The birth of The Eighth Air Force

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver charts the arrival and operations of The Eighth Air Force in the European theatre of World War Two

Joint planning by British and American military leaders came to an agreement that when the United States entered World War Two, the Army Air Corps (the United States Army Air Forces [USAAF] after June 1941) would create an air command for strategic bombing based in England and operate in co-operation with RAF Bomber Command. After Pearl Harbor, USAAF commander Gen Henry H ‘Hap’ Arnold put in a call to Hamilton Army Airfield, to his old comrade Lt Col Ira Eaker (then in command of the 20th Pursuit Group), recalling him to Washington, where he was promoted to brigadier general and tasked with organising the American air force in Britain.

B-17s in flight over the target area. Each aircraft carried a 4,000lb bomb load, a crew of nine or ten and formidable armament
B-17s in flight over the target area. Each aircraft carried a 4,000lb bomb load, a crew of nine or ten and formidable armament Key Archive

In December 1941, the USAAF was a far cry from what it would become. There were 155 B-17s of all variants, and production of the B-17E had only begun the summer before. Eaker arrived in England with a deadline of July 4, 1942, to see American crews in American bombers dropping bombs on German targets.

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