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. Unfortunately, USAAF fighters at the time did not have the range to accompany the bombers all the way on strikes deep into enemy territory.
During 1943, only about 25% of Eighth Air Force bomber crewmen completed their 25-mission tours—the other 75% were killed, severely wounded, or captured. Despite knowing the poor odds of finishing their tours, bomber crews courageously pressed their attacks mission after mission.
The B-24 Little Warrior after a direct flak hit over Germany. Only one crewman, copilot Lt Sydney Benson, bailed out and survived—but, Benson was beaten so badly by angry German civilians that he died in the hospital.
The dreaded notice of “missing in action” to the wife of a P-38 pilot who was shot down while escorting heavy bombers. These telegrams were sent to tens of thousands of Airmen’s families.
After nearly a month of waiting, Mrs. Nancy McCarty was notified that her husband, 2nd Lt Benjamin McCarty, was alive and had become a POW. When the war ended, McCarty was released and returned home.
Somber duty—going through a lost bomber crewman’s personal items before sending his footlocker home to loved ones.
Several bomber groups had versions of the “Lucky Bastard Club” for those fortunate enough to survive their combat tours.
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
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