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Blundering to victory..aviation technology vs the Allied establishment in WW2.

Discussion in 'Weapons & Technology in WWII' started by JCFalkenbergIII, Apr 21, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    I had this saved for awhile and I found this an interesting article. What are your opinions? Do you agree or disagree with his views and conclusions?

    Blundering to victory..aviation technology vs the Allied establishment in WW2

    How did the Allies win WW2 in the air? This is a question which I've often pondered, and for some years I have been firmly convinced that luck played the greatest part. In technology terms, the decade prior to the the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and Poland on 1st September, 1939, was possibly the most significant in the twentieth century. The basic development of the jet engine, in both it's axial-flow and centrifugal forms in Great Britain and Germany, the impulse duct and the bi-fuel rocket ensured that new generations of aircraft would have the necessary advanced power plants. The almost simultaneous deployment of first generation radar equipment also seemed to point the way for a potent defensive system on both sides of the English Channel.

    However, did the development and use of aerial weapons, airframes and much more importantly, aviation strategy and tactics keep up with the flow of technological inventions? Below find something to stimulate discussion and open the doors to the magical phrase 'what if?!'.

    Let's take a brief look at the major Allied and Axis powers - ignoring date of entry into the conflict.


    Great Britain and the Commonwealth

    Plus: Massive experience in both air-cooled (Bristol) and liquid-cooled (Rolls-Royce) aero-engines. Excellent aerodynamics (see Schneider Trophy). World's first radar-controlled integrated air defence system (Chain Home and Chain Home Low).

    Minus: Antiquated air fighting concepts (Fighting Area Attacks, 'V' fighter formations); bizarre fighter designs (turret fighters, Defiant and Roc, with no fixed-gun forward armament) in-fighting at the very top (virtually the whole Air Ministry vs Dowding). Poor bomber tactics (early daylight raids by Hampdens and Wellingtons with huge losses). Locked into use of WW1-calibre ammunition (and in some cases, guns), leading to poorly-armed bombers and fighters. Concept of 'the bomber will always get through' - former prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Inability to recognise obsolescence (Fairey Battle, Bristol Blenheim). Sad neglect of naval aviation in general.


    Germany

    Plus: Massive investment in aero-industry due to secret planning for the conflict under a single leader. Brilliant designers and inventors (Willy Messerschmitt, Ernst Heinkel and others). First class aerodynamic research (see Me262). New stategy for the use of tactical air power (Blitzkrieg). Aircraft, manpower and tactics tried out in the Spanish Civil War. Excellent use of propaganda (He 100 dis-information campaign. Superb gun design (some German aircraft cannon designs are still in production TODAY). Superb radio and radar aids ('Y' system; Naxos). First use of jet and rocket aircraft; excellent air-to-air rockets.

    Minus: Severe fragmentation of research effort (due to Reichluftfahrtministerium); political 'favouritism' at a high level (the He280 non-production fiasco). Emphasis on tactical aircraft production, e.g. Ju88 and He111 boosted, 'Ural' strategic bomber project cancelled. Awful leadership at the highest level, (Goering, Udet). Little aircrew rest; e.g. fighter pilots were sent to an active squadron and kept 'at the Front' until killed or promoted to a staff job.


    France

    Plus: Visionary aircraft (Bloch MB-155, Arsenal-Delanne 10);
    proud heritage of WW1 units. Regular use of cannon in both fighters and bombers.

    Minus: Appalling labour problems in a fragmented, semi-nationalised industry; slow modernization plans leading to massive US orders (NA DB-7, Curtiss Hawk 75); poor air force tactical organization.


    Italy

    Plus: Fascist state with high value placed on aviation propaganda (Balbo flights, etc.); excellent aerodynamics (see Schneider Trophy)

    Minus: Low overall investment; low-power from engines; 'quirky' projects (see Caproni-Campini; 'oxygen' bomb) poor organisation. Wedded to biplane fighters (CR 42) and open cockpits (Fiat 32)

    USA

    Plus: Massive industrial and manpower capacity; fine training organisation; first 400mph fighter (F4U Corsair); excellent research facilities.

