Air power effectiveness during the early stages of WW2

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by DogFather, Jul 17, 2011.

  1. DogFather

    DogFather New Member

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    The British RN used torpedo Bi-Planes, to slow down Bismarch and might not have sunk her, at least at that time, without aircraft. Then the RN was able to effectivly attack Italian battleships at Totanto, doing enough damage, to force Italy to relocate and stop the FLeet in Being tactic.

    Then the Pearl Harbor Attack also showed how aircraft could take out battleships.
    To me, it should have beeb clear, not to send ships into battle without air support.

    Yet, Adm Phillips took Force Z (Repulse Prince of Wales) into battle with little air support and quickly destroyed. PoW was a modern ship with good armor, TDS, damage control. Along with state of the art, radar controlled anti-aircraft gunnery.

    American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA), still tried to fight the Japanese, without much air support, during the Java Sea seriers of naval battles and of course lost a
    lot of ships. Is this correct?

    This multi-nation command only lasted 6 months and I realize it had other problems.

    Shouldn't have the Allies have withdrawn, until they could beef-up their air force?

    In 1942 Aug, during the Guadalcanal Battles, Japan always used dark of night, for
    naval operations, fearing US air power.

    When did the Allies realize, air power was such a potent weapon, it was needed to fight a naval battle? Except perhaps when using during dark of night, to protect ships from air attack.

    On land it was clear to Hitler, that without air superiority, he could not invade Great Britain in 1940. Then after losing Bismarch, Turpitz almost always stayed under ground based air support.

    Did it just take the Allies longer to figure all this out?
     
  2. P-40K-5

    P-40K-5 Banned

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    Depends.. the Brits were somewhat ready. The russians were really ready with sheer #'s of aircraft.
    thing is, the Brits expected an attack, whereas the Russians did not. to vastly different outcomes
    in the EARLY stages of the war. nothing to do with your scenarios, but there is a point somewhere.
     
  3. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    #3 Juha, Jul 17, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2011
    Hello DF
    RN had operated in Med areas dominated by the Italian AF without any or only with a token (a few Sea Gladiators) air support without suffering too heavily. LW had inflicted much damage, but that was by Ju 87s or by fighter bombers and but one hit by a fighter bomber to HMS Warspite BBs had been safe even against them. In Taranto and in Pearl ships had been in harbours. So Adm Phillips believed that his heavy ships would have been reasonable safe against land-based medium bombers. And after all Admiralty had planned that PoW and Repulse would have been accompanied by a fleet carrier but HMS Indomitable run on ground off Jamaica and became unavailable for Force Z.

    ABDA was destroyed mostly by IJN surface forces, not by air power. Should it had withdrawn, by hind-sight yes, but that would have been the end of ABDA, Dutch would not have left their groundforces to be mopped up by Japanese without trying to hinder Japanese amphibious assaults by seapower. I cannot remember would it have been possible to evacuate fighters from Java, at least USS Langley was sunk while transporting P-40s to Java from Australia, so probably at least P-40s and C-21s were incapable to fly away from Java.

    Juha
     
  4. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Is this discussion meant only to discuss naval airpower? Nobody has mentioned the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of airpower in support of army operations. Tactical air support employed a lot more sorties then naval attack.
     
  5. P-40K-5

    P-40K-5 Banned

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    good point. Operation Barbarosa, Invasion of Poland come to mind...
     
  6. DogFather

    DogFather New Member

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    What I was thinking is that when a ship gets enough damage it sinks, is gone for good and this often kills a lot of people. While land targets don't sink like ships do. Of course, land targets also have people, in or near them, who are killed too.

    When air power is used against those land targets. I suppose you could ask the same question about a tank. Compare a tank as a weapons system, against aircraft.

    Do you use tanks, in battle without air support? When was it learned this was not a good idea?
     
  7. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Ok, time to lob in an opinion based on nothing more substantive than the few cells of grey matter that still rattle around in my skull...

    Prior to 1939, the USAAF and the RAF were dominated by proponents of Douhet (ie the big bomber will always get through) and hence had a greater interest in developing strategic bombing capabilities. Other air arms, particularly the Japanese and the German Luftwaffe, were focussed more on tactical support to ground or naval forces. The Allies learned and were able to adapt to improve their tactical air support, particularly as close air support evolved from dedicated aircraft to re-use of fighters, whereas the Axis never did have the capabilities to deliver a strategic air campaign.

    The above is a broad, sweeping statement but I think it pretty much sums up the state of play early in WWII and the evolution through the war.
     
  8. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    France 1940 comes to mind for a tactical airpower failure that had huge consequences.

    What would have happened if the RAF had destroyed German pontoon bridges over the Meuse River during May 1940? Or if they had effectively bombed German vehicle columns while they were lined up nose to tail in the Ardennes?
     
  9. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    ".... The above is a broad, sweeping statement but I think it pretty much sums up the state of play early in WWII and the evolution through the war."

