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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 Europe.

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was continuously improved, and the Luftwaffe flew it from the beginning to the end of the war.

The Luftwaffe also used twin-engine fighters like the Messerschmitt Bf 110 to defend against heavy bombers.  They were no match, however, for USAAF long-range escort fighters introduced later in the war.

Luftwaffe B-17F training diagram illustrating the location of fuel tanks, armor, and arcs of fire for defensive guns.

December 1943 article in an English-language edition of Der Adler, a German propaganda magazine. (Original in preservation storage)


Luftgaukommando Belgien-Nordfrankreich (Air District Headquarters, Belgium-Northern France) flag 

This organization was responsible for flak defense and early warning in Belgium and northern France.  USAAF heavy bombers attacked targets in this area and regularly flew through it on raids against Germany.


Luftwaffe Antiaircraft Gunner Uniform Badges


Horcher (Sound Locator Operator) Uniform Badges

The Luftwaffe used huge listening devices to locate incoming bombers by the sound of their engines.


Luftwaffe B-17 Victory Marker

This victory marker commemorated Bf 110 night fighter pilot Heinz Grimm’s victory against an Eighth Air Force B-17 during the day on February 4, 1943.  Grimm shot down more than 20 USAAF and RAF bombers before being killed in October 1943.


Luftschutzwarndienst (Air Raid Warning Service) Helmet

Volunteer Luftschutzwarndienst civilians notified the population of imminent bomber attacks.  This duty became mandatory for all citizens as bomber attacks increased.


Bf 109 Tail Section

The Messerschmitt Bf 109, known as the Me 109 to bomber crews, was Nazi Germany’s most numerous fighter.

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)


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




Return to the B-17F Memphis Belle Fact Sheet

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