    Minus: Internal wrangling on tactics (bombardment vs pursuit vs tactical) Army vs Navy; overproduction of inappropriate designs (P-39, P-40); lack of good photorecon aircraft, and initially, radar. Brewster Aircraft!


    Russia:

    Plus: Space! (to retreat into, to build factories in); heavy support from other Allies (ALSIB route, Murmansk convoys, etc); testing of aircraft/concepts in the Spanish Civil War; innovative use of the air-to-air and air-to-ground rocket; superb aircraft guns and cannon.

    Minus: Antiquated designs initially; officer corps decimated by Stalin; taken by surprise by Germany's initial attack; predictable tactics; lack of radar.


    Japan:

    Plus: Expansionist state supports war - extensive use of airpower in China from 1931; aerobatic designs such as the Mitsubishi Zero; fine naval aviation; fanatical self-sacrifice by aircrew.

    Minus: Lightweight construction and lack of crew protection make for easy 'kills'; low-power cannon and low firepower in general; lack of radar; low industrial base; fanatical self-sacrifice by aircrew (!!)



    Having set the scene, let's examine some outline case studies regarding Allied aviation in WW2.


    The Fairey Battle fiasco.

    During the late 1930's, it was fasionable for air arms to own large fleets of what were known as 'light bombers'. Typically carrying around 1,000lbs of bombs and with a crew of 2/3, these machines were usually underpowered and slow, and it was assumed that they would be defended by their own fighters. In the Battle of France, May/June 1940, Fairey Battles were exposed as death traps. Underarmed, they were shot down in droves, a whole squadron being destroyed during attacks on the bridges at Sedan. Despite this, Battles were kept in production, fortunately as training aircraft, although there were better aircraft available for the Commonwealth Air TRaining Scheme. The real irony of the situation is that the Hawker Henley was designed to the same specification, and this machine, which used the outer wing panels of the Hurricane and a the Rolls-Royce Merlin was much finer aerodynamically (c. 250mph). With a little development, the Henley could have become an excellent ground attack machine (or even a night-fighter/intruder), and could have taken advantage of all subsequent Merlin developments. Instead the few Henleys were relegated to target towing. A suggested solution would have been to have Fairey build the Henley!


    Defiant, but that's all.

    Strange ideas abound in aviation; the turret fighter was one of them. The Boulton Paul Defiant was an early turret specialist and the official specification which gave rise to the Defiant insisted that the sole armament of 4 x .303 machine guns be concentrated in a BP power-operated turret behind the pilot. The Defiant bore a slight resemblance to the Hurricane, and had used this to gain a signal victory over the Luftwaffe during the Dunkirk evacuation.

    Sadly, this lack of forward firing armament lead to massive losses during the Battle of Britain. Later use of the Defiant included target tug and night fighter (virtually by default). This is one concept which should have been left on the drawing board.


    Westland Whirlwind

    With the availability of the British-built version of the 20mm Hispano cannon, some thought was given to a fighter to carry four of these guns to destroy raiding bombers. Eventually, the Hurricane was modified to carry the cannon, but another solution was the Whirlwind. First flown in 1938 and as fast as the early Spitfire, with it's cannon concentrated in the nose this twin-engined fighter had an Achilles heel - it's Rolls-Royce Peregine engines. Normally, Rolls-Royce engines meant good news for the designer, but this highly stressed development of the successful Kestrel engine was a really bad idea. On one of their first raids RAF Whirlwinds escorted Blenheims on a daylight raid over Germany - two were lost due to engine failure! Solution? Easy, re-stress/balance the airframe for the the incomparable Merlin and you have a world-beater.


    Escort fighters? No thanks!

