned on the following night to punish Mirgorod and Piryatin. They were unable to locate the latter airdrome, however, and the Americans flew their airplanes away from Mirgorod before the enemy arrived. But considerable damage to bomb dumps and gasoline supplies was inflicted at Mirgorod,168 and Eastern Command was temporarily immobilized. The Russians had demanded that they alone be responsible for the defense of the bases, and they had made a very poor showing during the German raids.169 But both the Americans and the Russians were careful not to indulge in recriminations, and they labored together to salvage and repair the remaining aircraft. They took steps to provide hospitals in the area, to disperse airplanes and supplies, and to set up machine-gun defenses – all in a cooperative spirit which helped reduce the embarrassment both sides felt.170 The Americans, however, were determined not to expose their airplanes unnecessarily, and on 27 June, Harriman thought he had obtained Stalin’s approval to establish an AAF night fighter unit to protect the bases,171 but somehow nothing ever came of the matter. The Soviet authorities postponed and obstructed until the project was dead. Without additional protection, it was evident that American bombers should not remain more than one night on Russian bases172 and plans for the expansion of FRANTIC which had looked forward to the basing of three AAF heavy bomber groups permanently in Russia began to cool.173
The surviving Eighth Air Force bombers and fighters, seventy-one Fortresses and fifty-five Mustangs, some of which had been patched up after the German raids, had left Russia on 26 June. On the way to Italy they severely damaged a synthetic oil plant at Drohobycz, Poland.174 In Italy they flew one mission with the Fifteenth Air Force and
then returned to their bases in England. An entire month passed before another FRANTIC mission took place, a delay arising partly from the preoccupation of the strategic air forces with the land campaigns and the urgent need to neutralize German industrial targets within reach of the principal bases. But another factor was the continuing inadequacy of defenses at Eastern Command and the reluctance of the Russians to permit significant operations by the Americans from FRANTIC bases.
Finally, not willing to see FRANTIC lapse altogether, USSTAF decided to send a task force of fighter-bombers to Russia. On 22 July, seventy-six Lightnings and fifty-eight Mustangs of the Fifteenth Air Force carried out a devastating attack on Rumanian airfields while bombers of that organization were operating against Ploesti. After destroying fifty-six enemy aircraft, according to pilots’ claims, the task force continued on to Russia. From FRANTIC bases the American fighters attacked the airdrome at Mielec on 25 July and wrecked seven enemy aircraft. Flying back to Italy on the 26th they swept over the Bucharest–Ploesti region and destroyed twenty more enemy airplanes.175 Another task force, this time composed only of P-38’s, operated on 4, 5, and 6 August between bases in Italy and Russia in an eager attempt to comply with the first direct Soviet request for assistance the AAF had received, this in the way of attacking airfields and railroads in Rumania.176 At the conclusion of these operations Eastern Command advised USSTAF that, balancing losses and battle damage against the relatively unprofitable targets, fighter-bomber attacks from FRANTIC bases were proving too costly.177
On 6 August 1944, soon after the Fifteenth Air Force Lightnings left Russia, an Eighth Air Force fleet of seventy-six Fortresses and sixty-four Mustangs flew in, having bombed a Focke-Wulf aircraft factory at Gdynia, Poland, on the way. After spending an uneventful night on Soviet territory, part of this force raided oil refineries at Trzebinia, Poland, with good results and no losses. On 8 August the entire force took off for Italy, bombed Rumanian airdromes on the way, and eventually completed the triangle back to England. Not until 11 September did the Eighth Air Force engage in another shuttle mission. On this occasion seventy-five Fortresses and sixty-four Mustangs attacked an armament plant at Chemnitz on the way to Russia. Spending 12 September at FRANTIC bases, this force left on 13 September, bombed steel works at Diosgyor, Hungary, and landed in Italy.178 This was the
last of the shuttle-bombing missions. Autumn was setting in, and by now FRANTIC bases were so far to the east of Soviet lines they were of scant value as springboards for bombing Germany.
