Eric Brown's "Duels in the Sky"

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by GregP, May 23, 2012.

  1. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    I re-read Eric Brown’s “Duels in the Sky” and found the end to not be what has been posted in the past in several forums, includign this one. I confess I merely perused it before and never read the final chapter … to my loss.

    At the end of the book he picks the greatest single fighters of WW II to be:

    1. Supermarine Spitfire and Fw 190 as tied for first place.
    2. Grumman Hellcat. My personal pick as top or very near the top.
    3. North American Mustang IV.
    4. Mitsubishi Zeke.
    5. Hawker Tempest V.
    6. Kawanishi George 21.

    He takes into account the basic quality of design, development potential, combat success rate, and the aircraft’s influence on the conduct and outcome of various operations. In the Pacific, the Hellcat almost single-handedly turned defeat into victory. The Mustang, though technically superior, never made such an impact in any theater of operations.

    He picks the greatest Naval fighters of WW II to be:

    1. Grumman Hellcat.
    2. Mitsubishi Zeke.
    3. Grumman Wildcat.
    4. Chance Vought Corsair: Rejected for carrier use at first, it was powerful in the air but never as fit as the Hellcat for carrier duty. A dog on the carrier deck. The rate of climb was never very good in early models and was overstated in later models.
    5. Hawker Sea Hurricane.
    6. Supermarine Seafire: Short range and very poor deck handling that probably resulted in more operational losses than combat successes.

    He picks the most effective dive bomber to be:

    1. Junkers Ju 87.
    2. Douglas Dauntless and Aichi Val as tied for second place.
    3. Blackburn Skua.
    4. Curtiss Helldiver.

    He picks the best torpedo bomber of WW II to be:

    1. Fairey Swordfish.
    2. Grumman Avenger.
    3. Nakajima Kate.
    4. Nakajima Jill.

    He says the Swordfish was in action sooner than the Avenger, obtained better torpedo results, and suffered fewer losses. Of course, the “fewer losses” part could easily be due to the fact that the Avenger was used much more in a more hostile sky, but these were Eric’s picks.

    I’d reverse #1 and #2, not for nationalism but more for performance. The Swordfish was good but obsolete. The Avenger was more modern but suffered from vulnerability due to 3 crew, its payload, and low speed versus a single-seat fighter. The Swordfish was worse in this regard, but the Japanese carriers were MUCH more present than were German carriers … as Germany never had one. If they had, the Swordfish would have died quickly or, at the very least, would have suffered losses similar to or greater than the Avengers since they were largely shot down by carrier fighters out of land-based fighter range. The Swordfish lived due to German inability to field a carrier force. Just my opinion.

    Any comments? I respect Eric Brown a lot, but do not necessarily agree with his every choice. Still, he DID fly the aircraft in question and I did not. Makes me want to side with Eric regardless of my own feelings ... mostly ...
     
  2. Tante Ju

    Tante Ju Banned

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    I agree about the Swordfish. If we talk about the best plane, the plane's qualities should be looked at, not operational record, which is effected by mostly other factor than plane quality. Otherwise Brewster Buffalo is best fighter of WW2, because of Finn success...

    The Swordfish was well obsolate by WW2, it was against this that success happened, credit to crews and generic lack of opposition, and often, luck. When fighters were around they suffered bad, like during Channel Dash.
     
  3. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    #3 Juha, May 23, 2012
    Last edited: May 23, 2012
    Hello
    IMHO Brown's background as a naval pilot always has some influence to his comments, he tended to put great weight to t/o and landing characteristics.

    On Swordfish, I agree with You but one must remember, that much of Swordfish actions were in MTO, where land based fighters were a danger. FAA circumvented that by widespread use of night attacks, it had developed effective night attack tactics in pre-war years and Swordfish suited well to these tactics.

    I'd also say that SB2C was better than Brown's evaluation reveals,probably because he only flew an early version a/c, later versions, from late -3 onwards, were much better dive-bombers, so IMHO late Beasts were at least better than Skua.

