Eighth Air Force is a Numbered Air Force (NAF) of the United States Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC). It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and is one of four active-duty numbered air forces in Air Combat Command. It serves as Air Forces Strategic - Global Strike, one of the air components of United States Strategic Command. On October 6, 2008, it was announced that it will be transferred to a new, yet-to-be named USAF strategic command.
The Eighth Air Force's now commonly-accepted nickname, "The Mighty Eighth", derives from the title of British farmer and life-long Eighth Air Force historian Roger A. Freeman's seminal History of the U.S. 8th Army Air Force (Doubleday and Company, 1970). The Roger A. Freeman Eighth Air Force Research Center - Library and Archive was dedicated at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia in 2007. (The military maintains its own museum, the Eighth Air Force Museum at Barksdale.)
The current Commander is Lieutenant General Robert J. Elder, Jr., with Major General Floyd Carpenter as Vice-Commander, and Chief Master Sergeant Todd A. Kabalan as Command Chief Master Sergeant.
Eighth Air Force serves as the only information operations and bomber warfighting headquarters, employing decisive global air power for U.S. Joint Forces Command and U.S. Strategic Command and combatant commanders. The 8 AF commander is the Air Force Network Operations (AFNETOPS) and Air Force Cyber Command (AFCYCOM) commander. The 8 AF commander is also assigned as the Joint Functional Component Commander for Global Strike Integration (JFCC-GSI) under U.S. Strategic Command.
The command consists of more than 41,000 active-duty, Air National Guard and Reserve professionals operating and maintaining a variety of aircraft capable of deploying air power to any area of the world. This air power includes the heart of America’s heavy bomber force: the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft. E-8C Joint STARS, EC-130H Compass Call, E-3C Sentry, several variants of the RC-135, and U-2S Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft round out the command’s lethal airpower arsenal.
Eighth Air Force is the first numbered air force to integrate information operations into a warfighting headquarters. The integration gives Eighth Air Force the ability to gain, exploit, and attack adversary information or information systems while defending friendly or coalition information and information systems from enemy attack.
Note: the 116 ACW blends active-duty and Air National Guard members into a single unit.
. Activated on 1 Feb 1942
During World War II, the Eighth Air Force was a United States Army Air Forces command and control organization, which primarily carried out strategic daytime bombing operations in Western Europe from airfields in eastern England from 1942 through the end of the war in 1945.
On 2 January 1942 the order activating the Eighth Air Force was signed and on 8 January the War Department in Washington, D.C. the activation of "U.S. Forces in the British Isles" (USAFBI) was announced.
Eighth Air Force was initially commanded during World War II by Major General Carl A. Spaatz. Later commanders were Major General Ira C. Eaker, and Lieutenant General, and Jimmy Doolittle, the hero of the 1942 B-25 air raid on Tokyo and other cities in Japan.
Eighth Air Force was the command and control organization over its operational components, VIII Air Support Command (Established 24 Apr 1942), VIII Bomber Command, (Established 19 January 1942), and VIII Fighter Command (Established 19 January 1942). VIII Air Support Command's mission was reconnaissance, troop transport, and tactical bombardment; VIII Bomber Command's mission was strategic heavy bomber (B-17/B-24) operations, and VIII Fighter Command's mission was fighter escort.
Eighth Air Force deployed overseas and was headquartered at Bushy Park, England effective 25 June 1942. It relocated to High Wycombe, in February 1944 with the reorganization of Eighth Air Force and the establishment of United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe.
VIII Bomber Command was activated at Langley Field, Virginia, It was reassigned to Savannah Army Airbase, Georgia on 10 February 1942. An advanced detachment of VIII Bomber Command was established at RAF Bomber Command Headquarters at High Wycombe England on 23 February and its units began arriving in the United Kingdom from the United States during the spring of 1942.
After organizing in the United States, both VIII Air Support Command and VIII Fighter Command deployed their headquarters to England and were both headquartered at Bushy Park by July 1942.
The first combat group of VIII Bomber Command to arrive in the United Kingdom was the ground echelon of the "97th Bombardment Group", which arrived at RAF Polebrook on 9 June 1942. However, in early May 1942 airmen from the former Fifth Air Force 27th Bomb Group (Light) in Australia arrived in England to train with their RAF counterparts. These airmen had significant combat experience fighting the Japanese, having fought in the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea Campaigns. Initially being stationed at RAF Grafton Underwood on 12 May, then to RAF Molesworth on 9 June. Under VIII Bomber Command the airmen were organized as the "15th Bombardment Squadron (Light)" and equipped with the British Boston III light bomber, receiving their aircraft from No. 226 Squadron RAF.
After a few weeks of familiarization training with the new aircraft, on July 4, 1942, six American crews from the 15th Bomb Squadron joined with six RAF crews from RAF Swanton Morley for a low-level attack on Luftwaffe airfields in the Netherlands, becoming the first USAAF unit to bomb targets in Europe. The 4th of July raid had been specifically ordered by General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold and approved by President Roosevelt. Arnold believed that the 4th of July would be an ideal day for the USAAF to open its strategic bombing campaign against the Nazis, but General Carl Spaatz did not have any of his heavy VIII Bomber Command bomb groups ready for operatonal missions. Two of the 15th's planes did not return from the mission, along with one RAF aircraft. The squadron commander, Capt. Charles Kegelman, plane was shot up badly and almost did not return.
