Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign: The U.S. Eighth 8th Air Force--The Buildup (1942)

8th Air Force
Figure 1.--This press photo was captioned, "English boys learn Yank Easter art". The text read, "Sgt. George A. Crist, of San Diego, Calif,. first cook in the U.S. 8th Air Force 96th Bombardment Group Mess, is shown teaching some of his little English friends the art of painting Easter eggs at a nursery near a nomber bsase, The eggs, arecious commodity in England, were donated by the men at the base for the children's Easter party. The old custom of hunting for the hidden eggs made a hit with the children, who enjoyed the fun of finding them." The photograph was taken April 11, 1945. It shows better than a long essay the bond forged between Americans and Britons during the War.

Pearl Harbor brought America into the War. Despite the Japanese attack, priority from the on set was gicen to the European theater. America began building in facilities in early 1942. American and British Chiefs of Staff on January 13, 1942 order the movement of US air forces to the United Kingdom to support the existing British air campaign against Germany. The first American airmen (1,400 men) sail for Northern Ireland on January 18. Major General Ira Eaker is appointed Commanding General, Bomber Command, US Army Forces in British Isles (USAFBI) and on January 31, 1942 ordered to the United Kingdom. The War Department officially states on April 7, 1942 that the 8th Air Force will be established in the UK. Lieutenant General Henry "Hap" Arnold on April 12 completes air plans for Operation BOLERO, the buildup of US armed forces in the UK for an attack on Europe. The advanced echelon of HQ 8th Air Force and bomber, interceptor and base commands, along with 15th Bombardment Squadron (Light), 2nd Air Depot Group, and a weather detachment totalling about 1,800 men, on April 27 sailed from Boston, Massachusetts for the UK. The 8th Air Force was to become the largest air unit ever committed to battle. It would play a fundamental role in taking the war to Hitler's 1,000 year Reich.

Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)

Pearl Harbor brought America into the War. It was not the war that American planners had anticipated. The U.S. Navy had joined the Royal Navy in an undeclared war in the North Atlantic against German U-boats by late 1941. Many thought that America was heading for war with Germany. Despite the Japanese attack, priority from the on set was given to the European theater. The American public was clamoring for action against Japan. Here Hitler resolved the difficulty for American wr planners. He declared war on the United States and joined his Jappanese Axis ally.

American Commitment to Air Power

The United States more than any other country determined to use air power to fight the war. And unlike any other country, America had the industrial capacity to do this. An incredible 25 percent of American war spending was to be directed at air power. The largest element of the American Army Air Corps was to be the 8th Air Force which would be used to join the British in a strategic bombing campaign against Germany. The 8th Air Force was to become the largest air unit ever committed to battle. It would play a fundamental role in taking the war to Hitler's 1,000 year Reich. It would be some time, however, before this new force could be built up in Britain.

American Air War Plan

Army Air Corps planners believed that the War could be won through strategic bombing. The B-17 was designed and built in small quantities before the War. It was later suplemented by the B-24. So America from the onset of entering the War had two strategic bombers which could be used. Strategic bombing was not attempted in any meaningful way during World War I. So the strategic bombing campaigns in World War II were experimental. The American planners believed that the heabilly armored B-17s and B-24s had the capability to fight through German fighter defenses during the day and using the Norden bombsights accurately deliver bomb loads on German industry supporting the War. British air planners told the Americans that the Luftwaffe defense were too formidable, but these warmings were dismissed. The initial American bombing plan failed for several reasons. One, the British warming proved correct. The Luftwaffe fighters wreaked terrible damage on bombing runs without fighter esorts. And the Luftwaffe fighers were supplemented with deadly anti-aircraft artlillery. Two, the weather in northern Europe meant that targets were often covered with clouds, making the Norden bombsight useless. Radar bomb sites were developed, but proved widely inaccurate. Third, targeting was faulty. The initial targets were German industrial plants. This proved a daunting undertaking and incurred terrible losses. Later in the War the Allies targeted the petroleum industry which did eventually have a substantial impact on both the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht. [Miller]

Initial Undertaking

The United States had already begun to build a sizeable air force. But at the time of Peal Harbor it had just begun. The 8th Air Force at the time of Pearl Harbor did not exist. There were thus two initial problems. First to move existing units 3,500 miles accross the Atlantic Ocean. Second training large numbers of new airmen needed to build up the force.

Planning

Within in weeks of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the ground work for the 8th Air Force was being laid. American and British Chiefs of Staff ordered the movement of US air forces to the United Kingdom to support the existing British air campaign against Germany (January 13, 1942). The first American airmen (1,400 men) sail for Northern Ireland on January 18.

