Wreckage from B-52
downed by Russian Jet Fighters near Bardufoss
The group of bombers were identified as the 11th Bomb Squadron, one of two
squadrons that make up the 2nd Bomb Wing out of Barksdale, Louisiana.
According to some of the flyers from 11th Bomb's sister squadron, the 20th Bomb Squadron, it appears both squadrons had been assigned to the Bardufoss strike that night.
The 20th Bomb apparently finished its bombing run first, and headed south before the Russian fighters could spot them. The 11th Bomb wasn't so lucky.
"It was a nightmare I can never forget," said bombardier Sgt. MacAvoy, 29, from Topeka, Kansas, one of the few survivors who managed to bail out and later found in the snowy mountainous terrain of central Norway. "We were slapping high fives with one another, bragging about how many Rooskies we must've killed on our run over
Bardufoss, when suddenly the warning indicator goes off while some of the other bombers are being hit with missiles.
"Watching those other bombers go down, one by one, in fiery flames was horrible," MacAvoy sobbed. "And losing all my buddies on the Lady Lu (a pet name his crew gave to his own aircraft) is something I will be haunted by the rest of my life."
The disaster was not announced in any
press conference, but rather was made public after Norwegian civilians
found pieces of the B-52s lying on the ground the next morning.
For NATO, the incident marked the second major disaster in the war, which at that time was only 27 hours old. The first and more tragic defeat was the sinking of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, along with most of of its air wing and two other ships.
According to some military analysts, the fighters that attacked the
B-52s might well have been the same ones that escorted the strike on the
Truman group. Some senior officers seemed mystified over Russia's
ability to refuel fighters over such extended distances.
Passing the buck over loss of bombers
In military circles, the B-52s are considered the sledgehammer of the US Air Force, capable of wreaking massive destruction like no other aircraft in the world. The US only had four squadrons of these bombers worldwide -- three from the 2nd Bomb Wing and one from the 5th Bomb Wing, making the loss of one of these squadrons a major blow to the US arsenal.
"How could this have happened? Didn't anybody know there might be fighters in the area?" asked one reporter during a recent press conference. He was not alone in his questioning. Congressmen and the western press demanded answers.
"There's no question this is a setback," said a spokesperson for NATO's Supreme Allied Commander
(SACEUR). "We were counting on those bombers in upcoming operations in Europe." He went on to say that the bombers were not the responsibility of the European NATO command, however, but rather was under the command of
JCNORTH, a joint theater command under the Atlantic Command,
In a recent press conference held by JHQNORTH which was held after the loss of the bombers but before word began to leak out about the incident, no mention was made of the loss. Instead, only generalities were mentioned.
"I do not have accurate numbers of losses of NATO aircraft," said Admiral Bob McDonald, Chief of Operations at
JHQNORTH, which is JCNORTH's headquaarters here in Stavenger, Norway. "But the vast majority occurred to [our own] aircraft on the ground at the start of this war. The air battle is on-going."
It remains to be seen whether JCNORTH is at fault for losing the 11th Bomb Squadron, or if the loss was simply the result of a calculated risk that simply went sour. In any case, most military analysts agree that
the loss of these bombers will significantly reduce NATO's offensive
power, something that was critical to helping stem the tide against the