AMERICA AT WAR

Aviation's War Communique No 25

Germany's power of resistance sags under grim airblows … War enters superweapon stage, but impression of these innovations will be small in the total picture … Allies' power augmented by technological improvements.

Germany's reported shift from offensive air tactics to a defensive-fighter program has failed. The shift might have worked with great damage to the Allies if the enemy's plant capacity and manpower had continued to grow, or even to remain intact. That is where the unphotographable dividends of RAF-AAF bombing of Europe show up — at last. The Nazis' plane production capacity has been partially throttled by plant demolition and displacement of workers whose homes and services have been eliminated.

Putting several estimates together, you conclude he has about 2,000 on his east front against Russia, and another 2,000 in the west to battle the Americans and the British. That is not nearly enough to stop the Allied attack, but it is enough to take a terrible toll for some time to come.

No one, not even commanders of enemy and Allied powers, can pretend to know just how long. The war can be ended by Germany's failure to build enough fighter planes, or by any number of other causes whose workings can't precisely be foreseen.

One writer in London has taken pencil in hand and figured that 17 of Germany's 38 major industrial centers have been "knocked out" by bombing. "Knocked out," however, is a pretty strong expression. And another man — one who talks with generals and war producers from all over the world — said recently that only three or four Nazi strong points had been knocked out.

Chances are that every industrial and communications center in Germany, even those that have been given the "Hamburger treatment," are still functioning to some extent. Of course when the production of a nation at war stops going up while that of its enemies continues up, the end is in sight. That is the one thing you can say for sure about Hitler's war.

Most, but not all, of those who should know, now discount any prospect of a Luftwaffe attack in force anywhere. The Germans are not just cowering under the fire and concussion that rains on them from aloft. They are furious. And if it were possible by any stretch of effort, they would hit London in force. As soon as the Allies occupy cities in Norway, France and the Low Countries, and Northern Italy, all within closer bomber range, they will be potential Luftwaffe targets. Hitler still has a force of bombing planes, is undoubtedly maintaining service facilities, and is holding them for emergency use. But they can be used for only a few wild punches. Germany's bomber production plant appears to be out of business and replacements are doubted.

Germany first lost the air battle of England, then the battles of Africa and Russia, the submarine war of the Atlantic, and lastly the air defense of Europe. Next loss will be Hitler's "Superman" weapon campaign. Glider bombs and rocket troughs aimed at England — with all the jet impellers, or whatever he has in that bag — are a giveaway. The air war is being fought with standard equipment, all two, three, five or more years old, subject to improvement as fast as design changes can be proved up. The Germans know it all too well, for that is the way they beat their European neighbors to death and socked England a stunner. The trick weapon thing will certainly fail.

You cannot separate technical talent from productive power, because one is no good without the other. Technology, like productive power, takes a lot of man-hours and requires top spirit and the backing of the whole people. On that basis it can be shown that Germany is failing, not only in production, but also in technology, while the Americans, the Russians, and the British all are on the climb in development. A general told a newspaper man recently that the Germans are losing not because they are in retrogression but because the Allies are improving — which is perhaps a better way of putting it.

No better summary of this thesis could be found than a statement made recently by Col Frank C Wolf, chief of the armament laboratory of the Army Air Forces Materiel Command. He has listed 19 firepower improvements which have made American aircraft increasingly formidable.

The Colonel cites:

In addition, Col Wolf said there are about 70 airplanes of different types at the Wright and Eglin testing fields.

The above list deals with gun phases only; if all phases of military aircraft development were included, the list would be pages long. Projecting Col Wolf's report into the future, one may reasonably conclude that the crews of combat planes will be concentrated behind armor, with controls leading to all guns. Official statements recently have mentioned airplane armor a half-inch thick. Presumably this refers to super-heavy bombers.

Next thing you hear it will be an inch thick, and the contest between fire power and armour will go on and on, as it has for years in warships — and as it did in tanks. It is worth noting that the race seems to have been won by the guns in the case of tanks. But don't bet either way in the air.

Despite the aforesaid 70 test-model aircraft there now seems to be a combining and narrowing of the many functions of warplanes into fewer types. The principal planes in Allied forces are now doing something of everything. That is, the bombers and fighters and patrol jobs are all bombing and fighting and patrolling. There is still much difference between a heavy fighter and a medium bomber, but there is becoming less all the time. Fighters are doing more bombing every day, and the bombers are becoming more maneuverable for fighting work. No one can say whether the paths of these types will cross making them one and the same thing in the future. For the time being, the fighters are taking on more assault and bombing power because of increasing engine power. Furthermore, they are getting more range. Any day now you can look for news that fighters are escorting bombers to Berlin in full strength.

