The Bloody Hundredth in harms way

As soubriquets go, it’s decidedly unenviable. So heavy were the 100th Bomb Group’s losses on certain missions that — even if its overall wartime loss rate was not the European theatre’s worst — it attracted the morbid nickname ‘The Bloody Hundredth’.

Formed without any aircraft at Orlando Army Air Base, Florida on 1 June 1942, it was from Kearney Field, Nebraska that the 100th BG’s Flying Fortresses — B-l7Fs then — and aircrews began to depart for Britain on 25 May 1943. Initially they began arriving at Station 109, Podington in Bedfordshire, but after just a few days there the group became resident at what became its permanent home on assignment to the 8th Air Force, namely Station 139, Thorpe Abbotts near Diss in Norfolk.

This move took place on 8 June. Seventeen days later, the 100th BG was declared combat-ready. Straight into action it went, bombing U-boat pens in Bremen. On that sortie the tone was set, three aircraft and 30 crewmen being lost. The ‘Bloody Hundredth’ nickname, bestowed by other 8th Air Force bomb groups, followed fairly soon after as the 100th BG’s losses mounted. One really needs to read tales of certain missions to discover why.

On 17 August 1943, it sent 21 Flying Fortresses to hit the Messerschmitt Bfl09 factory in Regensburg. Of those, nine were downed, a higher toll than that experienced by any of the six other Bomb Groups involved. With P-47s unable to accompany the B-l7s all the way to the target, perhaps the outcome was inevitable. Capt Frank Murphy, a 100th BG navigator, recounted to group historian Mike Faley: ‘The Regensburg mission was unbelievable. To be under attack by hordes of German fighters for 10 minutes was a lifetime. We took all they had for an hour at Regensburg. It was an eternity. I truly did not think any of us would survive.’

Worse was to come. 8-14 October l943 became known as ‘Black Week’ by the 8th Air Force, such was the toll wrought by four separate sorties. The first was to Bremen, after which seven ‘Bloody Hundredth’ B-l7s were missing and six more left with serious battle damage. Just 13 aircraft were left to attack Münster on l0 October, and the ‘hard luck’ group was hit hard. In fact, it was a massacre. Just one made it home, and that singleton, a 418th BS machine piloted by Robert ‘Rosie’ Rosenthal, did so with two dead engines and a pair of severely wounded crew members.

The tail gunner on that sole survivor, B-I7G Royal Flush, was Sgt Bill DeBlasio. He later recalled how, with those two powerplants (one on each side, luckily) already knocked out, the bomber came under attack from Luftwaffe fighters, Ju88s and FwI90s. Six were shot down or crashed in the melee, but Royal Flush was far from safe. ‘At this time we were below 10,000ft and did not know if we were going to ditch or not’, remembered DeBlasio. ‘We began throwing anything that wasn’t nailed down out to lighten the aircraft. We were successful and didn’t ditch’. On landing at Thorpe Abbotts, DeBlasio said, ‘I remember sitting on the grass and vomiting for what seemed like an eternity.’

For a raid on the Schweinfurt ball bearing factories on 14 October, just eight 100th BG crews could be mustered. That day, ‘Black Thursday’, itself passed into infamy due to the loss of 60 bombers from the 8th Air Force out of 351 involved. Paradoxically, the ‘Bloody Hundredth’ was the sole group to suffer zero losses.

This was just one example of what an up-and-down war it was for the 100th BG, one that finished with a mission to Oranienburg just outside Berlin on 20 April 1945, again without casualties. It had completed 8,630 aircraft sorties in the course of 306 missions, dropping 19,257 tonnes of bombs. Of the group’s B-I7s, 229 were lost or had to be salvaged for spares. The human cost was 768 crewmen either killed or missing in action, and 939 taken prisoner. Two Presidential Unit Citations were awarded, one for the I7 August I943 Regensburg raid, the other for missions to Berlin in March 1944 — during one of the latter, on 6 March, the ‘Bloody Hundredth’ had suffered its greatest loss on a single sortie, I5 aircraft in all.

No wonder that, when the 100th Air Refueling Wing was re-formed at Mildenhall in 1992, it was given the unique honour for an operational USAF unit of wearing its forebear’s wartime ‘D in a square’ code letter on the tails of its KC-I35s. It continues with pride to do so, and, given what the men of the 100th BG achieved during World War Two, well it might.

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