OVERVIEW OF THE EIGHT AIR FORCE CAMPAIGN IN EUROPE

             The Eight Air Force operated out of East Anglia England with dozens of bomber and fighter groups. The 390th was part of the 13th Air Wing which included the 95th and “Bloody 100th”  Bomb Groups.

   


Since 1939 when the war began, Britain fought back with its bombers. With the fall of France in 1940 and the heavy losses during the Battle of Britain the British bombers only flew under the cover of darkness.The U.S. entered the war in 1942, but did not fly bombing missions until August. Then, with Operation Torch, air support was needed in North Africa. (November 8, 1942). After much debate about daylight raids Winston Churchill liked the idea of hitting the Germans around the clock.

One of those planes which distinguished itself in the early days was Captain Martini's crew "Dry Martini and the Cocktail Kids"  This crew did not realize its guns were just for defensive action.  Martini's Kids set a record of shooting down 10 enemy aircraft on one mission.
The bombing raids of 1943 had mediocre results. The German fighters quickly learned the Fortress’s weak spot was head on “Twelve O’clock High”. Further, if lead planes were taken out usually the command pilot, lead navigator and lead bombardier were out of action. On some missions when the lead plane was lost the following aircraft were completely lost. New versions of the B-17 (B-17G) would add a front “chin”turret to enhance its frontal defense and bombing tactics and navigation would improve. Bombers were further aided by escorting fighters, “little friends” as the bombers called them. It wasn’t until the later P51 Mustangs that bombers would have fighter cover all the way to Berlin and back.
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Vapor trails from P-47 fighter cover on the Emden Mission September 1943.
"Top Cover" is one of the most published imagess from the Eight Air Force.
 
ARMY LIFE FOR AIRMEN

The life of a combat air crewman was not at all like his army comrade. Airmen had warm beds to sleep in, orderlies to wake them in the morning, showers and hot meals every day. Further, being in England allowed the airmen to spend they pay on English girls. Life in the air however, was not as comfortable. Missions were long and arduous. One flyer described it as hours of boredom interrupted by a few minutes of sheer terror. While not seemingly logical, in order to direct their bombs to the target, whole formations of planes would fly into enemy flak. Evasive action would reduce the accuracy of the bomb run.

Should an airmen be shot down and survive his best recourse was to be captured by the Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe. The German citizens hated airmen “Terroflieger”. If they survived the locals, the Germans treated airmen better than other POW’s. Special camps Stalag Luft was for airmen. Further, officers were treated better than enlisted men. Soon the Air Corps made all enlisted combat airmen sergeants, as they were deemed officers by the Luftwaffe.


John Ellsworth Asmussen
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