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"Big Week" Timeline

The Allies took one week in February of 1944 to launch thousands of bombers against the industrial backbone of the German War Machine.

Authored By Staff Writer

It became apparent to Allied leaders that the invasion of the European mainland was not to be until the German Luftwaffe was held in check. The Luftwaffe was at strength and as experienced as ever and any such invasion plan would surely be compromised without complete air superiority on the part of the Allies. As such, a plan was devised between Britain and the United States to strike at the heart of the German War Machine - the industrial might that kept the Luftwaffe aloft.


Targets would be aircraft production facilities, development stations and supply centers. Not only would Allied bomber crews have to contend with deadly fighters but also the efficient flak defenses surrounding key German areas. The bombers were helped somewhat in that their escort fighters - P-38s, P-47s and P-51s - now sported drop tanks for increased range and could follow the bomber formations to and from targets within Germany - applying defense on the spot. The American Army Air Force would be charged with brazen daylight raids while the British Royal Air Force would utilize their radar expertise and continue the attack in the dark of night. Losses were imminent but the death of the Luftwaffe was an important matter to ensure complete victory in Europe.


Weather delayed the initial operation for a time but on the night of February 19th, RAF bombers went airborne in an 823-strong formation to attack a target in Leipzig. 78 of these attackers were lost to the German defense that still included the all-important night-fighter arm. The Americans followed suit with a 1,008-strong showing, comprised of B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators, against multiple target areas across Germany.


The German defense lived up to its billing and fought a relentless counter-campaign in return. One has to keep in mind that a typical bomber crew was made up of eight to ten airmen as opposed to a fighter which was crewed by a single individual. So for ever Allied bomber lost to a German fighter, ten souls to one could be lost with it. This held a devastating morale effect to squadrons and families and proved a tremendous logistical loss elsewhere.


Attacks of this grand magnitude continued for the week, resulting in the name of "The Big Week" being applied to the time February frame. At the end of it all, the Allied assault netted some 3,300 sorties resulting in the loss of 226 bombers as well as 28 fighters. The Germans lost 290 fighters of their own - many of these with their experienced pilots as well - and lost a further 90 to damage. Additionally, German fighter production was disrupted for a time though not wholly destroyed.


Regardless, the Allies still made headway in their liberation of Europe for their numbers and bravado were growing with each passing success. The German Luftwaffe, on the other hand, was staring into the face of their own demise for their invulnerable Luftwaffe was essentially the first deathblow that would reverberate into 1945 - the final year of the war in which the Allies would gain complete air superiority.

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Total "Big Week" Events: 17

1943
Tuesday
November 30th

The British and Americans devise Operation Argument to counter the Luftwaffe threat through a round-the-clock bombing offensive; bad weather postpones any action.

1944
Saturday
January 1st

A message to subordinates by US Army Air Force commanding general General H.H. Hap Arnold calls for the destruction of the German Luftwaffe before Allied landings can begin.

1944
Monday
February 14th

The offensive is detailed further, taking the latest developments into account.

1944
Monday
February 14th

American bombers strike the production facilities at Schweinfurt.

1944
Saturday
February 19th

Better weather finally arrives allowing the RAF to send up its first 823-strong heavy bomber force. The target is Leipzig and 78 bombers are lost to the German defense.

1944
Sunday
February 20th

American bombers and fighters take to the skies in force in support of the new bombing campaign. They number over 1,000 bombers and 660 fighters in escort. Twelve industrial target locations across Germany are hit. 21 American aircraft are lost.

1944
Sunday
February 20th

Some 598 RAF bombers are sent airborne.

1944
Monday
February 21st

The Americans respond with another wave of 861 bombers with escorts. The target is the Luftwaffe production center in Brunswick.

1944
Tuesday
February 22nd

Bad weather forces many-an-inflight accident for US bomber groups. Some 41 aircraft are lost. Nijmegen is accidentally bombed, causing over 200 civilian deaths.

1944
Tuesday
February 22nd

American bomber groups begin medium bombing operations from bases within Italy.

1944
Wednesday
February 23rd

Bad weather postpones any further bombing actions for the time being. The Allies take this time to recoup and repair.

1944
Thursday
February 24th

With weather clearing, operations of Big Week continue. 266 American bombers strike Schweinfurt.

1944
Thursday
February 24th

Over 900 American bombers are sent airborne to bomb aircraft-producing factories including Schweinfurt.

1944
Thursday
February 24th

733 RAF bombers strike at Schweinfurt in a night time raid. 33 aircraft are lost.

1944
Friday
February 25th

The final American air raid of Big Week is launched with 900 bombers against Regensburg, Augsburg and Forth.

1944
Friday
February 25th

RAF bombers hit Augsburg with 594 aircraft in a night time raid.

1944
Friday
February 25th

By the end of it all, 3,300 Allied sorties are launched in the offensive and 226 bombers are lost. 290 German fighters are destroyed and another further 90 are damaged.
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