Bomber escort logistics?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by nincomp, Apr 19, 2013.

  1. nincomp

    nincomp Member

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    What were the logistics of fighter relays that escorted bombers?

    First of all, when did allied bombers start getting fighter escorts in the ETO?

    The first leg is easy, but it is the other legs that I wonder about. For example, did the fighters simply fly from airbases closer to the bombing target? Where were these airbases when the escorting missions started?

    In another thread, someone suggested the possibility of fighters escorting fighters. In this case, one set of fighters flew top-cover at "battle ready" speed, protecting the long-range fighters. The long-range might carry additional drop tanks, and/or fly at a relatively low cruise speed to conserve fuel for their leg of the bomber escort.

    I am open to the possibility that the real answer is obvious, and I just do not see it.

    Thanks,
     
  2. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    If your fighter aircraft have adequate range and loiter time then you don't need as many. In any case you must have enough escort fighters with the bombers at all times to form a loose protective umbrella above them. Too few fighter escorts and they have no choice but to fly close escort.
     
  3. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    No one group of fighters stayed with the bombers all the way to and from the target.
    One group might escort half way to the target, then they're replaced by another group. Which is then replaced by another, and so on.

    You may have 1000 fighters escorting the bombers total, but only 200 fighters with them at any one time. That was why it was such a catastrophe if one of the scheduled rendevous of the escorting fighters were late, or navigated so far off they couldn't find the bombers.
    And the fighters zig-zaged over the flight path of the bombers, that way they could stay at their higher cruise speed, and not outpace the bombers, but still be closer to their own combat speed.
     
  4. nincomp

    nincomp Member

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    Thanks,
    I guess that I am still confused about where the later fighter relays were based in order for them to have enough fuel to stay with the bombers near the target.
    Since the escorting fighters stayed at combat speed by performing S-turns above the bombers, they would, of course, burn more fuel than another group of similar fighters flying at their most economical cruise speed.

    Did the second and later relays fly slower to the hand-off point in order to conserve fuel, or did they come from a base closer to the target?
    If one set of fighters flew slower and/or had additional drop tanks, it would be logical for them to need the same kind of zig-zagging escorts as the bombers. It seems logical to me, but that does not mean that it actually happened, of course.
     
  5. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    This will be interesting and poke holes in the Hellcat in Europe naysayers. Yep, they cruised at economy settings and didn't fly over known flak locations or known figher opposition or heavily-defended targets at lower altitudes. It will work for numerous types, not just the ones who did it.

    If you takeoff, climb to altitude at rather lazy rates, and cruise at lean economy settings, you can conserve a lot of fuel, which is why I think other types could also have done it. The types they used weren't much longer-ranged than proposed types in the "what if." The P-51 was a game changer because of its unrefueled range, but suffered from longitudinal instability when loaded past the aft CG limit (naturally!) as it was when all the starting fuel was aboard the aircraft including normal internal fuel, the fuselage tank, and the two drop tanks. Yes, the P-51 could DO it, but the plane wasn't exactly happy about it and would bite if mistreated, as will ANY aircraft past the aft CG limit.

    They would takeoff on mains, switch to fuselage, burn that down until stablity returned, then switch to drop tanks until empty or attacked. Then jettison, fight ... and continue. If the Germans ever knew how unmaneuverable the P-51's were when full of fuel plus drop tanks, the main fighter opposition probably would have been as near to the P-51 airfield as they could get in order to attack when the P-51's were at a serious disadvantage. They never really knew and seemingly never tried for the same strategem themselves.

    But their leadership was seemingly more interested in stealing priceless works of art in France than beating RAF Fighter Command ... maybe they just liked the food ...
     
  6. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    Drgondog knows a lot more about this but I don't believe they ever bothered to use fighters to escort other fighters with large drop tanks.

    There seems to be lot of talk about "cruising speeds".

    47FOIC.gif

    Please note that EVERY SPEED on this chart is a "Cruising speed". So you could cruise an early P-47 at 300mph at 12,000ft burning 160 gallons an hour and fly 450 miles OR you fly at about 220-225mph ( there is a difference between true airspeed and indicated airspeed) at 12,000ft and burn 65 gallons an hour and fly 880 miles on the same fuel. Or pick speeds in between or at different altitudes.

    Second and later relays could fly slower up to a point, they also took off later. Escorts for the homeward legs might take-off a number of hours after the bombers and initial escorts took off.
     
  7. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    P-51s didn't arrive until spring 1944 and P-51D didn't arrive until summer 1944.

    By summer 1944 1st and 2nd SS Panzer Korps were holding by their fingernails just south of Caen and Army Group Center was fighting for it's life (and losing) in Belarus. Under such circumstances sending intruder missions over England or English Channel was a low priority. Small scale intruder operations over England April to June 1944 came to a screeching halt after June 1944.

    Perhaps things would have been different if P-51 bomber escorts had shown up a year sooner.
     
  8. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    #8 tomo pauk, Apr 20, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
    Locating LW fighters close to the P-51 bases would've been a major boon to the Allies. Here they can bring to the table Spitfires, Typhoons, Tempests, P-47s, along with decent number of the 2-engined bombers and wreak havoc with LW fighters. That would make the fighter opposition (vs. USAF) above Germany a non-issue, too.
    The P-51B was a major player during the Big Week (February 20–25, 1944), the 73 P-51s taking part in it during the 1st day, only one lost in combat, claiming 37 LW planes. The initial operations in ETO were conducted in Dec 1943/Jan 1944. So it was still the winter when the P-51 made it's mark.
     
