Aviation of World War II
Daytime Bombing of Germany
As stated by the Minister of Armaments of the Reich Albert Speer, Germany was unable to withstand the consequences of the daytime targeted bombing of American aircraft. Despite the devastation inflicted, the British nighttime raids did not have a significant impact on German military capabilities. The Americans, on the other hand, hit the military industry where it hurt, hunting down vital factories and disrupting production. Even if they lost a lot of aircraft on the way to the facilities, the rest were enough to cause huge damage. Speer shared his concern with the commander of the fighters, Adolph Galland, who advised the following: "Increase the number of fighters three to four times, and then we can deliver crushing blows to the enemy."
Sensing the urgency of the situation, Speer immediately used all his influence to strengthen the defense forces, including Hitler, who listened to him. The Commander of Air Supply Erhard Milch came to the same conclusion. On an inspection tour of fighter bases in the West, he submitted the following report to Goering on June 29, 1943: “To achieve any tangible success in the fight against American formations of 100-200 four-engined bombers, fighter aircraft must outnumber them four times. Therefore, successful defense against such groups requires the involvement of 600 to 800 fighters in each case. " He did not forget to pay tribute to the fighting spirit of the operational aviation: “The morale of the pilots is excellent. Given their numerical shortage, they cannot be criticized, and the training of commanders fully meets the requirements of the day. Provided that reinforcements are received, one can be completely confident in the prospects of daytime fighter aircraft. " The words "provided" were underlined twice in bold.
There were actually reinforcements. In the first eight months of 1943, the production of Me-109 and Fw-190 jumped to 7477. But the defense of the Reich was not their main recipient. On a categorical order from Hitler, absolute priority was given to the Eastern Front and the 2nd Air Army in the Mediterranean.
In Tunisia and Sicily, JG 27, 53 and 77 are bogged down in a hopeless battle against a superior enemy. One escort of the supply fleet took away all reserves. The casualties were heavy, with hundreds of aircraft destroyed on the ground in the bombing. Hundreds more had to be abandoned in a damaged condition, because evacuation orders were invariably received late, when the planes could no longer be saved. Engine wear exceeded all our worst fears. And at the same time, fresh reserves entered the Southern Front like a bottomless barrel.
Therefore, despite the growing production, the number of suitable day fighters available for the German defense increased slowly: from 120 in March and April to 162 in early May, 255 in early June and 300 in July. By the end of August, under pressure from American daytime air raids, German air defense forces in the first air echelon had reached their all-time peak: 405 Me-109s and Fw-190s plus one twin-engine Geschwader aircraft, which included about 80 Me-110s and "Me-410".
Although several newly formed formations emerged, most of them had to be removed from other fronts. From southern Italy, II / JG 27 of Captain Schroer was relocated to Wiesbaden-Erbenheim, II / JG 51 of Captain Rammelt to Neubiberg near Munich, and the only Gruppe from the famous Geschwader "Green Heart", III / JG 54 of Major Reinhard Seiler, was redeployed from Northern Russia to Oldenburg and Nordholz on Helgoland. Two more completed Geschwaders were returned to their homeland: JG 3 ("Udet") under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Wilke from the southern sector of the Eastern Front; JG 26 ("Schlageter") of Major Priller of the English Channel, where her combat experience against the Americans and the British was perhaps undeniable. Now both were located on the Lower Rhine and in Holland, right on the routes of approach of enemy aircraft.
Even the Me-110, which is clearly outdated for daytime combat, and has recently been involved in solving tasks unusual for them, have found a new breath. Provided they were able to avoid clashes with enemy fighters, their firepower could still be useful against heavy bombers. Major Karl Böhm-Tetelbach, commander of the ZG 26, which was stationed between Wünsdorf, Quackenbrück and Hildesheim, reported that the Geschwader was ready for battle.
Concentration of forces was carried out. Every morning, the pilots boarded the cockpits ready for take-off while German radars scanned the skies in the West. In the underground command posts of the divisions, men and women were also on hold. The battle could begin.
In the early morning of August 17, 1943, the German tracking service noted unusual activity at the airfields of the US 8th Air Force in England, indicating a major operation. Further information received by the 1st Air Division predicted deep penetration of the enemy into central and southern Germany. Therefore, several groups of fighters on the coast of the North Sea were ordered to move to forward airfields west of Reims in order to be closer to the site of operation. These measures proved to be timely.
