The air war over Europe was a bloody affair for Allied pilots flying bombing missions over occupied Europe and Germany. Large bomber formations were savaged by flak and/or German fighters. Losses were so heavy that any crew that survived 25 missions were sent home. Few did.

Things would soon change, however, as the P-51 Mustang fighter, a superior aircraft design married with the superior British Rolls Royce Merlin engine became the most dominant aircraft in the sky. And the P-51s could fly all the way to Germany with the bombers and return with them. Tactics would change also as American fighters would fly “sweeps” ahead of the bombers hitting Luftwaffe fields to catch the fighters on the ground giving the Mustangs near-complete control of the skies by 1944. 

But in late-1943, things were still looking bleak for the bomber crews. On December 20, 1943, the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bomb Group out of Molesworth, England flew a combat bombing mission to Bremen. And during that mission, a year before the pivotal Battle of the Bulge, one American airman, Tech Sgt (SFC) Forrest L. Vosler would be awarded the Medal of Honor. 

Vosler was born on July 29, 1923, and at the time of the mission was just 20 years old. He was born near Lake Ontario and grew up in Rochester, NY where he’d been a Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and Assistant Scoutmaster. 

At the time of Pearl Harbor, he was working as a drill press operator in a GM plant. He enlisted in the Army with the hopes of becoming a pilot. But he failed the entry tests and was assigned to the Radio Operator and Mechanics School and the Aerial Gunnery School in Texas. First and foremost, every crew member on a B-17 Flying Fortress was a gunner first. Most of the B-17s carried between 10-12 .50 caliber M2 machine guns to defend the aircraft and the group. 

Forrest Vosler was awarded the MOH for actions during a bombing mission over Germany on Dec. 20, 1943. US Army photo

Vosler at 6’3 was deemed too tall to serve in B-17s (6’0 was the maximum) but he bribed the doctor at his physical to allow him to continue. He was promoted to Sergeant at the completion of his training in late May 1943. In October 1943, he was transferred to England where he was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bomb Group (Hell’s Angels), located at Molesworth, England, about 90 miles north of London. 

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on December 20, 1943, Vosler, now a Staff Sergeant took off on his fourth combat mission. His aircraft, on its 28th combat mission, was a B-17F named the “Jersey Bounce Jr.,” and had been delivered to the Army from the Boeing plant in January and delivered to the squadron in England in March of that year.  She had already been flown by eight other crews and would have been considered a “Lucky ship.”

The first 19 days of December had seen England blanketed with fog, rain, and winter storms, so many missions were scrubbed, but on the 19th the weather began to clear and the 8th Air Force called for a “maximum effort” bombing mission to Bremen on the 19th. Earlier missions to Bremen that month has seen light flak and fighter attacks. The mission on the 20th was seen as more of the same. That was mistaken.