The aim of the American-led mission was a strategic bombing raid on ball bearing factories in order to reduce production of these vital parts for all manner of war machines.
This was the second mission attacking the factories at Schweinfurt. American wartime intelligence claimed the first Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission in August had reduced bearing production by 34% but had suffered heavy losses. A planned follow-up raid had to be postponed to rebuild American forces.
As the squadrons rebuilt, plans for the return mission were modified based on the lessons learned. Planners added additional fighter escorts to cover the outward and return legs of the operations, and sent the entire force against Schweinfurt alone, instead of splitting the force. Despite these tactical modifications, a series of minor mishaps combined with the ever-increasing efficiency of the German anti-aircraft efforts proved to be devastating.
|Second Schweinfurt raid|
(Eighth Air Force Mission 115)
|Part of Operation Pointblank|
|Eighth Air Force||Luftwaffe|
|1st Air Division: 91st, 92nd, 303rd, 305th, 306th, 351st, 379th, 381st and 384th BGs;|
3rd Air Division: 94th, 95th, 96th, 100th, 385th,388th, and 390th BGs.
|JGs 1, 3, 11, 25, 26, 27, 54|
291 B-17 Flying Fortresses60 B-24 Liberators (diverted)
|Casualties and losses|
77 B-17s lost
~590 KIA, 65 POWs
|35-38 Messerschmitt Bf 109s & Focke Wulf Fw 190lost|
Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding RAF Bomber Command questioned the intelligence that claimed ball bearings to be the critical node in the German war economy. Harris refused to cooperate with the Americans, believing ball bearing targets to be a false "panacea". Post-war analysis has shown Harris' objections to be correct. The Germans had built up enormous reserves of ball bearings and were receiving supplies from all over Europe, particularly Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. The operation against these industries would, even if successful, have achieved little. By 1945 the Germans had assembled more reserves than ever before.
After the German ball bearing "bottleneck" had been identified in 1942 and ball bearings had been named the second-most-vital Pointblank industry for the Combined Bomber Offensive in March 1943, Schweinfurt's ball bearing plants were selected for a second air raid after being bombed during the August Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission.
Each of the three bomber wings was to be escorted by fighters from a single group with multiple squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts. The fighters were inexplicably not employing drop tanks which limited their escort range. One fighter outfit was sidetracked to escort a squadron of 29 B-24s that switched to a diversion mission to Emden because of the bad weather forecast. Some 229 of 291 B-17s hit the city area and ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany in two groups. The first group bombed at 1439-1445 hours, the second group at 1451-1457 hours. They claimed 186-27-89 Luftwaffe aircraft. 60 B-17s were lost, two damaged beyond repair and 13 damaged; casualties amounted to five KIA, 40 WIA and 594 MIA.
In addition, the bomber formations were spread out and vulnerable because of bad weather. The Luftwaffe military intelligence officers had suspected a deep penetration air raid because of the substantial raids. The Luftwaffe's Jagdgeschwader 3 Udet fighter wing intercepted the bombers as they crossed the coast but P-47s succeeded in shooting down seven Bf 109s while losing just one P-47. Over the Netherlands elements of two more "named" Luftwaffe fighter wings, JG 1 Oesau and JG 26 Schlageter made repeated attacks. The 305th Bomb Group lost 13 of its 16 B-17s in minutes. The B-17s were attacked after bombing by fighters that had refueled and rearmed (JG 11 downed 18 B-17s).
A total of 13 bombers were shot down by German fighters and flak and 12 bombers were damaged so badly that they crashed upon return or had to be scrapped. Another 121 bombers returned with moderate damage. Of 2,900 crewmen, about 254 men did not return (65 survived as prisoners-of-war), while five killed-in-action and 43 wounded were in the damaged aircraft that returned (594 were listed as missing-in-action). Among the most seriously affected American units was the 306th Bomb Group. It lost 100 men, 35 died on the mission or of wounds and 65 were captured. The 305th Bomb Group lost 130 men (87%), with 36 killed. The defensive efforts of both JG 1 and JG 11 during the "Black Thursday" raid are said to have included substantial use of the BR 21 unguided stand-off rockets against the USAAF combat boxes, as both Luftwaffe fighter wings had started use of the ordnance some six months earlier.
As a contrast to the strategy of using heavy bombers against a particular wartime resource, the Oil Campaign of World War II was essentially started by the RAF Bomber Command as early as August 1941, two months after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, and six months before the United States entered the war. It went forward relentlessly from that time with the USAAF joining in on the efforts by late June 1943 during daylight. The Oil Campaign had its priority diminished from time to time with important events, such as the lead-up to Operation Overlord, which by June 1944 demanded heavy bomber support for a time, but soon thereafter the relentless attacks by day and night resumed, starving the entire German Wehrmacht military of fuel and lubricants from the autumn of 1944 onwards.