Developments are coming thick and fast in the world air war. United Nations retain superiority on the Russian and Australian fronts; the, Japanese have lost the upper hand elsewhere in the Pacific; and Britain and the United States are wielding destruction over Europe against futile Nazi opposition. Jump-off spots for the bombing of Japan are now in sight. A vast movement of war cargo and troops by air is an early probability. For the first time since September 1, 1939, the defeat of the Axis can be visualized in terms of power and not hope alone. Now, the United Nations can demonstrate staggering air power.
Foremost united achievement of late is RAF's bomb punches at German war centers, which are rocking Hitler on his heels. One night in late May the English went over the Channel with 1,000 bombers and 250 defensive fighters and dropped six million pounds of bombs on Cologne. Pilots in the raid said the city was substantially destroyed.
The Germans themselves admitted the damage was "great," and this is not hard to believe, when one considers that the heaviest jobs the Luftwaffe ever did on England totaled around one and a half million pounds or less. And in addition, the British are now using a new bomb, weighing in excess of 4,000 lb which they say demolishes a block with one hit.
But much worse for the Nazis is still to come. The English are trying to muster enough air force to average 1,000 planes a night over Europe. Counting bad weather nights when they couldn't go, this might call for as many as 3,000 on some occasions.
To put 3,000 bombers over Hitler's Europe, according to estimates quoted by the British Press Service in New York, would require 120 airdromes. This need could be met, it says.
The four-engine machines, such as the Lancaster, Stirling, and Halifax carry a crew of seven, and the two-engine ships, five each. Thus, 3,000 bombers would carry a total of 18,000 pilots and crews. At the rate of 20 men on the ground for each man in the air, a "heavy" night would occupy 350,000 to 400,000 men. This would be a colossal task of organization and coordination.
The matter of timing the take-offs of so many units from all parts of England to arrive over their targets at set times would be even more difficult. But it probably can be done, because it was done to a nicety with a third as many men when Cologne was hit.
Actual tonnage of bomb loads, of course, is the key fact, not the mere number of airplanes. One Stirling, for example, can carry as great a load as a whole squadron of Blenheims. A twin-engine bomber requires nearly as many men in the air and on the ground, as a four-engine plane but the load and range of the latter is proportionately much greater. The present proportion of two- to four-engine bombers gives an average bomb load of just less than two tons per plane. On that basis, 3,000 airplanes could drop 5,500 tons of bombs over Germany in one night.
Whether these facts, released by the British Press Service, are intended to imply a move toward more four-engine planes, you can speculate for yourself. It is interesting to note that when an air force is not strongly opposed, as RAF is not now strongly opposed over Europe, it can worry less about having too many eggs in one big-plane basket.
To whatever boom the English can let fall from the air on Europe, the United States will soon add a substantial force. Air Chief Gen H H Arnold was in England talking business; Supply Chief Gen Brehon Somervell was there, and Gen George Marshall, Chief of Staff, told the West Point graduating class the other day that "American troops are landing in England and they will land in France."
As this communique has said before, you may yet witness the proof whether, given enough airplanes, an air force can totally reduce a city, rendering it untenable and useless in a war effort. No one knows how near the Germans came to doing just that to London and Plymouth and Coventry apparently not very near.
On the other side of the world, the Chinese say they have constructed air bases within bombing range of Japan, and they are not asking the United States to do the bombing for them; they say they want the planes and they will roll their own. No doubt though, the United States and several other countries will be glad to take a ride eastward from China's bases when the time comes.
There is no official word at all on the prospect of bombing bases in Russia. The Soviet probably would not give away bases just to have Japan climb on her back. The experts say that when Russia gives bases on the Pacific, it will be in return for the opening of a united front in Europe, to pull some of Hitler's hosts off the Russian battle line.
All in all, the Japanese are giving a good account of themselves, on land, sea and air. Their airplanes are not as good as British and American planes, but they' re good enough, and their pilots work hard at getting the most out of them. The Zero fighter turns out to be quite hot stuff, in performance. It makes up to 400 mph. because it's light and sleazy, but it is no match in strength for its English and American counterparts which can fly just as fast. Incidentally, the Zero looks very much like the famed Nazi Focke-Wulf FW-190H.
The Zero was the only plane able to come up with the B-25s used by Doolittle in his raid on Japan. And you should know that this raid is liable to be repeated at any time that is, it can be, until such time as the Japanese find out where it came from. They would have little more defense against another than they had against the first.
It was nice, dishing that bombing to Japan, but Under Secretary of War Patterson says Japan almost certainly will try to dish it back at us. The shame of losing face in the Orient hardly permits them to do otherwise.
One more point on Doolittle's raid: some people have amused themselves by dividing 79 the number of men decorated by five, the number of men in a B-25 crew, and getting a total of 16 planes in the attack. Anybody who can work short division can do it but he still won't know whether all the men were decorated, or whether the ships carried full crews. If the little sons of heaven feel embarrassed about the attack, they also may be feeling very sorry indeed about their five new 40,000-ton battleships. Japan and England, both strong sea powers, have had the pain of demonstrating their own weakness by sinking other people's battleships with airplanes.
Here at home, we are working on air cargo in a way that grips the imagination. We haven't enough surface ships to haul our own oil, let alone our Lend-Lease war supplies going abroad. The submarines keep knocking down our tonnage by the clock, and the remedy is slow coming. Meanwhile, imaginative people in and out of the services keep arguing that a biggish cargo plane can make so many more trips from A to B than a surface ship can make that in the end the airplane will have delivered the most stuff. It doesn't sound right, because an airplane is little and flimsy and nervous. Some of the more settled boys have difficulty adding it up. Just the same, a rather amazing number of cargo planes, in existing designs, have been ordered by the Army, and practically all of the big manufacturers are designing whoppers. Glenn Martin has announced his big six-engine plane. But these two giants are scheduled for postwar development.
What may come of this air cargo idea is anybody's guess. The Army is already moving surprisingly big volumes of stuff by air, and officers say they are amazed at what has been done in China and in Africa.
Back in our first paragraph we said the Axis' defeat can now be visualized. Churchill said not long ago that we can now see over the ridge for the first time. Always before, the Germans and Japs had won, at every turn of the cards. Now it's different. They have been stopped, and their murder of many hostages is a symptom of their fright. But everywhere we are warned not to turn our back on this wounded beast for an instant. It might fight on and on and on.
Incidental intelligence: Berlin says Blohm and Voss is building a plane with its motor and steering gear on the left wing and a nacelle for a crew of three on the right. It sounds a bit groggy but the Germans say it works, for "special purposes," on the Russian front.
Army and Navy say they are going in for gliders and glider training in a big way. Not long ago they both testified against extensive motorless flight, so what's up we don't know.
Comdr Edward Binning, in a Catalina boat, destroyed an Axis submarine with bombs and armor-piercing gunfire. It would be interesting to know which did the job.
Undersecretary of War Patterson says that the President's goal of 60,000 planes in 1942 will be exceeded by a good margin. If so, the achievement will be greater than appears at first thought, for we have shifted far more into heavy bombers since the President set up the objective.
This article was originally published in the July, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 7, pp 88-89, 287-288.
The original article includes a photo of a formation of training gliders, a photo of Jimmy Doolittle being congratulated by FDR, and an artist's conception of the Curtiss Caravan.
Photos credited to International News, Wide World.