During 1943 the USAAF’s campaign of precision daylight bombing raids appeared to be a costly failure. October’s ‘Black Week’ saw the USAAF lose 173 bombers and 1,499 men during a series of unescorted raids deep into German territory, an unsustainably high level of losses of 14.3%. However during 1944 the situation was dramatically reversed, with the appearance of long range escort fighters turning the tide. Operation Argument was the first major test of the escort fighters, supporting a week long offensive against the German aircraft industry.
We start with a look at the development of American air strategy, which as in Britain was dominated by advocates of the strategic bomber, who believed that they would be able to knock Germany out of the war just using heavy bombers. This is followed by a brief timeline largely focusing on the 8th Air Force’s war. We then move onto to chapters looking at the two sides as they were by the time of Operation Argument, where both were fighting a war very different to the one they had expected. Dildy briefly traces how the USAAF slowly accepted the need for escort fighters, and how the Luftwaffe turned from its original role of providing tactical support for the army to increasingly focus on the air defence of Germany.
After a brief look at the campaign objectives we move onto detailed accounts of each day’s operations, seen from both sides, so with accounts from the point of view of the bombers, the escort fighters and the Jagdwaffe. These detailed accounts quickly reveal that these air battles were hard fought affairs – the Luftwaffe was still a dangerous force at this date, and any bomber unit that got separated from its escorts could soon find itself in serious trouble. However once the escort fighters arrived the situation would quickly be reversed, and the Germans almost always suffered heavy losses in those clashes.
We finish with a look at the impact of this week of heavy operations. The bombing itself caused heavy damage to its targets and probably cost the Germans the production of around 2,000 fighters. In terms of aircraft lost during the week the Germans lost around 282-294 fighters and about 150 crew killed. Allied losses were heavier, with the Americans losing 226 bombers and 31 fighters and the British 157 bombers, and with the heavy bombers carrying large crews the number of Allied airmen lost will have been much higher than the German losses.
However at this point although the Germans were able to replace their aircraft, they were no longer able to replace their losses – indeed several training units had to be committed to the battle during ‘Big Week’, further weakening the already poor training system. More significant was that the escorted bombers of the 8th Air Force suffered a 4.1% loss rate, massively down from the losses in ‘Black Week’, while the unescorted raids of the 15th Air Force suffered 16.2% losses, proving that the long range fighter escort was the key to a successful bombing campaign. Although the Luftwaffe was still able to mount sizable fighter operations right to the end of 1944, from Argument they were fighting a loosing battle, to the point where eventually even RAF Bomber Command returned to daylight bombing.
Aftermath and Assessment
Author: Douglas C. Dildy