By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
Absorbing multiple hits from enemy Luftwaffe planes, maneuvering to avoid dangerous Nazi ground weapons and attacking German targets with .50-cal guns, hundreds of United States Army Air Force’s (USAAF) B-17 Flying Fortress bombers launched a massive coordinated assault just prior to the D-DAY Invasion.
The perils, sacrifices and victories of these attacks are lodged in the collective psyche of historians, veterans and patriotic Americans as the United States commemorates the 73rd Anniversary of the long-sought-after Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), May 8, 1945.
The February 1944 mission, called Operation Argument, was an aggressive Allied bombing attack on German aircraft assembly facilities and factories just months before the D-Day invasion in June, 1944, Air Force historians told Warrior Maven.
The operation, also called the “Big Week,” seized occasion to hit Nazi targets in Poland, Austria and Germany.
“By the time Big Week ended on the 25th, approximately 3,800 sorties by B–17 Flying Fortresses and B–24 Liberators had dropped almost 10,000 tons of munitions, roughly the tonnage dropped by Eighth Air Force during the previous year,” U.S. Air Force Historical Support Division Dr. Robert Oliver told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Given this scenario, Oliver explained that the “Big Week” amounted to somewhat of an early, unofficial start to the air portions of the Normandy invasion. By the time of the Normandy invasion, the USAAF and British Royal Air Force (RAF) had already established air superiority, he writes.
“The raids (from the “Big Week”) caused German industry to disperse, introducing inefficiency and rendering the assembly chain vulnerable to disruptions in transportation,” Oliver explained.
More than 10,000 Allied aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, fortified by the successes of the previous “Big Week” attack.
“USAAF A–20s, B–17s, and B–24s attacked beach defenses and launched raids on chokepoints behind the landing zones, as well as dropping warning leaflets for the benefit of the French population,” Oliver writes.
Known for an ability to bring air crews home alive despite catastrophic battlefield damage, B-17s were cherished by U.S. and British forces as effective, durable weapons of attack. At the same time, the bombers were supported by Allied P-47 and P-51 fighter aircraft which attacked Nazi guns, and troop formations while helping Allied ground troops, Oliver explained.
Air Force historian Billy Harris also cites the Allied air campaign’s activities during the “Big Week” as something which became a decisive factor in the successful D-Day invasion. Harris, a U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa historian, wrote that Allies hit German airfields within 350 miles of the beachhead, forcing the Germans to withdraw fighters to protect Germany itself.
“The Allies disrupted aircraft production,” said Harris in an Air Force written statement. “More importantly, they inflicted severe losses on the Luftwaffe in air-to-air combat as it tried to defend the factories.”
A now historic USAAF C-47, named “That All, Brother” as a message to Hitler, was the transport plane that led the D-Day invasion, according to a report several years ago by Foxtrot Alpha.
“Leading a formation of more than 800 aircraft that dropped 13,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines, it was part of one of the biggest aircraft armadas ever,” the report states.