British Dive Bombers or lack thereof

pinehilljoe

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Curious, anyone know background to why Britain did not develop a dedicated dive bomber between the Wars, or early in the War as the US, Japan, and Germany did? A true dive bomber, either carrier or land based, seems absent for Britain's aircraft development. The Skua seems the closest, but the specs don't compare to a Stuka or SBD
 

Shortround6

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Curious, anyone know background to why Britain did not develop a dedicated dive bomber between the Wars, or early in the War as the US, Japan, and Germany did? A true dive bomber, either carrier or land based, seems absent for Britain's aircraft development. The Skua seems the closest, but the specs don't compare to a Stuka or SBD
A lot of threads that mention it but basically the RAF didn't want to play 2nd/3rd fiddle to the Navy and Army and saw their mission as bombing the enemies home land into submission. Doing tactical bombing would make them subordinate to the army. At some point some people decided that home defense to stop enemy bombers was good idea, some people thought that if they bombed the enemy enough they could out bomb the enemy and still win.
RN didn't get control of the aircraft until 1938 (?) although they had a lot of input. And the process was slow. The Skua was actually a contemporary of the Vought Vindicator.
Problem with the Skua is that it never got a MK II version. Stuka went from a 700hp engine to an 1100hp engine to 1400/1500hp in the "D"s. and that took a number of years.
SBD was a major alteration of the Northrop BT-1 and with the change to the SPD got a new engine, which was increase in power twice during WW II. Curtiss also fumbled the ball with SBD replacement and darn near kicked it into the stands forcing the SBD to serve much longer than intended.
The FAA was heavily into mixed use aircraft due to the size of their carriers and decided that the dive bombing role could be done by torpedo bombers rather than scout/recon planes like the US navy did. The FAA wanted fighter/recon planes. Things did tend to swing back and forth or there were different schools of thought but it often took 4 years or more to bring a plane from initial thought to squadron service.

The Hawker Henley as a land dive bombers was built in a 200 plane batch but was shuffled of to target tow land before it even saw a trial squadron which is one of the unanswered mysteries. Was it really that bad or was it politics?
 

PFVA63

Airman 1st Class
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Dec 7, 2010
Hi,

I guess one thing that should be taken into account when discussing aviation issues around this time are that technology was changing rapidly and as such what may have seemed viable at one point in time may seem less viable even as lttle as half a year before or after and vice versa.

Additionally the Henley appears to have been built to a light bomber spec and it unclear (at least to me) how much of a dedicated "dive bombing" capability that she may have actually had (at least initially).

With respect to this, looking at information on the internet (including Wikipedia) there are some comments to the effect of how the lack of constant speed propellers could negatively impact the ability of an aircraft while performing a dive bombing maneuver and how these type proellers were not necessarily readily available for planes like the Henley until 1940 or so,

It should also be noted that while the Henley appears to have been shifted off to target towing duties before 1940, the British did inherit a French order for what was to become the Brewster Bermuda when France fell (and eventually increased their order from 250 to 750 later in 1940). And, they (along with the USN and Dutch East Indoes forces) were extensively involved with the development of the requirements for proposed that aircraft eventually requesting substantial modifications in early 1941.

Additionally it appears that the RAF also took over an order for 700 Vultee Vengeance Dive Bomber from France when it fell and operated this type in and around Burma (as well as others operated by the RAAF and IAF) with deliveries starting in late 1942.

As such, it would seem that it is at least possible that;

a) the design of the Henley may not have been originally designed and fitted out for dive bombing
b) when the Henley began to become available in numbers technological and supply limitations in the UK may have prevented it from being fully suited to dive bombing role due to possible shortages in supply of constant speed propellers etc,

Also the Battle of Britain (and also with experience from operationsin North Africa) may have made the concept of dive bombing less desirable in the European and Mediterranean theaters (due to the vulnerability shown by the Stuka, as well as RAF single engine light bombers)

However, it does appear that the UK did continue investigating the use dive bombing and continued in the development of the Brewster design through to at least about 1942 while also using the Vengeance aircraft operationally in the Far East.

As such, it is possible that there are likely many factors that may have played a role in the development and deployment of different plane types during this period which may not be fully apparent with out digging into alot of details.

Regards

Pat
 

EwenS

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Oct 19, 2021
Hi,


Additionally it appears that the RAF also took over an order for 700 Vultee Vengeance Dive Bomber from France when it fell and operated this type in and around Burma (as well as others operated by the RAAF and IAF) with deliveries starting in late 1942.
Not true.

From Peter C Smith's "Vengeance! The Vultee Vengeance Dive Bomber" with multiple references.
Between 1938 to 1940 a mission from the French Air Force visited the USA looking for new aircraft designs. It entered negotiations with Vultee for the design of a new dive bomber, work on which began in early 1940. Before the French surrender this had progressed to a proposal to order 300 for delivery from Oct 1940 to Sept 1941. But no signed contract ever flowed therefrom.