Spaatz considered the mission a "stunt" triggered by pressure in the American press who believed the people of both the United States and Great Britain needed a psychologial boost. However, Kegleman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and its British equivalent for his valor on that Fourth of July mission--the first Eighth Air Force airman to receive the nation's second highest combat decoration.
The 15th flew most of its missions from Molesworth in its British Bostons, and did not receive USAAF Douglas A-20 Havoc aircraft until 5 September. The squadron was transferred to RAF Podington on 15 September where it flew a few missions before being transferred to Twelfth Air Force for support of Allied landings in North Africa on 15 October.
At the end of July, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, one of Eaker's original HO staff, replaced Lieutenant Colonel Cousland as CO of the 97th Bombardment Group at RAF Grafton Underwood, and he set about re-shaping the group. By mid-August he had 24 crews ready for combat. There were arguments behind the scenes about whether bombing in daylight was possible over heavily defended targets in Europe, and whether the bomb-carrying capacity and armament of the B-17 and B-24 would be enough. But the first B-17 strike of the war was scheduled for August 17, 1942.
Regular combat operations by the VIII Bomber Command began on 17 August, when the 97th Bombardment Group flew the first VIII Bomber Command heavy bomber mission of the war from RAF Polebrook, attacking the Rouen-Sotteville marshalling yards in France. The lead aircraft of the group, Butcher Shop, was piloted by the Group Commander, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, and squadron commander Major Paul W. Tibbets (who later flew the Enola Gay to Hiroshima Japan on the first atomic bomb mission). In the leading aircraft of the second VIII Bomber Command. Over the Channel, the Fortresses were joined by their RAF escort of Spitfire Vs. Visibility over the target was good and the B-17s dropped their bombs from 23,000 feet. A few bombs hit a mile short of the target and one burst hit about a mile west in some woods, but the majority landed in the assigned area. Several repair and maintenance workshops were badly damaged, which put the German State Railway at Rouen temporarily out of action.
From this humble beginning, the VIII Bomber Command in the United Kingdom increased the number of combat groups and its scope of targets and missions. Eighth Air Force aircraft attacked naval targets in France against German U-Boats and combined with RAF Bomber Command with missions into Germany. In August 1942, the 92nd at RAF Bovingdon and the 301st Bomb Group at RAF Chelveston arrived to join Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker's rapidly increasing force. The 92nd was the first heavy bombardment group to make a successful non-stop flight from Newfoundland to Scotland.
Units assigned directly to VIII Bomber Command:
The initial mission of VIII Bomber Command was the destruction of submarine bases along the French coast, as the limited number of aircraft available in 1942 prevented the command from hitting targets within Germany. This was a critical assignment, as Allied shipping losses rose dramatically in the summer of 1942 and as shipping from the United States to Britain was expected to ramp up in October and November, losses were expected to get worse.
In the face of determined Luftwaffe fighter opposition to the American bombers, losses throughout 1942 against the U-Boat pens were high, although the commanders believed that the bombers could fight their way to their objectives without fighter escort. This belief was given credence on 20 December when only six B-17s were lost out of 101 aircraft dispatched on a mission to Romilly, near Paris despite widespread Luftwaffe fighter activity in Frace. Romilly was a turning point in the daylight aerial war, as for the first time VIII Bomber Command had penetrated 100 miles into enemy territory and had succssfully kept the Luftwaffe interceptors at bay. The results fo the Romilly mission however, were disappointing as only 72 of the 101 bombers had actually hit the target and those hits only caused minimal damage.
Changes in the configuration of the B-17F to carry additional forward machine guns to improve fighter interception (Implemented as a chin turrent on the B-17G) and Lt. Col. Curtis LeMay's modification of formation bombing to stagger three-plane elements within a squadron and staggered squadrons within a group led to increased defensive firepower against fighter opposition. LeMay's group flying modifications was first tried on 3 January 1943 when the VIII Bomber Command attacked Saint Nazaire for the sixth time. A total of 101 bombers, with LeMay in command of the 305th Bomb Wing were dispatched, but only 76 aircraft found the target. LeMay's tactic also called for a straight and level bomb run to increase accuracy, but during the mission seven bombers were shot down and forty-seven damaged. However the majority of bombloads were successful in hitting the submarine pens.
By the end of January 1943, losses in aircraft and aircrew were rising and the future of VIII Bomber Command as a daylight bombing force were in doubt. In senior quarters of the USAAF as well as RAF, there was the belief that the B-17s and B-24s should join the RAF in night offensive bombing missions. Also there was pressure on General Arnold, chief of the USAAF to use the VIII Bomber Command in missions against German targets. In response to this pressure, on 27 January 1943, the VIII Bomber Command dispatched ninety-one B-17s and B-24s to attack the U-Boat construction yards at Wilhemshafen, Germany. Despite heavy Luftwaffe fighter opposition, only three bombers (1 B-17 and 2 B-24s) were shot down. Unfortunately, due to bad weather conditions, only 53 aircraft actually dropped their bombs on the target.
Throughout the spring of 1943, VIII Bomber Command Fortresses and Liberators grew in numbers and attacked more targets in France, the Low Countries, and into Germany itself. In June, "Operation Pointblank" was initiated. It was an objective aimed at German fighter production. The operation was initiated as a result of the Casablanca Conference, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed on a combined bomber offensive from England. The primary objectives listed were the German Submarine yards and bases, the German aircraft industry, manufacturers of ball bearings, and the German oil industry. Secondary objectives were synthetic rubber and tyres and military motor transport vehicles. However, it was emphaasised the reduction of the German figher force was of primarily importance. The plan called for 2,700 heavy bombers to be in place before the Allied invasion of France, earmarked for mid-1944.
