The Wilhelmshaven bombings: A mission of valor

  • Published
  • By Maj. Richard Komurek
  • 8th Air Force Public Affairs
On Jan. 27, 1943, 91 B-17 and B-24 bombers from 8th Air Force launched from England to conduct America's first World War II strike against the Nazi fatherland.

During this historic attack, 58 bombers reached their targets and dropped 137.5 tons of munitions on the port of Wilhelmshaven to destroy strategic naval construction facilities. The bold mission was also credited with downing 22 German planes (official post-war tally- seven planes). Amazingly, despite the disadvantage of conducting a daytime bombing mission against a counter-air force of 50 to 75 fighter aircraft, only three bombers were lost to Nazi attack.

These heroic 8th Air Force Airmen serving in England were the real-life inspiration behind the classic novel and 1949 film "12 O'Clock High." Under the leadership of legendary leaders such as Col. Frank Armstrong Jr. and Maj. Gen. Ira Eaker, 8th Air Force bombers and Airmen took the fight to the German homeland with the goal of striking at the heart of the Nazi war machine with daytime bombing raids that posed a great risk to the bombers and their crew.

So what does this bold mission from nearly 70 years ago have to do with today's Airmen serving in Afghanistan and Iraq in the battle against terrorism?

At first glance, there seems to be little in common between the warfare experienced by the Airmen of World War II and the Airmen of today due to drastic differences in battlefield geography, the type of enemy targets targeted and the technology employed. However, there is a commonality in the valor and dedication of our Airmen who volunteer to serve our nation, their great skill and competency in accomplishing the mission and the Air Force values that empower them to succeed in the face of great odds.

There is also commonality in the basic aspects of life as an Air Force warrior. Just as the 8th Air Force Airmen of World War II who deployed to the front lines of war in Europe, Airmen today are forward deployed to the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, as now, our Airmen sacrifice their families and personal lives and routinely go into enemy territory risking deadly attack. And whether it is a downed aircraft or an improvised explosive device, our Airmen are injured, killed and lose comrades-in-arms just like they did in 1943.

So, as much as things have changed in regards to the threats we face and the technology employed against them, such as the use of remotely piloted aircraft to attack insurgents hidden in the remote areas of Afghanistan, many aspects of life as an Airman during wartime are timeless.

"Eighth Air Force has a proud legacy that continues to this very day," said Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, 8th Air Force Commander. "The great professionalism, dedication and valor shown by our Airmen today are the same qualities that carried our nation to victory in World War II. So although the threats we face today are somewhat different than generations past, our greatest assets and strengths continue to be our Airmen and our Air Force values."

(Historical data provided by 8th Air Force History Office)