The outstanding difference between Germany's bomber force and that of the United Nations is that while we have a variety of bombers , one for every purpose from dropping block busters to precision assault with light, fast, dive bombers and fighter-bombers, the Germans have concentrated on short-range aircraft. Standardization to facilitate mass production seems to have been the watchword in the creation of the Reich's air power under the guidance of Udet and Goering, both World War I fliers.
As with other nations, the type and performance of Germany's aircraft have been governed by the geography of the country. Germany decided early in the 1930's that she would use her air arm to deal heavy blows to neighboring countries, and so she developed the medium bomber above all other types.
In 1932, Goering was appointed commissioner in charge of German aviation. The plump dreamer immediately went to work to build himself first of all a large Air Ministry building, which later provided an excellent target for the bombs of British Mosquitoes.
He then organized numerous factories and training schools. The factories were mostly in the eastern part of Germany, as far as possible from the French frontiers, and the training schools were near by. At that time the Nazis would never have considered Russia a probable enemy.
These factories were models of what war production plants should be. They were large, exceedingly well camouflaged, and surrounded by housing projects, where the workers lived under ideal conditions. Each factory had its own school for the workers' children.
The Luftwaffe grew quickly. In 193 5, twenty-four squadrons of bombers were in service, and in 1937 the He-m and the Me-109 went into mass production. Goering seems to have decided to build these two planes as the backbone of his Luftwaffe.
The Heinkel 111, which was designed before the British Blenheim , was undoubtedly the best machine of its type in the world at the time. It was faster than the fastest British fighter, the Hawker Fury, and it carried a hefty bomb load for its size. This machine, however, can really be blamed for the shortcomings of the other Nazi bombers at the opening of the war. Since there was nothing to equal it for bomb load and speed, Goering probably imagined his fast bombers would leave the British fighter planes standing, flash in to drop their bombs, and make good their escape.
A fine machine aerodynamically, the Heinkel in was soon to show itself as the possessor of many serious defects as a military weapon. The R.A.F. soon found it was as easy a plane to shoot down as the Stuka. After the first few months of air war, when the Heinkel pilots spent a lot of time flying in the clouds to which they had run on seeing British fighters approach, these planes were withdrawn and replaced by the Dornier 17's and Junkers 88's, and by the Messerschmitt no fighter-bombers.
The only novelty the Nazis produced, and, as we have seen, it was really no novelty, was the Stuka dive bomber. The Stuka was used with great effect in Poland, Norway, and France, and when the fall of France brought the Germans face to face with the problem of smashing England to submission, they relied almost entirely on the medium bombers. These were the Junkers 87 and 88, twinmotored utility bombers, with the Dornier 215 and Dornier 17 (known as the "Flying Pencil") and several types of the fast Heinkel 103.
The Stuka, or Ju-87B, which derives its name from the German word Sturzkampfflugzeug, is about the ugliest, meanest-looking aircraft that ever flew. It does an ugly job and has some ugly crimes against civilization and humanity to its record. This aircraft made its first appearance as a civilian plane, when sold to Sweden and powered by a Bristol Jupiter engine. Its prototype, the Ju-87A, made its first appearance toward the end of the Spanish War, when the Nazis sent aerial help to Fascist General Franco. At the beginning of this war it appeared in large numbers and blasted the invasion path for German tanks and mechanized infantry through Poland , the Low Countries, France, and Greece.
With its whistles and sirens to increase the noise of the dive and create consternation below, the Stuka was a most horrible and formidable weapon of war. Its bite was bad, too, and the aim of its pilots excellent, but good tactics by the R.A.F. fighter pilots soon exposed its weaknesses.
Goering let loose his Stukas against Britain, but they proved so vulnerable that after the first few dreadful days when the R.A.F. Spitfires, Hurricanes, and Defiants blasted the Stukas at will, Goering withdrew them. That does not say that the Stuka was not a good plane at the job for which it was intended. It was, in fact, astonishingly efficient at blasting artillery positions and at hacking an explosion-blasted path through inhabited areas.
The main defect of the Stuka was its lack of defensive armor and armament, allied with its slow speed. The machine was designed for dive bombing. Equipped with dive brakes, and with a specially designed bomb rack, it was meant to dive on ground positions at 200 miles per hour and drop either a 1000-pound or two 500pound bombs. It was mass produced to fit in with the German conception of aerial blitz, swift and ruthless saturation of the target area, to be followed by the advance of the mechanized armies. Such refinements as retractable landing gear were omitted.
