LONDON -- A 15-mile-long parade of American heavy bombers thundered across the heart of Berlin for 30 minutes today, and set great fires in the stricken Nazi capital, after smashing through a huge German fighter screen that fought vainly to save the city from its first mass daylight assault of the war.
Hundreds of Flying Fortresses and Liberators, accompanied by probably an equal number of long-range fighters, lashed at Berlin and preliminary reports indicated they had succeeded in deluging the city with bombs, in spite of the Luftwaffe's furious defense.
Nazi fighters swarmed up to challenge the great armada 100 miles west of the city and along the homeward flight.
Returning bomber crews and fighter pilots, however, said the massed firepower of the Fortresses and Liberators and the tight screen of American fighters overwhelmed the German aerial defenses.
Berlin's anti-aircraft batteries thew up a vicious curtain of fire, but the Nazi fighter pilots fought a hopeless battle all the way.
The American raiders flew through clear weather and picked out their targets easily through a scattered cloud formation. At least two large areas of flame -- each about one block square -- were seen spreading through the city when the bombers turned away.
Bombardiers were able to distinguish such landmarks as the Nazi Sportspalast and they agreed there was no doubt they had "blasted hell out of the target."
Rise in squadrons
The German fighters rose in squadrons of 100 to 150 planes as soon as the raiders appeared over the Reich, but most of them hung back until it became certain Berlin was the main objective.
Then they swarmed in to the attack, concentrating their heaviest thrusts just as the bombers began their "run" over the capitals.
The fury of their own flak barrage, however, frightened most of the German fighters off, and the rest were repulsed by the bombers and their fighter escorts.
While the running fights in some instances lasted anywhere from two to four hours, and the Nazis described the action as one of the greatest aerial battles of the war, veteran Fortress crews said it did not come up to the savage duels precipitated by the Brunswick raids on Jan. 11 and Feb. 10.
Stunned by the impact of the onslaught, Nazi propagandists were silent until United States Headquarters had announced the historic operation. They then burst into a frenzy of claims that German defenders had swarmed to the defense of their capital with everything at their command.
The Nazi radio admitted that "a major part of the U.S. formations were able to reach the capital" half an hour after issuing a tentative propaganda claim that the American bombers "were scattered in several groups and driven off to the south when they reached the outskirts of Great Berlin."
The DNB news agency said that great battles were being fought all the way from the Zuider Zee to the Havel Lakes near Berlin. The "strongest" force of German fighters rose to challenge the Americans, DNB said, and hundreds of anti-aircraft batteries laid an aerial carpet of fire all across Germany.
The first Mustang fighter pilots returning from Berlin today, however, reported that opposition was comparatively light.
Mustang pilots of Lieut. Col. James H. Howard's group picked up the American bombers at a rendezvous and escorted them over the target.
They tangled in occasional clashes, but the German fighters did not seem eager and for the most part shied away.
Anti-air craft fire over Berlin also appeared light, the first fighter pilots said, but they pointed out that at a speed of 400 miles an hour there was little time to notice the flak.
The signs were that Maj.-Gen. James H. Doolittle had launched the 8th air force on a systematic reduction of the remaining industries in Berlin.
Air leaders long have been awaiting the time when American bombers could reach Berlin by daylight and single out targets which British night bombers may have missed.
Big formations of United States fighter planes escorted the mighty armada of 8th Air Force bombers returning to the Berlin region only two days after their first assault of the war on the German capital.
Air fields attacked
Flying fortresses of the 8th Air Force struck at Berlin Saturday, in the first attack of the war on the German capital by American bombers. Bad weather reduced the scale of the bombardment.
Mosquito night bombers of the Royal Air Force had attacked western Germany without loss.
American Liberator bombers yesterday attacked German airfields in southwestern France, including a fighter and bomber base at Cognac, 70 miles north of Bordeaux, and a training field at Bergerac, 55 miles east of Bordeaux.
Fourteen enemy planes were shot down by escorting Thunderbolts, Lightnings and Mustangs. Four bombers and five fighters were lost.