22 March 1944: On this day in Berlin history, Jimmy Stewart led the 2nd Bomb Wing attack on Berlin.
Stewart came from a family steeped in military tradition: his forefathers had served in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and in WWI. Before his initial draft into the Army, Jimmy had achieved his Private Pilot and Commercial certificate in 1935 and 1938.
In late 1941, the Army began hiring civilian pilots to ferry airplanes and perform other non-military duties. Stewart volunteered for flight training, earning him a pilot slot. After nine months as an instructor pilot, Stewart got a billet in a unit training up for deployment to England, the 703rd Bomb Squadron.
Stewart was recommended to be the commander for the 445th Bombardment group. Here, he would get to Europe and get his chance to join the fight. In 1943 he flew across the Atlantic in new B-24Hs and was given his first bombing mission in December of 1943. By early 1944, he had flown his 12th sortie into combat and helped lead an attack on Berlin itself on March 22nd. He would later take on targets deeper into Germany and was promoted to Major and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Jimmy Stewart was no doubt the most famous officer to serve in a combat unit in World War II and although shy, the Army took advantage of his notoriety by issuing press releases. A news release was sent out after his Berlin mission in which he was quoted commenting on the intensity of the flak and fighters. When asked if the mission was unusual, he responded with “Unusual? We hit Berlin, didn’t we?”
Alongside his acting career, Stewart continued to serve in the United States Air Force as a reserve officer. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General before retiring in 1968 after 27 years of service.
This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was written by BBS Member Chiara Baroni.
It’s one of four events she has chosen to remember this March. Follow Our Blog to see what else she chooses.