The Stuka has square-tipped wings, a square tail plane, and an ugly-looking nose, the air vent of the 1200-hp. Jumo liquid-cooled motor giving it the look of having a double chin. Little thought was given by the designers to defensive tactics. In the oblong "greenhouse" behind the pilot sits the radio operator-gunner. His weapon is a small caliber flexible gun. Firing forward are two fixed guns on the wings. With such armament, and comparatively slow speed, the Stuka was a sitting duck for British and French fighter planes. Nazi air generals must have known this when they ordered mass production of their flying death trap, but pilot and gunner lives were not considered in the ruthless Nazi war plans. Working in co-operation with the Panzer divisions, for which they were to serve as artillery, the Stukas were invincible and fulfilled the basic idea behind their construction—"bomb-dropping flying machine." Flying such an aircraft in the face of antiaircraft fire from the ground calls for cold courage and steady nerves. To be in an area attacked by Stukas is a terrifying experience. The first time I saw one of these black ugly planes I thought it was a machine which had been hit and was diving to destruction. I lay flat on the ground, on the South Coast of England, and watched what I thought was going to be a crash. Suddenly a black object fell from the machine.
I was still convinced that this was a crash, but the plane pulled out, and was soaring away as the big bomb exploded on the ground. Its life was short, however, for a pair of Hurricanes appeared from nowhere and opened fire on the rear of the dive bomber. They seemed to fire at long range, but as they broke away under the Stuka's tail, it burst into flames and rolled over and over into the English Channel.
Subsequently I watched other Stuka attacks, all delivered with the same precision and daring. Losses to the dive bombers were astonishingly high. Some succumbed to antiaircraft fire from the ground; others were shot down by interceptors. Intercepted on their way to the target, on one occasion, an entire formation of Stukas jettisoned their bombs and turned tail, with a section of Spitfires after them.
In the North African campaign the Stukas were completely eclipsed by the variety of planes the American and British air forces used against them. The Curtiss Warhawks and Tomahawks terrorized them. Bostons, Bisleys, and Blenheims shot them down at will, and combined to put an end to an infamous career.
The vulnerability of their machines was a crushing blow to Stuka pilots, many of whom waited on the ground to surrender, rather than take to the air. An R.A.F. wing commander, who was among a party of British and American troops taking over an Axis airfield, said that when a Hurricane squadron destroyed half the strength of the Stuka squadron based at that field, the remaining Stuka pilots declined to fly.
Colonel John C. Smith, commander of a United States antiaircraft battery whose unit destroyed seventy-eight Stukas definitely, with the possibility of many more, described the Stukas as being "all done," on his return to Washington. "Our antiaircraft scared them," related the colonel. "We got one right on the landing barge, and ten more on the shore while we were covering the landing of infantry and artillery." Later, in three hours of fighting, one battery knocked down eleven Stukas out of twenty. In another encounter, thirty-three Stukas attacked, but only twenty were seen to continue flight after dropping their bombs.
We owe a great debt to the Stuka, however. Its initial successes demonstrated the efficacy of dive bombing. Its shocking vulnerability showed us that dive bombers need to be tough enough to look after themselves. Similarly, the mass losses of the Stukas probably gave the R.A.F. the cue to develop their fighter-bombers and low-flying attack squadrons.
A study of German bombers at the outbreak of war gives us a clue to the German idea of mass production and standardization, which led to its present plight. Using the words of General "Hap" Arnold, this plight is one of mathematics, that of dividing a given force of bombers between two fronts, and halting bomber production to increase the number of fighter planes for a defensive aerial war. Luftwaffe bombers in the Battle of Britain were the Junkers 88, the Dornier 15 and 17, and the Heinkel in, later to be assisted by the Me-110 fighter-bomber used for fast daylight raids at low altitude.
The principle behind the selection and production of these types seems to have been universal, good all-round performance, with adaptability to medium bombing by day and by night, dive bombing , mine laying, and torpedo work, as well as reconnaissance, night interception, and low-flying attack.
German bomber design differs from British and American in one respect. The Germans like to group their crew together in the middle of the machine and do not use rear or tail turrets. Their bombers were not heavily armed, and no attempt was made to produce a heavily gunned ship such as the Fortress or Stirling.
In planning their aerial offensive, Goering and Udet worked on the assumption that protecting screens of German fighter planes would always be able to escort the bombers to their targets. In putting this principle into operation, Goering failed to consider the possibility that British fighters might ignore the Messerschmitt and Heinkel escorts and attack the bombers direct, which is exactly what the R.A.F. did, with disastrous results for the Luftwaffe. Had Goering employed the strategy of sending extensive fighter plane sweeps over England a month before attempting his all-out bombardment assault, the Swastika might now be flying over London. The German aerial attack on Britain was an outstanding example of overanxiety to deliver the first punch, and the reckless waste of men and machines.
Failure of the German bomber types used was due to the superior fire power of the R.A.F., the inability of Luftwaffe fighters to protect them, and the vulnerability of the bombers themselves, many of which had little or no armor, and small chance of defending themselves. They were all, with the exception of the Stuka, astonishingly good airplanes, well constructed, adequately powered, and fast for their size and bomb load.
The Junkers 88 is a typical utility design. It was probably the best of all-round airplanes in its day. Powered by two 1150-hp.
