AMERICA AT WAR

Aviation's War Communique No 26

Curtain seen falling on Nazis this year, as Allies put 3.000 warplanes in air on single day and invasion becomes imminent. Moreover, Battle of Japan has been calculated and prepared … Helldiver, Sea Ranger, and Mars in spotlight … At home, plane production peaks. Reconversion, however, remains big bogey.

Now into the third year of these air war reports, the editors, who hitherto have stayed out of the hopeful-prediction field, are able to say confidently that they see Germany buckling under the rising power of the Allies. It is certainly factual to take that stand, now that we have the declarations of no less authorities than Adm Ernest J King, commander of the US fleet, and Gen Dwight D Eisenhower who now heads the two Western sides of the triangle that is about, to put on the final squeeze. With our attacks backed by full home-front support, the General says the Nazis will fold in 1944, with no further ifs or howevers.

Evidently the job is going to see a huge Allied walking army put on the Continent. Airmen, in and out of war services in many countries, still believe the haymaker could be thrown with aviation, backed with a larger proportion of available war energy. But nearly everybody agrees that the Allies have a crew of first class generals, and for the time being, even the 150-octane air power advocates must admit that said generals ought to know what they are doing.

Leaving that subject for memoir authors to decide, the walking invasion will call for the big headlines. Whether air attack, in the end, will have done more to floor the enemy than other forces, may become a philosophical question. But in any event, the contribution of aviation will rate tops. To quote Gen Arnold, "The Army Air Forces has turned out to be our greatest strength and has so far supplied our margin of victory."

The air drive divides into two parts:

  1. Strategic damage to Germany's war-making power in factories, transportation, homes, lives, and morale; and
  2. tactical disruption of their air and land defense.
At present, Nazi aviation has chiefly three, jobs:
  1. Defending the Continent against Allied strategic air operations,
  2. tactical support of German troops in Russia, and
  3. the same in Italy.
It is made plain in all reports that the Luftwaffe is already unable to fight off the Anglo-American air invasions. Especially is it unable to do so in the face of the newest Allied techniques. One of these is feinting at targets and then hitting others, thus splitting the attack among two or more targets — with the effect both of dividing the defenders fighting planes and leaving much of their mobile A-A fire in the wrong places. Another new technique, months in process of perfection, is bombing through overcast which screens the attackers. It is not quite as accurate as visible attack but, to put it grimly, it gets within city limits. Incidentally, this development will contribute to postwar aviation.

If Goering's air force is unable to meet the current multipronged air thrusts of the Allies, it will be much less able to contend with continuation of the same plus land invasion from several points. It is axiomatic, in this war, that surface operations, on sea and land, must suffer unless they can depend on tactical air support. The Germans, one might guess, can now look forward to taking the medicine they gave to the Poles, the French, the British, and others whom they caught on European soil without any aviation to speak of.

Allied air power is being so formidably amassed that 3,000 planes are now put into the air on a given day, and this figure can be doubled if the war lasts. The United Nations aircraft plants built a total of nearly 150,000 airplanes in 1948, and they could better 200,000 in 1944. Subtracting the losses and whatever will go to the Pacific war, you still get a powerful force to go against Germany's estimated five or six thousand on the line, with about the same in reserve.

Nobody has said anything very definite on the prospect of Russian air attack on Germany. Stalin's aviation is beyond doubt largely tactical, mostly attack and fighter planes, and few bombers. But a tactical air force could go a long way into Germany and shoot up everything in sight. You can make your own guess regarding Russia. However, AAF and RAF are reported readying a Britain-Italy-Russia shuttle bombing program.

At presstime, the landings on the beaches close to Rome gave new impetus to our Italian campaign.

On the subject of tactical air operation the war in Italy had been a disappointment to the high command, in more ways than one. The scheme of having an Italian army help roll the Germans southward didn't work out. Until official reports are published some day, the facts about the Italian campaign will not be known, but the initial effect of Allied air superiority over Italy fell short of expectations. Our air attack forces assailed the Germans, but the latter held to their lines. Our strategic aviation pounded. at the Alps railroads and supply shipping. But these supply lines still worked for the Germans.

The Italian situation is interesting and important. The Germans created havoc with their wailing Stukas when they overran Europe. But the Allies, with much better airplanes, weren't having such success in Italy. For one thing, soldiers, especially German soldiers, are no longer afraid of airplanes. The war in Italy might seem to indicate that Allied air superiority over Europe when the invasion starts will not be as effective as expected. Sometimes it seems as if throwing lead and explosive on experienced troops is like spraying powder on bugs in the woodwork. You find they are still there.

The Germans are increasingly expert with their enormous anti-aircraft system. Their gun factories and their scientists are running around the clock, building it up. It will be one of the strongest branches of the Wehrmacht in the final months. Already they are deadly on aircraft up to 20,000 ft. They will raise this altitude, improve their aim, and throw up more metal.