    Regretably, some strategic decisions lead to really bad situations for the aircrew. Early on, it was decided by the Air Staff that RAF bombers could penetrate enemy airspace by reliance on mutually-supporting machinegun fire. This tactic was tried in early raids against Wilhelmshafen and Schilling Roads. Sadly, all that the defending Luftwaffe Me109's and 110's did was stand off beyond machinegun range and use 20mm cannon-fire to destroy most of the bombers.

    Later, after the switch to night bombing, senior RAF opinion was that only short range interceptors were needed, hence the lack of underwing drop tanks for the Spitfire. A trial towards the end of the war using a Spitfire XIV fitted with an overload rear-fuselage tank, showed that by accepting slight longditudinal instability at the start of the sortie, a simulated escort to Berlin was possible. Unfortunately, the post-war market for long-range fighters was mostly left to secondhand Mustangs!


    Machine guns or cannon?

    Prior to WW2, the RAF possessed huge stocks of WW1 rifle-calibre machinegun ammunition (as well as using WW1 era Lewis guns in certain aircraft). Selection of a replacement for the other standard aircraft weapon, the Vickers .303 gun, emphasised the need to use up these stocks. Eventually, a Colt-Browning US design was modified to fire the rimmed GB cartridge, and eight of these guns were installed in the Spitfire and Hurricane fighters as well as in many turrets in heavy bombers.

    Technical assessment showed that four of the larger Browning .5 caliber gun would have given far greater range, weight of shot as well as the ability to fire such rounds as API (armourpiercing/incediary). When weight of shot problems lead to many Luftwaffe aircraft surviving attacks during the Battle of Britain, it was realised that the only alternative was the 20mm cannon, which was undergoing installation and reliability problems.


    The crime of Shrage Musik

    During the second half of the war, RAF Bomber Command crews reported seeing many 'scarecrow shells' over Germany, AA shells where said to simulate the sight of an exploding four-engined bomber and designed to damage morale. Sadly, in many cases these were actual 'kills' by Luftwaffe nightfighters many using twin 20mm cannon installed at acute angle behind the pilot, and designed to fire upwards into the belly of the bomber. In was not for many months that evidence of these deadly attacks was accepted.

    Initially, both the Halifax and Lancaster were designed with under-fuselage gun-mountings, but these were removed due to sighting problems. Some Lancasters were equipped in the field late in the war with a single, .5 calibre Browning operated in a simple mounting aft of the bombdoors, and manned by an extra crewman. It was almost criminal to allow so many casualties from Shrage Musik attacks.


    The Martin Baker MB5

    The Martin-Baker company developed a series of fighters, culminating with the MB5, which first flew in May, 1944. Possessed of outstanding performance (460mph at 20,000ft) and beautiful handling characteristics, the MB5 was praised, officially, by the Armament and Experimental Establishment. Everyone who flew the aircraft raved about it, and the MB5 would have seen service had an early decision been given. Failing that, it would have served the RAF and other air arms well in the post-war period. It is a mystery why this magnificent aircraft was not allowed to be manufactured.


    The above studies only sample some aspects of the air war during the period 1939-1945. Doubtless, many others could be cited, but there is enough here to start the ball rolling!

    BBC - h2g2 - Blundering to victory..aviation technology vs the Allied establishment in WW2.
     
  2. uksubs

    uksubs Member

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    Why is it that you only highlight all the RAF mistakes when the US were part of the Allies :confused:
    The reason why the allies won the war was because they made less mistake than the Axis
    Take a look at all the Luftwaffe top secret new planes that were started to be built in 1945 & tell me what impact they made the Ta 152 , Me 262 , Me 163
    The reason why the Martin Baker Mk5 did not go into mass production was the RAF had Spitfire , Tempest & Sea Fury already on the production that could do just as good a job & the future was with jet engines
     
  3. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    I don't and I never have. I didn't write it.This was posted on the BBC.CO.UK site so I assume it that another one of your countrymen did. I found it interesting and thought others might too and wanted to see what they thought of it.
     
