This map shows the German nightfighter defences in early 1942. The coastal chain of dark fighting Freya-AN Dunaja zones is backed by a line of Himmelbett boxes ranging from Denmark into France. Each Freya and Himmelbett station could control only one fighter at a time. By mid-1942 the searchlights had been withdrawn to the cities, creating large illuminated zones (here marked in a lighter green) where Konaja, and later Wilde Sau, fighting could take place.

Luftwaffe night fighter control methods.

On 14 May 1940 the Luftwaffe set out to break the dogged Dutch hold on the north bank of the Maas by a mass attack on Rotterdam. As the bombers neared their target, the Dutch opened negotiations for surrender. The Luftwaffe recalled its bombers, but one unit – the fifty-seven Heinkels of KG 54 – had already done its work and started fires which gutted the heart of the Old City. Far worse attacks had been made on Polish cities, and later on Belgrade, but for some reason this incident made the Allied leaders recoil in horror. On the following day Winston Churchill, just appointed British Prime Minister, announced that henceforth the RAF could bomb Germany. That night ninety-six heavies set out against specific oil and rail targets in the Ruhr. Only twenty-four even claimed to have located their objectives.

Later, a bomber pilot visiting TRE said, ‘They used to tell us to bomb Krupps, but we were lost as soon as we left the aerodrome.’ Clearly, Bomber Command had a long and difficult road ahead; but so did the Luftwaffe. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, the famed head of the Luftwaffe, had promised in August 1939, ‘We will not expose the Ruhr to a single bomb dropped by enemy aircraft.’ He had just inspected some of the Luftwaffe’s heavy Flak emplacements near Essen, with 88, 105 and 128 mm guns radar-directed by the new Würzburgs. By a very wide margin indeed, it was the best AA artillery in the world. But radar-directed Flak took a long time to come into general use, and the Luftwaffe had no night-fighter aircraft at all. In its first four months of unrestricted bombing of Germany between May and mid-September 1940 the RAF lost only 163 aircraft, about two per cent of the 8,000-odd sorties. Goering was bothered, because the occasional bomb was falling on the Ruhr; one or two even hit their intended targets. In July 1940 he instructed Colonel Josef Kammhuber to form a special force of night fighters.

Kammhuber was not impressed by the existing German defence system. The Würzburgs and heavy Flak formed a formidable combination, but there were still only 450 guns and a mere handful of radars. Night fighters were another story. Nobody in the Luftwaffe had even dreamed of putting radar into a fighter, and the only method of operation was Helle Nachtjagd (illuminated night fighting). A few day fighters, nearly all Bf 109s flown by bolder or more experienced pilots, would take off on radar early-warning of a British raid and orbit a radio beacon. Often they would keep their navigation lights on to avoid a mid-air collision, and sometimes they would have to fly to a second beacon and orbit again. Interceptions were achieved solely by watching the searchlights and trying to see the enemy bombers. Throughout the summer this method resulted in just one success: on 9 July 1940 Feldwebel Foerster of JG 2 managed to shoot down a Whitley. He would probably have admitted that this was mainly by luck.

Kammhuber could see the need for bigger twin-engined night fighters, with adequate endurance for the long night patrols. The Bf 110 was an obvious choice, but an even better one might be the Ju 88C. This sub-type had begun life as a long-range day and anti-shipping fighter, with the Ju 88V7 prototype flown on 27 September 1938, which had an unglazed nose mounting two cannon and two machine-guns. Some pre-production C-0 fighters were used for ground attack during the Polish campaign, but plans to build the fast C-1, with two BMW 801 radials, were shelved to enable all effort to be applied to building A-series bomber versions. In 1940 the BMW 801 went into production, but with priority for the Fw 190 single-seater, so the C-1 was abandoned and instead the Luftwaffe began to receive the Ju 88C-2, a rather hasty conversion of the A-1 bomber with Jumo 211 engines and a nose armament of one cannon and three machine-guns. Instead of being ordinary day Zerstörer (destroyer) fighters, these were now regarded as primarily for use by night. They were the forerunners of the aircraft that were to play the biggest part in the biggest night air battle in history.

