Geoff Walden


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Schweinfurt

   Schweinfurt, an industrial city of some 52,000 people located on the Main River in northern Bavaria, was a center for the manufacture of anti-friction bearings during World War II (and still is). As the U.S. 8th Air Force began to build up its strength in England in 1943, planners wished to concentrate on bombing those industrial targets that they felt would most hurt the German war effort, particularly the enemy aircraft industry. Low-friction ball and roller bearings were used in all parts of military and commercial machinery, and research indicated that roughly half of the German bearing industry was located in Schweinfurt, concentrated at four or five factory sites on the western side of town. The 8th Air Force planners felt that if they could strike hard enough at Schweinfurt, the results might cripple the German war industry.

This page is divided into seven parts, with two associated pages.
Part 1 - Introduction and bombing of the bearing factories (this page)
Part 2 - Bombing damage to the city, and memorials to the bombing victims
Part 3 - Flak (anti-aircraft) battery defenses of Schweinfurt
Part 4 - Air defense shelters throughout the city
Part 5 - End of the war in Schweinfurt (April 1945)
Part 6 - Schweinfurt under the Swastika (Nazi buildings, parades, and ceremonies)
Part 7 - German military in Schweinfurt (military barracks, Panzer Regiment 4)
Luftwaffe ammunition storage facility at Rottershausen
References for the Schweinfurt pages

Click here for a link to a MapQuest map of Schweinfurt.

 

The primary Schweinfurt targets  ...  above, the Kugelfischer-Georg-Schäfer company, the largest bearing manufacturer in Schweinfurt (see below). The administration offices are seen at the left, with the Hochgebäude (high-rise building) in the center (modern view at the right above). Below left, the administration buildings of the Fichtel & Sachs company (see below); below right, workers on the bearing lines in one of the buildings of the Vereinigte Kugellagerfabriken (VKF) company (see below). Note that although Fichtel & Sachs were no longer primarily a bearing producer by the start of World War II, the company did re-open bearing lines during the war, and was targeted by Allied bombers as such. (Note - This webpage uses the World War II names for the bearing companies. None of these companies remains in the hands of the WW2 owners, and some have changed names more than once. Kugelfischer is now called FAG-Kugelfischer, Fichtel & Sachs is ZF-Sachs, and VKF is called SKF. Interestingly, the company became VKF (Vereinigte Kugellagerfabriken) in 1929, but they were part of the SKF conglomerate (Schwedische Kugellagerfabriken), and that name was commonly used as well. However, during the war the Allies referred to this company as VKF, as they did not want to appear to be bombing a Swedish company!)  (period photos of Kugelfischer Hochgebäude and VKF are from a 1936 info pamphlet on Schweinfurt; others from period postcards; all in author's collection)

   

Above - two views of the Fichtel & Sachs work lines in 1928 (these lines would still have appeared similar in 1943). On the left, mainly women workers finish hubs. On the right, workmen at the grinding machines. Below, a view of the F&S Kantine, or workers' cafeteria in 1939. Note the portrait of Hitler on the wall.  (from the ZF Sachs archives, courtesy Jean-François Soyez)

 

   The U.S. 8th Air Force insisted on precision daylight bombing as being most effective (as opposed to the British Royal Air Force which bombed at night, targeting wide areas instead of pinpoint targets); however, that left the B-17 bombers at the mercy of the Luftwaffe for most of their journeys to and from the target, as the Allies did not yet have fighter planes with a range to escort the bombers much beyond the German border. Nonetheless, the planners felt that the "combat box" formations of the heavily-armed B-17 "Flying Fortresses" would provide sufficient interlocking firepower to defeat the German fighters.

