Seven countries had sizeable air operations in World War II. All three Axis countries has substantial air forces and air operations. The German Luftwaffe began the War with the world's most advanced air force and the Luftwaffe played a major role in the early German successes, devestating Warsaw and other Polish cities. The Luftwaffe failed, however, in the Battle of Britain and while scoring major successes in the Soviet Union, ultimately failed. And the Luftwaffe failed to protect the Reich as promissed by Göring from the Allied bombers that demolished German cities and the NAZI war effort. The Germans began deploying jet aircraft, but Hitler's mismanagement of the program and the advance of Soviet and Allied armies doomed the NAZI war effort. The Japanese surprised Western countries with their advanced Zero fighter and competence of its superbly trained pilots. The country was, unable, to maintain this lead once the United States began turning out large numbers of advanced aircraft. The Italy Regia Aeronautica Italiana had the smallest and least advanced air force of the three Axis countries. Its obsolete planes did not play a major role in the War. As a result, the Luftwaffe had to deploy in force to support the Italian air war. All three major Alied countries had substantial air forces. Britain and France allowed the Germans to gain a substantial advantage in the inter-War era. France had a substantial air force, but commanders did not properly position it. The German defeat of France meant that the French Air Force did not play a major role in the war. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) also faired poorly in the initial fighting, but the Channel stopped the Panzers. Thus the RAF with the support of radar was able to score the first Allied victory of the War--the Battle of Britain. After the Blitz, the British set out to build a modern strategic bomber force to bring the war to the Germns. The Japanese carrier attack at Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the War. The United States had the world's largest aviation industry and soon began prodducing modern aircraft in astronomical numbers. The Unitd States would join the British strategic bombing campaign over northern Europe, but also produce tactical aircraft in huge numbers. Priductiuon was so large that large numbers of aircraft were available not only to fight the Pacific War, but to supply allies as well. The Soviet Union began the war with The emense Red Air Force. Poor positioning and obsolete aircraft allowed the Luftwaffe to essentially destroy the Red Air Force during the first weeks of Barbsrossa. The Luftwaffe dominated the skies, but the Soviet Union was too lsrge for it to have the same impact as it had in Western Europe. The Red Air Force had to be rebuilt, but by 1943 began to have an impact on the savage fighting on the Eastern Front.
The Axis countries wanted to fundamentally change the world order which meant war. They did not have the indutrial capacity, resources, or where-with-all, however, to defeat the Alied powers. American isolationism and the Allied (Britian and France) tgimidity, however, allowed them to create a military capability thar could challenge the world order. And here we are talking primrily about Germany. Japan and Italy had a much smaller industrial capacity. Hitler directed huge resources toward rearmament engaging in massive, but hidden defecit spending. The Appeasers in Lomdom were aware of German rearmament, but decided not to match it, Primeminister Chamberlain told intimtes that what Winston and his friends do not understand is that we do not hve to mstch the Germans, but only have a military substantial enough to hurt them. The result was that at the time that Hitler was ready for war, he possessed the modst modern and capable air force in the war. This was not because German had industrial siperiority, but bcause the democracies did not want to 'waste' scarse resources on military spending. That mindset very nearly led to the destruction of western civilization.
The Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from having an air force. As a result, there was no air planning during the 1920s or early-30s. Hitler had to coble together an air force as he began his massive rearmament program. There were no trained air commanders. They had to be recruited from the Heer. Germany during World War I had begun strategic bombardment with long range air craft. The new Luftwaffe was very different. With all the Heer officers. the Luftwaffe from the beginning had a grojund support orientation. Not that the new Lufwaffe did not want heavy bombers as well. But Germany had neither the finances or the industrial capacity to build both a tactical and strategic air force at the same time. So the choice was a tactical, ground support force. This also aligned itself with political environment of the Reich. Building one and two engine aircraft meant that the Germans could build far more aircraft than if they had built four engine heavy bombers. Luftwaffe Chief Göring to impress the Führer with aircrsft production numbers. This and British Primeminister Chamvberlain's decision not to match German rearmament spending, meant that the German Luftwaffe began the War with the world's most advanced air force and the Luftwaffe played a major role in the early German successes, devestating Warsaw and other Polish cities. The Luftwaffe was an important part of the success of the Wehrmacht's stunning Blitzkrieg victories. The Luftwaffe failed, however, in the Battle of Britain. Hitler's calculation in laubching World War II was that Germany could win the War despite materal inadequacies through superior technology. But in first year of the war, German technology failed. This should have given Hitler and Göring pasuse, it did not. Aand while scoring major successes in the Soviet Union, the Luftwaffe utlimately failed. And the Luftwaffe failed to even protect the Reich as promissed by Göring from the Allied bombers that demolished German cities and the NAZI war effort. Hitler's irrational decesion to declare war on America shocked the Luftwaffe which becuse of Lend Lease had already began planning for the need to deal with American war production. A major initative was to adopt U.S. mass production methods. Fortunately for the world, by the time these projects came on line, the aircraft they were producing like the Me-109 was being outclassed by Allied planes. And Luftwaffe design teams failed to produce effective new propeller types. Their efforts like the Me-110 were largely failures. The Germans did begin deploying jet aircraft, but Hitler's mismanagement of the program and the Allied strategic bombing campign delayed production and prevented the second generation jets that if produced in quantity could have had a real impact on the war.
The Japanese had two separate air forces, operated by the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy. The Imperial Army's was like the Luftwaffe primaryilky devoted to providing tactical close air support for ground operations as well as an air interdiction capability. The Army Air Service had some bombers and engaged in limited strategic bombing, mostly of Chinese cities. Japan like Germany did not have the industrial capacity to build both a tactical and strategic force. So the focus of the Japanese was on tactical operastions. The Japanese surprised Western countries with their advanced Zero fighter and competence of its superbly trained pilots. The country was, unable, to maintain this lead once the United States began turning out large numbers of advanced aircraft. Much of the sucess of the elegant A6M Zero was its light weight which was achieved primarilyu through lack of protectice armor. Once advanced american aircraft reached the Pacific the Zero becane very vulnerable. The Japanese also were unable to replace the well trained pilots with which they began the War. The Japanese training program took several years. The shorter term training program proved a disaster, turning out pilots with inadequate skills. The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service was responsible for long-range strikes such as the Pearl Harbor attack. The Naval Air Service was also responsible for strategic air defense. Its failure at Midway and the Philippine Sea left the Home Islnds open to American strategic bombardment. And Japan's limited industrial and technological capacity that it had to fight off the advanced new A merican aircraft with the same aircraft with swgich tghey began the War. The Germans helped them build a small number of experimental aircraft, but the Japanese did not have the capacity to build them in numbers or even to protect them, especially as American submrines cut off Japan from the resources of their Southern Resorce Zone. And the American Strategic Bombing Campaign obliterated industrial Japan.
The Regia Aeronautica Italiana (Italian Royal Air Force--RAI) was the air force of the Kingdom of Italy. It had operated as a unit of the Royal Italian Army during World War I, but was created as a independent service (1923). The RAI played a major role in the Italian invasion of Ethiopian (1935), primarily by using poison gas in the country side and bombing cities, especially Addis Ababa. The RAI was poorly equipped in European terms, but Ethiopia had no air force with which to oppose the Italians. Without these terror operations, it would have taken much more time for the Italians to occupy Ethiopia. The RAI along with the Luftwaffe was deployed in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). At the onset of World War II (1939), the RAI had an impressive 3,300 aircraft, but only about 2,000 were operational and most were obsolete types. The RAI was the smallest and most poorly equipped of the three Axis air forces. The RAI had, for example, only 166 modern fighters. The Macchi MC-200 and Fiat G-50 were the best Italian fighters, but were slower than Allied fighters. The RAI's primary fighter was the obsolete Fiat CR-42 biplane. The RAI was ill prepared for a modern European war. And the small national aircraft industry was unable to improve that situation during the War. Not only was the Italian aviation industry small, but it used inefficient production methods. Their German allies offered technical assistance, but this did not materially improve the situation, in part because the Italians did not want to admit their technical inferiority. Fortunately for Italy, the Germans at the time Italy declared war had largely defeated France which had a modern air force, but this left Britain to contend with. Despite its small size and inferior aircraft types, the RAI could have played an important role in the War if it had been effectively used to support the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean sea battles with the British Royal Navy (1940-41). It was not. Not only did the RAI not contribute meaningfully to the Axis war effort, the Germans had to deploy the Luftwaffe in force to support the Italian war effort.
