THE SCHWEINFURT/REGENSBURG RAIDS-AUG. 1943

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THE SCHWEINFURT/REGENSBURG RAIDS-AUG. 1943

Postby aurora » Fri Jan 23, 2015 5:55 pm

The summer of 1943 saw an expansion of US bomber forces in England as aircraft began returning from North Africa and new aircraft arrived from the United States. This growth in strength coincided with the commencement of Operation Pointblank. Devised by Air Marshal Arthur "Bomber" Harris and Major General Carl Spaatz, Pointblank was intended to destroy the Luftwaffe and its infrastructure prior to the invasion of Europe. This was to be accomplished through a combined bomber offensive against German aircraft factories, ball bearing plants, fuel depots, and other related targets.

Early Pointblank missions were conducted by the USAAF's 1st and 4th Bombardment Wings (1st & 4th BW) based in the Midlands and East Anglia respectively. These operations targeted Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter plants in Kassel, Bremen, and Oschersleben. While American bomber forces had sustained significant casualties in these attacks, they were deemed effective enough to warrant bombing the Messerschmitt Bf 109 plants in Regensburg and Wiener Neustadt. In assessing these targets, it was decided to assign Regensburg to the 8th Air Force in England, while the latter was to be hit by the 9th Air Force in North Africa.

In planning the strike on Regensburg, the 8th Air Force elected to add a second target, the ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt, with the goal of overwhelming German air defenses. The mission plan called for the 4th BW to hit Regensburg and then proceed south to bases in North Africa. The 1st BW would follow a short distance behind with the goal of catching German fighters on the ground refueling. After striking their targets, the 1st BW would return to England. As with all raids deep into Germany, Allied fighters would only be able to provide an escort as far as Eupen, Belgium due to their limited range.

To support the Schweinfurt-Regensburg effort, two sets of diversionary attacks were scheduled against Luftwaffe airfields and targets along the coast. Originally planned for August 7, the raid was delayed due to poor weather. Dubbed Operation Juggler, the 9th Air Force struck the factories at Wiener Neustadt on August 13, while the 8th Air Force remained grounded because of weather issues. Finally on August 17, the mission commenced even though much of England was covered in fog. After a brief delay, the 4th BW commenced launching its aircraft around 8:00 AM.

Though the mission plan required both Regensburg and Schweinfurt to be hit in rapid succession to ensure minimal losses, the 4th BW was permitted to depart even though the 1st BW was still grounded due to fog. As a result, the 4th BW was crossing the Dutch coast by the time the 1st BW was airborne, opening a wide gap between the strike forces. Led by Colonel Curtis LeMay, the 4th BW consisted of 146 B-17s. Approximately ten minutes after making landfall, German fighter attacks began. Though some fighter escorts were present, they proved insufficient to cover the entire force.

After ninety minutes of aerial combat, the Germans broke off to refuel having shot down 15 B-17s. Arriving over the target, LeMay's bombers encountered little flak and were able to place approximately 300 tons of bombs on target. Turning south, the Regensburg force was met by a few fighters, but had a largely uneventful transit to North Africa. Even so, 9 additional aircraft were lost as 2 damaged B-17s were forced to land in Switzerland and several others crashed in the Mediterranean due to lack of fuel. With the 4th BW departing the area, the Luftwaffe's prepared to deal with the approaching 1st BW.

Behind the schedule, the 230 B-17s of the 1st BW crossed the coast and followed a similar route to the 4th BW. Personally led by Brigadier General Robert B. Williams, the Schweinfurt force was immediately attacked by German fighters. Encountering over 300 fighters during the flight to Schweinfurt, the 1st BW sustained heavy casualties and lost 22 B-17s. As they neared the target the Germans broke off to refuel in preparation to attack the bombers on the return leg of their trip.

Reaching the target around 3:00 PM, Williams' planes encountered heavy flak over the city. As they made their bomb runs, 3 more B-17s were lost. Turning for home, the 4th BW again encountered German fighters. In a running battle, the Luftwaffe downed another 11 B-17s. Reaching Belgium, the bombers were met by a covering force of Allied fighters which allowed them to complete their trip to England relatively unmolested.

Aftermath

The combined Schweinfurt-Regensburg Raid cost the USAAF 60 B-17s and 55 aircrews. The crews lost totaled 552 men, of who half became prisoners of war and twenty were interned by the Swiss. Aboard aircraft that safely returned to base, 7 aircrew were killed, with another 21 wounded. In addition to the bomber force, the Allies lost 3 P-47 Thunderbolts and 2 Spitfires. While Allied air crews claimed 318 German aircraft, the Luftwaffe reported that only 27 fighters had been lost. Though Allied losses were severe, they succeeding in inflicting heavy damage on both the Messerschmitt plants and the ball bearing factories. While the Germans reported an immediate 34% drop in production, this was quickly made up by other plants in Germany. The losses during the raid led Allied leaders to re-think the feasibility of unescorted, long-range, daylight raids on Germany. These types of raids would be temporarily suspended after a second raid on Schweinfurt sustained 20% casualties on October 14, 1943.
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Re: THE SCHWEINFURT/REGENSBURG RAIDS-AUG. 1943

Postby paul.mercer » Tue Oct 11, 2016 10:45 pm

Thanks for the info,
I'm sure that I read somewhere that there was supposed to have been a serious 'leak' of information before the raid which let the German defences to be ready when the bombers came over - have you ever heard of that theory?