The tragic finale to FRANTIC operations was the protracted effort, expended largely in appeals and negotiations, to deliver supplies to the besieged patriot force in Warsaw during August and September 1944. This army, led by Gen. Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, rose against the Nazis on 1 August 1944 upon receipt of what the Poles in Warsaw and London regarded as authentic radio orders from Moscow. The Soviet armies were approaching Warsaw and it seemed that the Polish capital might be delivered in a matter of days after Bór’s uprising. The Russian advance in that direction mysteriously halted, however, and came no closer to the city than ten kilometers for months thereafter.179 The rebellious Poles, facing powerful and vengeful German forces, fought on with typical bravery, and on 15 August General Eisenhower received a message from Washington urging him to undertake a supply dropping mission to the beleaguered city.180 Heavy bombers were unable to complete an England–Warsaw–England flight, and it was very difficult to carry out a round-trip mission from Italy to Warsaw. Hence a shuttle to FRANTIC bases seemed in order.
But at this point the course of events took a dismaying turn. Russian officials suddenly denounced the Warsaw forces as reckless adventurers who had risen prematurely and without Soviet incitement, and refused to permit a FRANTIC operation in behalf of Warsaw. Strong pressure from the American and British ambassadors failed to alter the Soviet attitude, as also did an appeal from President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.181 The British, employing the Italy-based RAF 205 Group with volunteer aircrews, between 14 August and 16 October sent seven exceedingly difficult and costly relief missions to drop supplies by night.182 But while the Germans were beating down the Poles and destroying Warsaw stone by stone, as they had said they would, the Russian army did not budge from its position ten kilometers away, and some high-ranking officers in USSTAF were of the opinion that further insistence on supply-dropping could only endanger Russo-American relations with no other effect.183
By early September the situation had become so tragic, however, that the western Allies renewed their appeals for a FRANTIC mission to Warsaw. The Russians gave their approval on 11 September and, perhaps as a concession to the western Allies, they themselves
commenced dropping supplies on the Polish capital on 13 September.184 The only American mission of this nature, and the last of all FRANTIC operations, was carried out by the Eighth Air Force on 18 September. One hundred and seven B-17’s circled the area for an hour and dropped 1,284 containers with machine-gun parts, pistols, small-arms ammunition, hand grenades, incendiaries, explosives, food, and medical supplies. While at first it appeared that the mission had been a great success, and so it was hailed, it was later known that only 288, or possibly only 130, of the containers fell into Polish hands.185 The Germans got the others.
A strong disposition remained in Allied circles to send another daylight shuttle mission to Warsaw. The Polish premier-in-exile, Stanislaus Mikolajczyk, made a heart-rending appeal to Prime Minister Churchill, who telephoned USSTAF on 27 September to repeat and indorse the Pole’s message and to add his own request for another supply mission, “a noble deed,” as he called it.186 From Washington, President Roosevelt ordered that a FRANTIC delivery to Warsaw be carried out, much to the discomfiture of the War Department and its air staff which regarded such missions as both costly and hopeless,187 The second supply operation was never cleared by the Russians; Stalin himself seems to have refused permission on 2 October 1944.188 A few days later the Nazis extinguished the Warsaw insurrection, which had cost the lives of perhaps 250,000 Poles. Not until January 1945 did the Russians take over the city, or what remained of it.
