Aviation's War Communique No 21

Allied air power efficiency increasing swiftly … Sicilian invasion gives gliders shot-in-the-arm … precision bombing scores again in Ploesti raid … Pacific air power growing faster, but vital Chinese bases still in realm of future … our production gains have officials worried … airmail situation continues redolent.

Allied air attack is cutting down German aircraft output while Nazi aviation is unable to touch the production facilities of the United States and only to scratch those of the British. The only thing that can stop the enemy's eventual decline to zero air power is cessation of hostilities.

Results of Allied attack on Hitler's airplane production, apparent these last months, is now obvious. Luftwaffe's fighter resistance is observed by our bomber pilots to be growing weaker. Goering is shifting from bomber and attack planes to fighters — and defensive fighters at that. German factories are backing away from the attack to the south and west. Our increasing range is following them west, and positions in Sicily and, perhaps Italy can help meet them going south.

Apparent German determination to defend Italy to the bitter end — whether the Italians want it defended or not — indicates the Nazi leaders recognize this pressure upon them only too well.

Then, too, the real part played by air power, especially American, in reducing Sicily in less-than-scheduled time must certainly put Hitler back on his rug-chewing diet. For there was employment of air power as efficient as has been seen in this war. It included the largest use to date of gliders, and glider men here were more than elated. True, mistakes were made, but training has already been changed to prevent their recurrence. Perhaps the impetus didn't come from Sicily, but the fact remains that the glider program seems to be "in" again, with production expansion the keynote.

News dispatches report goodly portions of the German populace moving fearfully out of devastated or "marked" cities to get out of the way. Thus far this movement has, of course, been an orderly one, avoiding repetition of the congestion on roads which tied Poland and France in hard knots.

Neutral sources in Europe are beginning to wonder how long the German people can take it. Thousands are being killed, wounded, and made homeless; already they have been brought to relief centers by train loads. What happened to England is peanuts by comparison.

Hamburg was pounded into a heap of ashes and stone and warped steel, and today it is virtually a deserted city except for guards and fire squads. One third of a 1,000,000 people living in its harbor area were blown out of their homes by saturated area attack. There is nothing pollyanna-ish about Allied air war on Germany, any more than there was about Nazi bombardment of England. The population — the workers — of the enemy country are just as much a part of their forces against us as are their physical plants, their pilots, ships, and planes.

It has all tended to revive some of the arguments of precision vs area bombing. Hamburg in its entirety was a military installation. Even the man in the corner grocery (if such there be left in Nazidom) was a small part of the great organization engaged principally in producing submarines to attack our shipping. In Hamburg — as every where else in enemy territory— worker displacement is definitely a part of Allied war on the Axis.

But precision bombing had its innings during the month. Outstanding was the raid on the Ploesti refineries, when Consolidated B-24 Liberators made a 2,400-mi round trip — fought their way into one of the world's most heavily defended areas to dump 300 tons of bombs on the greatest single source of Luftwaffe gasoline. The Liberators went in at roof-top levels in the "greatest low level mass raid in history" with 175 planes participating. Our casualties were 31 planes, but the enemy lost 51 defending fighters plus a vital material installation.

Fluidity of war being what it is, you can be reasonably certain that the Allied command has not, as of any given time, decided whether to expect a German collapse as a result of air attack. There is always the tempting theory that Germany's estimated 1,000 sq mi of production plant, scattered in many places, can be knocked out with 600 tons of bombs to the square mile. It sounds attractive. But when you figure it out, at the rate of 2,000 tons a day (which is fast work), that kind of program would still take a long time and it would cost a lot in terms of money.

But it would cost less in terms of men, which is more important. The Allied peoples who are supporting the war would. rather give time and money than give their men. On the other hand, time is what the Axis wants. It knows time will beat it by attrition at the present rate. But Axis leaders hope that we and our Allies will get tired of fighting and quit in two or three years. They may have something there, at that, judging by recent moves of production chiefs. We have to keep hitting the ball.

And there are the Russians. Our land war is still small time stuff compared to theirs. We have hundreds of thousands actually in combat, to their millions. Their losses are proportional. They are not sure what results our bombing will bring, and they still want us to wade in and fight on the ground. There have been signs lately that the Russians might bank their fire, hold the line, and free the Germans in millions to fight in the West. If they did that, we would be up against pitching in with bayonets and machine guns and huge losses, or letting the war drag on. Strategic air power advocates say that we should have prepared an air force, from the beginning of the war, that could put down five or ten thousand tons of bombs a day, which could beyond doubt plow up those thousand square miles of German plant.

They say — perhaps glibly — that it could have been done with relative ease if we had put our major energy on it instead of on now-obsolete tanks and other equipment for a walking army. But no man can yet say who is right about that. And besides, it is a by-gone hardly worth spending words on.

Regardless of pros and cons on air power, Allied strategic aviation has done a swell job as it stands, and everybody admits it. In Tunisia and Sicily, air attack blistered enemy ground in preparation for our advancing troops, almost beyond belief. Officers who were on the spot tell these writers that the Germans were dismayed. They expected at least to fight a hard delaying action that would be a credit to their reputations. Instead, they found their supply routes torn up, their air fields unusable, their air transport shot down, their ships sunk, and their troop concentrations riddled. Wherever they turned they were frustrated. They had to surrender, and sadistic Nazis wept.