This from the British Air MInister, J J Llewellyn
"We ordered in the United States as you know because prior to July 1940 no one at the Air Ministry had included dive-bombers in their requisitions, nor had anyone ordered even a prototype. So we had none on the stocks and the quickest way of getting them was in the USA."

Smith goes on:-
"Beaverbrook's biographer recorded the behind-the-scenes in fighting as follows. 'Beaverbrook also wished to meet the needs of the Army. In July 1940 he placed a large order for dive-bombers in Canada [sic] and the United States. Eden (then Secretary of State for War) was enthusiastic. The Air Ministry protested and refused to 'supply or train pilots' '. "

So the original order was placed by MAP on 21 June 1940, 4 days after Britain took over all the French contracts and 4 days before the French Armistice came into effect. The initial contract signed on 3 July 1940, was for 200 with an option, to be exercised within 30 days for another 200, which it was. It provided for a prototype to fly in Jan 1941 with deliveries from April 1941. Further orders then followed in Sept 1940 (200) and December 1940 (100) to bring the initial British total to 700.
 

EwenS

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Politics.

The RAF saw dive bombing as a mission for 'army co-operation', a task it hated and devoted as little effort as it could to.

They were wedded to the Tenchard School of Strategic 'The Bomber will always get through' Bombing.
Best summed up by comments from Wing Commander Slessor in 1934
"The aeroplane is NOT a battlefield weapon"

Even in Spring 1941, now promoted to Air Marshall, and with the experience of WW2 to date, protested:-
"....we dont want aircraft skidding around over Kent looking for enemy tanks. that is the job of the anti-tank gun."

It was Beaverbrook, as head of MAP from May 1940, that ordered dive-bombers like the Bermuda & Vengeance, from the USA very much against the wishes of the RAF.
 

yulzari

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Best summed up by comments from Wing Commander Slessor in 1934
"The aeroplane is NOT a battlefield weapon"

Even in Spring 1941, now promoted to Air Marshall, and with the experience of WW2 to date, protested:-
"....we dont want aircraft skidding around over Kent looking for enemy tanks. that is the job of the anti-tank gun."

It was Beaverbrook, as head of MAP from May 1940, that ordered dive-bombers like the Bermuda & Vengeance, from the USA very much against the wishes of the RAF.
Of course, were there enough anti tank guns, Slessor was right. In the reality of the day though, he was wrong. Tanks are tiny targets for an air attack.
 

yulzari

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One major RAF type that allowed for dive bombing was the Fairey Battle. The bomb racks could be extended out of the wing cells for dive bombing actions acting as both dive brakes and for easy release in a dive. Releasing them still in the bomb cells might not have been a good plan………….

Not strictly OT but, when I was a cadet in the Air Training Corps, one of the officers had been a Battle air gunner in France and he described the tiny fields allocated to the AASF in northern France. Essentially Great War style of two or three farmer’s fields with the intervening ditches and hedges removed. All grass and often wet. Only just within the Battle’s ability to get into the air fully loaded with fuel and bombs. When soaking wet the load would have to be less fuel and/or bombs.
 
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EwenS

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RN didn't get control of the aircraft until 1938 (?) although they had a lot of input. And the process was slow. The Skua was actually a contemporary of the Vought Vindicator.
Inskip's recommendation that the FAA be transferred to RN control was approved by the Cabinet in July 1937 but it took until the end of the year to thrash out the new division of responsibilities between the RAF and the RN on matters like responsibility for pilot training. A whole new organisation then required built up within the Admiralty. Squables over various matters continued through 1938, and on at least one occasion had to be referred back to Inskip for a ruling (related to the transfer of shore stations). Full administrative control finally passed back to the RN on 24th May 1939.

How much input the RN had to naval aviation matters generally prior to that is open to question. They had control of aircraft while they were at sea, but once they returned ashore they returned to RAF control.

The problems date back to the formation of the RAF and events in the early 1920s. According to Hobbs in "A Century of Carrier Aviation", WW1 RN officers who were transferred to the RAF were actually banned by the Air Ministry from maintaining direct contact with the Sea Lords on matters of policy or the evolution of tactics. Maybe understandable from the point of view of maintaining the chain of command, especially in a new organisation trying to carve out its own path. But that meant an inter-service Committee had to be set up, but that was done under the auspices of the Air Ministry (responsible for all aviation matters) as the Advisory Committee on the Fleet Air Arm. Most of the members of this came from the RAF and Air Ministry with RN participation restricted to junior officers with little staff experience. The RN was not permitted to talk direct to aircraft companies. Everything had to go via the Air Ministry. Aircraft design was in the hands of the AM. The AM even impacted the numbers of aircraft that could be embarked (arguments over how many could be operated efficiently), even though the RN was paying for them. In 1929 when the Admiralty wanted more aircraft and approached the Treasury, the AM protested that it should have been them going to the Treasury.

