8th Air Force, March 1945.
On the morning of March 24, 1945 just fifteen minutes after the largest airborne operation of the war, 240 B-24 Liberators of the 8th Air Force swarmed in at just over two hundred feet to drop 540 tons of supplies to troops of the American 17th and British 6th Airborne Divisions. The mission to cross the Rhine River rivaled the invasion of Normandy in scope and complexity, and the resupply mission was a vital component, ensuring the airborne troops had the necessary equipment to sustain themselves behind enemy lines should the Germans put up a formidable defense. The men of the 8th Air Force delivered their cargo on time and on target, tragically loosing fourteen crews during the mission.
Depicted here are B-24 Liberators of the 445th Bomb Group during their run over DZ-W, the supply drop point which, just prior to the arrival of the bombers, had been the drop zone for the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The bomb groups of the 8th Air Force’s 2nd Air Division split into two sorties to drop their supplies: 122 aircraft flew into DZ-W to resupply the Americans, while another 118 B-24s were responsible for dropping to the British. In total, 4,856 bundles of ammunition, medical supplies, signal equipment, rations, demolitions, hand grenades and gasoline were delivered to the two divisions.
The Liberators came in at an average of three hundred feet, some flying so low the parachutes on the supply bundles didn’t have enough time to open before smashing into the ground. The crews sweated out the run under intense anti-aircraft and heavy small arms fire with fourteen aircraft going down and another 103 damaged with four scrapped as beyond repair. Over one hundred men lost their lives on the mission the 8th Air Force briefing described as “the most important combined operation since the invasion of France.”