Published May 17, 2018
B-24s bomb Diepholz airfield in Germany—this important air base was hit several times during Big Week.
In February 1944, the USAAF and RAF conducted an all-out campaign against Germany’s aviation industry and the Luftwaffe. Heavy bombers from the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces hammered aircraft, engine, and ball-bearing plants by day, and RAF bombers attacked by night. Code named Operation Argument, it became known as “Big Week.”
By this time, USAAF fighters had the range to escort the bombers all the way to their targets, causing havoc with the Luftwaffe defenders. The USAAF flew nearly 4,000 heavy bomber sorties (one sortie is one airplane flying one mission) and dropped more than 20 million pounds of bombs on industrial and military targets during Big Week. The USAAF lost more than 200 heavy bombers, with about 2,600 casualties.
Big Week operations cost the Luftwaffe a third of its available fighter aircraft. More importantly, a fifth of the Luftwaffe’s irreplaceable veteran fighter pilots were lost in combat.
B-17 formation on the way to bomb a target in Brunswick, Germany.
Gotha aircraft factory burns furiously while fragmentation bombs destroy completed aircraft on its airfield during an attack by B-24s on February 24, 1944.
Reconnaissance photo of the Gotha plant after the attack showing devastating damage.
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
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The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is located at:
1100 Spaatz Street
Wright-Patterson AFB OH 45433
(near Dayton, Ohio)