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Note:  This exhibit has temporarily been removed from display.


Night Flights Over Occupied Europe

In 1943 the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) -- the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency -- called upon the U.S. Army Air Forces to conduct special operations from the United Kingdom. Aircrews started flying leaflet-dropping missions in October 1943, but plans called for them to fly dangerous, clandestine missions deep into the heart of occupied Europe. The majority of these missions secretly airdropped supplies by night to partisan fighters, under the codename Operation CARPETBAGGER.

As directed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff in September 1943, the 8th Air Force formed the 801st Bombardment Group (Heavy) (Provisional) at Harrington Field, England, from elements of the inactivated AAF Antisubmarine Command. Redesignated the 492nd Bombardment Group in August 1944, this special unit became best known as the Carpetbaggers. Their B-24 Liberators received a directional air-ground device, named "Rebecca," that directed the navigator to a ground operator using a sending device called "Eureka."

Once in range, the aircrew contacted the partisans on the ground with an "S-Phone," a special two-way radio, to receive final drop instructions and to verify that the ground parties really were partisans and not Germans.

A cargo hatch, called the "Joe Hole," replaced the B-24's ball-turret, and parachutists, called "Joes," dropped through it. Special blisters for the pilot and copilot's windows allowed greater visibility, and blackout curtains replaced the waist guns.

With their B-24s painted glossy black -- the best color for evading searchlights -- the CARPETBAGGERS flew their first mission to France from Harrington, England, the night of Jan. 4-5, 1944. Often operating in weather considered impossible for flying, the CARPETBAGGERS flew most of their missions to supply French partisan groups north of the Loire River in support of the upcoming D-Day invasion. Their busiest month occurred in July 1944 when they dropped at least 4,680 containers, 2,909 packages, 1,378 bundles of leaflets (to disguise what they were really doing), and 62 Joes. As the Allied forces broke out of the Normandy beachheads and raced across France, the number of missions flown grew smaller. By September, most of France and Belgium had been liberated, and the full-scale CARPETBAGGER missions over France ended the night of Sept. 16-17, 1944.

Nevertheless, the men of the 492nd Bombardment Group stayed busy delivering arms, ammunition, passengers and gasoline desperately needed by the advancing Allied armies. However, they soon returned to the dangerous work -- nighttime delivery of supplies and Joes. Ranging much further into Nazi-occupied territory than before, the Carpetbaggers made deliveries to Norway, Denmark and Germany. Over heavily defended Germany, where no partisans waited to guide them, the CARPETBAGGERS used faster A-26s.

In addition to the dangers from German night fighters and flak, the CARPETBAGGERS always ran the risk of crashing into hillsides as they made low-level parachute deliveries to the resistance forces waiting below. From January 1944 to May 1945, they complete 1,860 sorties and delivered 20,495 containers and 11,174 packages of vital supplies to the resistance forces in western and northwestern Europe. More than 1,000 parachutists dropped through the B-24 Joe Holes into enemy territory.

Twenty-five B-24s were lost and eight more were so badly damaged by enemy action and other causes that they were no longer fit for combat. Personnel losses initially totaled 208 missing and killed and one slightly wounded. Fortunately, many of those listed as missing had parachuted to safety and returned to Harrington with the help of the same resistance forces they had been sent to resupply.

Aerial Delivery Canister
Packed at Holmewood, England, the aerial delivery canister on display contained supplies parachuted to Norwegian resistance fighters during World War II. The parachute attached to one end of the canister, and the other end had a shock-absorbing cap to protect the contents. Once on the ground, resistance forces quickly gathered the canisters before German forces could arrive.

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Related Fact Sheets
Consolidated B-24D Liberator
Douglas B-26C (A-26C) Invader
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