Jumo engines, and carrying a crew of four concentrated in the front of the plane, it has a speed of 2 5 5 miles an hour with a 4000pound bomb load. Fitted with dive brakes, it is the heaviest and most formidable dive bomber, and with the modification of a concentration of machine guns in the nose, it became the Luftwaffe's best night interceptor. Its range of some 1500 miles made it ideal for the task of prowling night skies.
Normal armament of this all-purpose ship is about six guns and one 20-mm. cannon. The gunners are all grouped around the pilot, and the man who operates the nose gun or cannon seems to lie fully extended in a specially armored protuberance underneath the nose.
The Ju-88's used in the Battle of Britain were lightly armed, with only three flexible machine guns, one in the nose and one back of the pilot's seat, with one in the blister below. The R.A.F. attributed to it a speed of 315 miles per hour, which is a very nifty one for a bomber. Decrease in the speed of the present Ju-88 may be accounted for by the fitting of armor and additional guns.
The Ju-88 has been in service on all fronts. It launched the first aerial offensive against the Russians and appeared in large numbers in North Africa. Its companion in misfortune in 1940 was the Heinkel 1n, a low-winged all-metal cantilever monoplane powered by two 1200-hp. Jumo engines. This was a development of the Heinkel transport plane, on which the Luftwaffe was conveniently training pilots on the night mail run from Berlin to London and back, before the war. It made its appearance in the rebel ranks during the Spanish calamity, and met the same fate as the Ju-88 in the Battle of Britain, for the same reasons.
The latest model Ju-88 which the Germans use for high-altitude reconnaissance is a considerable improvement on the early type. In September, 1943, a young Nazi pilot fed up with the war made the Allies a present of one of these machines which had only come from the Junkers factory the previous June. Attached to the control wheel was a card stating it had flown less than fifty hours and installed was a camera designed to take photos five miles above the earth. The young pilot landed it on an Allied airfield, saluted the guards who came to meet him, and gracefully handed over the machine. An American pilot later flew it across the Atlantic for inspection by the United States Material Command. Inspection revealed several interesting details. One was that both three-bladed propellers revolved in the same direction, thus giving the machine considerable torque effect. Another was a unique gun rack which could be fitted in the bomb bay. This held six rifle-caliber machine guns firing downward for troop strafing. Another fitment enabled two 1000-pound bombs to be carried under the wings, the increase of weight being compensated by reduced fuel capacity. The use of the gun rack for downward firing is interesting, when we remember that in 1918 a Junkers troop-strafing machine made its appearance over Allied lines with exactly the same fitment.
The captured ship was light on armament, everything possible being sacrificed in the interests of speed and altitude. Only four guns were fitted, the forward-firing gun being eliminated, the pilot probably counting on his speed and maneuverability to take evasive action if attacked. For the Atlantic flight the U.S.A.A.F. removed all available equipment and installed fifteen auxiliary tanks from a P-38. The Air Force's verdict on the ship after examination was that manufacture and materials were excellent.
During 1943 the Germans used a new Junkers type for daylight raids against England. This is the Ju-288, a fighter-bomber somewhat resembling the British Hampden and about the same size as the Me-210. These machines, one of which was shot down, are fast, heavily armed fighter-bombers, fitted with wing brakes for dive bombing and capable of being used as torpedo planes.
The Dornier 21 5 is another all-round performer that has been considerably improved since its first appearance in the war skies. A high-winged cantilever monoplane with a maximum speed of 312 miles per hour, it was probably the most successful machine of all the German bombers in taking evasive action and displayed qualities which were later embodied in the Do-217, descendant of the Do-17, which was used mainly as a reconnaissance bomber in the early days.
The Dornier 21 5 had four machine guns for protection and showed itself to be more maneuverable than the other bombers.
According to reports current at the time, the Germans actually began fitting additional armor to the Do-215's during the progress of the Battle for Britain, and several were shot down to reveal improvised protection for the pilots and crew, the added weight of which reduced the bomb load.
From their losses in the Battle of Britain, which will probably rate as the most outstanding aerial engagement in our lifetime, the Germans learned a great deal. They immediately went to work to modify their existing models, rather than to produce new ones which would entail retooling of factories, and costly loss of production hours.
The present Luftwaffe has a number of tough all-rounders, the most outstanding of which are the D0-217E2 and the current Ju-88.
The Ju-88 has never been out of action since the war began. The Russians have hammered them out of the skies on all fronts, and they have been operating in North Africa and Italy. Its design has changed little. Some types are equipped for rocket-assisted takeoffs , and some have jettisonable gas tanks for long-range reconnaissance.