Soon after 10.00 a formation of 146 bombers, accompanied by countless Spitfires and Thunderbolts, crossed the Dutch coast and headed inland. Focke-Wulf fighters from II / JG 1 followed the enemy, keeping their distance. They maintained contact, but did not engage in combat.
While still over the territory of Holland, the Americans turned south and crossed Belgium at an altitude of 6600 meters. Then, just before reaching the German border, the escort had to turn back. This was exactly the moment the Focke-Wulfs were expecting. Concentrating ahead and just above the bombers, they rushed at the enemy. Then, rushing below the enemy compound, they gained altitude and turned around for a new attack.
The first Boeings lit up. Four of them, leaving behind them black tails of smoke, rushed down to the Eiffel country, and three more - into Hanstruck. And the sky became full of "Focke-Wulfs" and "Messerschmitts". As soon as one group ran out of ammunition, it was replaced by another.
The battle lasted a full ninety minutes without interruption. The Americans lost 14 aircraft, thus saving 132 for the bombing of the object - the Messerschmitt factories in Regensburg-Prüfening. Meanwhile, the German fighter aircraft was already ready to punish them on the way back. Usually the planes returned the same way as they arrived, but this time the Americans turned south, demonstrating a huge range, flying over Italy and the Mediterranean and landing in North Africa. But even so, ten more bombers were shot down in the area by the forces of the 2nd Air Fleet, so that in total the compound lost twenty-four B-17s, and many more were damaged.
But the peak of events on August 17 has not yet arrived. In the afternoon, an even larger force of 229 aircraft crossed the Scheldt delta on its way to the bearing plant in Schweinfurt. He received an even warmer welcome than the first. This time, the German fighters did not wait for the escort to return course. While one group entered the battle with the "Thunderbolts", the second took up the bombers.
In the ranks of the first attacking wave, 5th Squadron from JG 11, which had previously conducted an experiment with bombs, was again. Today, two rockets were suspended under the wings of her Messerschmitts. Sneaking up from behind, they launched their shells from a distance of 800 meters, darting away with a hiss. The enemy unit went in zigzags, and most of the missiles passed the objects. But two hit the target, and the bombers were literally blown to pieces in the air. After such an introduction, the Americans could not find a minute of peace during the entire flight to Schweinfurt and on the way back. More than 300 German fighters were in the sky.
Thirty-six "fortresses" did not return from this mission, bringing the total number of aircraft lost per day to sixty, plus more than sixty were damaged. Once again, it was demonstrated to the world that relatively low-speed bombers could not withstand decisive fighter attacks during the day. This even applies to the "Flying Fortresses" - they were so called because of the massive defensive weapons. After such a setback, they stopped appearing over the Reich for more than five weeks. But they paid for their losses by raiding Luftwaffe airfields in the Western occupied countries under powerful escort of fighters.
Thus, only in October, the 8th Air Army again risked an operation outside the range of its fighters, and this time the lesson was hammered into its head even more than in August. In one week from 8 to 14 October, during the raids on Bremen, Marienburg, Danzig, Munster and again Schweinfurt, the Americans lost 148 cars. This meant the loss of almost 1,500 aircrew in just a few days. Even the Americans were unable to find a replacement. In describing the second raid on Schweinfurt, the official American historian said that the German response was "unprecedented in scope, art with which it was planned, and brutality with which it was carried out."
So could the Luftwaffe have won a decisive victory? Perhaps, but only if it kept pace with new events and if it understood that now the Americans will do everything in their power to increase the range of the escort fighters to cover the whole of Germany. Again, it was Galland who pointed out the new danger. To resist her and maintain dominance in the skies over his own country, he called for the creation of the best and fastest fighter in the world at that time. If, he declared, it was impossible to cope with enemy fighters, then enemy bombers would reach targets without any interference.
But Hitler unceremoniously rejected these arguments, and Goering dubbed them "frivolous, weak defeatism."
In early 1944, the child of frivolity was born in the guise of the American long-range fighter P-51 Mustang. From that moment on, the "Focke-Wulfs" and "Messerschmitts" no longer ruled the heavens, and the decline of German fighter aircraft began.
But the Luftwaffe still had a chance. The fighter that Galland spoke of was the world's first combat jet aircraft. All that was required was to be sent to the right front: the battle for Germany.