For our air superiority, which by the end of 1944 was to become air supremacy, full tribute must be paid to the United States Eighth Air Force. – Winston S. Churchill
The young pilots and crews that took to the skies to defend democracy and liberate a continent are among the most committed and courageous to ever serve this country. When the United States entered the war, it was the greatest Air Armada to ever be assembled. However, most pilots and crews before their training had never flown before. Many of them came from small towns and farms. They were extremely bright and well educated. Most importantly deep courage was needed for early missions that resulted in an 80 percent casualty rate for the crews of the Mighty Eighth in the early stages of the war. Their commitment to a free Europe was tested by horrific experiences and mental and physical anguish. There were no foxholes in the skies, nowhere to hide, only the duty to carry out the mission and deliver the bombs amid a sky littered with enemy fighters and flak. “Perhaps at no other time in the history of warfare has there been been such a relationship among fighting men as existed with the combat crews of heavy bombardment aircraft,” says Starr Smith, former Eighth Air Force intelligence officer.
The British, who abandoned daytime bombing in World War II because of the extremely high casualties, saw their American ally step in so that Germany and its war machine would be bombed virtually around the clock. Donald L. Miller sums up just how dangerous the air war over Europe was in his book Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany,
In October 1943, fewer than one out of four Eighth Air Force crew members could expect to complete his tour of duty: twenty-five combat missions. The statistics were discomforting. Two-thirds of the men could expect to die in combat or be captured by the enemy. And 17 percent would either be wounded seriously, suffer a disabling mental breakdown, or die in a violent air accident over English soil. Only 14 percent of fliers assigned to Major Egan’s Bomb Group when it arrived in England in May 1943 made it to their twenty-fifth mission. By the end of the war, the Eighth Air Force would have more fatal casulaties -26,000- than the entire United States Marine Corps. Seventy-seven percent of the Americans who flew against the Reich before D-Day would wind up as casualties.
Below is a tribute video of The Mighty Eighth and links to past Veterans Day posts:
Veterans Day Review: As You Were
Veterans Day: E.B. Sledge and The Old Breed