The Allies have a big advantage in freedom from attack on their air industries, as noted earlier. Their next biggest advantage is simply in their alliance. Britain and the United States have achieved a degree of cooperation for which their statesmen deserve fully as much credit as do the smartest generals in the field. Between the two, they have developed a complete "line" of airplanes for all purposes. These designs sprang partly from fundamental differences in basic philosophy and partly from intelligent analysis of war experience and production of types to do the job.

For the Axis this formula carries the minus sign, for in fact there is no Axis. Italy was always a liability, and Japan serves only as a diversion, although a nasty one. The Japs and the Germans have no common interest except aggression on other peoples' property. They have no aviation production teamwork to speak of, and if they did have they couldn't bring it to bear in action on their separate fronts.

Germany's air blitz taught the world a lesson in air war which will not soon be forgotten — or will it? The side that develops its air force last has a distinct advantage. A big program of frozen designs is a good thing if it wins in a blitz. But if the victim recovers enough to build air power, as the Allies did, he has seen all the tricks and can design to beat them. Of course there is no substitute for industrial power, which the Axis forces never had in sufficient measure. Their great power was in a spring which they had been winding up for seven years. It is running down. Our power is an engine with plenty of fuel for constant operation.

A strategy as old as the hills has been put to use by the Allies in the air attack on Europe. If a bomb hits a target and puts it clean out of business, that, is fine. But if the target is only crippled and is subject to repair, it is then left alone — until a lot of time and material has been put into rehabilitation. Then it is hit again. It's the same as the old saw. That a wounded man is worse for the enemy than a dead one; he requires attention whereas the dead man doesn't.

In the Pacific progress is slow, but more and more American planes are getting into the fight. Formations of 150 and 200 heavy bombers are now frequently reported attacking Jap positions. Up to 150 tons or more of bombs have been laid on a target in one day. This sounds small in comparison with operations in Europe, but it is nearly as big as some of the Nazis' heavy attacks on England. It's heavy stuff in the Jap league, and their news commentators have already been telling the people of sorrowful air defeats.

London says that a fleet of Liberators is being built up in China at points from which we could hit Japan. This could be so, but the highest American air officials have said that there is no gasoline in China. They indicated we would have to wait till we can assemble enough air and sea power on that side of the world to take bases which can be supplied. It may seem strange that the United States Navy, which is bigger than Japan's, cannot do the trick. The reason is, as high commanders have explained, that it takes many times the strength of the enemy to hit him when he is thousands of miles away.

The Japs may not have to wait till Germany folds to get theirs. Germany's submarine fleet and the evasive Italian fleet are both being liquidated, with the result that British sea power will be increasingly free to join American forces in their task of taking bases north and south of Japan.

Here at home, production has nearly leveled off just above the 7,000-plane-per-month mark, as this is written, but Donald Nelson is saying we must achieve the 10,000 rate by the end of the year. In general — there are exceptions — the flow of materials and components to airplane producers is satisfactory. Manpower is all right in some parts of the country, but in others it is terrible. The industry's only chance of getting any number of good workers is from plants cut back in other lines.

The two worst impediments of airplane production are design changes and the let-down attitude that is resulting from victories. Nelson and all his people are trying their best to find answers to these problems. They want to make the goal, but privately they are well pleased with what has been done. The enemy can be taken with the present rate of output, but most everybody wants more planes to do it quicker.

We can do the job with current types, too, but in case it takes some time yet we would want a number of new fighters that are in the works, two or three bombers, and other combat planes. To that end Dr George Lewis, research director of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, is doing some special work with manufacturers, hurrying their development programs. What we want now, as always, is more speed and more range.

Some weeks ago the Aircraft War Production Councils came up against a problem for which no provision had been made. In fact, provision had been made against it. The Council had agreed when it was organized not to participate in politics, often called lobbying. But important legislation recently came up, dealing with the disposition of surplus airplanes after the war, disposition of plants, and other matters. The Council was powerless to get in and bat for itself. That is what inspired the industry to get busy and consider the reconstitution of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce which, as a result of internal quarrels, had been laid on the shelf for the duration. Quite likely the Aero Chamber will be better than ever. A hunt is on for two high-octane executives to run it.

And to complete this 21st review of American aviation at war, let us glance at the airmail situation. Though half of the airlines' planes were taken long ago, and the government has since loaded up the other half with priority cargo, inert and on the hoof, the Post Office still likes the people to believe that the airmail is being flown. So it doesn't tell them any different. You can't blame the PO; it never wants to see that airmail deficit again, and it doesn't want trouble with airmail rations. The airlines didn't want to announce their troubles and lose their best customers, either. But they don't mind if the press makes a squawk.

Airline operators know that the Army is fooling around with cargo planes on the ground that ought to be in the air. And if Army can do that, it can dish up some planes to expedite war business. About 20 four-engine planes would do the job, they say.

This article was originally published in the September, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 9, pp 112-113, 326, 328-329, 331, 333.
The original article includes photos of B-24s at Ploesti and a destroyed Ju-52 in Sicily.
Photos credited to Press Association, British Combine.