The following excerpts come from famed journalist and eventual war casualty
Ernie Pyle. They describe the experience of seeing and hearing the 8th Army
Air Force approach an enemy target and then unleash its fire power upon its
target. More specifically, they come from the journalist's account of Opera-
tion Cobra, the July 25, 1944 decimation of the Panzer Lehr Division near
St. Lo, France. At the time of the air raid, American troops were approxi-
mately 1,500 yards from the targeted Panzer Lehr troops, making the air
raid a surgical military operation:
... "And then a new sound gradually droned into our ears. The sound
was deep and all encompassing, with no notes in it --- just a gigantic
far away surge of doom-like sound. It was the heavies." ...
... "I've never known a storm or a machine or any resolve of man that had about it the aura of such ghastly relentlessness." ...
"The Germans began to shoot heavy, high ack-ack (88mm canon fire).
Great black puffs of it by the score speckled the sky until it was hard
to distinguish the smoke puffs from the planes. And then, someone
shouted that one of the planes was smoking. Yes, we could all see it." ...
"But before it was done there were more cries of 'There's another one
smoking, and there's a third one now!' Chutes came out of some of
the planes, and out of some came no chutes at all." ...
"And all that time the great flat ceiling of the sky was roofed by all
the others that didn't go down, plowing their way forward, as if
there were no turmoil in the world. Nothing deviated them by the
slightest. They stalked on slowly, with a dreadful pall of sound,
as though they were seeing only something at a great distance and
(as if) nothing existed in between." ...
" ... and then the bombs came. They began ahead of us as a crackle
of popcorn and almost instantly swelled into a monstrous fury of
noise that seemed surely to destroy all the world ahead of us. From
then on, for an hour and a half that had in it the agonies of the cen-
turies, the bombs came down." ...
"By now everything was an indescribable cauldron of sound. Indi-
vidual noises did not exist. The thundering of motors in the sky and
the roar of the bombs ahead filled all the space (spatial capacity) for noise on earth. Our own artillery was crashing all around us, yet we could hardly hear it."
A narration of the same event, as was seen by General Fritz Bayerlein,
the commanding Nazi officer caught in the middle of it, goes as follows:
"The entrenched infantry was either smashed by the heavy bombs while
in their foxholes and dugouts or else they were killed and buried by the
blast. Infantry and artillery positions were blown up. The bombed-out
area was entirely transformed into a field covered with craters, where no
human was left alive. Tanks and guns were destroyed and overturned,
unable to be recovered, because all roads and passages were blocked."
General Bayerlein also wrote:
"The shock effect was nearly as strong the physical effect" ... "Some of the
men got crazy and were unable to carry out anything. I was personally in the center of the bombardment and could experience the tremendous effect. For me, one who, during this war, was at every theater of opera- tion, and who had been assigned to the places of the main efforts, this was the worstthing I ever saw."
Bayerlein summarized the aftermath in the following way:
"My front lines looked like the face of the moon, and at least 70%
of my troops were out of action - dead, wounded, crazed, or numb."
The airmen of the 8th Army Air Force enlisted for the entire duration of the war that
was started by Adolph Hitler and his war machine. These airmen were literally in
it till death ... of either themselves or their heavily equipped enemy. During their
tours of duty, there were multiple occasions when 88, 108, and 128 mm canon fire
would barrage them so intensely that the surviving airmen would wonder how they
made through it the high speed metal hailstorms. They would return to British air
bases, only to be impressed by the amount of battle damage that their B-17 Flying
Fortresses and B-24 Liberators endured in flight.
During WWII, if you were in Germany during daylight hours and heard a thunder-
ous roar of airplane engines approaching you, it was always the Americans in all
their audacity, coming in plain sight, in order to have a better chance at hitting the
Nazi industrial war machine. This included V1 rocket sites, Luftwaffe air bases,
Tiger Tank factories, warplane assembly lines, truck assembly lines, military rail
yards, chemical plants, fuel depots, buzz bomb sites, gun positions, and even the
Panzer Lehr Division which, within one ninety minute span of time, was no longer
the Fatherland's impenetrable armored division. When compared to the strategic
8th Army Air Force, and even the tactical 9th, the mighty Panzer Lehr Division
was no stronger than cardboard boxes and coastline sand castles.
