Air warfare of World War II
Air warfare of World War II was a major component of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 in all theatres, and (with anti-air defense) consumed a large fraction of the industrial output of the major powers.
Germany and Japan depended on air forces that were closely integrated with land and naval forces; they downplayed the advantage of a large strategic bombers, and were late in appreciating the need for a defensive error system against Allied strategic bombing. By contrast Britain and the United States had a more complex approach that gave enormous weight to strategic bombing, as well as tactical control of the battlefield and adequate air defenses. They both built a strategic force of a large long-range bombers that could carry the air war to the enemy's homeland. Simultaneously they built tactical air forces that could win air superiority over the battlefields, thereby giving vital assistance to ground troops. They both built a powerful naval-air component based on aircraft carriers, as did Japan; these played the central role in the war at sea.

Prewar planning

Before 1939 all sides operated under largely theoretical models of air warfare. The Italian theorist Giulio Douhet
Giulio Douhet
General Giulio Douhet was an Italian general and air power theorist. He was a key proponent of strategic bombing in aerial warfare...

 in the 1920s summarized the faith that airmen in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 developed in the efficacy of strategic bombing
Strategic bombing
Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in a total war with the goal of defeating an enemy nation-state by destroying its economic ability and public will to wage war rather than destroying its land or naval forces...

. Many said it alone could win wars, as "the bomber will always get through
The bomber will always get through
The bomber will always get through was a phrase used by Stanley Baldwin in 1932, in the speech "A Fear for the Future" to the British Parliament...

". The Americans were sublimely confident that the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber could reach targets, protected by its own weapons, and bomb, using the Norden bombsight
Norden bombsight
The Norden bombsight was a tachometric bombsight used by the United States Army Air Forces and the United States Navy during World War II, and the United States Air Force in the Korean and the Vietnam Wars to aid the crew of bomber aircraft in dropping bombs accurately...

, with "pickle barrel" accuracy Japanese aviation pioneers felt that they had developed the finest naval aviators in the world. But they fought to the death and their skills were not transmitted to the next generation of pilots, so the quality of Japanese aviators declined rapidly after 1942.

To bomb Germany, the Allies depended on close-by unsinkable airfields in Britain. To attack Japan the U.S. needed both very long range bombers and bases within range, which were won in mid-1944.

Germany: The Luftwaffe

The Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

was the German Air Force. The pride of Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 under its bombastic leader Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

, it learned new combat techniques in the Spanish Civil War and was seen by Hitler as the decisive strategic weapon he needed. Its advanced technology and rapid growth led to exaggerated fears in the 1930s that helped to persuade the British and French into appeasement. In the war the Luftwaffe performed well in 1939-41, as its Stuka dive bombers terrified enemy infantry units. But the Luftwaffe was poorly coordinated with overall German strategy, and never ramped up to the size and scope needed in a total war. It never built large bombers, was deficient in radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

, and could not deal with the faster, more agile P-51 Mustang
P-51 Mustang
The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II, the Korean War and in several other conflicts...

 pursuit planes after 1943, or Britain's increasingly lethal defensive fighter screen after the Battle of Britain.

When its gasoline supply ran dry in 1944, it was reduced to anti-aircraft flak roles, and many of its men were sent to infantry units. By 1944 it operated 39,000 flak batteries staffed with a million people in uniform, both men and women.

The Luftwaffe lacked the bomber forces for strategic bombing, because it did not think such bombing was worth it. They did attempt some strategic bombing in the east. Their one success was destroying an airbase at Poltava, Russia, which housed 43 new B-17 bombers and a million tons of aviation fuel.

Although Germany's allies, especially Italy and Finland, had air forces of their own, there was very little coordination with them. Not until very late in the war did Germany share its blueprints with its ally Japan—too late for Japan to improve its weapons systems or to make synthetic oil.

Britain: The Royal Air Force

The British had their own very well-developed theory of strategic bombing, and built the long-range bombers to implement it.

Before 1944, however, the main German industrial targets were out of range, so the RAF bombers concentrated on military and transportation targets in France and Belgium.

The RAF underwent rapid expansion following the outbreak of war against Germany in 1939. This included the training in other Commonwealth nations
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan , known in some countries as the Empire Air Training Scheme , was a massive, joint military aircrew training program created by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, during the Second World War...

 (particulary Canada) of half of British and Commonwealth aircrews, some 167,000 men in all. The RAF also integrated Polish and other airmen who had escaped from Hitler's Europe. In Europe, the RAF was in operational control of Commonwealth aircrews and Commonwealth squadrons although these retained some degree of independence (such as the formation of No. 6 Group RCAF
No. 6 Group RCAF
No. 6 Group RCAF was an organization of Royal Canadian Air Force bomber squadrons which operated from airfields in Yorkshire, England during the Second World War. Although 6 Group was RCAF, it was controlled by the Royal Air Force as part of Bomber Command. No. 6 Group had been previously active...

 to put Canadian squadrons together in a nationally identifiable unit)

The RAF had three major combat commands based in the United Kingdom: RAF Fighter Command
RAF Fighter Command
RAF Fighter Command was one of three functional commands of the Royal Air Force. It was formed in 1936 to allow more specialised control of fighter aircraft. It served throughout the Second World War, gaining recognition in the Battle of Britain. The Command continued until 17 November 1943, when...

 charged with defence of the UK, RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

 which operated the bombers that would be offensive against the enemy, and RAF Coastal Command
RAF Coastal Command
RAF Coastal Command was a formation within the Royal Air Force . Founded in 1936, it was the RAF's premier maritime arm, after the Royal Navy's secondment of the Fleet Air Arm in 1937. Naval aviation was neglected in the inter-war period, 1919–1939, and as a consequence the service did not receive...

 which was to protect Allied shipping and attack enemy shipping. The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters...

 operated land-based fighters in defence of naval establishments and carrier-based aircraft. Later in the war the RAF's fighter force was divided into two Air Defence of Great Britain
Air Defence of Great Britain
The Air Defence of Great Britain was a RAF command comprising substantial Army and RAF elements responsible for the air defence of the British Isles...

 (ADGB) for protecting the UK and the Second Tactical Air Force for ground offensive support in North West Europe.

Bomber Command participated in two areas of attack - the strategic bombing campaign against German war production, and the less well known mining of coastal waters off Germany to contain its naval operations and prevent the U-boats from freely operating against Allied shipping. In order to attack German industry by night the RAF developed navigational aids, tactics to overwhelm the German defences control system
Bomber stream
The bomber stream was a tactic developed by the Royal Air Force Bomber Command to overwhelm the German aerial defences of the Kammhuber Line during World War II....

, tactics directly against German night-fighter forces, target marking techniques
Pathfinder (RAF)
The Pathfinders were elite squadrons in RAF Bomber Command during World War II. They located and marked targets with flares, which a main bomber force could aim at, increasing the accuracy of their bombing...

, many electronic aids in defence and attack, and supporting electronic warfare aircraft
No. 100 Group RAF
No. 100 Group was a special duties group within RAF Bomber Command.It was formed on 11 November 1943 to consolidate the increasingly complex business of electronic warfare and countermeasures within one organisation. The group was responsible for the development, operational trial and use of...

. The production of heavy aircraft competed with resources for the Army and the Navy, and it was a source of disagreement as to whether the effort could be more profitably expended elsewhere.

Soviet Union: Soviet Air Force

By the end of the war, Soviet annual aircraft production
World War II aircraft production
This table lists aircraft production during World War II by country and year.See Also:*German aircraft production during World War II*United States aircraft production during World War II...

 had risen sharply with annual Soviet production peaking at 40,000 aircraft in 1944. Some 157,000 aircraft were produced, of which 126,000 were combat types, while the others were transports and trainers.

During the war the Soviets employed 7500 bombers to drop 30 million bombs on German targets, with a density that sometimes reaching 100-150 tons/ sq kilometer.

United States: AAF

Before the Battle of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 gave command of the Navy to an aviator, Admiral Ernest King
Ernest King
Fleet Admiral Ernest Joseph King was Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations during World War II. As COMINCH, he directed the United States Navy's operations, planning, and administration and was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the U.S...

, with a mandate for an aviation-oriented war in the Pacific. FDR allowed King to build up land-based naval and Marine aviation, and seize control of the long-range bombers used in antisubmarine patrols in the Atlantic. Roosevelt basically agreed with Robert A. Lovett
Robert A. Lovett
Robert Abercrombie Lovett was the fourth United States Secretary of Defense, serving in the cabinet of President Harry S. Truman from 1951 to 1953 and in this capacity, directed the Korean War. Promoted to the position from deputy secretary of defense Domhoff described Lovett as a "Cold War...

, the civilian Assistant Secretary of War for Air, who argued, "While I don't go so far as to claim that air power alone will win the war, I do claim the war will not be won without it."

Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall rejected calls for complete independence for the Air Corps
United States Army Air Corps
The United States Army Air Corps was a forerunner of the United States Air Force. Renamed from the Air Service on 2 July 1926, it was part of the United States Army and the predecessor of the United States Army Air Forces , established in 1941...

, because the land forces generals and the Navy were vehemently opposed. In the compromise that was reached it was understood that after the war the aviators would get their independence. Meanwhile, the Air Corps became the Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 (AAF) in June, 1941, combining all their personnel and units under a single commanding general, an airman. In 1942 the Army reorganized into three equal components, one of which was the AAF, which then had almost complete freedom in terms of internal administration. Thus the AAF set up its own medical service independent of the Surgeon General, its own WAC units, and its own logistics system. It had full control over the design and procurement of airplanes and related electronic gear and ordnance. Its purchasing agents controlled 15% of the nation's Gross National Product. Together with naval aviation, it recruited the best young men in the nation. General Henry H. Arnold
Henry H. Arnold
Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold was an American general officer holding the grades of General of the Army and later General of the Air Force. Arnold was an aviation pioneer, Chief of the Air Corps , Commanding General of the U.S...

 headed the AAF. One of the first military men to fly, and the youngest colonel in World War I, he selected for the most important combat commands men who were ten years younger than their Army counterparts, including Ira Eaker (b. 1896), Jimmy Doolittle
Jimmy Doolittle
General James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle, USAF was an American aviation pioneer. Doolittle served as a brigadier general, major general and lieutenant general in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War...

 (b. 1896), Hoyt Vandenberg
Hoyt Vandenberg
Hoyt Sanford Vandenberg was a U.S. Air Force general, its second Chief of Staff, and second Director of Central Intelligence....

 (b. 1899), Elwood "Pete" Queseda (b. 1904), and, youngest of them all, Curtis LeMay
Curtis LeMay
Curtis Emerson LeMay was a general in the United States Air Force and the vice presidential running mate of American Independent Party candidate George Wallace in 1968....

 (b. 1906). Although a West Pointer himself, Arnold did not automatically turn to Academy men for top positions. Since he operated independent of theater commanders, Arnold could and did move his generals around, and speedily removed underachievers.

