Did the skill of U.S. Naval Dive Bombing Pilots decrease Steadily from 1942-1945?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Conslaw, Sep 29, 2015.

  1. Conslaw

    Conslaw Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2009
    Messages:
    138
    Likes Received:
    10
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Occupation:
    Lawyer
    Location:
    Indianapolis, Indiana USA
    I was re-reading Shattered Sword, about the battle of Midway, and started to think about how much more bang-for-the-buck the first team of US naval aviators gave compared to later pilots. In the Battle of Midway, for example, three squadrons of pre-war trained SBD pilots sunk 3 carriers in one strike, and got the 4th the next time through. By August 1942, a good portion of the pre-war pilots were gone, and the dive-bomber pilots in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons did not have the same results, nor did the Battle of Santa Cruz in October. By June 1944, only a few pre-war pilots remained and results in the Philippine Sea (Marianas) battle were rather disappointing. In the complex Leyte Gulf action in October 1944, the sense to abandon a doomed target was apparently missing, as pilots continually kept attacking the Musashi rather than seeking other targets.

    At the same time, it must be recognized that Japanese anti-aircraft defenses, and in some cases fighter defenses, improved significantly over time. Japanese damage control improved as well. So my question is, which was a more significant factor in reduced performance - Japanese defensive improvement or slipping in American pilot performance? Or was the Battle of Midway an aberration - a statistically better than should have been expected performance?
     
  2. herman1rg

    herman1rg Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2008
    Messages:
    1,156
    Likes Received:
    71
    Trophy Points:
    48
    I would think that the pilots who flew at The Battle of Midway were likely to have been older and had trained and practiced extensively whereas the pilots in later battles may well have had a shorter period of training.
     
  3. Balljoint

    Balljoint Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2012
    Messages:
    325
    Likes Received:
    16
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Occupation:
    Manager
    Location:
    Boulder, CO
    There was a certain element of good fortune at Midway. A portion thereof was the Japanese carriers being in an exposed position due to their ignorance of the presence of the American carriers. And except for the dive bombers happening upon the carriers during a lull in the otherwise very effective IJN CAP, the American air attacks from land and by sea were defeated. The accumulation of ordinance and fuel in the hanger decks amplified an otherwise limited number of bomb strikes during the initial trifecta attack. The IJN suffered much more than the USN from the loss of elite pilots and support personnel.
    Later, both sides had learned to keep their remaining carriers at a distance and fought from land bases. For the IJN the sub proved perhaps more effective than the carrier plane. When the carrier forces reengaged the IJN was badly outgunned until the IJN carriers were sacrificed as decoys.
     
  4. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2009
    Messages:
    6,418
    Likes Received:
    64
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    It takes a long time to fully train combat aircrew. During WWII most nations produced aircraft faster then pilots could be trained so some skill decrease was inevitable. It doesn't help that late war SB2C divebomber was more difficult to fly then early war SBD.
     
  5. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2003
    Messages:
    5,906
    Likes Received:
    853
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    Electrical Engineer, Aircraft Restoration
    Location:
    Rancho Cucamonga, California, U.S.A.
    #5 GregP, Sep 29, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
    In the Pacific, there were also fewer targets late-war than mid-war when the Japanes fleet was much more active. Along about May - Jun 1945, there were hardly any Japanese targets left for the dive bombers, even had they been aloft and looking for them at just the right time and place. Finding a target for a Helldiver pilot after mid-1944 was a different task from finding one in 1942.

    Very similar to the ETO. When the war there started, the Germans could roam about seeking targets of opportunity everywhere on all fronts. In 1945, there were thousands of Allied fighters roaming about in packs of 4 - 16 or more just looking for anthing that moved and few German units that had full contingents staffed with experienced pilots and a full allotment of flyable aircraft. Along about April 1945 or so there were almost no German planes aloft and many thousand just flying about looking for those that were flying.

    So finding a target for a German pilot was an entirely different thing in 1945 than it was in 1939 - 1942.
     
  6. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2008
    Messages:
    7,903
    Likes Received:
    639
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Long Island, New York
    Interesting question...
     
  7. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,236
    Likes Received:
    411
    Trophy Points:
    83
    May seem obvious but the carriers were the easiest to take out with bombs wernt they? As targets got smaller they are harder to hit and in the case of a fighting ship much harder to seriously damage.
     
  8. Balljoint

    Balljoint Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2012
    Messages:
    325
    Likes Received:
    16
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Occupation:
    Manager
    Location:
    Boulder, CO
    An interesting question but I don’t think the USN pilots or equipment are to be questioned. After Coral Sea and Midway it was often land based aircraft (Betty bombers) and night navel battles. When the IJN recovered somewhat they again sought the decisive battle. The link suggests that the USN did OK in the task they were face with.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Philippine_Sea
     
  9. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2009
    Messages:
    6,418
    Likes Received:
    64
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    Luftwaffe could if they had plenty of CAS aircraft. However that wasn't the case during 1939 and 1940. German dive bomber (Ju-87 and Ju-88) numbers were tiny during September 1939.
     
