Myth of Combat Aircraft destroying tanks

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by critical thinking, Dec 23, 2010.

  1. critical thinking

    critical thinking New Member

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    #1 critical thinking, Dec 23, 2010
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2010
    They've said the first victim of the war is the truth.

    Modern literature on WWII is replete with accounts of devastating air strikes on tank units. There are many stories about dozens or even hundreds of enemy tanks being destroyed in a single day, thereby destroying or blunting an enemy armoured offensive. These accounts are particularly common in literature relating to later war ground attack aircraft, most commonly the Soviet Ilyushin II, the British Hawker Typhoon, the American Republic P-47, and the German Henschel Hs 129. All these aircraft have the distinction of being called ‘tank-busters’ and all have the reputation for being able to easily destroy any type of tank in WWII.

    Now what's the truth?

    Case 1 - Normandy

    During Operation Goodwood (18th to 21st July) the 2nd Tactical Air Force and 9th USAAF claimed 257 and 134 tanks, respectively, as destroyed. Of these, 222 were claimed by Typhoon pilots using RPs (Rocket Projectiles).

    During the German counterattack at Mortain (7th to 10th August) the 2nd Tactical Air Force and 9th USAAF claimed to have destroyed 140 and 112 tanks, respectively.

    Unfortunately for air force pilots, there is a small unit usually entitled Research and Analysis which enters a combat area once it is secured. This is and was common in most armies, and the British Army was no different. The job of The Office of Research and Analysis was to look at the results of the tactics and weapons employed during the battle in order to determine their effectiveness (with the objective of improving future tactics and weapons).

    They found that the air force’s claims did not match the reality at all. In the Goodwood area a total of 456 German heavily armoured vehicles were counted, and 301 were examined in detail. They found only 10 could be attributed to Typhoons using RPs (less than 3% of those claimed). Even worse, only 3 out of 87 APC examined could be attributed to air lunched RPs. The story at Mortain was even worse. It turns out that only 177 German tanks and assault guns participated in the attack, which is 75 less tanks than claimed as destroyed! Of these 177 tanks, 46 were lost and only 9 were lost to aircraft attack. This is again around 4% of those claimed. When the results of the various Normandy operations are compiled, it turns out that no more than 100 German tanks were lost in the entire campaign from hits by aircraft launched ordnance.

    Case 2 - Kursk

    Luftwaffe

    In July 1943 the German Citadel Offensive (battle of Kursk) was supported by several types of apparently highly effective ground attack aircraft, two of which were specialist tank killing machines. The first was the Henschel 129B-1/2. Made in modest numbers (only 870 of all types) it was specifically designed for the anti-tank and close support mission. The second was the Ju87G-1, armed with two 37mm cannon also specifically designed to kill armour. These aircraft, along with Fw-190Fs, were first employed en masse in the Schlachtgeschwader units supporting Operation Citadel.

    They are credited with ‘wreaking havoc amongst Soviet armour’ and the destruction of hundreds of Soviet tanks in this battle. On 8th July 1941, Hs 129s are credited with destroying 50
    T-34s in the 2nd Guards Tank Corps in less than an hour. There is some evidence that 2nd Guards Tank Corps took heavy casualties on 8th July, but 50 tanks appears to exceed their total losses form all causes.

    In fact total Soviet tank losses in operation Citadel amounted to 1 614 tanks totally destroyed, the vast majority to German tanks and assault guns. Further detailed research has shown air power only accounted for 2-5% of Soviet tanks destroyed in the battle of Kursk.(24) This equates to at most around 80 tanks. Again, even if this is a low estimate, where are the hundreds of tanks destroyed by German ground attack aircraft?

