Air war Europe- 1944

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Dave Saxton
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Air war Europe- 1944

Postby Dave Saxton » Mon Apr 17, 2017 10:05 pm

This is in follow up to some posts in this thread:
viewtopic.php?f=26&t=6686

Following 2nd Schweinfurt, there was a pause from deep penetration daylight bombing missions until fighters could be made ready to escort the bombers all the way to and from the target. The first was the 55th Fighter Group and the 20th FG, both flying P-38s, transferred to the 8th Airforce from other theaters of operations. At the turn of the year the 8th had three long range fighter groups at their disposal. In addition to the two P-38 groups, they also had the “Pioneer Mustang Group” 354th Fighter Group flying the new Merlin engine powered P-51B Mustangs. The common wisdom is that the presence of long range fighters made deep penetration bombing missions viable and allowed the destruction by bombing of military/industrial targets of Germany’s ability to wage war in time for the Normandy Invasion. The numbers do not indicate the correctness of these common assumptions.

8th Airforce bomber deep penetration mission losses in 1944, with escort, continued to be horrendous:

January 11th 1944 60 bombers lost on the Oberschleben Raid.
January 29th, 1944, 29 bombers lost
January 30th, 1944, 20 bombers lost
February 4, 1944, 20 bombers lost
Feb 8th, 1944, 13 bombers lost
Feb 10th, 1944, 29 bombers lost
Feb 20th, 1944, 21 bombers lost
Feb 21st, 1944, 16 bombers lost
Feb 22nd, 1944, 41 bombers lost
Feb 24th, 1944, 44 bombers lost
Feb 25th, 1944, 31 bombers lost
March 6th, 1944, 69 bombers lost

In each of these fully escorted missions there was about 2.8 times the losses bombers damaged. However, of these only about 3% were damaged to the point that they could not eventually be returned to flight worthy status.
Moreover, these losses were not justified by successfully destroying the bombing targets. Post war analysis indicated that against German infrastructure targets it took 108 bombers, expending about 650 bombs, to obtain a 90+% chance of putting only two bombs in the target area- which is not exactly the same as putting two bombs on target. At the time of Operation Argument (aka Big Week) in February 1944 it was thought that the bombers had crippled the German fighter manufacturing industry. However, deliveries of replacement aircraft to the Luftwaffe actually increased following these costly raids.

Why were losses deemed unacceptable in 1943, accepted, in some cases on a daily and weekly basis, in 1944?
The answer is that the mission had changed.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Air war Europe- 1944

Postby Dave Saxton » Mon Apr 17, 2017 10:12 pm

The Invasion was scheduled for 1944 but no invasion could be undertaken if the Luftwaffe still held air superiority over the continent. Wresting control of the air from the Jaggwaffe would be no easy task. Following the Battle of Britain, the Jaggwaffe was able to usually fight on its own terms over friendly territory and so held about a 4:1 kill to loss ratio over Allied fighters in the west through 1943.

The job of establishing local Allied air superiority over France and performing ground attack missions was given the newly formed 9th Airforce, flying mostly P-47s, and in conjunction with RAF Hawker Typhoon fighter bombers. The Fighter bombers would be supported by high cover RAF Spitfire air superiority fighters flying in large wings to insure superiority of numbers.

Eisenhower gave the job of neutralizing the Jaggwaffe to General Jimmy Doolittle. As new commander of the 8th Airforce Doolittle instituted sweeping changes of strategy and tactics. The objective of the bomber raids no longer had putting bombs on target as primary, but the bomber raids were designed to force the Luftwaffe to commit its fighters to combat, so Doolittle’s new Mustangs and Lightnings could destroy them in air combat. With long range fighters now available he no longer required that the fighters be shackled to and fly with the bomber streams. Fighters would now be assigned zones in which they would protect the bombers at the times the bombers passed through the zone, but would be released to “pursue and destroy” enemy fighters both in the air and on the ground once the bombers had passed through their assigned zone. It might seem a rather cynical tactic to use the bombers as bait today, but Doolittle really had no better option at the time- if the Jaggwaffe was to be broken in time for the Invasion.

By the last week of February 1944 Doolittle had three groups of P-51 Mustangs, in addition to the two groups of P-38 Lightening’s to assign to the farthest zones, while the shorter ranged P-47s and RAF Spitfires would be assigned the zones within their reach, providing complete coverage to and from the targets. The Mustang groups consisted of the 354th with their blue colored cowlings, the new 357th with red and yellow checkered cowlings, and the 4th Fighter Group with its red colored cowlings. The 4th was the former Eagle Squadron and so had gone from flying Spitfires, to Thunderbolts, and now to Mustangs. As soon as possible, Doolittle wanted all the 8th Airforce fighter groups to transition to Mustangs. This was not because the P-38s and P-47s were not capable, but because the Mustang offered a better victory to loss ratio deep over German airspace and the air war of attrition over Europe was all about the numbers.

