Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission

Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission
partof= World War II

caption=1st Bomb Wing B-17's over Schweinfurt, Germany
date=August 17, 1943
place=Schweinfurt and Regensburg, Germany
result=Pyrrhic Allied victory
commander1=Curtis LeMay
Robert B. Williams
commander2=Adolf Galland
strength1=376 B-17s
268 P-47 sorties
191 Spitfire sorties
strength2=Approx. 400 Bf 109, Bf 110, Fw 190 and other fighters
casualties1=60 bombers, 3 P-47s, and 2 Spitfires lost
7 KIA, 21 WIA, 557 MIA or POW
casualties2= 40 (nine Bf 110 nightfighters) [Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 113.]
203 civilians killed|

"See also main article: Second Raid on Schweinfurt"

The Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission was an air combat battle in World War II. A strategic bombing attack flown by B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army Air Forces on August 17, 1943, it was conceived as an ambitious plan to cripple the German aircraft industry. The mission was also known as the "double-strike mission" because it entailed two large forces of bombers attacking separate targets in order to disperse fighter reaction by the Luftwaffe, and was the first "shuttle" mission, in which all or part of a mission landed at a different field and later bombed another target returning to its base.

After being postponed several times by unfavorable weather, the operation was flown on the anniversary of the first daylight raid by the Eighth Air Force. Mission No. 1 had only been a shallow penetration of France by 12 bombers of a single bombardment group well-protected by escort fighters to attack a railroad yard. Mission No. 84 marked the anniversary with a strike by 376 bombers of sixteen bomb groups against German heavy industry well beyond the range of escorting fighters.

The mission inflicted heavy damage on the Regensburg target, but at catastrophic loss to the force, with 60 bombers lost and many more damaged beyond economical repair. As a result, the Eighth Air Force was unable to follow up immediately with a second attack that might have seriously crippled German industry. When Schweinfurt was finally attacked again two months later, the lack of long range fighter escort had still not been addressed and losses were almost as high. As a consequence, deep penetration strategic bombing was curtailed for five months.

The mission plan

Because of diversions of groups to the invasion of North Africa, the bomber force in England had been limited in size to four groups of B-17s and two of B-24's until May 1943. At that time, and in conjunction with the Pointblank Directive to destroy the Luftwaffe in preparation for Operation Overlord, the B-17 force had expanded fourfold and was organized into the 1st and 4th Bombardment Wings (which due to their large size would soon be re-designated Bomb Divisions). The 1st Bombardment Wing, which included all of the original B-17 groups, was based in the English Midlands while the 4th Bombardment Wing stations were located in East Anglia.

Pointblank operations in April and July 1943 had concentrated solely on the production of the Fw 190 at factories in Bremen, Kassel, and Oschersleben, and although serious losses to the bomber forces had occurred, the attacks had been successful enough to warrant attacking those manufacturing Bf 109s.

The production of Bf-109's (and almost half of all German fighters) was located in Regensburg and in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. To attack these in sufficient force, "Operation Juggler" was conceived, [Ramsey, John F. "Air Force Historical Study No. 110 The War Against the Luftwaffe: AAF Counter-Air Operations April 1943 - June 1944", Air Force Historical Research Agency] in which the fighter production plants in Wiener Neustadt were targeted for attack by B-24 Liberators of the Ninth Air Force based in Libya, and Regensburg by B-17s of the Eighth Air Force. The original mission date of August 7 could not be met because of bad weather, and the B-24s flew Operation Juggler on August 13 without participation by the Eighth Air Force, which was still hampered by unacceptable weather conditions.quote box2 |width=30em | bgcolor=#B0C4DE |align=left|halign=left |quote=

" LeMay’s force was expected to take the brunt of the German counteroffensive, allowing the Schweinfurt armada to proceed to the target with only light resistance. With LeMay escaping over the Alps, the Schweinfurt force would be left to face the full fury of the Luftwaffe on its return to England. The plan was brutally simple: LeMay would fight his way in and Williams would fight his way out."
source=Donald L. Miller–"Masters of the Air" [Miller, "Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany", p.195.]

