What is a strategic bomber?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Shortround6, Nov 19, 2014.

  1. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    We get into a lot of arguments as to what a "Strategic Bomber" is.

    Since few, if any, Air forces actually published a definition of a "Strategic Bomber" by listing characteristics we are left guessing what was thought to be a "Strategic Bomber" by looking at the various specifications for specific aircraft. Since these specifications also changed with time we get into the situation where yesterdays "Strategic Bomber" is today's "tactical bomber", or perhaps 1936's "Strategic Bomber" is 1942's "tactical bomber" ;)
    Some air forces divided bombers into light, medium and heavy categories and even added one or more night bomber categories without saying which were Strategic and which were Tactical. This certianly doesn't help present day discussions.

    A "Strategic Bomber" may be simply defined as a bomber intended to hit Strategic targets. How effective it is at hitting them may be a different question.
    Strategic targets may be enemy (or potential enemy) cities, factories, power and transportation facilities. Things/locations that enable the enemy to conduct war as a whole.
    Tactical targets are targets that affect the local battlefield. This can be expanded to cover supply routes and then things start to get blurry. A Railroad bridge that connects an Iron ore mine and a steel mill may be considered a Strategic target but if it is located close to the border and is a major supply route for land forces in that area of the border it is also a tactical (or grand tactical) target.

    Aircraft capability changed a tremendous amount in just 10 years so aircraft specifications changed a tremendous amount very quickly.

    Francis Mason claims in the book "The British Bomber" that as of Jan 1 1935 NO British bomber in service could reach the nearest point in Germany, drop a bomb larger than a 500-pounder and return to it's base in the United Kingdom. In addition the British had not ONE monoplane bomber in service. In Aug 1940 the first Short Stirling was being delivered to a Squadron (although first combat operations would not be until Feb 1941). The very same month the US Army ordered two prototype B-29s and a static test model.

    That was the pace of aircraft development in the 1930s. Saying that planes that were flying combat operations in 1938-39 were NOT strategic bombers or not designed as strategic bombers because they could not match the bombload/range of planes that into service 3-6 years later rather overlooks the rate of progress at the time.

    And to put a few things in context, according to a map/app on my tablet.

    It is 264 miles from Ipswich to Cologne.
    473 miles from Derby to Hanover.
    490 miles from Southhampton to Stuttgart.
    535 miles from Bordeaux to Stuttgart.
    470 miles from Belfast Ireland to Rotterdam
    So by Western European distances 400-500 mile radius will cover quite a few needs/requirements even if not all.
     
  2. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Well, the Wellington, Hampden and Whitley could all reach targets deep within Germany in 1939 and as such were strategic bombers. The Wellington could carry four 1000lb bombs to Berlin and Berlin was not a tactical target.
    They were both all as medium bombers which complicates things, but British doctrine never intended to use these aircraft in a tactical role. They were always intended to operate far behind the from and a long way from the battlefield and that must make them strategic bombers.
    Cheers
    Steve
     
  3. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

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    that is the way i understood it to be SR. strategic bombers generally had longer range and hit infrastructure and manufacturing targets...basically to prevent the enemy from being able to wage campaign(s) that were necessary to achieve their national goal...conquering europe. tactical were shorter range ( limits scope) ...once a specific battle commenced...targeting troops, supply lines, routes of ingress and egress..to defeat the enemy in that region at that time.
     
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  4. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    #4 Shortround6, Nov 19, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2014
    Fine, but then we get things like the Fairey Battle.
    It was called a 'light bomber' but wasn't described as either tactical or strategic. Had a "radius" of 400 miles with a one hour reserve at cruising speed?
    Vickers Wellesley
    vickers-wellesley-mk-i-bomber-01.png
    Over 500 mile radius with 1 hour reserve and 2000lbs of bombs.

    Bristol Blenheim IV, over a 600 mile radius with 1 hour reserve with 1000lbs.

    You can't really trade-off fuel for more bombs with these three (Battle might carry another pair of 250lbs outside and somewhat less fuel).

    An early B-25 could carry 3000lbs over an 850mile radius with one hour reserve fuel. It was called a "medium" bomber.

    The Ilyushin DB-3 could carry a small load over a 1000 mile radius and was the first Soviet plane to bomb Berlin.

    None of these bombers had more than one rifle caliber mg pointed forward that could be used to strafe with.

    They all have a ridiculous amount of range for planes that are "supposed" to be attacking even supply lines/ supply points behind the front lines.
     
