The Eighth Air Drive’s 100th Bomb Group earned its nickname the arduous method within the brutal skies over Germany.
Just one World Warfare II U.S. Military Air Forces tail flash survives within the present-day U.S. Air Drive: the Sq. D. Seventy-five years in the past, on June 25, 1943, the 100th Bombardment Group (Heavy) first wore that emblem into battle.
The 100th was constituted as a heavy bomber group contained in the Eighth Air Drive, which, at peak power on D-Day, June 6, 1944, fielded 40 teams of Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s. The 100th’s tail marking of a daring “D” on a sq. background was rendered on the vertical stabilizers of its B-17s, whose huge, parabolic-shaped tail fins made for an efficient if utilitarian canvas. In 2018 the Sq. D nonetheless adorns a Boeing plane—the KC-135R—although the 100th is now an aerial refueling wing. Even nonetheless, the Sq. D carries with it the heroic, bloody historical past of the 100th Bomb Group.
In November 1942, Colonel Darr Alkire was the primary commander assigned to go up the 100th. By December, a number of hundred males shaped the preliminary flying cadre of the group’s 4 bomb squadrons—the 349th, 350th, 351st and 418th—together with the requisite administrative, engineering and floor help models. Whereas every unit was actively coaching, the Military Air Forces recognized leaders who might forge the ungainly mass of civilians into airmen.
Among the many commanders serving underneath Colonel Alkire have been two officers who turned synonymous with the unit’s early dashing, devil-may-care notoriety. John “Bucky” Egan was initially the 100th operations officer, and Gale “Bucky” Cleven was the preliminary commander of the 350th Bomb Squadron. Simply two of the a number of Bucks or Buckys who would serve with the 100th, Egan and Cleven have been wonderful pilots and charismatic males. Various of the 100th’s younger airmen got here to view the 2 Buckys as inspirational figures, modeling their very own conduct on that of those older leaders.
On the best way to operational readiness, the group educated in Walla Walla, Wash., and, by the top of November, in Wendover, Utah. The third part of coaching occurred in Sioux Metropolis, Iowa, the place the crews targeted on formation flying and navigation. In February 1943, the fliers have been dispersed all through the western United States and relegated to the position of instructors for brand spanking new models. Floor personnel have been assigned to the air base at Kearny, Neb. Whereas in limbo, the group’s airmen regressed of their march towards fight readiness.
In April the shortage of preparation and three months spent aside manifested in a coaching mission gone badly awry. Of 21 plane scheduled to make the 1,300-mile run between Kearney and Hamilton Subject in California, three landed in Las Vegas (together with Alkire’s ship) and one flew the other way to Tennessee. The entire group, sans Alkire, who misplaced this command over the debacle (although he would later lead a B-24 unit), was despatched again to Wendover for a much-needed refresher.
One of many extra intriguing outcomes of continuous to maintain the 100th Stateside for extra coaching was the choice to exchange all of the group’s copilots with a just lately graduated class of multiengine pilots from Moody Subject in Valdosta, Ga. In a current interview, a member of that class, John “Lucky” Luckadoo, stated that breaking apart crews who had labored for months to determine camaraderie and belief had a profoundly adverse impression on morale. The 96-year-old Luckadoo referred to as the choice “ludicrous” as a result of it pressured him and his classmates, who have been sitting in the correct seat of a B-17 for the primary time, to bear a troublesome “learn-on-the-job” expertise. Luckadoo recalled that he had accrued lower than 20 hours of B-17 flight time prior to creating the transatlantic crossing to Britain.
The 100th Bomb Group arrived in England in early June 1943, simply one of many dozens of heavy bomber teams comprising the Eighth Air Pressure’s 1st, 2nd and third air divisions. After a quick keep at an incomplete airbase in Podington, the 100th arrange store at Thorpe Abbotts airfield in East Anglia. The group’s airmen started flying over England and the Channel to get the lay of the land as they ready for his or her first mission over enemy territory.