German invention of rockets, glider bombs, and fire disks is the natural outcome of desperation. Chances are that none of these things will become really formidable. The Anglo-Americans and the Germans are too nearly matched in technical creativeness for either to hurt the other much with gadgets. In the Jap war, it's different. They are being hurt now by Yankee devil machines which they know nothing about, according to Navy Secretary Frank Knox. One more note on the invasion: Success depends more upon the chosen leaders than anything else. President Roosevelt's appointments of officers to head up the job are approved everywhere. Where teamwork has been developed by association, he has avoided disrupting it. In this country, there is his own staff — Gens Marshall and Arnold and Adms Leahy and King. In Europe, Gen Eisenhower was allowed to take Gen Doolittle with him to England.

AAF headquarters in Washington was quick to correct any impression that Gen Eaker was in any way demoted in his shift to the Mediterranean. Gen Eaker is the world's best authority on strategic daylight bombing, and there is every reason to believe that this type of attack will head up from the south. The weather and geography both favor it. Besides, it is easy to guess that the entire topside of England will be occupied with other matters.

Appointment of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder as deputy supreme commander under Gen Eisenhower is the highest trust yet extended by the Allied Command to an air officer. Tedder, a keen forward-thinking little Scot, won this confidence by beating the Luftwaffe in Africa and by helping Montgomery push Rommel into the sea.

Secretary Knox says that the groundwork is done and that the big battle of Japan is about to be initiated. The President said in his report on the three-power conference that the Nippons will be pounded and worn down as much as possible while we are still busy with Germany. The Japanese leaders still feel that the war is far out on the rim of their captured world, but they sense the power of the Allied attack. Several times recently they have admitted to their people that they are not in complete control of the situation. Again and again they admit the superiority of Anglo-American aviation.

Japan has lost considerable of its aviation, which appears so far to have been replaced at the rate of loss or better. The Nips have lost a number of navy ships, particularly cruisers and aircraft carriers, which are slow in replacement. Their merchant shipping is definitely on the down grade, as proved by their increasing use of barges, which are slow and expensive in loss of men. Their loss of territory so far hurts them only in that it dampens their invincibility.

The Battle of Japan has been prepared. Adm King says studies have been under way for several months looking to the shift of power from the European theater to the Pacific theater, not only when Germany is defeated but when her defeat seems near at hand. The main lines of attack on Japan are already determined and additional means will be used to implement the general strategy. The Admiral said that the Allies never intended an island-by-island hopping campaign, that present operations suggesting such an approach are merely due to current limitations.

The President squelched the clamor for Russian bombing bases by pointing out that if the Soviet gave them to us now, the Japs would take them immediately — unless the Russians diverted military strength to defend them. More goods are now going into China by air than ever went over the Burma Road before the Japs took it. But it is not enough, and probably never will support an air attack from China. The British so far have made no progress in clearing the enemy out of Burma. There is no ground yet in Allied hands from which the Jap homeland can be effectively hit by aircraft.

Here in America, airplane production is rolling prettier than ever. Numerically it is climbing on a long slope from 9,000 per month, but will not much exceed 10,000. The program for this year calls for not many over 100,000. But tonnage will increase greatly, due to emphasis on heavies, now coming out at more than 1,000 per month.

The quality of practically all military airplanes is now tops — equal to, and preponderantly better than, any the Germans have. There is no doubt the war could be concluded with standard equipment now in action, but the head men are taking no chances. They are coming out with new and better designs in all categories.

Three planes have attracted special attention as this Communique goes to press. One is the Curtiss-Wright SB2C-1 Helldiver. After numerous design changes like those which have plagued the development of other airplanes, the company has the satisfaction of high praise from the Navy for brilliant performance of the SBs in initial action against the Jap at Rabaul. In fact, Navy claims this diver as the star in its troop of dive, pursuit, and torpedo equipment.

The second airplane in the late spotlight is Boeing's Sea Ranger, sometimes dubbed the Lone Ranger. This two-engine long-range, champion lifter was accepted a year ago, but it had been left out of the production schedule because all facilities were tied up. Now, however, Navy is trying to find plant capacity to turn it out in volume. Boeing of course would like to build it but cannot be excused from "heavy" duty.

Third is Martin's famous Mars, which has just made the longest hop, lifted the heaviest load, and picked itself up as the heaviest gross airplane weight in history. Performance was excellent and Navy now wants mass production.

No definite conclusions have been reached on the large questions of converting plants to peace work, on termination of contracts, or on disposal of war surplus equipment and manpower. Congress went home for a nice long vacation, leaving these jobs undone.

But many hard problems have been solved — too many to mention. Aircraft materials and components are done up as brown as a biscuit. Manpower is much better, maybe as good as it will ever be.

This article was originally published in the February, 1944, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 43, no 2, pp 110-111, 247-248, 251.
The original article includes photos of a B-17 at altitude, SB2C-1, XPBB-1.
Photos not credited.