On October 14, 1943, the air war over Europe reached a critical turning point. On that Thursday, the United States Eighth Air Force mounted Mission No. 115 against the city of Schweinfurt, the center of the German ball bearing industry.
Sixteen bomber groups from the 1st and 3rd Air divisions would participate in the strike. In all, 291 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses took off from bases in England and headed east toward the German border. As the bombers formed up over the Channel, short-range British Supermarine Spitfire fighters climbed to escort the heavies to the Continent. There, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts took over, escorting the flying armada to the German border. But insufficient range prevented the Thunderbolts from keeping the bombers company all the way to the target. Turning back somewhere around Aachen, just inside the German border, the P-47s left the unescorted bombers to a catastrophic fate.