In conjunction with Operation Pointblank, the 4th Bomb Wing was formed in Essex, with now Brigadier General Curtis LeMay building up a new force of three new B-17G bomb groups, the 100th, 385th and 388th. On 22 June, the first really deep penetration of Germany was flown, to the synthetic rubber plant at Huls. Huls produced approximatley 29% of Germany's total rubber supply. It was also heavily defended both by Luftwaffe fighters and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA). 235 B-17s were dispatched and most of the route was flown without fighter escort. During the mission, sixteen B-17s were lost and 170 damaged, however 183 Fortresses bombed the plant so effectivley that full production was not resumed for six months.
On 24 June, the first VIII BC raid on Scandanavia occurred when 324 B-17s from the 1st and 4th Wings bombed targets in Norway, with one force flying a 2,000 mile round-trip to Bergen and Trondheim. Bad weather restricted missions throughout the rest of June and early July, however on 25 July Kiel, Hamburg and Warnemünde were bombed with the loss of 19 Fortresses. The next day, more then 300 Fortresses were dispatched to Hannover and Hamburg. Attacks on Kassel, Oschersleben, Kiel and finally a Heinkel bomber manufacturing plant at Warnemuende. Aircraft manufacturing plants at Kassel were hit on 30 July in the conclusion of a campaign known to the crews as "Blitz Week".
On 17 August, the first attack on the ball-bearing industry at Schweinfurt took place, with a diverionary attack on Regensburg was carried out to draw the Luftwaffe away from the main force heading to Schweinfurt. Luftwaffe defenses and AAA "flak" was intense and the few P-47 fighters available to escort the bombers could not possibly cover all seven groups in the attack. The 1st Wing force headed to Schweinfurt lost thirty-six B-17s, the 4th Wing which hit Regensburg, shot down twenty-six Fortresses. VIII Bomber Command flew only shallow penetration missions throughout the rest of August and early September while losses were made good. New groups and replacement aircraft arriving were the new B-17G model, with improvements in various systems, along with the Chin Turrent facing front, to help ward off frontal attacks by the Luftwaffe.
VIII Fighter Command Direct Reporting Units
Initially VIII Bomber command believed that its heavy bombers could endure enemy fighter attacks successfully, with its large number of defensive machine guns. However the mounting losses of aircraft and personnel led to a change in that belief.
Bomber escort for VIII Bomber Command was the primary mission for VIII Fighter Command. Like its bomber cousin in 1942 it suffered from a lack of aircraft and trained personnel. As the VIII Bomber Command started to fly missions deeper into Germany, its escort fighters were found wanting due to the fact that the P-47s lacked the range to take B-17s and B-24s much beyond the German border, and P-38s struggled with high-altitude engine problems.
Even though the defense of the United States west coast initially took priority, plans were made in the spring of 1942 to deploy P-38F Lightning squadrons to Britain. This deployment caused logistical problems, since the U-boat menace made shipping across the Atlantic quite risky. However, development by Lockheed of reliable drop tanks for the P-38F increased the ferry range from 1300 to 2200 miles. This made it possible to ferry the Lightnings from Maine to the UK via Goose Bay, Labrador to Greenland to Reykjavik, Iceland and finally to Prestwick, Scotland. Also, following the American victory at the Battle of Midway, the USAAF felt sufficiently confident that the Japanese fleet was not about to show up off the west coast and it was decided to redeploy the 1st and 14th Fighter Groups to Britain. By August 1942, 81 P-38Fs of four of the six squadrons of the 1st and 14th Fighter Groups had arrived in Great Britain to complete the first transatlantic crossing by single-seat fighters. On August 14, 1942, a P-38F flown by 2nd Lieut Elza Shaham of the 342d Fighter Group in Iceland shared with a P-40C in the destruction of a Focke-Wulf FW-200C-3 over the Atlantic Ocean to obtain the first victory of a P-38 over a Luftwaffe aircraft.
The P-38F-equipped 82nd Fighter Group arrived in Northern Ireland in November 1942. However, the P-38 was not to become famous for its exploits in Europe as the needs of the North African Invasion took priority in the fall of 1942 and the 1st, 14th and 82nd Fighter Groups were transferred to the Twelfth Air Force in the North African Campaign. The fighter plane which would be used most extensivley over the skies of Europe would first be the P-47 Thunderbolt in 1943, then in 1944, be joined in the sky by the P-51 Mustang.
The first P-47Cs arrived in England in late December 1942, and equipped the 4th Fighter Group which somewhat reluctantly traded in their Spitfires for the type. P-47Cs also reequipped the 82nd, 83rd, and 84th Squadrons of the 78th Fighter Group. P-47Cs were also supplied to the 56th Fighter Group which left their P-47Bs back home in the States when they transferred to England. Engine and radio problems caused some delays, but the first operational sorties began on 10 March 10 1943, and consisted of high-altitude escort duties and fighter sweeps. The first encounter with German fighters came on 15 April when the P-47Cs of the 335th Squadron shot down three German fighters for a loss of three of its own.
