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Old 3rd August 2009, 15:04
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

I wonder if anyone has insight into why the Allied air forces were unable to destroy the Wesel road and rail bridges in spite of their being given priority.
Isolating the battlefield was an ongoing task of the RAF (BC and 2TAF) and USAAF.
These Wesel bridges and ferries were the only LofC for I German Parachute Army, defending west of the Rhine against Ops Veritable and Grenade.

January 24, 1945. The final general conference was held on Veritable. The RAF was represented by SASO, W/C Ops and the W/C Armt of 84 Gp. Brig CC Oxborrow, BGS Ops Air 21 Army Gp also attended....
The requirements for air attacks prior to D Day included road and rail interdiction, both road and rail bridges over the Rhine at Wesel being given top priority.” source: Report No. 74, Historical Section (GS) of Canadian Army HQ.
“The air plan provided for heavy bombers of VIII USAAF to put out of action the rail and road bridges at Wesel”; source: Stacey.
I have been able to find the following references to air attacks on Wesel.

February 1, 1945. VIII USAAF. 236 B-17s attacked the road and rail bridges at Wesel. 315 tons of HE were dropped around the road bridge, and 66 tons around the railway bridge. The latter, unfortunately, remained undamaged. Further attacks for February 8 and 9 were cancelled because of bad weather.
February 10. VIII USAAF. 64 Flying Fortresses attacked the bridges again, and were again unsuccessful. (No confirmation exists of this raid in the USAAF Chronology).
February 14. VIII USAAF. 84 B-17s to the Wesel road bridge. One span was hit.
February 16. BC. 100 Lancasters of No 3 Group and 1 Mosquito of No 8 Group attacked the town of Wesel on the Rhine, near the fighting area. No aircraft lost. The raid took place in clear conditions and 'the town and the railway were seen to be smothered in bomb bursts'.
February 18. BC. 160 Lancasters of No 3 Group returned to Wesel to carry out a G-H attack through cloud. No Lancasters lost.
February 19. BC. Wesel: 168 Lancasters of No 3 Group carried out a good attack with the best concentration of bombs being in the railway area. 1 Lancaster lost.
February 21. BC. Attacks delivered on the railway bridge appeared to have cut the southern approach.
March 6. BC. 48 Mosquitos of No 8 Group attacked Wesel, which was believed to contain many German troops and vehicles. The target had been cloud-covered for several days. Oboe Mosquitos provided the marking. 1 aircraft lost.
March 6/7. BC. 87 Lancasters of No 3 Group and 51 Mosquitos of No 8 Group continued the attack on Wesel with two separate raids. No aircraft lost.
March 10. 0700 hrs, the German 1st Parachute Army blew up the bridges, having no more use for them.

Tony
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Old 4th August 2009, 14:50
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

In general terms, bridges were too small for stategic bomber aiming methods available in 1945, and too big for the weapons carried by tactical aircraft (like 2 TAF). Any bridges destroyed by air attack in the Second World War, by any air force, were more a result of luck than skill. (Just my opinion.)

It wasn't until "smart weapons" were introduced in the Viet Nam war that bridges could reliably be rendered useless by aircraft bombing. Even then, several missions would be required before the bridge was beyond quick repair.

Added in edit: This doesn't mean that missions against bridges were without merit. Bridges are a natural choke point for transportation, resulting in a concentration of other meaningful targets on and around the bridges. Also, any opportunity to bring the enemy's anti-air resources to a concentrated battle, like attacking a high value target, increases the effectiveness of your finite air resources in engaging, wearing down, and destroying enemy resources.
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Old 4th August 2009, 15:16
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

Looks like a failure of the 8th AF and not RAF BC.

Quote:
“The air plan provided for heavy bombers of VIII USAAF to put out of action the rail and road bridges at Wesel”; source: Stacey.
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Old 4th August 2009, 15:36
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

I think failure is too strong a word. Both the US and the RAF raids would have destroyed troops and transport around the bridge, and diverted German air defense resources from elsewhere on the battle field.

I find it interesting that in the original post the US apparently lists the targets as the bridges, while the RAF is a little more honest and lists the target as the town (which includes the bridges).
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Old 5th August 2009, 01:00
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

From the following excerpts from the official report on Veritable, it seems that with regard to Wesel, the mediums and heavies got two tasks;
1) Preventing reinforcements from assembling to cross bridges and ferries. This was given to BC, the area bombing experts, and to 2 Group RAF (in 2TAF).
2) Bringing down the road and railway bridges. This was given to the precision-bombing experts, VIII USAAF. They brought down one span of the road bridge. I assume this was patched in some way, because the road bridge remained a target.
When VIIIUSAAF failed, 2 Group RAF had a go on March 3 and 5, being controlled by MRCP (see the thread on the failure at the Roer dams for an expression of my surprise that MRCP was not used in that instance as well). 2 Group RAF also failed.

