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"Black Thursday"

The 8th Air Force attack on Oct. 14, 1943, against the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany, resulted in the greatest air battle in history. Through the years since that date, it has become known as "Black Thursday" in Air Force history because of the heavy losses of men and planes.

For hundreds of miles in-bound to the target area, the B-17 bomber formations were attacked again and again by untold numbers of enemy fighters of the German Luftwaffe. Despite the horrible spectacle of B-17 after B-17 falling earthward to destruction, those bombers that were still able to fly never wavered from their course.

After "Bombs Away," the Army Air Forces planes turned off the target and headed westward for England and their bases. Almost immediately the German fighters, having landed and refueled, struck again, forcing the American planes once more to fight for their survival as they had done in-bound to the target area. Finally, the B-17s reached the coastline of Europe and relative safety, although many of them were so heavily damaged that they would never fly again.

In the final tally, Headquarters 8th Air Force reported that 251 B-17s had departed on the mission, 60 had failed to return, five had crashed in England because of battle damage, 12 had to be scrapped because of crash landings or battle damage, and 121 had to be repaired before being flown again. Even worse, 600 men were lost over enemy territory, and there were five dead and 43 wounded fliers in the B-17s that did return.

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