It became clear in 1943 that raids on targets in the Reich were unsustainable without fighter esort. The American bombers were acompanied to the borders of the Reich where they had to turn back because of limited range. The principal American fighter in 1942 was the P-47 Thunderboldt. The pilots reported seeing the Luftwaffe fighters forming up to attack the bombers just as they had to turn back. Some German cities, especially Hamburg suffered devestating attcks, but the Luftwaffe in 1943 proved that American bombers could not sustain unescoted attacks deep into Germany and by the end of the year was also taking terriblr toles on British bombers during night raids. Göring assured Hitler that the Allied fighters did not have the range to escort the bombers. That was the case in 1943, but it was also what the Allies were were working hard to rectify. Hitler's failure to give priority to the Luftwaffe and the Allied emphasis on air power was to radically change the course of the War in 1944.
The Casablanca Directive instructed RAF Bomber Command and the American 8th Air Forces to begin Around-the Clock bombing of the Reich. It became clear that raids on targets in the Reich were unsustainable without fighter esort. The American bombers were acompanied to the borders of the Reich where they had to turn back because of limited range. The principal American fighter in 1942 was the P-47 Thunderboldt. The pilots reported seeing the Luftwaffe fighters forming up to attack the bombers just as they had to turn back. Some German cities, especially Hamburg suffered devestating attcks, but the Luftwaffe in 1943 proved that American bombers could not sustain unescoted attacks deep into Germany and by the end of the year was also taking terrible tolls on British bombers during night raids.
Reichmarshal Göring was the most popular figure other Hitler in the NAZI heierarchy. He also had perhaps the cloest asocition with the Führer. After making a number of assurance to Hitler that poved disaterous (Dunkirk and Stalingrad), his influence with the Führer had suffered. As the Allies expanded the Strategic Bombing Campaign, Göring assured Hitler that the Allied fighters did not have the range to escort the bombers. That was the case in 1943, but it was also what the Allies were were working hard to rectify. Legendary Luftwaffe pilot Adolf Galland was the first to notice this. He found spare fuel tanks on P-47 Thuundebolts that had been shot down near Aachen (September 1943). Galland immediately understood the significance. At a subsequent meeting with Hitler to discuss actions to deter the Allied bombing raids, Gallad stressed the need to expand the Luftwaffe fighter force. Galland estimated that to prevent the American day-light raids that a fighter force three to four times the bomber force was needed. Galland was one of the most respected fighter commander in the Luftwaff and one of the few military commnders Hitler at tghis stage of the War allowed to speak fratkly to him. Galland added that even more fighters would be needed if the Americans began sending fighter escorts to accompany the bombers into the Reich. Hitler remained passive when Galland was estimating the fighter force needed, but objected when Galland began discussing the possibility of fighter escorts. He interupted Galland and pointed out that Göring (Galand's commander) had assured him that the Allies did not have fighters which had the capability to escort the bombers. Hitler then dismissed Galland. Later that day Galland called on Göring. Speer who was present recorded the encounter. Görng of course was furious because his Lufwaffe, after early victories, had repeatedly failed the German War effort and now Galland was further undermining his esteem. Galland was surprised to find that he was furious and demanded to know why he had warned Hitler about American fighter escorts. Galland pointed out it was already happening and would become an increasing problem. The two argued. Finally an exasperated Göring shouted, "I herewith give you an official order that they weren't there! Do you undrstand? The American fighters were not there!" Galland replied sarcastically, "Orders are orders, sir." Of course Göring could not order the American pilots. [Speer, pp. 377-78.]
Galland was not the only German to have such an experience. Göring used his influence to try to stop Gaulitier and mayors from reporting bomb damage to the Chancellry
NAZI Führer Adolf Hitler even after the disasters in the East, considered himself to be the greatest military commander of all time. As was often the case after the French Campaign (1940), Hitler proved to be one of the Allies' greatest assetts in ensuring his own demise. This beganwith his interference in the Battle of Britain. The disasters he was largely responsible for he blamed on others. The Führer's failure to give priority to the Luftwaffe and the Allied emphasis on air power was to radically change the course of the War in 1944 as the War came home to the German people. In actuality, Hitler could do little to reinforce the Luftwaffe by increasing fighter production by this time. And trained pilots were not even available for the planes which they did have. Hitler did have, however, the ability to determine how existing assetts would be used. He at first committed to both Speer and Göring that a figher force being assembeled be used to defend the Reich from Allied bombers. After D-Day changed his mind and the fourse was expended to no real avail. [Speer, p. 518.] Hitler also could determine how the new ME-262 jet be used. It was belt as a high speed fighter and was clearly the most capble fighter of the War. To Galand's amazement, Hitler insisted that the ME-262 be used as a bomber. He was more interested in punishing the Allies than in porttecting Germn cities and the people in them. Galland who flew the ME-262 and was amazed with it was only one high raking Luftwaffe officer who triend to focus the ME-262 on fighter operations. Both Speer and Göring attempted to disuade Hitler to no avail. [Speer, p. 465.]