To successfully complete its portion of the attack, the Eighth Air Force decided to attack a target in central Germany as well as Regensburg to divide and confuse German air defenses. [Freeman, "The Mighty Eighth", p.67; Miller, "Masters of the Air", p.195; Coffey, "Decision Over Schweinfurt", p.3.] The 4th Bombardment Wing, using B-17s equipped with "Tokyo (fuel) tanks" for longer range, would attack the Bf 109 plants in Regensburg and then fly on to bases in North Africa. The 1st Bombardment Wing, following it, would turn northeast and bomb the ball-bearing factories of Schweinfurt (where almost the entire production of bearings was centralized) and by doing so catch German fighter aircraft on the ground re-arming and refueling. Because of limited range, escorting P-47 Thunderbolt fighters would be able to protect the bombers only as far as Eupen, Belgium, which was roughly an hour's flying time from both of the targets. [Coffey, "Decision Over Schweinfurt", pp. 7, 19, 56, and 59.]

Two supporting attacks were also made a part of the overall mission plan. The first, a diversionary attack, involved the bombing of three locations along the French and Dutch coast: the German airfields at Bryas-Sud and Marck by American B-26 Marauder and Royal Air Force Mitchell medium bombers, and the marshalling yards at Dunkirk by other Mitchells, all timed to coincide with the Regensburg strike. [Woods, "Combat Claims and Casualties", 17.August 43, "Ramrod 206 Part III" and "Ramrod 206 Part IV", p.111-112.]

The second was a series of attacks on Luftwaffe fighter fields at Poix, Lille-Vendeville, and Woensdrecht by Hawker Typhoons of the RAF simultaneous with the diversionary attack, and Poix by two groups of B-26s in the afternoon as the Schweinfurt force was returning.

Weather delays

Eighth Air Force bomber operations were calculated with one to two hours of climb and assembly into formations factored into mission lengths. In addition the mission length for the Regensburg force was anticipated to be of eleven hours' duration, so that commanders had only a 90-minute "window" in which to launch the mission and still allow the 4th Bombardment Wing B-17s to reach North Africa in daylight. Mission 84 planning indicated a takeoff window from dawn (approximately 06:30 British Double Summer Time) to approximately 08:00 without cancelling the mission.

At dawn of August 17, after airmen had gone to their airplanes, England was covered in fog. The mission takeoff was delayed until 08:00, when the fog had cleared sufficiently over East Anglia to allow the 4th Bombardment Wing to take off using instruments, a technique they had practiced. Although attacking both targets simultaneously was deemed critical to success of the mission without prohibitive loss, the Regensburg force was ordered to take off, even though the 1st Bombardment Wing remained grounded at its bases by the adverse weather. By the time the fog had sufficiently cleared over the Midlands, the Regensburg force had already reached the coast of the Netherlands, which indicated that reacting German fighters would have sufficient time to land, replenish, and attack the second task force. Consequently the launch of the Schweinfurt force was further delayed to allow U.S. escort fighters sufficient time to return to base to rearm for a second escort mission. In all the 1st Wing was delayed more than three hours behind the 4th Wing.

Regensburg strike force

The Regensburg task force was led by the 4th Bombardment Wing commander, Colonel Curtis E. LeMay. It consisted of seven B-17 Groups totalling 146 aircraft, each group but one flying a 21-aircraft combat box tactical formation. The groups were organized into three larger formations termed "provisional combat wings", three groups in a Vee formation wing box leading the procession, followed in trail by two wing boxes of two groups each in echelon formation with one group leading and the second trailing at lower altitude.

::::::::SOURCE: "Decision Over Schweinfurt", "Mighty Eighth War Diary"

Results and losses

55 crews with 552 crewmen were listed as missing as a result of the August 17 double-target mission. Approximately half of those became prisoners-of-war, and twenty were interned. 60 aircraft were lost over German-controlled territory, in Switzerland, or ditched at sea, with five crews rescued. Seven aircrew were killed aboard bombers safely returning to base, and 21 wounded.

The 60 aircraft lost on a single mission more than doubled the highest previous loss at that time. 87 additional aircraft were damaged beyond economical repair, or had to be left behind in North Africa because of a lack of repair facilities, for a total loss of equipment to the Eighth Air Force of 147 B-17's (many of the 60 left behind in Africa were repaired and continued service with the Twelfth Air Force). 95 additional aircraft were damaged. Three P-47 Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group and two RAF Spitfires were shot down attempting to protect the Schweinfurt force.

Spitfire pilots claimed 13 German fighters shot down and P-47 pilots claimed 19. [Freeman, "Mighty Eighth War Diary", p. 90; Woods, VIII Fighter Command transcription of 17.August 43, pp.110 and 111; "Air Force Historical Study 85", p.229, actual credits awarded. All break down the claims as 16 for the 56th FG, 2 for the 78th FG, and one for the 353rd FG.] [Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 113, state 16 claims.] Gunners on the bombers claimed 288 fighters shot down, [Miller, "Masters of the Air", p.200 and 202.] [Freeman, "The Mighty Eighth", p.69. Freeman states that the gunners' claims were later reduced to 148, and that actual German loss was "only 27 fighters".] but Luftwaffe records showed 40 lost. [Miller, "Masters of the Air", p.202, puts the figure at 47.]

