It became apparent to the Allied leaders that the invasion of the European mainland was not possible until the German Luftwaffe could be 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. As such, a plan was devised between Britain and the United States to strike at the heart of the German War Machine - the industrial sector that kept the Luftwaffe aloft.
Targets of priority would be aircraft production facilities, development stations, and supply centers. Not only would Allied bomber crews have to contend with deadly fighters but also highly effective FlaK defenses surrounding key German areas. The bombers were helped somewhat by escort fighters - namely Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, and North American P-51 Mustangs - which now sported fuel drop tanks for increased range. They could accompany bomber formations to and from targets within Germany while applying local defense above target areas. The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) would be charged with brazen daylight raids while the British Royal Air Force (RAF) would utilize their radar expertise while continuing air raids at night. Losses were imminent but the demise 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 its all-important night-fighter wing. 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. The loss of one Allied bomber not only meant loss of a very valuable aircraft, but up to as many as 10 to 12 airmen. 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 period in February. 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 escort fighters. The Germans lost 290 fighters of their own - many of these with experienced pilots at the helm - and lost a further 90 to damage. Additionally, German fighter production was disrupted for a time (though not wholly destroyed) as anticipated. Regardless, the Allies made some 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 fate for their once invulnerable Luftwaffe had suffered one of many deathblows to come. Complete Allied air superiority was had by 1945, the final year of the war. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (17) entries in the Timeline of Big Week: The Aggressive Allied Bombing Campaign (February 20th - 25th, 1944). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.