Under the terms of the tripartite pact with Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany was obliged to render aid in the event that either ally was attacked. On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ambassador Hiroshi Ōshima came to Joachim von Ribbentrop, looking for a commitment of support from the German Foreign Minister.
Ribbentrop balked. Germany was under no obligation to intervene with their ally having been the aggressor. Adolf Hitler thought otherwise. He couldn’t stand Roosevelt, and thought it was just a matter of time before the two countries were at war. He might as well beat the American President to the punch.
It was 9:30am Washington time on December 11, when German Chargé d’Affaires Hans Thomsen handed the note to American Secretary of State Cordell Hull. For the second time in the diplomatic history of the United States and Germany, the two nations were in a state of war.
48 days later, at Hunter Field in Savannah, the Eighth Bomber Command was activated as part of the United States Army Air Forces. It was January 28, 1942.
The 8th was intended to support operation “Super Gymnast”, the invasion of what was then French North Africa. Super Gymnast was canceled in April. By May, the 8th Bomber Command had moved its headquarters to a former girls’ school in High Wycombe, England, from where it conducted the strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany.
Re-designated the Eighth Air Force on February 22, 1944, at its peak the “Mighty Eighth” could dispatch over 2,000 four engine bombers and more than 1,000 fighters on a single mission. 350,000 people served in the 8th AF during the war in Europe, with 200,000 at its peak in 1944.
By 1945, the Wehrmacht had a new joke to tell itself: “When we see a silver plane, it’s American. A black plane, it’s British. When we see no plane, it’s German”. American aviation paid a heavy price for it.
Half of the US Army Air Force casualties in World War II were suffered by the 8th, over 47,000 casualties, with more than 26,000 killed. By war’s end, 8th Air Force personnel were awarded 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 442,000 Air Medals. There were 261 fighter aces in the 8th, 31 of them with 15 or more kills apiece. Another 305 gunners were also recognized as aces.
After victory in Europe, 8th AF Headquarters was reassigned to Sakugawa (Kadena Airfield), Okinawa, under the command of Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle. Tasked with organizing and training new bomber groups for the planned invasion of Japan, the 8th received its first B-29 Superfortress on August 8. Seven days later, the war in the pacific had come to an end..
With the onset of the jet age, the 8th Air Force moved to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts on June 13, 1955, the second of three Numbered Air Forces of the newly constituted Strategic Air Command (SAC).
Since then, the Mighty 8th has been called on to perform combat missions from Southeast Asia to the Middle East to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, flying out of its current headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
If you’re ever in Savannah, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force (http://www.mightyeighth.org/). Not only will you experience an incredible story well told, but you will meet some 90+ year old veterans who walk as straight and tall today as they did, 75 years ago. Happy Birthday, Mighty Eighth.