Or Go Down in Flame

A Navigator's Death Over Schweinfurt

W. Raymond Wood

This book is the result of a multi-year effort to illuminate "Black Thursday” as no writer has before. He not only reveals the experience of the American flyers in this famous battle, but that of the civilians on the ground and the enemy fighters who flew against the bomber stream. It brings the reader into the center of harrowing air combat.
Date Published :
July 2013
Publisher :
Illustration :
48 illustrations
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612001777
Pages : 240
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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Though Anglo-American air power may be unrivaled in today’s world, this was certainly not the case during Europe’s last great war. Decades ago, when our airmen flew against Germany, horrific casualties resulted on both sides, and certain battles fought by the Allied powers can be termed nothing less than calamitous.

“Black Thursday,” the second Schweinfurt raid, was the most savagely fought air battle in U.S. history, and a milestone in the course of World War II. On October 14, 1943, the U.S. Eighth Air Force launched nearly 300 bombers deep into German territory to destroy the ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt, hoping this would bring enemy industry to a halt.

On that clear, sunlit day, hundreds of German fighters raced among the unescorted B-17s, guns blazing, knocking down plane after plane, each with ten men aboard. Other German aircraft flew just outside machine-gun range of the tightly packed formations, lobbing rockets that exploded into thousands of pieces of shrapnel. U.S. bombers that split off from a formation, either wounded or disoriented, became prey for the agile packs of German fighters who would set upon them like wolves thirsty for a kill. By the end of the day, the flight path of the Flying Fortresses was marked across the breadth of Germany by towering pillars of smoke from crashed machines, fiery tributes to 600 lost airmen.

W. Raymond Wood was just a child when his brother was lost in the Schweinfurt raid, and the minute details of this book is the result of his multi-year effort to illuminate “Black Thursday” as no writer has before. He not only reveals the experience of the American flyers in this famous battle, but that of the civilians on the ground and the enemy fighters who flew against the bomber stream, including the Me-110 pilot who in all probability destroyed his brother’s plane with a rocket.

Illustrated with 48 pages of photos and original documents, this book examines the air war against the Third Reich, then brings the reader into the center of harrowing air combat, and finally chronicles the little-known operations after war’s end to retrieve and identify our dead.

The young navigator who sacrificed his life over Schweinfurt, after first being buried in the German village in which he fell, was at last recovered by RAF and American War Graves teams, who returned his corpse to Nebraska, where his family had anxiously awaited news of the discovery of his remains. In this book, Wood has provided not only an important work of historical research, but also the intimate account of a death in one of World War II’s greatest battles.

About The Author

W. Raymond Wood specializes in military history.


Foreword by Leland Dowden

CHAPTER 1 A Lost Airman
CHAPTER 2 Air War Over Germany
CHAPTER 3 Prospects for Survival
CHAPTER 4 Into the Arena
CHAPTER 5 Last of the Milk Runs
CHAPTER 6 Second Schweinfurt
CHAPTER 7 The Destruction of the Wicked WAAC
CHAPTER 8 Bailout Over Bavaria
CHAPTER 9 A Funeral in Germany
CHAPTER 10 The American Graves Registration Command
CHAPTER 11 A Melancholy Homecoming
CHAPTER 12 Beyond Black Thursday

References and Sources


“…not only details the events surrounding the death of one aviator during the Allied strategic bombing campaign against Germany in 1943, but also could be described as an introductory work in how to do research with WWII records…extremely well researched account of the author’s own private quest to find out the truth about his brother….Or Go Down in Flame would be useful to WWII historians interested in the bombing over Germany and to non professionals interested in researching relatives lost during the war…

- Plains Anthropologist, Vol 41, No 158

This is the engrossing story of an American professor's quest to learn how his older brother was killed in WW II and the process by which the body was transported to its final resting place, the family plot in Missouri. Lt. Elbert S. Wood, navigator on a B-17 bomber during a 1943 raid over Germany, was the sole member of the crew who did not parachute safely to ground after the plane was damaged. (Lt. Wood, wounded, was probably strangled by his own parachute lines.) The author interviewed surviving crewmen, visited the crash site and questioned German civilians who attended Lt. Wood's funeral in the small Bavarian town where his body was taken. He constructed an outline of his brother's military career and a moment-by-moment account of his last mission. In one of many poignant moments, Wood pays tribute to the town Burgermeister who went out of his way to give an American airman a dignified burial (German soldiers on leave served as guards of honor) "when this was not a popular or even safe course of action." The book may also be read as an exemplar of how to research the fate of an American combat casualty.

- Publisher’s Weekly

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