By Allyn Vannoy Lieutenant Robert Sabel struggled to get his Fortress, the Rusty Lode, home. Eight B-17s of his bomb group, the 390th, had already been shot from the sky. Sabel’s ship was riddled with flak and shell holes, two engines were out, and his fuel gauges indicated just two minutes of fuel remaining in his tanks. Three of his crewmen had bailed out over Germany; four others lay dead in the bomber’s radio compartment. The odds of even making it back to England were highly unlikely. Then he saw it—his field’s runway—just ahead. As September 1943 drew to an end without a resumption of deep penetration raids by American heavy bombers, General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, became increasingly aggravated by the lack of initiative on the part of General Ira Eaker, Eighth Air Force commander. Based on the number of replacement bombers arriving in England, Arnold could not understand why Eaker wasn’t attacking Germany with at least 500 bombers on every mission. Eaker had been feeding the new planes and green crews into the groups that had been badly depleted during the Stuttgart raid on September 6, when 388 B-17s had been sent to destroy the city’s industrial sector. A fifth of the force aborted due to weather or mechanical problems. Of the 262 B-17s that made it to Stuttgart, 45 were lost. After the raid, Eaker limited most of his targets to those in France, within range of his escort fighters. On September 28, Arnold di


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