When was the "Air War" won in various theaters?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by IdahoRenegade, Feb 3, 2016.

  1. IdahoRenegade

    IdahoRenegade Member

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    #1 IdahoRenegade, Feb 3, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2016
    Obviously air power was important throughout WWII. But in each theater the allies eventually achieved air superiority, greatly outnumbering enemy fighters. There was plenty of fighting after that point, but it lacked the criticality and desperation prior to achieving air superiority. In addition, when the enemy is outnumbered, tactics and the superiority of individual aircraft become less important. Sort of like the land war with tanks-one on one a Sherman was no match for a Tiger or Panther...but there was rarely only one Sherman. Granted, at the very time we were outnumbering the Germans in particular, the superiority of our planes was increasing as well.

    Prior to gaining superiority, the odds were inverted, our (allied) pilots were often badly outnumbered. So, for the various theaters, what time frame or event marked the "turnaround"? As an example, for Japanese naval power (perhaps not airpower), Midway marked the turning point.

    What about the ETO and the air war? Certainly before the June 44 D-day invasion. Perhaps "big week" (20-25 FE, 44), or slightly after that via Pointblank?

    How about the MTO? Maybe after victory in N. Africa, prior to the Sicily invasion? I don't know that much about the MTO.

    SWPA/PTO? Perhaps the destruction of enemy air power at Rabaul (~NO 43)?

    Looking to learn.
     
  2. Timppa

    Timppa Active Member

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    In the Pacific, I would choose June 19, 1944. After the "turkey shoot" Japanese did not have a viable carrier air force. It was mainly kamikazes from there on.

    In the ETO, I would choose March 8, 1944, the Berlin raid. Next day (citing Caldwell) , for the first time, the Germans permitted to attack a key target without even a token interception by their fighters.

    In the eastern front, it was the 1944 summer offensive ("Bagration") - which destroyed an entire German army group - where the VVS played an important role.
     
  3. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    I would say the turning point in the air war in the PTO was Midway June 1942. The IJN lost too many of their best cadre of experienced and talented pilots. The Japanese entered the war with the US with an exceptionally trained force of fighter and bomber pilots without planned training capacity to replace them adequately.

    The Japanese Army air force was unscathed, essentially, even in the CBI - but required land bases to engage the US in PTO and SWP and were not much of a factor in the campaign in the Solomons. The failure of the IJN to occupy New Guinea after the Battle of Coral Sea left a huge strategic hole in their ability to dig in - and in turn granted the Allies the opportunity to bring formidable land based airpower to bear on just about every key holding of the Empire in SWP.

    In the ETO/MTO I am inclined to say that Big Week in February, 1944 was the beginning of the end and that May, 1944 was the tipping point in which nothing the LW could do had a material effect against daylight bombing of Germany's most vital industry - the Refineries, Chemical/Petroleum/Synthetics. Caldwell makes this point also.
    Big Week was characterized by the 8th AF re-entry into long range strategic attacks 'anywhere in Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia' and achieve sustainable losses because of the rapid build up of operational P-51B/C
    day fighter escort. This period also illustrates the stress placed on LW due to 15th AF incursions into Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia from the South - splitting the force structure of LF Reich versus a steadily growing Strategic force of the Allies. The RAF BC was not a 'non factor' but did not play a major role in the defeat of the LW over Germany, nor did RAF achieve much of an effect against the LW save additional pressure on LF 3 defending France, Belgium, Netherlands.

    In the East - I am inclined to agree Timppa re: Summer campaign, 1944 but also think Kursk was the beginning of the end.
     
  4. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    In the PTO, it was the fall of 1943 when Hellcats, Corsairs and Lightnings provided the qualitative advantage over the Japanese.

    In the ETO, it was June 1944. When the LW could not interfere with the Normandy invasion.
     
  5. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Syscom - I would argue that the LW would be sorely pressed to interfere with the invasion in March 1944. The quality of pilots was higher but the inventory of operational day fighters was about the same as June. What distinguishes the invasion time period from March is that the 9th AF doubled its operational fighter groups but the issue of Invasion air superiority (local) versus air superiority (strategic) over the Reich - is the point in time when the LW could no longer defeat the 8th AF from bombing anywhere. Even in early March the Allies had at least 8:1 numerical advantage over France with shorter range Spit, Typhoon, Tempest, P-47 and P-38 fighter groups/wings.

    The question of the PTO is much more difficult because the combat zones were spread far apart - on a shrinking perimeter but I based my opinion on the timeframe when Japan ceased to have its way with our Naval and Army fighters and bombers. From a quality standpoint, both the P-40 and F4F were slightly inferior to the A6M but the numbers of aircraft and quality of pilots on the Allied side was tipped toward the Allies after the Midway debacle.

