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Early Operations: Eighth Air Force in England

On August 17, 1942, twelve B-17Es struck the railroad marshalling yards at Rouen-Sotteville in France, marking the first Eighth Air Force heavy bomber raid.  Many of the aircraft used on this first raid are seen here on a training exercise over England.

On August 17, 1942, twelve B-17Es struck the railroad marshalling yards at Rouen-Sotteville in France, marking the first Eighth Air Force heavy bomber raid. Many of the aircraft used on this first raid are seen here on a training exercise over England.

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]

Bomb fuse pins and tags collected by 303rd Bomb Group assistant crew chief Sgt Ralph Walder in WWII: 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.

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.

Arming wire tag, bomb fuse pins, 50-cal bullet, and more on display as part of the Early Operations: Eighth Air Force in England exhibit case in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the USAF.(U.S. Air Force photo)

Arming wire tag, bomb fuse pins, 50-cal bullet, and more on display as part of the Early Operations: Eighth Air Force in England exhibit case in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the USAF.(U.S. Air Force photo)

WWII 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.

WWII 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.

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

Enabling Technologies

Key Leaders

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)

Gunners

Women’s Army Corps

Fighter Escort: Little Friends

Big Week (20-25 Feb 44)

Target Berlin

Operation Frantic: Shuttle Raids to the Soviet Union

Blind Bombing

D-Day Support

Strategic Bombing Victorious

Epilogue

 

 

Return to the B-17F Memphis Belle Fact Sheet

Return to the WWII Gallery list

 

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