Military history



A flash report of Mission 115 to Headquarters, VIII Bomber Command, with copies to Generals D. D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall, stated that the attack had produced “…good bombing results and possible total destruction of target.”

Soon after this cheering news was disseminated through official channels, the public received from Brigadier General Frederick L. Anderson its first detailed official statement on the raid.

The entire works are now inactive,” announced the general. “It may be possible for the Germans eventually to restore 25 per cent of normal productive capacity, but even that will require some time. A tremendous amount of clearance, repair work, and rebuilding will be necessary before plants can again be operative. Fires raged throughout three of the plant areas, burning out not only factories, but stores and despatch buildings as well.”

Both in official documents and in public statements the Army Air Forces hailed its tremendous accomplishment at Schweinfurt. On October 18, four days after the mission, a jubilant General Henry H. Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces, announced dramatically to a press conference, “Now we have got Schweinfurt!”

Headquarters VIII Bomber Command passed on to Eighth Air Force headquarters its Interpretation Report S. A. 628, which said:

“The brunt of the attack fell solidly on the target area, with at least 100 separate distinguishable hits within factory confines. In addition there are four areas of heavy concentrations of bursts which partially blanket factories. A total of nine large fires are seen and one explosion is noted.”

The report showed photographs of bomb concentrations and bursts, including “a concentration of at least 40 bursts in a wooded area on the east side of Aschenhof, 3.5 miles southwest of Schweinfurt.” The Bomber Command realized from its photos that many of its bombs had missed and scattered wildly; despite these normal far spreads, however, Intelligence was convinced of the overwhelming success of the mission. In a subsequent report, No. K. 1785, it stated:

“Very heavy and concentrated damage is visible within the target area, due probably as much to fire as to H.E. [high explosive], All three main factories of the Schweinfurt ball-bearing industry and the two closely allied therewith have been affected, those of VKF Works I and II and Fichtel & Sachs suffering very severe damage. In many cases, buildings damaged in the previous raid have now been destroyed or have received further damage.”

During the first week of November, 1943, a telegram from the United States diplomatic service, transmitted from Göteborg, Sweden, and classified Secret, arrived at headquarters of the VIII Bomber Command. Dated “2 November, 11 A.M.,” it carried cheering verification of the strike photo interpretations, and stated:

“The principal stockholders of the Swedish Ball Bearing Company have been advised by officials of that company that the recent American bombing at Schweinfurt irreparably destroyed the entire ball-bearing industry there. According to the Swedish officials, the precision of the bombing deeply impressed the German military and industrialists because the property was utterly devastated whereas the adjoining properties were untouched.”

In the Volume I, Number 8, issue of Impact magazine, an official Army Air Forces publication with the classification of Confidential, the editors reported of the Schweinfurt attack of October 14 that: “All five plants—representing about 65 per cent of the ball-and roller-bearing capacity of Germany—were so heavily damaged that our bombers may never have to go back.

After receiving photographic reconnaissance and intelligence interpretation of the attacks, and with possibly too much concern for public reaction to the success of his command, General Arnold stated in a report to the Secretary of War:

All five of the works at Schweinfurt were either completely or almost completely wiped out. Our attack was the most perfect example in history of accurate distribution of bombs over a target. It was an attack that will not have to be repeated for a very long time, if at all.

H. H. ARNOLD, General, USAAF, Commanding

The statements by Generals Anderson and Arnold, the telegram from Sweden, the report carried in Impact magazine—not one of these was true—they were extraordinarily optimistic.

Despite the conviction that we had wrecked the German bearings industry, Mission 115 did no more than to affect a minimum of Schweinfurt’s capacity to produce the vitally needed bearings. The wording of the telegram from Sweden leads one to believe that the informant, whoever he might be, could well have passed on this information quite deliberately, to the delight of the Germans. That the Germans regarded the raid as a major crisis was true enough, but only because of what the future held in the possibility of a series of continued attacks, rather than as a result of the bombing that had allegedly “irreparably destroyed the entire ball-bearing industry there.”

