The Second Schweinfurt Raid, also known as "Black Thursday," occurred on 14 October 1943, during World War II. This air battle took place over Nazi Germany and involved the United States 8th Air Force and the German Luftwaffe fighter arm (Jagdwaffe). The objective was a strategic bombing raid on ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt, which were crucial for the production of war machinery. This attack followed an earlier mission in August, known as the Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission, which, according to American wartime intelligence, had reduced bearing production by 34 percent but at a significant cost to American bombers. A subsequent raid was postponed as American forces needed time to rebuild.

The raid  was another pivotal moment in the war against Nazi Germany. However, the cost of this raid was steep, with 642 casualties out of Allied 2900 pilots and crewmen - the loss of more than 18%. The Luftwaffe suffered losses as well, with more than 100 aircraft lost and 248 fighters lost in October alone. The Luftwaffe had shot down an average of twenty-eight bombers per mission in this period.

The losses sustained during the Second Schweinfurt Raid were not worth the temporary stoppage of ball bearing production in Schweinfurt. It was a myth that this would end Germany's production of critical aircraft parts. However, the strategic importance of the raids over Germany and air superiority for the coming June 1944 amphibious invasion of France was undeniable. For this reason alone, the bomber offensive could not have been suspended after Black Thursday. The entire invasion depended upon its success. In the grim calculus of war, it was considered far better to lose a few hundred unprotected bombers than to have entire divisions slaughtered on the beaches of northern France.

In preparation for the return mission, the original plans were adjusted based on lessons learned. Additional fighter escorts were added to cover both the outward and return legs of the mission. Unlike the previous attack, the entire force was directed solely at Schweinfurt. Despite these changes, a series of minor mishaps and the increasing effectiveness of German anti-aircraft defenses led to devastating results:

  • Aircraft Losses: Out of 291 B-17 Flying Fortresses, 60 were lost, 17 were severely damaged and had to be scrapped, and 121 sustained varying degrees of battle damage.
  • Personnel Losses: The mission resulted in the loss of 650 men out of 2,900 bomber crew members, representing 22 percent of the total.

These losses were so significant that the American Official History of the Army Air Forces in the Second World War acknowledged the Eighth Air Force had temporarily lost air superiority over Germany, forcing a hiatus from targeting Schweinfurt for four months.

The mission's failure was attributed to several factors. The bomber formations were left vulnerable to German fighter attacks due to inadequate preparations and the inability to quickly replenish reserves over the summer of 1943. An escort of 24 squadrons of Spitfires with drop tanks was provided only for the beginning and end of the mission, leaving the bombers exposed during the critical phase over the target.


Top photo: 9 October 1943: B-17 Bomber during the first big raid on Germany by the U.S. 8th Air Force. The raid destroyed most of the Marienburg Focke-Wulf aircraft factory. Source: War History Network license. Click to enlarge.

Bottom photo: A U.S. Eighth Air Force B-17 returning to England over Schweinfurt, left in flames from the bombing. Source: Wikimedia.


Arthur Harris, the Air Officer Commanding RAF Bomber Command, challenged the strategy of targeting ball bearing factories, considering it ill-advised. Post-war analysis confirmed his stance. Germany had a considerable stockpile of ball bearings and secured additional supplies from Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland, which lessened the effects of the bombings. By 1945, Germany's reserves of ball bearings exceeded those before the bombing campaigns.

12674272679?profile=RESIZE_584xAlthough the Schweinfurt factories sustained heavy damage, the attacks failed to produce a prolonged effect. Ball bearing production ceased for only six weeks, as Germany's wartime industry was supported by a large reserve and excess production. Moreover, the factories were decentralized to minimize susceptibility to subsequent air raids.

Following the heavy losses on Black Thursday, General Henry H. Arnold stated that the loss of 60 bombers was incidental, but the reality was that unescorted daylight bombing raids deep into Germany were suspended until February 1944. During the "Big Week" missions, these raids resumed with P-51B Mustang escorts, including another attack on Schweinfurt on February 24.

The strategy of using heavy bombers to target specific wartime resources continued with the Oil Campaign of World War II. This campaign, initiated by RAF Bomber Command in August 1941 and joined by the USAAF in June 1943, aimed to cripple Germany's oil supply. Despite periodic shifts in priority due to events like Operation Overlord, relentless day and night attacks eventually starved the German Wehrmacht of fuel and lubricants from autumn 1944 onward.



"Black Thursday: Schweinfurt, October 14, 1943." National Museum of the United States Air Force. Accessed October 15, 2022. "Eighth Air Force History." 8th Air Force/J-GSOC. Accessed February 16, 2022. https://www.8af.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/333794/eighth-air-force-history/.

Kershaw, Ian. The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945. London: Penguin, 2012.

Miller, Donald L. Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.


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