  9. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    #9 syscom3, Apr 20, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
    P51's began operations in Dec 1943 (in addition to a single P38 group). By the end of Feb 1944, there were four P51 groups and two P38 groups. By the end of March 1944, there were three P38 groups and five P51 groups.

    The same could be said about the P38's being operational in the summer of 1943.
     
  10. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    I'd like to state that LW was ill able to do much about, in case the Allies introduced a 500 mile fighter during the summer of 1943. LW needed fighters to cover the preparation, execution and retreat from Battle of Kursk, while already being greatly outnumbered vs. Allies during the invasion of Sicily and, later Italy. The pressure in the ETO was growing every day, too, the absence of long-range fighter sweeps escorts giving the LW the much needed breathing space.
     
  11. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    ????
     
  12. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    RAF probably had more Mustangs then that operating over France and Norway. Not to mention hundreds of Spitfires participating in Circus raids on a regular basis. American P-51s would not get anyones attention until they starting showing up over places such as Berlin and Polesti.
     
  13. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Maybe in the case you just cited, they weren't as smart as you and couldn't figure out how to beat RAF screen to catch P-51s in most vulnerable time (and correct place)?
     
  14. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    RAF Mustangs at that time were the Mk1, Mk1A, and MkII - Allison engined, and used in Army Cooperation squadrons or Photo Recce, not as fighters or escorts.
     
  15. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Bombers didn't 'zig zag'. Nobody enjoyed keeping up in the turns and truly hated mid air collisions. The primary reason for Essing over the bombers was two fold. One to maximize coverage laterally over the bomber stream, and two to provide defensive cover. Escorts flew in two flight sections with one flight trailing and above the other to keep leader free of 6 o'clock bounce. One section crosses over toward the right side while the section crosses back to the left.

    The bomber boxes of up to two BG's had a couple mile separation bewteen the leading box ahead, and the trailing box behind.

    If a Mustang FG was covering 3 boxes over 15-20 miles, one Squadron would be out in front or high front of the leading box, one squadron would be in trail above the last box and one would be high center. Variations might include one squadron sweeping from front to back 5-10 miles off to one side, with one out in front and one high toward the rear box... and other variations
     
  16. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Terry - I have seen reference to RAF mark III's providing escort to some max effort 8th AF missions. IIRC none of the Mk III's prior to May 1944 had any internal fuselage tanks but I know that on April 24, 1944 Munich raid, some provided Withdrawal from Hildesheim back past Frankfort before being relived by P-47's
     
  17. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Yes Bill, you are correct. I was referring to the period between end of 1943 and March 1944. And yes, the fuselage tanks were a retro-fit, from around May '44 on, although some aircraft continued without them.
     
  18. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Don't think that's the problem.

    In the real world you don't get the benefit of hindsight with complete access to friendly and enemy historical records. Determining effectiveness of newly introduced enemy equipment and tactics is little more then guesswork. You don't even know effectiveness of your own newly introduced weapons for a few months.

    With the benefit of hindsight major nations such as Germany, Britain, France and USA would have nukes by 1939. They'd all be very polite to each other or else Europe (including Britain) gets blown off the map.
     
  19. nincomp

    nincomp Member

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    I did not mean to imply that bombers zigged or zagged. They were already going slower than the fighter cover.

    It seems odd to me that even during the time when the range of the fighters was insufficient to escort the bombers all the way to the target, the fighters still burned up extra fuel to travel at a relatively fast cruise.

    I am more familiar with the P-38 than with the other fighters. The information that I have seen for the P-38 is that its maximum range was at about 185 MPH with the engines turning at 1600 RPM (at what altitude, I do not know). In this case, it would seem that to maximize escort distance, the fighters for the longer escort legs would lumber along at a low speed to save fuel until needed to climb and speed up to assume their escort duties.
    Of course the low and slow portion of the flight would need to be where there was little or no chance of being bounced by enemy fighters or being hit by flak. If enemy fighters could attack all the way along the planned route, it would make sense for the fighters to fly faster and at higher altitude.

    I find it surprising that Mustangs would have their maximum range at such a high speed. At the moment, I can think of only a few reasons that this would be so:
    -The merlins unable to run well at low RPM
    - the propeller is unable to operate at the required steep pitch
    - some strange artifact of the mechanical superchargers
    - the wing is not efficient at the lower speed
     
  20. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    It is not any of the first 3 and even the 4th isn't right. :)

    It isn't that P-51 has it's maximum range at high speed. It doesn't. It is just that it is low enough in drag that it CAN cruise at those speeds AND cover the required distance with the available fuel.

    From Zeno's

    P-51FOIC.gif

    Note the last column. 232mph at 5,000ft at 1600rpm and 28.5lbs manifold pressure while burning 42 gallons and hour. Close to the same speed and height as an Early P-47 and both can cover about 880 miles except the P-51 requires about 100 gallons less fuel. Or to put it another way the P-51 can fly 80-90 faster than the P-47 using the same amount of fuel per hour at 25,000ft and over 300mph.

    It can take plane several minutes to go from a low cruise (200mph or under) to top speed and if "bounced" at such a low speed it is at a very large disadvantage. It is at a very large disadvantage even with 15-20 seconds warning.
     
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