Aviation's War Communique No 16

We grow stronger in air — Germany and Japan weaker. Our airmen triumph in every war theatre, plane production zooms, new formidably fighting craft are heralded, and Corsairs see first action. Meantime, home front battles ills of over-optimism to hasten packing of Victory "pipeline" so "100 planes fed in this end will hurtle 100 from business end against enemy."

A the ten outstanding developments of recent date relative to America's air war efforts, no two people would come up with precisely the same choices. But the majority of such lists would include most of the following:

Army Air Force day bombing of Europe has become an established success, though Gen Eaker recently found it propitious to allay misunderstanding of it.

Weight of our Oriental air blows has brought Brig Gen Claire Chennault, commander of the China Air Task Force, to say that the Japanese air force has hit its peak and is now on the down grade. (Churchill months ago said the Luftwaffe was declining.)

War Production Board officials state, though not for specific quotation, that we will hit a plane output rate of 12,000 per month in December; that we will come pretty close to the '43 quota now put at some 104,000; and that we could build about 150,000 in '44. Question whether we and our allies can use that many has still to be answered.

United States air power alone, in 1944, will be superior in planes and manpower to that of the entire Axis, according to Maj Gen I H Edwards, Army assistant chief of staff.

That Germany may collapse sooner than expected has come to be the belief of more and more persons who are in a position to judge. And fewer people think she can stand another winter after the next one. The Russian Army meanwhile is hurting the Nazis worse than anything else, and next in weight to this Soviet attack is the Anglo-American air operation.

The Senate Truman Committee, a special group investigating war production, is conducting a continuous inquiry into operations at aircraft plants. The committee was moved to special activity lately by complaints from the Army that some types of needed planes were not being delivered.

United's 2,000-hp Vought shipboard fighter, the F4U Corsair, has gone into action in the Pacific. At the same time, Goodyear announces it is producing Corsairs in their entirety, and Brewster Aeronautical, too, is building them.

The Army has several new airplane designs, some in the final paper stages and some in the air, which move even the engineers at Wright Field to the use of superlatives. But most informed persons believe that the war will be fought and won for the most part with existing standard types.

The Anti-Submarine Command of the Army Air Forces, organized to take over the coastal patrol functions of the First Bomber Command, has extended its operations across the Atlantic. And that is just one stab at the iron fish (still the most formidable of all Nazi weapons) which are being slowly but surely beaten by laborious attack and laborious building of vessels.

And let us append mention of a sort of odd-time occupation — the airplane builders are crystallizing some plans for converting their overgrown capacities to various other goods after the war, including such items as cars and houses.

One trouble with any such present definitive summary of our part in the war is that it accents the optimistic. And we may well pause and give ear to those hardheaded souls who never supercharge their hopes above immediate altitudes. They are the men who say: "To predict the toppling of the Axis by such-and-such a date — when the U-boats still range the seas unlicked, when the enemy still retains a hold in North Africa, and when an Allied bridgehead on the Continent is yet to be forced — is foolhardy."

Surely, we have a big job parrying the troubles of over-optimism. War manufacturers say that every time a series of good war reports come in, the workers take a layoff or start poking around. The whole country lets down. Nobody on our side likes that. We want to keep up full steam in order to knock out the enemy as quickly as possible in order to end the enormous cost.

Everybody now knows that the Allies have the wallop to do the job. If you will look at a map of the world and notice how much more power we have in land, populations, and resources, than the enemy has — now that we have had time to catch up with the Axis' head start — you will see that it should be a matter of pride with us to throw the KO punch in the least number of rounds.

To continue: Gen Chennault goes so far as to say that the Japs will fold a short time after the Germans do. However, most observers sincerely believe that. For, come that happy day of the Nazi fall, all the remaining great powers of the world will be wrapped around Nippon tighter than the hoops on a beer barrel.

And now, getting back to the day bombing of Germany by the AAF — that has been rather seriously misunderstood. It is largely the Army's fault, in the opinion of many Air Force people, for not giving the public the information it needs in order to see how it works. Here are the basic facts:

The Boeing B-17s and the Consolidated B-24s, which are doing the job, were initially designed as long-range bombers to defend this country — that is, to attack any hostile forces far away from our shores. Thus, these planes were built to carry comparatively small bomb loads. It is true that for a long time now we have known we would engage in the short-range air war between Germany and England. But that could not justify us in abandoning our long-range type of plane, because we could not be sure we would not yet have to use them as originally planned. There was a dark period in which it looked as if the Axis might win in Europe and head seaward against the United States.

But the design of: the B-17 and the B-24, for small bomb loads, did not mean they could not lift the same loads as any other airplanes of equivalent wing area and power — operating against equidistant targets. It did mean that, to go on the short trips against Germany, they had to be altered to carry the loads. They were so modified, and among the changes are under-wing bomb racks carrying 4,000-1b bombs (under each wing) released by approximately the same release mechanism which is used inside.