Aware of the need for engineering expertise, Arnold went outside the military and formed close liaisons with top engineers like rocket specialist Theodore von Karmen at Cal Tech. Arnold was given seats on the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US-British Combined Chiefs of Staff
Combined Chiefs of Staff
The Combined Chiefs of Staff was the supreme military command for the western Allies during World War II. It was a body constituted from the British Chiefs of Staff Committee and the American Joint Chiefs of Staff....

. Arnold, however, was officially Deputy Chief of [Army] Staff, so on committees he deferred to his boss, General Marshall. Thus Marshall made all the basic strategic decisions, which were worked out by his "War Plans Division" (WPD, later renamed the Operations Division). WPD's section leaders were infantrymen or engineers, with a handful of aviators in token positions.

The AAF had a newly-created planning division, whose advice was largely ignored by WPD. Airmen were also underrepresented in the planning divisions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and of the Combined Chiefs. Aviators were largely shut out of the decision-making and planning process because they lacked seniority in a highly rank-conscious system. The freeze intensified demands for independence, and fueled a spirit of "proving" the superiority of air power doctrine. Because of the young, pragmatic leadership at top, and the universal glamor accorded aviators, morale in the AAF was strikingly higher than anywhere else (except perhaps Navy aviation.)

The AAF provided extensive technical training, promoted officers and enlisted faster, provided comfortable barracks and good food, and was safe. The only dangerous jobs were voluntary ones as crew of fighters and bombers—or involuntary ones at jungle bases in the Southwest Pacific. Marshall, an infantryman uninterested in aviation before 1939, became a partial convert to air power and allowed the aviators more autonomy. He authorized vast spending on planes, and insisted that American forces had to have air supremacy before taking the offensive. However, he repeatedly overruled Arnold by agreeing with Roosevelt's requests in 1941-42 to send half of the new light bombers and fighters to the British and Soviets, thereby delaying the buildup of American air power.

The Army's major theater commands were given to infantrymen Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American general and field marshal of the Philippine Army. He was a Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the...

 and Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

. Neither had paid much attention to aviation before the war (though Ike learned to fly).

Offensive counter-air, to clear the way for strategic bombers and an eventually decisive cross-channel invasion, was a strategic mission led by escort fighters partnered with heavy bombers. The tactical mission, however, was the province of fighter-bombers, assisted by light and medium bombers.

American theater commanders became air power enthusiasts, and built their strategies around the need for tactical air supremacy. MacArthur had been badly defeated in the Philippines in 1941-42 primarily because the Japanese controlled the sky. His planes were outnumbered and outclassed, his airfields shot up, his radar destroyed, his supply lines cut. His infantry never had a chance. MacArthur vowed never again. His island hopping campaign was based on the strategy of isolating Japanese strongholds while leaping past them. Each leap was determined by the range of his air force, and the first task on securing an objective was to build an airfield to prepare for the next leap.

Doctrine and technology

Some issues were clearly strategic, and some clearly tactical.

The issue of establishing air superiority and air supremacy, however, depends on the context. Air superiority, rather than supremacy, over fast-moving ground forces might be all that was needed. The strategic bombing command was more dependent on suppressing defensive fighters, but there would always be anti-aircraft artillery and thus losses.

The Allies won battlefield air supremacy in the Pacific in 1943, and in Europe in 1944. That meant that Allied supplies and reinforcements would get through to the battlefront, but not the enemy's. It meant the Allies could concentrate their strike forces wherever they pleased, and overwhelm the enemy with a preponderance of firepower. There was a specific campaign, within the overall strategic offensive, for suppression of enemy air defenses, or, specifically, Luftwaffe fighters.

Aircrew training

While the Japanese began the war with a superb set of naval aviators, trained at the Misty Lagoon experimental air station, their practice, perhaps from the warrior tradition, was to keep the pilots in action until they died. The U.S. position, at least for naval aviation, was a strict rotation between sea deployments and shore duty, the latter including training replacements, personal training, and participating in doctrinal development. The U.S. strategic bombing campaign against Europe did this in principle, but relatively few crews survived the 25 missions of a rotation.

Other countries had other variants. In some countries, it seemed to be a matter of personal choice if one stayed in combat or helped build the next generation. Even where there was a policy of using skills outside combat, some individuals, eg Guy Gibson
Guy Gibson
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, RAF , was the first CO of the Royal Air Force's 617 Squadron, which he led in the "Dam Busters" raid in 1943, resulting in the destruction of two large dams in the Ruhr area...

 VC insisted on returning to combat after a year. Both Gibson's successors at 617 Squadron were ordered off "ops" permantly (Leonard Cheshire after 102 operations, "Willie Tait" after 101)

Airfield construction

Arnold correctly anticipated that the U.S. would have to build forward airfields in inhospitable places. Working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, he created Aviation Engineer Battalions that by 1945 included 118,000 men. Runways, hangars, radar stations, power generators, barracks, gasoline storage tanks and ordnance dumps had to be built hurriedly on tiny coral islands, mud flats, featureless deserts, dense jungles, or exposed locations still under enemy artillery fire. The heavy construction gear had to be imported, along with the engineers, blueprints, steel-mesh landing mats, prefabricated hangars, aviation fuel, bombs and ammunition, and all necessary supplies. As soon as one project was finished the battalion would load up its gear and move forward to the next challenge, while headquarters inked in a new airfield on the maps.

The engineers opened an entirely new airfield in North Africa every other day for seven straight months. Once when heavy rains along the coast reduced the capacity of old airfields, two companies of Airborne Engineers loaded miniaturized gear into 56 transports, flew a thousand miles to a dry Sahara location, started blasting away, and were ready for the first B-17 24 hours later. Often engineers had to repair and use a captured enemy airfield. The German fields were well-built all-weather operations.

Some of the Japanese island bases, built before the war, had excellent airfields. Most new Japanese installations in the Pacific were ramshackle affairs with poor siting, poor drainage, scant protection, and narrow, bumpy runways. Engineering was a low priority for the offense-minded Japanese, who chronically lacked adequate equipment and imagination. On a few islands, local commanders did improve aircraft shelters and general survivability, as they correctly perceived the danger of coming raids or invasions.


Tactical air power involves gaining control of the airspace over the battlefield, directly supporting ground units (as by attacks on enemy tanks and artillery), and attacking enemy supply lines, and airfields. Typically, fighter planes are used to gain air supremacy, and light bombers are used for support missions.

Air supremacy

Tactical air doctrine stated that the primary mission was to turn tactical superiority into complete air supremacy
Air supremacy
Air supremacy is the complete dominance of the air power of one side's air forces over the other side's, during a military campaign. It is the most favorable state of control of the air...

--to totally defeat the enemy air force and obtain control of its air space. This could be done directly through dogfights, and raids on airfields and radar stations, or indirectly by destroying aircraft factories and fuel supplies. Anti-aircraft artillery (called "ack-ack by the British, "flak" by the Germans, and "Archie" by the Yanks) could also play a role, but it was downgraded by most airmen. The Allies won air supremacy in the Pacific in 1943, and in Europe in 1944. That meant that Allied supplies and reinforcements would get through to the battlefront, but not the enemy's. It meant the Allies could concentrate their strike forces wherever they pleased, and overwhelm the enemy with a preponderance of firepower. This was the basic Allied strategy, and it worked.

Air superiority depended on having the fastest, most maneuverable fighters, in sufficient quantity, based on well-supplied airfields, within range. The RAF demonstrated the importance of speed and maneuverability in the Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

 (1940), when its fast Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

 and Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

 fighters easily riddled the clumsy Stukas as they were pulling out of dives. The race to build the fastest fighter became one of the central themes of World War II.

Once total air supremacy
Air supremacy
Air supremacy is the complete dominance of the air power of one side's air forces over the other side's, during a military campaign. It is the most favorable state of control of the air...

 in a theater was gained the second mission was interdiction of the flow of enemy supplies and reinforcements in a zone five to fifty miles behind the front. Whatever moved had to be exposed to air strikes, or else confined to moonless nights. (Radar was not good enough for nighttime tactical operations against ground targets.) A large fraction of tactical air power focused on this mission.

Close air support

The third and lowest priority (from the AAF viewpoint) mission was "close air support
Close air support
In military tactics, close air support is defined as air action by fixed or rotary winged aircraft against hostile targets that are close to friendly forces, and which requires detailed integration of each air mission with fire and movement of these forces.The determining factor for CAS is...

" or direct assistance to ground units on the battlefront which consisted of bombing targets identified by ground forces, and strafing exposed infantry. Airmen disliked the mission because it subordinated the air war to the ground war; furthermore, slit trenches, camouflage, and flak guns usually reduced the effectiveness of close air support. "Operation Cobra
Operation Cobra
Operation Cobra was the codename for an offensive launched by the First United States Army seven weeks after the D-Day landings, during the Normandy Campaign of World War II...

" in July, 1944, targeted a critical strip of 3,000 acres of German strength that held up the breakthrough out of Normandy. General Omar Bradley
Omar Bradley
Omar Nelson Bradley was a senior U.S. Army field commander in North Africa and Europe during World War II, and a General of the Army in the United States Army...

, his ground forces stymied, placed his bets on air power. 1,500 heavies, 380 medium bombers and 550 fighter bombers dropped 4,000 tons of high explosives. Bradley was horrified when 77 planes dropped their payloads short of the intended target:
The ground belched, shook and spewed dirt to the sky. Scores of our troops were hit, their bodies flung from slit trenches. Doughboys were dazed and frightened....A bomb landed squarely on McNair
Lesley J. McNair
General Lesley James McNair was an American Army officer who served during World War I and World War II. He was killed by friendly fire when a USAAF Eighth Air Force bomb landed in his foxhole near Saint-Lô during Operation Cobra as part of the Battle of Normandy.McNair, Frank Maxwell Andrews and...

 in a slit trench and threw his body sixty feet and mangled it beyond recognition except for the three stars on his collar.

The Germans were stunned senseless, with tanks overturned, telephone wires severed, commanders missing, and a third of their combat troops killed or wounded. The defense line broke; Joe Collins
Joe Collins
Joseph Edward Collins was an American Major League Baseball player, born in Scranton, Pennsylvania....

 rushed his VII Corps forward; the Germans retreated in a rout; the Battle of France was won; air power seemed invincible. However, the sight of a senior colleague killed by error was unnerving, and after the completion of operation Cobra, Army generals were so reluctant to risk "friendly fire" casualties that they often passed over excellent attack opportunities that would be possible only with air support. Infantrymen, on the other hand, were ecstatic about the effectiveness of close air support:
"Air strikes on the way; we watch from a top window as P-47s dip in and out of clouds through suddenly erupting strings of Christmas-tree lights [flak], before one speck turns over and drops toward earth in the damnest sight of the Second World War, the dive-bomber attack, the speck snarling, screaming, dropping faster than a stone until it's clearly doomed to smash into the earth, then, past the limits of belief, an impossible flattening beyond houses and trees, an upward arch that makes the eyes hurt, and, as the speck hurtles away, WHOOM, the earth erupts five hundred feet up in swirling black smoke. More specks snarl, dive, scream, two squadrons, eight of them, leaving congealing, combining, whirling pillars of black smoke, lifting trees, houses, vehicles, and, we devoutly hope, bits of Germans. We yell and pound each other's backs. Gods from the clouds; this is how you do it! You don't attack painfully across frozen plains, you simply drop in on the enemy and blow them out of existence."

