Aviation's War Communique No 24

New 15th Air Force begins pounding Germany from south, opening way for shuttle-run schedules between England and Italy … Boeing B-29 nears "final test" … more people bet production will top 9,000 this year.

From now on through the winter, Germany will be subjected to new air attacks in the form of:

  1. strong missions of the newly-formed 15th Air Force from Africa and Italy, which will take advantage of the fair weather which settles down about the last of November;
  2. shuttle runs by both AAF and RAF between Britain and Mediterranean bases, terminating at the end that offers the best landing conditions;
  3. attacks by 1,000-plane missions from both British and American forces, subjecting the enemy to potential 2,000-plane blows at the same time;
  4. attacks by the Boeing B-29s, which may begin at any time, reaching any points in German-held Europe with still heavier loads of explosives;
    and maybe,
  5. assaults by American and/or British air forces, flying from bases on Russia's Eastern front.

In one recent month, US and British planes based in Britain dropped 20,000 tons of bombs on Axis Europe. Bombers and their escorts destroyed or damaged 1,387 German planes. US 8th Air Force B-17s and B-24s accounted for nearly all of them — 1,261 — since they operate in the daytime. The heavies and the mediums unloaded 5,533 tons of the bombs. But the Royal Air Force, mostly engaged in area bombing at night, put down the major portion of the total — 14,060 tons.

One of the first things Lt Gen Carl A Spaatz did when he was appointed commander in chief of the American air forces in the Mediterranean was to send a heavy mission of bombers over the Messerschmitt plant at Neustadt in South Vienna. This first attack by the 15th resulted in "severe damage" to the enemy. Our losses were not disclosed. Before that, the RAF had given Leipzig its first large-scale bombing of the war. This was a notable achievement, because the city, Germany's third important industrial center, is over 500 mi from English bases — a long distance for British night bombers.

The 8th Air Force's greatest invasion of Germany at this writing was its attack on the vital ball and roller bearing plants at Schweinfurt. The loss was 60 planes and 593 crewmen, but it would have taken many times that loss of material and men to hit the Reich such a heavy blow any other way. Indeed at this time it could not be done any other way. Nevertheless, both Gen H H Arnold, AAF chief, and the President felt that that the public should know why the mission was sent against such odds, and they explained it in press conferences.

The AAF based in England has lost, during the past six months, about 6,000 crewmen and nearly 600 heavy bombers, not counting escort fighters. Secretary of War Henry L Stimson says that losses of the British and American forces operating against Europe average less than 5 percent of total planes engaged. This is a low figure — especially low for belligerents whose aircraft production is already large and increasing every month.

The percentage of German losses is not known, but it must be greater than the Reich can afford. In one AAF Fortress attack, on Muenster, an important German rail center, 102 Nazi fighters were brought down. Bomber gunners got 81 of them and the accompanying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts took the rest. This was part of a three-day rampage by the Fortresses in which the total take of enemy planes was 350.

Incidentally, the 8th Air Force recently completed its 100th mission, hitting important non-ferrous metal plants at Duren. Incidentally again, AAF officers abroad frown on the common habit of calling a bombing attack a "raid." That word, they say, connotes a hit-and-run tactic as old as war. Strategic bombardment is an aerial invasion by the major weapon of modern war.

Complete air supremacy has been established by Allied forces in Italy. Some military men are surprised that the enemy can put up such strong ground resistance with such weak air support. But we do not have command of the air over Germany by any means. We can go in at will, but we always pay a price. Anti-aircraft fire comes up from guns planted as thick as the hair on a dog. The power and the accuracy of these A-A guns is constantly improving, and apparently little can be done about it.

Then again, the resistance of German fighters is determined, skillful, and heavy in numbers. As these Communiques have reported before, the Nazis have virtually stopped building bombers. Nearly all of their great production capacity is reported to be at work on interceptor equipment and on trick weapons developed in rapid succession in a vain hope to win by a stroke of genius or luck.

Yet the force of German fighters does not seem great, compared with our potential fighter strength. Fairly reliable reports give them 3,000, two-thirds in action against the British and Americans and the other third against the Russians. The 2,000 against the Allies in the West are supposed to be divided about half and half between night and day work. It doesn't sound like a big-league air force, but it's on the defensive and it is desperate.