    Juha
     
  4. MikeGazdik

    MikeGazdik Member

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    I have long thought that the Hellcat is always overlooked as possibly one of the very best. It is a perfect example of "stats" not telling the whole story. When you compare its performance on paper, it seems you can always find something that was faster, or better armed, or better range or whatever. But it fought better than it would suggest on paper. I cannot really think of reading an objective pilot report that damned its flight performance.

    That it ranked as the best Naval aircraft was not a surprise when I read the book years ago. That it rated so highly in the "best fighter" was surprising when I first read his book. I at first had doubts, but time has erased most of those really.

    That being said, I do think that a large reason it out paced all other fighters in the Pacific with the amount of victories it had is largely due to the fact it was there. It was where the enemy was and it excelled. IF another one of the top allied fighters had been afforded the same opportunities, that nameless aircraft may very well have succeeded to the same degree.
     
  5. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    I had a long exchange with Brown in the 80's over his ranking, particularly regarding his ranking of the Mustang and the Hellcat... and Me 109

    My points (after he wrote the book), which he conceeded, is that he could not properly place the Hellcat as The majorTheatre winner over the F4U or the P-38 in the Pacific. He Could properly state that the F6F was the most important for Naval Operations.

    The Hellcat started ops at the same time as the Merlin Mustang, the P-51B was in a much tougher threat environment - flak, aircraft and pilots, in the highest priority theatre for the Allies.

    The Mustang destroyed more aircraft in the air than the second ranking F6F -and when you consider the effect of 'in the air and on the ground' directive from Doolittle, the strafing credits placed the P-51 at the very top of enemy aircraft destroyed for the Allies -

    While little thought has been given to ground destruction, consider: The LuftWaffe NEVER were fully equipped to the authorized levels for the TO&E in 1944 despite ramping production of aircraft by more than 2x over 1943 levels. An equal impact to the restriction of the 'on-hand' strength at Staffel/Gruppe level has to be assigned to strafing losses.

    Further, there was no other aircraft (fighter aircraft) that had more of an impact (positive) on USAAF daylight bombing operations in ETO, as well as wresting control of the air from Germany, than the P-51B. To even separate the Mustang IV (which had very little 'impact') from the P-51D and P-51B was 'curious'. I pointed out to him (and he was surprised about these facts) that the P-51B in five months through May 30 killed more LW aircraft and pilots/crews than All the P-47s for All their sorties in the ETO from April 43 to May 30, 1944 - in the air and nearly the same amount on the ground. I did agree that the P-51D was a slightly better aircraft than the B, primarily for visibility and firepower, at a slight expense to manuevrability.

    The other factors I pointed out included

    1.) Neither the Spitfire nor the FW 190 ever 'controlled anything' over the enemy's territory, the F6F had no range, speed, firepower, acceleration, roll or even rate of climb in the later models - over the F4U. Neither the Spifire nor the FW 190 (nor the P-47 or Tempest) impacted their adversaries over the Homeland. The P38 and Zeke were close and the late model P-47 equalled the footprint after Germany surrendered.

    2.) The P-51B was the single most important fighter for the Allies during the most critical phase of the war - namely the preparation for the Invasion and defeat of German forces in the West by winning control of the air over Germany and carving the heart of German reserves (LuftFlotte Reich) for the Invasion. (AFAIK there were zero P-51D kills before D-Day)... The Yak 3, Laag 7, P-38, Spitfire, Tempest, P-47, etc did not have the same impact. The only aircraft that had close to that distinction in my mind was the Hurricane during the BoB (pre "Allies") but even that was a one-two punch with the Spitfire.

    My perception of Brown was a.) sharp, b.) biased toward Naval ops, c.) picking aircraft (Spit/FW 190 that were, and remained, in constant conflict far longer than any of the other aircraft in his top list - to which he lent great weight for his ranking.
     
  6. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

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    i was going to take exception to the comment "The Mustang, though technically superior, never made such an impact in any theater of operations." but drgondog said it way better than i could have...
     
