Those in a position to know the facts of. the air war in this period, both military and production men, are surprised at the difficulty and long time required in getting warplanes from factory to combat.
Difference between the total of delivered planes since the first American models, and the total now in use on all fronts, is amazingly high. In other words when you add up planes produced you are surprised at the lesser number in use a number which, of course, cannot be published.
Some small part of the time lag is chargeable to requirements at modification centers. A great many planes are going through modifications for battle and a great many of them are elaborately changed. In some cases, man-hours put on modifications stack up to thousands per unit. In fact, producers and the armed. services have been accused of rushing airplanes through factory lines and adding them into the monthly total to make an impressive production rate, whereas actually the planes are nowhere near ready for action and should not be counted until they are. Though it is highly doubtful that this is done intentionally, the effect is the same: The total of airplanes that comes out of plants is higher than the total ready for war.
Modification time is only one factor, of course. The pipe-line that carries planes from completion in this country to dispersal blinds at the front is a long and tortuous one.
When one considers the number of planes in the hands of squadrons and the number of fronts on which they are deployed one wonders how they can have done so much damage as they have done to the enemy.
Army and Navy are begging for more planes; faster. It is doubtful if they will have enough even on Hitler's judgment day. Airplanes are now number one, two, and three on the war command's priority list. Both services are taking measures to help the industry run the rate up to 10,000 per month by the new year if it is humanly possible.
The Army called a conference in Washington of war industry bosses, labor, and the press. The Navy has just set in motion a new incentive program by which it will try to jack up the fighting spirit of management and workers on the home front.
Behind closed doors, during the Army's conference, war goods producers were told some very disturbing facts about our losses of materials and the punishment our soldiers are taking. The story of our airmen's battle is not what it sounds like in the newspapers. The whole truth cannot be told because the facts would be useful to the enemy. Some of the aircraft company presidents in attendance, who have had more contact with the government than other war manufacturers, said they thought the Army painted the picture a little too dark. But even with some discounting the story is bad enough.
The Germans are now behaving like scared burglars. They are desperate and dangerous. The Luftwaffe is getting a lot of good defense fighter planes. Bomber production was discontinued last December. Nazi laboratories are working frantically to find new weapons and means of destroying our air power. The Germans are especially determined to stop the B-17s and the B-24s which are finding their vital plants and military establishments by daylight. Gen Arnold says they must not be allowed time to perfect their defenses. Other military observers from overseas say the Germans have a fighting chance of stopping the Allied bombing attack much in the same way that we stopped the German U-boats by going after them hard with new weapons.
Results already produced by the Nazis in their war of defense are improved fighter performance, heavy new armor in exactly the right places to protect their pilots while they are making passes at our bombers, and more 20-mm guns. Their airborne bomb catapult is an effective weapon. It throws a powder charge bomb with compressed air.
There is some trustworthy opinion that German pilots' morale is cracking as they see more and more Allied bombers coming despite their struggles. But other opinion, just as trustworthy, says we cannot be too sure of that.
As time goes on the Germans put more and more of their industry under ground or hide it with increasingly effective camouflage. Allied crews have tried to skip bombs into subterranean works, but obviously this is a difficult thing to do. At the same time, Allied forces advancing north in Italy hasten the day when all Germany and. all her captives will be in range of attacking aircraft. We have already reached Poland and Prussia in the far northeast, although not with maximum bomb loads. Full-load bombing is still limited to 500 or 1,000 mi; beyond that too much of the load is fuel.
The Army is shifting emphasis to long-range fighters. This means, for the present, important changes in some planes and discontinuance of others. The P-38, which has the longest reach of any US fighter, probably can be made to range farther. P-47s appear to be in the same league, escorting the heavy bombers on constantly longer raids. You can guess for yourself that the much-praised P-51 will have its range stretched.
In addition to long-range fighters, the Army wants heavier production of the B-24 Liberator and of the B-17 Flying Fortress. These planes can hit all parts of Hitler's shaky empire from bases soon to be available. But the new B-29 super-bomber is being rushed to maximum production to do a still heavier job; its range will be nearly double that of its predecessor.
It is hard to be certain of anything on the Russian air front. Beyond doubt the Allied attack in Italy and across the Channel has pulled a load of German fighters off the Muskovites' backs. Soviet airplane production is going up, with some estimators (who know very little about it) putting the figure at 1,900 per mo. That alone would be enough to tie up all the air power the Germans have to spare for their eastern front if, as is reported, the Russian quality is good.