    Agreed. :)

    MM
     
  10. Jabberwocky

    Jabberwocky Active Member

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    There is a key difference between the attacks at Pearl Harbour and Taranto compared to the attacks on Force Z: at Pearl and in Italy, the BBs and other fleet elements were anchored. Force Z was underway.

    Until that point in the war, no major fleet unit had been sunk by air power while at sea. The Bismark may have been damaged by Swordfish attack, but it was not sunk.

    The RN regarded the sinking of the Bismark as primarily an effort by traditional sea power: big gun battleships and not a victory for naval air power.

    Force Z WAS supposed to have land based air cover: 452 Squadron, equipped with Brewster Buffaloes, was standing by for air cover duties but was not radioed with Force Z's position until after the attack was underway. 488 Sqdn also offered to provide air cover, but the offer was declined.


    The Java Sea battles are more a guide on how not to command a fleet action and a warning against going into battle with a split command against a superior force, rather than any particular victory for air power. The Allies enjoyed land based air cover for the daylight phase of the first battle, but most of the losses on both sides were at night, from gun and ship launch torpedo attacks.

    Air attacks during the first battle were minor, sporadic and ineffective. Some Japanese bomb salvos were reported to have missed by as much as 5000 yards. During the second battle, air attacks sunk just one ship, USS Pope, about midday after the main battle was over.

    In both battles, the main contribution of aircraft, on both sides, was reconnaissance and target spotting. Japanese aircraft continue to harass Allied fleet units as they withdrew.

    Not just US air power, but US naval power as well. IJN doctrine was to offer night attack against more powerful opponents, where they believed their superior night training would be decisive. Unfortuantely for the Japanese, they failed to take into account the development of radar into their doctrine, leaving them vulnerable to radar-equipped ships of the USN.

    Notably, the ABDA fleet at the first Battle of the Java Sea had just one radar equipped ship - HMS Exeter.
     
  11. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    The original plan was that Force Z would include an aircraft carrier but the intended vessel ran aground so HMS Repulse and PoW had to go it alone. Admiral Phillips was told that the RAF couldn't guarantee air cover over northern Malaya which he seems to have interpreted as an inability to provide air cover anywhere. This was a fatal misunderstanding as at least 1.5 squadrons of Buffalos (453 Sqn at Sembawang plus elements of 243 and 488 Sqns at Kallang) were standing by waiting for the order to scramble to support Force Z.
     
  12. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    The whole Japanese Pacific strategy was based on a combined force operation with aviation playing a major role. The Philipines invasion is a good example of aviation used by the Japanese to first render the Allied air forces helpless and then put the USN to flight, leaving the ground forces isolated. The earlier strike on PH made any relief attempt for the Philipines impracticable, thankfully. If the Battle Force had not been essentially decimated at PH, a relief attempt for the Philipines would have probably been more costly than PH was.

    The Japanese, during the campaign for the East Indies essentially maintained air superiority and the ABDA force was continually under the threat of air attack. USS Houston, the most powerful ship in ABDA had already lost 33% of her main battery to air attack when the Battle of the Java Sea took place.
     
  13. plan_D

    plan_D Active Member

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    #13 plan_D, Jul 18, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2011
    It's been a long time since I've had to post an intelligent piece of information about history, and this is purely off memory so no scathing assaults on my knowledge! I'll ignore the naval side of things, Jabberwocky knows far more than me about that and I will seem useless!

    The RAF were a force built for strategic assaults on the continent for the most part, but it cannot be ignored that there were tactical arms of the RAF in 1939. 2 Group were to be the principal tactical bomber group throughout the war and were the first to do a sortie over Germany, a photo-rec in a Blenheim.
    The tactical force was poorly equipped at the start with mostly Blenheims and Battles, and even some Hinds, Audaxes and Harts left in reserve! (There were even Heyfords knocking about!) The poor equipment does not take away the fact that the RAF recognised the need for close-support aircraft at the start. The reason we often miss this fact is that, yes, the RAF failed to prevent the overwhelming might of the Wehrmacht in 1940 but then this was a force that had been prepared for that kind of operation and solely that kind of operation.

    As for the effectiveness of Air Power in early war ; the invasion of France is by far the greatest show piece... While Poland was shattered by airpower, the overwhelming ground forces and revolutionary tactics of men like Guderian saw the task through with little air support where it would matter. In France, as mentioned, the Wehrmacht would have halted in the north had those poor souls in the Battles made it through to destroy the bridges over the Meuse and alternatively the operation would have stalled had Luftwaffe Stukas not cleared the way for Herr Balck and his infantry regiment to storm over the Meuse at Sedan and take French artillery that was abandoned under the intense aerial bombardment from the Stukas. Self-Propelled Guns were not worth a mention in 1939-1941, the real mobile artillery was the air force! And trust me, everyone knew it.

    # Slight addition; I don't know your time-scale for "early war" but Hurricanes and Spitifires were being equipped with bombs in 1941, Typhoons were being equipped with bombs in 1942 and then rockets in 1943. And aircraft like the Beaufighter were being thrown into the ground attack role early 1942.
     
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