|B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, 17 August 1943|
"I'm not kidding Chris, after we landed and parked the aircraft, we all got out and kissed the ground. I was never so happy to have a mission behind us as I was that day."What exactly is "flak" some of you may be asking (and it has nothing to do with the crap your boss gives you at work, though it is used that way). Flak is an acronym for the German word, and I hope you're sitting down juvat, for anti-aircraft cannon, Flugabwehrkanone. In other words, anti-aircraft artillery, or AAA as we modern types call it. This stuff -
|All those black "puffs" are exploding shells.|
|8.8 cm Flak 36|
|12.8 cm Flak mounted on a Flak tower|
Of course, there were these chaps as well -
|Fw 190 A-3|
Of course the mighty B-17 Flying Fortress wasn't the only daylight bomber employed by the U.S. Army Air Force, there was also the B-24 Liberator -
|B-24 Liberators assigned to the 446th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force|
The British had other ideas, they felt that daylight bombing would be too costly and wouldn't have enough of an effect on the Germans, both materially and morale-wise. So they would bomb at night and they would drop their bombs on wide areas of German cities. Their mainstays in RAF Bomber Command were the Lancaster and the Halifax -
|Three 44 Squadron Avro Lancaster B.Is in 1942|
|Handley Page Halifax B.III|
The Americans depended on the firepower of their bombers flying in tight formations, defended by multiple .50 caliber machine guns located throughout the aircraft. The British, on the other hand, as they were flying at night, sent their bombers to their targets in a stream of aircraft. This was intended to prevent mid-air collisions, though this still occurred.
It's worth noting that the number of defensive machine guns aboard the B-17s and B-24s had an effect on the amount of bombs those aircraft could carry. While a B-17 could carry a bit over two tons of bombs on long range missions (the B-24 could carry a bit more), the Lancaster could carry as many as seven tons of bombs! (The Halifax slightly less.)
While the British still had flak to deal with, the fighter attacks weren't as intense as those which the Americans experienced. But they were, perhaps, rather a bit more terrifying as they could not see the German night fighters coming after them. Most of which were equipped with radar and were ground controlled to the intercept by an extensive support organization, equipped with very sophisticated radars.
Some of the enemy night fighter opposition -
The British were right about the heavy losses suffered in daylight raids, not even the formidable armament of the B-17s and B-24s deterred the Luftwaffe fighter pilots, bomber losses mounted until this bird came along -
|North American P-51D-5-NA Mustang #44-13926 from the 375th Fighter Squadron.|
Once the Fortresses and Liberators could be escorted all the way to their targets by the P-51, the Luftwaffe was doomed. They had to come up to defend their homeland, and they lost heavily. The effectiveness of the bombing campaign can perhaps be measured by the fact that during the morning of 6 June 1944, as the Allies were coming ashore, hundreds of friendly aircraft were overhead.
Two, count them, two Luftwaffe fighters were up over the beaches that morning and had precisely no effect on the landings. Not only had air superiority been achieved, the Allies had achieved air supremacy.
Right now I'm reading Big Week by James Holland, a very good book on the bombing campaign in Word War II. I can't imagine what those crews went through, both during the day and at night. Harrowing to say the least.
One of the very best fictional accounts I have ever read of the RAF's night bombing campaign is Bomber by Len Deighton. I can't recommend this one enough. Well written, you feel as if you're in the aircraft yourself. The bomber and the night fighter. (Yes, I provided Amazon links for both books, no, I don't own stock in Amazon. No, I don't wish I did. I don't do the stock market, don't believe in gambling of any form.)
One thing this enforced period of hunkering down at the manse has given me is that I have been finding time to read again. That has been rare over the past year or so. So I have been doing just that, I need to refresh my memories of those who went before. Brave men, on both sides.
I really need to read up on the bombing campaign against Japan. My knowledge there is extremely lacking!