Some forces, especially the United States Marine Corps
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

, emphasized the air-ground team. The airmen, in this approach, also are infantrymen who understand the needs and perspective of the ground forces. There was much more joint air-ground training, and a given air unit might have a long-term relationship with a given ground unit, improving their mutual communications.

German bombers and missiles

Britain and the United States built long-range heavy bombers; Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union did not. The decision was made in 1933 by the German General general staff, the technical staff, and the aviation industry that there was a lack of sufficient labor, capital, and raw materials. During the war Hitler was insistent on bombers having tactical capability, which at the time meant dive bombing, a maneuver then impossible for any heavy bomber. His aircraft had limited effect on Britain for a variety of reasons, but low payload was among them. Lacking a doctrine of strategic bombing, the Luftwaffe never built quantities of an appropriate heavy bomber. Early in the war, it had excellent tactical aviation, but when it faced Britain's integrated air defense system, the medium bombers did not have the numbers or bomb load to do major damage of the sort the RAF and AAF inflicted on German cities.

Failure of German secret weapons

Hitler believed that new high-technology "secret weapons" would give Germany a strategic bombing capability and turn the war around. The first of 9,300 V-1 flying bombs hit London in mid- June, 1944, and together with 1,300 V-2 rockets caused 8,000 civilian deaths and 23,000 injuries. Although they did not seriously undercut British morale or munitions production, they bothered the British government a great deal—Germany now had its own unanswered weapons system. Using proximity fuzes, British anti-aircraft artillery gunners learned how to shoot down the 400 mph V-1s; nothing could stop the supersonic V-2s. The British government, in near panic, demanded that upwards of 40% of bomber sorties be targeted against the launch sites, and got its way in "Operation CROSSBOW." The attacks were futile, and the diversion represented a major success for Hitler.

Every raid against a V-1 or V-2 launch site was one less raid against the Third Reich. On the whole, however, the secret weapons were still another case of too little too late. The Luftwaffe ran the V-1 program, which used a jet engine, but it diverted scarce engineering talent and manufacturing capacity that were urgently needed to improve German radar, air defense, and jet fighters. The German Army ran the V-2 program. The rockets were a technological triumph, and bothered the British leadership even more than the V-1s. But they were so inaccurate they rarely could hit militarily significant targets.

Pacific air war

Japan did not have a separate air force. Its aviation units were integrated into the Army and Navy, which were not well coordinated with each other. Japanese industry Military production during World War II#Aircraft produced 76,000 warplanes, of which 30,000 were fighters and 15,000 were light bombers.

China, 1937-1944

Japan launched a full-scale war in China in 1937 and soon controlled the major cities and the seacoast. The U.S. sent help through Burma, and after 1942 flew in supplies over the "The Hump
The Hump
The Hump was the name given by Allied pilots in the Second World War to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains over which they flew military transport aircraft from India to China to resupply the Chinese war effort of Chiang Kai-shek and the units of the United States Army Air Forces based in...

" (the Himalaya Mountains) from India.

In 1940-41, well before Pearl Harbor, the United States decided on an aggressive air campaign against Japan using Chinese bases and American pilots wearing Chinese uniforms. The United States created funded and provided crews and equipment for the "Flying Tigers
Flying Tigers
The 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force in 1941–1942, famously nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States Army , Navy , and Marine Corps , recruited under presidential sanction and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault. The ground crew and headquarters...

", a nominally Chinese Air Force composed almost entirely of Americans, led by General Claire Lee Chennault
Claire Lee Chennault
Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault , was an American military aviator. A contentious officer, he was a fierce advocate of "pursuit" or fight-interceptor aircraft during the 1930s when the U.S. Army Air Corps was focused primarily on high-altitude bombardment...

. The Flying Tigers racked up a strong record of tactical attacks on the Japanese Air Force. Chennault called for strategic bombing against Japanese cities, using American bombers based in China. The plan was approved by Roosevelt and top policy makers in Washington, and equipment was on the way in December 1941. It proved too little, too late. American strategic bombing of Japan from Chinese bases began in 1944, using B-29s under the command of General Curtis Lemay
Curtis LeMay
Curtis Emerson LeMay was a general in the United States Air Force and the vice presidential running mate of American Independent Party candidate George Wallace in 1968....

, but the distances and the logistics made an effective campaign impossible.

Japanese air war 1941-42

Washington tried to deter Japanese entry into the war by threatening the firebombing of Japanese cities using B.-17 strategic bombers based in the Philippines. The US sent too little too late, as the Japanese easily overwhelmed the American "Far Eastern Air Force" the day after Pearl Harbor.

Japanese naval air power proved unexpectedly powerful, sinking the American battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 in December 1941, then raging widely across the Pacific and Indian oceans to defeat elements of the British, American, Dutch, and Australian forces. Land-based airpower, coordinated efficiently with land forces, enabled Japan to overrun Malaya, Singapore., and the Philippines by spring 1942.

The Doolittle Raid
Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid, on 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the...

 used 16 B-25 bombers (taking off from aircraft carriers) to bomb Tokyo in April 1942. Little physical damage was done, but the episode shocked and stunned the Japanese people and leadership.


At the Battle of the Java Sea
Battle of the Java Sea
The Battle of the Java Sea was a decisive naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II, that sealed the fate of the Netherlands East Indies....

, February 27, 1942, the Japanese Navy destroyed the main ABDA naval force. The Netherlands East Indies campaign resulted in the surrender of Allied forces on Java. Meanwhile, Japanese aircraft had all but eliminated Allied air power in South-East Asia and began attacking Australia, with a major raid on Darwin, February 19. A raid by a powerful Japanese Navy aircraft carrier force into the Indian Ocean resulted in the Battle of Ceylon and sinking of the only British carrier, HMS Hermes in the theatre as well as 2 cruisers and other ships effectively driving the British fleet out of the Indian ocean and paving the way for Japanese conquest of Burma and a drive towards India.

The Japanese seemed unstoppable. However, the Doolittle Raid
Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid, on 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the...

 caused an uproar in the Japanese Army and Navy commands—they had both lost face in letting the Emperor be threatened. As a consequence, the Army relocated overseas fighter groups to Japan, groups needed elsewhere. Even more significantly, the Naval command believed it had to extend its eastern defense perimeter, and they focused on Midway as the next base.

Coral Sea and Midway

By mid-1942, the Japanese Combined Fleet found itself holding a vast area, even though it lacked the aircraft carriers, aircraft, and aircrew to defend it, and the freighters, tankers, and destroyers necessary to sustain it. Moreover, Fleet doctrine was incompetent to execute the proposed "barrier" defense. Instead, they decided on additional attacks in both the south and central Pacific. In the Battle of the Coral Sea
Battle of the Coral Sea
The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought from 4–8 May 1942, was a major naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II between the Imperial Japanese Navy and Allied naval and air forces from the United States and Australia. The battle was the first fleet action in which aircraft carriers engaged...

, fought between May 4–8, 1942 off the coast of Australia, the opposing fleets never saw one another; it was an air exchange. While the Americans had greater losses and arguably a tactical loss, they gained a strategic victory, as Japan cancelled a planned offensive.

In the Battle of Midway
Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Between 4 and 7 June 1942, approximately one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea and six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy decisively defeated...

, the Japanese split their fleet, sending much of their force and a feint toward Alaska. The Americans realized Alaska was not the main target, and desperately concentrated its resources to defend Hawaii. Japan had 272 warplanes operating from four carriers; the U.S. had 348 of which 115 were AAF land-based and the rest flew from three carriers. In an extraordinarily close battle, the Japanese suddenly lost their four main aircraft carriers, and were forced to return home. They never again launched a major offensive in the Pacific.


The Japanese had built a major air base at on the island of Rabaul
Rabaul is a township in East New Britain province, Papua New Guinea. The town was the provincial capital and most important settlement in the province until it was destroyed in 1994 by falling ash of a volcanic eruption. During the eruption, ash was sent thousands of metres into the air and the...

, but had difficulty keeping it supplied. American naval and Marine aviation made Rabaul a frequent bombing target.
A Japanese airfield was spotted under construction at Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

. The Americans made an amphibious landing in August 1942 to seize it, send in the Cactus Air Force
Cactus Air Force
Cactus Air Force refers to the ensemble of Allied air power assigned to the island of Guadalcanal from August 1942 until December 1942 during the early stages of the Guadalcanal Campaign, particularly those operating from Henderson Field...

 and start to reverse the tide of Japanese conquests. As a result, Japanese and Allied forces both occupied various parts of Guadalcanal. Over the following six months, both sides fed resources into an escalating battle of attrition on the island, at sea, and in the sky, with eventual victory going to the Americans in February 1943. It was a campaign the Japanese could ill afford. A majority of Japanese aircraft from the entire South Pacific area was drained into the Japanese defense of Guadalcanal. Japanese logistics, as happened time and again, failed; only 20% of the supplies dispatched from Rabaul to Guadalcanal ever reached there.


After 1942 the United States made a massive effort to build up its aviation forces in the Pacific, and began island-hopping to push its airfields closer and closer to Tokyo. Meanwhile, the Japanese were unable to upgrade their aircraft, and they fell further and further behind in numbers of aircraft carriers. The forward island bases were very hard to supply—often only submarines could get through—and the Japanese forces worked without replacements or rest, and often with inadequate food and medicine. Their morale and performance steadily declined. Starvation became an issue in many bases.

The American airmen were well fed and well supplied, but they were not rotated and faced increasingly severe stress that caused their performance to deteriorate. They flew far more often in the Southwest Pacific than in Europe, and although rest time in Australia was scheduled, there was no fixed number of missions that would produce transfer back to the states. Coupled with the monotonous, hot, sickly environment, the result was bad morale that jaded veterans quickly passed along to newcomers. After a few months, epidemics of combat fatigue would drastically reduce the efficiency of units. The men who had been at jungle airfields longest, the flight surgeons reported, were in the worst shape:
Many have chronic dysentery or other disease, and almost all show chronic fatigue states. . . .They appear listless, unkempt, careless, and apathetic with almost masklike facial expression. Speech is slow, thought content is poor, they complain of chronic headaches, insomnia, memory defect, feel forgotten, worry about themselves, are afraid of new assignments, have no sense of responsibility, and are hopeless about the future.