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Re: THE SCHWEINFURT/REGENSBURG RAIDS-AUG. 1943

Postby Dave Saxton » Mon Mar 06, 2017 5:33 am

paul.mercer wrote:Thanks for the info,
I'm sure that I read somewhere that there was supposed to have been a serious 'leak' of information before the raid which let the German defences to be ready when the bombers came over - have you ever heard of that theory?


No, probably no intelligence leaks, but fog-both real fog, and the fog of war. Specifically, the law of unintended consequences. The Germans always had their defenses ready. Bombing missions into Germany could never carry the element of surprise. As soon as the bombers formed up at altitude and started toward the continent they were being tracked by German radar.

What happened was that the Germans expected the first bomber force to return to England instead of crossing the Alps and heading for N. Africa. The Germans therefore had no less 13 Jagg-Gruppen (fighter Wings) placed along the expected return route, which was also the same route that the next bomber force was travelling on to bomb the second target. The original plan was to have the second bomber group follow close enough to the first bombing group, that it would pass through the gantlet while the German fighters were on the ground refueling and rearming.

However, the departure of the next bombing group was delayed by fog draped airfields- in part-but also the departure was delayed by a revision of the time table to refuel the Allied fighters, so that the bombers would not face the tough German fighter wings along the coastal regions without support from Allied fighters.
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Re: THE SCHWEINFURT/REGENSBURG RAIDS-AUG. 1943

Postby Dave Saxton » Mon Mar 06, 2017 5:43 am

To summarize 1st Schweinfurt:
Hours before dawn German radio intelligence began recording and logging American radio traffic as the bomber’s ground crews tested their radio and radar equipment. This radio chatter continued as the bombers taxied, took off, and formed their boxes. The rule was radio silence once they had formed up and started across the N. Sea, but that the cacophony of radio signals previous would give the Germans at least 6 hours warning was overlooked.

Although, the Luftwaffe as of yet had no centralized command to direct intercept efforts, the Northern Germany ground controller, Oberst Grabmann, had the advantage of long range, PPI, radar in the form DT-Panorama (later called Jaggschloss) to give him a situational awareness of the developing air battle. Indeed, Grabmann ordered up the first German fighters and had them in position before the bombers had crossed the water.

The first German fighters to reach the American air armada was JG 26’s 2nd Gruppen of FW-190s. The American escort fighters, P-47s of 353rd fighter group, which were flying their first mission, followed the German fighters off in running combats, leaving the bombers completely un-protected. Grabmann had the 1st Gruppen JG-26 FW-190s perfectly positioned up sun and they tore into the bombers. They attacked the rear box. Several bombers were damaged but not shot down. Their fate was settled though. Once they couldn’t keep up, they fell behind and out of formation, where they were easy pickings to follow up attacks. Grabmann then directed the BF-109s of JG 26 3rd Gruppen into what was left of the rear box.

As the bombers progressed toward Regensburg they were repeatedly harassed by additional fighters along the way. Losses mounted. Nonetheless, the hard right turn by the 4th bomb group up and over the Alps saved it from the onslaught Grabmann was setting up along the expected return path.

Grabmann was already, by then, setting up attacks against the second bomber stream as his radars began detecting and tracking it as it started across the water. Except, for the diversionary bombing attacks against coastal targets by medium bombers, escorted by RAF Spitfires, which Grabmann sent a few of his crack JG-26 fighter swarms to do combat with the escorts, Grabmann held most his fighters back until the P-47s had to turn back near Eupen. Then he turned them loose.

Over the next hours the bombers were savaged by as many as nine Jagg Gruppen at once. 29 bombers were shot down out right before reaching the flak defenses of Schweinfurt.

Since the second bomber stream was slated to return to England, they had to run the gantlet all over again. However, the Germans were as spent as the Americans by then and only Wutz Galland’s 2nd JG-26 was able to mount additional attacks. As the bombers neared the Belgium border, 56th Fighter Group P-47s arrived to chase off the final German attacks. The final leg of the return trip for the shattered bomber stream was escorted by RAF Spitfires.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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The Muenster raid

Postby Dave Saxton » Wed Mar 29, 2017 8:42 pm

On Oct. 14th, 1943, the 8th Airforce bombers went back to Schweinfurt. The losses were just as horrendous. Sixty bombers lost. This time there were no foul ups of timing. Fog did delay the departure of two P-47 fighter groups, but this would not turn out to be a factor. Why the losses? The answer is that the Jaggwaffe (Luftwaffe Fighters) had gotten even better at destroying heavy bombers, and at retaining air superiority over Europe.