The high-altitude performance of the P-47C was far superior to anything the Luftwaffe could put up against it, but at low and medium altitudes the P-47C could not match the maneuverability and climb rates of its opponents. However, the P-47C could out-dive just about anything in the sky, and many a Thunderbolt saved itself from a sticky situation by using its superior diving performance to break off combat at will when it proved necessary to do so. The P-47Cs of the 56th, 4th and 78th Groups were intended as bomber escorts, but were ineffectual until fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks to lengthen their range at the end of July 1943. These three groups were joined later in 1943 by seven new groups flying P-47Ds - the 352nd, 353rd, 355th, 356th, 358th, 359th, and 361st Fighter Groups. P-47s flew escort missions until the end of 1943, when they began to be replaced by longer-range and P-51 Mustangs which were better suited for the long-range escort role.
With arrival of the first P-51 groups, the strategic air war began shifting in the allies' favor.
In February 1941, the first Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers were accepted by the USAAF. It was to be in the European theatre where the Marauder was to achieve its greatest success. In the United Kingdom, the Marauder formed the basis of the medium bomber forces of the VIII Air Support Command. The first B-26s arrived in the United Kingdom in February 1943. They were to be used in low-level missions against German military targets on the Continent.
The VIII Air Support Command's order of battle consisted of:
The first operational raid took place on On May 14, 1943. Flying through heavy flak at altitudes of 100 to 300 feet, Marauders from the 322nd Bombardment Group dropped a group 500-pound delayed-fuse bombs on the Velsen generating station at Ijmuiden in the Netherlands. All planes returned safely to base. However, the delayed fuse bombs which allowed Dutch workmen to escape also gave the Germans enough time to defuse or remove them. It is probable that the 322nd only escaped the attention of Luftwaffe fighters because of a battle taking place elsewhere with VIII Bomber Command heavy bombers.
On May 17, 1943, eleven Marauders returned at low level to attack German installations at Ijmuiden and Haarlem in the Netherlands. This time the Luftwaffe was ready, and the raid was a disaster, with all but one aircraft (which had aborted due to an electrical failure) being shot down by flak and fighters.
The disastrous second raid at Ijmuiden proved that the B-26 was totally unsuited for low-level operations over Europe, where enemy flak was heavy and accurate and enemy fighters were numerous and particularly effective. After the Ijmuiden raid, low-level operations by Marauders over Europe were discontinued, and thought was given to withdrawing the type from combat. In the meantime, the B-26 equipped units stood down to retrain for attacks against strategic targets from medium altitudes (10,000-14,000 feet) with heavy fighter escort.
In July 1943, some consideration was given to adapting the B-26 as a escort fighter for the Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the VIII Bomber Command which were at that time experiencing heavy losses to German fighters. This suggestion was immediately dropped, since the Marauder had an entirely different performance envelope from the Fortress and in addition had proven that it was itself unable to survive without fighter escort in hostile European skies.
The B-26 did not return to action over Europe until 17 July 1943. This time, the B-26 was more successful in its new role of medium-altitude bombing, and proposals to withdraw the Marauder from combat over Europe were quietly shelved. Marauders developed tight formation flying tactics to ensure a close pattern of bombs on the target and to protect themselves against fighter attacks. Because of the tremendous concentration of defensive firepower that the B-26 offered, the Luftwaffe was reluctant to press home attacks on Marauder formations. However, in the European theatre fighter escort was absolutely essential to defend against determined German fighter attacks. The German 88-mm antiaircraft guns were most accurate at the altitudes at which the Marauder normally operated, and it was determined that a straight and level flight for as little as 30 seconds gave the German radar gun detectors sufficient time to track the formation and place shots right in its midst. Consequently, evasive actions every 15 or 20 seconds was absolutely necessary to minimize flak losses. However, once committed to the bomb run, there was no evasive action possible and runs of 25 seconds or longer were considered quite dangerous.
On 16 October 1943, Headquarters Ninth Air Force was reactivated at RAF Burtonwood with a mission to became the crucial and decisive tactical air force in Western Europe. It was decded at that time to transfer the entire 3d Bombardment Wing to the ninth, makng VIII Bomber Command soley a strategic bombing force in Europe, and the Ninth the tactical air force supporting the ground forces for the upcoming invasion. In November 1943, all B-26 groups were transferred to the re-formed Ninth Air Force.
Medium-altitude pinpoint bombing became routine with the Marauders of the 9th Air Force. Prior to D-Day, typical targets were bridges, airfields, railroad marshaling yards, gun positions, ammunition and oil storage dumps, and V-1 flying bomb sites.
On January 4, 1944 the B-24s and B-17s based in England flew their last mission as a subordinate part of VIII Bomber Command. On 22 February 1944 a massive reorganization of American airpower took place in Europe. The VIII Bomber Command and Ninth Air Force were brought under control of a centralized headquarters for command and control of the United States Army Air Forces in Europe, the United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF).
In October 1943, Ninth Air Force was transferred from North Africa to England in order to build up the tactical air forces for the planned invasion of France the following spring. At the same time, it was planned to split up Twelfth Air Force, removing the heavy bombing units from it, and combining the heavy bombing units from Ninth Air Force into a new strategic Air Force based in Italy, which would put targets in Austria, Germany and Eastern Europe within easy reach. In addition, the flying conditions in Italy were much better than they were in Britain.
On 1 November 1943, Fifteenth Air Force was activated in Italy with a force of nintey B-24s and 210 B-17s, based at airfields in the Foggia-Cerignola area. By the end of 1943, another 200 Liberators were added. New groups, mostly equipped with B-24s were arriving from the United States. Most of these B-24 units were sent directly to Fifteenth Air Force.