That first mission got here on the morning of June 25, 1943, when 30 B-17s took off from Thorpe Abbotts for a raid on the submarine pens at Bremen, Germany. By the top of the day, the group had misplaced three Flying Fortresses and 30 crewmen, together with pilot Oran Petrich and his crew, one of many first assigned to the 100th. The group acquired its status as a hard-luck unit very early in its operational historical past, and it will go on to turn out to be often known as the “Bloody 100th,” a nickname laden with the load of sacrifice.
On August 17, lower than two months after its preliminary foray over enemy soil, the 100th flew to Regensburg for the primary time. The raid was within the males’s self-interest, for it focused a manufacturing unit the place Messerschmitt Me-109s—fighters that might torment them within the months to return—have been assembled. It was a posh mission, requiring the coordination of two separate plenty of Eighth Air Drive bombers (the second was headed to Schweinfurt and its ball-bearing works) and Republic P-47 escorts. Finally it required the Regensburg-bound bombers to shuttle to North Africa, with a deliberate return to England at a later date. In the long run, the 100th, situated on the tail finish of a 15-mile bomber stream, was left unescorted when one of many P-47 models by no means appeared.
As they approached Regensburg, “what seemed to be the whole German Air Force came up and began to riddle our whole task force,” wrote 418th Bomb Squadron navigator Harry H. Crosby in A Wing and a Prayer. “As other planes were hit, we had to fly through their debris. I instinctively ducked as we almost hit an escape hatch from a plane ahead. When a plane blew up, we saw their parts all over the sky. We smashed into some of the pieces. One plane hit a body which tumbled out of a plane ahead.”
Of the 24 American bombers misplaced that day over Regensburg, greater than a 3rd bore the 100th’s Sq. D on their tails. The 100th put up 220 fliers in 22 B-17s, and 90 of these males and 9 Fortresses didn’t make the return journey to Thorpe Abbotts.
The group’s status as a hard-luck unit was sealed within the second week of October 1943, throughout missions to Bremen and Munster. On October eight, Fortunate Luckadoo put his nickname to the check over Bremen. That day, he was flying in a fight formation place with the darkly humorous nickname of “Purple Heart corner,” the low aircraft within the low group.
Luckadoo famous that the Luftwaffe favored head-on assaults throughout these first months of fight flying by the 100th. The German fighters would “get out in front of our formation—in line abreast of 25 or 30 Focke-Wulfs or Messerschmitts—and spray the formation with cannon fire, rockets and .30-caliber machine guns.” In consequence, he stated, “We suffered tremendous fatalities.” Anti-aircraft artillery additionally took a toll, and Crosby famous that as they approached Bremen, the group encountered “Flak, a whole, mean sky full of it.” Luckadoo and his crewmates returned to Thorpe Abbots that day, however seven B-17s have been misplaced and 72 aircrew died on the Bremen mission.
Crosby’s shot-up B-17 barely made it again on three engines to crash-land at an deserted RAF airfield. After catching a experience in a lorry to Thorpe Abbotts, Crosby and his fellow crewmen, who have been presumed misplaced, discovered their beds stripped and private possessions eliminated. “On the bare cot were two clean sheets and two pillowcases, two blankets, one pillow, all neatly folded,” he wrote. “Ready for the next crew.”
Two days later, 21 Forts departed Thorpe Abbotts for Munster, however simply 13 reached the goal. The losses on the Munster mission have been devastating: 12 plane and 121 males. A single B-17, Rosie’s Riveters, piloted by Lieutenant Robert Rosenthal, bombed the goal and returned to Thorpe Abbotts that day.
The perceived influence of the losses was compounded by the attrition in squadron management: 350th Bomb Squadron commander Main Bucky Cleven was shot down over Bremen, and Main Bucky Egan, CO of the 418th Squadron, was downed over Munster on October 10 whereas making an attempt to actual revenge for his greatest pal Cleven. The two commanders discovered themselves on the similar POW camp. Legend has it that when Egan arrived, Cleven stated, “What the hell took you so long?” The lack of the 2 Buckys, seen by the rank and file as exemplars of every little thing that a flier must be, was crushing.
