World War II In The Air: Bombing Raids

In The Scotsman newspaper article titled “German Pilots: Inferior to Those of Allies Improved Fighters,” residents of Scotland are encouraged to hear that advances in Allied aviation have surpassed the capabilities of German Pilots. Written in early 1944, in a time when much of Europe felt weak and vulnerable to the axis powers, this article served as a morale booster to Scotland’s citizens. It argues that even with Germany improving its planes, they still fell short of those of the Allies. Thus, the Allied powers planned to launch a series of strikes on Germany’s industrial cities in order to weaken the country. This encouraged the Scottish, who were one of the few powers left in Europe that had not been taken over by the Germans. Due to the superior air power, the Allies showed an attitude of confidence, which was desperately needed at this time in the war. Due to superior skill, technology, and strategy, Allied air power surpassed that of Germany during World War II, proving decisive in propelling the Allies to victory. In the years leading up to World War II, Germany worked to build up its military dramatically. When the United States joined the war in 1941, Germany did so even more: “…the German military planners acknowledged the imperative of dramatically increasing weapons production by assigning as many resources and workers to armaments production as possible.” Germany recognized the military might of the United States, so they began to prepare. This resulted in a very powerful Luftwaffe, or German Air Force, that began overpowering the Allies in the early years of the decade. As Paridon writes, “The Luftwaffe owned the skies over Europe.” However, Paridon also cites that “In 1943, the Luftwaffe was at peak strength against American bombers.” As the war continued, the Allies began to catch up and eventually overpower Germany through the use of their own air power. Whether due to technology, skill, or strategy, Allied air power surpassed the capabilities of the Luftwaffe, permanently altering the course of the war. This Scottish newspaper article highlights the excitement felt by the Allies later in the war when they realized they were finally surpassing the capabilities of the Luftwaffe.

One of the reasons allied air power was able to surpass Germany was due to technological advancements of the allies that occurred during the war, specifically with regards to radar. During the war, the British began developing new radar techniques to better detect ships and bombers. Leading up to the Battle of Britain, the Chain Home radar was created by the British. Through this system, the British gained the ability to detect planes of the Luftwaffe as early as possible in order to deploy their own fighters. Brown writes that “This equipment, of which there were a number of excellent models, began having effects on the course of the war in 1943.” Being able to detect German planes had a monumental impact on the war for the allies. Without this ability, the Luftwaffe would have had much more success in its air raids of Britain. The Germans, although making technological advancements of their own, could not match those of the allies during the war. Again, this primary document shows the confidence the Allies began to feel as their air power improved and became more lethal than Germany’s air power. As the Germans weakened and stretched their resources, they could not maintain the level of technological advancement that the allies experienced, giving the allies the edge. Another reason the Allies were able to surpass the capabilities of the Luftwaffe is due to the training and skill of their pilots. Toward the beginning of the war, German pilots were much more experienced. They had logged more hours, and were very efficient in taking down Allied aircraft. They were considered to be some of the world’s best fighter pilots. Gradually, as the war went on, Germany began losing pilots. Whether shot down or reassigned, the caliber of Germany’s pilots decreased. Often, those beyond the best of Germany’s fighter pilots were highly inexperienced, and would even have to fly planes they were not well trained with. With limited time to get into the air, German pilots received significantly less training time in the later years of the war. Once having that advantage, the Germans had to scramble to get pilots into the air: “…by the period October 1942 to June 1943, the German advantage had reversed, with pilots in the British program getting some 340 flying hours and those in the Americans program some 270 flying hours whereas the German pilot training flying hours fell to 200. This trend continued for the rest of the war…”. This resulted in pilots who were much less skilled. The Allies, now receiving more hours of training than the Germans, were able to have much more success in the air. This is evident in the Sottish newspaper article, as the Allies were excited to be seeing better results in air combat. The strategy of Germany also proved folly as the war continued, giving the advantage to the Allies. While not mentioned in the primary document, this was a key factor in why the Allies gained the advantage that the author of the newspaper article mentions.