   Accordingly, Schweinfurt was attacked first on 17 August 1943. 230 B-17s left England, but the Luftwaffe had over 300 fighters available to oppose them, and only 184 B-17s bombed Schweinfurt, and 36 did not return to England. The firepower of the box formations had not been enough to defeat the Luftwaffe, and the bomber crews suffered 341 casualties. Coupled with a loss of 24 bombers and 200 men from a strike on Regensburg that same day, this was a heavy blow to the 8th Air Force. In addition, reconnaissance indicated the Schweinfurt bombing was not as accurate as had been hoped. The ball bearing factories had not been critically damaged.

 

"Bomber Raids on Schweinfurt 1943" - Marshall Islands postage stamp

"Attack on Schweinfurt" - Antigua-Barbuda postage stamp

 

   After rebuilding its strength, the 8th Air Force again attacked Schweinfurt on 14 October 1943, a day that would go down in history as "Black Thursday." 291 B-17s left England, 229 bombed the target, and 60 bombers were lost. Crew casualties amounted to 639 men  ...  a loss the 8th Air Force could not afford, and which put a halt, for the time being, to unescorted deep strikes. The bombing was more accurate this time, but hindsight shows that it was not a crippling blow to the bearing industry.

Bombs from the first wave of B-17s falling on Schweinfurt on "Black Thursday." Bombs are hitting the Kugelfischer and VKF-Werk I factories and the railroad marshalling yards just west of the downtown area, but are also falling on residential areas north and west of downtown, and some bombs are falling very wide of the mark south of the Main River and downriver to the southwest (at the lower left corner).  (U.S. National Archives, RG 342-FH-3A22431)

Modern map of Schweinfurt at the same scale and orientation, with the ball bearing factory areas outlined in red. The factory closest to downtown (small one near the center of the map) was the VKF-Werk I. The large site next to the left was the Kugelfischer-Georg-Schäfer complex, the largest in Schweinfurt. South of the railroad yards, the smaller site was VKF-Werk II. At the left edge of the map is the Fichtel & Sachs facility, with the small Deutsche Star factory inset at the lower left.

 

   The 8th Air Force did not attack Schweinfurt again until February 1944, by which time the Allies had long-range escort fighters and the Luftwaffe was on the wane. In total, Schweinfurt was bombed 22 times by 2285 aircraft during World War II, including attacks by the U.S. 8th and 15th Air Forces,  night bombing by the British Royal Air Force, and a final tactical attack by the 12th Air Force on 10 April 1945, the day before the U.S. Army took the city. A total of 7933 tons of bombs were dropped on Schweinfurt (592,598 individual bombs), some 65% of the total dropped by the Allies on all bearing industry plants. However, after the "Black Thursday" strike, the bearing industry was dispersed as much as practical, and it was no longer possible to cripple the industry by concentrating on Schweinfurt. Post-war investigation by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey showed that while production fell by early 1944 to about half of the pre-attack totals, it rose again to about 85 percent by mid-1944. The German war machine never suffered from a significant loss in bearing supply throughout the war. But Schweinfurt was left largely in ruins  ...  half of the houses and four-fifths of the industrial buildings destroyed, with 1079 civilian casualties.

 

Bombing Schweinfurt ... above - two views of the initial attack on 17 August 1943. At the left - B-17s drop incendiary bombs. At the right - the city and bearing factories burn after the attack. Visible behind the B-17 at the upper right corner of the photo are numerous smoke trails from smoke generating devices on the ground near the Flugplatz military post, in an effort at camouflage. Below left - the factory areas and city burn after the "Black Thursday" attack of 14 October 1943. Below right - bombing attack of 24 February 1944, part of the renewed bomber offensive called "Big Week." In the most devastating attacks of the war, Schweinfurt was hit three times in two days - on 24 February by the U.S. 8th Air Force, and on twice on the night of 24-25 February by the British Royal Air Force.  (USAF photos; above right - U.S. National Archives, RG 342FH-3A22448; below left - U.S. National Archives RG 342FH-3A22445)

   

