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