Lt. Tommy Bell and the ‘Mighty’ 8th Air Force

For Lt. Tommy Bell it would be his 29th combat mission. Like hundreds of Ole Miss students who enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tommy had made the transition from Rebel to Yank in short order. Two years of stateside flight training earned him his flight wings and an assignment to fly B-17Gs for the 8th AF’s 385th Bomber Group. Lt. Bell and crew arrived in England in October 1944 and flew their first combat missions a month later.

18 March 1945, 0300: The morning started early at the Great Ashfield air field. Wake up at 3 a.m., crew mission briefing, chow line, flight line for pre-flight and weapons checks, take off. It would be the biggest mission of the year for the 8th Air Force (AF). Fourteen thousand American flyers at 61 air fields across the English countryside would participate, but they had no way to know that March 18 would mark a turning point in aviation history.

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