The D0-217E2 is a high-altitude bomber, a dive bomber, a night bomber, and like other German bombers can be used as a torpedo plane. The British hailed it as the best all-round German airplane, but the nonappearance of these machines in any quantity on any front contributes to the outstanding mystery of the state of the Luftwaffe. One thing that can be said about the Do-217 is that it has been good at all the jobs for which it was intended. It has a high wing loading and although it has a span of only 61 feet, it carries over 6000 pounds of bombs. Perhaps the most interesting feature is a dive brake which opens rather like an umbrella below the tail, a novel fitment in addition to the usual wing brakes. British reports on a captured machine which came down intact during a highaltitude reconnaissance flight over England revealed that Dr. Dornier , the designer, seems to have put everything except a tile bathroom in this remarkable machine. Such items as a collapsible dinghy in an armored compartment, a device for pulling the machine out of its dive, a cunningly contrived armor plating, to deflect rather than absorb bullets, leakproof armored tanks in the wings, and at least six guns and one or more cannon are included in this aircraft. The entire job is well streamlined and has a speed of over 300 miles an hour.
In the Heinkel family, we find the latest version of the He-m still with its glass nose, but with additional armor and such devices as apparatus for cutting the cables of barrage balloons, and a 20-mm. firing forward underneath the fuselage.
The Heinkel can be used as a torpedo plane, and reports from the convoy route to Russia occasionally mention the attacks by these machines, fitted with two torpedoes. The range of this plane is over 2000 miles, making it ideal for convoy raiding. Its bomb load is in the neighborhood of 4000 pounds.
Two other Heinkels are of interest. They were reported to be in production in large numbers before the tide of war turned against the Axis. Both these bombers were in line with the German effort to overcome the defenses of Britain and perhaps carry the war to the United States. They are the 116, a high-altitude bomber with pressurized cabin and four turbosupercharged motors, and the 177, a heavy bomber which has been used in small quantities on the Russian front and over Great Britain.
The He-177 is a big fellow, bigger than any other German machine , with the exception of the Blohm and Voss flying boat and the Ju-290 transport plane. In it may lie Hitler's dream of air conquest of Britain, by carrying huge bomb loads over existing aerial defenses. Credited with a range of 7000 miles with some eight tons of bombs, the He-177 appears to have all the makings of a terror of the skies. It is powered by four 2300-hp. liquid-cooled engines, set in tandem in two nacelles driving two propellers. Using turbosuperchargers , it is reported to be able to fly at 45,000 feet. This, of course, may be a rumor emanating from the Axis fear-provoking factory, but this statement is in line with the general development of German types into high-altitude fliers.
When one of the new bombers made a reconnaissance flight over England at 30,000 feet, it was promptly shot down by British fighters, possibly Typhoons. The R.A.F. report at the time said that the He-177 carried the heaviest bomb load of any German plane, which indicated the Nazi determination to return the compliment in the matter of delivering block busters. The R.A.F. was naturally eager to get another look at the plane and awaited the arrival of more. The second He-177 came over traveling light, however, probably on a photographic mission, and when attacked made its escape.
It was flying at 20,000 feet, the favorite operational height of our own Fortresses. The expected attack on Britain by mass formations of these heavy bombers did not come. The possibility is that Allied raids have put an end to its construction, which would in any case have been curtailed by the Reich's urgent need for fighter planes. The 177 follows the line of all German bombers in being fitted with dive brakes, which makes it the biggest dive bomber in the world.
Another high-altitude bomber is the Ju-86P, which made its debut over North Africa at an altitude stated to exceed 45,000 feet. This machine, powered by two turbosupercharged 1000-hp. crude oil engines, was fitted with a pressurized cabin, but apparently it lacked armor plating. Two British Spitfire pilots, one over forty years of age, chased the two machines that dared a reconnaissance at this astonishing altitude. Although enduring indescribable agonies because of the altitude, and wresting with frozen controls, both of the Spitfire pilots managed to get within range and shoot them down with their first burst of fire. The Spitfire bullets must have pierced the pressurized cabins of the German machines, because each pilot reported that his victim had gone out of control immediately after being hit, indicating that the crews were unable to withstand the sudden change of atmosphere.
The feat of the two British pilots, who were actually instructors over normal flying age, is one of the epics of the air. They went through terrible attacks of the "bends" and frost-bite. One pilot was almost unconscious when he threw his whole weight against the controls to make his dive on the enemy. After scoring his victory, his engine gave out, and he glided thirty-five miles to land in the sea.
One of the nimblest plug-uglies used by the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain was the fighter-bomber version of the Me-110 fighter. The first Me-no's were obviously intended as convoy fighters. Powered by two 1150-hp. engines, and capable of a speed approaching 400 miles an hour, these deadly, heavily armed machines quickly revealed their major fault when put in action against R.A.F. Hurricanes and Spitfires. They were too fast to be maneuverable and were an easy target for the twelve gun machines as they skidded across the skies in their attempts to turn to bring their nose guns on their enemies. Goering himself must have thought the Me-no the best fighter in the air, because he created his own pet squadron of these machines, painted their noses yellow and sent them up to annihilate the R.A.F. Air Marshal Dowding's pilots shot them down with less difficulty than the Me-109's. I watched a Spitfire, squadron slaughter six Me-no's approaching the coast of Britain in what looked like formidable formation. The Spits sailed in, separated the German planes and polished off three of them. The remaining Messerschmitt pilots began to turn in wide circles, firing their cannon at 1000 yards. The Spitfires went after them in a rat-race, which vanished out of sight.
