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Mission 84

The 84th mission of the 'Mighty Eight' was an ambitious and an ultimately daring war plan. For the first time, at daylight, the Americans would penetrate deep into the hostile territories with massive aerial attacks hitting two strategic targets at the same time.

The prime task force was composed of seven bomber groups totaling 164 'Flying Fortresses' punching the Messerschmitt plants in Regensburg, south of Germany. Afterwards, the fleet would be heading to Austria, crossing the Alps through Italy, the Mediterranean Sea, then land in the Allied bases in North Africa. For such a gigantic operation, the airmen had to fly as far as 800 kilometers to reach Regensburg, and a flight of 1600 kilometers to arrive at the friendly bases in Algeria.

Mission flight plan

The second task force was made up of eleven bomber groups with 229 'Flying Fortresses.' The job order was to destroy the ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt, after which they would make a U-turn back to England. They had to travel a distance of 1280 kilometers back and forth above the mostly hostile horizons.

The deep infiltration of the first bomber groups was to bring a surprise attack against the enemy, cause them great confusion by flying through and not turning back to England. In this way, lesser resistance could be expected against the second bomber groups as they assail the main target in Schweinfurt. The success of this strategic plan would solely depend on the time schemes orchestrated by the two task forces.

That morning however, an unexpected heavy fog had blanketed the take-off bases in East-Anglia, England. The bomber fleets had to wait an hour and a half for a clearer sky. But the weather had remained disadvantageous to them. For the Regensburg task force, further delay was out of the question. More postponement meant reaching the unknown airfields of North Africa in darkness. Despite the risks of collisions due to the heavy mist, the warplanes were able to take off safely and had reached the stipulated height and formations.

The 385th Bombgroup crossing the Alpes.

In the meantime, the bomber groups for Schweinfurt who were located in the more foggy airfields had to wait much longer before they could take off. More than two thousand airmen were anxiously waiting for the GO signal. But before they could get off, many airmen were already mentally exhausted by the successive delays. Five hours later from the scheduled time of departure, the fleet could finally leave.

Due to these cursed weather conditions, it was clear that the plan was doomed to fail. The time scheme, the key to succeed, had completely disintegrated. Now, these two task forces had to endure separately the full strength of the German air defense.

As they were cruising the Dutch-Belgian border, several bombers of the Regensburg armada were already eliminated. Then the American aircrafts were continuously being attacked by swarms of Nazi fighters as they were passing the hostile skies. The German frontal attacks caused tremendous death and destruction among the American raiders. A total of 24 Flying Fortresses did not reach North Africa, including those who ran out of fuel and had to make an emergency landing. In the meantime, the Nazi air defense system assembled all available fighters to attack the returning Flying Fortresses. But they waited in vain, no enemy aircraft had returned from the East. To their astonishment, a new enemy formation was approaching from the West, even more impressive than the first intruders. This was the formation heading for Schweinfurt who now fell prey to the fully geared German fighters. The Allies became the victims of their own tactics. One after another, the B-17's would be slaughtered. Thirty-six bomber planes did not return to England.

Overall loss, sixty valuable Flying Fortresses (twenty-four from the Regensburg mission, and thirty six from Schweinfurt), and more than six hundred crewmembers who were either killed, wounded, taken POW, or missing in action.

Schweinfurt railwaystation after the bombardment.

Another failure of the raids was the disappointing result of the bombings. The minimal destructions brought on the ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt did not justify the massive input and the dramatic losses incurred. This obliged the Allies to attack Schweinfurt again after two months. Again, they faced unacceptable losses.

Regensburg after the bombardment.

The remaining Regensburg aircrafts who made their way to Algeria licked their wounds under the hot African sun. On the 24th of August they took off bombing Bordeaux in France on their way back to England.

Because of its inefficiency, the experimental shuttle England-North Africa-England was abolished.