After the war the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, from the incomparable vantage point of the victor, prepared a detailed analysis of the results of Mission 115. “Best results were obtained from the 24 HE and seven INC bombs which hit VKF Works II. As though designed to complement the effects of the August bombing on FAG, here again it was the ball-producing plant which suffered most heavily. The loss of ball output affected operations not only here, but in other plants as well, since Works II made all the balls used by the entire VKF firm, including the Erkner and Cannstatt complexes, and sold balls to outside firms. In other parts of Works II, 23 machines were destroyed and 54 damaged, mostly in the cage-making department and tool shop.

“Thirty-eight HE bombs hit various parts of CKG’s Works I, but the six-story building housing the bulk of its productive operations was scarcely damaged. Sixteen machines were destroyed and 15 damaged, mostly in the department producing small bearings. Apart from this single instance, the plant resumed operations as soon as power had been restored and a little plaster had been dusted off the machines.

“In this same attack, FAG lost 374 machines—84 totally-destroyed and 290 damaged. Chiefly affected was the production of large bearings and of rollers and cages; as a result this section was subsequently dispersed to a large extent or moved into basements. Bombs fell also on the departments housing assembly and grinding of medium bearings, on the tool shop, and on the forge. The damage was substantial, but it was considerably less than in the raid of 17 August.

“Despite the crippling of some departments and sections, production on the whole received no more than a temporary setback. Over-all machine damage for the two VKF plants and the FAG plant amounted to only 10 per cent—3.5 per cent destroyed and 6.5 per cent damaged.”

If this figure—10 per cent of the capacity of the three main Schweinfurt plants—is correct, it is disappointingly low. Some observers consider it too low, pointing out that it was usually necessary for the Strategic Bombing Survey to try to determine damages after repairs had been made, and that it had to base its findings in considerable part on German statements as to the extent of such damage. Such statements by Germans, these students of air warfare believe, tended unduly to minimize the effectiveness of our bombing. These statements often reflected, they feel, a psychology similar to that of a fighter who when lifted out of the ring with a bloody nose and black eye, insists, “He didn’t lay a glove on me.”

Notwithstanding the low percentages, in any case, Mission 115, on the whole, cost the Germans twice the destruction and damage inflicted by any other single attack of the war on the bearings industry, including a heavy blow the next year with more than three thousand tons of bombs.

In spite of all their hopes and the substantial successes they achieved, the planners of the aerial assault against Germany failed in their dedicated campaign to inflict crippling blows against the enemy’s war machine by destruction of the ball-bearings industry. There are several major reasons for this failure, and they involve a crippling weakness on the part of the VIII Bomber Command to resume and sustain immediately its attacks on the bearing industry, which ‘would have achieved the results desired.

Even the relatively limited damage inflicted in Schweinfurt raised the danger signal throughout Germany. Reichsminister for Armaments and War Production Speer, as we have seen, regarded the situation with utmost gravity. Not only were he and his associates aware of the acute vulnerability of the bearings industry, but they realized fully that the target analysts of the American and British air forces shared this knowledge. Subsequent attacks were inevitable, and the Germans responded accordingly.

“The raids on the ball-bearings industry at Schweinfurt in August, 1943,” stated Speer, “evoked a... crisis, the full import of which was made known to the Fuehrer in all its gravity. Here again the delay in development of repetitions of the attack gave us the necessary time to take defensive precautions....

“After the attack on the ball-bearings plants at Schweinfurt the first steps were taken to transfer this industry to Lower Silesia and to disperse in various groups in Franconia. The dispersal of important plants following attacks upon vital points was undertaken.”

The dispersal of the German bearings industry was more than successful. No matter how strong and genuine the original conviction of the Army Air Forces that they had “got Schweinfurt,” the Germans were able to boast, right to the very last day of the war:

Es ist kein Gerät zurück geblieben vieil Wälzläger fehlten.

“No equipment has been held up because of a shortage of bearings.”

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