One hesitates to call anyone an authority on Russian arms. We remember too well some of the "authoritative" miscalculation that the Reds would last three weeks against the Germans. But our authorities, such as they are, think the Russian winter campaign will put Hitler approximately back on the very line from which he started the invasion the boundary of Germany. And most people think the Russians won't stop there. On the other hand, some people do express apprehension that the firing might cease, releasing German fighters for action on the Western front.
On the other side of Russia, the Allies want bases from which to bomb Japan the subject comes up more and more frequently. Sen “Happy" Chandler, who recently returned from the Pacific theater with four other Senators who were on an inspection trip, says that the use of such bases would save one million lives on our side. We suppose we might expect the Russian argument that a full-blown second front in Western Europe would save millions of Russian lives. Then again, a tremendous amount of set-up and supply necessarily would have to precede use of such Pacific air bases. Moreover, the consequent business of Russia going to war with Japan must be considered in short, a weakening of the Russian effort against Germany at a time not suited to the "beat the Nazis first" program.
Incidentally, if you wonder why the Reds don't talk, here is perhaps the best explanation you will find. They are ruled by a dictator, and what he says goes. But our government is different. No man here can say "what goes," not even President Roosevelt, though his war powers seem great to us. The Russians remember that President Wilson sold the world a league of nations, but he didn't sell it to our Senate. They know that Mr Roosevelt does not have final authority, that he cannot make a deal for us and guarantee it.
About the bombing of Japan trouble there, too. First, look back a year or two. The aviation "experts" and the fans over-extended themselves on the possibilities of air power. They figured right on the damage aviation can do to an enemy but they far underestimated the things that have to be done before aviation can take off. They didn't dream of the amounts supplies, ships, docks, roads, airports, warehouses, housing, hospitals, foods, medicines, and men it would take to back up a strong air task force. Most of them admit it now. That is why it is much harder than we thou«ht to make mince meat out of Germany.
How much harder, then, will it, be to crunch Japan, which is so much farther away. On the favorable side of that picture, as these writers have said before, is the enormous amount of airplanes and all it takes to back them up, including veteran crews, which will be released when the Nazis fold. But it will be a long hard job to get set for the punch. Any layman with a map can see that there are about four ways to do it, and he can see that they are all difficult. Furthermore, the Japs, being resourceful in war, will give us a run for our money. Already they have thought of moving their vital industries into Manchukuo, the size of the United States east of the Mississippi.
Allied invasion of Italy, the capture of Foggia and Naples, and the drive on Rome all made a pretty picture. The informed military men knew that the Germans had orders to retreat after their initial failure at Palermo. Best thing about it was the magnificent air support of our ground forces. Gen Arnold said we couldn't have taken the beachhead without it. People who saw it, said Allied air support cut a swath like a scythe. First the Germans and now the Allies prove that ground forces with air superiority overhead cannot be licked. That's why the Army demands more and still more from the aircraft industry; and the demands are for it all this winter.
In the Pacific, the capture of Lae, powerful Jap base, and the taking of Finschafen were both serious blows to the Japanese. They see plainly now that the Allies mean business and can give them a workout whenever they want it. So they, too, are on the defensive. And they are shifting their aircraft production to fighters, just as are the Germans. They know they cannot take any more territory.
But, as President Roosevelt says, they are holding an empire that reaches from Paramushiro down to China, the East Indies, Malaya and Burma. He says we shall have to hit them hard in many places.
Our aviation industry here in this country is on a production plateau, around 7,000 per month. Manpower shortage and design changes, the two main bottlenecks, are an old story by now. Worst part of it is that all the apparently possible answers have been thought of, and nobody knows which one, or which combination, will do the trick. There is no more new manpower to be had, and it looks as if workers will have to be shifted from other war and civilian production to airplanes.
At last some official words have been said on the postwar international airline policy of the United States. The words came from no less than President Roosevelt himself, who says he is in favor of private ownership and operation in favor of freedom of the air to the extent that the lines of one country could pass over another by persuasion. He is probably in agreement with the interdepartmenta1 committee on air policy. And the group of 16 airlines which recently declared for free competition over the seas was pleased with what he said. Of course, agreements still have to be reached with England and other countries, and probably the Senate will want to pass upon them.
The Civil Aeronautics Board has opened hearings to obtain information on which to base future award of so-called "feeder" airlines which, it is expected, will network the country. The evidence indicates a huge volume of business awaits those carriers which can cut costs and beat the trains and autos on short runs. Specially designed airplanes may give the needed economy, but nobody knows what to do about cutting the time from the passenger's door to the place where the plane takes off.
This article was originally published in the November, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 11, pp 112-113, 311-312, 315-316.
The original article includes photos of the bombing raid on Regensburg, an F4U parked on a hardstand, and paratroops at Lae.
Photos credited to British Combine, International News.