In a nutshell, if the 8th Army Air Force didn't knock out the Nazi German war in-
dustry, World War II would have endured much longer than it did, resulting in far
more casualties than it did. In fact, if the 8th AAF didn't make a dedicated effort
in bombing Nazi rail yards in France, the allied invaders of Normandy would have
been met with far more resistance than they did.
As a general rule, the easiest missions where those made to submarine bull pens
and V1 Rocket sites. Close encounters with death often occurred during those
missions that targeted the various Nazi marshaling yards, tank factories, and war-
plane assembly plants. A marshaling yard, incidentally, was a railway staging area
that sent Nazi troops, supplies, and ordnance rolling. The 8th Army Air Force
stopped the rolling, but only at a heavy price, being that the Nazi marshaling yards
were so heavily defended.
The 8th Army Air Force carried on its bombers men as iconic as Jimmy Stewart,
Walter Cronkite, Clark Gable, and the famous 60 Minutes Tour de Farce master,
Andy Rooney. In performing its missions during daylight hours, it was a corps
of sitting ducks in the sky.
Crew 2918 of the 489th Bomb group in Colorado the winter before its tour duty.
The Presence of the 8th Army Air Force in the European Theater of Operation
Of the 115,332 casualties sustained by the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII, 41%
of them were Eighth Army Air Force casualties. Of the 47,483 casualties sustained
by the Eighth Army Air Force in WWII, over 26,000 were fatalities. This exceed-
ed the 19,733 combat deaths and 24,511 total deaths that the U.S. Marine Corps
The phrase that American airmen used to describe the act of bailing out of a fall-
ing war plane was "Hit the silk(s)." American parachutes were made of silk, and
a number of wedding gowns were made from American parachutes.
"We saw many, many tanks and vehicles along the roads and in the fields, all wrecked and burnt. I must have seen at least a million bomb craters and foxholes. I saw a lot of wrecked planes. Dead cows and horses were laying in the fields. There was evidence of a battle everywhere along
Mentioned in a few of the mission log entries from where came the quotes appear-
ing on this page are readings such as "10/10 cloud cover." In as much, 10/10 stood
for 100% cloud cover, while 9/10 stood for 90% cloud cover, so on and so forth.
The previous quotes came from an airman's account of the July 25, 1944 bombing
of the Panzer Lehr Division near St. Lo, France. Known as Operation Cobra, the
mission's outcome marked the breakout of allied ground forces from their coastal
confinements. In fact, the successful outcome of Operation Cobra marked the be-
ginning of Germany's retreat from France. Ironically, after the successful air raid,
allied ground force moved south and than west, before moving east, to Germany.
The day when the Panzer Lehr Division was decimated by the Eighth and Ninth
Army Air Forces was the day when Nazi troops learned that Germany's heavy
armored divisions were as vulnerable to America's bombers and attack aircraft
as cardboard boxes are vulnerable to sledge hammers.
This reality was evident on D-day, when medium sized B-26 Marauders of the 9th
Army Air Force destroyed a number of German tanks during tactical support mis-
General Omar Bradley was quoted as having said that Operation Cobra "struck a
more deadly blow than any of us dared imagine." A remarkable aspect of the
St. Lo Air Raid was that 20 lb fragmentation bombs, 100 lb demolition bombs, and
260 lb fragmentation bombs were all that were taken into battle by the 8th Army Air
Force, in order to decimate a Nazi armored division.
Neither the 2,000 lb demolition bomb, nor the 1,000 lb demolition bomb, nor even
the 500 lb incendiary bomb made an appearance at St. Lo, on July 25. In fact, the
napalm incendiary bomb which made its debut eight days prior, during a P-38 raid
over France, was not used at St. Lo, either.