  5. N4521U

    N4521U Well-Known Member

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    I thought it was one directed to targets planned by military, rether than politicos!
     
  6. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    #6 GregP, Nov 20, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2014
    Strategic targets are targets that enable the other side to continue a war ... manufacturing or refining or mining, etc. Things like oil refineries, tank, gun, or aircraft production, shipyards, factories that make steel, aluminum sheet, engines, propellers, tanks tracks, nuts and bolts, etc.

    As ably stated above, tactical targets affect the local battlefield ... like a local ammo dump, local tank marshalling yard, railyard nearby, airfield for the people raiding your area, etc.

    A strategic bomber is one that can fly from home airfields, attack strategic targets effectively (meaning able to cause significant damage resulting in a noticeable drop in production), and fly home again to be resused, with or without air-to-air refueling. Before air-to-air refueling, it was obviously without same.

    Tactical bombers and other aircraft are smaller, have less range, and less bomb load, and can cause less damage, but can have astounding effects on a smaller local (tactical) fight. 100 soldiers attacking 20 defenders may seem overwhelming, but not if eight P-47's show up with bombs, rockets, and guns and kill 92 of the 100 attackers. That is a tactical result.

    1,000 bombers devastating a steel mill that puts it out of action for 2 weeks is a strategic result. Blowing up a train carrying fuel is tactical. Blowing up the refinrery that makes the fuel is strategic as it reduces the fuel available for war on a larger scale ... it affects many battlefields.

    Just my understanding, not a Webster definition. There are certainly other opinions out there. In the US military, that was the general understanding when I was in the service, and that was in the 1970's.
     
  7. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    The idea of Strategic Bombing came about during WWI and although the criteria for conducting a Strategic Bombing campaign has changed over the years, the core idea of what it will accomplish has not.
     
  8. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #8 stona, Nov 20, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2014
    The RAF's 'strategic' bombing force was built up as a deterrent force. It obviously didn't work any more than the RN did, but that was the idea. It is impossible to overestimate the fear of the bomber that developed in the inter war years. It's why every man, woman, child and baby in the UK was issued with gas mask and was required to carry it at all times.

    The RFC/RAF had used light bombers from WW1's DH.4 to the Hawker Hart. Their role was what we would now call interdiction. The ten Fairey Battle squadron's of No.1 Group moved to France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force in September 1939. Unlike their strategic counterparts they did not operate from home bases but rather from bases behind the front.
    The first losses were on armed reconnaissance patrols and photo reconnaissance patrols. They also dropped leaflets and undertook classic interdiction missions against bridges, other infrastructure, troop concentrations and columns behind the front.

    A situation might have existed whereby basing these aircraft on the territory of an ally, close to the front, might not have been possible. Certainly the interwar planners wanted adequate range to allow for such an eventuality. There was a prominent school thinking in Britain after the experiences of the first war that hoped the necessity for the presence of any British service personnel on continental Europe might be avoided in future conflicts. Air operations would be launched from the UK and the RN, rather obviously, would do its bit, blockading etc from the sea as it had done for over a hundred years.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  9. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    #9 oldcrowcv63, Nov 27, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2014
    Since we are talking bombers ...

    And more than just blockades: With your 'etc.' no doubt intended to cover the WWI RN/RAF combination providing probably the most innovative development in naval warfare to that time, foreshadowing the events of WWII:

    Tondern raid - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Photo showing the Sopwith Camels spotted on the forward flight deck of jury rigged A/C carrier HMS Furious in July 19, 1918.

    This being a watershed moment in the course of my own life, I think it worth far more than just an 'etc.' Sir. :lol: Just my biased opinion.

    Normally I'd expect a Camel employed in this or any similar bomb-carrying role to be considered a 'tactical bomber.' However, since this raid attacked and sought to diminish an Enemy's 'strategic' offensive capability should it be classified as 'tactical' or 'strategic.'
     

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  10. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

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    The Whitley could bomb Turin from the UK though I suspect only in the winter or they would run out of darkness during the interminable journey. On a shorter note, Swordfishes could reach into the Netherlands and German coast but also only in the long winter nights and with the TAG replaced with an overload tank in the navigators position. I quail at the issue of a variety of corks given to the navigator to plug any shot holes in the tank. Does that qualify as a self sealing tank?
     
