How the 8th Air Force Defeated The Luftwaffe

How the 8th Air Force Defeated The Luftwaffe | World War Wings Videos

YouTube / Imperial War Museums

By the end of 1943, the American 8th Air Force and their B-17s were being shot down in the hundreds. At this point, the US knew there was something that needed to be changed. 

And that’s what they did. A year later, the 8th Air Force dominated the air in the European Theater, defeating the German Luftwaffe. 

But how did they do it?

8th Air Force

The 8th Air Force was formed in January 1942 with a dual purpose- to destroy the Luftwaffe gaining air superiority over Europe, and to destroy Germany’s ability to wage war over key strategic targets. Achieving both would make a cross-channel invasion of Northern France possible. 

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The 8th Air Force would be using precision bombing by day, and the RAF would attack the same targets with area bombing at night. This strategy is called the ‘Round the Clock’ bombing offensive. 

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However, the first year of bombing wasn’t successful. Not only did it have little impact on the German industry, but this also made B-17s easy targets for the enemy fighters taking off from nearby airfields. 

A Turning Point

The 8th’s darkest days would come in October 1943, which would eventually come to be known as ‘Black Week.’ This resulted in the decimation of three air divisions of the 8th Air Force over a week. 

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In just a week, it lost 148 bombers, 13% of its attacking aircraft, and 1,500 aircrew. At this point, something needed to change. 

Changing the Tide of the War

After a hiatus, the Americans adapted new tactics and technologies that would eventually change the tide of the war. The North American P-51 Mustang was introduced which was a massive game-changer for the 8th Air Force. The Mustang allowed the 8th Air Force to fly deep into Germany with a fighter escort all the way. 

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There were also changes in leadership. Under the leadership of Jimmy Doolittle, the 8th Air Force changed tactics. Mustangs had to fly far ahead of the bomber streams, given free rein to attack the enemy planes, and strafe enemy positions on their way home. 

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This change also compounded already existing German issues- replacement pilots were harder to come by, and training times were slashed. In contrast, American pilots were trained in greater numbers and received 3x the amount of flight training than German pilots. All of these factors eventually contributed to changing the tides of the war in the Allies’ favor. 

 

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