    Soviet Air Force

    On 7th July 1943, in one 20 minute period it has been claimed IL-2s destroyed 70 tanks of the 9th Panzer Division.
    It actually turns out that close to the start of the battle on 1st July 1943, 9th Panzer Division had only one tank battalion present (the II./Pz Regt 33) with only 83 tanks and assault guns of all types in the Division. 9th Panzer Division doesn’t record any such loss in July (it registers an air-attack referred to as heavy strafing), and 9th Panzer Division continued in action for over three months after this so called ‘devastating attack’, with most of its initial tanks still intact.
    During the battle of Kursk, the VVS IL-2s claimed the destruction of no less than 270 tanks (and 2 000 men) in a period of just two hours against the 3rd Panzer Division.
    On 1st July the 3rd Panzer Division’s 6th Panzer Regiment had only 90 tanks, 180 less than claimed as destroyed! On 11th July (well after the battle) the 3rd Panzer Division still had 41 operational tanks. 3rd Panzer Division continued fighting throughout July, mostly with 48th Panzer Corps. It did not record any extraordinary losses to air attack throughout this period. As with the other panzer divisions at Kursk, the large majority of 3rd Panzer Division’s tank losses were due to dug in Soviet AT guns and tanks.
    Perhaps the most extraordinary claim by the VVS’s IL-2s, is that over a period of 4 hours they destroyed 240 tanks and in the process virtually wiped out the 17th Panzer Division.
    On 1st July the 17th Panzer Division had only one tank battalion (the II./Pz Rgt 39) with a grand total of only 67 tanks. This time only 173 less than claimed destroyed by the VVS! The 17th Panzer Division was not even in the main attack sector for the Kursk battle, but further south with 1st Panzer Army’s 24th Panzer Corps. The 17th Panzer did not register any abnormal losses due to aircraft in the summer of 1943, and retreated westwards with Army Group South later in the year still intact.
    In fact total German tank losses in Operation Citadel amounted to 1 612 tanks and assault guns damaged and 323 totally destroyed, the vast majority to Soviet AT guns and AFVs. Where are the many hundreds destroyed by IL-2’s? It appears the RAF and VVS vied for the title for ‘most tank kill over-claims in WWII’.

    In addition it is difficult to find any first hand accounts by German Panzer crews on the Eastern Front describing anything more than the occasional loss to direct air attack. The vast majority, around 95%, of tank losses are due to enemy AT guns, tanks, mines, artillery, and infantry assault, or simply abandoned as operational losses. Total German fully tracked AFV losses on the East Front from 1941 to 1945 amounted to approximately 32 800 AFVs. At most 7% were destroyed by direct air attack, which amounts to approximately 2 300 German fully tracked AFV lost to direct air attack, a portion of which would be lost to other aircraft types such as the Petlyakov Pe-2. From 22nd June 1941 to war's end, 23 600 Il-2 and Il-10 ground attack aircraft were irrecoverably lost. Whatever these aircraft were doing to pay such a high price it wasn’t destroying German tanks. If that was there primary target, then over 10 Il-2s and Il-10s were irrecoverably lost for every German fully tracked AFV that was completely destroyed by direct air attack on the East Front during WWII.

    Source:

    P. Moore, Operation Goodwood, July 1944; A Corridor of Death, Helion Company Ltd, Solihull, UK, 2007,
    N. Zetterling, Normandy 1944, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, Winnipeg, Canada, 2000,
    F. Crosby, The Complete Guide to Fighters and Bombers of WWII, Anness Publishing Ltd: Hermes House, London, 2006, p. 365. Also M. Healy, Kursk 1943, Osprey Military, London, 1993, p. 56.
    D. M. Glantz, J.M. House, The Battle of Kursk, Ian Allan Publishing Ltd, Surrey, UK, 1999, p. 349.
    T. L. Jentz, Panzer Truppen, The Complete Guide to the Creation and Combat Deployment of Germany’s Tank Force: 1943-1945,
    M. Healy, Kursk 1943, Osprey Military, London, 1993, p. 66.
    D. M. Glantz, J.M. House, The Battle of Kursk, Ian Allan Publishing Ltd, Surrey, UK, 1999, p. 276. According to Glantz and House, these are admitted Soviet tanks totally destroyed but the number is probably higher. In addition a similar number were probably recovered as repairable.
    Tank Forces in Defense of the Kursk Bridgehead, Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Volume 7, No 1, March 1994,
     
  2. Astaldo711

    Astaldo711 Member

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    What is your source on this?
     
  3. critical thinking

    critical thinking New Member

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    You saw the source list. You can check them all. But the keypoint is this- about 90-95% of these "tankkillings" were nothing but either pure propaganda or just illusions. Not much differences between russians, germans or western allies.

    Why?


