The United States Army Air Corps had developed in the interwar years a doctrine that called for the use of heavily armed bombers that could defeat any defensive force that an enemy could present. That doctrine translated into the development of heavy bombers such as the B-17 that was heavily armed and carried as many as 11 machine guns to defend itself. The Americans also believed that the way to win a war was “precision bombing” that would destroy the German ability to fight.
Eighth Air Force became the first operational US bomber force in Europe. On August 17th 1942 the Eighth Air Force bombed the Rouen-Sotteville railroad yards in France. By the end of the year they had carried out 27 missions in France, The targets in France were within range of American fighters, so the bombers were able to reach the targets while being protected by escorts. The British where however impatient and believed that American planes could be put to better use joining them on nighttime raids, something that the US opposed. Churchill even wrote “I note that the Americans have not yet succeeded in dropping a single bomb on Germany.”
During the Casablanca conference the commander of the US Army Air Corp General Hap Arnold asked the commander of the Eighth Maj. Gen. Ira C. Eaker to come to Casablanca before Churchill convinced Roosevelt to give up on daylight bombing. He met Churchill and explained that valuable time would be lost if the Eighth had to train for night bombing and suppositions how much better it would be if the US and Great Britain bombed Germany around the clock. One of the decisions of the Casablanca was the around the clock bombing of Germany.
On January 27th three days after the end of the Casablanca Conference the US Eighth Air Force launched its first daylight raid on Germany. The target was the U-Boat yards at Wilhelmshaven . The first raid surprised the Germans and the American lost only three places. However, as the attacks continued losses mounted. The German air force learned the weakness of the B-17 - a frontal attack . On June 13, 1943, 26 of the 102 bombers that reached its target Bremen were shot down. Each plane carried a crew of 10.
German Air production kept on rising during this period thus the fear was that the German would produce ever more planes to defend their skies. The Americans decided they would strike deep into Germany and attack a crucial ball bearing factory as well as a Messershmidt plant both deep in Bavaria. The plan called for both attacks to be stages minutes apart not giving the Germans a chance to defend themselves. The attack took place on August 17, 1943. Both groups were delayed due to weather and the result was a disaster. 60 bomber were shot down and another 87 were damaged.
On October 14, 1943 a day that would become known as Black Thursday another raid was scheduled against the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt. 291 bombers were dispatched, 257 were able to penetrate German air space, of those 229 reached their target and released their bombs. Sixty planes were shot down, 21 percent of the attackers, an additional 17 crash landed. The cost of unescorted bombing missions was just too high.
On October 22nd daylight bombing of Germany was suspended . In February 1944 bombing was resumed with the arrival of large number of P51D’s . They had operational ranges of 1,300 miles could fly at 437MPH and had 6 .50 caliber guns. The German were surprised to find that there attacking planes were suddenly being attacked. The American planes were superior and soon defeated the Luftwaffe over the skies of Germany.
The Air Corps believed until the end of the war that its bombing was decisive in defeating Germany. They always believed that their bombs were accurately destroying German factories. Unfortunately precision bombs were never really precision and only 20% of the bombs dropped actually fell within 1,000 feet of its target. Of course many German industrial resources were destroyed - the sheer quantity of bombs dropped assured that. Ironically it was the fighters that escorted the bombers that ultimately had the greatest impact. The German had no choice but to try to engage them, but when they did the Americans gained control of the skies.