REPORT ON OPERATION “VERITABLE", 8 February - 10 March 1945 by G(Ops) Records, HQ British Army of the Rhine, October 1945
(Excerpts dealing with Air Support by mediums and heavies.)
SECTION 11 AIR
56. The whole resources of Second TAF were available in addition to "heavies” of US IX Bombardment Div and Bomber Command. The operation would NOT be delayed, however, in the event of bad weather preventing the air forces from operating.
57. In outline, the air support plan was as follows :
(a) Prior to D-Day. Operations against railways, bridges and ferries serving the battle area, care being taken not to give any indication of the point of attack.
(b) On the night D minus 1/D, "heavies" would try to obliterate EMMERICH, CLEVE and GOCH, cratering being accepted.
(c) On D-Day, priority was given to fighter-bombers on the German gun areas, with an FCP and CABRANK available all day. It was also hoped to use American "heavies" on NUTTERDEN and MATERBORN, using anti-personnel and proximity fuse bombs. Consideration was given to the possibilities of dropping liquid fire bombs or canisters to burn out certain areas or concrete pill-boxes. These plans had to be rejected as low altitude flying would be necessary and the probable losses were unacceptable. In addition, all roads leading to the battle area and the RHINE crossings were to be covered by armed recce and Tactical Recce.
d) On night D/D plus 1, approaches and railway centres would be treated to prevent the arrival of enemy reserves.

AIR PHASE I
87. Medium and heavy bombing attacks prior to D-Day consisted of the following ;
1 Feb, 113 aircraft of VIII USAAF dropped 281 tons of HE on the road bridge at WESEL without success, and 26 aircraft put 59 tons on the rail bridge, but observation of results was not possible.
2 Feb, 56 aircraft of 2 Group RAF dropped 81 tons of HE on an oil mill, actively in production, at HEIDEN E 9260, with good results.
6 Feb, 30 aircraft of 2 Group RAF attacked a POL dump and depot of 27 oil storage tanks at EMMERICH and 48 tons of bombs were seen to fall in the CENTRE of the target area.
Night 7/8 Feb, 287 aircraft of RAF Bomber Command dropped 1,384 tons of HE on CLEVE and 153 aircraft put down 467 tons on GOCH, in both cases to deny the main routes into the battle area. Results were excellent. In addition, 95 aircraft of 38 Group dropped 1,670 x 500 lb bombs on the road centres and billeting areas of WEEZE, UDEM and CALCAR.
88. During Phase 1 of the operations bad weather seriously interfered with the medium and heavy bombing programmes. In spite of this, however, flying was attempted on every day except 12 Feb, and a number of targets were engaged. The weight of attack in most cases had to be curtailed and the results obtained were usually impossible to observe. For example, the following instances can be cited. On D-Day 8 Feb, 198 aircraft were scheduled to bomb the NUTTERDEN feature but owing to the weather and proximity of our own tps, the attack had to be called off, many aircraft jettisoning their bombs on CLEVE. On the same day, 144 aircraft were detailed on MATERBORN but only 16 attacked, and 64 aircraft were directed on KRANENBURG by radar but no results could be observed. GELDERN and RHEINBERG A 2128 were attacked on 9 Feb; XANTEN the next day; SONSBECK and KEVELAER by instruments on the 11th, and WEEZE, UDEM, XANTEN and KEVELAER again on 13 Feb.

AIR PHASE 2
95. Medium and Heavy bombing programnmes during this phase included the following targets. On 14 Feb, when visibility was the best so far in this operation, 2 Group RAF attacked WEEZE, UDEM, STRAELEN and NIEUKERK with a total of 122 aircraft. VIII USAAF dropped 98 tons of HE on the WESEL road bridge and destroyed one of its spans. IX USAAF put over 166 aircraft to attack GELDERN, KEVELAER, XANTEN and GOCH.
The15th was to all intents and purposes a non-flying day.
On the next day UDEM and WEEZE were attacked by 61 arcraft of 2 Group RAF, 418 tons of HE from 95 aircraft of RAF Bomber Command fell on WESEL and 63 aircraft of VIII USAAF also attacked the same town.
17 Feb was another blank day for the Mediums and Heavies.