US Army fighter power against Germany, made up mostly of Lockheed P-38s, Republic P-47s, and North American P-51s, is now at about half its planned strength. But these types are now pouring out of our factories, and it is expected that quotas at the fronts in England and the Mediterranean will be doubled shortly after the new year. It can be said that the Army no longer has any expectation (if it ever had) of fighting the B-17s and B-24s without escort. Bomber guns and gunners have been doing a fine job, taking heavy toll of the enemy. But the cost unescorted was too great.

What will happen in this respect when the new Boeing B-29 goes into action — in whatever theater it moves first — remains to be seen. Called by Gen Arnold a "battleship of the air armored heavily with multiple gun and power turrets" and with a "range substantially greater than the maximum effective range of today's longest-range heavy bombers," it may well go on the prowl alone.

Going back to those trick weapons, the Nazis have "silver fire", phosphorescent disks, released in large numbers in the flight path of attacking planes. They set fire to ships on contact, but apparently contacts are infrequent. Other twists: Rocket throwers are being used, both in planes and on the ground, to project extremely powerful shells. Time-fused bombs are dropped in the way of attacking planes. Radio-controlled glider bombs have been used by the Germans against surface targets, but apparently not against airplanes.

These weapons can inflict damage as yet unestimated, but obviously they cannot stop Allied aerial invasions in strength.

Worth notice, among the bigger developments, is the recent acquisition by Britain of naval and air-base rights in the Azores, which belong to Portugal. Land-based aviation can range around these islands at considerable distances, thus relieving naval patrol forces for other duties.

Here at home the main thing to notice is the aircraft industry's 10 percent increase in numerical production. Nearly every one is betting on a rate of 9,000 per month before the year ends, and some will even go along for the planned rate of 10,000. Donald Nelson, chairman of WPB, says the high rise from the 7,000-odd plateau that had been worrying him and a lot of other people was due more efficient use of man-hours and to standardization of some models which had been subject to a stream of design changes.

Still at home, the War Department announced that "land power and air power are co-equal and interdependent forces, neither an auxiliary of the other." But no one paid much attention. The War Department says something like that every time there is a flurry of pressure for a "separate air force," and there has just been another one. People are getting used to it.

All is fairly quiet on the civil aviation front, or was while this was being written, because a lot of different groups were off in corners cooking up various plans. Included have been at least two factions whose proponents have different ideas on postwar operations by American airlines. Also, a half dozen groups want to write the Lea legislation their own way, particularly those parts which deal with competition between surface carriers and airlines, with "federal intervention in states rights" concerning aviation, and with that old question whether CAB should be in the Department of Commerce or not.

Over in the Oriental theater you can hear hammering behind the scenes, the lights are getting dim, and it looks as if the curtain is about to go up. The Japs know —just as well as the Commander in Chief at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave knows — that they can expect at least two plagues to come upon them. One will be an ever-increasing rain of bombs on their myriad fighting-line bases from land based craft, and the other will be the Navy's augmented carrier force, which is now big enough to throw into the Jap empire an air attack comparable in strength to many of those now coming down on Hitler. The carrier fleet is nearly as big as the battleship fleet, and you can add that up from memory or old newspapers.

The new flat-top flotilla consists of regular fleet carriers, basing 60 or 80 or more planes apiece, plus scores of auxiliaries basing 5 or 10. The number of fleet carriers can he doubled in 1944, and the auxiliaries can be tripled. or better. Then in 1946, if the war goes on, the new 45,000-ton carriers will be in action.

The above is a justifiable burst of accurate enthusiasm for achievements. Don't forget what the generals told us when the Japs swung on us: The Nippons are so far away and so well situated militarily that we will need ten times their power, in terms of quantity and quality of weapons, to beat them.

This article was originally published in the December, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 12, pp 112-113, 339-340, 343-344.
The original article includes photos of Hellcats on a carrier deck and of P-40s and C-47s at a base in Italy.
Photos credited to US Navy-International, International News.