The history of the Eighth Air Force began in January, 1942 in the United States, and Major General Carl Spaatz assumed command. In May, 1942, the first division of the Eighth Air Force Strategic Bombing Command arrived at England to establish the forwarding bases that would be necessary if the USAAF expected to bomb key strategic complexes. The Eighth Air Force command was organized into three different components that contained their own subdivisions: the 8th Bomber Command, the 8th Fighter Command, and the 8th Air Support Command. The organization and combination of these three commands were essential to the success of the Eighth Air Force’s campaign. The Eighth Air Force specialized in daylight precision bombing, and they worked with the RAF (Royal Air Force), which specialized in night-time precision bombing. The idea of the newly created strategic and tactical air force was a revolutionary idea – to immobilize the war effort beyond the frontlines, as well as cooperating with the armies to support ground campaigns.
Over the course of three years, the Eight Air Force were given several priority targets to destroy or debilitate. Thousands of planes flew hundreds of missions bombing essential targets including U-boat dockyards, supply depots, aircraft plants, locomotive and tank plants, oil industrial plants and refineries, ball-bearing industrial plants, air-force bases, supply trains, long range weapons (rockets), military installations, steel industrial plants, and railways and canals.
The Germans had three defensive actions to use against the Eighth Air Force. Two of these actions were deadly – the G.A.F. and flak cannons – and the other action was smokescreen. The flak cannons and the G.A.F (German Air Force) alone destroyed over 18,000 American aircraft, killing almost 80,000 American airmen. The smokescreen was a measure used to make it more difficult for aircraft to locate their targets, which became useless once the PFF bombers – aircraft with blind bombing aids – joined the Eighth Air Force and marked the targets for the main force to strike. With developments in bomber formation and long-range fighter escorts, the Eighth Air Force managed to minimize their casualties while effectively inhibiting the Reich’s production output.
The Eighth Air Force consisted of several models of planes, but the core aircraft involved in the campaign were the B-17, B-24, P-51, and Spitfire.
The collection consists of a photographic album containing a narrative with photographs ranging from the years 1943 to 1945.
The San Diego Air & Space Museum is a proud member of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, a collaboration of 26 arts, science, and cultural institutions in San Diego's Balboa Park. Learn more at www.bpcp.org.