By mid-April 1945 the war in Europe was rapidly winding down. The Soviets were fighting in the suburbs of Berlin and had occupied much of the eastern region of Germany to the north and south of the city. From the west, American and British forces were moving swiftly across central and southern Germany. Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s Third Army was closing on the Czechoslovakian border. It was obvious to all that the final collapse of German ground forces was only a matter of days away.
Still, the air war continued unabated. Bombing missions were being flown nearly every day, although substantive strategic targets were harder to find. While the Luftwaffe still had a large number of fighters, many of them Messerschmitt Me-262 jets, it lacked sufficient fuel and experienced pilots to seriously oppose the Allied bombers. Allied fighters controlled the skies over Europe, but German anti-aircraft defenses were still murderously effective. The U.S. Eighth Air Force was therefore faced with the problem of identifying targets of sufficient strategic importance to warrant risking airmen’s lives.