USSTAF exercised operational control of VIII Bomber Command (redesignated Eighth Air Force); Ninth Air Force in the European Theater of Operations and to an extent, the operations of Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. USSTAF was the functional equivalent in Europe of the United States Far East Air Forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
VIII Bomber Command was redesignated as Eighth Air Force, with VIII Fighter and VIII Air Support Commands being brought under the command of the redesignated Eighth Air Force. VIII Bomber Command was inactivated.
General Carl Spaatz returned to England to command the USSTAF. Major General Jimmy Doolittle relinquished command of the Fifteenth Air Force to Major General Nathan F. Twining and took over command of the Eighth Air Force at RAF High Wycombe. Doolittle of course was well known to American airmen as the famous "Tokyo Raider" and former air racer. His directive was simple: `Win the air war and isolate the battlefield'.
Direct Reporting Units
Direct Reporting Units
Spaatz and Doolittle's plan was to use the US Strategic Air Forces in a series of co-ordinated raids. code-named Operation 'Argument' and supported by RAF night bombing, on the German aircraft industry at the earliest possible date.
The raids on the German aircraft industry caused so much damage that the Germans were forced to disperse aircraft manufacturng eastward, to safer parts of the Reich. (Ironically, it was because of this dispersement eastward that, in 1945 allowed the Soviet Union to gain access to much German aviation technology in their occupation zone. The postwar result was the rapid development of Soviet Air Force fighter jets largely based on this captured German wartime technology).
The next day, over 900 bombers and 700 fighters of Eighth air force hit more aircraft factories in the Braunschweig area. Over 60 Luftwaffe fighters were shot down with a loss of 19 bombers and 5 fighters. On February 24, with the weather clearing over central Germany, Eighth Air Force sent over 800 bombers, hitting Schweinfurt and attacks on the Baltic coast, with a total of 11 B-17s being lost. Some 230 B-24s hit the Messerschmitt Bf 110 assembly plant at Gotha with a loss of 24 aircraft.
On 25 February, both Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces hit numerous targets at Furth, Augsburg and Regensburg, attacking Messerschmitt Bf 110 and Bf 109 plants. The 8th lost 31 bombers, the 15th losing 33.
Less than a week after "Big Week", Eighth Air Force made its first attack on the Reich's capital, Berlin. The RAF had been making night raids on Berlin since 1941, but this was the first daylight bombing raid on the German capital. On 6 March 1944, over 700 heavy bombers along with 800 escort fighters of the Eighth Air Force hit numerous targets within Berlin, dropping the first American bombs on the capital of the Third Reich. On 8 March, another raid of 600 bombers and 200 fighters hit the Berlin area again, destroying the VKF ball-bearing plant at Erkner. The following day, on 9 March, H2X radar-equipped B-17s mounted a third attack on the Reich capital though clouds. Altogether, the Eighth Air Force dropped over 4,800 tons of high explosive on Berlin during the first week of March.
On 22 March, over 800 bombers, led by H2X radar eqipped bombers hit Berlin yet again, bombing targets though a thick rainy overcast causing more destruction to various industries. Because of the thick clouds and rain over the area, the Luftwaffe did not attack the American bomber fleet, as the Germans believed that because of the weather, the American bombers would be incapable of attacking their targets. However, the "pathfinder" bombers of the RAF Alconbury-based 482d Bomb Group proved very capable of finding the targets and guiding the bombers to them.
On 1 May, over 1,300 Eighth Air Force heavy bombers made an all-out attack on the enemy's rail network, striking at targets in France and Belgium. On 7 May, another 1,000 bombers hit additional targets along the English Channel coast, hitting fortifications, bridges and marshalling areas.
The P-51 Mustang first reached Europe with the British in 1940, the Allison V-1710 engined P-51A (Mustang I) with the RAF having much success, although it found the aircrft's performance inadequate at higher altitudes. Rolls-Royce engineers rapidly realized that equipping the Mustang with a Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 engine with its two speed, two stage supercharger would substantially improve performance. Also, by using a four-bladed propeller, rather than the three-bladed one used on the P-51A, the performance improvement was nothing short of astounding. As the XP-51B achieved a level speed of 441 mph at 29,800 feet, over 100 mph faster than the Allison-engined P-51A at that altitude. At all heights, the rate of climb was approximately doubled.
The USAAF now finally had an aircraft which could compete on equal terms with the Fw 190 and the later models of the Bf 109. The USAAF was finally fully sold on the Mustang, and a letter contract for 2200 P-51Bs was issued. The engine was to be the Packard V-1650-3, based on the Merlin 68. The P-51B, and subsequently the P-51C and P-51D became the most outstanding fighter of the war.
In late 1943, the P-51B Mustang was introducted to the European Theater by the USAAF. It could fly as far on its internal fuel tanks at the P-47 could with drop tanks. However the P-51B was introduced as a tactical fighter, so the first deliveries of the P-51B in November 1943 were assigned to three groups in the tactical Ninth Air Force at the expense of VIII Bomber Command, whose need for a long range escort fighter was critical. The first escort mission for the bombers was not flown until 5 December.
A compromise was reached between 8th and 9th Air Force and the first Eighth Air Force unit to receive the P-51B was the 357th Fighter Group based at RAF Raydon in Essex. From this point, the P-51 saw widespread use as an escort fighter on long-penetration raids deep into Germany. In March 1944, P-51Bs flew to Berlin and back for the first time. The 2,000 mile range of the Mustang, when equipped with drop tanks was far in excess of what was available to other fighters of the day.
