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During World War II, the now-legendary VIII Bomber Command (often referred to as the Eighth Air Force) served as the principal American force assembled to attack Germany from the air. For several critical years in the early and mid-1940s, B-24 and B-17 bombers—the Flying Fortresses—from the “The Mighty 8th,” often in tandem with Royal Air Force fighters, crossed the Channel and hit strategic towns and cities in Nazi-held Europe.
In the 1940s, LIFE’s Margaret Bourke-White visited and photographed the Bomber Command in southern England more than once. The bulk of the photos in this gallery were made in 1942—before the tide of war in Europe had begun to turn in the Allies’ favor.
Bourke-White, one of LIFE magazine’s original four staff photographers, was America’s first accredited woman photographer during WWII, and the first authorized to fly on a combat mission. For decades she covered conflicts, civil wars, humanitarian crises and natural disasters. She documented segregation in the American South, was the last person to interview Gandhi before he was assassinated, was one of the first photographers to document the liberation of Nazi death camps and survived a torpedo attack while traveling by ship to North Africa in 1943. She was briefly married to the American writer Erskine Caldwell (God’s Little Acre, Tobacco Road). One of the greatest photojournalists of the 20th century, she died in 1971. She was 67 years old.