The fortunes of Eastern Command never recovered from the German attacks on Poltava and Mirgorod on 21–22 June 1944. Contrary to American hopes,189 the disaster did not make the Russians easier to deal with. Nothing came of the project to base permanently on Soviet soil a night fighter squadron and heavy bombardment groups. In fact, the Russians gave scant indication of being impressed with strategic bombing, or of desiring to facilitate the bomber offensive, or even of using heavy bombers for their own purposes. While a few FRANTIC missions were carried out after the 21–22 June affair, the impression grew among the Americans that the Soviet authorities wanted the AAF to pull out of Russia altogether. This feeling was not slaked when Molotov, in late August 1944, pointedly indicated the Russians needed the three air bases which had been turned over to the Americans.190 General Arnold, as yet not prepared to abandon FRANTIC, made determined efforts to persuade the Russians to allow heavy bombers
to operate from bases in Poland and Rumania so they could attack targets during the winter that would otherwise be awkward to reach, but General Spaatz felt that the complications would outweigh the advantages.191
In any event the Russians were not willing to agree to Arnold’s proposals, and there was nothing to do but shut down Eastern Command for the winter. The possibility of relieving Warsaw postponed this process, but by the last of October 1944 all but 200 American caretaker personnel had left Russia and supplies were stored up. For those who remained, unpleasant incidents became more frequent and more meaningful. Soviet authorities rigidly segregated the Russian and American soldiers, and in a disagreeable atmosphere the forlorn remnant of the AAF units spent the winter of 1944–45 in the Soviet Union.192
Was FRANTIC a success? The prevailing opinion in responsible circles at the time of its termination was that probably it had been. AAF officers had conferred frequently with Soviet leaders and had come to know them as individuals. They had gone to great lengths to show the Russians that the United States was fighting the Germans with all its will and might, and they had repeatedly offered to cooperate as closely as possible with the Soviet war effort. They believed they had established a good precedent for friendly collaboration in the future. As long as there remained any possibility that Russia might conclude a separate peace with Germany, or that American bombers could operate from Siberia against Japan, these experiences could not be regarded as wasted. On their part, the Russians had been sometimes friendly and sometimes cold, sometimes stubborn and sometimes cooperative, and always mysterious. As for the targets that had been bombed on FRANTIC missions, all of them could have been reached without utilizing Russian bases and with a smaller expenditure of effort. Some of the attacks would probably not have been regarded as worth making but for the desire to use those bases. USSTAF intelligence, however, estimated that perhaps a few airplanes and men had been saved because of the shuttle method.193 The much-vaunted purpose of frightening and distracting the Germans did not materialize at all. The German high command was not fooled; it did not even redeploy its fighters. Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel afterward said he had regarded the whole affair as a demonstration to show how closely the Russians and Americans were collaborating, and a captured GAF
general indicated that FRANTIC was evaluated by his organization as a mere propaganda stunt.194
Whatever hope survived of closer cooperation with the Russians, the end of the shuttle-bombing experiment was accompanied by evidences in higher American echelons of a widening sense of estrangement. General Spaatz regarded the Russians by late August 1944 as most difficult to deal with, and Eaker complained that “we are breaking our necks” to get along with the Russians, who were not reciprocating at all. In September General Arnold reported to Deane and Harriman in connection with the dismantling of FRANTIC that Harry Hopkins had agreed that the United States should match the Russians when it came to getting tough.195 There would be, however, more months of tactful approaches and protracted negotiations-and no Russian concessions.
The Strategic Air Forces Revert to CCS Control
The agreement of March 1944 to place the strategic air forces operating out of England under the direction of General Eisenhower included, it will be recalled, a proviso to review the command situation as soon as OVERLORD was established on the continent.* There was little inclination to reopen the matter, however, even after the invasion forces were not only firm on continental soil but had driven the Germans from most of France. It was apparent that Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force were contributing mightily to the progress of the land armies, and their assistance was likely to be needed at unpredictable but critical junctures until the Nazis surrendered. Besides, the arrangement was working extraordinarily well. General Eisenhower was fully in sympathy with the strategic bombing program and he never thought of abusing his power to summon the heavies to assist the land armies. He got on splendidly with Air Chief Marshal Harris of Bomber Command, who not only responded to every request but took the lead in developing methods of air bombardment to further the land campaigns.196 Eisenhower was, of course, on intimate terms with Spaatz and Doolittle; Spaatz even moved USSTAF headquarters to France in September so that he could continue to cooperate closely with the supreme commander. Air Chief Marshal Tedder, who oversaw SHAEF’s air operations, was an officer much liked and trusted by other airmen. On possibly no more
* See above, pp. 80-81.