  11. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Any bomber is a strategic bomber if it could attack the factories that allow a war to be fought. But since those targets often have multiple layers of defenses, and are at ranges that exceed short or medium, the end result is an airframe that can carry an adequate fuel supply, defenses active and passive, and a payload that makes the potential mission worthy.

    End result is a 4 engined airframe.
     
  12. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Would he have to undo his 'anti cavorting chain' (I kid you not) to reach the holes in the tank ? :)

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  13. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    When I rode bikes a mate of mine bought a honda 550 (4 cylinder 4 stroke) I asked him what it was like and he said it wasnt really good at anything thats why every magazine said it was a good tourer. You could say a strategic bomber is a bomber that needs 500+ planes to hit anything but can miss anything a long way away.
     
  14. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    I wouldn't say that a 4 engined airframe is necessarily required.

    Take a bridge, for example. If it is blown up to prevent troop movements and resupply then, yes, it is tactical bombing.

    But if bombing the bridge restricts or stops flow of raw materials and supplies to factories then it is strategic bombing. And a bridge could be taken out by a fighter-bomber or light bomber, probably more efficiently than could a 4 engined heavy.

    The same can be said of rail roads and water ways. Reducing the efficiency of those can have an effect on production too.
     
  15. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    Stirring the pot, Wuzak?
     
  16. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    I once learned that the difference between strategic and tactical reconnaissance was that the former was conducted before the shooting started and the latter afterwards, but needless to say, the dictionary definitions for strategic and tactical are along the lines of what's been stated already. I guess factors that determine which is which is as much geographical and political as it is specifically the intended target. During the Great War, the Royal Navy had the Defence of the Realm role, meaning that it was responsible for the strategic management of Britain's foreign interests and this extended to wartime also. Included within the navy's remit was - at the beginning of the war at any rate, air defence of the UK and strategic attacks against the enemy's ability to make war on land or to bring war to the UK. This, naturally included the likes of airship facilities. Like the fear of the Bomber between the wars and the stigma it held among the civilian population, we often forget the impact that Zeppelin raids or at least the threat of them had at the outbreak of WW1. The role of nullifying this threat was down to the RNAS and from early on in the war, it was tasked with the destruction of airship sheds; the earliest strategic bombing raids were carried out by RNAS aircraft against airship sheds in 1914, Reggie Marix bombing the shed at Dusseldorf in a Sopwith Tabloid on 8 October 1914 and Avro 504s attacking sheds at Friedrichshafen on 21 November the same year, for example. The second Tondern raid was the first successful aircraft carrier launched air strike in history and falls within the remit of the navy's strategic role, despite the use of a 'tactical' fighter bomber.

    In fact, the big Handley Page bombers of the Great War were inspired by the RNAS, rather than the RFC and HP submitted designs for the navy's strategic use in 1914 for a twin-engined two-seater big bomber. This eventually evolved into the HP O/100, which was first flown in December 1915.
     
  17. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    A twin engined airframe could be considered a strategic bomber if its primary role is to attack enemy means of production. But if you factor in all of the requirements of range, payload and defenses, then the only solution is to have a four engined airframe.

    The Mossie was the only two engine airframe that could have filled in for some strategic duties. But only marginally.
     
  18. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    There is no doubt that a bomber with plenty of HP has the capability to be better than the one with less HP.

    With that said, the Wellington Mk.X carried tail turret (4 LMGs), nose turret (2 LMGs) side LMGs (2 pc), the bomb range being 1325 miles with 4500 lbs of bombs.
    Avro Manchester carried 10350 lbs over 1200 miles, and 8100 lbs over 1630 miles (both values with fuel allowances accounted for); 12 LMGs were also aboard. Two engines only.
     
  19. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    So then we have to look at the Luftwaffe bombing campaign in the early stages of the BoB, where there was a combination of bombing industry (strategic) and bombing military targets (tactical) all with the use of two-engined bombers.

    Also, if a flight of single-engined dive bombers were dedicated to an industrial target (or multiple industrial targets during the same mission), would this also fall under a strategic mission?
     
  20. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    I think that the Luftwaffe's bombing of targets such as those related to the aircraft industry, docks and installations in many British ports and similar targets would certainly be considered part of a strategic campaign.
    Unfortunately for them the bombers involved didn't really carry the loads required to mount such a campaign effectively, though they certainly achieved some results in the short term.
    You could argue that they were attempting a strategic campaign with what were not really strategic bombers.
    Cheers
    Steve
     
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