Bombers lost and damaged during the attacks ... On the left above, a B-17 trails smoke from its damaged No. 3 engine. On the right, B-17 #230831, "Lazy Baby," of the 305th Bombardment Group, which was shot down on 14 October 1943. Below - two that made it home, but with heavy damage and crew casualties. On the left, B-17 #239789, "Skunk Face," of the 379th Bombardment Group suffered tail and stabilizer damage. The unidentified bomber on the right suffered heavy damage to the nose.  (below - True Magazine, April 1957)

 

The men who bombed Schweinfurt ... On the left, the crew of the B-17 "Yank," which bombed Schweinfurt on 14 October 1943. On the right, Col. Budd J. Peaslee, who led the attack on Schweinfurt on 14 October 1943, in command of the First Bomb Division (Mission 115 - "Black Thursday"). (left - Yank Magazine; right - True Magazine, April 1957)

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In 1998 survivors of the bomber crews who attacked Schweinfurt on "Black Thursday,"
14 October 1943, members of the Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association, and
members of the Flakhelfer anti-aircraft battery crews jointly erected a monument
to the memory of the casualties on both sides during the bombing attacks on Schweinfurt.
The monument is located at the side of the Spitalsee Luftschutzbunker.

 

These two links have detailed listings of bombers and crew lost during the attacks on 17 August 1943 and 24 February 1944:

http://franckruffino.chez.com/My-Site/Victory_13.htm

http://franckruffino.chez.com/My-Site/Victory_21.htm 

 


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The two bombing attacks in 1943 scattered bombs widely over the town area, not just the factory areas. By the time the bomber streams reached the aiming point, they had been severely disrupted by Luftwaffe fighters and flak, and many bombers simply released their bombs in the general area of the town. In the view above left, taken on 17 August 1943, a string of bombs is falling along Niederwerrnerstraße from the Panzer Kaserne into the downtown area (nowhere near any bearing factories). The bombing of 14 October 1943 was more accurate, but still dropped bombs on the town area, south of the river, and downriver away from the targets: above right, the first wave falls on 14 October; below left, a subsequent wave drops its bombs far to the west of the target area; below right, incendiary bombs fall on the VKF-Werk I factory.  (U.S. National Archives, RG 342FH)

 

The bombing attacks of 1944 were more accurate. Although some residential parts of the city were still hit, the concentration of bombs fell in the vicinity of the bearing factories. However, the RAF night attacks of 24-25 February 1944 caused widespread damage to the city. In the view at left of the USAF attack on 24 February 1944, small streams of smoke can be seen drifting across the Main River near the lower left corner of the photo - these were an ineffectual attempt at smoke screen camouflage (see also here). The view on the right shows the bombing concentration on 13 April 1944.  (left - author's collection; right - U.S. National Archives RG 342FH-3A22452)

 

The daylight bombing attack of 24 February 1944, observed from the Flak Battery at Grafenrheinfeld, across the Main River southwest of the city. On the left, bombs are striking the factory areas; later, the city and factories burn after the attack.  (author's collection)

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The main factory building of the VKF-Werk I was heavily damaged. The building was repaired, and new construction added on the near side.  The company is now the world bearing supplier SKF. (Note - this building was torn down in late 2006.)  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

The views above, taken looking from the other end of the street, show the successive damage from multiple bombings to buildings near the VKF-Werk I factory. All has been repaired in the modern view below (the pedestrian bridge over the street was torn down after the war, and there has recently been a shopping plaza built in this area). On the right below is a view of the smoking ruins of the VKF1 building after an attack.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

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The VKF-Werk II ball bearing factory on Ernst-Sachs-Straße burns after one of the bombing attacks. In common with most of the 1940s factory buildings, the VKF buildings were rebuilt after the war in substantially their original forms.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Zwangsarbeiter (foreign workers) clearing damaged milling machines in the VKF-Werk II factory after the
14 October 1943 bombing attack.  (from SKF files, courtesy Jean-François Soyez)

 

How the analysts of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey found the VKF-Werk II facility in April 1945.  (U.S. National Archives - USSBS files, RG 342FH)

