The Whiff Of The Century

Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 7:57 am

March 13th, 2018, 5:00 pm #1

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Douhets claimed that “The bomber will always get through” and nearly everybody believed that between the two world wars.
 
In a way, he was right.   There were only a few bombing raids against cities that were completely repulsed.   But the cost was sometimes atrocious and the number of bombs on the target were attenuated enough to become trivial.   This was most true when there was no adequate fighter escort.
 
The short legs of the Bf-109E (the Bf-110 was worthless as an escort) assured that any He-111 or Ju-88 venturing north of Maidstone or west of Eastbourne was likely to have to contend with RAF fighters without escort.   The losses were discouraging to say the least.
 
The Spitfire and Hurricane were little better.   An RAF day bomber operating east of Lille or south of Amiens was equally vulnerable.   After a while the RAF gave up on day bombing away from the coast.
 
German and British bombers carried only token efforts at self-defense – a few rifle-caliber machine guns.   The US thought the fearsome defenses of B-17s and B-24s (plus the high altitude their turbocharged engines allowed) but the slaughter of Schweinfurt/Regensberg changed their mind.   (As a sidenote the B-17s and B-24s were far more capable of defending themselves against the Japanese due to their high altitude speed and strong defenses and the rather fragile structure of IJA/IJN fighters.)   After that, the Eighth Air force rarely ventured east of Brussels where their P-47Ds ran out of gas.
 
The British went all-in for night area bombing, but the losses were horrendous although spotty.   One night in early 1944 they lost 50% more night strategic bombers than the Schweinfurt disaster.   Bomber Command was second only to the Nazis’ U-boats in proportional combat losses.
 
The P-51 changed everything.   Not only was it fast as hell but nearly as agile as the Spitfire.   It had range that made the Oder River a possible target.   It was easy to transition into.   And it was cheap to build.   A P-51D cost half of what a P-47D cost and a third of what a P-38L cost.  So Uncle Sam could easily make clouds of these planes.  (Also by late 1944 the P-47M came along with the same range and better high-altitude performance but was so expensive that only the 56th Squadron was using them by the end of the war.)
 
Jimmy Doolittle took over the Eighth and made it into an attrition machine.   His goal was to lure the Luftwaffe up into his horde of P-51s.    Nothing like 500 B-17s to goad the Luftwaffe off the ground.   He used the bombers as bait.   If they hit the ground target, that was gravy.   It was an aerial bloodbath, but by D-Day the Luftwaffe was beaten and bombers roamed freely in France.
 
But nothing like the P-51 existed in 1940, so the Luftwaffe was doomed to lose the Battle of Britain.
 
It might have been a different outcome if the Luftwaffe had something like the Zero or even the Oscar.   Their range and maneuverability allowed them to be very adequate escorts over the vast reaches of the PTO.   In the PTO, the Oscar ate all marques of the Hurricane up and gave the (few) Spits all they wanted.   It was cheap to build and could provide escort all the way to Scapa Flow from Hamburg.
 
Ain’t 20/20 hindsight a wonderful thing?
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Joined: November 19th, 2006, 11:46 am

March 13th, 2018, 11:29 pm #2

My understanding is that the Bf 109E-7 with drop tanks started seeing action in Oct 1940.  

If kept as a single seater the Fw 187 would've been a formidable long range escort fighter 

The interesting He 100D fighter also had pretty good range

And just so we're clear winning the air battle doesn't mean Sea Lion would succeed
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Joined: April 10th, 2005, 2:54 pm

March 14th, 2018, 1:55 am #3

At the time "the bomber will always get through" was conceived, the ability to give raid warning and so direct fighters to intercept was limited.
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Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 7:57 am

March 14th, 2018, 2:00 pm #4

A Bf-109E-7 with drop tanks had better range.   It could fly Calais to London and spend five minutes fighting.  

Not enough.
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Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 7:57 am

March 14th, 2018, 2:44 pm #5

The He-100 and Fw-187 were both poisoned by the same problem.   To work well, they needed the D-B 600 series engines, but those were heavily earmarked for the workhorse Bf-109 and Bf-110.

Performance using the Jumo engine was mediocre.
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Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 7:57 am

March 14th, 2018, 3:12 pm #6

The Fw-187 (assuming the increase in maneuverability over the Bf-110 made it viable) was still a "boom-and-zoom" fighter and as such would routinely abandon the bombers while they extended out of the fight and then climbed back to altitude.   It was potentially a German equivalent of the P-38.

