*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- technology air campaigns country aircraft

World War II Technology: Air Weapons--Country Aircraft

World War II country aircraft
Figure 1.--Much of the early Axis (German and Japanese) victories came from their lead in modern aircraft types. Hitler and the Japanese militarists calculated that they could complete their conquests before America could arm itself and intervene. Only 4 months after Pearl Harbor, however, American B-25 Mitchell bombers were dropping bombs on Tokyo, something the Japanese had thought impossible. The Axis leaders calculated badly not only as to how rapidly the United States could shift over to arms production, but also just how massive the American industrial output would be. America was able not only to arms its own military, but those of its allies as well. And in no other sector would American production be so impressive. Axis air forces in 1945 were mostly using the same aircraft with which they began the war. The U.S. Air Forces were using new generations of aircraft which overweakmed the Axis pilots in numbers and capabilities.

Germany launched World War II with the world's most effective airforce--the Luftwaffe. Not only did they have the most effective aircraft, but they had the best trained airmen and tactics. Germany's early victories were in part atributable to the Luftwaffe. Japan 2 years later launched the Pacific War with the most effective fighter and air combat tactics. (Unlike Germany they had, however, a retively small cohart of well-trained pilots.) The advantages that accured from air power were a major factors in the spectacular victories Germany and Japan achieved in the early phases of the War. Several factors boded ill for both Germany and Japan even as they were achieving spectacular victories. The British showed during the Battle of Britain that the Luftwaffe was not invincible and that the Allies were building effective aircraft types as well and in increasing numbers. A little noted fact is that at the time of the Battle of Britain that the British were out producing Germny in aircraft. German war plans were to defeat numerically superior opponents with better tactics and technology. The loss of te Battle of Britain should have led Hitler and Göring to reassess this presmise. Hitler decided, however, to widen the War. And when the Germans widened the War to include the Soviet Union and the United States, German aircraft production became a small fraction of Allied production. The Allies unlike the Germans had the capability to build not only tactical air forces, but also strategic airforces enabling them to launch a massive air assault on both Germany and Japan. The United States not only massively increased production, but develooped new advanced aircraft types. The Germans and Japanese were still relying on 1930s early-1940s air-craft types at the end of the War. The Germans of course developed the first jet aircraft, but thanks to Hitler and the Luftwaffe development system had little impact on the War. The Allies also developed much more effective air crew training programs. Here availbility of fuel was factor.


Britain almost went to war with bi-plane fighter squadrons still in service to confront the advanced, fast German Me-109s. The Royal Navy did enter the War with bi-planes. They still used the Fairy Swordfish bi-planes on its carriers. British Hawker Huricans and Spitfires early in the War exposed weaknesses in the Luftwaffe. The British like the French also used their aircraft poorly, but fortunately had the Channel which bought the time needed to adjust air combat tactics and put the short range German fighters at a disadvantage. The British produced an excellent fast light bombber--the Mosquito. It was made of plywood rather than aluminum which was hard to obtain. The British used the legendary Avro Lancaster to bomb at night, probably the most effective bomber of the War, until the B-29 came into service. The British began working on jets quite early in the War, but the Air ministry gave it very limited priority. They introduced the Glocester Meteor (1944). It was the only plane fast enough to chase a V-1. A Meteor managed to tip the wing of the V-1! and send it spirling out of control to explode in the countryside. Meteor pilots sighted ME-262s, but we do not know of any actual air combat between the two jets.


The French had competiive aircraft planes, but they were not used effectively by French commanders. This led ton the fall of France which meant that the Armée de l'Air (French Airforce) was not a factor in the War. One major develooment was the failure ov the Germans to effectively use the French aviation industry. .


The Germans developed some excellent aircraft Their aircraft were some of the best in service at the time Hitler launched the War. The Me-109 and the Ju-87 Stuka both played key roles in the early German victories. The British brought the Spitfire into service just in time for the Battle of Britain. Once the War began the Germans proved unable to bring on line new planes with advanced technology so they gradually lost their edge in the air. The FW-90 was a rare exceotion. The ME-109 fighter was in service throught the War, but even with upgrades wwas outclassed by the new American fighters. The Luftwaffe did develop other planes, but only the FW-190 fighter proved successful before jets were introduced. The Germans introduced jet aircraft. As Hitler delayed the program, they did not become operational until the final year of the War. The Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe ("Swallow") was the first operational jet-powered aircraft and the most advanced aircraft of the War. It was introduced, however, too late to affect the outcome. America and Britain were also working on jets, but the Germans had a substantial lead. Actually the German lead was actually greater than it seems. Hitler ordered a halt to the jet program believing that the War was nearly won and he did not want to waste resources on experimental programs. When the NAZIs surrendered (May 1945), the Luftwaffe was just being on line new jet squadrons with aircraft that were easier to build and fly. If the Reich had still been in tact, they could have radically changed the situation in the air. Allied inteligence helped to reduce the impact of the pilotless ram jets (V-1s). The German secret balistic missle weapn (V-2), while a technological marvel, had no real impact on the War.



The Japanese Zero made a major impact at the beginning of the Pacific War. The superior performance of the Zero was largely gained by reducing protective armor to a minimum. The Japanese unlike the Americans did not have the industrial capacity to buld planes with large engones and armor. They were unable to bring more advanced aircraft into service. They were, however, working on modern aircraft using German technology.

Soviet Union

Stalin lilled many Red Air Force commanders in the Great Terror purges. This and the poroduction od many obsolete aircraft types spell disaster when the Germans launched Barbarossa. The Red Air Force deployed a new generation of aircraft when factories beyond the Urals came on line (1943). The Stermovick tank buster is the best known Soviet aircraft. American Lend Lease not only provided the Soviets aircraft, but the aluminium needed by aircraft plants.

United States

American defense spending was very limited during the inter-War era. This was especially the case of the Army. Thus when World war II began the United States did not even have an effective tank. There was some spending on the Navy and Air Force (at the time the Army air Corps). The basic thesis which emerged in the 1930s because of the casulties in France during World War I was that the United states wold fight any future war with technology rather than massive ground forces. This is why the Navy and Air Corps were given priority with the limited defense soending. The United States before the War began working on strategic bombers. Not many planes were built, but research and development soending resulted in considerable progress that would prive vital when the War began. An early all metal bomber was the Martin B-10 which entered service in 1934 until replaced by the B-17. The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortrss emerged as the Air Corps principal bomber and is the iconic American bomber of the War. American commanders though it was well armed enough to fight its way into the Reich and win the War. This proved to be wrong. Unesorted B-17s and B-24 Liberators took heavy casualties. American began the War with under-powered fighters that oeformed poorly in initual ebcounters with the Japanese. The P-40 Curtis Hawk had to do until more powerful fighters were developed. The Long-range P-41 Lightening made an important contribution. The P-47 Thunderbolt was an excellent fighter and ground support aircraft, but did not have the range to escort the nombers into the Reich. The tide in the air was only turned when the P-51 Mustang was introduced to escort the bombers. American industry quickly built high performance aircraft to replace the F4F-Wildcat like the F6F Hell Cat and F4U Corsair to compete with the Japanese Zeros. The result was disater for the Imperial Navy. The P-38 Lighting was used in both the European and Pacific theater. Its long range enable it to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto. The United States developed the B-29 Super Fortress with a huge range. The B-29 was mostly used in the Pacific. It had an extended range could fly at a higher alditude than the Japanese fighters could reach.


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Created: 9:51 PM 11/12/2012
Last updated: 7:56 PM 7/28/2014