|The Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission was an air combat battle in World War II. A strategic bombing attack flown by B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army Air Forces on August 17, 1943, it was conceived as an ambitious plan to cripple the German aircraft industry. The mission was also known as the "double-strike mission" because it entailed two large forces of bombers attacking separate targets in order to disperse fighter reaction by the Luftwaffe, and was the first "shuttle" mission, in which all or part of a mission landed at a different field and later bombed another target returning to its base.|
The Regensburg task force was led by the 4th Bombardment Wing commander, Colonel Curtis E. LeMay. It consisted of seven B-17 Groups totalling 146 aircraft, each group but one flying a 21-aircraft combat box tactical formation. The groups were organized into three larger formations termed "provisional combat wings", three groups in a Vee formation wing box leading the procession, followed in trail by two wing boxes of two groups each in echelon formation with one group leading and the second trailing at lower altitude.
Approximately fifteen minutes after it crossed the coast at 10:00, the Regensburg force encountered the first German fighter interception, which continued with growing intensity nearly all the way to the target area. Several factors weighed against the Regensburg force in this air battle. The arrangement of two groups instead of three in the two following provisional wings meant a third fewer guns available to each for their mutual defense and made them more likely targets. The overall length of the task force was too great, with the last wing formation fifteen miles behind the first and nearly out of visual range. Two groups of P-47s (87 aircraft) had been tasked to escort the force to the German border, but only one arrived at the rendezvous point on time, covering the lead wing, and the second arrived fifteen minutes late. Finally, both P-47 groups were forced to turn back to base after only fifteen minutes of escort duty, without engaging the German interceptors. The last provisional wing in the task force was left without any fighter protection at all.
After ninety minutes of combat the German fighter force broke off the engagement, low on fuel and ammunition. By then at least 15 bombers had been shot down or fatally damaged, 13 from the trailing formation. However anti-aircraft fire ("flak") was light over Regensburg and visibility clear, and of the remaining 131 bombers, 126 dropped 298.75 tons of bombs on the fighter aircraft factories with a high degree of accuracy at 11:43 British time.
The Regensburg force then turned south to cross the Alps, confronted by only a few twin-engined fighters soon forced to disengage by lack of range. The German force had not been prepared for this contingency, but they were also in the process of re-arming to meet the Schweinfurt force, then forming over East Anglia. Even so, two damaged B-17s turned away from the Regensburg task force and landed in neutral Switzerland, where their crews were interned and the bombers confiscated. Another crash-landed in Italy and five more were forced down by lack of fuel into the Mediterranean Sea. In all 24 bombers were lost and more than 60 of the 122 survivors landing in Tunisia had suffered battle damage.