While giving much thought to the last long-term system for the night defence of the German-controlled continent, Kammhuber acted quickly to create a night-fighter force. On the day of his appointment he picked the premier Bf 110 Staffel, I/ZG 1 commanded by Major Wolfgang Falck, and transferred it to Düsseldorf to serve as the nucleus of a night-fighter research and training school, with the unit designation of NVS 1 (Nacht und Versuchs Staffel). Three days later it was redesignated I/NJG 1 (Nacht jagdgeschwader = night fighter wing), on 20 July 1940. Falck was promoted Geschwaderkommodore of NJG 1, and a second squadron, II/NJG 1, was formed with twenty newly delivered Ju 88C-2s. Hauptmann Gunther Radusch took over I/NJG 1, and the force swiftly expanded by adding III/NJG 1 with Bf 110Cs from IV(N)/JG 2, and IV/NJG 1 from Zerst Sta/KG 30 with Bf 110Ds; a fifth staffel was also added, partly based on a special unit that had been formed to operate the first Dornier night-fighter conversions, the Do 17Z-6 Kauz 1 (Screech Owl I) and Do 215B-5. On 11 September II/NJG 1 was redesignated as the nucleus of the second wing, I/NJG 2, and a new II/NJG 1 was promptly formed from I/ZG 76, one of the most famous Bf 110 units (they shot down the twelve Wellingtons in December 1939) under Hauptman Graf von Stillfried. Another unit became the nucleus of a third wing, I/NJG 3, with Radusch taking over as Kommodore.

Kammhuber was eventually promoted Major-General and set up his HQ in the beautiful castle at Zeist in Holland. He reported to Colonel-General Hubert Weise, in overall command of the German air-defence organization. With constant changes and improvements, the main effect in the first few months, in the autumn of 1940, was the rapid build-up of a well-equipped force of large night fighters, each with a pilot and observer (and gunner, in the case of the Ju 88s and Dorniers), heavy nose armament and endurance of seven hours. In general, the Bf 110 units were deployed geographically to intercept bombers already over Germany, and were alerted by Freya early warning and guided to their targets by the Freyas and the searchlights. The bigger Ju 88 and Dornier aircraft operated around the periphery of Europe in the intruder role, unhesitatingly following bombers right back to their English bases if necessary, and using bombs as well as guns. At this time the Luftwaffe was indisputably the supreme air force in the world. It was easily the best equipped, and the unpalatable failure to subdue the RAF by day had not noticeably affected its morale. It had an abundance of skilled crews, and it was still conditioned to believe in a succession of swift victories (one of its few shortcomings was that no provision had been made for a long war). Not least, it had the backing of a large and competent equipment and radio industry, and by a rapidly increasing margin the world’s best aircraft guns.

What was less good was the makeshift night interception system. None of the fighters yet carried their own radar, so they were strongly dependent upon the searchlights. The latter were grouped around the target cities, so not much could be done to intercept the bombers on their flight to and from their targets except as they crossed the belt of searchlights along the coastline. Over the target the sky was full of Flak, and at that time there was no way for the German Flak to tell which were RAF bombers and which were NJG fighters. Accordingly, during September 1940 Kammhuber took the bold decision to move nearly all his searchlights from the cities to a single dense belt stretching from Liège (Belgium) to Schleswig-Holstein (near Denmark). Virtually all RAF bombers had to pass through this belt, within which no German aircraft were permitted after dark except NJG fighters on patrol. This immediately stopped the wastage of night fighters shot down by their own Flak, but it was by no means a complete solution. The Flak gunners now had hardly any searchlights, and were still waiting for their Würzburg radars. And it needed only a thin cloud layer to wreck the whole system.

It was obvious that what was required was a more sophisticated defence using Würzburgs not only to direct the Flak but also to direct individual night fighters. This radar sent out a fine pencil beam focused by a large circular dish reflector. Nothing like it had been seen before, and as the movable dishes gradually appeared all over northern Europe they excited much comment, most of it concerned with ‘giant mirrors’. The bearing and elevation of the aerial could be read off with great accuracy, and the discrimination was good enough to distinguish two aircraft less than 500 feet apart at over 20,000 feet. On the other hand Würzburg’s extreme limit of range of 25 miles meant that Freya would be needed to give early warning, and get the Würzburg and night fighter into the right positions beforehand. Perhaps the biggest problem was the inability of Freya to indicate the hostile target’s altitude. The night fighter would therefore have to scramble and climb up to a likely altitude by guesswork. In 1940 a good attacking height for a Wellington or Hampden was 15,000 feet, with a Whitley appreciably lower. Only in the final few minutes could the Würzburg suddenly pass an accurate height.

In September 1940 the first trials took place using night fighters directed by a ground controller. Luftwaffe fighter pilots argued heatedly about the supposed loss of initiative and freedom of action in accepting such control – a psychological problem that was much less evident in Britain at this time – and the record shows that the Germans were at first far from eager to accept any of the new radar methods. The first GCI radar tried by the Luftwaffe was a Freya, excellent for early warning but hopeless in the GCI role, because no controller could separate the fighter’s blip from that of the bomber once the range had closed within a mile. Despite this, it was a Freya that was rigged up near Zwolle, Holland, together with a naval height-finding radar, and trials began against ‘Auntie Ju’ (Ju 52/3m) transports. On the whole they were as unsuccessful as those in Britain at this time, but on 16 October 1940 Leutnant Ludwig Becker of IV/NJG 1 suddenly found himself in visual contact with an unidentified aircraft flying east over Holland. Flying a Do 215B from Gilze-Rijen, Becker closed slowly and identified the aircraft as a Wellington. With little difficulty he hit it hard in a five- or six-second burst and watched the bomber eventually spin into the ground. But this was the exception that proved the rule, and it was gained in bright moonlight.