Strategic Bombing of Japan

The flammability of Japan's large cities, and the concentration of munitions production there, made strategic bombing the favorite strategy of the Americans. The first efforts were made from bases in China. Massive efforts (costing $4.5 billion dollars) to establish B-29 bases there had failed when in 1944 the Japanese Army simply moved overland and captured them. The Marianas (especially the islands of Saipan
Saipan is the largest island of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands , a chain of 15 tropical islands belonging to the Marianas archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean with a total area of . The 2000 census population was 62,392...

 and Tinian
Tinian is one of the three principal islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.-Geography:Tinian is about 5 miles southwest of its sister island, Saipan, from which it is separated by the Saipan Channel. It has a land area of 39 sq.mi....

), captured in June 1944, gave a close secure, base for the very-long-range B-29. The "Superfortress" (the B-29) represented the highest achievement of traditional (pre-jet) aeronautics. Its four 2,200 horsepower Wright R-3350 supercharged engines could lift four tons of bombs 3,500 miles at 33,000 feet (high above Japanese flak or fighters). Computerized fire-control mechanisms made its 13 guns exceptionally lethal against fighters. However, the systematic raids that began in June, 1944, were unsatisfactory, because the AAF had learned too much in Europe; it overemphasized self-defense. Arnold, in personal charge of the campaign (bypassing the theater commanders) brought in a new leader, brilliant, indefatigable, hard-charging General Curtis LeMay
Curtis LeMay
Curtis Emerson LeMay was a general in the United States Air Force and the vice presidential running mate of American Independent Party candidate George Wallace in 1968....

. In early 1945, LeMay ordered a radical change in tactics: remove the machine guns and gunners, fly in low at night. (Much fuel was used to get to 30,000 feet; it could now be replaced with more bombs.) The Japanese radar, fighter, and anti-aircraft systems were so ineffective that they could not hit the bombers. Fires raged through the cities, and millions of civilians fled to the mountains.

Tokyo was hit repeatedly, and suffered a fire storm in March that killed 83,000. On June 5, 51,000 buildings in four miles of Kobe were burned out by 473 B-29s; Japanese opposition was fierce, as 11 B-29s went down and 176 were damaged. Osaka, where one-sixth of the Empire's munitions were made, was hit by 1,733 tons of incendiaries dropped by 247 B-29s. A firestorm burned out 8.1 square miles, including 135,000 houses; 4,000 died. The Japanese local officials reported:
Although damage to big factories was slight, approximately one-fourth of some 4,000 lesser factories, which operated hand-in-hand with the big factories, were completely destroyed by fire.... Moreover, owing to the rising fear of air attacks, workers in general were reluctant to work in the factories, and the attendance fluctuated as much as 50 percent.

The Japanese army, which was not based in the cities, was largely undamaged by the raids. The Army was short of food and gasoline, but, as Iwo Jima and Okinawa proved, it was capable of ferocious resistance. The Japanese also had a new tactic that it hoped would provide the bargaining power to get a satisfactory peace, the Kamikaze.


In late 1944 the Japanese invented an unexpected and highly effective new tactic, the Kamikaze suicide plane aimed like a guided missile at American ships. The attacks began in October 1944 and continued to the end of the war. Most of the aircraft used in kamikaze attacks were converted obsolete fighters and dive-bombers. The quality of construction was very poor, and many crashed during training or before reaching targets. Experienced pilots were used to lead a mission because they could navigate; they were not Kamikazes, and they returned to base for another mission. The Kamikaze pilots were inexperienced and had minimal training; however most were well educated and intensely committed to the Emperor.
Kamikaze attacks were highly effective at the Battle of Okinawa
Battle of Okinawa
The Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg, was fought on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa and was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War of World War II. The 82-day-long battle lasted from early April until mid-June 1945...

 in spring 1945. During the three-month battle, 4000 kamikaze sorties sank 38 US ships and damaged 368 more, killing 4,900 sailors in the American 5th Fleet. Destroyers and destroyer escorts, doing radar picket duty, were hit hard, as the inexperienced pilots dived at the first American ship they spotted instead of waiting to get at the big carriers. Task Force 58 analyzed the Japanese technique at Okinawa in April, 1945:
"Rarely have the enemy attacks been so cleverly executed and made with such reckless determination. These attacks were generally by single or few aircraft making their approaches with radical changes in course and altitude, dispersing when intercepted and using cloud cover to every advantage. They tailed our friendlies home, used decoy planes, and came in at any altitude or on the water."

The Americans decided best defense against Kamikazes was to knock them out on the ground, or else in the air long before they approached the fleet. The Navy called for more fighters, and more warning. The carriers replaced a fourth of their light bombers with Marine fighters; back home the training of fighter pilots was stepped up. More combat air patrols circling the big ships, more radar picket ships (which themselves became prime targets), and more attacks on airbases and gasoline supplies eventually worked. Japan suspended Kamikaze attacks in May, 1945, because it was now hoarding gasoline and hiding planes in preparation for new suicide attacks if the Yankees dared to invade their home islands.

The Kamikaze strategy allowed the use of untrained pilots and obsolete planes, and since evasive maneuvering was dropped and there was no return trip, the scarce gasoline reserves could be stretched further. Since pilots guided their airplane like a guided missile all the way to the target, the proportion of hits was much higher than in ordinary bombing. Japan's industry was manufacturing 1,500 new planes a month in 1945.

Expecting increased resistance, including far more Kamikaze attacks once the main islands of Japan were invaded, the U.S. high command rethought its strategy and used atomic bombs to end the war, hoping it would make a costly invasion unnecessary.

Toward the end of the war the Japanese press encouraged civilians to emulate the kamikaze pilots who willingly gave their lives to stop American naval forces. Civilians were told that the reward for such behavior was enshrinement as a warrior-god and spiritual protection in the afterlife.

Europe, 1939-1941

The Luftwaffe gained significant combat experience in the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, where it was used to provide close air support for infantry units. The success of the Luftwaffe's Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers in the blitzkriegs that shattered Poland in 1939 and France in 1940, gave Berlin inordinate confidence in its air force.
Military professionals could not ignore the effectiveness of the Stuka, but also observed that France and Poland had minimal effective air defense. Outside Britain, the idea of an integrated air defense system had not emerged; most militaries had a conflict between the advocates of anti-aircraft artillery and fighter aircraft
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 for defense, not recognizing that they could be complementary, when under a common system of command and control; a system that had a common operational picture
Common Operational Picture
A common operational picture is a single identical display of relevant information shared by more than one Command...

 of the battle in progress.

Polish campaign 1939

Luftwaffe aircraft closely supported the advance of the Army mechanized units, most notably with dive bombers, but also with light observation aircraft, such as Fieseler Storch, that rapidly corrected the aim of artillery, and gave commanders a literal overview of the battle. Allied analysts noted that Poland lacked an effective air defense, and was trying to protect too large an area.

France and the low countries; Dunkirk

German air-ground coordination was also evident in the next campaign, as well as the value of air assault
Air assault
Air assault is the movement of ground-based military forces by vertical take-off and landing aircraft—such as the helicopter—to seize and hold key terrain which has not been fully secured, and to directly engage enemy forces...

 by parachute and gliders. It was noted that the continental air defenses were not well organized.

While German aircraft inflicted heavy losses at the Battle of Dunkirk
Battle of Dunkirk
The Battle of Dunkirk was a battle in the Second World War between the Allies and Germany. A part of the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation of British and allied forces in Europe from 26 May–4 June 1940.After the Phoney War, the Battle of...

, and soldiers awaiting evacuation, while under attack, bitterly asked "Where was the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

", the RAF had been operating more effectively than other air defenses in the field, meeting the German attacks before they reached the battlefield.

Battle of Britain

Air superiority or supremacy was a prerequisite to Operation Sea Lion, the planned German invasion of Britain. The Luftwaffe had to destroy the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 (RAF). The warplanes on both sides were comparable. Germany had more planes, but they used much of their fuel getting to Britain, and so had more limited time for combat.
The Luftwaffe used 1300 medium bombers guarded by 900 fighters; they made 1500 sorties a day from bases in France, Belgium and Norway. The Germans realized their Ju-87 Stukas and Heinkel He 111
Heinkel He 111
The Heinkel He 111 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried and Walter Günter in the early 1930s in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Often described as a "Wolf in sheep's clothing", it masqueraded as a transport aircraft, but its purpose was to provide the Luftwaffe with a fast medium...

's were too vulnerable to modern British fighters. The RAF had 650 fighters, with more coming out of the factories every day. Three main fighter types were involved in the battle - the German Messerschmitt Bf109, and the British Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

 and Supermarine Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

. The Hurricane accounted for most of the British kills throughout the battle owing to the fact that it made up the majority of the RAF fighter force - however, its kill-loss ratio was inferior to that of its counterpart the Spitfire, it is generally accepted that of the three aircraft, it was the least capable, having been designed much earlier than the Bf109 and the Spitfire - indeed, the Bf109 and in particular the Spitfire, an aircraft that has become synonymous with the Battle of Britain and during the battle became somewhat of a symbol of resistance in the minds of the British public, went on to serve in the remainder of the war in a variety of different marks.

The Royal Air Force also had at its disposal a complex and integrated network of reporting stations and operations rooms incorporating the new innovation of Radar. Known as the Dowding system (after Hugh Dowding, the commander of RAF fighter command during the battle and the man who ordered its implementation), it is often credited with giving the RAF the ability to effectively counter German raids without the need for regular patrols by fighter aircraft, increasing the efficiency with which the RAF fighter force could operate. As such, the Dowding system is also often credited with a significant role in the overall outcome of the battle, and comparisons with the air warfare that occurred over France in the spring and early summer of 1940, in which there was no such system and in which the allied air forces were comprehensively defeated, seem to support this.

At first the Germans focused on RAF airfields and radar stations. However when the RAF bomber forces (quite separate from the fighter forces) attacked Berlin, Hitler swore revenge and diverted the Luftwaffe to attacks on London. Using limited resources to attack civilians instead of airfields and radar proved a major mistake. The success the Luftwaffe was having in rapidly wearing down the RAF was squandered, as the civilians being hit were far less critical than the airfields and radar stations that were now ignored. London was not a factory city and British aircraft production was not impeded; indeed it went up. The last German daylight raid came on September 30; the Luftwaffe realized it was taking unacceptable losses and broke off the attack; occasional blitz raids hit London and other cities from time. In all some 43,000 civilians were killed. The Luftwaffe lost 1,887 planes, the British, 1,547. The British victory resulted from more concentration, better radar, and better ground control.

1941: Invasion of Russia

Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 opened in June 1941, with striking initial German successes. In the air, the inferiority of many of their aircraft was still somewhat better than their pilot quality. The purges of military leadership during the Great Terror
Great Purge
The Great Purge was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin from 1936 to 1938...

 heavily impacted command and control in all services.

The Luftwaffe operated from bases in Norway against the convoys to Russia. Long-range reconnaissance aircraft, circling the convoys out of their anti-aircraft artillery range, guided in attack aircraft, submarines, and surface ships.

Soviet Union

At the outbreak of the war VVS (Soviet Airforce) had just been purged of most of its top officers and was unready, Stalin in 1939-41 vetoed efforts to prepare for a war with Germany, which he believed could not happen. By 1945 Soviet annual aircraft production outstripped that of the German Reich
German aircraft production during World War II
The following is a list of aircraft production by Germany during World War II by type and year. Note that some figures may not be accurate, and it is not comprehensive. Aircraft variants of different roles are listed separately...