The failure of the Me-1 10 as a fighter, and the failure of the Luftwaffe 's medium bombers to penetrate the British defenses gave Goering the idea of using the Me-1 10's as low-flying raiders. At this, with a bomb load of one and sometimes two thousand pounds, the machines were more successful. They swooped in quite low over the coast, and headed for inland targets. But the Germans could never use them in large enough numbers to make the weight of their bombs felt and the R.A.F. soon got their measure. On one of the last raids of the Battle for Britain, six Me-no's raided an English airport. All six were shot down before they reached the English Channel sixty miles away.
Latest version of the Me-no is the 210 which has a single fin in place of the twin tail assembly of the older version. It is heavily armored, considerably faster than the original, and has the novel feature of remote-controlled guns firing to the rear, the German's answer to the conventional tail turret.
Companion to the Me-210, and perhaps the German's answer to the Mosquito although it is primarily a ground-attack plane, is the Henschel 129. This plane made its appearance in the Tunisian campaign as a bomber, powered by two French Gnome-Rhone engines of 650 horsepower, an improvement over its original 450-hp. Argus liquid-cooled power plants. The Henschel is a neat-looking machine . The nacelle looks rather like the nose of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse. It is armed with two small caliber machine guns, two 15 -mm.
cannon, firing forward, and a 30-mm. cannon underneath the fuselage . This last is not used if the machine is carrying bombs. The appearance of the Henschel, however, is taken by some authorities as a clue to the fact that the Luftwaffe is running short of first-line aircraft.
Germany has two types of four-engined bombers which, although capable of considerable bomb loads, are hopelessly inferior to the equivalent Allied products. If Hitler decided to bomb America, he might dispatch a token force of Heinkel 177's in company with his six-engined Blohm and Voss patrol bombers, and perhaps a few Focke-Wulf Kuriers, which were used on Atlantic patrol before the British "Catafighters" put an end to their career.
The BV-222, designed before the war for trans-Atlantic mails, is a ponderous boat on the style of our own Boeing Clipper. It has six 100o-hp. engines and numerous gun turrets. Its top speed is in the neighborhood of 200 miles per hour. When these boats were used to run troops and supplies to Rommel's forces in Tunisia, they were ruthlessly slaughtered by U.S.A.A.F. Warhawks and R.A.F. Blenheims , Beaufighters, and Spitfires, proving their inferiority to the British Sunderlands.
The Focke-Wulf Kurier is a descendant of the German airliner Condor II which flew nonstop from Berlin to New York and back.
Elder brother of the Kurier is the Condor I which previously operated on German airlines. It is the big-bully type of bomber, excellent for preying on shipping, but hopeless when attacked by any kind of fighter or well-armed patrol bomber. It is capable of carrying 6000 pounds of bombs, and is equipped with a large number of machine guns and cannon for strafing purposes.
Its extreme vulnerability would seem to indicate lack of armor. There is a legend in the R.A.F. that in every single instance in which a Hurricane or Spitfire has been launched in mid-Atlantic to attack a Kurier, the German plane was either shot down or forced to abandon its project. Several were victims of antiaircraft fire from the decks of Allied freighters. Altogether, this converted airliner has not been a success as a warplane. In comparison with the United States Fortress or Liberator, it is very much a civilian playing soldier.
Although Italy surrendered to the Allies, it is probable that a large number of her aircraft remained in Axis hands, and certain that the aircraft factories in northern Italy that survived Allied bombings are continuing to turn out aircraft.
The Italian air force never asserted itself with any outstanding vigor during the present war. The performance of Italian bombers must have been a source of great disappointment to Mussolini's Nazi overlords. The Italians have always been good airplane designers.
The principle behind the general design of Italy's medium bombers was to build them fast enough to outstrip enemy fighters, and before the war much was heard of the Breda 88, which averaged 321 miles per hour with a load of 2000 pounds. The Breda was a heavily armed ship and seemed a formidable proposition, but few of them ever appeared in action.
When Italy declared war on France and Great Britain, she was known to have several excellent types of bombers, in addition to the Breda 88, which was designed for ground attack and light bombing raids. The Breda had many good features. Constructed partly of wood and partly of metal, it was armed with three 12-mm. guns and one free gun firing to the rear. The pilot sat forward of the wing and the gunner above it, both having an excellent view of the ground. With its compact fuselage, and twin tails, the machine had an exceptionally good appearance. How many were manufactured is not known. Companion of the Breda was the Savoia-Marchetti 85, a twin-engined dive bomber with first-rate performance.