Operation Argument, also known as Big Week, was launched on February 20th 1944. The first two days of operations proved a success for the Americans. 53 German fighters were destroyed on the 20th and 35 the next day. The Germans seemed to adjust, though, and during the next three days of operations they destroyed 41 bombers for 48 fighters lost, 44 bombers destroyed for 39 GAF fighters lost, and 31 bombers destroyed for 28 fighters lost. One can see the trend toward a 1:1 bomber to enemy fighter lost ratio or less. The March 6th Berlin raid saw 69 bombers, each with a crew of ten, lost, to pay for only 66 German fighters destroyed. The air war over Europe in 1944 was a meat grinder.

Nonetheless, as the British did in 1940, the Germans were able to replace both their fighter aircraft losses and their pilots. German fighter pilots often bailed out safely to fly a new fighter the next day, or in some case the same day. By the time of the Invasion they had roughly the same number of operational fighters and combat ready fighter pilots as they did on January 1st 1944. (If not for the losses the Luftwaffe would have significantly increased their fighter numbers by June 6th 1944, though) Does this mean that Doolittle’s campaign, and the tremendous sacrifice by the aircrews, to establish air superiority were a failure? No, it was successful in its objective, but not in the ways expected.
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Re: Air war Europe- 1944

Postby Dave Saxton » Mon Apr 17, 2017 10:20 pm

By D-Day the Allies were able to establish absolute air superiority. There were three major factors that brought this into being:

The skill and experience differential. The Germans had 2,283 pilots on June 6th 1944. Losses since January 1st 1944 had totaled 2,262 pilots. A turnover of about 100%. There were still experten scattered throughout the Jaggwaffe, but the vast majority were inexperienced replacement pilots. Moreover, their training was at this time of the war very deficient compared to rookie Allied pilots. The German greenies arrived with only about 120 flight hours of training. RAF replacement pilots arrived with about 450 hours and Americans averaged about 600 hours. The average German replacement pilot stood little chance. Already by March 1944, because of the inability of new pilots to fly in formation, the Germans had to abandon the leader/wingman element, and the finger four formations they had been using since the Spanish Civil War. German fighters now flew formations of what Allied pilots called gaggles after gaggles of geese. Shortly after the Normandy Invasion the Luftwaffe issued orders that forbad experienced officers from flying unless there was another experienced pilot to accompany him or at least six novice pilots also in company. This was to prevent the flying leadership of the Jaggwaffe from being completely decimated.

When the invasion came, a longstanding plan was placed into operation that transferred pilots from the Jaggwaffe to fighter bomber operations against Allied ground forces and in support of German ground forces. However, it soon became apparent that most of the pilots lacked the necessary skills to carry out such missions. Most had only training in bomber interception missions. The plan soon had to be abandoned. During 1942 the Jaggwaffe were among the very best fighter pilots in the world flying the best fighter plane in the world at the time. By June 1944 it was a very different situation.

Shear weight of numbers. During the March 6th Berlin raid the Allies were able to muster 801 fighters for the escort. Typically, RAF Spitfires flew in formations of 120. If a combat developed with Spitfires the most the Germans could typically muster over Northern France or the low countries was 18. In fighter vs fighter combat the numbers were usually about 6:1 in favor of the Allies from March 1944. During 1943 daylight bombers numbered at most about 300 per mission. During the Berlin raid on March 6th American bombers numbered 730. Usually all the Allies had to do in order to establish air control over any given area was to show up. The German fighters had a choice to either yield the air space to the enemy or be destroyed.

Tactical and strategic errors by the Luftwaffe high command. By March 1944 German controllers were already carefully shepherding their pilots away from ambushes or leaving them on the ground if it appeared that there was little chance for success. Goering would have none of that. Goering coined the term Jaggerschreck or “fear of fighters.” Goering’s accusations of cowardice indicated how out of touch he was the realities of the situation and it certainly did not help morale. By July 1944 an OKL operational research officer wrote a report that outlined what the German fighter pilots and fighter controllers already knew: that with hundreds of bombers per mission they could not stop the target area from being bombed so there was little point in losing several experienced fighter pilots attempting to stop it. From that time forward, the Luftwaffe would not oppose major allied bomber raids or send up fighters just so the Allies could have at them. However, in the meantime many experienced pilots were uselessly lost.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Air war Europe- 1944

