The Struggle for Air Superiority,
November 1943-April 1944
The Eighth Air Force soon recovered its strength. A flow of replacements and new units, better trained than earlier arrivals, made it stronger than ever. The Eighth had grown from 20 complete heavy bomber groups in October to 25 by the end of 1943. VIIIth Fighter Command grew to 12 groups. The groups themselves were being strengthened, so that instead of putting up three squadrons of 16 planes each, some groups were starting to fly two separate, A and B groups, each of three 12-plane squadrons, more manageable than the standard 16-plane units.
Moreover, the Eighth was getting support from other forces. During October the Ninth Air Force headquarters arrived from the Mediterranean. It would control the U.S. tactical air forces supporting the cross-channel invasion; in the meantime it would support the Eighth. The Eighth's B-26 units were transferred to it, and in November it received three fighter groups from the States; one, the 354th, would play a particularly important part in the struggle for air superiority over Germany. On November 1 a new strategic air force, the Fifteenth, under General James Doolittle, was formed in the Mediterranean. Based at Foggia, in Italy, it would support the Eighth, attacking aircraft plants in southern Germany and in Austria, Hungary, and Romania. It took over the heavy bombers and some of the fighters of the Twelfth and Ninth Air Forces, starting its existence with 6 heavy bomber groups and just 4 not fully equipped fighter groups. The plan was to build the Fifteenth up to a force of 21 heavy groups (15 diverted from the Eighth) and 7 fighter groups by April 1944.
High hopes were entertained for the Fifteenth. General Arnold's headquarters hoped it would split the defending German forces, encounter better weather conditions during the winter, and hit some targets that were inaccessible, or not easily reached, from England.
Eaker and the British were less enthusiastic. They held that most of the objectives within the Fifteenth's radius of operations--Ploesti was an outstanding