In many aspects, the P-51D was better than the Luftwaffe's Bf-109 and Fw-190 fighters. German pilots were suffering heavy losses in air battles with the Mustangs. P-51D pilots achieved their victories almost effortlessly and often the crews of the B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers listening in on Luftwaffe radio frequencies heard distraught German pilots screaming "Mustang, Mustang" to their fellow pilots to warn them of an attack by the American fighter escorts.
The effect of the Mustang on the Luftwaffe was swift and decisive. The result was that the Luftwaffe was notable by its absence and over the skies of the Europe after D-Day and the Allies were starting to achieve air superiority over the continent. Although the Luftwaffe could, and did mount effective attacks on the ever larger formations of Allied heavy bombers, the sheer numbers of B-17s and B-24s attacking enemy targets was overwhelming the German fighter force, which simply could not sustain the losses the Eighth Air Force bombers and fighters were inflicting on it.
By mid-1944, Eighth Air Force had reached a total strength of more than 200,000 people (it is estimated that more than 350,000 Americans served in Eighth Air Force during the war in Europe.) At peak strength, Eighth Air Force had forty heavy bomber groups, fifteen fighter groups, and four specialized support groups. It could and did often dispatch more than 2,000 four-engine bombers and more than 1,000 fighters on a single mission to multiple targets.
By 1945, all but one of the Eighth Air Force fighter groups were equipped with the P-51D.
After D-Day, attacks on the German Oil industry assumed top priority which was widely dispersed around the Reich. Vast fleets of B-24s and B-17s escorted by P-51Ds and long-range P-38Ls hit refineries in Germany and Czechoslovakia in late 1944 and early 1945. Having almost total air superiority throughout the collapsing German Reich, Eighth Air Force hit targets as far east as Hungary, while Fifteenth Air Force hit oil industry facilities in Yugoslavia, Romania, and northeastern Italy. On at least eighteen occasions, the Merseburg refineries in Leuna, where the majority of Gemany's synthetic fuel for jet aircraft was refined was hit. By the end of 1944, only three out of ninety-one refineries in the Reich were still working normally, twenty-nine were partially functional, and the remainder were completely destroyed.
These missions however, carried a high price. Half of the U.S. Army Air Force’s casualties in World War II were suffered by Eighth Air Force (more than 47,000 casualties, with more than 26,000 dead). Seventeen Medals of Honor went to Eighth Air Force personnel during the war. By war’s end, they had been awarded a number of other medals to include 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 442,000 Air Medals. Many more awards were made to Eighth Air Force veterans after the war that remain uncounted. There were 261 fighter aces in the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Thirty-one of these aces had 15 or more aircraft kills apiece. Another 305 enlisted gunners were also recognized as aces.
In January 1945, the Luftwaffe attempted one last major air offensive against the Allied Air Forces. Over 850 fighters had been sent west from the Eastern Front for "Operation Bodenplatte". On 1 January, the entire German fighter force took off and attacked 27 Allied airfields in northern France, Belgium and Southern Holland in an attempt by the Luftwaffe to cripple Allied air forces in the Low Countries of Europe. It was a last-ditch effort to keep up the momentum of the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) during the stagnant stage of the Battle of the Bulge (Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein). The operation was a Pyrrhic success for the Luftwaffe as the losses suffered by the German air arm were irreplaceable as over 300 Luftwaffe aircraft were shot down, mostly by Allied Anti-Aircraft guns. The losses of the Allied Air Forces were replaced within weeks. The operation failed to achieve Air superiority, even temporarily, and the German Army continued to be exposed to air attack.
First seen by Allied airmen during the late summer of 1944, it wasn't until March 1945 that German Jet aircraft started to attack Allied bomber formations in earnest. On 2 March, when Eighth Air Force bombers were dispatched to attack the synthetic oil refineries at Leipzig, Messerschmitt Me 262s attacked the formation near Dresden. The next day, the largest formation of German jets ever seen, most likely from the Luftwaffe's specialist 7th Fighter Wing, Jagdgeschwader 7 Nowotny, made attacks on Eighth Air Force bomber formations over Dresden and the oil targets at Essen, shooting down a total of three bombers.
However, the Luftwaffe jets were simply too few and too late to have any serious effect on the Allied air armadas, now sweeping over the Reich with almost impunity. V-1 and V-2 rocket sites were gradually overrrun and the lack of fuel and available pilots for the new jets had virtually driven the Luftwaffe from the skies. The Me-262 was an elusive foe in the skies for the P-47s and P-51s, which outclassed the American fighters. Despite its great speed advantage. Allied bomber escort fighters would fly high above the bombers — diving from this height gave them extra speed, thus reducing the speed difference. The Me 262 was less maneuverable than the P-51 and trained Allied pilots could catch up to a turning Me 262. However, the only reliable way of dealing with the jets, as with the even faster Me 163 Komet rocket fighters, was to attack them on the ground and during take off and landing. Luftwaffe airfields that were identified as jet bases were frequently bombed by medium bombers, and Allied fighters patrolled over the fields to attack jets trying to land. The Luftwaffe countered by installing flak alleys along the approach lines in order to protect the Me 262s from the ground and providing top cover with conventional fighters during takeoff and landing. Nevertheless, in March and April 1945, Allied fighter patrol patterns over Me 262 airfields resulted in numerous losses of jets and serious attrition of the force.