Finding themselves split between two fronts, the eastern front in Russia and the western front against the United States and Britain, the Germans became indecisive and ineffective in fighting on each front. Much of Germany’s strategy consisted of flipping back and forth between fronts. After a certain period of time concentrating their efforts on the western front, they would then shift to the eastern front. However, this allowed the front not currently seeing Germany’s strongest effort to regroup each time, thus rendering Germany increasingly unsuccessful as the fighting persisted. As a 1945 New York Times article describes one instance of an attempted concentration of the Luftwaffe to the western front to fight the allies, “The Allies’ losses were heavy but the Luftwaffe was so badly crippled that it sharply reduced its efforts in the west.” This lack of effective strategy by the Germans was contrasted with increasingly successful strategy by the Allies. The Allies led bombing campaigns against crucial locations for the Germans, such as where much of their resources were created/developed, as well as large cities throughout Germany. Murray writes: “…the task facing the Luftwaffe had become manifestly beyond its capabilities. Tedder’s and Spaatz’s direction of Allied air strategy against Germany’s transportation and oil production infrastructures placed Anglo-American air efforts solidly within the framework of overall Allied strategy.” Germany’s key assets in its own country were being severely damaged by this effective Allied strategy. Germany’s strategies in response proved futile in their attempts, and they continued to be weakened in the later years of the war. As the Allies began to take the advantage in the air, Germany experienced heavy damage and decreasing resources. While the Scottish newspaper article highlights the superiority of the pilots, this heavy damage and decreasing resources came as a result of that superiority. The Allies, with their new air superiority, conducted a bombing campaign against major German cities. This resulted in catastrophic damage: “For Germany, the task of rebuilding was mammoth, almost overwhelming. Many people thought the country could never recover. Allied bombing had killed almost 600,000 people. Sixty cities were destroyed and another hundred were damaged.” The bombings completely overwhelmed the German infrastructure, and brought about more damage to Germany than the Germans believed was possible. Beforehand, the Germans had the air advantage. Because of this, they did not have to give as much effort toward air defense, as the Luftwaffe protected them. However, when that advantage was lost, Germany was forced to divert massive amounts of its effort in the war toward protecting its own cities from the air raids of the Allies. Communication resources, electrical resources, and ammunition had to be used in high proportions just to defend against the air raids. This effort was unsuccessful, as Germany was unable to sustain such heavy damage due to its dwindling resources.

The damage caused to German cities, mainly by the Royal Air Force, was far greater than that of the Luftwaffe in London. The main reason Germany incurred so much damage is because so much of their resources had been going toward the military in the past years. As Garon explains, “Resources had been significantly diverted to the military, and urban fire departments did not possess the equipment and mobile units adequate to fight heavy incendiary raids.” Germany’s resources were simply not enough to defend against the heavy air raids of the Allies, and it decimated their chances of winning the war. Clearly, Allied air power surpassed German air power over the course of the war; this was decisive in the Allied victory. Operation Overlord, arguably the most important event that led to the Allied victory in World War II, received crucial assistance from Allied air power and aircraft carriers. As Benbow states, “The efforts of the Fleet Air Arm, from carriers and ashore, were an integral part of this hugely successful joint-service effort.” Without the help of air support, the Allies would not have been able to have as much success as they did in the Normandy invasion. The air support was able to divert attention away from those on the ground, as well as provide defense against German efforts. Even Germany’s U-boats, sent into the channel during the invasion, were met with little success. In stark contrast to the domination the U-boats had experienced for many years, they were overwhelmed by the massive amount of Allied air power. The Allied carriers not only provided defense for the invasion; they transformed the role of Allied air power as the war went on. They filled a diverse array of roles all over the world. Not only in fighting in combat, the Allied carriers, specifically the British, performed other crucial tasks such as protecting shipping.

When the Scottish newspaper article reported on superior pilots of the Allies, it foreshadowed air operations that would overwhelm and defeat the Luftwaffe, who many believed to be unstoppable in the early years of the war. Another such example would be the destroying of several German Air Fields in France. As a New York Times article explains, “These attacks followed a smashing assault Sunday night by the big black warplanes of the Royal Air Force, which hammered Essen with 2,240 tons of bombs and wreaked fresh destruction on the partly rebuilt Krupp works there.” Germany could not rebuild and recover from these bombings at the rate at which they were occurring. The extent to which air power decided the war cannot be understated. As Kopchuk writes, “At sea, its contribution, combined with naval power, brought an end to the enemy’s greatest naval threat – the U-boat; on land, it helped turn the tide overwhelmingly in favor of Allied ground forces. Its power and superiority made possible the success of the Allied invasion in Normandy (June 6, 1944). In all areas of the war, air power proved critical in helping the Allies win. As can be seen, a simple newspaper article highlighting the superiority of Allied pilots showed that the Allies had the air advantage in World War II. However, this was not something they always had. It took technological advancements, better training, and smarter strategy for the Allies to surpass Germany’s air power. Even so, this primary document shows the excitement that the Allies felt when they realized they were finally becoming superior to the Luftwaffe, as this was a feat many had deemed impossible to achieve. This was indeed decisive in the war, as the Allies began to take the overall advantage as their air power did. Without this massive improvement in air capability, the Allies would have had a much more difficult time winning the war.

01 February 2021
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