Aviation's War Communique No 18

Allied air power plays important role in final African push as sortie records are set … Pressure increases for more planes to blast Japs, but Allied strategy targets Hitler as No 1 … Production realists estimate this year's output at 80,000 to 90,000 planes rather than oft-quoted 100,000-plus.

Mussolini's mare nostrum now becomes an Allied lake as the Axis — Luftwaffe and all — gets pushed out of Africa. And allied air power played its rightful role, blasting paths for the magnificent American, British, and French ground forces in their final rushes to Bizerte and Tunis. New records for the number of sorties — single missions of single planes — flown were set as Tunisian. skies became as Allied-dominated as the rest of the hills and plains south of the Mediterranean. More than 2,500 sorties were chalked up by the Allied Air Forces on the climax day.

The dive bomber fades from the news, and Gen Ira C Eaker, commanding the Eighth Air Force, says it is an "opportunist" weapon which now must hunt for undefended targets. The British reach complete agreement with the United States on the wisdom and effectiveness of day bombing. The Luftwaffe continues to punch back hard, but its waning power becomes more obvious as it fails to retaliate against England or to properly aid Germany's hard-pressed forces in the East. In the Orient, both MacArthur and Chennault plead for airplanes to at least match the swarms of Japanese, but the Allied high command stands firm on its decision that Hitler must be knocked off first.

A sentence buried in a recent article by Joseph Goebbels, Reich propagandist, speaks more eloquently than could any outside estimate of damage done to Germany by Allied air attack. Goebbels, trying to cheer the war-weary people of Germany as privation, destruction, and death replace their vision of world dominion, assures them that Nazi U-boat warfare is balancing British and American air war. Submarines are taking a million tons of our shipping per month with all goods on board, and the Germans are responsible for nearly all of it; Japan hardly gets a look-in. If we are doing anywhere near that much "balancing" damage to Germany by air attack, we are doing mighty well.

Two facts confirm Goebbels' statement as the truth. The Russians — Joseph Stalin himself and his Red Star newspaper — are now praising Allied air damage to Germany without reservation; presumably they see and benefit by the results of it. Many observers believe that weakness of the Luftwaffe is to a large extent the result of damage to Nazi airplane factories. The other main contributor, it must be added quickly, is the destruction of German planes by Allied planes in combat. No small part of the credit goes to our own bomber and fighter crews who have been mowing down attacking fighters.

When even the ground service experts disagree, it is useless for editors to comment on the problems the Allies face when they invade the Continent. It looks like a tough job which might be made easier by a sufficient amount of revolt, subversion, and sabotage from within.

But in the air the way ahead looks clear. Our air forces can go where they want to go and do whatever a limited air force is capable of doing. We say limited because though our forces, AAF and RAF combined, will be big this summer and autumn, they will still not boast the scores of thousands of bombers and fighters of which the all-air warriors dream. Even next year we shall not have them, for this year, the United States will produce less than 100,000 planes of all types, the English somewhat less. We could swarm the skies of Europe with planes, as the all-air people wish, only if we stopped making other kinds of war equipment.

Allied destruction from the air in Europe will increase as our superiority increases. But we shall not be able to devastate Germany as effectively as we could have done a year or two ago. The Nazis are learning how to fight back from the ground; they are learning how to take shelter, how to dig out, how to make repairs and go back to work — just as the British did. They are also thinking of themselves as a brave people fighting for a cause — plenty of them at least — and they might go beyond the margin of human endurance, just as the English did.

The art of camouflage and underground construction is improving every day. Some military objectives in Europe cannot be hidden, but thousands have been buried or concealed so effectively that they can't be found without help. Much help, of course, will be given by agents and by enemies of Hitler.

Incidentally, if this is not the last war, it may still be the last opportunity for a demonstration of unlimited air war against factories, the source of all military effort. By next time so many factories and lines of communication may be buried or concealed that air forces may attack in vain, only to blow up geysers of dust. Even the cities may be dispersed so that civil populations cannot be terrorized. World War III could be a great disappointment to any powers hoping to sweep the world clean with bullets, bombs, and propeller wash.

