Second Raid on Schweinfurt
|Second Schweinfurt raid
(Eighth Air Force Mission 115)
|Part of Operation Pointblank|
|Eighth Air Force||Luftwaffe|
|91st, 92nd, 305th, 306th, 379th BGs||JGs 1, 3, 11, 25, 26, 27, 54|
|291 B-17 Flying Fortresses
|Casualties and losses|
77 B-17s lost[a]
~590 KIA, 65 POWs:65
|35-38 Messerschmitt Bf 109s & Focke Wulf Fw 190 lost
The second Schweinfurt raid was a World War II air battle that took place over Germany between forces of the United States 8th Air Force and German Luftwaffe's fighter arm (Jagdwaffe). The aim of the American-led mission was a strategic bombing raid on ball bearing factories in order to reduce production of these vital parts for all manner of war machines. This was the second mission attacking the factories at Schweinfurt. American wartime intelligence claimed the first Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission in August had reduced bearing production by 34% but had suffered heavy losses. A planned follow-up raid had to be postponed to rebuild American forces.
As the squadrons rebuilt, plans for the return mission were modified based on the lessons learned. Planners added additional fighter escorts to cover the outward and return legs of the operations, and sent the entire force against Schweinfurt alone, instead of splitting the force. Despite these tactical modifications, a series of minor mishaps combined with the ever-increasing efficiency of the German anti-aircraft efforts proved to be devastating. Of the 291 B-17 Flying Fortresses sent on the mission, 60 were lost outright, another 17 damaged so heavily that they had to be scrapped, and another 121 had varying degrees of battle damage. Outright losses represented over 26% of the attacking force. Losses in aircrew were equally heavy, with 650 men lost of 2,900, 22% of the bomber crews. The American Official History of the Army Air Forces in the Second World War acknowledged losses had been so heavy that the USAAF would not return to the target for four months; "The fact was that the Eighth Air Force had for the time being lost air superiority over Germany".
The operation was a failure at all levels. The tactical-technological failure to produce a long-range escort exposed the bombers to unrelenting attacks by German fighters and the improper preparations for the creation of reserves in the summer, 1943, meant that current logistics could not sustain such costly operations. The intelligence services of the Allied Air Forces were also seriously questioning the wisdom of a line of strategy that targeted Germany's entire ball bearing industry. Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding RAF Bomber Command refused to cooperate with the Americans, believing ball bearing targets to be a false "panacea". Post-war analysis has shown Harris' objections to be correct. The Germans had built up enormous reserves of ball bearings and were receiving supplies from all over Europe, particularly Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. The operation against these industries would, even if successful, have achieved little. By 1945 the Germans had assembled more reserves than ever before.
Factories in and around Schweinfurt accounted for a significant amount of German ball-bearing production. The Kugelfischer plant produced 22 percent, and the Vereinigte Kugellagerfabriken I and II produced 20 percent, and another one percent came from the Fichtel & Sachs factory.
After the German ball bearing "bottleneck" had been identified in 1942 and ball bearings had been named the second-most-vital Pointblank industry for the Combined Bomber Offensive in March 1943, Schweinfurt's ball bearing plants were selected for a second air raid after being bombed during the August Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission.
Each of the three bomber wings was to be escorted by fighters from a single group with multiple squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts. The fighters were inexplicably not employing drop tanks which limited their escort range. One fighter outfit was sidetracked to escort a squadron of 29 B-24s that switched to a diversion mission to Emden because of the bad weather forecast. Some 229 of 291 B-17s hit the city area and ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany in two groups: the first group bombed at 1439–1445 hours, the second group at 1451–1457 hours. They claimed 186-27-89 Luftwaffe aircraft. 60 B-17s were lost, two damaged beyond repair and 13 damaged; casualties amounted to five KIA, 40 WIA and 594 MIA.
In addition, the bomber formations were spread out and vulnerable because of bad weather. The Luftwaffe military intelligence officers had suspected a deep penetration air raid because of the substantial raids. Jagdgeschwader 3 Udet intercepted the bombers as they crossed the coast but P-47s succeeded in shooting down seven Bf 109s while losing just one P-47. Over the Netherlands elements of JG 1 Oesau and JG 26 Schlageter made repeated attacks. The 305th Bomb Group lost 13 of its 16 B-17s in minutes. The B-17s were attacked after bombing by fighters that had refueled and rearmed (JG 11 downed 18 B-17s).
A total of 13 bombers were shot down by German fighters and flak and 12 bombers were damaged so badly that they crashed upon return or had to be scrapped. Another 121 bombers returned with moderate damage. Of 2,900 crewmen, about 254 men did not return (65 survived as prisoners-of-war), while five killed-in-action and 43 wounded were in the damaged aircraft that returned (594 were listed as missing-in-action). Among the most seriously affected American units was the 306th Bomb Group. It lost 100 men: 35 died on the mission or of wounds and 65 were captured. The 305th Bomb Group lost 130 men (87%), with 36 killed. — the defensive efforts of both JG 1 and JG 11 during the "Black Thursday" raid are said to have included substantial use of the BR 21 unguided stand-off rockets against the USAAF combat boxes, as both Luftwaffe fighter wings had started use of the ordnance some six months earlier.
Although the Schweinfurt factories were badly hit, the mission failed to achieve any lasting effect. The production of ball bearings in the factories was halted for only 6 weeks and Germany's war industry could easily rely on its substantial inventory of ball bearings as well as a large production surplus. In addition, the ball bearing facilities were dispersed to reduce their bombing risk.:191 Consequently despite General Henry H. Arnold's claim that the Black Thursday "loss of 60 [downed/ditched] American bombers in the Schweinfurt raid was incidental",:67 unescorted daylight bomber raids deep into Germany were suspended until the February 1944 Big Week missions with P-51B Mustang escorts that included additional Schweinfurt day/night USAAF/RAF bombing on the 24th.
As a contrast to the strategy of using heavy bombers against a particular wartime resource, the Oil Campaign of World War II was essentially started by the RAF Bomber Command as early as August 1941 — two months after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, and six months before the United States entered the war. It went forward relentlessly from that time, even with its priority diminished from time to time with important events, such as the lead-up to Operation Overlord, which by June 1944 demanded heavy bomber support for a time, but soon thereafter starved the entire German Wehrmacht military of fuel and lubricants from the autumn of 1944 onwards.
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