    Yet we had Guadalcanal and New Guinea operations in front to truly tip the balance before local (within range of medium bombers) air superiority was achieved.

    There really is no analogy between the fight against Japan versus Germany as the air war over Germany was fought for four years whereas Japan skies for only a year+.
     
  6. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    LW never really fully recovered from the losses it suffered in the Battle of Britain, but it cannot be argued that it "lost" in 1940 (other than it lost by not winning, or not knocking out Britain from the war). Neither could it be said that it lost the air war in 1941 or even 1942. By 1943 it was showing some signs of cracking, and in 1944 it actually did crack.

    But I dont fully subscribe to the notion that the LW was fully okay in those lead up years either. Beginning in 1940, and getting progressivley worse as time went on, the LW was gradually bled white as its reserves, serviceability rates, aircrew all started to show signs of stress. Overuse, over commitment, an unsustainable attrition rate all played their part, moreover I cant put this steady attrition down to just one nationality, one campaign, or one moment in time. It was a steady, sustained, difficult process of eroding and degrading the capability of the greatest air force of the war.

    For the japanese the descent was much steeper and quicker, but it most definately was not Midway that turned the corner on the japanese. or erhaps a better way of putting it is to say it wasnt just Midway that did it. Whilst Midway destroyed the japanese offensive capability by sinking its carriers, well over 250 of its precious pilots were saved to fight another day.

    The really brutal attrition of the Japanese air forces occurred in the Solomons and over New Guinea, in the latter half of 1942 and through most of 1943. They got caught up in a meat grinder campaign that destroyed the one remaining advantage they had, the absolute superiority of their pilots. The chaff that went into 1944 was not comparable to the elite forces used up until Midway, but it would take 2 years of grinding attrition to reduce that capability to manageable dimensions
     
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  7. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Another nail in the Luftwaffe's coffin was the failed Operation Bodenplatt, which cost the Luftwaffe not only in terms of much needed hardware, but more importantly, experienced airmen.

    The operation may have looked good on paper and actually could have delivered a setback (marginal, yes, but still a delay) to the Allied air operations, but the execution was a total disaster even if the friendly-fire losses were excluded.
     
  8. Reegor

    Reegor Member

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    Following up on Parsifal's comment, here's an excerpt from a book I'm writing. By 1943 the LW, at least on the Western front, had no fuel for training and turnover (casualties) was so high that pilots did not live long enough to get experience.
    I gather the situation in Japan was very similar once the initial pilots were lost, but I have not researched it.

    By late 1943 the Luftwaffe had lost most of its original pilots. In the first six months of 1943, Germany lost 1,100 fighter pilots, which was about 60% of the number at the start of the year. It lost another 15 percent in each of July and August. New pilots and new aircraft were arriving every month, but in contrast to new aircraft, new pilots are vastly inferior to those they replace.
    The high pilot losses had two disastrous effects. First, even if they had been well trained, newer pilots were inexperienced and inevitably had more accidents and combat casualties than the pilots they replaced. Second, the Luftwaffe increased its training rate partly by shortening the training period. Shortages of fuel due to bombing and Soviet recapture of oil fields also forced reductions in flight training hours. Figure 6-23 shows the dramatic reduction in training hours for Germany, from over 240 hours including about 80 hours of training in front-line aircraft, to less than half that by the last year of the war. Over the same years the training hours for the Americans and British were growing, with the American USAAF eventually averaging over 400 hours of flight training before pilots reached operational units.


    (table does not post. It is from: Williamson Murray, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933-1945, Air University Press, January 1983, Table 90, page 314. Flight hours in training for different air forces.)


    The Luftwaffe trained enough pilots to equal the losses, but it never got significantly ahead of them and new pilots did not live long enough to build experience. In 1942 Germany trained 1660 new pilots; in 1943 it doubled that to 3276. The effects of more new pilots with fewer flying hours showed up in falling pilot quality and higher casualties. General Steinhoff recalled that:
    Toward the end of 1944 the situation of the German fighter forces was such that, while we still had a limited cadre of experienced pilots, the majority of the fighter pilots were very young and inexperienced. Between late 1944 and early 1945, the average young pilot flew only two missions before he was killed—that is what the statistics say. On the other hand, the aircraft situation was excellent. ... However, the fuel situation was hopeless; for training purposes almost no fuel was released any more.
    Similarly, Günther Rall wrote that in late 1943:
    To compensate for the growing losses against the western allies’ bomber streams, the training time of young fighter pilots is shortened. Now pilots are going into action with scarcely more than 50 hours of flying time on powered aircraft in their logbooks, and with only a handful of those hours having been completed on the types they will fly operationally. Most of them will be killed before their tenth mission.
     
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