Postby RF » Tue Apr 18, 2017 10:57 am

In terms of the technical and strategic errors by the Luftwaffe mentioned at the end of the previous post, this is somewhat negative analysis in that identifying the errors is done without any suggestion as to what should have been done instead to try and improve the situation. By that I do not mean von Runstedt's suggestion of ''make peace you fools.''
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Re: Air war Europe- 1944

Postby Byron Angel » Tue May 09, 2017 9:35 pm

Generally agree, Dave. The only comment I will make is that it was in fact the P47 the did most of the heavy air-to-air combat lifting in the ETO. By the time the P51 reached the ETO in large numbers, the P47 had already effectively crippled the LW over Germany. I cannot recall the exact numbers, but P47s equipped a sizable majority of US 8AF fighter squadrons in the ETO well into the campaign. The P47 incidentally also proved itself to be the safest ETO fighter to fly in terms of per sortie loss rate.

The P38 was a brilliant fighter design and a deadly opponent when it was operating reliably. But it was found to be a finicky and unreliable a/c to operate in the high altitude conditions over Germany. For those reasons, it was not well liked in the ETO. The merit of the P38 as a design was really proven in the more clement operating conditions of the PTO and to a lesser degree in the MTO. It was also a very expensive a/c to manufacture, which is another reason why its numbers in service were so modest.

FWIW.

Byron

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Re: Air war Europe- 1944

Postby Dave Saxton » Wed May 10, 2017 4:25 am

Hi Byron,

Yes, I agree about the P-47. The P-47 partly nullified the standard air combat tactics practiced by the Germans, which was fighting primarily on the vertical plane. Nothing could out dive the P-47 and once it got the paddle blade props, it could use its massive horsepower to climb well as well. The 109 had a very good rate of climb so it was very adept at dive and zoom tactics, but using those well proven tactics against a P-47 was not to be recommended. The FW-190’s BMW radial engine became a bit asthmatic above 24,000 feet, so the P-47 with its turbocharged Pratt & Whitney had a high-altitude advantage against the FW-190. The P-47 was heavily armed and tough too. It could take a beating.

I knew a WWII fighter pilot that flew with the 20th FG. He had hoped to be assigned to a Jug outfit because he figured his chances of surviving were better in the P-47. However, the 20th was a P-38 group transitioning to Mustangs. By the time period he arrived in England, all the 20th had were P-51Ds. (He told me that he never saw a Luftwaffe aircraft in the air during his entire tour if I recall correctly) He had trained using both the P-40 and the P-39, and was checked out in both the P-38 and P-47. He had no regrets about being assigned the P-51, though. In his experience the P-51 was far superior to any other prop fighter of the era. He also found it superior to the Navy's F4U corsair in mock dogfights after the war. He said the P-51 could also hold its own against many of the early jets.

Regarding the P-38 in the ETO. One problem was the remotely located turbochargers. The oil lines to and from the turbos were vulnerable to the extreme cold. If the oil gelled up, then the turbo would suffer oil starvation. If thinner oil was used, then it might not have enough viscosity when hot to do the job in the engine, resulting in engine failure. Another temperature related problem was that the isolated cockpit nacelle received no heat from a forward mounted engine. The pilot was probably less effective when half frozen.

Another problem for the P-38 was vulnerability to compress-ability. The speeds attained when employing dive and zoom tactics over Europe were rather high. Compress-ability was often encountered. The Mustang had a laminar flow wing which was a great advantage. The Spitfire's wing, while not technically a laminar flow type, was very thin and so was also more resistant to the effects of compress-ability.

Allow me to make a slight correction to one of my previous posts. The 354th Fighter Group was actually part of the 9th Air Force. However, as the pioneer (Merlin engine) Mustang group it was usually pressed into the service of Doolittle's 8th Air force.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Air war Europe- 1944

Postby Byron Angel » Wed May 10, 2017 2:40 pm

Hi Dave -
I think that one of the most unappreciated factors that emerged in the fighter war over Germany were compressibility and associated aircraft control factors under terminal dive conditions. No other theater of the war really featured combat between ultra-high performance fighter aircraft at such high altitudes. Compressibility effect was cutting-edge stuff at that time and not yet fully understood by the aeronautical communities of either side. Savvy German 109 pilots found that they had to resort to using their elevator trim tabs to coax their a/c out of a terminal speed vertical dive. The travails of the P38 in this regard are also well known (resolved through addition of strategically placed dive flaps IIRC).

One aside about the P47 - it did indeed have great dive performance, but its huge weight required the pilot to allow a very generous amount of altitude (min 15,000ft?) to recover from a high speed vertical dive. I recall reading about an entire flight of four P47s crashing during training because the leader waited to long to call for a pull-out from their dive.

Byron


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