On November 20, 1944, 400 bombers escorted by 300 Mustang and Lightning fighter planes set off on a vital mission. Hitler’s defeat was still nearly six months away, and fighting in Europe was still fierce and deadly. The planes set off from Pantanella airfield in southern Italy, and their target was Blechhammer, some 600 miles to the north in modern-day Poland.
The object of this U.S. Air Force mission was to destroy a synthetic fuel plant. Denying the Nazis the resources they needed for their tanks, planes and trucks was a key strategic aim. Fuel in particular was vital for the Germans to resist the Allied invasion of Europe. The Blechhammer refinery processed coal to make synthetic oil and was therefore an important target.
Leading the flight of bombers was a B-24 Liberator commanded by Lt. Col Clarence “Jack” Lokker. Lokker and his crew knew that this mission would be no cakewalk since the plant they planned to bomb had exceptionally strong batteries of anti-aircraft artillery. Clearly, the Germans were determined to protect this crucial resource.