Monday, October 15, 2012

All The Fine Young Men

Elsewhere in the blog I’ve shared some words describing the nature of AAF service in the Eighth Air Force based in England. The video clips that follow are a program broadcast by NBC in 1983. It is one of the finest descriptions of the aerial war over Europe I’ve seen.

One of the best features is the interspersing of veterans’ first person recollections throughout the program. In part 4, Bob Shoens, a pilot in the 100th Bomb Group tells of being one of the few planes in his Group to make it back home from a 6 March 1944 mission to Berlin. Several books were written about this particular mission and a blurb from one of the follows the video links at the end of this piece.

My father and his crew was scheduled for this mission but missed it due to having made a forced landing at an English coastal base on the 4th.

Part 1 of 4

Part 2 of 4

Part 3 of 4

Part 4 of 4

"Lets go Lieutenant; your crew is scheduled to fly." That is how pilot Robert Shoens was awaken on a cold March morning in 1944. Little did he know that by the days end, many of the bunks in his hut would be empty and this mission would forever be synonymous with his Crew. The date was March 6, 1944, and the Eighth Air Force would launch a full scale assault on the German capital of Berlin. "High Noon over Haseluenne" is a microcosm look at one bomb group that flew the mission and the catastrophic results that ensued. The book deals with the 100th Bomb Group, "The Bloody Hundredth" and the mission that solidified that moniker. The concentrated attacks by the Luftwaffe would destroy 69 American Bombers that day, the single highest loss for any mission by the 8th Air Force and 15 of those losses would come from the 100th Bomb Group. Lt Robert Shoens is our guide. His story, and that of many other 100th BG crewmen, puts you in the melee that followed the head-on attacks by over 100 German Me109s & FW190s. We take you inside the men and machines that had to brave one of the deadliest air battles of World War II and let them tell the story. "High Noon over Haseluenne" is filled with firsthand accounts, personal diaries, letters home, news clippings and illustrated with over 200 photos. This is real history "as it happened" on the March 3-8, 1944 missions to Berlin by the 100th Bomb Group. The book is capped off by a one hundred page historical appendices compiled by noted 8th AF researcher Paul M. Andrews ("Project Bits and Pieces").


Gus said...

You're welcome, Phil. Thought you might appreciate what this is. Over the years it has helped me understand what my father endured which was something he never could tell very well himself.

Gus said...

Dad flew 3 of the first 4 missions against Berlin they describe in this segment. They were his first several missions as a member of a newly arrived replacement crew, there to replace those lost from his Group during the previous 2-months. Bob Shoens' description of coming home is particularly poignant. More info about him can be found through a cursory Google search.

Phil said...

Seems ironic that the losses in the Berlin raid were "acceptable," though appallingly high. The debate seems to continue whether daylight bombing was a successful strategy.

Gus said...

It was ultimately a successful strategy, but only after the introduction of the long-range P-51 fighter escorts, starting in late 1943 through early 1944. The "Bomber Mafia" of the pre-WWII AAC were proven wrong that the bombers could defend themselves without escort. Concurrent with the introduction of the P-51s was the assignment of Jimmy Doolittle as the Eighth's commander about that same time. His first initiative was to take the war to the Luftwaffe....knocking them out of the sky, destroying their assembly and repair plants, and destroying as many of their fields as he could. This was largely accomplished by February 1944, just before my father arrived. The raids on Berlin depicted in the film were of minor strategic importance, but of tremendous morale importance...on both sides. By early March 1944, when the first Berlin raids took place, the Germans were keeping their defensive aircraft on the ground, so effective had the February "Big Week" attacks been. Doolittle reasoned that they would come up to defend Berlin and he was right. March 6th was one of the top 2 or 3 days of our highest loss during WWII....69 crews went down that day, nearly 700 boys lost. It was an acceptable loss as a percentage of the whole force we put up, but still a tremendous loss.

Gus said...

There's a large just post WWII photo of Cologne in the blog showing the effectiveness of daylight precision bombing. The large medieval church in the center was ordered spared, but everything else in sight was fair game--Dusseldorf & Cologne were and remain heavy industrial centers. The entire notion of precision bombing was conceived out of concern for sparing civilian populations. Gives lie to more modern notions of bloodthirsty military men, doesn't it? Also suggests to me just how remarkable these kids who were some of our parents really were