- Signed by six Bloody 100th Aircrew -
August 16, 1943, loomed large at Thorpe Abbotts. The next day would mark the anniversary of the Eighth Air Force’s first mission over occupied territory. The crews were not at all surprised when late in the evening they were put on alert for the next day’s mission. Puzzling was the reason for packing canteen, cutlery, razor and toilet articles, underclothing and a blanket.
All these questions were answered early in the morning of August 17, 1943. The screen was pulled away from the wall. The men sat staring at the markers pinned to the map. Instead of returning to England, their path took them across southern Germany, over the Alps, through the Brenner pass, to the coast of Italy, across the Mediterranean, to a desert airfield in North Africa. The target was the Messerschmitt 109 factory at Regensberg. Of course, the crews had a major interest in striking a target belonging to their aerial adversaries. It was to be a maximum effort!
The “Bloody Hundredth” had the unenviable position of being assigned the coffin corner in the formation. Low and last with a load of 250 lb. incendiary bombs at an altitude of 17,000 ft. Fighter opposition was expected to be heavy.
Weather played havoc with the crews that morning. With a scheduled departure at dawn crews could not be delayed more than 90 minutes if they were to make Africa during daylight. Finally at 9:35GMT the division formed over Splasher Six, a well-known radio locator beacon, and left for Germany.
Crossing the coastline only one group of P-47 escorts arrived. The formation was now stretched out for 15 miles, too far apart for the liking of the commander, Colonel Curtiss LeMay.
“It wasn’t long before we realized we were in for a bad time,” remarks Owen Roane of the B-17 ‘Laiden Maiden’. Fortresses from the group ahead were going down in flames. The combat lasted for two hours. Laiden Maiden and her crew had survived an estimated 200 fighter attacks.
Not so fortunate was Robert Wolff in ‘Wolfpack’. A Bf-109 pass from 2-o’clock had clobbered the vertical stabilizer making the B-17 extremely difficult to control. Engine power had to be increased to stay in formation, using up precious fuel.
At 11:54hrs the 14 remaining B-17′s of the 100th Bomb Group turned on the bomb run. The target was already clouded in smoke from the bombs dropped from the preceding B-17′s. Navigation had been good to the target and the target was in perfect visibility. Concentration had in fact been excellent and LeMay cabled London from Africa: “Objective believed totally destroyed.” Unknown to Allied intelligence, the raid destroyed most of the fuselage jigs for a secret jet fighter: the Me-262.
The rest of the trip was markedly anti-climactic. A few more fighters and a lone flak burst over Brenner Pass. Col. LeMay circled the division over Lake Garda long enough to allow cripples a chance to join the formation.
With low fuel lights showing, the B-17′s landed in Africa at 18:15hrs. Sixty B-17′s were lost on this epic battle which served as the model for the filming of the aviation classic, “Twelve O’Clock High”. The claims of the gunners were an incredible 288 enemy aircraft destroyed—nearly the entire force of the attacking aircraft. This was later reduced to 148 with another 100 damaged.
The second release from Robert Bailey’s Western Front series graphically portrays this epic battle as four B-17′s fly over the Alps en route to Africa. Shown is Henry Hennington’s B-17 ‘Horny’, Owen Roane’s B-17 ‘Laiden Maiden’, Robert Wolff’s B-17 ‘Wolfpack’, and the lower B-17 flown by John Brady ‘M’lle Zig Zig’.
SCALING THE ALPS stands as a testament to these brave bomber crews of the 100th Bomb Group who continued to overcome great adversity in the air war over Europe. May we never forget their common cause and dedication to duty.
- Bob Wolff
- Owen 'Cowboy' Roane
- Curtis Campbell
- Charles Stewart
- Ray Morton
- Max Russ
Overall Print Size:
27" x 32"
400 Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Prints
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