What you wanted for close escort was a tight-turning fighter.   Bomber don't maneuver much vertically.   Bf-109s, Spitfires, and Hurricanes were good escorts til they ran out of gas.

The P-38 and P-47, while being "boom-and-zoom" fighter worked OK when paired with combat boxes of B-17s and B-24s.   While the bombers were not truly self-defending, their armament limited the preferred avenues of attack (mostly 12 o'clock high diving through the formation.   The American high-speed fighters would sit above the avenues of attack and swoop in as the Axis planes attacked.

Allied pilots in the Pacific and Indian Ocean theaters agreed the Zero and the Oscar were excellent escort fighters.   Early in the war (when the Japanese had lots of good pilots) it was very difficult getting at the Betties and Sallies when these escorts were around.   these two were "turning" fighters meant for combat with less vertical maneuver.   Plus they had excellent range.   The Zeroes ran out of 20mm cannon ammunition before they ran out of fuel.  

The P-51 was excellent because it could turn with nearly anything and had tremendous range.   It could play tight-turning escort or high speed pursuit to kill off enemy fighters.   And to add insult to injury, it was cheap enough to build in huge numbers.
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Joined: August 24th, 2007, 11:14 pm

March 14th, 2018, 6:48 pm #7

Big Dave wrote: The Fw-187 (assuming the increase in maneuverability over the Bf-110 made it viable) was still a "boom-and-zoom" fighter and as such would routinely abandon the bombers while they extended out of the fight and then climbed back to altitude.   It was potentially a German equivalent of the P-38.

What you wanted for close escort was a tight-turning fighter.   Bomber don't maneuver much vertically.   Bf-109s, Spitfires, and Hurricanes were good escorts til they ran out of gas.

The P-38 and P-47, while being "boom-and-zoom" fighter worked OK when paired with combat boxes of B-17s and B-24s.   While the bombers were not truly self-defending, their armament limited the preferred avenues of attack (mostly 12 o'clock high diving through the formation.   The American high-speed fighters would sit above the avenues of attack and swoop in as the Axis planes attacked.

Allied pilots in the Pacific and Indian Ocean theaters agreed the Zero and the Oscar were excellent escort fighters.   Early in the war (when the Japanese had lots of good pilots) it was very difficult getting at the Betties and Sallies when these escorts were around.   these two were "turning" fighters meant for combat with less vertical maneuver.   Plus they had excellent range.   The Zeroes ran out of 20mm cannon ammunition before they ran out of fuel.  

The P-51 was excellent because it could turn with nearly anything and had tremendous range.   It could play tight-turning escort or high speed pursuit to kill off enemy fighters.   And to add insult to injury, it was cheap enough to build in huge numbers.
I have never heard that the P-51 could out turn a 109.  The 109 wasn't an unmaneuverable plane though the performance did fall somewhat after the F model.  In the hands of a good pilot, an equivalent 109 could hang with the Mustang in a dogfight just fine.
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Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 7:57 am

March 15th, 2018, 2:06 pm #8

Same as with the Spitfire.   The P-51 - if the pilot chose his speed or altitude just right could play the flat turn game with the Bf-109.

But nothing could out-turn a Zero or Oscar.

For the Bf-109 or the Spitfire, the flat turn strategy burns a lot of fuel.   "Boom-and-zoom" was a more efficient plan for these planes.

Zeros, Oscars, and Mustangs had a lot of range, and thus patience was not  luxury they couldn't afford.
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Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 7:57 am

March 16th, 2018, 7:20 pm #9

"At the time "the bomber will always get through" was conceived, the ability to give raid warning and so direct fighters to intercept was limited."


Valid point.   No doubt still true in the mid-30s when the Bf-109, Spitfire, and Hurricane went to the drawing board.    So fighters necessarily had to be point-defense aircraft.

Some would patrol but others had to scramble, and climb like mad to defend.   Range was not a necessity and maybe even a detriment.
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Joined: August 24th, 2007, 11:14 pm

March 18th, 2018, 3:33 am #10

Close escort fighters weren't the solution, as every air force that tried it out discovered.  You don't actually need close escorts if your high escorts are capable of doing their job, about the only thing they were good for was making the bomber crews feel loved.
You can lead a leftard to knowledge, but you can't make them think
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