The Eighth Air Force
09/02/14 18:51 Filed in: Special Tribute
The Eighth Air Force [http://mightyeighth.org/] deserves our attention. It is a shameful that Americans, young and old, know so little about the history and actions of the Eighth Air Force and it's men and boys (in age only) who made up the various Bomb Groups.
Donald L. Miller author of Masters of the Air: Americas Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany, writes:
“The Eighth Air Force had arrived in England at the lowest moment of the war for the nations aligned against the Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, Japan, and their allies... By May 1942, when Maj. Gen. Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz arrived in London to take command of American air operations in Europe, Japan controlled a far-reaching territorial empire.”
“The Eighth Air Force had been sent to England to join this ever accelerating bombing campaign, which would be the longest battle of World War II. It had begun combat operations in August 1942, in support of the British effort but with a different plan and purpose.”
That’s right. The “Mighty Eighth” had been fighting a long and bloody war for almost two full years before we hit the beaches of France on D-Day. The Eighth had began combat operations for three months before we launched operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. The Eighth Air Force’s war would be a long one.
Again quoting Donald Miller:
"It was air war fought not at 12,000 feet, as in World War I, but at altitudes two and three times that, up near the stratosphere where the elements were even more dangerous than the enemy. In this brilliantly blue battlefield, the cold killed, the air was unbreathable, and the sun exposed bombers to swift violence from German fighter planes and ground guns. This endless, unfamiliar killing space added a new dimension to the ordeal of combat, causing many emotional and physical problems that fighting men experienced for the first time ever."
"For most airmen, flying was as strange as fighting. Before enlisting, thousands of American fliers had never set foot in an airplane or fired a shot at anything more threatening than a squirrel. A new type of warfare, it gave birth to a new type of medicine—air medicine. Its pioneering psychiatrists and surgeons worked in hospitals and clinics not far from the bomber bases, places where men were sent when frostbite mauled their faces and fingers or when trauma and terror brought them down."
"Every position in the plane was vulnerable; there were no foxholes in the sky. Along with German and American submarine crews and the Luftwaffe pilots they met in combat, American and British bomber boys had the most dangerous job in the war. In October 1943, fewer than one out of four Eighth Air Force crew members could expect to complete his tour of duty: twenty-five combat missions."
"The statistics were discomforting. Two-thirds of the men could expect to die in combat or be captured by the enemy. And 17 percent would either be wounded seriously, suffer a disabling mental breakdown, or die in a violent air accident over English soil. Only 14 percent of fliers assigned to Major Egan’s Bomb Group when it arrived in England in May 1943 made it to their twenty-fifth mission. By the end of the war, the Eighth Air Force would have more fatal casualties—26,000—than the entire United States Marine Corps. Seventy-seven percent of the Americans who flew against the Reich before D-Day would wind up as casualties."
In case you missed it... read the above two paragraphs again. Being on the ground in the Army in a foxhole was safer than flying in the B-17's, B-24's, and other aircraft of the Eighth.
I urge you to take the time to learn about the men who were the Eighth Air Force. You and I will benefit from knowing them.