And ahead of, and during, the negotiations for the !930 London Naval Treaty the AM sought to get the definition of a carrier changed, much to the annoyance of the RN even though it had the same aim, and to exert pressure for a reduction in carrier tonnage available on financial & political grounds. Less tonnage = fewer/smaller carriers = fewer aircraft required.

The AM view in 1929 can be summed up in the words of the then Minister for Air:-
"The Navy of course needs some aircraft", he stressed that "the Fleet Air Arm is an integral part of the RAF", and that every aircraft allocated to it must therefore reduce by one the total aircraft "immediately available for Home Defence".

The First Lord of the Admiralty needless to say disagreed.

There were many areas of disagreement throughout this period. So lets say it was not a happy relationship between the two services, which impacted all areas of naval aviation. Roskill concluded that the Govt should have grasped the nettle much sooner, challenged the Air Ministry over the issue of the indivisibility of air power, and arranged the transfer of the FAA starting in 1935 at the latest.

At a technical level things were a bit more cordial. A Technical Sub-Committee to FAA Advisory Committee was set up in 1932 with scientists and engineers from both services serving under an Air Commodore. But it did not meet very often between 1932 and 1935. In contrast it met over 30 times in each of 1937 & 1938 and its existence continued into WW2.

On another site I looked at the aviation experience of carrier captains in the RN and USN in 1939. The most notable difference is how many USN captains, while not necessarily being pilots themselves, had been involved with flying boat tenders or commanded air stations inter war and so had had an exposure to naval aviation. Those oportunities did not exist for RN officers. Inter war the RN only had the Pegasus and command of airfields was an RAF responsibility.
 

MikeMeech

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Nov 20, 2019
North Africa in 1941-42, perhaps? Not that the Baltimores/A-20s/etc didn't do a great job, but I could see dive-bombers being useful in that theater at that time.
Hi
By 1942 in North Africa even the Germans realised the Stuka had had their day, once the air superiority had been lost (a lesson also made in 1940 during the BoB). By the end of 1940, in hindsight, the way forward was the fighter bomber, the dive bomber having relatively limited utility in land warfare. They were vulnerable to increased ground based AA fire and fighters, particularly when pulling out of the dive. If the RAF had decided (under Army pressure) to put their CAS into the hands of dive bombers it would now be seen as incorrect. The Germans did not class the Stuka as a CAS aircraft anyway during 1939-40, with most of its targets behind allied front lines rather than against front line allied troops (I have posted a translation of a German document 'Development of the German Ground Attack Arm and Principles Governing its Operations up to the end of 1944', dated 1 December 1944, that mentions this previously on the forum). As for the desert, fighter bombers and even light/medium bombers were better for the majority of targets as vehicles would disperse and spread out into the desert which would mean the dive bomber would have to aim for an individual vehicle to cause any damage.
Extract from the German December 1944 document reference problems with Stuka use below:
Image_20221123_0001.jpg

Mike
 

Thumpalumpacus

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As for the desert, fighter bombers and even light/medium bombers were better for the majority of targets as vehicles would disperse and spread out into the desert which would mean the dive bomber would have to aim for an individual vehicle to cause any damage.
Extract from the German December 1944 document reference problems with Stuka use below:
View attachment 695766
Mike


If the Germans only encountered difficulties with dive-bombing in North Africa in 1942 (per the source you've kindly provided) it seems to me that the Brits could well find utility in dive-bombers in that theater as well -- which was the point of my reply.

Keep in mind that your own source is talking about "overwhelming" enemy (i.e. Allied) air superiority. The reasonable conclusion is therefore, to me, that Allied dive-bombers could still be very useful into 1942, which was the framing of the question I had answered.
 

tomo pauk

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How would a dive bomber fare any better than a Fairey Battle or indeed a Stuka?

Depends on a dive bomber and other circumstances. Slow dive bomber without a meaningful protection would've taken serious losses. Fast dive bomber with good protection would've fared much better. Odds increase if fighter escort is provided, let alone if the air superiority is achieved.
 

pbehn

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Depends on a dive bomber and other circumstances. Slow dive bomber without a meaningful protection would've taken serious losses. Fast dive bomber with good protection would've fared much better. Odds increase if fighter escort is provided, let alone if the air superiority is achieved.
Well hurricanes were driven out of Belgium and France and a couple of years later even a Spitfire Mk V struggled over France. The LW struggled to protect Stukas in a dive, you need the same dive capability to follow them.
 

tomo pauk

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Well hurricanes were driven out of Belgium and France and a couple of years later even a Spitfire Mk V struggled over France.

Events of 1940-41 have no bearing on RAF specifying dive bombers in, say, 1935.

The LW struggled to protect Stukas in a dive, you need the same dive capability to follow them.

Bf 109s dived much better than Stukas. Stukas not being fast dive bombers was also the problem.
 

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