We have beaten the Germans in technical development, but we are not even in a technical contest with the Jap. Air Force officers still say, after two years of air war with Japan, that Nip equipment is almost a hundred percent copycat. The Jappos appear not to have achieved a single major development in aviation. But that doesn't prevent them from building a lot of pretty good airplanes that will kill a lot of people. If you were a Jap (sit down, we're just pretending) this is how the war would look to you: Your belief that you and all your bunch are sons of heaven and destined to rule the earth has been confirmed in the Mikado's capture of an enormous empire. You have held it for two years, and the enemy has merely chipped off a piece here and there and killed a mere few thousand of your soldiers. True, your air missions and your naval forces get licked in 99 out of every 100 contacts, but if you are one of the herd you don't hear of it, and if you are an official you dismiss it, because those things have only happened 'way out on the rim of your empire. From where you sit, none of your industrial or population centers or true military strong points are within effective bombing range.

All the ingredients of collapse are present in Hitler's set-up, but none of them is visible in the Jap drive. It still has to be hammered into them, with heavy blows, as the President said, all the way from Paramushiro to the Netherlands Indies. It may be said that we are still "consolidating" along the routes to Australia.

But Allied blows wear the Japs down. MacArthur is turning them back with less than 5 percent of US war power. In November the Japs lost 553 planes and 74 merchant and naval ships against 91 American planes and 1 destroyer. That loss to the Japs is pretty heavy. From the estimate standpoint it's about half of their total monthly production. Several of the world's longest bombing missions have been flown against the Jap island positions lately, and Maj Gen Willis H Hale, commanding the 7th Army Air Force, says the air attack will get truly tough.

Invasion of the Gilbert Islands and the taking of the Tarawa stronghold comprise the first step, according to Navy Secretary Frank Knox and Adm Chester W Nimitz, commander of the Pacific area, in a new plan to fight a direct northwest route to Japan proper. This does not mean that progress will be island-by-island. The eventual concentration of British and American aviation and seapower in the East will enable the Allies to bypass the pinpoints and attack the major approaches to Japan.

The big moment everyone is waiting for, of course, is a show-down battle of fleets and attacks in force by the B-29s. Gen Claire L Chennault's 14th Air Force is needling the Japs in China as best it can, almost entirely cut off, except by air at too-long range. Meantime, you can take all but official comment on plans for attacking Japan as pure guesswork. Just get a map and make your own.

For the record, some notable events of recent weeks: After centuries of dry death at sea, this war brings several ways of unsalting sea water for people adrift, frequently airmen. The Allies attacked the Balkans, in long-winded B-25s. AAF hit Norway from England, 700 mi farther than the run to Berlin. If Stalingrad was the turn of war in Russia, the crushing of Berlin by Allied bombers may mark the last mile in Europe. The greatest all-time assembly of carriers went to the attack on Wake Island. A B-17, picturesquely called the Knockout Dropper, completed its 50th mission in the mission to Norway. A flight of 8th Air Force heavies went 1,300 mi exposed to enemy attack without escort. American bomb-carrying fighters made their first attack in force on European objectives. The death toll of bombs on Europe reached 10,000 to 15,000 persons per day of full-scale action.

Here at home the big news was the "up" in airplane production, which climbed over the hump as a result of long and arduous efforts by many people representing the industry, labor, and the government — so many of them that not even the leaders can be named in this space. If you had to pick out just one for special honors, Charles Wilson, chairman of the Aircraft Production Board, would be as good a candidate as any. Manpower, last of the aircraft problems, is just about licked, and production takes on the kind of role that's been diligently sweated for these two years.

Indications are that domestic air legislation, of which the Lea bill is the keystone, is inseparable from foreign air policy and therefore will be in process for a long time yet. Viewed from Washington, it looks as if every government agency and private interest you can think of has an oar in the business.

Everybody is keeping a sharp eye on progress in postwar problems. There is only one way to sum that up, short of a two-hour harangue: The planners are moving inevitably toward combining contract termination, plant liquidation, disposal of surplus equipment and dispersal of manpower, all as one big job. One cannot be considered without the others. The program will all be under one head, possibly the War Production Board, but the same agencies that mobilized war production will be directly responsible for demobilizing it.

This article was originally published in the January, 1944, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 43, no 1, pp 112-113, 313-314, 317-318.
The original article includes photos of German "radio-controlled" glider bombs (for anti-aircraft use), of two 75-mm cannon-armed B-25s, and of a Japanese destroyer under attack by a cannon-armed B-25.
Glider-bomb photo credited to International News; other photos not credited.