Thus Mission 115 passes into history. Black Thursday saw the most violent, savagely fought, and bloodiest of all the battles in the titanic aerial conflict waged in the high arena over Germany.
The curtain of time has rung down on the vast stage on which the grim drama was enacted. Never again will there be a Mission 115, never again will a bullet-riddled wreck struggle across the Channel to ease the weary metal and the bloody men to their black runway. The Fortresses now belong to history. The need for the air crews of ten men, the pilots and co-pilots, bombardiers, navigators, radio operators, and all the gunners, no longer exists.
The roar of thousands of powerful motors in unison will never be heard again; the echo may persist long after we have gone, but the cry is a historical thunder, as extinct as that of the dinosaur. There are no more flashing propellers on our bombers, no more ball turrets in which a man curls himself up for the punishment of long hours in such an unnatural position. There are no more open hatches or gleaming belts of .50-caliber bullets. They are all anachronisms.
The book of their blazing pages of history is closed. Perhaps it is fitting that Mission 115, that long, bloody, and savage battle of seventeen years ago, cannot be hailed in retrospect as a victorious venture. It is so easy to write of conquests and of an enemy routed; Black Thursday was not one of those battles.
There is a far better reason for committing Mission 115 to its documented niche in the history of our air war. On October 14, 1943, the American bomber force that struggled to reach Schweinfurt was mauled, shot to pieces, and raked viciously by the superb pilots of the enemy Luftwaffe.
Those German pilots, many of them still with us today, knew only too well their unprecedented effectiveness against our bombers. They saw the burning planes, the Fortresses with their torn wings, the mutilated and burning bodies, the crews tumbling through space.
And they wondered how those crews could take such punishment, could accept the losses, could fly onward without wavering, in the face of the hundreds of miles of further unremitting struggle that would continue to reap its macabre toll.
Mission 115, you see, contributed to a tradition. Despite the most intense aerial opposition in the history of man’s combat in the air, our bombers did not turn back. The men in the great Fortresses did not falter. Despite their fear—and terror was a companion aboard those bombers—they did not consider forfeiting the mission. No matter how cruel the test, no matter how many giant bombers writhed in flame, no matter how many formations split apart and plunged earthward, there was no question but that the survivors would continue.
That is their contribution to a tradition—that no American bomber force, once committed to battle, has ever turned back.