On this day in 1944, American bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force launch Operation Frantic, a series of bombing raids over Central Europe, alighting from airbases in southern Italy, but landing at airbases in Poltava, in the Soviet Union, in what is called “shuttle bombing.”
The Fifteenth U.S. Air Force was created solely to cripple Germany’s war economy. Operating out of Italy, and commanded by General Carl Spaatz, a World War I fighter pilot, the Fifteenth was recruited by a desperate Joseph Stalin to help the Red Army in its campaign in Romania. In exchange for the Fifteenth’s assistance, Stalin allowed the American bombers to land at airbases within the Soviet Union as they carried out Operation Frantic, a plan to devastate German industrial regions in occupied Silesia, Hungary, and Romania. Given that such bombing patterns would have made return flights to Foggia and other parts of southern Italy, the Fifteenth’s launching points, impossible because of refueling problems, the “shuttle” to Poltava was the solution that made Frantic a reality.
Before it was shortened to Frantic, the operation was dubbed Operation Frantic Joe-a commentary on Joe Stalin’s original urgent appeal for help. It was changed to avoid offending the Soviet premier.
Also on this day in 1944, the date for D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, was fixed for June 5. Originally June 4, it was acknowledged by Allied strategists that bad weather would make keeping to any one day problematic. German General Karl von Rundstedt, intercepting an Allied radio signal relating the June 4 date, was convinced that four consecutive days of good weather was necessary for the successful prosecution of the invasion. There was no such pattern of good weather in sight. The general became convinced that D-Day would not come off within the first week of June at all.