; 157,000 aircraft were produced.

In the first few days of Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 in June 1941, the Luftwaffe destroyed 2000 Soviet aircraft, most of them on the ground, at a loss of only 35 aircraft. The main weakness accounting for the heavy large aircraft losses in 1941 was the lack of experienced generals, pilots and ground support crews, the destruction of many aircraft on the runways due to command failure to disperse them, and the rapid advance of the Wehrmacht ground troops, forcing the Soviet pilots on the defensive during Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

, while being confronted with more modern German aircraft.

The Soviets relied heavily on Ilyushin Il-2
Ilyushin Il-2
The Ilyushin Il-2 was a ground-attack aircraft in the Second World War, produced by the Soviet Union in very large numbers...

 Shturmovik ground assault model and the Yakovlev Yak-1
Yakovlev Yak-1
The Yakovlev Yak-1 was a World War II Soviet fighter aircraft. Produced from early 1940, it was a single-seat monoplane with a composite structure and wooden wings....

 fighter in its many variants; each of which became the most produced aircraft of all time in its class, together accounting for about half the strength of the VVS for most of the Great Patriotic War. The Yak-1 was a modern 1940 design and had more room for development, unlike the relatively mature design of the Messerschmitt Bf 109
Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, often called Me 109, was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid 1930s...

. The Yak-9 brought the VVS to parity with the Luftwaffe, eventually allowing it to gain the upper hand over the Luftwaffe until in 1944, when many Luftwaffe pilots were deliberately avoiding combat.

Chief Marshal of Aviation Alexander Novikov
Alexander Novikov
Alexander Alexandrovich Novikov was the Chief Marshal of Aviation for the Soviet Air Force during Russia's involvement in the Second World War...

 led the VVS from 1942 to the end of the war, and was credited with introducing several new innovations and weapons systems. For the last year of the war German military and civilians retreating towards Berlin were hounded by constant strafing and light bombing. In one strategic operation the Yassy-Kishinev Strategic Offensive, the 5th
5th Air Army
The 5th Air Army was the Russian Air Force's smallest Air Army, with the headquarters located in Yekaterinburg, its zone of responsibility being the Volga-Ural Military District, on the border between Europe and Asia...

 and 17th Air Armies
Air Army (Soviet Union)
An air army was a type of formation of the Soviet Air Forces from 1936 until its dissolution in 1991. Air armies continued to be used in the successor Russian Air Force until 2009....

 and the Black Sea Fleet Naval Aviation aircraft achieved a 3.3:1 superiority in aircraft over the Luftflotte 4
Luftflotte 4
Luftflotte 4 was one of the primary divisions of the German Luftwaffe in World War II. It was formed on March 18, 1939 from Luftwaffenkommando Österreich in Vienna. The Luftflotte was redesignated on April 21, 1945 to Luftwaffenkommando 4, and became subordinated to Luftflotte 6. It was the...

 and the Royal Romanian Air Force
Royal Romanian Air Force
The Forţele Aeriene Regale ale României , or simply Forţele Aeriene Române was the Air Arm of Royal Romanian forces in World War II...

, allowing almost complete freedom from air harassment for the ground troops of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Front
3rd Ukrainian Front
3rd Ukrainian Front was a Front of the Red Army during World War II.It was founded on 20 October 1943, on the basis of a Stavka order of October 16, 1943, by renaming the Southwestern Front. It included 1st Guards Army, 8th Guards Army, 6th, 12th, and 46th Armies and 17th Air Army...


North Africa 1942-43

The American invasion of North Africa
Operation Torch
Operation Torch was the British-American invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started on 8 November 1942....

  was under command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

. in November, 1942, at a time when the Luftwaffe was still strong. One of Ike's corps commanders, General Lloyd Fredendall
Lloyd Fredendall
Lloyd Fredendall was an American General during World War II. Major General Fredendall is best known for his command of the Central Task Force landings during Operation Torch, and his command of the US II Corps during the early stages of the Tunisia Campaign...

, used his planes as a "combat air patrol" that circled endlessly over his front lines ready to defend against Luftwaffe attackers. Like most infantrymen, Fredendall assumed that all assets should be used to assist the ground forces. More concerned with defense than attack, Fredendall was soon replaced by George Patton.

Likewise the Luftwaffe made the mistake of dividing up its air assets, and failed to gain control of the air or to cut Allied supplies. The RAF in North Africa, under General Arthur Tedder, concentrated its air power and defeated the Luftwaffe. The RAF had an excellent training program (using bases in Canada), maintained very high aircrew morale, and inculcated a fighting spirit. Senior officers monitored battles by radar, and directed planes by radio to where they were most needed.

The RAF's success convinced Eisenhower that its system maximized the effectiveness of tactical air power; Ike became a true believer. The point was that air power had to be consolidated at the highest level, and had to operate almost autonomously. Brigade, division and corps commanders lost control of air assets (except for a few unarmed little "grasshoppers;" observation aircraft that reported the fall of artillery shells so the gunners could correct their aim. With one airman in overall charge, air assets could be concentrated for maximum offensive capability, not frittered away in ineffective "penny packets." Eisenhower—a tanker in 1918 who had theorized on the best way to concentrate armor—recognized the analogy. Split up among infantry in supporting roles tanks were wasted; concentrated in a powerful force they could dictate the terms of battle.

The fundamental assumption of air power doctrine was that the air war was just as important as the ground war. Indeed, the main function of the sea and ground forces, insisted the air enthusiasts, was to seize forward air bases. Field Manual 100-20, issued in July 1943, became the airman's bible for the rest of the war, and taught the doctrine of equality of air and land warfare. The idea of combined arms operations (air, land, sea) strongly appealed to Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur. Eisenhower invaded only after he was certain of air supremacy
Air supremacy
Air supremacy is the complete dominance of the air power of one side's air forces over the other side's, during a military campaign. It is the most favorable state of control of the air...

, and he made the establishment of forward air bases his first priority. MacArthur's leaps reflected the same doctrine. In each theater the senior ground command post had an attached air command post. Requests from the front lines went all the way to the top, where the air commander decided whether to act, when and how. This slowed down response time—it might take 48 hours to arrange a strike—and involved rejecting numerous requests from the infantry for a little help here, or a little intervention there.

Operations against Allied convoys

German air reconnaissance against North Atlantic and Russian convoys increased, with CAM fighters still the main defense. The Luftwaffe's first major attack on the convoys began on 25 April 1942 when the 34-ship convoy PQJ6 was attacked. PQ17 to Murmansk started with 36 ships; only two made it through when the Admiralty falsely thinking Germany was attacking with a battleship ordered the convoy, and its escort, to scatter. There was no battleship but Luftwaffe sank 1 cruiser, 1 destroyer, 2 patrol boats (4, 000 tons), and 22 merchant ships (139,216 tons). Nevertheless most convoys did get through.


In some areas, such as the most intense part of the Battle of the Atlantic, the Germans enjoyed fleeting success. Grueling operations wasted the Luftwaffe away on the eastern front after 1942.

In early 1943 the Allied strategic bombers were directed against U-boat pens, which were easy to reach and which represented a major strategic threat to Allied logistics. However, the pens were very solidly built—it took 7,000 flying hours to destroy one sub there, about the same effort that it took to destroy one-third of Cologne.

Japan was also still recovering from Midway. It kept producing planes but made few innovations and the quality of its new pilots deteriorated steadily. Gasoline shortages limited the training and usage of the air forces.

Mediterranean Theater

In the Mediterranean, the Luftwaffe tried to stop the invasions of Sicily and Italy with tactical bombing. They failed because the Allied air forces systematically destroyed most of their air fields. The Germans ferociously opposed the American landing at Anzio
Operation Shingle
Operation Shingle , during the Italian Campaign of World War II, was an Allied amphibious landing against Axis forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno, Italy. The operation was commanded by Major General John P. Lucas and was intended to outflank German forces of the Winter Line and enable an...

 in February, 1944, but the Luftwaffe was outnumbered 5 to 1 and so totally outclassed in equipment and skill that it inflicted little damage. Italian air space belonged to the Allies, and the Luftwaffe's strategic capability was nil. The Luftwaffe threw everything it had against the Salerno beachhead
Allied invasion of Italy
The Allied invasion of Italy was the Allied landing on mainland Italy on September 3, 1943, by General Harold Alexander's 15th Army Group during the Second World War. The operation followed the successful invasion of Sicily during the Italian Campaign...

, but was outgunned ten to one, and then lost the vital airfields at Foggia
Foggia is a city and comune of Apulia, Italy, capital of the province of Foggia. Foggia is the main city of a plain called Tavoliere, also known as the "granary of Italy".-History:...


Foggia became the major base of the 15th Air Force. Its 2,000 heavy bombers hit Germany from the south while the 4,000 heavies of the 8th Air Force used bases in Britain, along with 1,300 RAF heavies. While bad weather in the north often canceled raids, sunny Italian skies allowed for more action. After that the Luftwaffe had only one success in Italy, a devastating raid on the American port at Bari
Air Raid on Bari
The air raid on Bari was an air attack by German bombers on Allied forces and shipping in Bari, Italy on 2 December 1943 during World War II. In the attack, 105 German Junkers Ju 88 bombers of Luftflotte 2, achieving complete surprise, bombed shipping and personnel operating in support of the...

, in December 1943. Only 30 out of 100 bombers got through, but one hit an ammunition ship which was secretly carrying a stock of mustard gas for retaliatory use should the Germans initiate the use of gas. Clouds of American mustard gas caused over 2,000 Allied and civilian casualties.


In early 1944, the Allies continued to bomb Germany, while carefully attacking targets in France that could interfere with the invasion, planned for June.

Destroying the Luftwaffe, 1944

In late 1943 the AAF suddenly realized the need to revise its basic doctrine: strategic bombing against a technologically sophisticated enemy like Germany was impossible without air supremacy. (The B-29 did not need escorts against Japan.) General Arnold replaced Ira Eaker with Carl Spaatz and Jimmy Doolittle, who fully appreciated the new reality. They provided fighter escorts all the way into Germany and back, and cleverly used B- 17s as bait for Luftwaffe planes, which the escorts then shot down. Doolittle's slogan was "The First Duty of 8th AF Fighters is to Destroy German Fighters.", one aspect of modern "Offensive Counter-Air" (OCA). In one "Big Week" in February, 1944, American bombers protected by hundreds of fighters, flew 3,800 sorties dropping 10,000 tons of high explosives on the main German aircraft and ball-bearing factories. The US suffered 2,600 casualties, with a loss of 137 bombers and 21 fighters. Ball bearing production was unaffected, as Nazi munitions boss Albert Speer repaired the damage in a few weeks; he even managed to double aircraft production. Sensing the danger, Speer began dispersing production into numerous small, hidden factories.

