In the last month of 1943, Eighth Air Force heavy bombers dropped a total probably slightly in excess of 11,000 tons, medium Marauder bombers some 1,500 more, and Thunderbolt fighter-bombers of Eighth Fighter Command dropped their first bombs, to make up a total of about 13,000 tons. The cost in bombers of the attacks, which were nearly twice as heavy as in the best previous month, was 136 heavy and two medium bombers, not including yesterday's losses.
Peak at 60 Planes
The index of how far American air strength came in a year of "big league" combat lies in how many bombs struck German targets per American bomber lost.
In January, 1943, 30.38 tons of bombs were delivered to the Nazis for every heavy bomber lost in combat.
In December, 1943, exclusive of yesterday's mass attack, the cost was decimally under 75 tons per heavy bomber lost, and including the medium bombers' figures it was more than 82 tons per bomber lost.
The step-up in efficiency moved through the year in almost exact proportion to the growing intensity of the attack, but it was in the last four months of 1943 that the bombers, escorted in increasing numbers by their own fighters, hit their stride and assumed full partnership with the RAF.
Losses, near five per cent through most of the year for the heavies, touched a peak of 60 on Aug. 17, the day of twin blows at Schweinfurt and Regensburg, and then slanted down as new techniques were developed to take advantage of weather conditions. Losses in the closing days of the year were nearer three than five per cent.
The year 1943 saw the Air Force shift its major operations from the U-boat pens along the French Bay of Biscay coast right into the heart of Germany, and saw the forces sent out grow from a few dozen to a censored number in excess of 700.
Losses went up as the number of planes involved increased; so did the number of enemy aircraft destroyed, until a point in early autumn at which some sort of law of diminishing returns set in, possibly because Luftwaffe reserves were being depleted.
Exclusive of the last two attacks in December, the number of enemy aircraft claimed as destroyed was slightly above 3,100 in 1943, slightly above 3,200 since the USAAF began operations. Except for yesterday's attack, the unofficial figures for heavy bomber losses were about 945 for the year.
The unofficial total tonnage of bombs dropped in 1943 by the heavy bombers was about 44,000, of which approximately one-fourth was in December alone and about half in the last four months of the year.
A tabulation of tonnages dropped (with December total estimated), American heavy bombers lost and enemy aircraft claimed, shows:
The total of German fighters destroyed by the concentrated .50 caliber fire of the bombers was only a flashy drop in the bucket compared to the destruction of fighters not as yet assembled, i.e., the devastation wrought in the assembly, manufacturing and repair plants of the German aircraft industry by the far-reaching daylight bombers.
Hit 'Impregnable' Targets
At historic Regensburg, on their way to Africa in the first shuttle raid, the heavies smashed out of operation the big Messerschmitt plant, which was turning out some 30 per cent of the Luftwaffe's entire day fighter strength. The Nazis thus were deprived in one afternoon's work of between 1,500 and 2,000 first-line fighters which would have been built in the following six months.
At Kassel, at Bremen, at half a dozen other cities in eastern Germany, the Nazis widely-dispersed aircraft industry was battered again and again by the Forts and Liberators. The aircraft works of the Fieseler, Arado, Focke-Wulf and Blohm and Voss companies were attacked repeatedly until fighter production was believed insufficient to replace all losses.
A month and a half after Regensburg, heavy bombers pushed northeast from Britain, cut across the Baltic and descended on three cities the Germans obviously had considered impregnable to air attack from the west -- Gdynia, Anklam and Marienburg, the eastern-most scarcely 400 miles from the Russian front. In one decisive bombing attack the men at the Norden bombsights smashed the biggest of the Focke-Wulf assembly plants, just outside Marienburg, and so handed the Luftwaffe possibly its most crippling blow.
Yet the actual delivery of bombs by the Forts and Liberators was only part of the year's achievements. American fighter planes came to this theater and revolutionized the theory of fighter escort for bombers by eventually providing close cover for the bombers on trips as far as 500 miles into the very depth of Germany, and back again. P47 Thunderbolts and P38 Lightnings, each with long-range auxiliary fuel tanks, were the first U.S. fighter planes to escort the bombers, and their presence made itself obvious in the chart of enemy aircraft destroyed by the bombers.
American fighter pilots destroyed 447 German aircraft during the year, possibly destroyed 75 more and damaged 230, for the loss of 150 American planes.
In addition, as the year drew to a close American fighters showed that they, too, could bomb. On Nov. 25 USAAF fighters with bombs slung beneath hammered the Nazi airfields at St. Omer-Fort Rouge and St. Omer-Longuenesse.
While the Air Service Command stretched its supply and repair facilities across the growing maze of American airfields in Britain, and so kept the bombers and fighters not only flying but able to take on increasingly heavier tasks, one of the most highly controversial airplanes since the Wright brothers learned to fly made its appearance in the theater, came within a scraped wingtip of failing disastrously, and then went on to hang up one of the best records of the war.
It was the Martin Marauder medium bomber, the B26 "flying prostitute," with two big Pratt and Whitney engines, 11 or 12 .50 caliber guns and a bomb bay that could and did haul 4,000 pounds at a time to Nazi targets.
After losing all of the ten bombers which made their second low -level raid early in the summer, the Marauders introduced medium level (10,000 to 12,000 feet) attack, and with fine precision hammered the invasion coastline of northern France, Holland and Belgium with such effect that the Luftwaffe was driven inland as much as 50 miles.
The Marauder record was accomplished with the phenomenally low record of 21 bombers lost, less than one-half of one per cent per mission. Medium bomber tonnage, starting at a scant 197.5 tons in July, touched a high of 2,790 tons in September, and even in the bad weather of the autumn and early winter -- no bombs are dropped on the occupied countries unless the target is clearly visible -- the figure stayed about 1,200 tons per month.