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  • Gunners

    US Army Air Forces gunners defended B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers against fighter attacks with machine guns aimed by hand (“flexible guns”) and electrically-powered gun turrets.  Typically, gunners made up half of a bomber crew, manning a top turret, ball turret, two waist guns, and a tail turret.  Some other crewmembers also
  • Fifteenth Air Force—Strategic Bombing from Italy

    In September 1943, the USAAF formed the Fifteenth Air Force, uniting its Mediterranean heavy bomber forces together at bases in southern Italy.  The USAAF could now mount major strategic raids in southern and eastern Europe, creating even more pressure on the Luftwaffe defense.  String of bombs on the way to hit the Messerschmitt fighter plant in
  • Black Thursday: Schweinfurt, October 14, 1943

    The Eighth Air Force attack against the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany, on October 14, 1943, became known as "Black Thursday.”  After friendly fighters turned back at the German border, the bomber formations fought a running battle alone against the Luftwaffe.  The bomber crews faced heavy flak over the target and then had to fight
  • Regensburg/Schweinfurt, August 17, 1943

    On August 17, 1943, the USAAF suffered staggering losses in the two-pronged attack against the Messerschmitt fighter factory at Regensburg and the ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany.  To split the German defense, these raids were supposed to occur simultaneously, with the Regensburg force landing at airfields in North Africa. 
  • OPERATION TIDALWAVE: Ploesti, August 1, 1943

    On August 1, 1943, the USAAF staged Operation Tidalwave—a daring, surprise low-level B-24 raid against the Axis’ critical source of fuel, the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania.  During the unescorted 1,000 mile flight from Libya, clouds broke the formation into two groups and a wrong turn caused even more confusion.  The B-24s arrived over the
  • Bomber Crew Protection

    A 1942 study determined that relatively low velocity projectiles such as deflected flak fragments or shattered pieces of aircraft structure caused 70% of bomber crew wounds.  Body armor and helmets helped protect against this threat and saved thousands of bomber crewmen from injury or death.Col (later Maj Gen) Dr. Malcolm Grow, Eighth Air Force
  • Deadly Skies over Europe

    The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) built a sophisticated defense system to counter the USAAF strategic bombing offensive.  Enemy fighters and antiaircraft guns (also called “flak”) took a devastating toll.  The USAAF lost more than 8,000 heavy bombers—each of which typically carried ten crewmen—in combat during the strategic bombing campaign over
  • Bigger Raids, Bigger Losses and Crisis

    In the second half of 1943, the USAAF continued to build up its heavy bomber forces.  As it hit targets ever deeper in enemy territory, however, staggering losses threatened the entire concept of daylight strategic bombing.Early assumptions were wrong—unescorted heavy bombers could not protect themselves against enemy fighters alone. 
  • Combined Bomber Offensive: Summer 1943 to Victory

              In the summer of 1943, the daytime American and nighttime British bombing campaigns became loosely aligned as the “Combined Bomber Offensive.”  This plan formally established “around the clock” bombing of the enemy.   Until D-Day in 1944, the priority targets were Germany’s fighter force and its ball-bearing and oil industries.    Related
  • "Keeping them Flying": Mechanics and Bomb Leaders

    Bomber crews’ lives depended on the skill and diligence of their ground crews.  Ground crews constantly maintained the large, complex bombers, repaired battle damage, and performed modifications to make the aircraft more effective.  Bomb loaders in the ordnance section had the dangerous duty of preparing the bombers’ deadly payload.  They

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