    During WWII, aircraft with unguided weapons were relatively inaccurate. To a lesser extent this is the case even today and there is no comparison with modern combat aircraft with guided weapons. Against soft targets this was not as critical because bombs and rockets deployed by WWII aircraft were area weapons. Even so, small soft targets such as entrenched AT guns were difficult for WWII aircraft to destroy. Small pinpoint targets, like a moving tank, were very hard to hit because tanks required a direct hit with an AT weapon or a near miss with a very large air launched weapon to destroy it. Even much larger moving targets such as ships were difficult to hit by modern standards. This inaccuracy stems from the nature of aircraft and the state of guided weapon technology at that time. In practical terms this meant that for an average fighter-bomber conducting a strafing attack, the tank remained in the gun sight for approximately a 10th of a second! Even if the pilot was to point his aircraft straight at the tank, a difficult and dangerous manoeuvre against a heavily protected target like a tank spearhead, he would have had at most a few seconds to aim his cannon, MGs, rockets or bombs.

    Land based vehicles could carry enough ammunition to sustain approximately an hour of combat, but aircraft could not. Aircraft carried very limited ammunition for their permanently mounted weapons such as cannon, and obviously carried relatively limited numbers of individual air launched weapons i.e. bombs and rockets. This meant they could only attack the target for a very limited time compared to land based weapon systems. Even late in WWII, aircraft only carried sufficient ammunition for 1-4 passes on the target.

    Most aircraft mounted automatic weapons were not designed for sustained fire. Apart from ammunition considerations, these weapons quickly overheated and would likely jam if fired for more than a few seconds at a time. Most often they were fired in shorter bursts suited to air to air combat.

    Aircraft mounted weapons spent much less time in service (i.e. actually exerting their lethality), then ground based weapons due to overall aircraft malfunctions. This is in addition to the weapon’s Reliability Factor (RL), which only considers the inherent reliability of the weapon itself.

    Aircraft were not suited to carry large calibre and high muzzle velocity AT weapons. This was due to the weight of the weapon with more than a few rounds of ammunition and the very severe recoil stresses placed on the airframe. The largest AT weapons placed on WWII aircraft were the 75mm Pak40L guns on the Henschel Hs 129B-3 and the Junkers Ju 88P-1. Neither aircraft was particularly successful with the ‘monster gun’ really proving too much for the airframes. The Hs 129B-1/2 with 30-37mm AT guns was more successful, while Ju 88P remained one of the few unsuccessful developments of the basic Ju 88 design. It is worth mentioning the relatively successful Ju87G-1, armed with two 37mm BK (Flak 18) AT guns. This modification provided the obsolescent Ju 87 with a new lease of life late in WWII. It is interesting to not the Hs 129B-3 carried only four 75mm rounds while the Ju87G-1 carried only 12 37mm rounds. Good examples of the very limited amount of ammunition carried for aircraft mounted weapon, discussed above.

    During WWII, the large majority of aircraft attacking tanks with aircraft mounted weapons used 20mm cannon or simply HMGs. These include aircraft such as the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Typhoon, Hawker Tempest, De Havilland Mosquito, most Ilyushin Il-2s and Il-10s (some had 37mm cannon), Yakovlev Yak-7/9, Petlyakov Pe-2/3bis, Lockheed P38 Lightning, North American P51 Mustang, and the Republic P47 Thunderbolt. The average 20mm cannon with standard ammunition had great difficulty penetrating the 12-15mm top armour on the Pz IV H, and almost no chance against the 16mm top armour on the Panther and the 25mm top armour on the Tiger I, even if they managed to hit them! The reader should also bear in mind that on average the strike angle of cannon shells on the top of AFVs was usually in the region of 30 to 60 degrees, because aircraft could not attack vertically downwards (the Ju 87 Stuka came closest to this ideal attack angle, which also dramatically increases the accuracy of any air launched ordnance). In general 20mm cannon only inflicted superficial damage on even light tanks, with the most severe damage being penetrations through the top engine grill covers and damage to the engines. Unless the battlefield situation dictated that these tanks became operational total losses (eg, abandoned due to retreat), then they were usually quickly repaired and returned to service.

    The lack of a suitable anti-tank armament meant all these aircraft had to rely on much less accurate air launched weapons (i.e. rockets and bombs) to kill late war German tanks. Late war rockets and heavy bombs were capable of destroying a medium tank, but were considerably less accurate than the already inaccurate fire from cannon and MGs. Against a Panther or Tiger tank, nothing short of a direct hit was going to even have a chance of destroying them.