  7. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    #7 davparlr, May 23, 2012
    Last edited: May 23, 2012
    The 1944 joint fighter conference rated the tested aircraft as follows

    Best above 25,000 ft.
    P-47
    P-51
    F4U-1
    F6F
    F4U-4 (There was limited test on this aircraft)
    Seafire
    P-38

    Best below 25,000 ft.
    F8F
    P-51
    F4U-1
    F7F
    F6F

    Typically these were flown by opposite military and contactors, i.e., F6F was flown mostly by AAF and contractors and P-51 by Navy and contractors. They didn't seem to rate the F6F particularly high.

    I would weight this report pretty high considering the numbers that participated in the evaluation.
     
  8. jim

    jim Banned

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    So P51 was the best because of his performance in Spring 44?
    The fact that all circumstances were in its favor means nothing?
    a) It escorted a massive ,unique in aviation history ,bomber force that attracted the attention of the defenders
    b) Faced an exausted ,overdeployed , hugely outnumbered enemy ,who faced fuel and raw materials limitations.
    c) An enemy that in the same theater faced P38s, P47s, Spits,Typhonns etc.
    d) That period by coincidence was at the same time that german fighters were less competitive during the entire war
    e) the levels of gruppe strength were low because of bombing losses and lack of fighter pilots replacements. Not because of strafing
    f) The total alleid victory in ULTRA operation gave additional advantage to alleid units
    g) It was produced by a raech, industry , unbothered by the enemy, allowing exceptional construction quality
    h) Superior fuel unavailable to the enemy.
    k)Nothing would have been diferent in spring 44 without the existence of P51s .Siply the american would have solved sooner the problems of P38, and long range versions of P47 and Spit would have been produced sooner, true with greater cost
    About the other aircrafts
    FW 190 could not dominate over England .True .There were 2 german fighter wings against thousands enemy fighters. Clear Fw190 short coming .However if war conditions were diferent could fly missions with 2 or even 3 external tanks. As for the Spitfire ,according to Parsifal, you are wrong! He dominated luftwaffe in 41/42/43 over France! Ask him, he has nentioned this on several posts! Who is wright?
    P51,without its numerical superiority and height advantage because of the bomber presence , could be outfought by late Spitfires,Tempests,Yak 3s,post spring 44 109s and 190s, F4U,. True its package of exceptional range , high speed in horizontal flight, good communication equipment was very valuable. So third place given by Brown sounds reasonable. Spitfire is far the most important and generaly more capable fighter of WW2 and second place in my opinion goes to 109. Last years 190 has lost points in my opinion.
    Brown judged the aircrafts flying them on equal conditions, without operational advantages and disadvantages created by the general war situations . Thats the proper way to judge them, historical results while indicative, may be misleading as in P51s case.
     
  9. Hop

    Hop Member

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    Half of all US strafing credits in the ETO came in a single month, April 1945. These were aircraft being abandoned on their airfields by a Luftwaffe that barely functioned.

    Spitfires didn't control anything over Germany in 1944/45? The number of sorties, the tiny number of interceptions by the Luftwaffe suggest otherwise.

    The first half of 1944 was the most critical phase of the war? I don't think many outside the US would agree.

    I know the Mustang has the reputation in the US as the aircraft that "turned the tide", but the truth is the tide turned in 1942. By 1943 the outcome was no longer in doubt. By 1944 it was just a question of whether or not the war truly would be over by Christmas.

    The most critical phase of the war was in 1940 or 1941, possibly even 1942. But the Mustang certainly played no part in it.

    Of those aircraft, only the Spitfire was involved in action in the decisive phase of the war. By the time the others scored their first kills the ultimate result was beyond doubt.
     
