restricted access Appendix I: Tour Length
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APPENDIX I TOUR LENGTH How long pilots and other aircrew should have to fly against the enemy, either in terms of hours or operational sorties, was a subject that occupied a good deal of attention in the RAF, USAAF, and also the USN, though less so in the RN. The resulting official decisions, designed to maximize the usefulness of trained fliers while allowing them a sense that despite combat losses they might survive, produced directives that varied over time and place. In the RAF, fighter pilots were expected to complete about 200 operational flying hours before being taken off operations for a lengthy period. Day bomber crews by 1942 were being officially rested after 20 operations , while starting in May 1943 night bomber crews were expected to complete 30 operational trips for a first tour, plus 20 for an obligatory second tour after an extended rest from operations.1 After a brief period in late April 1944 when journeys to targets in western France were only to count for one-third of those to Germany, the first tour was extended to 35 in May, then rolled back to 30 in August after the heavy bombers were released from ground support duties, and then extended once again to 36 in February 1945 and finally to 50 in April as loss rates continued to decline.2 Operating from North Africa and Italy rather than England, bomber crews might face a total of 40 operational sorties;3 while in the Far East in late 1944 aircrew tours were reduced from 300 to 200 flying hours.4 In the USAAF, the individual force commanders determined how long men would fly. During the desperate efforts to stem the Japanese tide in 1942–1943, this could in practice mean more than 60 missions in what became the Fifth Air Force.5 In the Eighth Air Force based in England , the policy from March 1943 was that fighter pilots were supposed to complete at least 200 hours flying combat missions while bomber 106 : appendix i crews needed to have flown at least 25 combat missions.6 This was raised to 30 missions for bomber crews and 300 hours for fighter pilots at the end of March 1944 as loss rates declined, and later in the year tours were extended still further.7 In the Ninth Air Force, fighter pilots flew between 200 and 300 combat hours, and for bomber crews 300 combat hours or 50 missions were needed; while in the Fifteenth Air Force, operating from North Africa and Italy, a minimum of 300 hours for fighter pilots and 50 missions for bomber crews was required (though heavy bomber crews received double credit for tough targets such as Munich, Ploesti, and Vienna).8 In the war with Japan, by 1943–1944 a tour for Fifth Air Force bomber crews in the Southwest Pacific was about 40 missions,9 and in the Tenth and Fourteenth air forces in China–Burma–India about 400 hours by 1944.10 In 1945 the tour for Twentieth Air Force crews was extended from 30 to 35 missions,11 the same total crews in the Thirteenth Air Force were expected to fly.12 In the USN, carrier air groups were eventually expected to serve up to a maximum of nine months before being rotated home. In early March 1944, this was reduced to six months.13 The RN, meanwhile, continued to move Fleet Air Arm aircrew around from one operational squadron to another for up to several years at a time, such that a pilot might, with only brief periods of leave, serve more or less continuously aboard carriers for eighteen or more months before it was thought necessary to provide a rest from frontline duty.14 Needless to say, fliers were often not happy if they found themselves in operational units when tours were extended. “Twenty-five [missions] had seemed like a million to us,” remembered Byron Cook, a B-17 waist gunner with the 388th Bomb Group. “Thirty was almost too staggering to contemplate.”15 Eric Cropper, a Lancaster navigator with 103 Squadron, remembered how crews were “incredulous” when it was announced in April 1944 that it would take three trips over France to count for a single operation: “I can recall the slightly sick feeling with which this was received.”16 When B-29 crew tours were extended in mid-1945 to 35 missions , there was, according to one pilot, “a near riot on Saipan.”17 ...


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