All three major Alied countries had substantial air forces. Britain and France allowed the Germans to gain a substantial advantage in the inter-War era. This was a factor in the fall of France (1940) and as a result, France did not play an important role in the air war, nor did the Germans use the French aircradt industry in theie war effort. The British, however, had an aviation industry comparable to the Germans and by the time of the Battle of Britain were actually out producung the Germans. But what mafde the critical difference in the War was the American aviation industry. The United States during inter inter-War era developed the largest aviation industry in the world. Government air mail and military contracts helped, but the primary driver was capitalism--the public demand for commercial air travel. This gave the United States the capability of building a large air force, but the Axis powers had no idea just how large nor for that matter did the U.S. military. The Germans could not match the Americans in quantity, quality was a different issue. They had a substantial technological capability, but it was America that produced effective aircraft that won the war in the air.
France had a substantial air force and began purchasing American aircraft. Upon the outbreak of war, the French refused to allow air strikes against German cities, fearing German reprisals on French cities (September 1939). The only campaign the French Air Force participated in was the German Western Offensice (May-June 1940).
Tragically French air commanders did not properly position and use their units. The quality of French aircraft because of the collapse of France and the desire of Vichy to blame the defeat on weaponry is not fully appreciated. The German defeat of France meant that the French Air Force did not play a major role in the War. Nor did the Germans use the French aircraft industry in their war economy. The failure of the Germans to fully utilize the industrial capacity of conquered countries is a poorly studied aspect of the War.
The British political leadership even before Chamberlain became primeminister with the rise of the NAZIs in Germany adopted the policy of appeasement. The British as a result did not respond approptriateky with Hitler launched a massive rearmament program, including a new airforce. Chamberlain explained to intimates that what Churchill and his friends did not understand was that Britain did not need to match the Germans, only to have a defense estblishment that was caable of hurting Germany. He believed that would be sufficent to disuade Hitler. The focus of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in an era of limited budgets before the War was to build a stratehic bomber force with the assumption that the 'bomobers would always get through'. The idea was that this would disuade the Germans from launching another war. Fewer resources were put into fighter development to the point that Britain nearly entered the War with canvas body bi-planes fighters that would have been totally outclassed by the advanced German all-metal mono-wing Me-109. (The Royal Navy did have to enter the war with bi-planes.) The need for fighters to escort the bombers was not understood by the British. The investment in bombers proved a tragic mistake. Prime Minister Chamberlain and the French declined to use them as they would invited German retaliation on French cities. In addition the British bombers had limited capabilities. They were slow and poorly armed. German Me-109s fighters cut them to pieces during the day and the bombers did not have the navigational capabilities to bomb at night. With the fall of France, German cities were largely out of range to British bombers. RAF Fighter Command was not totally neglected, primarily because the need for fighters to intercept bomber raids picked up by the Chain Home Network was understood. Limited financing, however, limited fighter development. British fighters faired poorly in the initial fighting in France (1939-40). Pilot and coimmand inexperience and the lack of radar to protect air fields were some of the problem. Fortuntely for the British, the Channel stopped the Panzers. Thus the campaign shifted to the air. And the RAF with the support of radar was able to score the first Allied victory of the War--the Battle of Britain. The British victory was of greater importance than generally recognized. It did even more than just saving Britain. After the Blitz, the British set out to build a modern strategic bomber force to bring the war to the Germans. The result was the iconic Avro Lancaster. A huge portion of the British war economy was devoted to building a strategic bombing force which the British hoped could win the war without the huge infantry losses of World War I. RAF Bomber Command would join the American Eighth Air Force in the around the clock bombardment of NAZI Germany, the Americans by day and the British by night.