By 1941 Kammhuber had masterminded a completely new defence system, and his organization had placed large orders for an improved GCI radar, Gigant (giant) Würzburg. The need for such a radar was obvious, because Freya had inadequate accuracy and discrimination, and Würzburg had inadequate range. It was not uncommon for RAF bombers to pass through the defence belt while the NJG fighters were still trying to reach the same approximate position and height. A further problem with Würzburg was that reflections from the ground began to mask the target blip at flight levels lower than 6,000 feet (though, of course, few RAF night attacks came down as low as this). Gigant Würzburg accordingly had a much larger aerial dish, roughly twenty-five feet in diameter compared with Würzburg’s ten feet, which concentrated the energy into a narrower beam capable of giving a clear blip at a range of more than forty miles with typical aircraft targets. Telefunken hurried the improved set into production at the end of 1941, by which time the Luftwaffe had placed large orders.

Kammhuber needed several hundred Gigant Würzburgs to equip his grand design to defend the Reich, which became popularly known to the RAF as the Kammhuber Line but was officially designated Himmelbett (heavenly bed, i.e., a four-poster). This code-name stemmed from the fact that Kammhuber divided up the airspace round the north and west sides of Germany into notional boxes, each having a rectilinear shape like an old four-poster. Each box was about twenty miles wide, and there were 750 of them strung in a vast curve from Denmark round the north of Germany, across the Low Countries and south through eastern France to Switzerland. Somewhere in each box was a GCI station equipped with a Freya early-warning radar, a Gigant Würzburg to track a chosen bomber, and a second Gigant Würzburg to track the NJG fighter assigned to that box. At least, that was the intention; the tracking radars were mainly earlier Würzburgs until well into 1942.

Himmelbett had many good features. First, each box was a definite functioning system, technically capable of putting a night fighter very accurately onto the tail of a hostile bomber. It had enough width, something like 150 miles of electronically guarded sky, for there to be plenty of time to set up the interception long before the raider had passed out of the box, let alone out of radar range. And as Kammhuber set up the line just outside his searchlights, the latter were ready to take care of any bombers that the night fighters missed under GCI. By this time the searchlights were arranged in groups of five, one of which was a radar-directed master. The latter, with a brilliant beam having a bluish tinge, was alight all the time, normally pointing straight upwards. Once the associated Würzburg had locked-on to the bomber, the master searchlight would suddenly swing right onto it, much too fast to be dodged. At once the other four beams would snap on and light up the unfortunate bomber; then the master would return to the vertical, waiting for the next customer. Whether this was done to aid fighters or Flak, it was heartily disliked by the Bomber Command crews. Only an exceptional pilot could shake off the cone of beams on a clear night, and it made night-fighter interception almost easy.

On the other hand, there were plenty of shortcomings in the system. It could handle only one bomber at a time per box, and the most rapid interception rate a skilled set of Himmelbett and night-fighter crews could possibly hope for was six aircraft per hour for any single box. In 1941 this was not a serious problem, because the lumbering twin-engined heavies crossed enemy territory at about 165 mph in a thin stream, often many miles apart, generally unsure of their position, and often having to spend as long as an hour taking astro shots, working out revised winds and searching for their target. One crew in a Whitley actually spent over 2¾ hours in the general target area trying to find the place they had been sent to bomb (München-Gladbach). In its first eighteen months the Kammhuber Line was able to pay close attention to the majority of the RAF bombers that attempted to cross it, but the situation was to change dramatically.

