Brigadier General J. Kemp Mclaughlin




The Second raid on Schweinfurt (also called Mission 115) took place during the Second World War on the 14th of October 1943, when 291 B-17's  of the USAAF attacked ball bearing  factories in Schweinfurt, Germany. The factories had previously been attacked on the 17th of August  resulting in a disastrous loss of aircraft. Some 42% of Germany's ball bearings were produced at Schweinfurt and were considered so important to the German war effort that they were one of the highest priority targets after aircraft factories and petroleum production. The second mission to destroy the factories, which was carried out on the 14th of October 1943, has become known as Black Thursday in Air Force history due to the heavy loss of men and aircraft. For hundreds of miles inbound to the target area, the B-17 bomber formations were attacked again and again by large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters. A Spitfire escort protected the aircraft over the English Channel. They handed over to fifty P-47's  who accompanied the raid as far as possible. Over Walcheren twenty BF 109's  attacked the escort fighters. German losses were five destroyed and four damaged while no U.S. planes were lost. At Duren , thirty FW-190's  attacked the bombers. Another twenty Fw-190s later joined the attack. During this battle, several B-17s were lost, as well as at least one P-47. German losses were six Fw-190s. At this point, the Thunderbolts had reached the limit of their range and had to return home. German attacks on the bombers continued during the next three hours as the B-17s flew without Allied fighter escort to the target. Despite the spectacle of plane after plane falling, those bombers still able to fly maintained their course. Crews had been told to expect seven minutes of exposure to 500 flak guns while over the target area. Unusually, some of the German attackers flew through their own flak to attack aircraft which had not yet dropped their bombs. Only 229 planes reached the target. The 305th Group lost thirteen of the fifteen bombers it sortied and was effectively wiped out. After "Bombs Away," the American bombers turned away from the target and headed for England and their bases. Almost immediately the German fighters, having landed, refuelled and rearmed, struck again. Finally, the B-17s reached the coastline of Europe and relative safety, some of them so heavily damaged that though they brought their crews home, they would never fly again. Gunners aboard the bombers claimed to have shot down 138 German planes; German records state only thirty eight were lost. In the final tally, fifty-nine Flying Fortresses were shot down over Germany, one ditched in the English Channel on the return flight, five crashed in England, and twelve more were scrapped due to battle damage or crash landings (more by AA-guns than by fighter aircraft), a total loss of seventy seven B-17s. 122 bombers were damaged to some degree and needed repairs before their next flight. Out of 2900 men in the crews, about 650 men did not return, although some survived as POWS. Five were killed and forty three wounded in the damaged aircraft that made it home, and 594 were listed as Missing in Action. Only thirty three bombers landed without damage. One U.S. fighter pilot was killed in a crash landing in England; and one was wounded and bailed out over Duren. He was smuggled out by the Resistance, returning to England three and a half months later. The Allies learned the importance of a fighter escort with sufficient range, recognizing the vulnerability of heavy bombers against interceptors. Such very heavy losses could not be sustained, and unescorted daylight bomber raids deep into Germany were suspended until 1944. Raids on Schweinfurt resumed in February, 1944 during what came to be known as Big Week  with p-51 fighters escorting the American heavies all the way to and from the targets.









Mclaughlin fourth from left stands with his crewmates, Mclaughlin would lead the mission control plane in the largest air raid in history, the second mission against Schweinfurt.

J. Kemp McLaughlin was all of 23 years old when he flew his first combat mission during World War II. McLaughlin, a B-17 co-pilot, and his fellow crew members had just bombed an airfield in Lille, France, when they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire and took a direct hit to the number two fuel tank in their left wing. While flames streamed well beyond the tail of the plane, another burst sent shrapnel through the centre of the aircraft, wounding the radio operator. The waist gunner bailed out. Unnerved, the pilot left the cockpit, strapped on a parachute, and camped out on the escape hatch, ready to jump before the plane exploded. It was up to Second Lieutenant McLaughlin to return the plane and its crew to safety at the base, Bovingdon Aerodrome north of London, England. This he managed to do while under heavy fire from German aircraft.  Mclaughlin was born on the 7th of December,1918, in Braxton County USA, McLaughlin's childhood was spent in rural surroundings. His parents, James and Almira McLaughlin, owned farms in Braxton, Berkeley, Kanawha, and Putnam Counties. Kemp grew up in Charleston, but spent his formative years working on all of the family's farms. McLaughlin arrived in England as a second lieutenant and co-pilot in the Mighty Eighth's 92nd Bombardment Group, later nicknamed "Fame's Favored Few."





"The B-17 was the first bomber we ever had with so many guns," McLaughlin recalled. "It was very well built. You could shoot it full of holes, and it would still fly as long as you didn't hit a fuel line." The plane's durability was critical for the success—and survival—of the 92nd Bomb Group, which would participate in some of the war's most dangerous air battles. McLaughlin was deputy air commander on a bombing raid in Norway in November 1943 when his plane lost oil pressure in the number three engine, causing the engine to overheat. The crew carried out the raid despite the mechanical problem. On its way back to England, the B-17 came under attack from an enemy plane and could not return fire because the crew had thrown all the guns overboard to lighten the load. The overheating engine caught fire as the plane landed at an airfield in England. McLaughlin called this his "longest day." McLaughlin was air commander on a bombing raid during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. The Allies had decimated German air power by this time, but their planes unexpectedly encountered fire from enemy tanks. A piece of shrapnel went through the side of McLaughlin's plane and pierced his metal seat. He was uninjured. "I had flown about 40 missions all over the continent by this time without being hit, and here, on what I would call a 'milk run,' I'd nearly bought the farm," he said.



He spent almost five months ferrying high-ranking military officials around Gibraltar and North Africa in a B-17 outfitted with lounge chairs, a folding table, and windows in the bomb bay. The one close call during this period came on the return trip to England. The plane ran low on fuel, and the crew had to crash-land in Ireland with the commander of American forces in the European Theatre of Operations on board. McLaughlin and his fellow pilots staged air battles with a Hollywood director, Major William Wyler, and his crew on board filming the action. Wyler included the footage in such movies as Twelve O'clock High and Memphis Belle. He transported performers sent to entertain Allied troops and once ate lunch with comedian Bob Hope. He found time to marry his long-time girlfriend, Constance Bailey. The two were wed on the 11th of May, 1944, in the interim between McLaughlin's first and second tours of duty. McLaughlin was nearing the completion of his second tour in the spring of 1945. After flying 40 combat missions and spending more than 31 months in England, he was ordered back to the States. He accepted a commission as a lieutenant colonel following the war and finished his service in June 1946 at Gulfport Army Air Field in Mississippi. After that, he and his wife returned to Charleston. "I think of all the combat I went through, which are the bad parts," he said. "Of course, I remember the good times as well. All my comrades were boys just like I was, just out of college. We were all single, and we all got along great together. There were lots of happy times, Mclaughlin recalled. When McLaughlin and his wife returned to Charleston, he considered the military chapter of his life closed. He had landed a job selling construction equipment and was beginning the process of moving on with his life. Three months later, though, the adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard asked McLaughlin to serve as commander of the state's first Air National Guard squadron. He accepted, and in 1947 he began organizing the unit. Highlights of McLaughlin's 30-year tenure as commander of the West Virginia Air National Guard included service during the Korean War and organizing a second unit based in Martinsburg.  McLaughlin retired as commander in 1977 with the rank of brigadier general.