AIR PHASE 3
103. This period was again marked by bad weather and close support was only possible on a very limited scale until 21 Feb. The Medium and Heavy bombers carried out a number of attacks chiefly bombing by instruments.
On 18 Feb 155 LANCASTERS of RAF Bomber Comrnmand dropped 691 tons of HE on WESEL.
On the 19th 166 aircraft of RAF Bomber Command attacked WESEL again, dropping 716 tons, and 68 aircraft of VIII USAAF put 164 tons of HE on the WESEL railway bridge.
The 20th was a blank day and the effort on 21 Feb was on a small scale. 30 aircraft from 2 Group RAF attacked each UDEM and WEEZE, and IX USAAF put over 73 aircraft at XANTEN and 58 at GELDERN. The 22nd was a good flying day but all the Allied effort was concentrated deep into GERMANY.

AIR PHASE 4
113. No flying was possible on 23 Feb.
On the next day Medium and Heavy bombers of 2 Group RAF, with 43 aircraft, bombed RHEINBERG and with 45 aircraft REES. VIII USAAF sent 70 aircraft to try once again to destroy the WESEL railway bridge, but without success.
The 25th was a day of small effort. 2 Group RAF attacked UDEM and XANTEN.
Visibility remained poor on 26 Feb and the effort was again small. 2 Group RAF sent 30 aircraft to attack gun positions and 10 aircraft of 38 Group RAF attacked the ammunition dump at XANTEN once again.

AIR PHASE 5
122. Weather was again a limiting factor during this phase.
On 27 Feb, 62 aircraft of 2 Group RAF bombed MARIENBAUM and SONSBECK.
On the 28th GELDERN, by 2 Group RAF, and RHEINBERG by IX USAAF, were attacked. KEVELAER, and once again XANTEN, were engaged by 61 aircraft of 2 Group RAF-when 96 tons of bombs were dropped on 1 Mar.
The effort remained small on the next day with a few aircraft of 2 Group RAF attacking GELDERN, KEVELAER and RHEINBERG.
On 3 Mar the road and rail bridges at WESEL were once more attacked by some 70 aircraft of 2 Group RAF but remained standing after the raid.

AIR PHASE 6
136. During this period the weather again most seriously interfered with our air effort. The Medium and Heavy bombers were only able to operate on 5, 6 and the very early morning of 7 Mar. Close support was restricted to 5 Mar only. The enemy may consider himself fortunate that the weather intervened to protect his constantly diminishing bridgehead on the LEFT bank of the R RHINE opposite WESEL. Little less than complete destruction of his forces might have been achieved had the weather been kinder.
137. On 5 Mar, 41 aircraft of 2 Group RAF dropped 164 x 1,000 lb. bombs on the WESEL bridge, and 48 aircraft put down 183 x 1,000 lb bombs on the road bridge, both MRCP controlled. Hits were claimed but the bridges still remained up. On the next day 39 MOSQUITOES of RAF Bomber Command attacked tp concentrations in WESEL putting down 41 tons of HE. This attack was followed by two further ones. The first the same evening and the second early on the morning of 7 Mar. 82 Heavies dropped some 463 tons of HE. During the intervening hrs between these two attacks, 46 single MOSQUITOES kept the pot boiling.

SECTION 27 AIR SUPPORT MEDIUM AND HEAVY BOMBERS (Summary)
182. The pIan for medium and heavy bombers involved the attack before D-Day of POL dumps and installations within tactical distance from the battle-field, and the two bridges over the R RHINE at WESEL. On the night D minus 1/D-Day, heavy attacks were carried out on communication centres and defence strong points, behind the main enemy defence line.
On D-Day, a series of attacks by medium bombers was planned to neutralize the main enemy defensive areas in the path of the attack, but achieved only limited success, owing to weather conditions. Thereafter, attacks were mainly directed
against communication centres and billeting areas, though an ammunition dump and the bridges at WESEL took on a very important aspect later on in the operation.

Tony
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Old 5th August 2009, 01:50
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

Thanks Tony, very interesting.
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Old 5th August 2009, 13:22
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Walker View Post
In general terms, bridges were too small for strategic bomber aiming methods available in 1945, and too big for the weapons carried by tactical aircraft (like 2 TAF). Any bridges destroyed by air attack in the Second World War, by any air force, were more a result of luck than skill. (Just my opinion.)
Your opinion is open to question.

Surely when the final, and dispassionate, history of WWII air warfare is written, (which means probably not in the lifetime of us contributing here) "bridges" will be found written on the RAF's gravestone.