On 7 April, Eighth Air Force dispatched thirty-two B-17 and B-24 groups and fourteen Mustang groups (the sheer numbers of attacking Allied aircraft were so large in 1945 that they were now counted by the group) to targets in the small area of Germany still controlled by the Nazis, hitting the remaining airfields where the Luftwaffe jets were stationed. In addition, almost 300 German aircraft of all types were destroyed in strafing attacks. On 16 April, this record was broken when over 700 German aircraft were destroyed on the ground.
The Luftwaffe was, simply, finished.
The end came on 25 April 1945 when Eighth Air Force flew its last full-scale mission of the European War. B-17s hit the Skoda armaments factory at Pilsen in Czechoslovakia, while B-24s bombed rail complexes surrounding Hitler's mountain retreat at Berchtesgarden.
After the end of hositlities on 7 May 1945, Eighth Air Force bombers flew "Trolley" missions all over western Europe, giving the ground crews which supported them at their English bases a tour of the continent, so that they could witness first hand the complete destruction of the Third Reich that the Eighth Air Force inflicted.
Shortly after VE-Day, the United States Army and Army Air Forces began to demobilze in Europe. In May 1945, USSTAF consisted of about 17,000 aircraft and about 500,000 personnel. In Europe the aim was to maintain a small USAAF organization, exclusively for communication and transport purposes. On August 7, 1945, the United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) was redesignated as the "United States Air Forces in Europe" (USAFE) and headquarters USAFE was relocated to Wiesbaden, Germany, on 28 September 1945.
USAFE was planned to be a small organization in Europe, exclusively for communication and transport purposes. By the end of 1946, the American Air Force in Europe was reduced drastically, comprising of around 75,000 personnel and less than 2,000 aircraft.
Eighth Air Force's mission in the Pacific was initially to organize and train new bomber groups for combat against Japan. In the planned invasion of Japan, the mission of Eighth Air Force would be to conduct B-29 Superfortress raids from Okinawa.
Units assigned to Eighth Air Force in the Pacific were:
Note: The 316th Bomb Wing did not arrive in Okinawa until September 1945.
World War II proved what the proponents of air power had been championing for the previous two decades — the great value of strategic forces in bombing an enemy’s industrial complex and of tactical forces in controlling the skies above a battlefield. As a result, Eighth Air Force was incorporated into the new Strategic Air Command (SAC).
On June 7, 1946, Headquarters Eighth Air Force was reassigned without personnel or equipment from Okinawa to MacDill AAF, Florida, becoming SAC's second numbered air force. At MacDill, Eighth Air Force headquarters were manned chiefly by personnel from the 58th Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, stationed at Fort Worth AAF, Texas. The organization reported administratively to the Fifteenth Air Force at Colorado Springs, Colorado. That base assignment lasted until 1 November 1946, when SAC transferred the Eighth to Fort Worth (later renamed Carswell AFB).
These bomb wings were drastically undermanned and under equipped. At the close of 1946, they shared only a handful of operational bombers, all B-29 Superfortresses. Although there were many available which were returned from Twentieth Air Force in the Pacific Theater they were war-weary from the many long combat missions flown during the war. However, it was believed that a strong strategic air arm equipped with B-29s would deter a possible aggressor from attacking the United States for fear of massive retaliation with nuclear weapons.
By the late 1940s, the B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators used in the European Theater of the war were thoroughly obsolete as combat aircraft and were mostly sent to the smelters. A handful remained in service performing non-combat duties though the mid-1950s as air-sea rescue aircraft (SB-17, SB-24); photo-reconnaissance aircraft (RB-17, RB-24), and as unmanned target drones (DB-17).
Initially, Eighth Air Force under SAC consisted of the following:
Personnel and equipment from the inactivated 449th Bomb Group were reassigned to the 7th Bomb Group (later 7th Bomb Wing). The command staff and all personnnel of the 58th Bomb wing were eliminated on 1 November 1946 and the organization was reduced to a paper unit. For two years the wing remained in this status until the 58th Bomb Wing was inactivated on 16 Oct 1948.
Personnel and equipment from the inactivated 40th and 444th Bomb Groups were reassigned to the 43d Bomb Group
The Eighth Air Force was specifically charged with the atomic mission, however only the 509th Composite Group at Roswell AAF had modified B-29s with the capability to drop nuclear weapons. The 7th Bomb Group at Fort Worth AAF was modifying their aircraft to carry the atomic bomb.
From 1946 through 1949, what little money became available was used to buy new planes (B-50 Superfortress, B-36 Peacemaker) for SAC, and as the newer aircraft became available, the older B-29s were sent to storage depots or sent to Air Force Reserve units for training missions.
The advent of SAC's B-47 and B-52 jet bombers and nuclear bombs eliminated the need for fighter escorts. The nuclear weapons carried by the bombers were so powerful that only one plane was assigned to a target that may have previously required bombing by a World War II-era bomb group. Although upgraded to F-84 Thunderstreak jet figters in the early 1950s, the new jet bombers flew so high and so fast there was little danger of them being intercepted by fighters. By 1955, SAC no longer needed its fighters and these fighter units were transferred to Tactical Air Command and utilized in a tactical role.
In 1949, a realignment of responsibilities for SAC's two air forces occurred. Fifteenth Air Force was relocated to March AFB, California. As part of this realignment, Most SAC bomber forces west of the Mississippi River were reassigned to 15th AF. Those east of the Mississippi were assigned to SAC's other strategic air force, Eighth Air Force, was reassigned to Westover AFB, Massachusetts, where it commanded all SAC bases in the eastern United States.
