A story of the durability of the B-24 Liberator, from Informational Intelligence Summary, No. 44-17, Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Intelligence, Washington, D.C., May 30, 1944.
B-24 vs. 50 GERMAN FIGHTERS
The surprising durability of an AAF B-24 on a deep penetration mission over Germany when attacked by an overwhelming number of German fighters is described in this article, based on crew’s report.
Target time was assigned as 1300A and all planes of a B-24 Group had proceeded as planned until just over the heavily defended target of Regensburg, Germany. The flak over the target was heavy, intense and accurate. At 20,000 feet, just before the signal “Bombs Away,” the B-24 was hit by flak in No. 1 engine. A fire broke out in this engine but was soon extinguished and the prop feathered. Proceeding in formation with only three engines, the bombardier scored direct hits on the target.
Shortly after, many enemy fighters soon noticed the feathered engine and, thinking it was a good target, began to swarm in. Attack after attack was made and soon the No. 2 engine was knocked out, but it also was feathered successfully. By that time enemy fighters seemed to multiply. With two left engines gone, the Liberator gradually lost altitude and began dropping to the rear of the formation, soon to find itself without “friends” but in the company of some fifty enemy aircraft. The air speed had been cut considerably and a terrific tail flutter had developed due to 20-mm hits on the horizontal stabilizer. The left wing was down 30° and full right rudder trim was used to maintain as near normal flight as possible.
The Alps had yet to be crossed. Me 110s in pairs assembled high astern, and made repeated attacks knocking out the tail turret, but not until the tail gunner had accounted for two Me 110s destroyed. The top turret and ball turret were destroyed and many other hits had been scored on the B-24. After crossing the Alps, the co-pilot noticed that the oil pressure was indicating zero on the No. 4 engine but it did not quit. This engine operated for approximately one hour longer before it finally ceased to function. The pilot tried to feather the engine but the electrical system had been rendered useless.
With only one engine left and losing altitude very rapidly, the pilot decided to set her down. Finding this impossible and knowing they were over friendly territory, he ordered the crew to “hit the silk.” All then alive landed safely.
The final score:
• Tail gunner–2 Me 110s destroyed.
• Waist gunners–2 Me 109s destroyed.
• Bombardier–Me 109s destroyed. The bombardier manned the right waist gun when the gunner was injured and accounted for one Me 109, which, in recovery from a dive to blast out a fire in his engine, collided with another in mid-air.
Organization of the WWII German Luftwaffe from the U.S. War Department’s Handbook for Combat Air Intelligence Officers, Army Air Forces Air Intelligence School, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, March 1944.
(1) The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) is one of three branches of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) and is organized and administered independently of the Army and the Navy.
(2) The Luftwaffe itself is divided into three parts: air, air signal, and antiaircraft artillery. Included in the Luftwaffe are parachute and airborne troops, air engineers, air medical corps, air police, and certain special air divisions used as regular fighting troops.
(3) Organized on a territorial rather than a functional basis and with operational and administrative commands separated, the GAF achieved a mobility and flexibility which was largely responsible for its initial success. (Organization of the GAF is shown on Chart B.)
Statistical analysis of Luftwaffe air attacks on ground targets in the Third U.S. Army from Antiaircraft Artillery: A Brief History of Operations in Europe, 1 August 1944 to 8 May, 1945, Third United States Army.
German Air Tactics Against Ground Targets in the Third U.S. Army Area
1. Prior to the allied landings of the continent, 6 June 1944, a great deal already was known of the tactics of the German Air Force in attacking ground targets. Attacks of appreciable size had occurred in Italy and Sicily and along the North African coast, and some time had been devoted to their study. Targets of opportunity in forward areas received 63% of attacks, highways and bridges received but 4% of attention, and ports and harbors, airfields and ammunition dumps received 33%, 55% of attacks were by dive-bombing, 20% level-bombing, 10% strafing, 12% unknown, and 3% reconnaissance flights. Bombers made much use of cloud cover and the blinding effect of the bright sun in making their approaches to the target areas. In brief, strong, close-in defenses of all vital objectives seemed dictated by past Luftwaffe performances, with forward zones of divisions, and roads and bridges being of prime importance. An adequate alert status and an efficient warning system were necessary to guard against surprise.
2. Experiences in Italy were, to a certain extent, repeated during the course of Third U.S. Army’s operations on the continent from 1 August 1944 to 8 May 1945. Thus, during periods of rapid and threatening advance, armored spearheads were continually attacked by large numbers of low-flying aircraft which attempted to blunt their thrusts. As rivers were reached, emphasis turned to attacks upon the bridges and crowded bridge areas. It the air effort was particularly large, much of it spilled over into troop and artillery areas of infantry divisions following the armor. Little if any air activity was encountered behind corps rear boundaries during such times. Sole large-scale exception to this was during the initial break-through drive of Third U.S. Army’s VIII Corps down the Cotentin Peninsula. During that period, from 1 August to 12 August 1944, the GAF made a frenzied effort that struck night and day not only at the spearheading armor and motorized infantry, but at bridges, road defiles, dams and antiaircraft behind them up and down the historic Avranches supply route Thus, targets were chosen because of their vital importance, and merely vulnerable targets, such as supply dumps, airfields, and the like were left almost untouched.
3. During periods of comparatively little forward movement, such as occurred along the Moselle River in France, there were few attacks made but, weather permitting, reconnaissance was flown almost daily over division and corps zones while some nuisance strafing and bombing of artillery positions occurred.
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