Air Superiority in WWII

War Winning Turning Points by Air Warfare

The logistic turning point of the war was made mainly by the B-24 Liberators and other planes that won the Battle of the Atlantic. Without their quantities, extended submarine hunting range and capabilities the U-boat wolfpacks would suffocate England. The airplanes with the new radars and spotlights attached to them were the only viable means to spot and attack U-Boats on real time while being able to cover coast to coast of the convoy lanes and filling the mid-ocean-gap. Their technologies and range could make feasible the coordination of an Aerial-Maritime hunt and convoy protection missions. The B-24s managed to stay airborne for long time like no other plane. The B-17 wouldn’t be able to perform these missions because of limited range, bomb load and speed.

By February 1942 the UK’s critical lifeline of food, oil and military supplies was in danger of being severed. 30,000 merchant seamen had lost their lives, 100’s of 1000’s of tons of shipping had been sunk and Britain was losing the logistics battle. Failure to maintain this supply line would render us unable to continue the fight in Europe.

https://www.navywings.org.uk/heritage/battle-honours/battle-of-the-atlantic/

The technological turning point on anti submarine warfare was the introduction in July 1942 of the combination of search light with radar mounted on B-24s and Wellington airplanes and some other smaller planes that were launched from ships. Until then U-Boats were recharging Batteries by night. After that point the U-Boats commanders would prefer to surface during daylight because in this way the could spot incoming planes, which gave them more time to submerge while making them more vulnerable.

The bombing of the Romanian oil fields helped in crippling the Wermacht mobility and therefore helped facilitated the turning point in the eastern front.

The Battle of the Atlantic was overturned in favor of the Allies during 1942 critical months. It was a coincidental convergence of technologies including Enigma decryption, combined with an increase in Allied resources and technologies. The Atlantic gap that had previously been unreachable by aircraft was closed by long-range B-24s and small airplane carriers.

The fighters, close support airplanes and short range bombers insured tactical superiority in the battle of Britain and the land battles in Europe and Africa while making a battle of attrition. To some extent bombers where sent in broad daylight knowingly so AXIS fighters would engage them as a trap, while being hunted by Allied fighters. the main target was to deplete enemy fighters until the air superiority was achieved over Europe.

At the long run, the long range bombers did win the war because they ensured the logistics superiority in two complementary ways:

  1. Destroying manufacturing, transportation and oil production – Oil fields in Romania and synthetic oil production in the Reich, and supporting the supply of land lease armament and transportation needed to defend the Caucasus oil from German attacks of planned in Case Blue.
  2. Protecting the lifeline of shipping to UK, Europe, Russia and the Mediterranean (North Africa and Italy).

“Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.”

Napoleon

The British swordfish planes were not a solution by themselves since their strategic reach was only the last 30% of the convoy routes which started in the west of the Atlantic. B-24 Liberators could do the job taking off from land and covering the 70% of the western route. Later on when landing in UK they could help in Europe and covering the other 30% when taking off from the British isles. The Swordfish and other small planes had only limited ammunition and were more successful in attacking surface ships then submerged U-Boats.

The swordfish was an old Airplane that was slow and vulnerable and hadn’t the capability of taking off from the north Atlantic shores in time other then being lifted from air-carriers that might have been sitting ducks for the U boats during landing and on taking off.


From 1943 on, air cover was also provided by the introduction of merchant aircraft carriers ships that were part of convoys, which were fitted with Grumman F4F Wildcats and TBF Avengers which could patrol and attack with smaller radar detectors then the ones attached to the B-24s.

Without air convoy protection, larger number of shipping convoys from North-America to UK, Russia and Africa would be crippled. All the logistics and supply of raw materials, and armament to the UK needed for operation Overlord and a continuous bombing of Germany would be stalled for lack of materials. Normandy invasion would have other time span and the outcome of the war might turned out to be different.

Similar turning point, was made by the swordfish planes that managed to cripple Italian fleet at Taranto and opened the logistic routes to Malta and Egypt. If Gibraltar, Malta or Egypt ports would have been taken by AXIS navies, Rommel might have been able to take the Suez canal and even the oil fields in the Middle East while linking up with Army group C at the Oil fields in the Caucasus.

A similar turning point occurred in the Pacific during the battle of Midway, but there the war was won by the use of combined Air Carriers, intelligence and tactical mistakes

Sidenote:
Most of WWII Bomber films were based on B-17 and not B-24 because of commercial ties between Hollywood and Boeing. Nevertheless, the B-24 numbers where about 18,000 in total while the B-17 where 12,000. The B-24 contributed more then the B-17 to the logistic win of the war, by numbers, range and roles. https://f1.media.brightcove.com/4/77374810001/77374810001_2925669268001_B-24-Liberators-Attack-German-U-Boats.mp4 …

Related Sources and Link:

Battle of Taranto
https://www.navywings.org.uk/heritage/battle-honours/battle-of-taranto/

Catalina’s role – Bismark wouldn’t be cached without the birds eyes
http://www.thewarillustrated.info/94/i-was-there-how-our-catalina-shadowed-the-bismarck.asp

The part of the Swordfish in the Battle for the Atlantic
https://www.navywings.org.uk/heritage/battle-honours/battle-of-the-atlantic/

Comparing B-17 and B-24
https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/the-boeing-b-17-flying-fortress-vs-the-consolidated-b-24-liberator/ …

Airplane development in WWI
https://youtu.be/CZ7S3lzyyM8?t=1277

American Airpower Strategy in World War II Bombs, Cities, Civilians, and Oil by Conrad C. Crane
https://kansaspress.ku.edu/subjects/history-world-war-ii/978-0-7006-2209-2.html

Liberators with Leigh Light
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/65231894587503669/

Production of B-24 Liberators
https://www.assemblymag.com/articles/83393-a-historical-perspective


Map of the Operation “Rheinübung” and Royal Navy operations against the German battleship Bismarck, with approximate movements of ship groups and places of aerial attacks. A similar map is depicted in “Müllenheim-Rechberg Freiherr von, Burkard (1980). Schlachtschiff Bismarck 1940/41—Der Bericht eines Überlebenden (in German). Berlin, Frankfurt/M, Wien: Ullstein. ISBN 3-550-07925-7” on page 76 tracing the paths of British and German vessels.


Author: Myth Watch

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