On July 25, a portion of the 8th Army Air Force bomber crews carried 20 lb frag-
mentation bombs @ 240 bombs per bomber, while other ones were equipped with
100 lb demolition bombs @ 38 bombs per bomber, while yet other crews went to
St. Lo with a load of 260 lb fragmentation bombs @ 20 bombs per bomber.
During Operation Cobra, the Panzer Lehr Division was more than fragged. It had
troops who were literally vaporized. The impact of the July 25th raid was recount-
ed by attending Nazi officer, Lieutenant-General Fritz Bayerlein. The following was
posted at the introduction of this expose. It's posted here again, for the reader's con-
venience. Within his account is the phrase, "heavy bombs." This refers to the bomb
loads that were dropped from each heavy bomber, as opposed to the weight of the
individual bombs themselves:
"The entrenched infantry was either smashed by the heavy bombs while in their foxholes and dugouts or else they were killed and buried by the blast. Infantry and artillery positions were blown up. The bombed-out area was entirely transformed into a field covered with craters, where no human was left alive. Tanks and guns were destroyed and overturned, unable to be recovered, because all roads and passages were blocked."
General Bayerlein also wrote:
"The shock effect was nearly as strong the physical effect" ... "Some of the men got crazy and were unable to carry out anything. I was personally in the center of the bombardment and could experience the tremendous effect. For me, one who, during this war, was at every theater of operation, and who had been assigned to the places of the main efforts, this was the worst
thing I ever saw."
Bayerlein summarized the aftermath in the following way:
"My front lines looked like the face of the moon, and at least 70%
of my troops were out of action - dead, wounded, crazed, or numb."
The July 25th bombing raid proved erroneous the documentary makers' claim that
the allied invasion force of June 1944 would have been pushed back into the Eng-
lish Channel if all available Panzer divisions had immediately responded to Nor-
mandy Beach. The truth is that Nazi armored units would have been decimated
near the Normandy shoreline the same way in which the Panzer Lehr Division
was decimated near the town of St. Lo.
If the Panzer tanks started rolling on that day, the 8th Army Air Force would have
been flying a double shift, along with the tactical Ninth AAF which probably would
have responded to the scene much quicker than the 8th AAF. Now, the morning
of June 6th was accompanied by low cloud cover and the inability to perform sight
bombing. However, the skies began to clear in the afternoon. In addition, the re-
peated bombing of Nazi marshaling yards prior to D-day prevented the rapid de-
ployment of Nazi infantry divisions to the west coast of France. The Nazis often
traveled by rail. The 8th Army Air Force kept demolishing its travel routes.
That which the 8th Army Air Force did not have the technology to decimate were
the concrete-reinforced gun positions known as pillboxes and the accompanying
bunkers that were lined along the French coastline.
The number of American troops killed by friendly fire during the St. Lo Raid was
111. The number of American troops injured by friendly fire during the same raid
was 490. Forty-two B-26 Marauders of the 9th Army Air Force "short bombed."
This resulted in the 30th Infantry Division sustaining 64 soldiers being killed in ac-
tion, 60 ending up missing in action (presumed to be buried under the blasts), and
374 gettingwounded. If that hadn't happened, friendly fire casualties would have
been 47 killed and 126 wounded, in unintentional collateral damage.
During the St. Lo Air Raid, Nazi German anti-craft batteries fired upon oncoming
Concerning the bombing of Dresden, it was the 8th Army Air Force's First Air Di-
vision who participated in that bombing, and even at that, the participating Ameri-
can bomb groups only bombed the Dresden rail system. The RAF was the entity
who deliberately bombed civilian targets as a matter of policy, and the Americans
and British conducted their own operations independent of each other. The 1st Air
Division's bombing of the Dresden rail system had the strategic effect of impeding
the Nazis from sending reinforcements to the Eastern Front.
