Date: July 18, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

In 1939, the US Army Air Corps was a modest force with 26,000 personnel and 1,200 outdated aircraft. By 1944, it had expanded a hundredfold, becoming the world’s most formidable air force. This transformation was largely inspired by Brigadier General Billy Mitchell’s vision of strategic bombing. Mitchell argued that long-range bombers could cripple an enemy’s industrial base and demoralize its population, thus ending wars swiftly. His concepts were embraced by key figures like Major General Haywood Hansell, Henry “Hap” Arnold, and Carl Spaatz, who pushed for the mass production of heavy bombers like the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

The B-17, equipped with the advanced Norden Bombsight for precision bombing, became central to the Bomber Mafia’s doctrine of Daylight Precision Bombing. However, initial raids revealed the doctrine’s flaws. German fighter aircraft, such as the Focke-Wulf FW-190 and Messerschmitt ME-109, along with effective anti-aircraft defenses, inflicted severe losses on American bombers. Notable failures included the Schweinfurt-Regensburg raids in 1943, where substantial losses forced a reevaluation of tactics.

The turning point came with the introduction of the P-51 Mustang, a long-range fighter capable of escorting bombers deep into enemy territory. The P-51’s superior performance enabled it to protect bombers effectively, leading to a dramatic shift in air superiority. This change was crucial for the success of operations leading up to D-Day.

Operation Argument, also known as “Big Week” in February 1944, marked a significant resurgence of the Allied bombing campaign. Over 1,000 bombers and 600 fighters launched daily attacks on German industrial targets, dealing a crippling blow to the Luftwaffe. This operation demonstrated the strategic importance of air power and set the stage for the successful D-Day invasion in June 1944.

The Allied air war’s success was supported by immense production capabilities and the relentless efforts of those on the home front. The United States produced over 30,000 heavy bombers, while Britain manufactured over 7,000 Avro Lancasters despite constant enemy bombings. However, the human cost was staggering. The Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command lost 57,000 men, nearly half its force, and the Eighth Air Force saw 26,000 killed.

The physical and psychological toll on airmen was profound. Many suffered from Traumatic Stress Reaction, and the brutal conditions at high altitudes caused severe frostbite. Despite these hardships, the courage and sacrifice of these airmen were instrumental in achieving air superiority and, ultimately, victory in Europe.

The air war over Europe in WWII was a unique and significant chapter in military history. It highlighted the transformative power of air warfare and the incredible resilience and bravery of those who fought in the skies. Their contributions were vital to the Allied victory and remain a testament to the strategic importance of air power in modern warfare.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!