Paradoxically, the Luftwaffe would have to come out and attack or see its planes destroyed at the factory. Before getting at the bombers the Germans had to confront the more numerous American fighters. The heavily armed Messerschmitt Bf 110
Messerschmitt Bf 110
The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often called Me 110, was a twin-engine heavy fighter in the service of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Hermann Göring was a proponent of the Bf 110, and nicknamed it his Eisenseiten...

 could kill a bomber, but its slower speed made it easy prey for Thunderbolts and Mustangs. The big, slow twin-engine Junkers Ju 88
Junkers Ju 88
The Junkers Ju 88 was a World War II German Luftwaffe twin-engine, multi-role aircraft. Designed by Hugo Junkers' company through the services of two American aviation engineers in the mid-1930s, it suffered from a number of technical problems during the later stages of its development and early...

 was dangerous because it could stand further off and fire its rockets into the tight B-17 formations; but it too was hunted down. Germany's severe shortage of aviation fuel had sharply curtailed the training of new pilots, and most of the instructors had been sent into battle. Rookie pilots were rushed into combat after only 160 flying hours in training compared to 400 hours for the AAF, 360 for the RAF and 120 for the Japanese. The low quality German pilots of this late stage in the war never had a chance against more numerous, better trained Allied pilots.

The Germans began losing one thousand planes a month on the western front (and another 400 on the eastern front). Realizing that the best way to defeat the Luftwaffe was not to stick close to the bombers but to aggressively seek out the enemy, Doolittle told his Mustangs to "go hunting for Jerries. Flush them out in the air and beat them up on the ground on the way home." On one occasion German air controllers identified a large force of approaching B-17s, and sent all the Luftwaffe's 750 fighters to attack. The bogeys were all Mustangs, which shot down 98 interceptors while losing 11. The actual B-17s were elsewhere, and completed their mission without a loss. In February, 1944, the Luftwaffe lost 33% of its frontline fighters and 18% of its pilots; the next month it lost 56% of its fighters and 22% of the pilots. April was just as bad, 43% and 20%, and May was worst of all, at 50% and 25%. German factories continued to produce many new planes, and inexperienced pilots did report for duty; but their life expectancy was down to a couple of combat sorties. Increasingly the Luftwaffe went into hiding; with losses down to 1% per mission, the bombers now got through.

By April, 1944, Luftwaffe tactical air power had vanished, and Eisenhower decided he could go ahead with the invasion of Normandy. He guaranteed the invaders that "if you see fighting aircraft over you, they will be ours."."


As the Luftwaffe disintegrated in 1944, escorting became less necessary and fighters were increasingly assigned to tactical ground-attack missions, along with the medium bombers. To avoid the lethal fast-firing 20mm flak guns, pilots come in fast and low (under enemy radar), made a quick run, then disappeared before the gunners could respond. The main missions were to keep the Luftwaffe suppressed by shooting up airstrips, and to interdict the movement of munitions, oil and troops by attacking at railway bridges and tunnels, oil tank farms, canal barges, trucks and moving trains. Occasionally a choice target was discovered through intelligence. The three days after D-Day Ultra intelligenve pinpointed the location of Panzer Group West headquarters. A quick raid destroyed its radio gear and killed many key officers, ruining the Germans' ability to coordinate a panzer counterattack against the beachheads.

On D-Day itself, Allied aircraft flew 14,000 sorties, while the Luftwaffe managed a mere 260, mostly in defense of its own battered airfields. In the two weeks after D-Day, the Luftwaffe lost 600 of the 800 planes it kept in France. From April through August, 1944, both the AAF's and the RAF's strategic bombers were placed under Eisenhower's direction, where they were used tactically to support the invasion. Airmen protested vigorously against this subordination of the air war to the land campaign, but Eisenhower forced the issue and used the bombers to simultaneously strangle Germany's supply system, burn out its oil refineries, and destroy its warplanes. With this accomplished, Eisenhower relinquished control of the bombers in September.

In Europe in summer 1944 the AAF started operating out of bases in France. It had about 1,300 light bomber crews and 4,500 fighter pilots. They claimed destruction of 86,000 railroad cars, 9,000 locomotives, 68,000 trucks, and 6,000 tanks and armored artillery pieces. P-47 Thunderbolts alone dropped 120,000 tons of bombs and thousands of tanks of napalm, fired 135 million bullets and 60,000 rockets, and claimed 3,916 enemy planes destroyed. Beyond the destruction itself, the appearance of unopposed Allied fighter-bombers ruined morale, as privates and generals alike dived for the ditches. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

, for example, was seriously wounded in July, 1944, when he dared to ride around France in the daytime. The commander of the elite 2nd Panzer Division fulminated:
"They have complete mastery of the air. They bomb and strafe every movement, even single vehicles and individuals. They reconnoiter our area constantly and direct their artillery fire....The feeling of helplessness against enemy aircraft has a paralyzing effect, and during the bombing barrage the effect on inexperienced troops is literally 'soul-shattering.'"

Battle of the Bulge

At the Battle of the Bulge
Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge was a major German offensive , launched toward the end of World War II through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia in Belgium, hence its French name , and France and...

 in December 1944, the Allies were caught by surprise by a large scale German offensive. In the first days bad weather grounded all planes. When the skies cleared, 52,000 AAF and 12,000 RAF sorties against German positions and supply lines immediately doomed Hitler's last offensive. General George Patton said the cooperation of XIX TAC Air Force was "the best example of the combined use of air and ground troops that I ever witnessed."

Strategic operations

An around-the-clock campaign attacked Germany, with British bombers at night and U.S. aircraft during the day. The aircraft, tactics, and doctrines were different; there is argument how complementary they were in achieving strategic effect.

The Luftwaffe reached maximum size of 1.9 million airmen in 1942. Grueling operations wasted it away on the eastern front after 1942. It lost most of its fighter planes to Mustangs in 1944 while trying to defend against massive American and British air raids, and many of the men were sent to the infantry. The Luftwaffe in 1944-45 concentrated on ant-aircraft defenses, especially the flak batteries that surrounded all major German cities and war plants. They consumed a large fraction of all German munitions production in the last year of the war. The flak units employed hundreds of thousands of women, who engaged in combat against the Allied bombers.

The jet-powered
Jet engine
A jet engine is a reaction engine that discharges a fast moving jet to generate thrust by jet propulsion and in accordance with Newton's laws of motion. This broad definition of jet engines includes turbojets, turbofans, rockets, ramjets, pulse jets...

 German Me-262 Schwalbe far outclassed the P-51 on an individual basis. However, its protracted development history – Hitler personally ordered design modifications to make the aircraft functional as a fighter-bomber – ensured that it was produced too late and in too small numbers to stem the Allied tide. The Germans also developed air-to-surface missile
Air-to-surface missile
An air-to-surface missile is a missile designed to be launched from military aircraft and strike ground targets on land, at sea, or both...

s (Fritz X
Fritz X
Fritz X was the most common name for a German guided anti-ship glide bomb used during World War II. Fritz X was a nickname used both by Allied and Luftwaffe personnel. Alternate names include Ruhrstahl SD 1400 X, Kramer X-1, PC 1400X or FX 1400...

, Hs 293
Henschel Hs 293
The Henschel Hs 293 was a World War II German anti-ship guided missile: a radio-controlled glide bomb with a rocket engine slung underneath it. It was designed by Herbert A. Wagner.- History :...

,) surface-to-air missiles (Wasserfall
The Wasserfall Ferngelenkte Flakrakete , was a World War II guided surface-to-air missile developed at Peenemünde, Germany.-Technical characteristics:...

,) cruise missile
Cruise missile
A cruise missile is a guided missile that carries an explosive payload and is propelled, usually by a jet engine, towards a land-based or sea-based target. Cruise missiles are designed to deliver a large warhead over long distances with high accuracy...

s (V-1) and ballistic missile
Ballistic missile
A ballistic missile is a missile that follows a sub-orbital ballistic flightpath with the objective of delivering one or more warheads to a predetermined target. The missile is only guided during the relatively brief initial powered phase of flight and its course is subsequently governed by the...

s (V-2,) and other advanced technologies of air warfare, to little strategic effect. Captured examples of these weapons, and especially of their designers
Operation Paperclip
Operation Paperclip was the Office of Strategic Services program used to recruit the scientists of Nazi Germany for employment by the United States in the aftermath of World War II...

, contributed to Allied and Soviet military technologies of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, and also of the space race
Space Race
The Space Race was a mid-to-late 20th century competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for supremacy in space exploration. Between 1957 and 1975, Cold War rivalry between the two nations focused on attaining firsts in space exploration, which were seen as necessary for national...


Destroying Germany's Oil and Transportation

Besides knocking out the Luftwaffe, the second most striking achievement of the strategic bombing campaign was the destruction of the German oil supply. Oil was essential for U-boats and tanks, while very high quality aviation gasoline was essential for piston planes. Germany had few wells, and depended on imports from Russia (before 1941) and Nazi ally Romania, and on synthetic oil plants that used chemical processes to turn coal into oil. Heedless of the risk of Allied bombing, the Germans had carelessly concentrated 80% of synthetic oil production in just 20 plants. These became a top priority for the AAF and RAF in 1944, and were targets for 210,000 tons of bombs. The oil plants were very hard to hit, but also hard to repair. As graph #1 shows, the bombings dried up the oil supply in the summer of 1944. An extreme oil emergency followed, which grew worse month by month.

The third notable achievement of the bombing campaign was the degradation of the German transportation system—its railroads and canals (there was little truck traffic.) In the two months before and after D-Day the American Liberators (B-24), Flying Fortresses and British Lancasters hammered away at the French railroad system. Underground Resistance fighters sabotaged some 350 locomotives and 15,000 freight cars every month. Critical bridges and tunnels were cut by bombing or sabotage. Berlin responded by sending in 60,000 German railway workers, but even they took two or three days to reopen a line after heavy raids on switching yards. The system deteriorated quickly, and it proved incapable of carrying reinforcements and supplies to oppose the Normandy invasion. To that extent the assignment of strategic bombers to the tactical job of interdiction was successful. When Bomber Command hit German cities, it inevitably hit some railroad yards. The AAF made railroad yards a high priority, and gave considerable attention as well to bridges, moving trains, ferries, and other choke points. The "transportation policy" of targeting the railroad system came in for intense debate among Allied strategists. It was argued that enemy had the densest and best operated railway system in the world, and one with a great deal of slack. The Nazis systematically looted rolling stock from conquered nations, so they always had plenty of locomotives and freight cars. Furthermore, most traffic was "civilian," and urgent troop train traffic would always get through. The critics exaggerated the resilience of the German system. As wave after wave of bombers blasted away, repairs took longer and longer. Delays became longer and more frustrating. Yes, the troop trains usually got through, but the "civilian" traffic that did not get through comprised food, uniforms, medical equipment, horses, fodder, tanks, fuel, howitzers, flak shells and machine guns for the front lines, and coal, steel, spare parts, subassemblies, and critical components for munitions factories. By January, 1945, the transportation system was cracking in dozens of places, and front-line units had more luck trying to capture Allied weapons than waiting for fresh supplies of their own.

