Aviation Abroad

Bomber Escorts In Style

Last month's increased air activity in the war not only gave plenty of signs that it might toughen up before long, but also brought in enough data to permit a few clinical observations. The North Sea saw most of the action, but there was a big difference between the way the Germans and British went about it.

The Germans, both in their high reconnaissance and bombing flights over the coast and in their low attacks on ships, operated almost entirely in small groups of a few planes. In most cases they took advantage of altitude or weather conditions to avoid fights as much as possible. The British patrols and raids, on the other hand, were mostly carried out by sizeable groups and in a good many cases were continued even against strong defenses. The British claim this is all due to their bombers being so much better armed than the Germans' that they can afford to plough right ahead against opposition. Considering the figures put out by both sides the British certainly have done a lot more damage to defending fighters they've met than the Germans have. However, for the British to announce as glorious victories battles in which they admit losing almost as many nice big bombers as they claim to have brought down fighters, is certainly stretching the truth.

Adding up the experience of both sides, it looks as if attacks delivered on the present scale either bring most of their ships home safely without having accomplished much, or else get some results at an exorbitant cost. There are certainly two ways out of this situation. One would be to increase the number of bombers per raid up to the hundreds talked of before the war, which ought to swamp the defense completely enough to get plenty done with a comparatively small loss. The other would be to keep on with small scale raids, but provide them with enough convoy fighter strength to get through the defending fighters and back again. It's certainly worth noting that this latter method, which before the war was laughed at as old-fashioned and downright cockeyed, is the one that both sides are now talking about the loudest.

Beside their use for escort duty, a bunch of long-range fighters would come in mighty handy to both sides for patrol work and independent raids on enemy air bases. However, so far neither side has shown off anything in the line of a fighter able to go a couple of hundred miles and take on an interceptor on anything like equal terms. The Germans brought out their prize two-motored Me-110 fighters to greet the British raids on their North Sea bases, and they seem to have shown up pretty well. However, they weren't designed for particularly long range, and the Germans apparently aren't counting on them for this job. They're busy talking about a new Junkers long range fighter said to be in heavy production, and der Tag is supposed to be set for the date enough of them are in service.

Cannon vs Machine Guns

The British, in spite of the great things they claim for their turret-infested bombers, also announce that they have plenty of long-range fighters coming along, and promise the Germans a nasty surprise when they find out about them. Just what they are the British aren't saying. Some expect them to turn out to be the two motored fighters known to be under way in quantity, but earlier dope about these hush-hush jobs didn't credit them with any remarkably long range. Another possibility is the Boulton Paul Defiant, a two seat fighter about which little has been heard since it was unveiled last spring, except that it's known to be in production. This is a nice looking monoplane about the size of a Hurricane and using the same Rolls Royce Merlin III, but behind the pilot it carries a power-operated multigun turret. Just how hot a performance it would have loaded up enough for long range work is a question.

The British still talk about how much better a lot of machine guns are than a shell gun, and they're probably right as far as battles between fighters go. For use against bombers, however, the shell gun may turn out to have the edge. In the biggest raid to date carried out by the British against the German North Sea bases, the Me-110s that opposed them were able to get in some good work with their shell guns from ranges as great as 1000 yards, and their shells make quite a hole in an airplane. For some negative proof of the shell gun's value, look at the number of both sides' bombers on which fighters registered a bunch of hits with machine guns, but got home right side up.

Japs Are Expanding

The Japanese are stepping out at last into the world airline setup with a line scheduled to open in February between Tokyo and Bangkok, which will give their system a tie-up to foreign lines for the first time. The announced route goes by way of Taihoku on Formosa and Hanoi, French Indo China. Survey flights have been made with Japanese-built equipment, but the regular service will use Savoia Marchetti SM75s. Five of these ships are supposed to have been received already, with five more coming later in the year. The Japanese, by the way, must have got their DC-4 put back together about the way it was meant to go, as it's reported making trial flights around Tokyo.

Beside the expansion outside their own borders, the Japanese are planning a lot of improvements nearer home. One of the chief items on the list is putting in a lot of first class airways in Manchukuo, complete with real airports, lighting, radio communication and navigation aids, and all the rest required. The only catch is that the program they've announced calls for much more money than the government has ever been willing to shell out before for commercial flying.

This material is excerpted from the "Aviation Abroad" column in the February, 1940, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 39, no 2, pp 112, 114.
The remaining column deals with airline operations; there are 3 photos.
The clip on Japanese expansion also deals with their airline operations, but is included because of the historical context of their using the airlines to get experience over Asian air routes.

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