These planes are carrying about the same loads on their high-level precision daylight attacks as the four-engined British bombers are carrying at night. And together they are jarring the life out of the enemy.

Gen Eaker was so concerned, when misinformed writers led Americans to believe that our day bombing was "still experimental," that he took the trouble to explain the operation. He said that the RAF should continue its night work, and AAF its day attack because it is a fact that the maximum destructive effort against the enemy can be realized under these conditions only. His second point was that such attacks keep the enemy alerted 24 hr a day, giving him no rest, and keeping several hundred thousand German workmen away from their factories and industries. And third, day operations over Germany force the Nazis to maintain a large force of day fighters which otherwise would be free to stay on the Russian or African fronts.

It has been clear for months that the German air force is not numerically capable of fighting on three fronts — Russia, Africa, and England — at the same time. It appears, at this writing, to have given up serious efforts over England, and to have failed to hinder the Russians effectively, either by opposing their military operations or by hitting their industries. Now comes Gen Chennault and says (to quote a China office of the Associated Press): "From evidence of various sources the enemy (Japan) has run into two bottlenecks — aircraft production and the training of airmen."

As has been pointed out before, the Japanese imported most of their machine tools. Now, to improve their airplane models in order to keep abreast of Anglo-American design, they are obliged to develop new tooling. Their technological temperament is not suited to such a task, and it has been predicted they would fall down on it.

Gen Chennault adds that the Japs are no longer getting results in the air as they did at first; they are shunning attack in large numbers; they had offered, at the time of his statement, little effective opposition to Allied air attacks on Burma; on some of their attacks they have lost most of their planes; and their bomber crews are not as skilled as they used to be. Accordingly, the general said he thought it would not take long to smash Japan after Hitler folds up.

While both Germany and Japan grow weaker in the air, the United States grows stronger. But there is a limit. Just as the enemy reached his limit, and started to slip, and just as England has reached a maximum aircraft output beyond which it cannot go, the United States, sooner or later will hit its ceiling also. The pretty part of it is that our ceiling is a mighty high one. It looks as if the command in Washington figures around 12,000 or 15,000 a month as our limit — so long as we keep on with the current tank, ship, and gun programs.

Of course, if we should turn to a greatly augmented air war, and leave off some or most ground operations, then we would have a new aircraft production ceiling. But that probably will not happen in this war.

The same is true of aviation manpower. So long as we must supply and man ground forces, there is a limit to the forces available to operate an air force. Gen Edwards tells Congress we will have an air force of 900 squadrons, employing 2,450,000 men, by the end of this year. The projected size of our total army is never a fixed figure, but if you call it 10,000,000, an air force of that, just-mentioned size is roughly one quarter of the total army. Perhaps that is about all it can be, unless and until a new style of war is developed.

This gets us around the question of whether we actually want to build 150,000 airplanes in 1944. Nobody can answer that one, as yet, because it depends upon the needs of our allies. There are still combat zones where a lot more planes could be used right now, such as Russia and China. But as Mr Nelson explains it, we have been filling up the "pipelines" all this time. Airplanes had to go to dozens of places, where they may never be used; reserves had to be built up before the fighting could start. The day will come, soon, when every time 100 planes are fed in at this end of the pipeline, 100 will come out of the business end at the front.

This is not to say that we are sure to find ourselves able to build all the airplanes we want for ourselves and our allies. But we might. We have built all we wanted of some other things. We have cut down orders for still others, not because we didn't want more, but because we wanted other things more. Among the latter are tanks, mobile guns, anti-aircraft guns, and trucks. We wanted airplanes more than we wanted those items, so we diverted the hours and the materials to planes.

If we find that we cannot build as many planes as we want, it will be for two main reasons. The first of them will be "change orders". They come pouring in from the front in a stream that drives the service men and manufacturers crazy. This is one thing has come pretty near upsetting some manufacturers. But the change orders are the main ingredient of advancement in design that beats the enemy, so no-one wants to stop them. It all has to be managed.

Somebody has to pick out the changes that will truly improve the performance of the airplane. But he has to throw some of these selected changes away, because they would slow down production too much, doing more harm than good. It takes a lot of smart figuring to strike the right balance between quantity and quality.

The other major limit on airplane production is absentee workers. Some of the workers have no choice but to be absent, because of circumstances at home, transportation, and so on. Others must be called thoughtless and irresponsible.

The chances are that Congress is going to pass a law requiring all able-bodied men to stay on their jobs (except for good reasons) or join the Army, where they call it AWOL and the penalty is a stretch in the clink.

This article was originally published in the April, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 4, pp 106-107, 395-396, 399.
The original article includes photos of B-17 and B-24 production lines and a flight shot of an F4U.
Photos are not credited.