THE KASSEL MISSION ---- AN OVERVIEW

By Lt. Col. Paul Swofford, (Ret.) 

Pilot

The Kassel Mission on September 27, 1944, resulted in the largest loss of bomber aircraft by any single Bomber Group in the history of the 8th Air Force.  The 88% loss of B-24 bombers by the 445th Bomb Group on that day, most likely represents the greatest single-mission loss by any bomb group in the history of American Military Aviation.

The 445th Bomb Group was based at Tibenham in East Anglia, about 80 miles NNE of London, England.  It was one of 14 B-24 Bomb Groups located in England, each bomb group having its own base.  All B-24 Groups were under the command of the 2nd Air Division of the 8th Air Force.  The 1st and 3rd Air Divisions consisted of B-17 bombers.

On September 27, 1944, all of the 2nd AD bomb groups launched about 315 B-24 aircraft, to attack the [Henschel Engine and vehicle plant] at Kassel, in central Germany, geographical coordinates about 51 deg 20 min N, 9 deg 30 min E.  All B-24 groups were in trail, usually referred to as a bomber stream.  The 445th BG led the threeBomb Groups of the 2nd Combat Bomb Wing, which flew second in the Division.

The 445th Bomb Group was scheduled to launch 39 B-24's for the Kassel Mission, fairly evenly divided among the four Bomb Squadrons, namely 700th, 701st, 702nd, 703rd. Only 35 bombers of the 445th BG reached the target area, because 4 aircraft aborted for various reasons, either before or after take-off.

All bomb groups in the bomber stream would maneuver so as to reach optimal spacing when approaching the IP, or the initial point, for the start of the bomb run.  A turn toward the target was always performed in the vicinity of the IP.  This action would be the first opportunity for the enemy to be able to assess the intentions of the attacking force.

The crew of the lead aircraft in the 445th BG was responsible for leading the Group during the mission, including navigation.  When approaching the IP for the bomb run to the target of Kassel, the lead 445th aircraft crew mistakenly chose a target which was several miles northeast of Kassel.  Many of the other crews in the Group recognized the turn error.  But the other crews were also aware that the lead crew had the best navigational equipment (i.e., radar in its infancy), and additional navigators on board.  Even so, not a single 445th BG crew broke ranks.  Every crew followed the lead. 

All 445th Bomb Group crews dropped their bomb load on the target selected by the Group lead.  Their fighter cover had followed the main bomber stream, and as a result, the 445th B-24's were left with no fighter cover.  After maneuvering to regroup following their bomb run, and setting an exit course for home base, the 445th Bomb Group of 35 B-24's was attacked by an enemy force of more than 100 fighter aircraft.

Within just a few minutes, 25 of the 445th BG bombers were completely destroyed by enemy fighters.  All of the others suffered battle damage [except one], so that 2 bombers crash-landed in France, 1 crash-landed in Belgium, 1 crashed near home base in England, and 2 [force]-landed at Manston, an RAF emergency recovery base near Dover by the English Channel. Four bomber crews returned their aircraft to their home airfield at Tibenham.

Statistical summary of the 445th Bomb Group's involvement in the Battle of Kassel :

                               Bombers attacking target   ----  35

                               Bombers destroyed in the battle----  25

                               Bombers crashed or crash-landed----   6

                               Bombers returned to Tibenham home base---- 4

                               Total Crewmen on board the 35 Bombers ---- [336]

                               Number of Deaths ---- 11[7] (including 1 in England crash)

                               Number of POW's ---- 122

                               Number of Other Survivors ---- 97

NOTE : All of the information in this report was provided by Paul Swofford, Lt ColUSAF, Ret., 701st Bomb Squadron, 445th Bomb Group, an eye-witness and survivor of the Kassel Mission. Lakeland, Florida. 2004

In brackets are edited corrections by KMHS President Linda Alice Dewey.