Crippling the German war machine from above was always a priority for the Allies. Two of the primary, agreed-upon, targets became the ball-bearing production facilities at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt factory at Regensburg. Unfortunately for the Allies, their escort fighter protection was still limited in range, unable to proceed with the bomber formations deep into German-held territories. Comparatively, the Germans held an advantage fighting over home soil, particularly if notified of incoming bomber formations and a calculated plan enacted in response.
The initial strikes against Schweinfurt and Regensburg were launched on August 17th, 1943. However, poor weather ensured the operation was faulty from the start, forcing the two bomber groups - 4th BG and 1st BG - to take off at different times. This allowed the enemy to be alerted from the first bomber way and prepare the defenses for the inbound second wave. Indeed, the 1st Bomber Group group took off a full 3.5 hours after the 4th Bomber Group.
As expected, the 4th Bomber group was pounced upon by Luftwaffe forces as soon as the Allied fighter escort had left the group. The end result was 24 lost aircraft after the attack on Regensburg. As this group was required to land at bases in North Africa, preserving daylight was essential to crew survival - the battered formation eventually made their way to safety.
Things proved just as dreadful for the 1st Bomber Group as they moved in to attack the Schweinfurt region against a prepared and alerted German foe. As the first bomber group had departed, Luftwaffe fighters had landed to refuel and rearm while other air elements were relocated into the region from other nearby German bases. Some 250 German fighters were committed to the ensuing defense.
While Schweinfurt was successfully bombed, the Allied bombers of the 1st Bomber Group made the long treacherous journey back to their bases in the United Kingdom. However, the dogged German defense cost the operation another 36 bombers and aircrew.The missions themselves proved somewhat successful in that two of the five major ball-bearing facilities were hit - though these were only out of commission for a short three weeks.
Satisfied with the results, subsequent Allied air raids (including British night-time sorties) were launched though Germany was wise enough to disperse its production facilities by this time. As Allied losses eventually mounted, these long-distance bombing campaigns were temporarily put on hold until February of 1944 in what would become known as "Big Week".
Schweinfurt would remain a key target for the Allies for the duration of the war with subsequent attacks launched into 1945. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (18) entries in the Timeline of the Schweinfurt Raid (October 14th, 1943). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.