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SCHWEINFURT-REGENSBERG RAID
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow III
*Click images below to view larger versions.
SCHWEINFURT-REGENSBERG RAID
B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, August 17, 1943.
SCHWEINFURT-REGENSBERG RAID
B-17s dropping incendiary bombs on Schweinfurt.
SCHWEINFURT-REGENSBERG RAID
B-17E in Flight
SCHWEINFURT-REGENSBERG RAID
Messerschmitt Me-109

    THIS WEEK, 70 years ago, the United States Army Air Force launched nearly simultaneous raids against the Messerschmitt factories in Regensburg and the ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt.
    Both of these ancient German cities are located in Bavaria. Regensburg - the older of the two - is located at the confluence of the Danube and Regen Rivers. During the war, Messerschmitt built the BF-109 fighter at one of its factories located in Regensburg, which was the target of the United States Army Air Force on August 17, 1943.
    The 1,200-year-old city of Schweinfurt, with a population of 50,000, is also located in Bavaria on the right bank of the Main river. During the war, its factories produced almost all of the ReichÙs ball-bearings.
    The Americans thought they had a keen idea for this raid. The second raid, on Schweinfurt, would follow so closely upon the Regensburg raid that the Luftwaffe would not have time to rearm and refuel to intercept it. Maybe it would have worked if the second groupÙs departure had not been delayed by weather.....
    The first group consisted of 146 B-17 "Flying Fortresses" under the command of Col. Curtis LeMay. With thirteen .50 caliber Browning machine-guns distributed around the plane in eight turrets, the "Fort" was initially thought to be nearly invincible - hence its name. It was thought because of its heavy armament that it would be able to take the air war deep into the Fatherland, without fighter escort, in daylight - and return. This mission demonstrated that even the U.S. could not sustain the losses.
    LeMayÙs group crossed the Dutch coast at about 10:00 A.M., escorted by P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. The Germans knew they were coming and were waiting. Because of the ThunderboltÙs limited range, the fighter escorts were forced to leave the bombers 90 minutes from Regensburg, shortly after crossing the German border. ThatÙs when the German fighters pounced. By the time the Americans had reached Regensburg, 15 of the "Forts" had been destroyed. Now the cityÙs anti-aircraft defenses took over. Even so, 126 planes dropped 298.75 tons of bombs. Then, the Americans pulled a fast one on the Germans. Instead of making a U-turn and heading back to England, and the waiting Luftwaffe, they turned right and flew across the continent and the Mediterranean, to Tunisia. Nine more planes were lost on that portion of the trip. Of the 122 that arrived in Tunisia, 60 had suffered damage.
    Meanwhile, another 230 "Forts," under the command of General Robert B. Williams, were on their way to Schweinfurt. More than 300 Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters awaited the Americans. Having destroyed 22 bombers, the fighters disengaged 15 miles from the target to refuel and rearm and to give the cityÙs anti-aircraft defenses an opportunity. These weapons accounted for another three planes. Even so, 183 bombers dropped 424.3 tons of bombs, of which 125 tons were incendiary. This group did not try anything tricky, and returned to England. On the return, the Luftwaffe accounted for nine more bombers.
    In addition to the bombers, three American fighters and two British Spitfires were lost. The Americans lost twice the bombers on this mission as on any other mission to that point, with almost 565 airmen killed or captured. It would be four months before the Americans returned to the skies over the Fatherland.
    Luftwaffe records show that it lost 27 fighters. Reichsminister of Production, Albert Speer, confirmed a loss of 34 percent in production. However, German industry recovered quickly, as slave laborers repaired the damage and surpluses of ball-bearings were located. Another factor was the failure of the Allies to continue the attack. The bombing killed 203 civilians.
    The mission was the inspiration for Sy BartlettÙs novel "Twelve OÙclock High," which became a movie in 1949, starring Gregory Peck. Dean Jagger won an "Oscar" for Best Supporting Actor.

NEXT WEEK: THE FIRST QUEBEC CONFERENCE

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own.   Mr. Wimbrow can be contacted at wimbrowlaw@gmail.com
 
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