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For­got­ten Fifteenth: The Dar­ing Air­men Who Crip­pled Hitler’s War Ma­chine

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Front Page - by Bar­rett Till­man. Reg­n­ery His­tory, 2014. 320 pp., $29.95.

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Ed­uard Schall­moser cen­tered a Lock­heed [P-38] in his Revi gun sight. He pressed the trig­ger but noth­ing hap­pened. He glanced at his ar­ma­ment panel, saw the safety was en­gaged, and be­lat­edly flipped it off. When he looked up again, he had a wind­screen full of Light­ning.

Aviation his­to­rian Bar­rett Till­man shines a light on the sub­stan­tial World War II ac­com­plish­ments of the of­ten­over­shad­owed 15th Air Force. For the past sev­eral years I’ve re­al­ized that each new World War II book that’s writ­ten (whether by me or by oth­ers) likely will be the last one with sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions by those who lived the events. So For­got­ten Fifteenth was another case of “Do it now,” es­pe­cially be­cause there has never been a full-length his­tory of the 15th Air Force. In that re­gard, it’s very much a last­minute grab at his­tory.

A CHAT WITH BAR­RETT TILL­MAN Why did the Eighth Air Force, which was based in Bri­tain, garner sig­nif­i­cantly more at­ten­tion than the 15th Air Force?

To a large ex­tent it was ge­og­ra­phy. The 15th was spawned in North Africa, where fa­cil­i­ties were sparse, and once es­tab­lished in Italy, it was still at the op­po­site end of Europe from the per­ceived “big league” with the Eighth Air Force and the prospect of D-day. If you look at who went where, you im­me­di­ately see that the jour­nal­is­tic heavy-hit­ters were nearly all in Bri­tain: Ed­ward R. Mur­row, Wal­ter Cronkite, Eric Se­vareid, even the later-fa­mous Andy Rooney with

Stars . In the Mediter­ranean the­ater, & Stripes we had Ernie Pyle, and that was about it as far as no­table re­porters. Ernest Hem­ing­way had served [with the Red Cross] in Italy in World War I, but [in World War II] he lib­er­ated the Ritz Ho­tel in Paris rather than a bistro in Rome.



Many of the bomb­ing raids are re­ferred to as “bounc­ing the rub­ble,” and many seem to have had a short-lived ef­fect. Nev­er­the­less, how much of Ger­many’s fuel loss can be at­trib­uted

to the 15th? The 15th had an enor­mous ef­fect at the strate­gic level. Since nce the Ploesti re­finer­ies [in Ro­ma­nia] pro­duced about one-third of the crude oil and re­fined fuel avail­able to Nazi Ger­many, the loss of that com­plex was enor­mous. How­ever, as noted in the book, Ger­many started work­ing on syn­thetic fuel be­fore the war, and that abil­ity took up some of the slack. I think that most of the fuel from Ploesti was used on the East­ern Front, but that still meant a large deficit over­all, which we saw af­ter the Bat­tle of the Bulge in north­ern Europe, where the Ger­mans ran out of gaso­line.

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