    AFVs and tanks were usually found in forward combat units and ‘spearhead’ attack formations. These units often had light and medium flak units protecting them which consisted of 20-37mm mobile flak guns. Even in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, German panzer divisions had integral light flak units with the panzer regiments. This made tank targets extremely dangerous to attack compared to most other ground targets. In addition, aircraft attacking tanks were required to attack at low level, well in reach of light flak guns. The flak also meant fighter-bombers were less able to fly using a nice straight attack approach, and were often thrown about by exploding flak shells, further reducing their accuracy. Indeed it seems that air attacks on tanks protected by flak were more dangerous to the aircraft than the tanks. The 1 726 fighter-bombers lost from the 2nd Tactical Air Force and the 9th United States Air Force over Normandy in 1944 is testament to how lethal light flak can be.

    Weather and visibility were major considerations for all air operations. This was especially true for aircraft attempting low level attacks against armour without any form of all weather equipment enjoyed by modern day combat aircraft.

    Source:

    N. Zetterling, Normandy 1944, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, Winnipeg, Canada, 2000, p. 38. The vast majority of these aircraft were destroyed by flak, as the Allies enjoyed air supremacy during the Normandy Campaign.
     
  4. critical thinking

    critical thinking New Member

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    Considering the Germans lost around 1 500 tanks, tank destroyers and assault guns in the Normandy campaign, less than 7% were lost directly to air attack. The greatest contributor to the great myth regarding the ability of WWII aircraft to kill tanks was, and still is, directly the result of the pilot’s massively exaggerated kill claims. The Hawker Typhoon with its cannon and up to eight rockets was (and still is in much literature) hailed as the best weapon to stop the German Tiger I tank, and has been credited with destroying dozens of these tanks in the Normandy campaign. According to the most current definitive work only 13 Tiger tanks were destroyed by direct air attack in the entire campaign. Of these, seven Tigers were lost on 18th July 1944 to massive carpet bombing by high altitude heavy bombers, preceding Operation Goodwood. Thus at most only six Tigers were actually destroyed by fighter bombers in the entire campaign. It turns out the best Tiger stopper was easily the British Army’s 17pdr AT gun, with the Typhoon well down on the list. :lol:

    Source:

    N. Zetterling, Normandy 1944, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, Winnipeg, Canada, 2000, p. 83.
    C.W. Wilbeck, Sledgehammers, The Aberjona Press, Bedford, Pennsylvania, 2004, p. 131, table 4.
     
  5. Astaldo711

    Astaldo711 Member

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  6. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Military budget battles don't stop during wartime.

    Aircraft are expensive to purchase and operate. The Allies had 10s of thousands of them by 1944. How does the Army Air Corps justify funding for so many aircraft when the same funding could have purchased other weapons systems or additional shipping?

    You lie about how much damage your aircraft are inflicting on the enemy war effort.
     
  7. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    So in your Nomrmandy example you say that "no more than 100 German tanks were lost in the entire campaign from hits by aircraft launched ordnance" with "the 2nd Tactical Air Force and 9th USAAF claimed 257 and 134 tanks, respectively, as destroyed. Of these, 222 were claimed by Typhoon pilots using RPs." Almost 4 to 1 over claims. Compare that to overclaims in air to air combat during the same period.
     
  8. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Dave, that's just nonsence. These "overclaims" were common in all aspects of operations be air-to-air or air-to-ground and by all sides. During this period funding for aircraft did not have to be justifed by combat results and I challenge you to show any documented record stating otherwise.
     
  9. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    Very interesting and reasonable.

    I suspect the real damage done to the Germans at Normandy by air power was the loss of all the soft and semi-hard targets, including fuel, ammo, troops and support personnel, and general daytime movement. I am sure it is really disconcerting to maneuver forces when there are hordes of aircraft flying overhead trying to drop bombs on you or shoot at you.
     