  4. uksubs

    uksubs Member

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    ops my:eek: bad
     
  5. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    No Prob. :)
     
  6. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    It is possible to criticise every nation's efforts in the field of aircraft and armament (and just about everything else as well). War is a test-bed of ideas and technologies; some work, some don't. The summary above, while containing only a few actual errors, nonethless gives a biased view by concentrating on the weaknesses of the RAF.

    How about the German failure to develop an integrated air defence system to match the British one until much too late? The failure to develop proximity fuzes for AA guns? The failure to develop strategic bombers which worked (He 177, Bomber B)? The reliance on vulnerable dive-bombers which were swept from the skies as soon as they met opposition? The failure to develop an effective maritime air arm because Goering refused to allocate resources? The failure of the Zerstorer concept in the Bf 110? (It later made an OK night-fighter, but that wasn't its designed purpose). Being forced to continue with the increasingly problematic Bf 109 because they couldn't get a replacement into production?

    For the record, the RAF realised the need for 20mm cannon in the mid-1930s, it was just that the French HS 404 they selected took too long to get into effective service for a variety of reasons. After it did, it was one of the best guns of the war, especially in its Mk V form. The RAF also had a jet fighter in regular squadron service, and in combat, before the Luftwaffe. And they had the finest light bomber and multi-role plane in the war, in the DH Mosquito, which the Luftwaffe never had an answer to. Their strategic bomber force was also vastly more effective than the Luftwaffe ever managed.

    On balance, I would say that the RAF did rather better than the Luftwaffe, where it mattered.
     
  7. Drucius

    Drucius Member

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    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the author certainly appears to have a little knowledge. So many errors, it's difficult to know where to start.
     
  8. TA152

    TA152 Ace

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    At the start of the war no one knew how long it would last or how vast it would turn out to be so it is hard to pass judgement on the aircraft designers for their failures.

    If you look at todays aircraft you can also see different ideas expressed by different countries around the world.

    Some use the Tornado but I don't see how it would survive other fighters such as F-16, F-18, Migs and Sukoi. The use of the B-52 and B-1 would not work if missles and fighters are around. I would think the use of attack helicopters would be expensive if shoulder launched missles were around. Cargo aircraft would not survive in a missle or fighter enviroment.

    Some use jack of all trade aircraft like the Saab. The US is retiring the F-117 which was not a fighter at all.

    People say how great a fighter the F-4 was. If both pilots were equal, which would you bet on, the F-4 or the Mig-21 in air to air combat ?

    Too many factors to make long range predictions on warfare.
     
  9. TA152

    TA152 Ace

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    I was looking at a model Boulton Paul Defiant today on E-bay. The poster said the idea behind the aircraft was for it to shoot down un-escorted German bombers by flying underneath the bombers and shooting upwards or flying along side the formation and shooting at the bombers. I guess the British planners did not count on German fighters having the range they did or Germans bombers having the speed they did.

    I always wondered what the thinking behind the concept was. It makes sense when viewed from the late 1930's thinking but in 20-20 hindsight you can see the failure of the aircraft.

    Perhaps this aircraft is where the Germans got the "jazz music" idea for their night fighters.
     
  10. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    The RAF held the view (until the P-51 proved them wrong) that escorting bombers with fighters would never work, because to be able to carry enough fuel to meet the range requirement, the escorts would have to be bigger and slower than the enemy interceptors. They also did not anticipate the Luftwaffe being able to launch their escort fighters from bases in France.

    Upward-firing guns were first used in WW1, with experiments continuing in the interwar years. There were plenty of examples for the Luftwaffe to study.
     
  11. TA152

    TA152 Ace

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    You are correct as always ! I had forgotton about the WWI fighters with the gun on the top wing. I remember reading how much "fun" it was changing ammo boxes on them.
     

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