The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson
Excerpt from “Chapter 9 – Fairmont”:
On August 17, 1942, flying from newly acquired airbases in England, the Eighth USAAF launched its first bombing mission over Europe. In the year that followed, the “Mighty Eighth” was pounded by the German Luftwaffe. Bomber losses were unacceptably high, due in part to the Allied fighter’s limited range which prevented them from escorting the bomber streams into enemy territory. Soon after crossing the English Channel into continental Europe, the fighters turned back, low on fuel, and the bombers were on their own the rest of the way. Experienced German pilots, who had cut their teeth on the earlier battle for France and the Battle of Britain, chewed up the slow-moving bombers who were unable to fully protect themselves despite the ten .50 caliber machine guns on board.
Another critical weakness facing bomber command in England was the lack of sufficient range of the Eighth Air Force’s B-17s and B-24s in reaching vital targets in the Balkan region of Eastern Europe. The Wehrmacht required a nearly unlimited supply of oil and gasoline to fuel its weapons of war, and much of that oil came from the Balkan countries. Thirty percent of Hitler’s petroleum demands alone came from a complex of oil refineries in and around the Romanian city of Ploesti. The USAAF desperately needed to open a second front in the air war against the Axis powers in Europe.