A good example of what aviation cannot do, at least in this war, is on display in the Aleutian islands where the Japs have landed in force, established habitations, and nearly completed a couple of airfields. From these fields, of course, they hope to scourge our Alaskan shipping and naval forces and, perhaps, to attack the coast of America. They couldn't do much to our ferry line from Alaska to Russia, it's too far North. Our air forces have been attacking these meager Jap installations often a dozen times a day, with substantial bomb loads, but the airfields keep on growing, just as do ours in the same area.

In the East, where Japan has completed conquests as amazing as some by the Germans, since the Japs did much of it amphibiously, there is no change. There may not be any important change for some time. The Nips apparently cannot over-run New Guinea or Australia; we are holding them. But they are holding us, too. If we knock down five of their planes to their one of ours, they bring up five more to our one. Our submarines apparently have not yet seriously hurt their merchant shipping. We are gaining on them strongly in naval construction, and that will tell when the day comes.

MacArthur, Chennault, and the other commanders in the East and in Hawaii, are in almost unbearable positions. They want to attack, they have demonstrated that they can take the Japs but they haven't got the full number of shooting irons, and the Allied command isn't letting them have 'em. Even the compelling Madam Chiang Kai-Shek has produced no yet-apparent change in our policy. The weight of our armament remains ranged on Hitler.

Gen MacArthur's confession of faith in aviation caused a palpitation in the hearts of flyers and believers all over the world. He said the Navy could get nowhere without strong air support. That peeved Navy Boss Knox a little bit, and it probably didn't make a particular hit with Old-Sailor Roosevelt in the White House. Some people on the side lines said it wasn't the way to get more airplanes in the Pacific. But MacArthur's influence is great, and his words, sticking in many minds, may yet fall heavily upon the Japanese.

All the powers that want to hit Japan are a very long way off, except China. But China has unlimited manpower. If the Allies can implement that manpower with airplanes and weapons, they will do the Japs in. Chennault says the Chinese are just as good as the Americans in air combat. Most people who pretend to know about the Russians say they, too, will jump the Japs as soon as the Germans are liquidated. This is all guesswork. But the Japs beat the pants off the Russians in that war 40 yr ago, and the experts say the Muscovites never forget. Indeed, the latter are reported to have already shown the Japs a thing or two in those various border clashes. It would make a whale of a difference if Stalin would merely declare war on Nippon and let us use his back yard.

But, to get back home in our own front yard: We still haven't precisely hit the 7,000-per-month mark in airplane production. The Aircraft Production Board still hopes to run the monthly rate up to 12,000 by the year end, but hard-headed estimators don't think we can do it. They think that though we will exceed 80,000 planes this year, we will miss the off-quoted 100,000 mark.

The high-test gasoline-rubber controversy may soon join the nearly-forgotten list. It never threatened air training and combat as much as some people claimed it did. If so, the national sport of joyriding, which is still going on at a great rate, would have been stopped. However, the use of parts and materials in rubber plants, and gasoline plants, too, did interfere slightly with aircraft production.

The Interdepartmental Air Board has tightened its control on military and civil air traffic, which means that the government now has its eye on every whirl of a propeller, on every trip and why, which was to be expected. There is going to be more argument about aviation taxes and states rights and local zoning powers than you could stack in the Congressional Library. It is just getting started with debate on HR 1012, which is a rewrite of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. Before it ends (if you live that long), some one of our prairie-hen states, or perhaps even one of our larger towns, is going to tell the imperial government of some pompous country overseas that it cannot fly through our air — no, sir! And, judging from the long-distance applications received by the Civil Aeronautics Board from United States airlines that want to fly all over God's Heaven, a lot of people from Swakopmund to Jogjakarte will have an opportunity to tell us the same thing.

This article was originally published in the June, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 6, pp 112-113, 375-376, 378.
The original article includes photos of B-24s in the Aleutians and B-17s over Bizerte, Tunisia.
Photos credited to International, Press Association.