Ira Eaker

Major General Ira Eaker is appointed Commanding General, Bomber Command, US Army Forces in British Isles (USAFBI) and on January 31, 1942 ordered to the United Kingdom. He was so anxious to get to Britain to begin his work that he took a commercial plane to Portugal with his aides. They were almost shot down over the Bayof Biscay by Luftwaffe patrols as he took the hop to London. Eaker and Harris took an immediate liking to each other. Harris even put him up in his home while he was getting settled.

Creation

The War Department officially state that the 8th Air Force will be established in the United Kingdom (April 7, 1942).

Operation Bolero

Lieutenant General Henry "Hap" Arnold completed air plans for Operation BOLERO, the buildup of US armed forces in the UK for an attack on Europe (April 12, 1942). It was an enormous undertaking. Sites had to be selected for air fields and facilities built. Ther would eventually be 60 bases in England. The planes had to be brought in accross the North Atlantic in hops from Labador, Greenland, and Iceland, often through horendous weather conditions. Much equipment had to be shipped by boats through U-boat-infested waters. Many of the air crews that arrived had only minimal training so a major training effort had to be established.

Advanced Echelon

The advanced echelon of HQ 8th Air Force and bomber, interceptor and base commands, along with 15th Bombardment Squadron (Light), 2nd Air Depot Group, and a weather detachment totalling about 1, 800 men, on April 27 sailed from Boston, Massachusetts for the UK.

Build-up

The American build-up was fully underway by the Summer of 1942. American airmen and planes were arriving in England in large numbers.

Planes

The mainstay of the American strategic bombing campaign was the B-17 Flying Fotress. The B-24 Liberator was also used. Both had the range to reach Germany, but they proved to be vulnerable without fighter protection. Initially the P-49 Thunderbolt was used for escorts. The P-38 Lightings were also used. They escorded the bombers on raids into occupied France, Belgium, and the Netherlands which the 8th Air Force began raiding in late-1942 to gain edxpeience for tghe upcoming raids into the Reich in 1943. The Luftwaffe did not heavily defend targets in the occupied countries and began falling back to prepare the cfefence of tghec Reich. Neither of these fighters, however, had the range to escort the bombers into the Reich.

Ordinance

The mainstay of the 8th Air Force was the 500-lb bomb. Other bombs were used, especially incenderaries. Incendaries may have been more effective in many cases, but Air Force commanders seemed to have preferred the big bang approach.

Culture Shock

The Americans and British had a profound cultural experience. Most of the American airmen who arrived n Britain had never been overseas before. Most had not even traveled much in America. The British people for the most part were meeting Americans for the first time. Few Americans had been stantioned in Britain during World War I. Most went to France. The British had been fighting the Germans nearly 3 years by the time the Americans arrived in numbers. They had endured the Blitz and defeat after defeat. Many had lost love ones. Food and clothing were strictly rationed. Into dran but determimed Britain flowed hundreds of thousand young men who were optimistic if not cocky, fully supplied, and well paid. The American attitude toward the War showed in the nose art and names of their planes. They were often flasmboyant if not risqe, generating complaints from visting Congressmem. Nothing like it ever appeared on British planes. For the most the Americans were a collic for embattled Britains. The arrival of the Americans meant that Britain was saved although victory would still require an enormous effort. The American service men and British public for the most part got on well, although not always their military commanders. There was, however, the inevitable problems. The British took delighted in teeasing the Americans. The Americand brought everything with them. A story ran in the Times that the Americans had even brought "dust bins" with them through U-boat infested waters. The author was amused to report they were called trash cans. Some the famous comment gained credence that the Americans were "over-paid, over sexed, and over here". There wwere immediate disagreements over strategy. Vice Marshal Slessor famously remarked, War without allies is bad enoug--with allies is hell."

British Children and the 8th Air Force

American airfields were located all over Britain. Many British children literatlly had a fighter or bomber base in their back yards. English children before 1942 knew little about Americans. They had seen American films. Cowboy anf gangster films were special favorites. But few had ever met an An American. This changed after Pearl Harbor when America entered the War and several million American servicemen descended on Britain. This friendlu invasion was the greatest invasion of Britain since William the Conqueror in 1066 and had profound social consequences. There was a lot of interaction between the Servicemen and British civilians. Many GIs were billited in English homes. The American servicemen showed a special affection toward the English children and best of all they had candy and chewing gum. This was a great treat as sugar was severely rationed in Britain during the War. "Any gum, chum?" became a popular refrain. There was security around all Allied military baces and adults without passes could not enter. Somehow the English children were all over the American bases. Many children knew GIs by name and were often even allowed to get inside the planes.

Sources

Miller, Donald. Masters of thec Air






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Created: 2:17 AM 6/20/2005
Last updated: 3:43 AM 3/5/2010