American Flying Fortresses and Liberators, flying from Britain on the longest mission yet carried out over the world's most heavily-defended territory, inflicted heavy damage Saturday on vital German military targets in East Prussia, Poland and northwestern Germany, it was announced officially last night by Eighth Air Force Headquarters.
In one of the war's most spectacular bombing operations -- which carried the American heavies in some cases to within 400 miles of the Russian front -- the Forts and Libs achieved the following results, according to an announcement by Brig. Gen. Frederick L. Anderson, Bomber Command chief:
The huge Focke-Wulf assembly plant at Marienburg, in East Prussia, 200 miles beyond Berlin, was described as virtually destroyed.
Four ships in the Polish port of Gdynia, including the 550-foot liner Stuttgart, were set afire. Docks, railway yards and workshops were hit.
An aircraft component factory at Anklam, north of Berlin, was "severely damaged," and at Danzig, a large Baltic port, bombs struck oil storage tanks, buildings, a stores dump and railway communications.
Foreshadowing the day when the aerial second front from Britain may be linked up with the vast ground front in Russia, the flight was the deepest penetration American bombers ever have made over Hitler's roofless fortress.
26 Bombers Are Lost
It gave eloquent testimony to the feebleness of German efforts to hamstring the Allied air offensive against the Reich, which Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, Eighth Air Force commander, said last night could continue through the winter to soften up German defenses for invasion.
Twenty-six American bombers were lost. Three of them, according to Stockholm reports, landed on Swedish soil and their crews were interned.
FW Plant Hard Hit
Four thousand men participated in the trans-Germany missions, Gen. Eaker revealed.
The raid climaxed what was probably the most active weekend the USAAF and RAF have yet experienced -- a weekend rounded out yesterday by further blows by American heavy bombers on western Germany.
On Friday the USAAF and RAF both hit Bremen in great strength. Gen. Eaker revealed that 4,000 Americans also had participated in the USAAF part of the double blow. American heavies also blasted Vegesack; the Marauders plastered a Dutch airfield. The RAF also struck Hanover. Mosquito crews, striking at Berlin Saturday night, said huge fires still were burning at Hanover. Swedish dispatches said the center of Bremen had been blanketed with bombs.
The war's most spectacular and daring mass bomber raid, embracing a round trip of approximately 1,500 miles for some groups, was a major military operation by which Fortresses and Liberators in one tremendous assault opened the door to destruction on the eastern Ruhr and the Rhineland and at the same time gave direct support to the Russian army by blows only about 400 miles from the fighting front.
Effectively splitting German fighter defenses as the force roared toward multiple objectives, the big bombers dropped heavy loads on harbor installations and docks at Gdynia, which are now used extensively by the German navy, and also on submarine slips and the ship-building yard at the former free city of Danzig, which is actively engaged in the construction of U-boats.
The third objective of the precision blow was Arado Flugzeugwerke, at Anklam in northeastern Germany near Stettin, formerly the chief manufacturers of standard aircraft for the German air force, but now engaged in turning out vital parts for German fighters.
Pictures taken during the Marienburg attack show the aircraft factory completely blanketed by bursting bombs. A number of aircraft on the ground were destroyed, Bomber Command headquarters said. The plant is believed to have accounted for approximately one-half of all assembly of FW190s.
Almost to Red Front
Reconnaissance photographs made after the Anklam attack show a number of buildings burning furiously, and almost every important building in the plant, which made parts for the FW190s, was hit. One fire was sending up a 10,000-foot column of smoke, a reconnaissance pilot reported.
At Gdynia, now a major German naval base, photographs made after the attack showed the Stuttgart burning fiercely and being towed from its berth, apparently to prevent the fire from spreading. Three other ships were left burning and an armed merchant vessel appeared partially submerged.
The formations which attacked Gdynia and Danzig encountered little enemy opposition, one group completing its bombing run and returning as far as the North Sea before it met a small group of Me110s, which were beaten off in short order, returning crewmen reported.
But on the Anklam attack, crews reported the formations had rip-roaring air battles with all types of German fighters numbering between 100 and 200. Many were equipped with four rocket guns -- two under each wing.
Brig. Gen. Robert F. Travis, of Savannah, Ga., who led the formation attacking Anklam, said:
"This is the best show I have ever seen. I don't even need to check the pictures. As we crossed the coast about 15 enemy fighters flew alongside us for five minutes. We didn't know if they would attack us or not. Finally they did, and the leaders of their formation really pressed home the attack, coming right through our formation.
"We dropped our bombs in a beautiful pattern, and there wasn't one bomb that fell outside the target area. As we turned I saw two enemy fighters hit at the same time, and watched them hit the ground together.
"We had a great many attacks all the way out from single and twin-engined fighters. I don't know how many fighters we ran into all together but it was well over 300."
Running air battles all the way to the Pomeranian plant and part of the way back, lasting the better of two hours, failed to keep the formations from the target. In the words of Lt. Col. Robert U. Burns, of Ecrum, Miss., who led the groups: "We really blasted the target with perfect pattern."
Formations which struck Danzig and Gdynia were confronted by a great smoke screen thrown up by German destroyers, which dashed about the harbors in a desperate effort to protect the installations and ships.
With the long flight to Poland effectively accomplished, there arose the possibility that daylight raids on Berlin might soon occupy the Eighth Air Force, since the German capital is considerably less distant from Britain than the Polish targets.
A classic remark by returning crewmen, most of whom were well aware the raid took them within fairly close range of the battling Russian armies of the Dnieper, came from Lt. Joe W. Kane, of Lynbrook, L.I., N.Y., who said with his tongue in his cheek: "I was surprised Russian fighter support didn't show up."
It was a long, tiresome ten-hour haul for groups that went to Danzig-Gdynia, and crews stocked up with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which they ate on the way back.