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Military Traditions

November 14, 2018 By Bill Getz

Scouts Out

The single biggest challenge facing the Eighth Air Force Bomber Command during World War II was not German fighters or German antiaircraft fire. It was bad weather!

Sixty-five percent of the 10,631 missions flown by the Eighth Air Force aircraft — 6,900 missions — were affected by European weather. Weather made it difficult to safely form 200 to 2,000 bombers into formations essential to bomb targets. Accidents occurred, targets missed. The adage that “Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it” did not apply to one frustrated bomb group commander who decided to solve the problem. He could not change the weather but he could solve the uncertainty. Colonel Bud J. Peaslee, Commander of the 384th Bomb Group, developed an idea and took it to Major General James H. Doolittle, Commander of the Eighth Air Force.

Peaslee reasoned that if infantry had scouts to check enemy positions why not have scouts for the bombers to do the same, particularly the weather? Weather reconnaissance aircraft did not do the job as they gave general weather conditions and not specific route information needed by the bomb commander. Peaslee proposed training bomber pilots who had completed their tours to fly P-51 aircraft thirty minutes ahead of the bombers giving the bomb commander “eyes” as to what to expect. Peaslee also reasoned that fighter pilots would be needed to provide protection against the Luftwaffe for the ex-bomber pilots who were not trained as fighter pilots. General Doolittle approved the plan for Scouts for each of the three bomber divisions. Thus was born the Fighting Scouts of the Eighth Air Force.

The Scouting Force organizations existed on paper. The Scouts depended entirely upon three fighter groups to provide them with logistic support including aircraft, living quarters, food, fuel — everything except pilots. Eighteen ex-bomber pilots and 36 fighter pilots were placed on detached service and divided between the three Scouting Forces. Ex-bomber pilots flew the P-51 while still assigned to their bomb groups.

Scouting Force operations began on July 16, 1944, from Steeple Morden Airfield, home of the 355th Fighter Group. The success of the Scouts is written in tributes from Eighth Air Force commanders. Finally, a public tribute to the unknown Scouts has been installed in the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Savannah, Georgia, birthplace of the Mighty Eighth. It was designed and sponsored by the last Scout pilot standing, Bill Getz, and his wife, Vicki.

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