Effect of the strategic bombing

Germany and Japan were burned out and lost the war in large part because of strategic bombing. Targeting became somewhat more accurate in 1944, but the real solution to inaccurate bombs was more of them. The AAF dropped 3.5 million bombs (500,000 tons) against Japan, and 8 million (1.6 million tons) against Germany.
While it can be calculated that strategic bombing cost the US and Britain more money than it cost Germany, that calculation is irrelevant. The Allies had plenty of money. The cost of the US tactical and strategic air war against Germany was 18,400 planes lost in combat, 51,000 dead, 30,000 POWs, and 13,000 wounded. Against Japan, the AAF lost 4,500 planes, 16,000 dead, 6,000 POWs, and 5,000 wounded; Marine Aviation lost 1,600 killed, 1,100 wounded. Naval aviation lost several thousand dead.

One fourth of the German war economy was neutralized because of direct bomb damage, the resulting delays, shortages and roundabout solutions, and the spending on anti-aircraft, civil defense, repair, and removal of factories to safer locations. The raids were so large and so often repeated that in city after city the repair system broke down. In 1944 the bombing prevented the full mobilization of the German economic potential. Planning minister Albert Speer
Albert Speer
Albert Speer, born Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer, was a German architect who was, for a part of World War II, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich. Speer was Adolf Hitler's chief architect before assuming ministerial office...

 and his staff were brilliant in improvising solutions and work-arounds, but their challenge became more difficult every week as one backup system after another broke down. By March, 1945, most of Germany's factories, railroads and telephones had stopped working; troops, tanks, trains and trucks were immobilized. With all their great cities crumbling into rubble, with the awareness the Allies had a weapons system they could not answer, Germans suddenly realized they were going to lose the war. In February 1945, General Marshall overruled the ethical objections of Air Force commanders and ordered a terror attack on Berlin. The goal was to help the Soviet advance and to convince the Nazis their cause was hopeless; 2,900 died (both sides exaggerated the total to 25,000 for propaganda purposes). Far more civilians died at Dresden Feb. 13-14, where a firestorm erupted. Joseph Goebbels
Joseph Goebbels
Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous oratory and anti-Semitism...

, Hitler's propaganda minister, was disconsolate when his beautiful ministry buildings were totally burned out: "The air war has now turned into a crazy orgy. We are totally defenseless against it. The Reich will gradually be turned into a complete desert."

By July, 1945, Japan was almost totally shut down. The American and British airmen had achieved the goals of strategic bombing — but neither Berlin nor Tokyo would surrender.


  • Craven, Wesley Frank and J. L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II (1949), vol 1-5 standard, very thorough history of strategy and operations in Europe and Pacific online edition
  • Futtrel, Robert Frank. Ideas, Concepts, Doctrines: Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907-1960 (1989) influential overvieww online edition
  • Golberg, Alfred ed. A History of the United States Air Force, 1907-1957 (1957) online edition
  • Official Guide to the Army Air Forces (1944), reprinted as AAF: A Directory, Almanac and Chronicle of Achievement (1988)


  • Bungay, Stephen. The Most Dangerous Enemy: The Definitive History of the Battle of Britain (2nd ed. 2010)
  • Fisher, David E, A Summer Bright and Terrible: Winston Churchill, Lord Dowding, Radar, and the Impossible Triumph of the Battle of Britain (2005) excerpt online
  • Hough, Richard and Denis Richards. The Battle of Britain (1989) 480 pp
  • Messenger, Charles, "Bomber" Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939-1945 (1984), defends Harris
  • Overy, Richard. The Battle of Britain: The Myth and the Reality (2001) 192 pages excerpt and text search
  • Richards, Dennis, et al. Royal Air Force, 1939-1945: The Fight at Odds - Vol. 1 (HMSO 1953), official history vol 1 online edition vol 2 online edition
  • Terraine, John. A Time for Courage: The Royal Air Force in the European War, 1939-1945 (1985)
  • Verrier, Anthony. The Bomber Offensive (1969), British
  • Webster, Charles and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939-1945 (HMSO, 1961), 4 vol. Important official British history
  • Wood, Derek, and Derek D. Dempster. The Narrow Margin: The Battle of Britain and the Rise of Air Power 1930-40 (1975) online edition


  • British Air Ministry. Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (1948, reprint 1969), excellent official history; reprint has introduction by H. A. Probert, who was not the author
  • Fritzsche, Peter. "Machine Dreams: Airmindedness and the Reinvention of Germany." American Historical Review, 98 (June 1993): 685-710. Air warfare was seen as a growing threat to Germany, and it became a means of national mobilization and redemption. Nazi Germany believed that air warfare would allow the country to rebuild itself in a racial compact. During World War II, air warfare became a means for rejuvenating authority domestically and increasing imperial influence abroad.
  • Galland, Adolf. The First and the Last: German Fighter Forces in World War II (1955)
  • Irving, David. The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe: The Life of Erhard Milch (1973) online edition
  • Murray, Williamson. Luftwaffe: Strategy for Defeat, 1933-1945 (1985), standard history online edition
  • Overy, Richard. Goering (1984)
  • Wilt, Alan F. (Alan F. Wilt
    Alan F. Wilt
    Alan Freese Wilt was Professor Emeritus of History at Iowa State University.He was born in Nappanee, Indiana. He received a B.A. in History from DePauw University, and an M.A. and Ph.D., both from the University of Michigan. He served in the U.S...

    ) War from the Top: German and British Military Decision Making During World War II (1990)
  • Overy R. J. "The German Pre-War Aircraft Production Plans: November 1936-April 1939," The English Historical Review Vol. 90, No. 357 (Oct., 1975), pp. 778–797 in JSTOR


  • Coox, Alvin D. "The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Air Forces," in Alfred F. Hurley and Robert C. Erhart, eds. Air Power and Air Warfare (1979) 84-97.
  • Inoguchi, Rikihei and Tadashi Nakajima, The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II (1958)


  • Gordon, Yefim. Soviet Air Power in World War 2 (2008)
  • Wagner, Ray, ed. Soviet Air Force in World War ll: The Official History (1973)
  • Whiting, Kenneth R. "Soviet Air Power in World War II," in Alfred F. Hurley and Robert C. Erhart, eds. Air Power and Air Warfare (1979) 98-127


  • Byrd, Martha. Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger (1987) 451 pp., the standard biography
  • Ford, Daniel. Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group (1991).
  • Caine, Philip D. American Pilots in the RAF: The WWII Eagle Squadrons (1993)
  • Craven, Wesley Frank and J. L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II (1949), vol. 6: Men and Planes; vol 7. Services Around the World (including medical, engineering, WAC) online edition
  • Davis, Benjamin O. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American: An Autobiography.’’ (1991), prominent black flier
  • Dunn, William R. Fighter Pilot: The First American Ace of World War II (1982)
  • Francis, Charles E., and Adolph Caso. The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation (1997) online excerpt; African American airmen who fought in Europe
  • Francis, Martin. The Flyer: British Culture and the Royal Air Force, 1939-1945 (2009), culture and ideology of flying
  • Freeman, Roger. The American Airman in Europe (1992)
  • Freeman, Roger. The British Airman (1989)
  • Hawkins, Ian ed. B-17s Over Berlin: Personal Stories from the 95th Bomb Group (H) (1990)
  • Link, Mae Mills and Hubert A. Coleman. Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II (GPO, 1955)
  • McGovern, James R. Black Eagle: General Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. (1985), leading black pilot.
  • Miller, Donald L. Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany (2006) excerpt
  • Morrison, Wilbur H. Point of No Return: The Story of the 20th Air Force (1979)
  • Nanney, James S. Army Air Forces Medical Services in World War II (1998) online edition
  • Newby, Leroy W. Target Ploesti: View from a Bombsight (1983)
  • Nichol, John. Tail-End Charlies: The Last Battles of the Bomber War, 1944—45 (2006) excerpt
  • Osur, Alan M. Blacks in the Army Air Forces during World War II : The Problem of Race Relations (1986) online edition

Air Commanders: American

  • Byrd, Martha.Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger (1987) 451 pp.
  • Davis, Richard G. Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe (1993)
  • Frisbee, John L. ed. Makers of the United States Air Force’’ (USAF, 1987), short biographies
  • Kenney, George C. General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the Pacific War (1949), primary source
  • Leary, William ed. We Shall Return! MacArthur's Commanders and the Defeat of Japan, 1942-1945 (1988)
  • LeMay, Curtis. Mission with LeMay (1965), autobiography, primary source
  • Meilinger, Phillip S. Hoyt S. Vandenberg: The Life of a General (1989)
  • Mets, David R. Master of Airpower: General Carl A. Spaatz (1988) online edition

HAP Arnold and Stimson

  • Arnold, Henry H. Global Mission (1949), autobiography.
  • Bonnett, John. "Jekyll and Hyde: Henry L. Stimson, Mentalite, and the Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb on Japan." War in History 1997 4(2): 174-212. Issn: 0968-3445 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Coffey, Thomas. Hap: General of the Air Force Henry Arnold’’ (1982)
  • Davis, Richard G. HAP: Henry H. Arnold, Military Aviator (1997) 38 pp online edition
  • Huston, John W. "The Wartime Leadership of 'Hap' Arnold." In Alfred F. Hurley and Robert C. Erhart, eds. Air Power and Air Warfare (1979) 168-85.
  • Huston, John W., American Airpower Comes of Age: Gen Henry H. Arnold's World War II Diaries, (2002), primary source; vol. 1 online vol. 2 online
  • Larrabee, Eric. Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War (1987), chapters on Arnold and LeMay.
  • Malloy, Sean L. Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (2008)

Air Commanders: Other

  • Messenger, Charles. Bomber" Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939-1945 (1984), defends Harris
  • Irving, David. The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe: The Life of Erhard Milch (1973) online edition
  • Overy, Richard. Goering (1984)

Technology: Jets, Rockets, Radar, Proximity Fuze

  • Baxter, James Phinney. Scientists Against Time (1946)
  • Brown, Louis. A Radar History of World War II: Technical and Military Imperatives (1999) online excerpt
  • Constant II, Edward W. The Origins of the Turbojet Revolution (1980)
  • Longmate, Norman. Hitler's Rockets: The Story of the V-2s (1985).
  • Moye, William T. "Developing the Proximity Fuze, and Its Legacy (2003) online version
  • Neufeld, Michael J. "Hitler, the V-2, and the Battle for Priority, 1939-1943." The Journal of Military History, 57 (July 1993): 5-38. in JSTOR
  • Neufeld, Michael J. The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemunde and the Coming of the Mallistic Missile Era (1995)
  • Swords, Seán S. Technical History of the Beginnings of Radar (1986)