There were several factors that lead to this improved capability. Ironically one of the factors stemmed from the suicide of General Jeschonnek. The act so shocked the OKW and OKL that they put into force recommendations which Jeschonnek had advocated previously. One was a reorganization of German fighter defense command and control structures both for day and night fighters. This would make it possible to more efficiently bring more fighters to the point of attack at the right times. Another was to bring more day fighters in from the fronts to defend the Fatherland (the Luftwaffe only had the capability of putting about 225 single engine day fighters into the air at any one time late war). An important change was to deploy twin engine fighters, BF-110 and ME-410, armed with rockets and cannon against the bomber streams.

These changes first were brought to bear during the Muenster raid just four days prior to 2nd Schweinfurt.

The Muenster raid was close enough (if they flew a straight course) that Allied fighters could escort the bombers all the way to and from the target. The German controller, who was once again Oberst Grabmann, deduced this because the American bombers delayed their departures until the afternoon. Grabmann knew a large raid was in the offing due to the Allied radio traffic. Grabmann anticipating that the raid would not be too deep, redeployed his available fighters to airfields that gave them quick access to, and at the desired altitudes, of the likely bomber routes once the raid developed. The German fighters were fueled, armed, and ready to go, with pilots sitting in the cockpits.

At 1348 German radar began tracking the American bombers as they started across the North Sea. Grabmann began concentrating his fighters along the anticipated bomber route alternating twin engine fighters with single engine fighters. Grabmann correctly identified the diversionary bomber flight and ignored them, which aborted at 1440 hours, anyway, while still over the North Sea.

The first German fighters, once they contacted the bombers, simply flew alongside, taunting the P-47s to leave the bombers. The P-47s did not take the bait. The first clash was when Grabmann seen the P-47s turn back on his radar plot over Dorsten Germany. A P-47 fighter group which had been delayed by fog was not there to take over escort duties. (This P-47 group did not find the bombers or make contact with the enemy fighters) After the initial clash, Grabmann sent the twin engine fighters in.

The twin engine fighters could attack the bombers with rockets and cannon from beyond the effective range of the bomber’s defensive machine guns. This heavy firepower had devastating effect. Several bombers fell out of formation destroying the cohesion of their defensive boxes.

Then Grabmann sent in single engine fighters from 12 o’clock high. The ”Bloody 100th”, which was the low group, suffered heavily at the hands of FW-190s. In less than seven minutes it virtually ceased to exist. Six were destroyed outright while six more turned back with smoking engines. None of those six would return to England. Frontal attacks were alternated between twin engine fighters and single engine fighters until the German flak started firing approaching the target area. With the low group wiped out, the high group had been at the receiving end of most of the German fighter attacks. 18 B-17s in total would fall from the high group. The alternating attacks resumed after the bomb run.

At last, the 56th P-47 fighter group arrived at their appointed station to cover the withdrawal. After a short dogfight, the German fighters retired to refuel having achieved their objective.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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2nd Schweinfurt

Postby Dave Saxton » Sat Apr 08, 2017 8:15 pm

The 2nd Schweinfurt mission occurred on Oct. 14th 1943. The losses were exactly the same: 60 bombers lost. There is nothing but the Luftwaffe to blame these losses on. There were no timing foul ups that put a second stream of bombers in the zone of refueled and rearmed fighters, as what happened during 1st Schweinfurt. Two P-47 fighter group were delayed by fog, and a third missed rendezvous with the bomber stream, but there were enough Allied fighters, nevertheless, to provide escort all the way to limits of the fighter's range.

This time the German controller sent in fighters (BF-109s from JG1) early, before the Americans reached landfall. The intention was to either draw off the escorts into dogfights, or force them to jettison their auxiliary fuel tanks (aka drop tanks or belly tanks) which would limit their range, or both. The Americans still had enough fighters on hand that one squadron of P-47s dropped their tanks and played ball with the Messerschmitts while two squadrons remained with the bombers. Therefore, the remaining early contact German fighters were contented to fly along in parallel until the P-47s had to turn back. This duly happened as the penetration neared Aachen.

Once the bombers were on their own the German fighters unleashed their assault. The same tactics first used during the Muenster raid, of alternating attacks by single engine fighters and rocket equipped twin engine fighters would be repeated over and over again over the next 3 hours and 15 minutes-to and from Schweinfurt.

2nd Schweinfurt would go down as "Black Thursday". It proved the folly of un escorted daylight bombing raids over German controlled airspace. It marked the termination of the phase of the air war that had attempted to prove the interwar ideas of Strategic Bombing winning a war itself. The next phase of the air war over Europe would need to await the arrival of longer range escort fighters.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.


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