The Italians seemed to share the German idea that if you could build a bomber fast enough to outrun enemy fighters, it need not be armored. They differed from the German theory in one respect.
They believed in armament. Since the close of hostilities in World War I, the Italians had been experimenting with cannon and heavy caliber machine guns on their fast light bombers. In the 1920's, we heard of the 37-mm. cannon on a flexible mounting being fitted to the Italian Caproni bombers in such a way that the pilot could shoot broadside to his line of flight. Another experiment was the fitting of a cannon firing along the tail of the bomber, operated and sighted by remote control.
An outstanding feature of Italian design has been the use of three engines in medium bombers. The Caproni, CANT, and SavoiaMarchetti concerns all produced three-engined planes, many of which were exceedingly fast. Typical of these is the all-wood CANT Z-1007, which has a speed of 300 miles per hour, with a multiple crew, and can be used as a torpedo bomber, night bomber, and day bomber. Some of these machines were used in the Italians' attempt to bring the wrath of Italy to London. Most of them were shot down by the R.A.F. Incidentally, the Italian contribution to the Luftwaffe 's assault on England revealed that Mussolini's airmen lacked a regular supply of bombers. The machines sent on the two daylight raids on England were an odd assortment, including the heavy Caproni Reggiane bombers, some smaller Caproni CA-135's, and the CANTs.
The Italians did not distinguish themselves. One morning when the Battle of Britain was at its height, a squadron of Hurricanes which had been forced to land through exhaustion of ammunition was informed that a flight of enemy bombers was proceeding up the Thames Estuary. All available fighters were busy, and the situation looked grave. The Hurricane squadron and a reserve squadron took the air, however, and found the "Eyties" wandering leisurely up the Thames. The British fighters attacked, and the Italians spewed out their bombs and fled. Few of them returned home. An R.A.F. pilot related that he had chased one Caproni out to sea. It was burning fiercely. The Italian pilot waved his handkerchief as a sign of surrender , and then dived into the water with a terrific crash, scattering wooden wreckage all over the surface.
Italian bombers attacking Malta came off little better, and were soon replaced by German bombers. In the heavy class, Italy has the Fiat BR-20, powered by two 1000-hp. Fiats, and the Piaggio P-108, a low-winged four-engined monoplane, with 1000-hp. radials. Little has been heard of this plane, but it is credited with having an exceedingly long range. If Mussolini had been able to fulfill his boast of bringing bombs to America, the P-108 might have been the Italian bomber to accompany Hitler's He-177's.
Another big fellow is the Savoia-Marchetti SM-82 Canguru, a thick-bellied trimotor aircraft which made the good-will flight from Rome to Tokyo and captured the world's distance record by flying 8038 miles in fifty-six and a half hours. Little has been heard of this bomber during the war, but it was used possibly as a supply ship to the Germans and Italians in North Africa.
With its extensive coastlines, it was to be expected that Italy would develop a torpedo bomber. When Mussolini decided to bolster Franco's rebellion against the Spanish government, the Italian Regia Aeronautica, pilots of which had an exceedingly attractive uniform not unlike the R.A.F.'s except for being liberally decorated with gold braid and including a tiny gold dagger, sent a number of SavoiaMarchetti trimotor bombers direct from their triumphs against the unarmed Abyssinians. These machines later appeared in the Mediterranean as torpedo bombers, and earned the respect of the British to such an extent that one writer picked them as the best torpedo bombers in service.
Altogether, the performance of the Italian bombers has been under expectations, perhaps because their easy victory over the Ethiopians created false confidence.
Except to a few military experts and pilots who have come to grips with them, the Japanese planes are very much of an unknown quantity. Their bombers, however, seem to respond to the treatment of our. 5o-caliber guns as readily as did the Germans to the onslaught of the eight .30-calibers carried by R.A.F. fighters.
The idea that the Japanese air force is a push-over still remains in many minds. Another widely held belief is that all Jap machines are scrupulous copies of American and British aircraft. Both are untrue.
In some cases, however, the Japanese have taken our machines and modified them to their own use, or built their own machines on the same lines. To the British goes the dubious honor of teaching the Japs to fly and providing them with the nucleus of the air force that struck at Pearl Harbor. The attack at Pearl Harbor proved, however, that the Japanese belief in their own air power was only half-hearted.
Had they backed up their sneak air assault by an invasion fleet, or raided the area seven days and nights in succession, we might not be in such an optimistic situation in the Pacific. I think the Pearl Harbor attack proved above everything else that the Nipponese held the same view on aerial bombardment as the Germans, and perhaps they were even a little more conservative.
Fortunately for us, the Americans and the British are the only two powers with an intelligent grasp of the use of air power. The Germans failed to follow up the Coventry raid, which in itself showed the British how devastating a saturation raid could be, and the Japs did not return to finish the job at Pearl Harbor.