Furthermore, the Feuersturm of Hamburg (known as Operation Gomorrah and the
Hiroshima of Germany) took place during the summer of 1943. It was RAF night
raids which placed that time span in infamy, as it was a deliberate act of revenge for
"Our target for today was a Heinkel aircraft plant in Rostock, Germany. The plant was one of the largest in Germany, but now it is no more. Our target was previously hit, but more damage needed to be done to it. We smashed the target flat this time. The bombing was visual, and I could see the bombs hit, blowing the place sky high. "
The official phrase, Precision Bombing, was employed in Europe by United States
bomber command, in order to define the targets as being precisely designated and
precisely limited to those of military significance. The phrase was intended to con-
trast Area Bombing, the practice employed by RAF bomber command by which en-
tire civilian areas were targeted and indiscriminately bombed.
American squadrons were also given secondary and tertiary targets before each
bombing mission, along with primary target and targets of opportunity.
"... we went to our secondary target, which was a chemical and high ex- plosives plant at Clausthal-Zellerfeld. We dropped our bombs and then circled the target, to see what we did. By the looks of the place, it isn't any good to the Germans anymore. The target was blazing, as smoke was coming up to about 5,000 to 6,000 feet."
The documentary makers' claim that a thousand bombers would be sent to the same
one bombing target per mission is a falsehood. The truth is that 300 to 1,500 bomb-
ers would be sent out to bomb four, eight, twelve, eighteen or so targets during the
same one outing. Designated targets would be in the same general geographic re-
gion, and the various bomb groups would eventually separate into a number of dif-
ferent formations en route to the multiple targets.
There were occasions where only 4 to 13 bombers would attack an individual target.
There were even instances when a solitary bomber attacked a solitary target of op-
portunity. However, the general trend was that the typical Nazi target was attacked
by 1 to 300 bombers, with 25 to 175 being the more frequently observed numerical
range, if not the exact statistical median. It was even more common for 55 to 135
American bombers to attack a primary target.
"There were about 50 bombers at our target."
An exception was the day when the Leuna synthetic oil refinery at Merseberg was
attacked by 383 bombers during one raid and then 210 bombers later in the same
day. There were other exceptions. Only on rare occasion would a thousand or
more bombers be sent to one target. The St. Lo Raid was one example, and even
at that, it was a joint effort between the Tactical 9th Army Air Force and the stra-
The October 1944 attack on Hamm, Germany, was the exception to the precision
bombing rule, even though the first two Autumn raids on Hamm targeted its mar-
shaling yards. The mission which designated all of Hamm as the primary target
coincided with the recently failed Operation Market Garden which was once por-
trayed on Screen in, A Bridge Too Far, and in the TV serial, A Band of Brothers.
- The first autumn mission to Hamm occurred the day after the British
1st Airborne Division in Holland was ordered to withdraw across the
Rhine. In fact, takeoff time was a few hours after Operation Market
Garden was officially declared halted. This was Tuesday, September
"Our target for today was one of Germany's larg-
est rail centers that support troops in Holland."
- There was a vested interest in shielding allied troops in Holland from
a Nazi counteroffensive which would have had its supply line anchored
at the Hamm marshaling yards. There was also a vested interest in safe-
guarding Dutch Resistance personnel from Nazi retaliation. There was
the additional need to prevent the Germans from turning the western bor-
der of Holland into a scaled ver ion of the Atlantic Wall (or a replica of
the Siegfried Line). In light of this, the allies were in need of establish-
ing strongholds in the Holland that they invaded ten days prior.
"We were to hit the rail depot at the rail center of
Hamm, Germany. The whole 8th Army Air Corps
was bombing in this area today."
- The second autumn mission to Hamm occurred four days after the first
mission, on September 30th. Then, on the following Monday, Hamm's
ability to export the Nazi War Machine to Holland was significantly dis-
- The bombing mission was successful enough to enable the 1st Canadian
Army to maintain a position near Groesbeek, Holland. This resulted in
the Operation Veritable that began in February 1945.
"This is the largest rail center in Germany, and I don't
think that we will have to go back there again. I could
see the bombs hit right into the target."
- Crews of the 578th Bomb Group had already been briefed for a mission
to Stuttgart on the morning of the Second of October. They then found
themselves in a briefing room once again, being briefed on the Hamm mis-
sion shortly before takeoff time. Thus, there was a sense of urgency in the
third Hamm mission, as opposed to a premeditated plan.