From first (1940, Meuse bridges, Fairey Battles) to last (1945, Rhine bridges at Wesel, B17/Lancaster/Mosquito/Mitchell) bridge destruction was demanded by the army and the RAF/USAAF could not reliably deliver it. The RAF had implicitly promised it to Churchill when he denied the British army its own airforce. The RAF believed that a strategic bomber force could always destroy a fragile bridge.

The Germans used the Ju-87, which was "ordered to attack road junctions, and especially bridges to hinder the movement of Allied ground forces" (http://homepage.eircom.net/~nightingale/stuka.html), and Ju-88. AFAIK, a squadron of Ju-87 could reliably bring down a bridge. Ditto Russian Pe-2s.

The British army demanded accurate support from dive-bombers and the RAF categorically refused to operate them, although they possessed them in the ETO, and operated them in Burma - see Peter C. Smith's books for this complicated story.

The RAF and USAAF instead provided the army with bombing support also from retired air-superiority fighter aircraft which dropped quite heavy bombs without benefit of bomb sights.

In Operation Veritable, heavies were used to destroy Cleve and Goch, and successfully so from the RAF's point of view. The army had other views, which they expressed in the report quoted from above;
"To Bomb or not to Bomb
a. From the Infantryman' s point of view, heavy bombing has every disadvantage and no advantage, unless carried out immediately before his assault. Then air photographs lose some of their value and the danger area for heavy bombs precludes the immediate rushing of the objectives as the last bomb falls. Craters and rubble preclude the use of tanks, CROCODILES or WASPS and make the evacuation of casualties even more difficult; it makes the drill of clearing through the back gardens impracticable, and clearing houses from the top, impossible. It also makes the enemy's task of hiding and camouflaging himself many times easier; his snipers always preclude the use of a bulldozer till very late in the operations.
b. From our experience in clearing a town not bombed, to one that has been heavily bombed, there is little doubt the Infantryman would ask the airman to go elsewhere, particularly as he does not kill or even frighten the defenders the Infantryman is going to meet."

To conclude, the record seems to show that heavies and mediums could not provide the battlefield support needed by the army (destruction of bridges and dams), and the support they could provide and was accepted faute de mieux actually hindered the army's progress.

This conclusion is swingeing, but is it inaccurate?

Tony
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Old 5th August 2009, 13:59
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

Hi Tony,

interesting thread, but this ground has been trashed out before vis-a-vis Allied dive bombers over Western Europe. While the versatility of this platform cannot be denied, the question will always remain as to whether they were viable against defended targets in this theatre (in this regard, IMHO, usage and success in Burma just cannot be compared).

I don't know what Smith has to say about the question of venerability of dive bombers against German Flak over Western Europe, but I see no reason why they would not possibly have had a very high attrition rate against certain targets. Consider the attition rate of the Typhoons and Tempests against Light Flak in late 1944/1945, and these were, in relative terms, fast movers, as were the 2TAF Mosquitoes, which, for example, lost 20 to Flak during Operation Clarion on 22 Feb 1945. Now imagine a relatively stationary target such as a dive bomber before bomb release against a German-defended bridgehead...

I think that while there were advantages to the dive bombing option, there were also distinct disadvantages in this case, and there would be no guarrantee of universal success for this platform, especially to offset attrition (along with the loss of experienced crews). Also, as with all air operations, success mostly required eyes on target...and there was no guarrantee of this during the winter of 1944/45. At least heavy bombers could be switched to different regions as weather dictated.

The RAF had first hand experience of periods of unsustainable attrition between 1939-44, and I would not underestimate this in terms of the thinking leading up to D-Day and beyond.

Cheers

Rod
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Old 5th August 2009, 14:42
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

Tony;

This is an interesting discussion, hope the other Forumites don't mind the digression.

I never said the bombers didn't try to get bridges, I just said they were not reliable at it. Yes, both sides destroyed some bridges, but there are bridges and then there are bridges. Wooden bridges were relatively easy targets, stone and steel bridges were relatively hard.

Again, I think attacking bridges had advantages, even when the bridge itself was not destroyed. I find it interesting that several of the original sources you quote talk about attacking bridges, not destroying them.

I think a lot of historians, past and present, have fallen for the "bomb in a pickle barrel" propaganda popular in the 1930s. When a small bomber force fails to get a bridge it is easy to blame the skill of the bomber crews, but it was just the hardware they had to work with. When a large bomber force puts one or two bombs, out of hundreds or thousands, on a small target, this doesn't prove the "bomb in a pickle barrel" story. Instead, it shows how poor the available technology was for precision attacks back then.