The story of Japanese air power goes back to the early twenties, when the Master of Sempill, now Lord Sempill, an exceedingly airminded son of a Scottish peer, led an air mission to the Japanese. As a reward for her services in World War I, the British Navy was obligingly training Japan to fight her battleships along modern lines, and the Japanese Naval Attache in London asked for a Naval Aviation mission to be sent to Tokyo. The Japanese government was prepared to pay handsomely for the privilege of learning at the feet of the white officers, and so the matter was arranged.
To Tokyo went twenty-eight specialists, all of whom were given honorary ranks in what the Japanese obligingly translated into English as The Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service. The Master of Sempill was made a captain, and others were awarded the rank of warrant officer. The Japanese expedition took along fifteen of the best British machines. These included the latest flying boats and amphibians, the SE-5a, and the Gloster Sparrowhawk. The latest equipment was included, Hucks starters, bombsights, torpedoes, and parachutes, everything necessary to start a naval air service.
When the mission arrived, they found Japanese land fliers being trained by the French who were also grateful for the aid given against Germany in the war. Lord Sempill told me on his return that the Japs were still in the 1914 stage of aviation, but they were quick to learn and determined to have a naval air service at all costs.
In the short period of eighteen months, they built a most efficient training station supplied with qualified instructors. From 1923 onwards , Japanese naval flying made steady progress. Japanese Air Attaches to the democratic countries negotiated contracts to purchase suitable machines, and everything possible was done to insure an air service adequate in number and performance for its task of "defending the Imperial shores," as a Japanese writer put it in a British aviation magazine.
The Japs were exceedingly proud of their new air arm. The best pilot material went to the Navy, which set the pace over the Army in airplane development.
In 1938, a Japanese air correspondent offered me, for publication in the magazine I was editing, a well-written piece concerning Japanese aviation. It began modestly by stating that although the Japanese planes were not much better than the Chinese, which I observed were almost nil, the Japanese air force was the best in the world, because of its superiority in aerial bombing. He went on to state that in the bombing of Hankow all the bombs hit the military targets from a height of 12,000 feet, with the result that no Chinese civilians were killed. There was then a considerable amount of Fascist propaganda , particularly against the Spanish government, and a statement that twenty Japanese bombers had met twenty Chinese pilots flying Gladiators (British planes) and shot them all down. The writer also naively stated that every Japanese pilot has to accomplish his mission despite weather conditions, and that he will if necessary dive his bomber into the target to insure destruction.
He went on to say that the crew of each Japanese bomber sent against the Chinese, who were flying "deadly pursuit ships," carried small Rising Sun flags with them which they waved valiantly as they plunged to their death, if shot down.
There was also a story of a Japanese naval pilot shot down over Nanking. He had dived "in the middle of the enemy so that his bombs would destroy them." He had written to his parents: "To die for the Emperor is the duty of every man. In the period of national crisis I became an officer in the Imperial Navy, and thanks to the guidance and training of my superiors, I was able to attain the position I am now in . . . soon we shall be fighting the world, and our noble fliers will shatter all our enemies." The piece, which eventually appeared in another magazine, ended with the statement that the country was proud of its heroes, who not many years before had never seen an airplane.
Remembering this glowing report of Japanese exploits against China, who seldom had more than two fighter planes in running condition at one time, prompts me to wonder what terrific build-ups the Japanese pilots must get today when they are being so thoroughly trounced by the American pilots flying Wildcats, P-4o's, Corsairs, Catalinas, and any kind of plane now in action in the Pacific and over Burma. It shows, however, that these little men tend to make up in fanaticism what they lack in plane performance.
Just as the Germans tried out their bombers in Franco's inglorious Spanish "rebellion," so the Japanese gave their warbirds a preliminary try-out in their so-called China incident. In adapting their civilian types to military use, they likewise followed the German example.
Many of their machines are development of German, British, and American types. The Navy's Mitsubishi OB-96, which was used extensively in China, is a development of the civilian Junkers type sold to the Japs by Germany. This machine, powered by two 1000-hp. engines, could carry a ton of bombs over a range of 1000 miles and was liberally armed.
The Japanese Army's equivalent of this bomber is the Mitsubishi OB-97, distinguished by its tapering wing tips and exceedingly small aspect ratio. It has an exceptionally long second cockpit amidships of the fuselage and is credited by the United States Navy with a speed of 191 miles an hour and a service ceiling of 23,000 feet.
These bombers have a much greater load capacity than the OB-96, but would seem to be extremely vulnerable, having been slaughtered unmercifully by the United States Navy and Marine pilots in the Pacific.