  10. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

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    when did the LW lose all its pilots? i keep hearing this over and over and i am trying to pin point just when it happened. in nov 43 they were experienced enough and had the strength and resources to batter the 8th bomber groups to the point where daylight bombing was halted. i never hear one complaint about lack of anything up to this point. between then and spring of 44 how did they lose that much strength? how? because long range escort were able to meet the LW on its home turf and all of its turf. prior to that the LW could dictate the engagement. if they didnt wish to engage they headed back to germany where the allied planes couldnt touch them. once the 51 came on the scene that safe haven and option was removed. there was no place to run and no place to hide. daylight bombing was only able to resume because of the long range 51s...where before the LW had pushed the allied out of the daylight the allies pushed back...i would pretty much call that turning the tide. in the beginning escorts were glued to the boxes so the LW could then again disengage and go home to relative safety. once doolittle gave the ok to have part of the group leave the bombers and go hunting the loses for the LW compounded. the straffing began and planes on the ground were taken...and the loses to the 51 groups as well. they lost a hefty amount of pilots to flak. haydon got nowotny but the flak got haydon. and that is a typical example of where the reiches planes and aces were lost. yeah at the end of the war they were shooting up everything they could see but the LW had taken heavy losses on the ground prior to that. it just amazes me how there are no complaints about anything until you mention the 51...then its no plane, pilots, fuel,and outnumbered. the VSS out numbered the LW ( iirc by double or more ) at the beginning of the invasion but no complant is ever uttered about that either.
     
  11. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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    I have nothing but respect for Eric Brown, but I do have some issues with his rankings. I too feel his rankings are based off of a nationalist and naval bias.

    As much as I love the Spitfire and Fw 190 more than the P-51, I find it really hard to rank them above the P-51. Lets face it, it probably had the biggest impact on the ETO. It was the fighter that was able to take the fight to the Germans. The Spitfire certainly was not able to do that. How can anyone argue with that? Don't take me wrong. I don't think the P-51 was an "Ueber Fighter" like some people tend to believe (Just like some people think that anything with a black cross on it was "Ueber" than anything ever built. I find it overrated in that sense because so many people forget about the other fighters that contributed to the war.) It is just really hard to argue that any fighter made more of an impact. The P-51 was good to great in every category and could take the fight to the Germans. Period...

    On the other hand however, I did not fly these aircraft. Brown did, so my hat is off to him. He certainly knows more than I do. :salute:
     
  12. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    While winter 43/44 was important for air situation, war had became unwinable for Germany in late summer/early Autumn 42, when it began to look that the 42 Summer Offensive would not gain the oil fields of Baku and SU would not been knocked out of war in 42 and that Japanese onslaught in Asia was running out of steam.

    And on complains, DAK from Rommel downwards was complaining loudly on Allied air attacks on it at least from late summer 42 and also on inability of LW, KM and the Italian Navy to protect its supply lines to Europe, KM complained lack of air support in Channel and in Bay of Biscay. Heer thought that during the 2nd week of Operation Zitadelle VVS was gaining upper hand over the battlefield. Saying nothing on situation over Sicily and Italy in later part of 43. That all before P-51B arrived. P-51 clearly made things easier to Allied but it did not change the outcome.

    Juha
     
  13. Hop

    Hop Member

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    Between 1 September 1939 and 8 May 1945.

    If you look at fighter losses, the Luftwaffe lost 80% of their front line strength May - December 1940.

    They 46% in the first half of 1941, 63% in the second half of the year.

    In the first half of 1942 they lost 54%, in the second half 83%

    In 1943 losses were 164% in the first half of the year, 175% in the second half.

    In 1944 250% in the first half, I don't have numbers for the second half, but they were even higher.

    Defeating unescorted bombers wasn't that difficult.

    The truth is the Luftwaffe suffered a decline in quality as the war went on. Losses in 1940 were largely amongst the highly trained pre war pilots. By 1943 losses were largely amongst the hastily trained replacements.

    From Strategy for Defeat by Williamson Murray:

    You think Goering and Hitler would let their air force sit idly by whilst the German army did all the fighting? The truth is the Luftwaffe suffered heavy losses on offensive and defensive operations, from the start of the war to the end. As the strength of the allies increased Luftwaffe losses soared.

    The Mustang certainly turned the tide for the 8th AF bomber campaign. But the tide of war had turned long before.
     
  14. Hop

    Hop Member

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    Until the end of 1943 the Spitfire was unquestionably more important to the allies.

    For the first 5 months of 1944 the P-51 was unquestionably more important than the Spitfire.