  10. Bluebats_499

    Bluebats_499 New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2015
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    #10 Bluebats_499, Sep 30, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2015
    My take on the quality of the USN dive bomber pilots at the beginning of the war was that they were mostly average. The IJN consistantly put more bombs on target per a similar number of planes.

    Look at how many scored on the Yorktown as compared to what the USN did on the four carriers. Its in Shattered Sword.

    I go by the theory thogh that its far better to have huge numbers of average pilots knowing that some of them will turn out great. Than to have a few excellent pilots with not much behind them.
     
  11. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2003
    Messages:
    5,906
    Likes Received:
    853
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    Electrical Engineer, Aircraft Restoration
    Location:
    Rancho Cucamonga, California, U.S.A.
    #11 GregP, Sep 30, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2015
    Regarding post #9, Dave ... I wasn't thinking of Ju-87s and Ju-88s, I was thinking of Bf 109s. They could hit anywhere, anytime early on. Later, they were the hunted and had to run for cover when confronted with mass enemies. The Ju-87 is interesting as it was probably one of the better dive bombers of the war in the presence of local air superiority. Without that, it was a sitting duck.

    Over the Pacific, it was tough to find another aircraft or target and, when you did, it might even be a flying boat. There were very FEW targets and local air superiority might or might not be needed. The Aichi D3A Val was probably the best dive bomber of the war if you go by ships sunk or percent of targets hit ... the Vals were VERY good at hitting what they attacked, but simply had many fewer targets to attack since the USA was concentrating on the ETO and was more or less in a holding pattern in the Pacific until the ETO was wrapped up.

    I agree that the US dive bomber pilots were trained better on the whole late war, but the main issue was lack of targets in the late war timeframe. Thye Japanese Navy simply didn't sortie much after losing 4 carriers in one battle. When they did, they got found and hit hard. They even lost the Yamamoto before it got to get into a major Naval battle and her carrier sistership Shinano before it got to fight, too ... sunk enroute to fit out 10 days after commisioning. For the Japanese, it was a real slap that they could spend so much time and effort and lose a capital ship before she even got to fight. They were beten before Hiroshima, but just wouldn't recognize it. The entire Pacific war was about raw material and they were out of it at the end of the war. Tough to fight when there isn't enough material to fight with.

    The Germans found that out in April 1945, too.
     
  12. Koopernic

    Koopernic Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2013
    Messages:
    638
    Likes Received:
    74
    Trophy Points:
    28
    If their accuracy improved a factor may have been greater experience, better training, skill; essentially better drills. More likely it was better bomb sights, radar altimeters and automatic pull-up devices.
     
  13. dogsbody

    dogsbody Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2010
    Messages:
    84
    Likes Received:
    12
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Occupation:
    Shift Slave
    Location:
    Northern Alberta, Canada
    Would the fact that in '42 the USN was still on the defensive and was only just getting resources moved into the Pacific make a difference? By '45, The USN was the attacker with huge resources at hand and the IJN was reeling in defence.


    Chris
     
  14. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2003
    Messages:
    5,906
    Likes Received:
    853
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Occupation:
    Electrical Engineer, Aircraft Restoration
    Location:
    Rancho Cucamonga, California, U.S.A.
    If it hasn't been said quite this way, we fought a holding action in the Pacific and gave priority to the ETO until that front was won. THEN we moved the best of the resrouces into the Pacific to finish that front. We didn't divide things equally while the ETO war was in any doubt at all.

    That stragety might not have been available had the Pacific been largely land mass, but since it was 99.9% ocean, we could afford to fortify a few points and fight when necessary, and harass them the rest of the time until Europe could be decided.

    I don't believe the USA had many dive bombers in the ETO early-on. I think the vast majority of dive bomber pilots were in SBDs in the Navy in the Pacific. They had rather normal trunover, but I think the SBDs and Helldivers never did wander too far from the Pacific for long. The ETO might had had a few, but the majority were on carriers in the PTO as faar as I know. The only real deployment of dive-bombers to the ETIO was the A-36 Apache and, while it was a good dive bomber, it didn't make a great big dent anywhere, mostly due to employment issues. They were solid and were good low-to-medium altitude fighters. Most had their dive brakes wired shut eventually and were not used for dive bombing purposes after that. It didn't arrive until April 1943 and had a very high accident rate in training, and was restricted to a 70° dive in operational use. They produce one ace.

    After the Battle of the Phillippine Sea in 1944, the Japanese Navy was never really able to sortie dive bombers (D3A Vals or D4Y Judys) from carriers in numbers again.

    So we faced a LOT of dive bombers (mostly Aichi D3As) in the PTO at first, declining after Midway, and virtually stopping after the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The question of our drop in successes seems almost directly tied to the size of the Japanese Navy task forces. As they got smaller and fewer, so did our successes. I'm not sure that relates in any way to our pilots or planes. If they had use modern Exocet missiles, they still would have had few succesees due to having few things to shoot at. WE DID sink the Yamato with mostly bombers and torpedo bombers. Her virtual sister ship, the Shinano, was converted to a carrier and the aviators subcontracted her sinking out to a submarine ... the USS Archerfish ... good job, bubbleheads!
     
