Eighth Air Force News Article

planes with black smoke from bombing oil refineries
B-17 heavy bomber formations head home after a mission to Hamburg shortly before D-Day. The black smudges boiling up through the cloud cover are burning oil storage tanks. Although targets were hidden by overcast skies 70- 80% of the time, the plane leading the bomber wing was equipped with microwave radar. By comparing images on his radar scope to navigational maps, the radar operator located the target area and dropped the first bombs and marker flares to show the planes behind where to release their bombs.

The Eight Air Force Historical Society just published an article of mine in the September 2023 issue of Eighth Air Force News. While all members of the society receive the print version of the publication, current and previous issues may be viewed at https://www.8thafhs.org/wp…/uploads/2023/08/2023-9RD.pdf

My article, “A Rookie’s First Combat Mission: Leading the Veterans,” starts on page 12. It tells how and why, just a few months before D-Day, one green rookie navigator, hurriedly trained to operate a top-secret new airborne radar and having never yet flown a single combat mission, was sent in his radar-equipped B-17 to an Eighth Air Force Heavy Bomber base in England.

This rookie’s task was to lead hundreds of veteran crews in their bombers to a target in Berlin hidden by persistent overcast, there to drop the first bombs and marker flares to show all the veterans in the planes behind where to drop their bombs. A recipe for resentment if there ever was one!

He and a handful of similarly trained radar navigators − “Mickeys,” as they were called − paved the way for the D-Day invasion by denying the enemy the comfort of overcast weather. They continued to lead all subsequent bombing missions, finding targets usually obscured to the Norden bombsights by cloud cover and dropping the first bombs and marker flares for the bombers behind. This new bombing protocol persisted until the end of the war in Europe.

Many articles published in Eighth Air Force News are fascinating and eye-opening. I recommend the publication to anyone interested in the WWII air wars.