    For the last 7 months of 1944, and the first 4 of 1945, the Spitfire and P-51 were both important.

    Only if you take those first 5 months of 1944 as the most important part of the war can you argue the Mustang was the most important fighter. I know there's a tendency to do that in the US. The US contribution in the ETO only really got off the ground in the summer of 1943, and things didn't go well until the Mustang came along at the start of 1944. So from the US point of view the Mustang was all important. But there was so much more to the war against Germany than the US bombing offensive. Indeed, the Germans already knew the war was lost before the USAAF started bombing Germany in earnest.
     
  15. TheMustangRider

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    Let's take into account that it was the 8th AF strategic bombing campaign over much of Nazi-occupied Europe and Nazi Germany itself that achieved the air superiority necessary for a cross-channel invasion.
    No long-range fighters, no air superiority; no air superiority, a doubtful cross-channel invasion; no invasion at all, a very different outcome of the war in Europe.
     
  16. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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    Where did I say anything to the contrary? Don't put words in my mouth. I did not say the US was the sole reason the war was won, nor do I believe that...
     
  17. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    #17 drgondog, May 23, 2012
    Last edited: May 24, 2012
    I have utmost respect for Brown - I publically posted my dialogue and disagreement fro the reasons stated. I also respect your views even when I disagree.
     
  18. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    #18 nuuumannn, May 23, 2012
    Last edited: May 23, 2012
    Another factor in favour of the Mustang was that it was available in huge numbers and although that might not have any bearing in such a poll, it certainly made a difference during the war.

    This is what Max Hastings wrote about the P-51 (although the latter part is less specific about Allied aircraft types) in his book Overlord, about, well, "Overlord";

    "by one of the most extraordinary paradoxes of the war, the bombing of the factories achieved only limited impact upon German aircraft production; but the coming of the marvellous P-51 Mustang long range fighter over the skies of Germany inflicted an irreverseable defeat upon the Luftwaffe, unquestionably decisive for Overlord. In January 1944 the Germans lost 1,311 aircraft from all causes. This figure rose to 2,121 in February and 2,115 in March. Even more disastrous than lost fighters, the Luftwaffe's trained pilots were being killed far more quickly than they could be replaced, with the direction of the air force in the enfeebled hands of Goering. By March the Americans were conciously attacking targets with the purpose of forcing the Germans to defend them. By June, the Germans no longer possessed sufficient pilots and aircraft to mount more than token resistance to the Allied invasion of France."

    Have to agree about the Swordfish and although it was most certainly obsolete, as a weapon it did bloody well in the hands of some rather courageous individuals. Perhaps that's why there is so much respect for it in certain circles.
     
  19. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Clearly the Spitfire was of negligible importance at Stalingrad, or at Midway. It was of significance in the MTO over the battlefield and on medium bomber escort to RAF and USAAF MTO during 1942 through mid 1944. It had zero influence in the destruction of Ploesti, or other crital targets in Austria, Czechoslovakia when the 15th AF came into existence. It was of negligible importance against Japan.

    It was a great airplane and I didn't quibble with Brown's position of the Spit, had some problems ranking the Fw 190 above the Mustang (or the 109) and had a problem with ranking the Hellcat over either the Mustang or the Me 109.
     
  20. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    I think the main problem with Brown is he disagrees with ME and he doesnt put MY favourite aircraft at number 1. When I say me and my I mean every armchair expert who is currently on this site. We werent there, we didnt fly the aircraft mores the pity but for some reason a man who flew more aircraft than most us have air miles is wrong with his personal opinion. It is a book of personal recollections taken from his contemporaneous notes, he never tried to say it was anything other than that but for some reason he gets more hate than any other figure in aviation history. Till the invention of the time machine when some flight sim experts can go back and refight history we have to respect the opinion of the people who were there. Get 10 veterans in a room get them talking and within minutes you will have 20 different opinions on the best plane of WWII.

    So for all those who seem to take great pleasure in attacking Brown and denigrating his experiences and personal opinions, I say come back when you have flown every single plane he did and then I might give you the time of day.

    Till then you aint fit to polish his shoes.
     
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