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Forgotten Fifteenth: The Daring Airmen Who Crippled Hitler’s War Machine
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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.
WHY THE AUTHOR DECIDED TO WRITE IT
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.