  10. Bernhart

    Bernhart <b>2012 Forum Fantasy Football Champion</ b>

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    any stats on how the hurricanes with the 40mm did in the desert
     
  11. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    Considering that contracts were often issued/signed 2 years before the aircraft in question saw combat it is a little hard to swallow. In the summer of 1944 funding or appropriations would be being considered for planes that wouldn't fly until 1945 or 46 vrs Army guns/tanks that wouldn't make to Europe until 1945-46. In any case the weapons being used might not be the weapons being funded. Shermans with 75s/76s in use but M-26s being funded?
    For fighters:
    "The initial production version of the Shooting Star, the P-80A, was ordered on April 4, 1944, when a Letter Contract for two batches of 500 aircraft was issued."
    It is going to take quite of bit of "propaganda" to change contracts between the services for next generation weapons when current generation weapons are still in initial stages of use.
    When was the 5" HVAR introduced into service and when was the 5" FFAR finally replaced let alone the 4.5in rockets?
    How do you evaluate what is being used in the field vs what is already in the pipeline vs the "new" model that is being funded NOW.

    There is also more to disrupting armored attacks or movement than just totaling knocked out tanks. How many were damaged and repaired with a few hours work? How many were damaged and fought while damaged ( shattered vision blocks, loss of radio aerials, damaged road wheels or suspensions.) How many hours were needed to regroup a formation and get it moving again after clearing the roads of the vehicles that couldn't move under their own power?
     
  12. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    critical thinking-nice posts. I appreciate your work. On other threads some time back, I remember similar info as yours being posted but nothing as detailed and backed up as yours. Many thanks.
     
  13. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    BINGO!
     
  14. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Interesting posts CriticalThinking. However, one wonders how the various measures of a tank "kill" were accomplished. You'll get no argument from me that aircraft-mounted heavy calibre guns and rocket projectiles were highly problemmatic in operational use but you don't need heavy weapons like those to neutralise a tank. Your posts seem to focus on weapons penetrating a tank's heaviest armour as evidence of an aircraft-inflicted kill but standard 20mm cannon can wreak havoc on tracks and wheels. A mobility kill (M-Kill when I was a lad) will still remove a tank from the fight even though the tank is not fully destroyed (K-Kill).
     
  15. steve51

    steve51 Member

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    critical thinking,

    Excellent posts. One reason for the heavy overclaiming was probably that any disabled vehicle would have been attacked again and again by subsequent ground attack aircraft. I believe that this was found to be the case in Korea, where similar overclaiming occurred.
     
  16. billswagger

    billswagger Member

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    Due to the lack of accuracy and lack of correspondence in a war zone, it would be a risk to hit enemy tanks in the vicinity of friendly assets and so perhaps the idea that aircraft were sent in to hit tanks is a bit out of proportion to the actual tanks involved in a fire fight.
    In other words, it would be far easier to identify an enemy convoy working its way to the front line than identifying tanks in a war zone dispersed amongst troops of both sides, as well as other enemy and friendly assets.

    In such cases the bulk of tank assets also included convoys where such air patrol missions involved hitting what ever moved, busting bridges and disrupting supply lines. New tanks traveling to the front for battle would've made up less than the bulk of tanks actually involved the war. From that perspective, it makes perfect sense that the totals for tanks destroyed by air would only make up a percentage of the total tanks destroyed by other means.

    That still doesn't make the argument for the aircrafts ability to destroy a tank.
    The aircraft you mention actually were very capable, given the opportunity and frequency, and statistical approach might need to first identify the situations where aircraft were actually involved.


    Bill
     
  17. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    The RAF and U.S. Army Air Corps didn't wait until June 1944 to exaggerate combat effectiveness.

    On 10 Dec 1941 CPT Colin Kelly's B-17 was shot down while attacking a Japanese light cruiser.

    "Kelly had dropped his bomb squarely down the smokestack of the battleship".

    "Kelly, after ordering his crew to bail out, had flown his B-17 right into the warship."

    That isn't "overclaiming". It's intentional lying.
     
  18. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Dave,

    I think you're mixing up deliberate overclaiming and propaganda. The Kelly story was generated at a time when the Japanese seemed invincible and the US people needed a hero. The myth about the AVG flying for years against the Japanese before Dec 1941 is a similar propaganda invention.
     
  19. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    And this fable had NOTHING to do with the procurement of B-17s. It was war time propaganda.

    He did bomb a Japanese cruiser.

    He did stay at the controls of his aircraft so his crew could bail out.

    The rest just propaganda.
     
  20. aircro

    aircro Member

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