This lack of precision is also the cause of the Army's dislike of heavy bombing you quote. Heavy bombing was an area weapon. The infantryman is concerned about the one guy shooting at him at the moment, if a large percentage of enemy in "the area" had been previously killed by heavy bombing that is of little help in the short term and small scale. It does, however, have some cumulative benefit to the long term, large scale picture.

I also think a lot of historians have also fallen for the propaganda, both German and in the western press, about the efficiency of the Stuka. This was largely based on early results, where Stukas attacked low-tech poorly defended targets. Why didn't these same Stukas stop the Russian army, and the Allied armies after Normandy? Why didn't they destroy the Bailey bridges thrown up by the Allies in Italy and France? Partly because (in my opinion) of the limitations of the weapons and aiming systems available to them. Still, they slowed the Allied armies to some extent, just like the Typhoons helped the Canadian Army, in some small way, to advance across Europe.

Also, in my opinion, the final defeat of Germany and Japan was more a result of volume of effort, not of any specific technology or tactic. Look at how much effort Germany spent on very advanced technologies (for the time), and look where it got them. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, compare these German efforts to the effort that went into the BCATP and the mass production of any weapon even if it had problems, like the Typhoon. Yes, a Typhoon might be easily shot down or just plain fell apart, but there was always another Typhoon and fully trained pilot ready to take its place. Post war studies indicate that only about 5% of the rockets fired by Typhoons hit their intended target. The quick-fix solution selected by the RAF to this problem was just to fire more rockets, from more Typhoons.

A good chunk of military R&D budgets today still goes toward improving precision bombing methods, with all sorts of guided weapon technologies and special warheads for concrete targets. If we still can't reliably and efficiently take out point targets in 2009, it must have been very difficult in 1944 or 1945.
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Old 5th August 2009, 15:06
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Re: VIIIUSAAF and BC failures at the Wesel bridges.

Tony;

This is an interesting discussion, hope the other Forumites don't mind the digression.

I never said the bombers didn't try to get bridges, I just said they were not reliable at it. Yes, both sides destroyed some bridges, but there are bridges and then there are bridges. Wooden bridges were relatively easy targets, stone and steel bridges were relatively hard.

Again, I think attacking bridges had advantages, even when the bridge itself was not destroyed. I find it interesting that several of the original sources you quote talk about attacking bridges, not destroying them.

I think a lot of historians, past and present, have fallen for the "bomb in a pickle barrel" propaganda popular in the 1930s. When a small bomber force fails to get a bridge it is easy to blame the skill of the bomber crews, but it was just the hardware they had to work with. When a large bomber force puts one or two bombs, out of hundreds or thousands, on a small target, this doesn't prove the "bomb in a pickle barrel" story. Instead, it shows how poor the available technology was for precision attacks back then.

This lack of precision is also the result of the Army's dislike of heavy bombing you quote. Heavy bombing was an area weapon. The infantryman is concerned about the one guy shooting at him at the moment, if a large percentage of enemy in "the area" had been previously killed by heavy bombing that is of little help in the short term and small scale. It does, however, have some cumulative benefit to the long term, large scale picture.

I also think a lot of historians have also fallen for the propaganda, both German and in the western press, about the efficiency of the Stuka. This was largely based on early results, where Stukas attacked low-tech poorly defended targets. Why didn't these same Stukas stop the Russian army, and the Allied armies after Normandy? Why didn't they destroy the Bailey bridges thrown up by the Allies in Italy and France? Partly because (in my opinion) of the limitations of the weapons and aiming systems available to them. Still, they slowed the Allied armies to some extent, just like the Typhoons helped the Canadian Army, in some small way, to advance across Europe.

Also my opinion, the final defeat of Germany and Japan was more a result of volume of effort, not of any specific technology or tactic. Look at how much effort Germany spent on very advanced technologies (for the time), and look where it got them. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, compare these German efforts to the effort that went into the BCATP and the mass production of any weapon even if it had problems, like the Typhoon. Yes, a Typhoon might be easily shot down or just plain fell apart, but there was always another Typhoon and fully trained pilot ready to take its place. Post war studies indicate that only about 5% of the rockets fired by Typhoons hit their intended target. The quick-fix solution selected by the RAF to this problem was just to fire more rockets, from more Typhoons.

A good chunk of military R&D budgets today still goes toward improving precision bombing methods, with all sorts of guided weapon technologies and special warheads for concrete targets. If we still can't reliably and efficiently take out point targets in 2009, it must have been very difficult in 1944 or 1945.

Edit - I just googled "faute de mieux", and I think that term could be applied to every weapon ever used in any modern war.
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Last edited by Bill Walker; 5th August 2009 at 15:08. Reason: added last para
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