Activated on February 3, 1942, the B-17 Flying Fortress-equipped 303rddeployed to England in August 1942 for service with Eighth Air Force. Constituent units included the 358th, 359th, 360th, and 427thbombardment squadrons. The group entered combat in November, and bombed airfields, railroads, submarine pens, industrial facilities, marshalling yards, and other strategic objectives. It participated in the first American heavy bomber penetration into Germany when it struck submarine pens at Wilhelmshaven on January 27, 1943. Further targets included ball bearing plants in Schweinfurt, shipbuilding yards in Bremen, a synthetic rubber plant in Huls, an aircraft engine factory in Hamburg, industrial areas of Frankfurt, an airfield at Villacoublay, and a marshalling yard at Le Mans.
Flying through intense anti-aircraft fire during an attack on Vegesack on March 18, 1stLt. Jack W. Mathis, the leading bombardier of his squadron, was knocked from his bombsight by enemy fire. Although mortally wounded, he returned to his position and released the bombs. For this action, which ensured an accurate attack against a critical target, Mathis posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
TSgt. Forrest L. Vosler, radio operator and gunner, received the Medal of Honor on a mission to Bremen on December 20. After bombing the target, Vosler’s plane was hit by antiaircraft fire that knocked out two engines, damaged the radio equipment, seriously injured the tail gunner, and wounded Vosler in the legs and thighs. Another 20-mm shell nearly blinded him. He nevertheless maintained a steady stream of fire to protect the tail of the aircraft. When the pilot announced that the plane would ditch, Vosler, working entirely by touch, repaired the radio and sent out distress signals. When the plane went down in the English Channel, the sergeant secured the tail gunner and himself on the wing. Vosler’s radio signals brought help, and the entire crew was rescued.
The 303rdearned a Distinguished Unit Citation on January 11, 1944 when, in the face of fierce attacks by enemy fighters in weather that prevented effective fighter cover from staying with the group, it successfully struck an aircraft assembly plant at Oschersleben. During the Normandy campaign the 303rd attacked gun emplacements and bridges in the Pas-de-Calais, and bombed enemy troops in support of the breakthrough at St. Lo. The group struck airfields, oil depots, and other targets during the Battle of the Bulge from December 1944 through January 1945, and bombed military installations near Wesel to aid the Allied assault across the Rhine in March 1945. The 303rdflew its last combat mission, an attack on armament works in Pilsen, on April 25. The 303rdBombardment Group moved to French-Morocco in May and June of that year and inactivated on July 25.
Campaigns: Air Offensive, Europe; Normandy; Northern France; Rhineland; Ardennes-Alsace; Central Europe