"After we peeled away from the target, I saw three more
groups drop their bombs. They smashed Hamm flat."
- The Hamm marshaling yards were attacked before the three autumn raids,
during the end of summer, on the 19th of September. This occurred while
Operation Market Garden was still in progress. Hamm's marshaling yards
would then be attacked again, on November 26, 1944. But, the mission
which made all of Hamm the primary target was October 2, 1944.
As was previously mentioned, the RAF engaged in Area Bombing as a matter of
policy. British high command asserted that destroying German civilian neighbor-
hoods would destroy the German workforce and the Nazis' ability to manufacture
its weaponry. In fact, Winston Churchill ordered the RAF to perform "terror raids"
upon civilian populations.
British high command was proven wrong. History showed that Area Bombing did
not destroy the Nazi war industry. Nor did it demoralize Germany to the point of
surrendering. If anything, the bombing of civilian venues inspires an enemy to fight
even more vehemently against you with the military hardware that was untouched
while you were bombing his civilian neighborhoods.
The Nazi's defeat at Leningrad was attributed to the fact that civilian venues through-
out that city were intentionally bombed by the Luftwaffe, giving Russian snipers free
reign throughout a fortress of rubble.
The systematic bombing of civilian areas is strategically detrimental, as well as a
crime against humanity. The bombing of merely one truck assembly plant did more
to defeat the Nazis than did the killing of a multitude of German civilians.
In the European Theater of Operation, there were American bomber crews who be-
came the victims of friendly fire while in the air.
"We lost two ships in our group due
to our own bombs dropping on them."
Fatal bomber accidents were not limited to training venues. There was the tragedy
of American bombers collidsinf into each other upon their return to Britain, as well
as cases of bombers being lost in the English Channel.
"As we got back to our base, two of the planes in our group crashed into each other and blew up. It was an unbelievable sight. I saw the planes explode right off our left wing and then hit the ground. No one got out alive. The weather was plenty rough when coming in. We lost another plane in the channel."
"Only the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer, and radio operator were on board. I don't know what we would have done if we had been attacked by fighters. We were so low that we could see the French people wave at us. Also a few GIs."
Even though Switzerland was a neutral nation throughout World War II, the Swiss
captured and interned American aviators who bailed out over Switzerland. Even
though the America prisoners of war were interned at Swiss ski resorts they were
subject to marginal diets of 1,500 calories daily and the gnaw of very poorly heat-
ed quarters. None the less, Switzerland proved to be a lifesaver for over a 1,700
The United States government received hotel bills from the Swiss, on account
of American airmen interned at the Swiss ski lodges. In addition, over 100,000
soldiers of various nations and branches of service made their ways to Switzer-
land, along with 200,000+ civilian refugees.
If a bomber crew failed to drop its bomb load on a Nazi target during a mission, yet
flew through airspace under attack by enemy flak guns or fighter planes, it would still
receive credit for having performed a combat mission.
The United States Air Force did not become an independent branch of the American
military until 1947. Until then, it operated under United States Army command. It
originally carried the title, Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Signal Corps, followed
chronologically by Aviation Section (of the Signal Corps), the Division of Military
Aeronautics, and the U.S. Army Air Service. Then, in 1926, congress changed its
name to the United States Army Air Corps.
In 1941, the United States Army Air Force was established, and the Office of the
Chief of the Army Air Corps was disbanded. However, throughout World War II,
the phrase Army Air Corps was often used when speaking of the newly formed Ar-
my Air Force. This was done even by the press and government officials, as well
The airmen saw things as scenic as the White Cliffs of Dover and "the peaks of the
Alps protruding through the clouds." This is contrasted by the sight of airships go-
ing down in balls of fire, as well as the devastation that was seen in France, during
the grocery runs which occurred after the Liberation of Paris. The Eighth Army Air
Force, in traveling behind enemy lines, was pivotal in the Liberation of France, the
Netherlands, and Belgium.