Air Power

A very brief history of airpower during the Second World War.


As World War II began, in 1939, the effectiveness of the Nazi Blitzkrieg was largely due to the Luftwaffe.

Poland, Norway, Holland, Belguim, and France fell before the Nazis, leaving the British Isles as the Allied forces only bastion in western Europe.

The Luftwaffe then directed its attention across the English Channel and attempted to bomb the British into submission. During the "Battle of Britain" which took place from Aug. 8, 1940 to the spring of 1941, the Luftwaffe suffered such heavy losses that it finally was forced to call off its concentrated air offensive. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill credited the Royal Air Force in a speech in which he said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Strategic Bombing played a very important role in the war, hampering the production ability of the enemy, and disrupting their supply lines. The Heavy Bomber played a vital role in this part of the war.

In the summer of 1943, the U.S. began building up its heavy bomber forces in Europe at a more rapid rate and greater numbers of B-17s and B-24s were dispatched against targets inside Germany. However, whenever they flew beyond the range of their P-47 escort, they risked being mauled by Luftwaffe fighters.

This changed for the allies with the introduction of the North American P-51 Mustang, developed jointly by the Americans and British. The Mustang had a maximum range of 2,600 miles when equipped with drop tanks, which provided it with enough fuel to escort B-17's from England, to Berlin, and back.

Heavy Bombing was also used to great effect against Japan in the war in the Pacific. The B-29 conducted bombing raid on the Japanese mainland, including the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Air Power was also used to a great effect at sea. The Aircraft Carrier proved itself to be the true power of the Navy during World War II. The Battle of Midway, in June, 1942 demonstrated that properly utilized aircraft launched from carriers could defeat a superior surface force. The entire naval battle took place without opposing surface ships firing a shot. In addition to contributing to surface naval warfare, air power also played an important role in Anti-Submarine Warfare.

The ballistic missile and jet aircraft were also born during the Second World War. The German V-1 "Buzz Bomb was propelled by a pulse jet engine, and used a gyroscopic guidance system. Over 9,000 V-1's were fired at England during the war. The V-2 a faster, larger missile with a longer range followed, but was deployed too late in the war to have a significant effect.

The world's first jet aircraft was the German He 178. Germany also produced the famed and feared Me 262, while the allies P-80 Shooting Stars didn't enter service until after the war had ended. Although Jet fighters played a minor role in the air war, the advent of the jet age would change air power forever.

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