An Avro Lancaster silhouetted

against flares, smoke and explosions during the attack on Hamburg, Germany on the night of

30/31 January 1943. This raid was

the first occasion on which H2S

centimetric radar was used by the

Pathfinder aircraft to navigate the

force to the target. Photo: IWM

used up in reaching operational altitudes. A 300 litre drop tank increased this by an hour at cruising speed.

Weapons generally included two

MG 131 13mm machine guns with

300 rounds per gun, one MG 151/20

20mm cannon firing through the propeller hub, and two such weapons

mounted inside of gondolas below

the wings, each with 200 rounds.

Often, the head armor was removed

to save weight, as It was considered largely useless for night fighting.

According to pilot memoirs, defensive fire from the bombers was seldom

effective, and the gunners rarely

were able to train their weapons on

the attacking fighters under difficult

lighting conditions as described earlier. In cases of hits to the aircraft

or mechanical issues that rendered

the aircraft unflyable, the pilots preferred to bail out rather than belly-land, because emergency landings

at night were extremely difficult.

Mighty Eight is coming

As it is well known the situation in

the battlefield changes every minute. The air war over Europe was

fundamentally impacted by the arrival of the Americans. 8th Air Force

USAAF was established in Savannah,

Georgia, in January 1942 by the order dated January 8, 1942 to create US Air Forces in the British Isles. The first USAAF contingent, together with 15th Bombardment Group personnel (without aircraft)

arrived in May followed by General Spaatz‘s staff who settled in Bushy

Park at London’s outskirts. The subordinate commands, VIII. Bomber

Command and VIII. Fighter Command, were also established in January 1942 followed by VIII. Air Support Command established on April 24.

The first 8th AF official operation was conducted on July 4, 1942, but

it was a propaganda show performed by RAF aircraft crewed by RAF

personnel on the day of the American holiday. The first real mission

was flown on August 17, 1942 by 98th

BG B-17Es escorted by RAF Spitfires

to bomb the marshalling yards in Sotteville-les-Rouen, France.

North Africa under 12th AF command. The unit returned to Britain in

the end of 1943 and was re-equipped with Thunderbolts. Only in May

the 56th FG flew its first mission as well, and with Thunderbolts too.

Since the summer the number of 8th AF fighter groups was rapidly

growing. In the end of 1943 there were eleven out of the ultimate

fifteen fighter groups, the inventory VIII. Fighter Command managed

in the beginning of 1944. On 14 May, 1943 the 8th AF conducted its

first mission when 200 bombers were dispatched to raid Kiel.

The first fighter group of the VIII. Fighter Command was 4th FG founded

on September 29, 1942 using three

RAF Eagle Squadrons where American citizens served as a base. 4th FG

operated the British Spitfires Mk.V

until it was re-equipped with P-47

Thunderbolt. For several months the

4th FG was the only unit available to

8th AF command. Another FG assigned to 8th AF, 78th FG, equipped

with P-38 Lightning, arrived in Britain as late as November 1943 but

in February 1943 was transferred to

Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6/U2 (W.Nr.

412951) „White 16“ of 3./JG 301, one

of two aircraft which landed in error at

Manston on 21 July 1944. Both fighters

were on a night „Wilde Sau“ operation

against RAF bombers. The pilot of this

aircraft was Leutnant Horst Prenzel,

Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 301. Photo: IWM

INFO Eduard - July 2021