Several events in the late 1940s reversed the drawdown of United States strategic forces. The 1948 Berlin Crisis and the outbreak of the Cold War caused the United States to deploy SAC's B-29 bomber force back to the United Kingdom and West Germany. Communist victories in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 meant that the United States would have to expand SAC to address these potential threats both in Europe as well as Asia.
By the time of the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, Eighth Air Force consisted of the following units:
On 21 January 1951, Lt. Col. William Bertram, commander of the 523rd Fighter-Escort Squadron, shot down the first MiG-15 for the wing and became the first F-84 pilot with a confirmed MiG kill. Two days later, on 23 January, the 27th FEW participated in the raid on Sinuju Air Field in North Korea and shot down four more MiG-15s. By the time the group rotated back to the United States, they had flown more than 23,000 combat hours in more than 12,000 sorties.
For its Korean War service, the 27th Fighter-Escort Wing received the Distinguished Unit Citation, covering the period of 26 January through 21 April 1951, for their actions in Korea.
The 27th was relieved of its duties supporting U.N. forces in Korea and returned to Bergstrom AFB on 31 July 1951, but was redeployed to Misawa AB, Japan during 6 October 1952 - 13 February 1953 to provide air defense.
With the end of fighting in Korea, President Eisenhower, who had taken office in January 1953, called for a "new look" at national defense. The result: a greater reliance on nuclear weapons and air power to deter war. His administration chose to invest in the Air Force, especially Strategic Air Command. The nuclear arms race shifted into high gear. The Air Force retired nearly all of its propeller-driven B-29/B-50s and they were replaced by new Boeing B-47 Stratojet aircraft. By 1955 the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress would be entering the inventory in substantial numbers, as prop B-36s were phased out of heavy bombardment units rapidly.
Also after the deployment of forces to Far East Air Force to engage in combat over Korea, the history of Eighth Air Force becomes indistinguishable from that of Strategic Air Command. The Eighth’s weapons inventory also changed to include KC-135 air refuelers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (the Atlas, Titan I and Titan II, and all Minuteman models.)
At the same time, aerial refueling techniques were improved to the extent that Eighth Air Force bombers could still reach targets in Europe and Asia even if overseas bases were destroyed by an enemy attack. To reduce the risk to its bomber fleet in the United States, Eighth Air Force aircraft stood nuclear alert, providing a deterrence against an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union. It dispersed its planes to a large number of bases across the United States so as not to have too many concentrated at a single location.
In the 1980s, the Eighth participated in several key operations such as running the tanker task force for URGENT FURY in 1983 and directing all air refueling operations for EL DORADO CANYON in 1986 and JUST CAUSE in 1989.
Fifteen months after Operation Desert Storm, the Air Force reorganized. Eighth Air Force was relieved from assignment to Strategic Air Command and assigned to the new Air Combat Command (ACC) on 1 June 1992.
Under ACC, Eighth Air Force provides command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C2ISR); long-range attack; and information operations forces to Air Force components and warfighting commands. Eighth Air Force trains, tests, exercises and demonstrates combat-ready forces for rapid employment worldwide.
Eighth Air Force also provides conventional forces to U.S. Joint Forces Command and provides nuclear capable bombers, specified Global Strike assets, and C2ISR capabilities to U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). Eighth Air Force also supports STRATCOM's Joint Force Headquarters - Information Operations and serves as the command element for Air Force wide computer network operations.
Under ACC, the Eighth received control over active duty, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard units in the central U. S. and two overseas locations. Then in January 1994, ACC reorganized Eighth Air Force as a general purpose Numbered Air Force (NAF) with a warfighting mission to support the U.S. Joint Forces and U.S. Strategic Commands. Support to the latter command included the operation of Task Force 204 (bombers).
Since 1994, the Eighth has participated in a string of contingency operations, such as the 1996 Operation "Desert Strike" against Iraq, the 1998 Operation "Desert Fox" (similarly named but in no way associated with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel) against Iraq, which featured the B-1B in its combat debut, and 1999 Operation "Allied Force" against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which involved the B-2A Spirit in its first uncontested mission of aggression, which was officially designated "combat". The "Allied Force" campaign also marked the Eighth’s return to Europe and the participation of U.S. bombers in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) first combat operation. Altogether, the Eighth’s bombers flew 325 sorties to drop over 7 million pounds of ordnance on a nation slightly smaller than the state of Colorado.
In 2000, the Air Force decided to integrate information operations into Eighth Air Force. The integration process started on 1 February 2001, when the Air Force realigned the Air Intelligence Agency (AIA) under ACC and assigned the 67th Information Operations Wing and the 70th Intelligence Wing to the Eighth. The reorganization transformed the Eighth into the only information operations and bomber NAF in the Air Force. For the Mighty Eighth, that change heralded an interesting future, one that bring further restructuring, different aircraft system purchases, and a new challenging mission to the NAF.
While posturing itself for that mission change, the Eighth also supported Operation "Enduring Freedom" in which the Air Force operates with total impunity against targets in Afghanistan, and "NOBLE EAGLE" for the defense of North American airspace from the threat of stray airliners and outdated Russian bombers. Throughout the first six months of "ENDURING FREEDOM", the Mighty Eighth’s bombers were instrumental in the eradication of many loosely defined targets and elusive native combatants in Afghanistan. With each step through 2002, the Eighth continues to heap more feats of this type onto its legacy.