During a raid on Milne Bay on the southwest coast of New Guinea, more than thirty Japanese bombers out of fifty, protected by fifty fighters, were shot down; while Japanese bombers operating out of Burma against India suffered such heavy losses that their operations ceased entirely. A British Blenheim on reconnaissance encountered two of these aircraft and disposed of them. Compared with United States Mitchells and Marauders, these bombers are well out of date.
One of the most successful Japanese planes is the Mitsubishi OB-01, an all-Japanese product, the plane probably used against the Repulse and the Prince of Wales. The OB-oi is a carrier or landbased bomber, and has a gun position in the tail. It is powered by two radial engines probably of i o00 hp. each, and it carries two torpedoes or their equivalent weight in bombs. An R.A.F. report on this ship describes it as equal to our best medium bombers, but no details are available as to its performance.
Another Japanese dive bomber, the Aichi K-99, is a comparatively outmoded plane powered by a 900-hp. radial. It has a crew of two and a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour. It might be considered the counterpart of our Douglas Dauntless, but would be inferior in all-round performance.
The Japanese Army's Showa SB-99 is a replica of our own Vultee attack bombers, which were widely sold to foreign nations.
Seaplanes figure largely in the Japanese Naval Air Service. Many of them reveal their inheritance of design features from the British Short seaplanes sold to the Nipponese many years ago. British influence similarly shows in their flying boats. One of these, the Mitsubishi H-96, closely resembles the Short Calcutta, from which it was built under license. The H-96 is a biplane with three radial engines in line between the wings and is probably used for antisubmarine patrol.
The Japs are also known to have one or two types of four-engined flying boats. The largest of these is the Kawanishi T-97 which is a development of the Kawasaki flying boat that operated on the prewar Yokohama— Saipan service. This aircraft is a development of the Sikorsky S-42B.
The T-97 has made frequent appearances in the Pacific as a bomber and as a torpedo plane, and one of them featured in an epic encounter with a United States Navy Catalina which ended in defeat for the Jap plane, but only after severe damage had been caused to the Cat. It is powered by four 900-hp. double-row Kinsie radial engines which give it a cruising speed of 215; miles per hour at 13,000 feet. Its maximum range is about 1500 miles. Weighing 45,000 pounds, it carries a crew of ten men and 3500 pounds of bombs.
The T-97 1S probably one of the best armed of the Japanese bombers, being equipped with 20-mm. cannon in the nose and dorsal, or tail turrets according to the type. It has a span of 131 feet and is distinguished by its wide thin wing, with a deep rectangular center section extending to the outboard engines. Outboard from the center section the wings taper to rounded tips.
Another four-engined design is the Hiro H-97, a big fellow powered by four liquid-cooled engines and capable of a maximum speed of some 200 miles per hour. The Hiro has made its appearance in the South Pacific, but no definite news seems to be available as to its reaction when attacked by United States fighters.
In considering the Japanese air force, it is well to remember that while many of the types now in use are out of date, there is no reason to suppose that Japan, with German help, is not producing better airplanes for her defensive war in the Pacific. Reports have been received to the effect that the Japs have been throwing ten-year-old types into the air battles in the Munda area. This does not mean that Japanese air power is cracking. It may be staggering under the blows dealt it by American and British air forces, which have been most persistent, and the enemy may consider that replacement of the old types would be a waste of production.
Typical of Allied blows were three engagements during April, 1943. Off Tulagi, American fighter pilots destroyed thirty-nine Japanese planes out of ninety-eight attacking. At Oro Bay, twentythree out of forty-five; at Port Moresby, fifty-two out of one hundred . These losses are heavy and would make replacements difficult.
While retooling their factories to produce better machines, the Japs may have thrown in their reserves of old planes. Up to the time of writing, Japan, like the United States, is one of the two nations in the world able to retool and produce airplanes out of range of enemy bombs. Japanese aircraft production is known to be increasing, and Tojo has called for "far better achievement" in the future. Using German mass production methods and German designs, the Japs might spring a series of surprises on us.
Japan's air development has probably suffered a serious blow in the death of Commander Suteji Muroi, who was credited with the planning and development of the Imperial air arm. Muroi went to Germany in 1939 to study aerial war at the Luftkrieg Academy in Berlin and returned to Japan after visiting the Western and Eastern fronts. Another arrival in Japan at the time was the notorious Fritz Weidemann, former German consul in San Francisco and personal friend of Hitler. Weidemann was supposed to have brought the Japanese a scheme for mass production of one fighter and one bomber type of aircraft.
Raids on the American mainland are constantly being threatened by Japan's warlords. Major General Kenryo Sato has stated over the radio that such preparations are already at hand. Probably they are, perhaps with Jap-built He-177's, or a specially designed long-range plane to operate from carriers. Anything is possible when you are opposing a fanatical enemy.
Let us hope that before these planes can be put into action, our own bombers will have blasted every Japanese aircraft factory of importance. If you look at the map of the Aleutians and consider the range of our new bombers, you will see that our chances of bombing Japan are better than her chances of bombing the United States.