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.
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