Remembering Mission #3: Regensburg

Shown: Following the epic air battle over Regensburg on August 17, 1943, Blood, Guts and Rust (568th Squadron) was ditched in the Mediterranean Sea.

Mission No. 84: Schweinfurt-Regensburg, was an ambitious Eighth Air Force plan to cripple the German aircraft industry. In a “double strike” mission never previously attempted, two bomber wings were assigned to bomb heavy industry in two German cities at the same time: this, an effort to divide and confuse German air defenses.

After several weather postponements, the massive operation was flown on August 17, 1943—exactly one year to the date of the Eighth Air Force’s first mission, and over 30 times in scale. Mission No. 1 had only been a shallow penetration of France by twelve bombers from a single bombardment group, and they were well protected by escort fighters. In contrast, Mission No. 84 called for 376 bombers from sixteen bomb groups. This included the 390th Bombardment Group, and this was their Mission #3: target Regensburg.

The Strategy of Two Strike Forces

The long-range aspect of the mission meant two things: first, little fighter support (both targets were well out of fuel range for the fighters); second; not enough fuel for many of the bombers to return to England. Thus, the Regensburg force of this mission became the first American “shuttle” mission, in which all or part of a mission landed at a different field and later bombed another target before returning to its base.

The mission was known as a “double-strike” because it entailed two large forces of bombers attacking separate targets. The Regensburg strike force (4th Bombardment Wing, of which the 390th was a part) was tasked with attacking Messerschmitt Bf 109 plants. Equipped with the long range fuel tanks, these bombers were to fly on to bases in Bône, Berteaux and Telergma (French Algeria).

The 1st Bombardment Wing, following it, was to turn northeast and bomb the ball-bearing factories of Schweinfurt. They would then return to England.

Timing was Central to Strategy

For both strike forces, timing was central to strategy. The Regensburg plan had to account for one-to-two hours of climb and assembly into formation, an eleven-hour mission, and a narrow 90-minute ‘window’ in which to launch the mission and still allow the 4th Bombardment wing to land in North Africa during daylight.

Meanwhile, the 1st Bombardment Wing was scheduled to follow the Regensburg force, and then turn northeast to Schweinfurt. Due to their being at the end of a massive length of aircraft in formation, combined with the shorter fuel range of the escort fighters, they would be left with limited to no fighter support. To compensate for this, planners anticipated that the Wing could ‘slip by’ the German fighters as they grounded for re-arming and refueling.

Ominous Beginnings

On the morning of August 17, England was covered in fog. The 4th Bombardment Wing was delayed until the last possible minute. Takeoff was ordered, even though the simultaneous attack on both targets was deemed critical to the success of the mission. The 1st Bombardment Wing remained grounded at its bases by the adverse weather.

By the time the fog had cleared to allow the 1st Bombardment Wing to take off, the Regensburg force had already reached the coast of the Netherlands. This timing gap meant that the German fighters would have sufficient time to land, replenish, and attack the Schweinfurt force.

Consequently, the launch of the Schweinfurt force was delayed even further—this, to allow U.S. escort fighters time to return to base to rearm for a second escort mission. In all, the 1st Bombardment Wing was delayed more than three hours behind the 4th Bombardment Wing. This meant there would be no diversion tactic to divide and confuse German fighters.


The mission inflicted heavy damage on the targets, but at a catastrophic loss to the Eighth Air Force. Twenty-four bombers from the 4th Bombardment wing were lost; 36 were lost from the 1st Bombardment Wing.

In total, sixty aircraft were lost over German-controlled territory, in Switzerland, or ditched at sea. This more than doubled the highest previous loss at that time.

The 390th Bomb Group suffered six of those aircraft losses:

  • Two planes were lost in the target area.
  • A third had two engines knocked out and landed safely in Switzerland, where the crew was interned.
  • A fourth plane, in trouble and out of gas, headed for Spain. It landed near Toulons, France, and the crew made prisoner.
  • Two other planes ran out of gas, and ditched in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Unfortunate Fate of the 390th Crews that Ditched

Crippled and low on fuel, two 390th aircraft ditched in the Mediterranean Sea. Aircraft 23310, “Blood, Guts and Rust” (568th Squadron), ditched 60 miles off the coast of North Africa. Pilot Wade Hampton Sneed and his crew #5 were rescued and RTD. Similarly, aircraft 23333, “Purgatory Pete” (569th Squadron) ditched 50 miles off the coast. Captain Raymond Arthur Becker and crew #14 also survived and RTD.

Months later, both crews were lost. Crew 5 was shot down during the raid on Munster, Germany on October 10, 1943. All crew members were KIA. Crew 14 was shot down during the raid on Rjukan, Norway on November 16, 1943. All crew members were killed.


It was a battered group that collected in Telergma, North Africa, following the raid. Among them, the 390th crews were briefed on their results, which later received Commendation:

  • They had destroyed 13 planes, probably destroyed 3, and damaged 9 others;
  • Their bombing was excellent. As third group in the formation over the target, 58% of the 390th bombs landed within 1,000 feet of the aiming point and 94% within 2,000 feet.

In Regensburg, all six main workshops of the Messerschmitt factory were destroyed or severely damaged, as were many supporting structures including the final assembly shop.

In Schweinfurt, the destruction was less severe but still extensive.

Albert Speer, Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production for Nazi Germany, reported an immediate 34% loss in production, but both the production shortfall and the actual loss of bearings were made up for by extensive surpluses found throughout Germany following the raid.  213 civilians were killed.

Due to the catastrophic loss of aircraft, the Eighth Air Force was unable to follow up immediately with a second attack that could have seriously crippled German industry. When Schweinfurt was attacked again months later, the lack of long-range fighter escort contributed to even greater losses of both aircraft and men. Subsequently, deep penetration raids were seized until the problem of fighter coverage could be addressed.


The Story of the 390th Bombardment Group (H). 1947. Privately published by the Turner Publishing Company, Paducah, KY.


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