than one occasion did Tedder divert heavy bombers from strategic to tactical targets in a manner that provoked AAF criticism.197
The general satisfaction of SHAEF and air force officers in the theater with the command situation was shared, after due consideration, by Headquarters AAF. In reply to a request from General Arnold early in August for comment, his plans officers indicated that the existing command arrangements were agreeable and that, if any changes were to be effected, Eisenhower should be endowed with command rather than mere direction of the strategic air forces.198 Not long afterward General Eisenhower himself expressed to the CCS his conviction that the air command had worked exactly as planned, with no friction and no hitches, and General Spaatz wrote Arnold on 27 August that Eaker and he were agreed that both the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces should continue to operate as they were unless the control of General Eisenhower could be strengthened.199
Spaatz added the hope that the troublesome Leigh-Mallory organization could be eliminated and warned against any move to consolidate the AAF and RAF. Reassured by such opinions as these, General Arnold decided not to disturb the prevailing arrangement for the control of the strategic air forces. He was fully convinced, as he had always been, that all forces should be dedicated to Eisenhower’s mission, and he was never forgetful of the advantage with reference to postwar organization of gaining the good will of the ground forces.200
A change, however, soon was to come and with aid from Arnold, despite the unchanging convictions of Spaatz. When, on 31 August 1944, Sir Charles Portal, the RAF chief of air staff, told Spaatz that he wanted the power of directing the strategic air forces removed from SHAEF and returned to the CCS, thus restoring the pre-OVERLORD situation, Spaatz promptly urged Arnold by letter to see that Eisenhower’s control was strengthened.201 Eisenhower himself cabled Marshall that he would urgently oppose Portal’s proposed change. And on the following day, at Spaatz’s request, the supreme commander cabled General Arnold in a similar vein. In reply, Arnold expressed wholehearted agreement, and later in September he showed skepticism as Portal, at the second Quebec conference, developed the arguments for a return to CCS control.202 But subsequently, as Arnold himself described it, he “flopped over” to Portal’s views.203 Perhaps the crucial issue was one not mentioned in the official British proposal: a desire of the Air Ministry to re-establish its control of Harris’
Bomber Command. Ever since April 1944, Harris had worked closely with Eisenhower, Tedder, and Spaatz without being harassed, as he later phrased it, by the Air Ministry,204 which could easily restore its former control through the device of reverting to the CCS the nominal power of supervising heavy bomber operation, for Portal and Arnold would then serve as agents for the CCS in managing the British and American strategic air forces respectively. Arnold, who always made his own ideas felt in overseas air headquarters regardless of command chains, could easily sympathize with the desire of the Air Ministry to resume direction of its Bomber Command.205 The change, moreover, would tend to elevate General Spaatz, as Arnold’s delegate in the execution of CCS authority, toward a parity with Portal and would put Spaatz in better position to become the titular as well as the actual American air commander in Europe, a post which Arnold endlessly but vainly sought for him.206 General Arnold made certain, however, that the directive was worded in such a way as to insure beyond all question Eisenhower’s right to obtain heavy bomber assistance any time he needed it. The formal agreement came in the form of CCS 520/6, 14 September 1944.
The new directive produced consternation at SHAEF. Eisenhower privately thought the arrangement clumsy, awkward, and inefficient.207 Spaatz seemed especially perturbed and bewildered, for he and Eisenhower had been certain that their own views accorded with Marshall’s and Arnold’s. But things quickly calmed down. General Marshall assured Eisenhower that he could have on simple demand all he wanted, when he wanted it, from USSTAF and Bomber Command, and the supreme commander characteristically replied that he had no qualms at all about the change.208 He took occasion to com-mend Spaatz and Doolittle for the very effective and prompt support their forces had given SHAEF in the past and to express the hope “that every member of the SAF may have personal assurance of my lasting gratitude and will realize that this whole Command feels indebted to them for examples of unexcelled courage, skill and perfection in cooperation.209
Spaatz and Harris feelingly promised that the strategic air forces would redouble their efforts to see that all possible support was given the land forces,210 and the supreme commander wrote General Marshall that he believed Harris was quite disappointed to see his command lose its status as an integral part of SHAEF.211 In his postwar book Harris more than supported this belief by
denouncing the September 1944 directive as unfortunate all the way around.212 For the American air forces, however, the new system did not involve drastic readjustments. Actually, it made little difference. The heavy bombers continued to wage their strategic offensive against German industry while dropping more than half their tonnage on targets requested by the ground forces, and the arrangements continued to be based on understandings between Eisenhower and Spaatz.