A number of days after these disastrous missions, the 100th was capable of muster solely eight plane for a raid that almost broke the again of the Eighth Air Drive. October 14, 1943, turned generally known as “Black Thursday.” On that autumn day, 291 B-17s assembled to make a second raid on the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt. American losses have been appalling: 60 plane shot down, 17 written off and greater than 100 others broken. The lack of greater than 1 / 4 of the plane collaborating within the raid was clearly unsustainable, each within the eyes of VIII Bomber Command and, maybe extra essential, the American individuals.
In a coincidence that served to spotlight the randomness inherent in warfare, the 100th Bomb Group emerged comparatively unscathed that dreadful day. All eight B-17s that it contributed to the mission returned to Thorpe Abbots.
The October 1943 missions wound up being among the many final bombing raids deep into German airspace that the Eighth Air Pressure flew with out end-to-end fighter escort. Although the bombers bristled with .50-caliber machine weapons (finally 13 within the B-17G, with its added chin turret to counter frontal assaults) and adhered rigorously to fight field formation flying to offer mutually supportive defensive hearth, it was apparent that the B-17s within the European theater have been weak to Luftwaffe hunters. In the long run, the first software for redressing the imbalance of energy between the hunters and the hunted was to import a more moderen, extra succesful long-range fighter, the North American P-51 Mustang.
Although the gasoline burn of plane is usually measured in gallons per hour, it’s additionally instructive to assume within the conventional earthbound measure of miles per gallon. The P-51 was a pilot’s dream when it comes to velocity and maneuverability, however its actual superiority was that it might eke out twice as many miles from a gallon of 100-octane avgas as might a P-47. With the Mustang, Military Air Forces planners lastly had a fighter that would stick with the bomb teams all the best way to Berlin and again.
Commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring had as soon as pompously bragged that Allied bombers would by no means be seen within the skies over Germany. By March four, 1944, Allied bombers weren’t simply flying over Germany, they flew all the best way to Berlin. On that date, the 100th and their mates within the 95th Bomb Group turned the primary fliers to efficiently bomb the German capital. For its efforts, the 100th was awarded a Presidential Unit Quotation.
The capacity to offer fighter escorts end-to-end on bombing missions had a profound impact on bomber losses suffered over Germany. The Eighth Air Drive had misplaced almost 30 % of the bombers that took half in raids through the second week of October 1943. Throughout what turned generally known as the “Big Week” in February 1944, Eighth Air Drive bombers suffered losses of solely about 2 %.
German flak and fighters weren’t the one risks the heavy bomber crews confronted. Flying within the foul English climate alongside the coast on devices could possibly be a formidable problem. John Clark, a copilot within the 418th Bomb Squadron, flew the majority of his fight missions within the depths of the moist and chilly winter of 1944-45. He described instrument flying as “something you’re doing with the aircraft that was unique and important, to get this big device [bomber] through impenetrable fog or night…and bring it down to the ground.”
Hazard wasn’t discovered solely within the skies. Merely repairing and sustaining the huge B-17s could possibly be hazardous to at least one’s well being. At a current gathering of 100th veterans, Grasp Sgt. Dewey Christopher, a crew chief within the 351st Bomb Squadron, recounted how a reside magneto mixed with the required act of hand-propping a Wright Cyclone R-1820 led to his being tossed 30 ft by means of the air by a all of the sudden lively propeller because the engine tried to start out. He landed on his head after which in the infirmary with a damaged shoulder.
Whereas the 100th misplaced solely a single bomber on the primary Berlin mission, using P-51s to offer air cowl over Germany didn’t utterly remove the group’s propensity for dangerous days. Two days later, on March 6, the 100th suffered its worst losses of the warfare—15 plane and 150 crewmen—on the second mission to Berlin.
