** World War II Allied country air campaigns 1939-45

World War II Air Campaign: Allied Country Campaigns (1939-45)

British World War II evacuation
Figure 1.--Here British children are being evacuated at the onset of World War II (September 1939). German propaganda trumpeted what they did in Poland woukld be repeated to any country which opposed them. The Germans gave foreign jiurnalisdtrs a tour of Warsaw after bombing it to rubble to show what they could do (October 1939). Goebbels talked about 'frighfulness'. Gradually after the Blitz on British cities (1940-41) the air war began to turn, esoecially when American came intoi the War. And German prppaganda changed as well. Suddenly countries which bombed cities and terrorized civilians were war criminals. But as Air mnarshall Harries explained, "The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everybody else and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put that rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind and now they are going to reap the whirlwind." (1942)

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. And large segments of the autiomobile and other industries could be trnformed to expsnd the aviation indudtry. This potential was far larger than any other country posseessed. 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 capabilityvat first, but it was America that eventually produced highly effective aircraft that won the war in the air.


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 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has origins dating to the Imperial Conference held in London just before World War I (1911). One of the decisions reached was that aviation capability should be developed within the armed forces of the British Empire, primarily the Dominions. Australia was the first Dominion to comply. The Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was operational by the time World War I broke out (1914). It was not an independent service, but part of the Army. Australia mobilized eight air squadrons during the War, half of which saw action in the Middle East and on the Western Front. Four of the eight squadrons were still training whwn the War ended. Some 200 Australians served with British flying service. The AFC deployment was to New Guinea, the Middle East, and France--the Western Front. The Australian Air Corps (AAC) was formed (1920). The name was chanbged to the Australian Air Force was formed (1921). King George V approved the prefix 'Royal' making it the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The RAAF thus became the second Royal air arm to be formed in the British Commonwealth, after the British Royal Air Force. It was equipped with World War I aircraft. Australia did not have the industrial or technological capability to build modern high performance aircraft or the desire to commit funds to building a modern air force. The basic attitude that in any emergency the British Royal Navy would provide all the security Australia needed. Japan's aggressive plans began to draw some attention, first with the invauin of Manchuria (1931), but more so with the invaion of China proper (1937). The NAZI seizure of power in Germany (1937) meant that Britain and the much diminished Royal Navy would be primarily coimmited in Europe. This was the case in World War I. but there was no Japanese threat in World War I. Gradually it began to dawn on Australians that relince on the British and the Royal Navy was less thn secure. There was, however, no major effort to prepare for another War. Australia's defence policy at the outbreak of World War II was an almost complete reliance on the Royal Navy and the Singapore bastion. This proved to a failed defensive plan. Fortunately the United States was able to treplace Britain as Australia's protector. The major contribution of the RAAF would be in Europe and the Wesern Desert. It would be the United States Army Air Force that would play the dominant role in the South Pacific theater of the Pacific 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.


Canada played a key role in the vital Battle of the Atlantic. Its contribution in the Air War was not as central, but none the less important. The Luftwaffe was at the beginning of the War the most poweful air force in the world. The Allies expected the NAZIs to immediately launch air attacks on cities. Canada was also concerned about air defnese, and some minor efforts were made to prepare. The Atlantic proved, however, to be an unsurmountable obstacle for the Luftwaffe. With the fall of France (1940), however, the skies over Britain became an active combat zone. Britain laid the groundwork for a vastly expanded air force. The fact that the air was being fought over Britain as well as the fact that the British isles were heavily populated created problems in training air crews. As part of a much larger plan, Britain and Canada set up the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which was to be located in Canada. The vast streaches of Canada and the distance from the fighting often perfect conditions for a training facility. There were 72,800 Canadians trained. Most were involved with the Royal Air Force Bomber Command in the Strategic Bombing Campaign over northern Europe.


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.


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Created: 7:10 PM 2/7/2021
Last updated: 7:10 PM 2/7/2021