The top-line American fighters in Europe during 1943 were the P-38 tein engie Lighting and the the P-47 Thunderbolt. Both were excellent fighters, but had limited ranges. They could extend their range with drop tanks, but still had limited ranges--primarily because they were both big-heavy plains. It was the P-51 Mustang that proved to be the sollution to the Allied escort problem. The P-51 is generally considered to be the finest piston-driven fighter of the War. The P-51 in many ways symbolizes the Anglo-American war-effort. The plane was an American design, but performed poorly with the under-powered Allison engine. The plane had been available as early as 1941. The British deployed it first as the Army Air Corps was not impressed with it. Upgraded with the British Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the performance was spectacular. With drop tanks it had a range equal to that of the Allied heavy bombers. They could not only reach targets anywhre in the Reich, but they could accompany the bombers to targets as far east as Poland. The reason was that the P-51 was a relatively light plane and thus used fuel must more efficently than ether the P-38 or P-47. The 8th Air Force began to receive the new P-51s at the end of 1943. American planners as late s early 1943 were convinced that the bombers had the armament to fight through to the targets alone. They also thought the air-cooled Merlin made the plane susetable to emnemy fire. As the losses in the skies over Germany escalate, these assessments chnged and a priority was gioven to the production og P-51s. The first P51s arrived in England during late-November 1943, not long after Galland's encounter with Hitler and Göring.
Göring's orders by early-1944 were largely moot. The American bombers were entering the Reich with fighter escorts. At first the escorts were primarilt P-47s and to a lesser extent P-38s with drop tanks. It was the discoveru a shot down P-47 with drop tanls near Achen which led to the confrontation between Göring and Galand descrobed above.
These escorts covered some of the bomber stream, but not deep into the Reich. It was the P-51s, however, that would be with the bombers all the way to the target. At first the number of P-51s was limited, but they were arriving from the States in ever increasing quantities. The American bomber crews called them "Little Friends". Luftwaffe pilots called them "Indianer"--referring to the savage Indians of the American frontier. (German boys grew up reading stories about the Wild West and playing Cowboys and Indians. Western films wre also popular.) One historian provides a description of the combat that broke out in the skies over the Reich. "with the Merlin engine of his sleek, pointy fighter turning over smoothly in front of him. Gummpeered upward toward amercilessly bright sun in a region where the weather was usully gray and wet, He squinted. They were only small blemishes at first, but they were getting larger. He was looking at four Messeschmitt Bf 109 [another designation or the ME-109] fighters jockeying into position to attack a box of bombers. 'Looks like we'll have to climb into them,' said the voice in Gumm's earphones. That was 1st Lt. Gilbert F/ "Deacon" Talbot. His olive-drab P-51B was glinting in the sun off Gumm's wing. The two men could look at each other, but not see the other's facial expressions because of their helmets and oxygen masks. Gumm flicked a switch to arm his plane's four .50-caliber M2 machine guns and knew Talbot was doing the same." [Dorr]
The nature of the air war changed dramatically. Three principal factors were involved. First was the steadily expanding strength of the Allied air forces. The 8th Air Force was steadily expanded in 1943. By 1944 the 8th Air Force was reaching parity with Bomber Command and was now capable of 1,000 bomber raids. Second was the deployment of fighter escorts for the bombers. Techniques were developed for using existinf fifghters (P-38 Lightenings and P-47 Thuunderboldts) and the arrival from America of the improved long-range P-51 Mustangs. Third was a shift in targeting from aircraft plants to the German petroleum industry. In the end the Luftwaffe never run out of planes. It did run out of trained pilots and fuel. The turning point in the air war was Big Week (February 1944). The Luftwaffe sustained such severe losses that they could no longer strongly oppose all Allied bombing raids. After Big Week German fighter opposition even on raids targetting Berlin steadily declined (March 1944). The Luftwaffe became increasingly cautious, declining major confrontations with the growing number of fighter escorts. The American escorts began to go down to ground level to attack Luftwaffe bases (April 1944).
The importance of the Allied air campaign can not be overstated. Many authors dismiss the Strategic Bombing Campaign saying that it did not reduce German war production until the end of the War and Germany was already defeatd. Others maintain that the bombing was imporal. Nothing coukd be further from the facts. Is is true that thanks to Speer's efforts, German war production did increase. The falacy of the critics is, however, what could Speer achieved had he not had to work unfer the stress of the strategic bombing campaign. And in his book published after the War, he wonders why the Allies did not pursue the campaign more agressively. And most critics of the Srrategic Bombing Campaign's fail to understan its true accomplishnents. The Campaign was not just to detroy war plants, but was to destroy Germany's capacity to mske war--and this meant the destrucion of the Luftwaffe. While histories of the Strategic Bombing Cmpaign focus on the bombing, it is the work of the escorts that had the most critical mission--destroy the Luftwafe. This was absolutely essential for the Allied D-Day landings, the beginning of the liberation of Europe. Just as Hitler could not invade Britain (Operation Sea Lion) without defeating the Royal ir Force (1940), the Allies could not invade France without defeating the Luftwaffe 1944). This the combat in the skies over the Reich determuned whether the Allies could attack the Atlantic Wall and Liberate Europe. [Door] And as for the moral argument. Some 0.3 million Germans were killed in the Strategic Bombing Campaign. Hitler and his minions murdered some 12 million people (not counting battlefield deaths)--and chillingly this was a small fraction of the people slated for death. And severl hundred million people were still in NAZI hands in 1944. Can anyone seriously argue that would have been moral to forego the use pf air power and leave the people in the occupied countries to the tender mercies of the genocidal killers who organized the Hunger Plan, Holocaust, and Generalplan Ost.
Door, Robert F. Fighting Hitler's Jets: The Extrodinary Story of the American Airmen Who Beat the Luftwaffe and Defeated Nazi Germany (2013).
Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich (Avon, New York, 1970), 734p.
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II Allied combined air campaign 1942-44 page]
[Return to Main World War II Allied European strategic bombing campaign]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]