Wars are not forgotten. But with time, the people involved may look at a former enemy in a different way. This is one of those stories.
June 14, 1943 – April 19, 1944
Operation Pointblank was a Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) strategic bombing plan of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) with the objective to destroy or cripple the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) fighter strength and aircraft production prior to the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944. CBO targets included German aircraft factories, fuel depots, ball bearing plants, and other related industry.
Tuesday, August 17
First Mission to Schweinfurt
The two targets of Mission 84 deep into Germany were the Messerschmitt Bf109 fighter plane factory in Regensburg and the Schweinfurt ball bearing plants.
USAAF “Flying Fortress” B-17s from the 4th Bombardment Wing (BW) in England flying to Regensburg took off around 8 AM that day. The 1st BW B-17s were scheduled to take off next. Due to heavy fog at their bases in England, the 1st BW began take off more than three hours later with their target being Schweinfurt. The delay seriously affected the mission plan. One objective of the mission was to overwhelm German air defenses as a large number of B-17s attacked at two different targets in rapid succession. Because of the delay, German fighter planes had time between the waves of B-17s to land, refuel, and rearm before again attacking B-17 formations.
Losses that day numbered 60 B-17s of the 376 B-17s assigned to the mission, and another 95 aircraft were seriously damaged. Three USAAF P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter planes and two RAF Spitfire fighter planes were also lost. Air crew Killed in Action (KIA), Missing in Action (MIA), Wounded in Action (WIA), and Prisoner of War (POW) numbered over 550.
Thursday, October 14
Second Mission to Schweinfurt
B-17s assigned to Mission 115 numbered 291. Aggressive Luftwaffe fighter planes and a heavily defended city led to more losses for the Allies. It is estimated that 1,100 German fighters were involved in the defense of Schweinfurt as well as numerous anti-aircraft Luftwaffe Fliegerabuchrkanone (Flak) batteries in and around the city.
Sixty B-17s were lost. Air crew KIA, MIA, WIA, and POW numbered over 625. This mission became known as “Black Thursday.”
Due to the large attrition of men and aircraft and the continuing bad weather, long range and unescorted missions in daylight deep into Germany were temporarily suspended after these first two missions. Missions resumed again in February 1944.
The Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association (SSMA) was founded by USAAF Lieutenant Colonel Budd Peaslee who had been the Mission 115 “Black Thursday” Commander.
Two WWII German Flak boys from Schweinfurt, Germany, attended the SSMA Reunion in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Helmut Katzenberger and Volmar Wilckens were two of an estimated 2,500 German students who had been ordered to man Flak batteries as German military losses affected its fighting strength. German civilians, young and old, men and women, were recruited to support Flak units. They were called Luftwaffenhelfers (Flak helpers).
Georg Schafer was another of the Schweinfurt Flak boys. He wrote a letter to then SSMA President Wilbur “Bud” Klint.
June 20, 1996
Dear Mr. Klint:
From a good friend of mine, Dr. Helmut Katzenberger of Bad Kissingen, I received a copy of the Briefing Letter 95-4, December 1995 of the Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association, Inc. I was quite excited when I read it.
May I introduce myself to you:
For over 40 years I have been active in the Management and on the Board of Directors of the FAG Kugelfischer Georg Schafer in Schweinfurt, a Company, with which you might have been somewhat familiar some 50 years ago! I am now retired from office, 68 years of age and have lived in Schweinfurt most of my life, also during your “visits” in 1943/44. From January 1944 through January 1945 I have served, together with my classmates, at some of the 8.8 cm Flakbatteries around my hometown, at the age of 16 years!
During 1954 to 1956 I had lived in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, where our Company was establishing a manufacturing plant for ball-bearings. During those years I have met several former US and Canadian Airforce men, who were over Schweinfurt during the war. We exchanged views about our feelings during those “visits” and quickly agreed, that it was a good thing that we missed each other at that time! It also strikingly made us realize how stupid wars are and that everything should be done to avoid for our children and grand-children the experiences our generation had to go through. My wife and I have four sons and four grand-children.
Also: During our last visit to Washington DC, in April of this year my wife and I re-visited Arlington-Cemetary [sic] and noticed how much the tree, your Association planted some 10 to 15 years ago, has grown. A couple of pictures may serve as “proof”. (encl.)
Further on that trip we stopped for a day at Savannah, GA, and tried to visit the Mighty Eighth Airforce Heritage Museum before our departure, name and location of which we found in a visitors’ guide booklet. Unfortunately the place was still under construction, and so was access-road. Only through Helmut Katzenberger’s notification I found out about your Association’s involvement in this exhibition. Maybe better luck some other time.
My wife and I are travelling to the US quite frequently once or twice a year, so on our next trip I shall give you a call, or maybe we can meet, if it is convenient to you. In the meantime perhaps you could send me some information about your Association, and also, if you or another member of your group should come to Germany, please give me a call and, if it is convenient, come and visit Schweinfurt – by Car this time! We’d love to meet with you and show you around our city.
Best personal regards,
Georg Schafer attended the SSMA Reunion in 1996 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and brought WWII artifacts with him that are now on exhibit at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Georgia.
It was at this reunion that the idea of a German American Memorial in Schweinfurt was first discussed.
On June 16, 1998, the German American Memorial was dedicated in Schweinfurt, Germany. Every year since then on October 14, “Black Thursday,” SSMA places flowers at the Memorial.
Georg Schafer’s family owned ball bearing plants in Schweinfurt during WWII. Interestingly, after the war ended, he and his company helped establish ball bearing plants in the United States and Canada.
Thank you to Sue Moyer, SSMA Education Director, for her invaluable assistance in the writing of this story. Those interested in further information about SSMA can view the Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association Facebook page or contact SSMA at firstname.lastname@example.org.