The United States during inter inter-War era developed the largest aviation industry in the world. Government air mail and military contracts helped, but the primary driver was capitalism--the public demand for commercial air travel. This gave the United States the capability of building a large air force, but the Axis powers had no idea just how large nor for that matter dis the U.S. military. With the rise of the NAZIs and the possibility of another war, the United States like the British looked at techhnology, namely air power, as a way to win a future war with out the terrible losses of World War I. America in the throws of fighting the Depression and with both anti-war and isoltionist feeling continued to sharply limit defense spending. President Roosevelt was innagurated at about the same time Hitler was appointed chancelor. American public opinion and the Depression crisis limited his foreign policy options. But from the very beginning he was hostile to Hitler and the NAZIs. His defense policy was to commit the great bulk of appropriations to technological approaches, both the Army Air Corps and the Navy. The Army received very limited funding. Roosevelt's hope was that the Navy could protect the homeland and the air power could win a future war with limited losses of men. And the U.S. Army Air Corps despite being an Army unit was committed to strategic bombing rather than tactical air to support ground forces. The Army Air Corps was dominated by commanders who were committed to strategic bombing -- the so called Bomber Boys led by Hap Arnold. And the resources, training, and planning all focused on strategic bombing. The center-piece of the Army Air Corps became the B-17 Flying Fortress which the Bomber Boys believed could fight its way through to enemy targts without the need of fighter protection. The Bomber Boys were so dominant that few dared to question them. Rare voices for fighters and tactical air, like Claire Chennault, saw their careers limited and were pushed aside. Fighters were developed but their role was not clearly thought out. There was no effort to develop a tactical air doctrine focusing on ground support. In fact the Bomber Boys were firmly opposed to having scarce resources drawn away from what they saw as their main war-winning mission -- to destroy the ability of an enemy nation to make war. The Japanese carrier attack at Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the War. And both the Army Air Corps and Navy found at a very early point that their fighters were not up to the standards of the Japanese and Germans and that the famed B-17 was less capable than the Bomber Boys believed. The United States had the world's largest aviation industry and the available of huge appropriations significantly expanded that capacity. Soon American industry not only began producing modern aircraft in astronomical numbers, but created new advanced aircraft that could compete with Axix aircraft. The Axis was unable to compete in production levels. The Germans could have competed in quality, but failed to do so. The Unitd States would join the British strategic bombing campaign over northern Europe, but also produce tactical aircraft in huge numbers. Production was so large that large numbers of aircraft were available not only to fight the Pacific War, but to supply allies as well. The new P-51 Mustangs would defeat the Luftwaffe in the skies over Germany, making D-Day possible.
The full use of these fighters was at first impaired by the lack of a tactical air dictrine. This developed slowly, but by the time of D-Day the new 9th Air Force unleased tactical air as well as strategic bombardment on the Germans. But such was the immense capability of American industry, that the strategic bombing effort after the breakout from Normndy went ahead full force. By the end of the War, German industrial cities were left huge piles of rubble and Japanese wood and paper cities mounds of cinders.
The Soviet Union began the war with the emense Red Air Force. Poor positioning and obsolete aircraft allowed the Luftwaffe to essentially destroy the Red Air Force during the first weeks of Barbsrossa (June 1941). Stalin was more concerned about giving Hitler an excuse for war than strenthening defenses. Red Air Force Units instead of striking back began to plead for permission from Moscow to do so. As a result, the Luftwaffe dominated the skies for the first year and a half of the savage fighting on the Eastern Front. The Soviet Union Uniom was, however, too large for the Luftwaffe to have the same impact as it had in on the more limited battlefields of Western Europe. The Red Air Force had to be rebuilt, but by the time of the Stalingrad offensive (November 1942) was in a position to make a substantial battlefireld contribution. The focus of the revived Red Air Force was on fighters, especially ground support fighter bombers that could kill tanks. As a result, the mot famed Red Air Force plasne became the tank killing
Il-2 Sturmovik, although the plane's performance has been questioned.
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