  15. Conslaw

    Conslaw Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2009
    Messages:
    138
    Likes Received:
    10
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Occupation:
    Lawyer
    Location:
    Indianapolis, Indiana USA
    I think some of the posters might have misunderstood my premise. I'm not talking about a comparison between the Japanese and the American dive bomber pilots, I'm talking about the early American dive bomber pilots versus those later in the war. The comparison between early and late Japanese pilots is stark. The Japanese pilots who trained pre-war were fantastic. Those that got through to the Yorktown at Midway had a great hit rate. American pilots from the Yorktown and Enterprise had an excellent hit rate as well. In 1943-1944, the US had the luxury of a lull-period in terms of carrier deployment. During this time lots of new air groups were trained for lots of new carriers. In theory, they were also trained with the benefit of experience from the 1942 carrier battles. Come mid-1944, the Navy would have had a core group of pilots experienced from 1942 combined with newer pilots with state-of-the art training and experience from the Gilberts, the Truk raid, and the Marshalls campaign. When they finally got their crack at the Japanese fleet in the Marianas battle, 26 SBD Dauntlesses combined with 51 SB2C Helldivers as well as 54 Avengers - most carrying bombs instead of torpedoes and 95 Hellcats, some of which also carried bombs. In that attack, they got 1 bomb hit on 2 carriers, 2 bomb hits on 2 other carriers, and a bomb hit on a Battleship. Unfortunately, I don't have any numbers on how many of the hits are from the dive bombers versus the other attack aircraft, but still, even if the divebombers got all the hits, that's just a 10 hit rate.
     
  16. Balljoint

    Balljoint Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2012
    Messages:
    325
    Likes Received:
    16
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Occupation:
    Manager
    Location:
    Boulder, CO
    A significant difference between Midway and the Philippine Sea encounters is the IJN’s ability to keep their fleet at the limit of the USN’s air attack range. The IJN’s planes had longer range capabilities and with submarine scouting were able to keep track of the US fleet. The one somewhat successful US air strike against the IJN fleet at the Philippine Sea battle ended with many USN planes in the drink. Still, though the IJN carriers survived they were without planes and aircrew, and thus essentially useless.

    It’s possible that the TBFs were used more as level bombers since this is less risky and they were relatively successful.

    Other than submarines and the Taffy battle, I can’t think of an IJN threat during the later war (corrections invited).
     
  17. Conslaw

    Conslaw Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2009
    Messages:
    138
    Likes Received:
    10
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Occupation:
    Lawyer
    Location:
    Indianapolis, Indiana USA
    If someone has access to Clash of the Carriers or some other detailed source where it shows the breakdown in hits between the various squadrons and types of planes at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, please post. If I recall correctly, the SBD units did disproportionately well compared to the SB2C units, and a greater proportion of the SBD's made it back to their carriers even though on paper the SB2C had greater range.
     
  18. Balljoint

    Balljoint Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2012
    Messages:
    325
    Likes Received:
    16
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Occupation:
    Manager
    Location:
    Boulder, CO
    Not CLASH but a pretty good discussion. Also, a good explanation of the decline of dive bombing effectiveness/use.

    Curtiss SB2C Helldiver: The Last Dive Bomber
     
    • Like Like x 1
  19. IdahoRenegade

    IdahoRenegade Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2015
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Occupation:
    Mechanical Engineer
    Location:
    Sagle, Idaho
    IMO, the US Navy got very, very lucky at Midway. In spite of breaking Japan's naval codes, and in spite of locating their carrier task force first, our attacks could only be described as uncoordinated and clumsy. IIRC, few, if any, fighters found the Japanese carriers on the first strike. Our torpedo bombers located them first, and were forced to attack alone, instead of in a coordinated attack with dive bombers and fighter cover. In such an environment, flying straight and level at slow speed, they were sitting ducks for Zeros. Our TB crews were slaughtered. In doing so, the Japanese CAP left their high cover positions to attack the TBs. Which worked to the great advantage of the Dauntless crews. IIRC our dive bomber pilots initially missed the carrier air group, finally sighting a single destroyer racing to catch the fleet. They headed in the same direction and came across the carriers. The decks were loaded with planes being rearmed and refueled, with spare weapons (from rearming from bombs to torpedos) scattered across the decks. Even more, the CAP was down on the deck (after killing our TBs) and were low on fuel and ammo. Our Dauntless pilots dove on what was a largely undefended carrier force.

    The other item is in mid-42, no one in any navy knew just how dangerous air power would really be to a fleet. Anti-aircraft defenses were in their infancy. Many ships carried few AA weapons, crews weren't well trained, and weapon systems weren't coordinated. That situation changed quickly later in the war, as more and more AA weapons were added, more and better centralized spotting and direction systems were developed, and as these systems were integrated with radar. All these factors made the job of the dive bomber pilot much more risky later in the war.
     
  20. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2007
    Messages:
    3,734
    Likes Received:
    65
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Location:
    Helsinki
    That's true for SBDs from Hornet and Entenprise but Yorktown's SBDs flew straight to the position of the Japanese CVs
     
Loading...

Share This Page