Tactical Planes, Weapons, Tactics & Combat

  • Batchelor, John and Bryan Cooper. Fighter: A History of Fighter Aircraft (1973)
  • Cooling, Benjamin Franklin ed. Close Air Support (1990) GPO
  • Craven, Wesley Frank and J. L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II (1949), vol. 6: Men and Planes online edition
  • Francillon, R. J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War (1970)
  • Gruen, Adam L. Preemptive Defense: Allied Air Power Versus Hitler’s V-Weapons, 1943–1945 (1999) online edition
  • Hallion, Richard P. D Day 1944: Air Power Over the Normandy Beaches and Beyond (1998) online edition
  • Hallion, Richard P. Strike From the Sky: The History of Battlefield Air Attack, 1911-1945 (1989)
  • Hogg, I.V. Anti-Aircraft: A History of Air Defence (1978)
  • Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II (1989)
  • Lundstrom, John B. The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat From Pearl Harbor to Midway (1984)
  • McFarland, Stephen L. and Wesley Phillips Newton. To Command the Sky: The Battle for Air Superiority over Germany, 1942-1944 (1991)
  • Mikesh, Robert C. Broken Wings of the Samurai: the Destruction of the Japanese Airforce (1993)
  • Mixon, Franklin G. "Estimating Learning Curves in Economics: Evidence from Aerial Combat over the Third Reich." KYKLOS 46 (Fall 1993) 411-19. Germans learned faster (if they survived)
  • Mortensen. Daniel R. ed. Airpower and Ground Armies: Essays on the Evolution of Anglo-American Air Doctrine, 1940–1943, (1998) online edition
  • Okumiya, Masatake and Jiro Horikoshi, with Martin Caidin, Zero! (1956)
  • Schlaifer, Robert. Development of Aircraft Engines (1950)
  • Sherrod, Robert. History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (1952)
  • Spire, David N. Air Power for Patton's Army: The 19th Tactical Air Command in the Second World War (2002) online edition
  • Warnock, A. Timothy. Air Power versus U-boats: Confronting Hitler's Submarine Menace in the European Theater (1999) online edition
  • Werrell, Kenneth P. Archie, Flak, AAA, and SAM: A Short Operational History of Ground-Based Air Defense (GPO 1988) online edition

Atomic Bomb & Surrender of Japan

  • Allen, Thomas B. and Norman Polmar. Code-Name Downfall: The Secret Plan to Invade Japan-And Why Truman Dropped the Bomb (1995)
  • Bernstein, Barton. "Eclipsed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Early Thinking About Tactical Nuclear Weapons," International Security (Spring 1991) 149-173 in JSTOR
  • Bernstein, Barton F. "The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered." Foreign Affairs, 74 (Jan-Feb 1995) 135-52.
  • Feis, Herbert. Japan Subdued: The Atomic Bomb and the End of the War in the Pacific (1961)
  • Gordin, Michael D. Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War (2007) 209 pages excerpt and text search
  • Holley, I. B. ed. Hiroshima After Forty Years (1992)
  • Jones, Vincent C. Manhattan: The Army and the Bomb (GPO, 1985), official construction history
  • Libby, Justin. "The Search for a Negotiated Peace: Japanese Diplomats Attempt to Surrender Japan Prior to the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." World Affairs, 156 (Summer 1993): 35-45.
  • Miles, Rufus E. Jr. "Hiroshima: The Strange Myth of a Half Million American Lives Saved" International Security 10 (Fall 1985): 121-40.
  • Pape, Robert A. "Why Japan Surrendered." International Security 18 (Fall 1993): 154-201 in JSTOR
  • Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), good overview excerpt and text search
  • Rotter, Andrew J. Hiroshima: The World's Bomb (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Skates, John. The Invasion of Japan (1994), excellent military history of the greatest non-battle of all time
  • VanderMuelen, Jacob. "Planning for V-J Day by the U.S. Army Air Forces and the Atomic Bomb Controversy." Journal of Strategic Studies 16 (June 1993), 227-39. AAF did not expect quick surrender; bomb was military use
  • Walker, J. Samuel. "The Decision to Drop the Bomb: A Historiographical Update," Diplomatic History 14 (1990) 97-114. Especially useful.
  • Walker, J. Samuel. Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan (2004) online excerpt

Ethics & Civilians

  • Childers, Thomas. "'Facilis descensus averni est': The Allied Bombing of Germany and the Issue of German Suffering," Central European History Vol. 38, No. 1 (2005), pp. 75-105 in JSTOR
  • Crane, Conrad C. Bombs, Cities and Civilians: American Airpower Strategy in World War II (1993)
  • Crane, Conrad C. "Evolution of U.S. Strategic Bombing of Urban Areas," Historian 50 (Nov 1987) 14-39, defends AAF
  • Davis, Richard G. "Operation 'Thunderclap': The US Army Air Forces and the Bombing of Berlin." Journal of Strategic Studies (March 1991) 14:90-111.
  • Garrett, Stephen A., Ethics and Airpower in World War II: The British Bombing of German Cities (1993)
  • Havens, Thomas R. H. Valley of Darkness: The Japanese People and World War Two (1978)
  • Hopkins, George F. "Bombing and the American Conscience During World War II," The Historian 28 (May 1966): 451-73
  • Lammers, Stephen E. "William Temple and the bombing of Germany: an Exploration in the Just War Tradition." The Journal of Religious Ethics, 19 (Spring 1991): 71-93. Explains how the Archbishop of Canterbury justified strategic bombing.
  • Markusen, Eric, and David Kopf. The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing: Genocide and Total War in the Twentieth Century (1995)
  • Schaffer, Ronald. "American Military Ethics in World War II: The Bombing of German Civilians," Journal of American History 67 (1980) 318-34 in JSTOR
  • Schaffer, Ronald. Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War II (1985)
  • Spaight, J. M. Air Power and War Rights (1947), legal
  • Speer, Alfred. Inside the Third Reich (1970), memoir of top Nazi economic planner
  • Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (1977), philosophical approach

Strategic bombing: Doctrine

  • Boog, Horst. ed. The Conduct of the Air War in the Second World War (1992)
  • Clodfelter, Mark. "Aiming to Break Will: America's World War II Bombing of German Morale and its Ramifications," Journal of Strategic Studies, June 2010, Vol. 33 Issue 3, pp 401–435
  • Davis, Richard G. "Bombing Strategy Shifts, 1944-45," Air Power History 39 (1989) 33-45
  • Griffith, Charles. The quest Haywood Hansell and American strategic bombing in World War II (1999) online edition
  • Hansell, Jr., Haywood S. Air Plan That Defeated Hitler (1980) online version
  • Kennett, Lee B. A History of Strategic Bombing (1982)
  • Koch, H. W. "The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany: the Early Phase, May–September 1940." The Historical Journal, 34 (March 1991) pp 117–41. online at JSTOR
  • Levine, Alan J. The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 (1992) online edition
  • MacIsaac, David. Strategic Bombing in World War Two (1976)
  • McFarland, Stephen L. "The Evolution of the American Strategic Fighter in Europe, 1942-44," Journal of Strategic Studies 10 (1987) 189-208
  • Messenger, Charles, "Bomber" Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939-1945 (1984), defends Harris
  • Overy. Richard. "The Means to Victory: Bombs and Bombing" in Overy, Why the Allies Won (1995), pp 101–33
  • Sherry, Michael. The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (1987), important study 1930s-1960s
  • Smith, Malcolm. "The Allied Air Offensive," Journal of Strategic Studies 13 (Mar 1990) 67-83
  • Verrier, Anthony. The Bomber Offensive (1968), British
  • Webster, Charles and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939-1945 (HMSO, 1961), 4 vol. Important official British history
  • Wells, Mark K. Courage and air warfare: the Allied aircrew experience in the Second World War (1995)
  • Werrell, Kenneth P. "The Strategic Bombing of Germany in World War II: Costs and Accomplishments," Journal of American History 73 (1986) 702-713; good place to start. in JSTOR
  • Werrell, Kenneth P. Death From the Heavens: A History of Strategic Bombing (2009)

Strategic bombing: Planes and Targets

  • Beck, Earl R. Under the Bombs: The German Home Front, 1942-1945 (1986)
  • Berger, Carl. B-29: The Superfortress (1970)
  • Bond, Horatio, ed. Fire and the Air War (1974)
  • Boog, Horst, ed. Germany and the Second World War: Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia, 1943-1944/5 (Oxford UP, 2006), 928pp official German history vol 7 excerpt and text search; online edition
  • Charman, T. C. The German Home Front, 1939-45 (1989)
  • Craven, Wesley Frank and J. L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II (1949), vol. 6: Men and Planes online edition
  • Cross, Robin. The Bombers: The Illustrated Story of Offensive Strategy and Tactics in the Twentieth Century (1987)
  • Daniels, Gordon ed. A Guide to the Reports of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (1981)
  • Davis, Richard G. Bombing the European Axis Powers: A Historical Digest of the Combined Bomber Offensive, 1939-1945 (2006) online edition
  • Edoin, Hoito. The Night Tokyo Burned: The Incendiary Campaign against Japan (1988), Japanese viewpoint
  • Hansen, Randall. Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945 (2009), says AAF was more effective than RAF
  • Hastings, Max. Bomber Command (1979)
  • Haulman, Daniel L. Hitting Home: The Air Offensive Against Japan, (1998) online edition
  • Hecks, Karl. Bombing 1939-45: The Air Offensive Against Land Targets in World War Two (1990)
  • Jablonsky, Edward. Flying Fortress (1965)
  • Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II (1989), reprint of 1945 edition
  • Johnsen, Frederick A. B-17 Flying Fortress: The Symbol of Second World War Air Power (2000) excerpt
  • MacIsaac, David, ed. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey (10 v, 1976) reprints of some reports
  • Madej, Victor. ed. German war economy: the motorization myth (1984) (based on v. 64a, 77, and 113 of the U.S. Strategic Bombing reports on oil and chemical industry.)
  • Madej, Victor. ed. The War machine: German weapons and manpower, 1939-1945 (1984)
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission: American Raids on 17 August 1943 (1983)
  • Mierzejewski, Alfred C. The Collapse of the German War Economy, 1944-1945: Allied Air Power and the German National Railway (1988)
  • Pape, Robert A. Punishment and Denial: The Coercive Use of Air Power (1995)
  • Ralph, William W. "Improvised Destruction: Arnold, LeMay, and the Firebombing of Japan," War in History, Vol. 13, No. 4, 495-522 (2006) online at Sage
  • Read, Anthony, and David Fisher. The Fall of Berlin (1993)
  • Searle, Thomas R. "'It Made a Lot of Sense to Kill Skilled Workers': The Firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945" The Journal of Military History, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Jan., 2002), pp. 103–133 in JSTOR
  • United States Strategic Bombing Survey. The Campaigns of the Pacific War. (1946) Online edition
  • United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Summary Report: (European War) (1945) online edition key primary source
  • United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Summary Report: (Pacific War) (1946) online edition key primary source
  • Westermann, Edward B. Flak: German Anti-Aircraft Defenses, 1914-1945 (2005)

Online books

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