In 1942 and early 1943, while the British Royal Air Force (RAF) conducted saturation bombing at night, the USAAF was trying to prove the validity of daytime precision bombing with its small bomber force in England. For the first year, Eighth Air Force heavy bombers attacked submarine bases and production facilities, along with industrial and military targets in German-occupied France.
Unfortunately, bombing U-Boat bases and shipyards had little effect in stopping the devastating attacks of German submarines in the Atlantic. Even so, bomber leaders and crews gained valuable experience as they experimented with different tactics and techniques.
Eighth Air Force B-17s bomb the U-boat base at Lorient, France.
The famed B-17F Memphis Belle flew in combat during this period.
Arming wire tag from one of the bombs dropped by the Eighth Air Force in its first heavy bomber raid against Nazi-occupied Europe, against the Rouen-Sotteville railway yards in France on August 17, 1942.
Bomb fuse pins and tags collected by 303rd Bomb Group assistant crew chief Sgt Ralph Walder:
Bremen, Germany; April 17, 1943; 1,000-lb bomb [1982-79-2]
Lorient, France; May 17, 1943; 1,000-lb bomb [1982-79-1]
St. Nazaire, France; May 1, 1943; 2,000-lb bomb [1982-79-3]
Kiel, Germany; May 14, 1943; 500-lb bomb [1982-79-12]
Kiel, Germany; May 19, 1943; 500-lb bomb [1982-79-4]
Hals, Germany; June 22, 1943; 500-lb bomb [1982-79-5]
Bremen, Germany; June 25, 1943; 500-lb bomb [1982-79-6]
Heroya, Norway; July 24, 1943; 500-lb bomb [1982-79-8]
Hamburg, Germany; July 26, 1943; 500-lb bomb [1982-79-7]
Kiel, Germany; July 29, 1943; 500-lb bomb [1982-79-9]
A 50-cal bullet tied to a handkerchief dropped by elated pilot Capt Lawrence Dwyer, Eighth Air Force, while "buzzing" his airfield at Bassingbourn, England, on May 14, 1943. He had just completed his 25th and last mission over enemy territory, and he was one of the first pilots in the group to do so.
1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis: Courage over Vegesack
On March 18, 1943, 21-year-old bombardier 1st Lt Jack W. Mathis used his last dying effort to ensure an important target was struck. That day, Mathis was the squadron lead bombardier for the raid on the submarine yards at Vegesack, Germany—if his aim was off, all of the bombers in his formation would also be off target.
Just before the bomb release, flak exploded near his B-17 The Duchess. Fragments shattered the Plexiglas nose, severely wounding and throwing Mathis into the navigator’s station. Nevertheless, he crawled back to the bombsight and accurately dropped the bombs before collapsing dead.
For his extraordinary act, Mathis received the Medal of Honor, the first awarded to an Eighth Air Force Airman.
1st Lt Mark Mathis, Jack Mathis’ brother. He was at the base visiting when Jack’s aircraft returned. Mark, also a bombardier, requested and received a transfer to his brother Jack’s unit to avenge his loss. Lt Mark Mathis was lost on a mission against Kiel, Germany, on May 14, 1943.
Related Fact Sheets
The Memphis Belle: American Icon and 25th Mission
Memphis Belle Crew
The “Memphis Belle” and Nose Art
26th Mission: War Bond Tour
“Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”
Heavy Bomber “Firsts”
Combat Aircraft to Museum Artifact
Crippling the Nazi War Machine: USAAF Strategic Bombing in Europe
Early Operations (1942 to mid-1943) - Eighth Air Force in England
Ninth/Twelfth Air Forces in the Mediterranean
Combat Box/Communication and Life at 25K
Keeping them Flying: Mechanics and Armorers
Combined Bomber Offensive: Summer 1943 to Victory
Bigger Raids, Bigger Losses, and Crisis
Deadly Skies over Europe (Luftwaffe defense)
Bomber Crew Protection
Operation Tidalwave (Ploesti, 1 Aug 43)
Regensburg/Schweinfurt (17 Aug 43)
Black Thursday/Schweinfurt (14 Oct 43)
Fifteenth Air Force (created Sep 43)
Women’s Army Corps
Fighter Escort: Little Friends
Big Week (20-25 Feb 44)
Operation Frantic: Shuttle Raids to the Soviet Union
Strategic Bombing Victorious
Return to the B-17F Memphis Belle Fact Sheet
Return to the WWII Gallery list