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The Kugelfischer ball bearing factory burns after the 14 October 1943 attack. This side of the main building was mostly destroyed by 1945 (center photo), but later rebuilt in its original form. The company is now FAG-Kugelfischer.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Following the October 1943 attack, the buildings of the Kugelfischer plant were disguised to mislead aerial bomb damage assessment. On the left, the Hochgebäude was painted after repair, to resemble dangling metal wreckage in the elevator shaft (this was in reality a flat wall surface, with the elevator back in operation - this is the other side of the building from that shown in the photos above). The building on the right was painted to simulate damage to the bricks.  (United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Vol. 53)

 

Ruins of the high-rise administration building of the Kugelfischer-George-Schäfer company, as seen by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey team in 1945; and as the repaired building appears today. (National Archives, RG 342FH- 3A22468)

 

Administration buildings of the Kugelfischer factory on fire on 14 October 1943. This scene has changed very little today.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

How the analysts of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey found the Kugelfischer factory buildings in April 1945. By the end of the war, many of the bearing factories were reduced to rubble, although through dispersal of the bearing manufacturing capacity and blast walls installed inside the factories, production was still estimated at 98 percent of pre-bombing totals in late 1944.  (U.S. National Archives - USSBS files, RG 342FH)

 

Ruins of the Kugelfischer plant in 1945. Most of the buildings show bomb damage, and some have been leveled. The Panzerkaserne (now US Army Ledward Barracks) is in the left distance, at the upper edge of this view.  (Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

Modern aerial view from a slightly different angle. Ledward Barracks is in the center distance (white buildings with gray roofs, at the top edge).  (FAG-Kugelfischer-Georg-Schäfer AG)

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500-pound bombs cratered Ernst-Sachs-Straße between the Fichtel & Sachs factory (seen here) and the VKF-Werk II facilities. Today the company uses the name ZF-Sachs (a subsidiary of ZF Friedrichshafen AG). The building with the pointed roof at the end of the street in the distance is the air raid shelter A8(Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt)

 

Looking down Ernst-Sachs-Straße in the opposite direction, at another large crater in the street. The Fichtel & Sachs buildings are to the left. The rebuilt VKF-Werk II building shown in the comparison above is on the right in the modern view, with another VKF (now SKF) building just beyond it.  (from ZF-Sachs files, courtesy Jean-François Soyez)

 

Left - 1936 view of the Fichtel & Sachs building; center - same view after a bombing attack in 1944; right - aerial view of the Sachs works in 1971. The VKF-Werk II building (now SKF) appears in the lower left corner, across Ernst-Sachs-Straße from the Sachs buildings. (left and center - Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt; right - Elmar Hahn & Rainer Mehl, "Schweinfurt," 1971)

 

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)  Continue to Schweinfurt, Part 2  --   bombing damage to the city itself

See also the subpage on the Luftwaffe Munitions Depot at Rottershausen, north of Schweinfurt.

Click here for a list of suggested readings on the battles for Schweinfurt.

"Reality - Remembering Schweinfurt"  --   http://home.att.net/~ww2aircraft/Schweinfurt.html

Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association  --  http://home.comcast.net/~ssmahistorian/ssma.html

I wish to acknowledge the kind assistance of the staff of the Stadtarchiv Schweinfurt provided during my photo research there.


Tour Guide service is available to the Third Reich and WW2 sites in Schweinfurt - see the Tour Guide page.

 

 

Third Reich in Ruins, http://www.thirdreichruins.com/

All contents copyright © 2000-2014, Geoffrey R. Walden; all rights reserved.  All photos taken by or 
from the collection of Geoffrey R. Walden, except where specifically noted.  Please respect my property rights,
and the rights of others who have graciously allowed me to use their photos on this page,
and do not copy these photos or reproduce them in any other way.

This page is intended for historical research only, and no political or philosophical aims should be assumed. 
Nothing on this page should be construed as advice or directions to trespass on private or posted property.

This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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