The 100th Bomb Group flew its ultimate fight mission on April 20, 1945, simply days earlier than the cessation of hostilities in Europe. Because the conflict in Europe wound down, the 100th and quite a few different Eighth Air Drive bomber teams celebrated the weeks main as much as V-E Day on Might eight by exchanging their 500-pound basic function bombs for containers of meals, medical provides, clothes, sweet and cigarettes. The so-called “Chowhound” missions dropped hundreds of tons of provides to the long-suffering individuals of the Netherlands and France. So many 100th fliers needed to be part of the humanitarian efforts that the oxygen techniques, pointless at low degree, have been faraway from the B-17s, liberating up room for as many as 4 additional crewmen on every aircraft. The missions helped the 100th put a constructive spin on what had been a harrowing expertise.
Over the course of 22 months of aerial fight, the aircrews of the 100th had served a lethal apprenticeship as they honed their expertise and techniques. In an unemotional evaluation of the uncooked numbers, the Bloody 100th’s wartime losses weren’t the worst suffered by the Eighth Air Drive, although they have been within the prime three of losses by heavy bomber teams. The official historical past from the 100th Bomb Group Basis cites 184 lacking aircrew stories on 306 missions. In his memoir An Eighth Air Drive Fight Diary, 100th copilot John Clark identified that “50% of the Group’s losses occurred in only 3% of its missions.” Like a gambler whose luck has gone chilly, when the crews of the 100th had a nasty day, that they had a really dangerous day.
Greater than 26,000 Eighth Air Pressure personnel sacrificed their lives in service to the conflict effort. The complete quantity killed or lacking in motion was barely greater than that suffered by the U.S. Marine Corps, and rather less than half the losses sustained by your complete U.S. Navy. Comparisons reminiscent of these do nothing to decrease the contributions of different military branches, however somewhat level out the gargantuan scale of the Eighth Air Drive’s effort. The 100th Bomb Group’s portion of these losses was 785 males killed outright or lacking in motion and 229 plane destroyed or rendered unsuitable for flight.
In 2016 the Bureau of Veterans Affairs estimated there have been 620,000 World Conflict II veterans alive, however that we lose 372 per day. The duty for remembering, for commemorating the service of these veterans has fallen to their youngsters and their grandchildren. Within the case of the 100th Bomb Group, a lot of organizations have taken up that obligation.
The 100th Bomb Group Basis maintains a very helpful web site (100thbg.com), and its members maintain a biennial reunion. Final October, 17 group veterans, all of their 90s, attended the newest reunion outdoors Washington, D.C. A smaller reunion takes place in February of every yr in Palm Springs, Calif., in collaboration with the Palms Springs Aviation Museum. Different establishments related with the 100th embrace the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum on the former Thorpe Abbots airfield; the American Air Museum on the Imperial Conflict Museum in Duxford, England; the Museum of Air Battle Over the Ore Mountains in Kovarska, Czech Republic; and the Nationwide Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Drive close to Savannah, Ga.
Greater than seven many years on, the actions of the lads of the Bloody 100th nonetheless loom giant in our cultural reminiscence. Every time we refresh these reminiscences, we make sure that their hard-earned classes are usually not forgotten.
Douglas R. Dechow’s grand uncle Tech Sgt. Harry Dale Park was a member of the 100th Bomb Group. The 20-year-old Park was killed in a B-17 over Normandy on August eight, 1944. Dechow is the director of digital tasks on the Middle for American Warfare Letters at Chapman College. Additional studying: A Wing and a Prayer, by Harry H. Crosby; An Eighth Air Pressure Fight Diary, by John A. Clark; Century Bombers, by Richard Le Unusual; and Masters of the Air, by Donald L. Miller.
This function initially appeared within the July 2018 concern of Aviation Historical past. Subscribe right now!