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World Battlefronts: Textbook Month

4 minute read

Winston Churchill has said: “Opinion is divided whether … air power could by itself bring about collapse in Germany. . . . There is certainly no harm in finding out.” In November the British-based Allied Air Forces applied themselves to that research in deadly earnest.

The statistics were impressive. From November’s beginning to end, there were eight days and five nights when Europe’s sirens were silent. Ideally interwoven, the U.S. Eighth Air Force and the R.A.F. saturated or outsmarted German defenses, kept their losses down to acceptable minimums (U.S. losses were 3% below October), gave future airmen a textbook on bombing. Down on Germany and her unhappy consorts thundered 22,170 tons of bombs. R.A.F. share: 14,500 tons; U.S. share: 7,670 tons. U.S. losses were 93 heavy bombers, six mediums, 42 fighters. The R.A.F lost 224 planes, most of them heavy bombers. On average, the R.A.F. lost 1.5 planes per 100 tons dropped; the Eighth, 1.8 per 100. Ton for ton, the effectiveness of daylight precision bombing was undoubtedly greater than that of R.A.F. mass bombing. But, in toto, it was the R.A.F. which shook Germany the hardest.

Between them they destroyed or damaged 391 German planes. U.S. share: 257 German fighters definitely destroyed (139 by Forts & Liberators, 108 by Thunderbolts & Lightnings, ten by Marauders).

The tactics were equally impressive. Three of the four heaviest R.A.F. attacks were delivered on twin targets. Purpose: to split up the Nazi interceptor forces, prevent concentration of Germany’s highly organized mobile anti-aircraft artillery. The three raids: Nov. 3, Düsseldorf & Cologne; Nov. 18, Berlin & Ludwigshafen; Nov. 26, Berlin & Stuttgart. On these three and the Berlin attack Nov. 22, the R.A.F. lugged about 2,000 tons of bombs per night. An R.A.F. rule of thumb: one raid of 2,000 tons requires a month’s organization work by 18,500 men, destroys as much as 75,000 Nazis can produce in a month.

The sharpshooting, well-escorted Eighth mounted four attacks by 400 or more bombers, aimed at priority targets in Wilhelmshaven, Gelsenkirchen & Münster (twin target), Bremen (twice). Between these city-busters, heavy bombers in lesser force hit seven times at industrial targets in Germany and Norway; U.S. and R.A.F. medium bombers and fighter-bombers pecked away day & night in a precise pattern of attack on factories, airdromes, shipping, the Reich’s outer defenses.

The German retaliation: 120 tons of bombs, scattered over southeast England.

The Luftwaffe was at wit’s end. Its fighters might hurt but they could never stop the ponderous, night-hidden R.A.F. Fighter protection for U.S. daylight formations is neutralizing the Luftwaffe’s newfangled rockets and its bombing technique against U.S. formations—so long as the bombers stay within escort range, which has not yet lengthened enough to embrace inner Germany. Many a U.S. gunner returns nowadays with ammunition boxes heaped high with unused shells.

End, Not Yet. In the Mediterranean, Jimmy Doolittle’s newly formed Fifteenth U.S. Air Force got away with murder all the way from the Riviera to the Peloponnesus. To stop Doolittle, the Germans would have to drain fighters from northern airfields.

The end is nowhere in sight; the air offensive will continue to grow. The British Air Ministry said recently that $2,460 million has been spent by the Allies in Britain on new airfield installations. Britain’s share: $2,420 million, mostly for Eighth Air Force bases. U.S. share: $40 million. Many new airfields cost upwards of $8 million, cover 2,000 acres (LaGuardia Field: 558 acres). On one airfield, Which has 32 miles of 20-ft.-wide roadways, U.S. engineers laid 150,000 tons of concrete in 90 days.

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