Today marks the 67th anniversary of the first air raid on Schweinfurt during World War II, one of the most legendary air actions of the war.
Only U.S. bombers participated in the raid—British air crews limited themselves to area bombing at night, and did not take part in precision daylight attacks—and the August 17, 1943, raid on Schweinfurt instantly became one of the most-studied engagements of the entire war. It has remained so ever since.
230 bombers participated in the raid, although many of them were sent to nearby Regensburg to target one of two primary German centers for fighter production.
The air raid resulted in enormous losses for both the Americans and the Germans.
The United States lost 60 aircraft, while another 87 aircraft returned to base damaged beyond repair, an effective loss ratio of 64 per cent.
Germany lost 34% of its ball-bearing capacity in a single stroke, although it quickly restored ball-bearing production through de-centralization.
After the war, Albert Speer noted that American bombers should have returned to Schweinfurt within days and completed the job. Had they done so, Speer argued, Germany would have been on its knees within a matter of weeks, effectively prevented from producing arms or weapons of any type for the remainder of the war.
Given the heavy losses of aircraft and aircrews, U.S. decision-makers were reluctant to order a second raid on Schweinfurt. American bombers were not to return to Schweinfurt until a thorough review of the battle had been completed, a review that took four months.
The second of three major attacks on Schweinfurt—in October 1943—had little effect on the war’s outcome. By that time, Germany had already completed measures to disperse ball-bearing production.
The third and final major raid on Schweinfurt—in February 1944—was part of a successful campaign to lure Germany’s fighter force into the skies and destroy it with a new generation of long-range American fighters. Any damage inflicted upon Schweinfurt during the course of that 1944 raid (and destruction was considerable) was a secondary objective.
The photograph below shows B-17 formations over Schweinfurt on August 17, 1943.