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What you weren't told about the 8th Air Force

old man emu

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In conjunction with RAF Bomber Command, the 8th Army Air Force (AAF) that the Americans operated from England in WWII, was an essential factor in the liberation of Occupied Western Europe and the ultimate defeat of the Third Reich. At the time their exploits were told in newspapers and magazines from Ness Point, also known as Lowestoft Ness, Suffolk, Britain's most easterly point, to Cape Alava, Washington, continental USA's most westerly point.


What wasn't told at the time, and not for a long time afterwards were the devastating incidents and dangers that killed AAF members, both airmen and ground staff, and civilians living in that "green and pleasant Land".


Blood and Fears, by Kevin Wilson (ISBN 978-1-474-60162-7) describes life and death in the 8th AAF from its formation and first operations in February 1944 to the end of the War, and what happened to the airmen whose minds were overturned by the sights their eyes had seen and their ears had heard. Wilson, a Yorkshireman, also includes snippets from interviews he conducted with  English people who children in those times.


The impression that one gets from this work of Wilson is that firstly bomber operations were terrifying for the airmen, and, secondly, for all the hype about high level, precision bombing, successful gaining of planned outcomes of individual raids was more through good luck than skill and technological advantage. The stories make you wonder if a serviceman might have a better chance of survival as a member of an infantry platoon than as a crew member on a B-17 or Liberator. Playing Russian Roulette behind the Nissan hut seems to give better odds of survival for an airman that climbing into a bomber, whether the flight be a training one or an operation over enemy-held country.


If horrific mental pictures linger in your mind to come forth during sleep, don't read this book. Wilson doesn't embellish his anecdotes. The Truth is horrid enough. We have all seen a firework bunger explode in the air, flinging shreds of paper all about. Now imagine that the bunger is a large bomber with up to ten souls on board. One second it is a solid weapon of war, the next it is an expanding cloud of smoke and metal. The true horror comes from the stories of seeing the deaths of those close to you from cannon shell, fire, failed parachute or hypothermia in the waters of the Channel.


Did you hear of the very many deaths of people on the ground in England caused by crashes of heavily ladened bombers which suffered EFTO, or mid-air collisions while the hundreds of bombers were forming up from airfields dotted around England like cow pats in a holding paddock? Hours later, after the bombers had headed off to the East, the danger returned in the form of battle-damaged aircraft struggling to reach to home base piloted by wounded pilots or unqualified crewmen trying to do their best. Ground crews and the multitude of support staff on an airfield, and the English living under flight paths came under threat from those planes that could not make a conventional landing. We must not forget the dangers of an ladened bomber returning to base before even crossing into enemy territory due to mechanical failure. And we must have sympathy for those poor souls amongst the aircrew for whom the horrors were too much and their minds broke.


The Memphis Belle was a lucky one. There were others which completed their tours without loss of crew, but these were indeed the exceptions to the rule.






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In the Battle of Britain "new,"  pilots had a 6 SIX  minute Life Span ! ?. ( over London ).

Those that survived that initiation, had a 12 minute life for the next one, and it was relentless for a couple of months .

I read somewhere " people who joined at the beginning of the conflict " seldom survived the whole war.


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1 hour ago, old man emu said:

The stories make you wonder if a serviceman might have a better chance of survival as a member of an infantry platoon than as a crew member on a B-17 or Liberator.

I think I'd take my chances in the Infantry. As an analogy, being in a bomber crew would be akin to the infantry being forced to march through a minefield every day.

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