In Regensburg all six main workshops of the Messerschmitt factory were destroyed or severely damaged, as were many supporting structures including the final assembly shop. In Schweinfurt the destruction was less severe but still extensive. The two largest factories, "Kugelfischer & Company" and "Vereinigte Kugellager Fabrik I", suffered 80 direct hits. [Coffey, "Decision Over Schweinfurt", p.235.] 35,000 m² (380,000 square feet) of buildings in the five factories were destroyed, and more than 100,000 m² (1,000,000 square feet) suffered fire damage. [Coffey, "Decision Over Schweinfurt", p.54.] All the factories except "Kugelfischer" had extensive fire damage to machinery when incendiaries ignited the machine oil used in the manufacturing process. [Coffey, "Decision Over Schweinfurt", p.74. as reported by Speer to Hitler.]

Albert Speer reported an immediate 34 per cent loss of production, [Coffey, "Decision Over Schweinfurt", p.72; Miller ("Masters of the Air", p.200) put the loss at 38%.] but both the production shortfall and the actual loss of bearings were made up by extensive surpluses found throughout Germany in the aftermath of the raid. The industry's infrastructure, while vulnerable to a sustained campaign, was not vulnerable to destruction by a single raid. Speer indicated that the two major flaws made by the USAAF in the August strike were first in dividing their force instead of all striking the ball-bearing plants, and second, failing to follow up the first strike with repeated attacks. [Coffey, "Decision Over Schweinfurt", pp.74-75.] [Miller, "Masters of the Air", P.201.] cite web | last =Hansell | first =Haywood S. Jr. | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url =| title = Balaklava Redeemed| format = | work = | publisher = Air University Review| accessdate = 21 Aug| accessyear = 2008]

203 civilians were also killed in the strike. [Coffey, "Decision Over Schweinfurt", p.54, citing 70 men, 77 women, 48 children, and 8 foreign workers. Miller rounded the figure at 200. ("Masters of the Air" p.200),]

The Schweinfurt mission in particular foretold the failure of deep penetration raids of Germany without adequate long-range escort. The 1st Bomb Wing was over German-occupied territory for three hours and thirty minutes, of which two hours and ten minutes, including all of the time spent over Germany itself, saw no fighter support whatsoever. When the second attack on Schweinfurt came on October 14, the loss of more than 20% of the attacking force (60 out of 291 B-17s) resulted in the suspension of deep raids for five months.

This mission was enshrined in fiction as the 'Hambrucken raid' in Beirne Lay and Sy Bartlett's novel, "Twelve O'Clock High". It provides a reasonably accurate view of the thinking behind the planners' intention and the decisions that led to the abandonment of the goal of launching a double strike in such a way that the second strike would meet no aerial opposition; and of the action in the air itself. The Schweinfurt portion of the mission also formed the framework for the novel "The War Lover", by John Hersey.


External links

* [ Maj.Gen. Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., "Balaklava Redeemed", "Air university Review", 1974] , a detailed analysis of the concept and leaders by a World War II strategic bombing planner
* [ "Bombing of Schweinfurt," from the Third Reich in Ruins webpage by Geoff Walden] - then-and-now photos of the bombing of Schweinfurt.
* [ "Reality... Remembering Scheinfurt" by Wally Hoffman] - a first hand account of the bombing raids over Schweinfurt by a member of the 8th Air Force.


* Bishop, Cliff T.(1986). "Fortresses of the Big Triangle First", ISBN 1869987004
* Caldwell, Donald & Muller, Richard (2007). "The Luftwaffe over Germany: Defense of the Reich". London: Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1-85367-712-0
* Coffey, Thomas M.(1977). "Decision Over Schweinfurt", David McKay Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-679-50763-5
* Freeman, Roger A. (1993). "The Mighty Eighth", ISBN 978-0-87938-638-2
* Freeman, Roger A. (1990). "The Mighty Eighth War Diary", ISBN 978-0-87938-495-1
* Miller, Donald L. (2006), "Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany", Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0743235444
* [ "Combat Claims & Casualties", transcriptions of RAF and VIII Fighter Command summaries by Tony Woods]

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