A less apparent drawback was that, almost unbelievably, the Gigant Würzburg perpetuated a basic feature of the earlier radar which made it unsuitable for the GCI function. The original Würzburg had been designed for directing Flak, and accordingly gave its information in the form of numerical bearings and ranges. This could easily have been converted in Gigant Würzburg into the ideal form of presentation, the PPI, such as was being used in Britain. Such a display had been developed between 1936 and 1939 by Baron Manfred von Ardenne in his laboratory at Lichterfelde (Berlin) under the name Panorama Sicht Gerät (panorama display equipment). By 1940 he and the short-wave expert Dr Hollmann had prepared this for production with the Radio-Loewe company, and at Christmas in that year a deputation made a presentation to Goering. They explained it in such simple terms that even Goering – the epitome of the technology illiterate, whose opinion of radar was that, ‘It consists of boxes with coils . . . I do not like boxes with coils’ – could not fail to see the advantages. With PPI a controller has a perfect real-time picture, with the aid of which he can use his judgement to tell the night-fighter pilot exactly when to turn, onto what heading, and at what rate, to bring him up astern of the bomber. Goering gradually saw how it worked and what it did, and even he was forced to admit that it was better than a mere list of ranges and bearings. But it was Christmas 1940, and he told the electronics expert, ‘Such a comprehensive development is no longer worth while; the war is already as good as won!’ So Gigant Würzburg provided nothing but ranges and bearings. To provide a PPI picture for the controller, a clumsy device called a Seeburg table was necessary. An operator was told the ranges and bearings of the bomber by telephone, set them up on a rotary and sliding scale in front of him and, in doing so, moved a red spotlight on a large ground-glass table at an upper level. A second operator, connected by telephone to the radar tracking the fighter, moved a spot of blue light in the same way. At the upper level, a third operator with red and blue wax crayons marked the tracks of the two aircraft. The mind boggles at the number of places where errors and inaccuracies could be introduced.

Despite this, the Himmelbett system worked. By the end of March 1942 Kammhuber had about half his initial order for 185 Gigant Würzburgs, and Telefunken was delivering thirty a month. But by this time, in a single bold stroke, the British had made up for their amazingly inept radar intelligence, and learned all they needed to know about the original Würzburg. Though a slight digression from night fighters, it is a thrilling story. For years the British learned nothing about German radar, despite the valuable clues in the Oslo Report. In February 1941 a low-flying reconnaissance Spitfire brought back pictures of circular objects at Auderville, west of Cherbourg, and an interpreter noticed that a narrow object in one of the circles had changed its bearing between one exposure and the next. The British had at last discovered Freya. In November 1941, when a number of Freyas had been pinpointed, interpreters became interested in a small black blob on a path trodden between the cliffs and a large house, at another Freya station at Bruneval, north of Le Havre. Flight Lieutenant Tony Hill went and took pictures at low level with his Spitfire (twice, because the cameras failed the first time) and also had a good look himself. The upshot was one of the earliest and most successful Commando raids ever mounted. On 27 February 1942 twelve Whitleys dropped 119 paratroopers near Bruneval. Next day the 111 survivors, seven of them injured, landed back in Britain with all the vital parts of the Würzburg, plus three prisoners, one of whom was a skilled radar operator. In subsequent weeks the Luftwaffe showed the British the locations of all its other coast radars by surrounding them with masses of barbed wire, which showed up beautifully in reconnaissance photographs. (The Bruneval raid alerted the British to the exposed position of the vital TRE, and it was accordingly moved to Malvern.)

Of course, by this time Würzburg was an old set, fast being supplemented or replaced by the Gigant variety. For better early warning, Freya was being supplemented by a huge new radar called, appropriately, Mammut. This had an aerial like two bedsteads back-to-back measuring 45 feet high and 90 feet wide, with electronic switching through an arc of 100°. This rapid switching, which was much later to become a feature of night-fighter radars, allowed the beam to sweep across the sky while the aerial stayed fixed. The other early-warning set was Wassermann, with a rotating aerial about 130 feet high and 30 feet wide. Both the new sets had narrow beams enabling them to see aircraft 150 to 200 miles away. In most respects, they were superior to Britain’s prehistoric CH system, though neither was a patch on the monster MEW (Microwave Early Warning) radar developed in the USA. This was first installed at Start Point, Devon, where it could see every aircraft in southern England and northern France on D-Day.


Chinese Nationalist Mosquitos

A Canadian-built FB.Mk. 26, believed to be ‘B-M008’. The Nationalist Chinese purchased nearly 180 FB.Mk. 26s and T.Mk.29s from surplus Canadian stocks in 1947.

The Nationalist Government of China had shown considerable interest in the later stages of Mosquito production in Canada, and inspecting Chinese Air Force officers were seen regularly at the Toronto plant. With the end of the war, many surplus Mosquitos were stored at Downsview. In late 1947 the Canadian Government, represented by Roy Peers, and Lieutenant-Colonel R. P. Mow on behalf of the Chinese, concluded negotiations for the sale to the Chinese Nationalist Government of around 180 aircraft at knock-down prices, which cleared out almost the entire stock of Mosquitos held in reserve by the RCAF. Due to the politics of the time, the Canadian Government went to great lengths to emphasize that this was a purely commercial arrangement and did not imply aid for Chiang Kai-Shek against the Communists. De Havilland Canada provided planning and technical support, much of which came from Fred Plumb who, since the days of working in Salisbury Hall on the prototypes, had moved from England to become DH Canada’s Works Manager. The Mosquitos were dismantled at Downsview during October 1947 and packed into crates that had previously been used to ship Vampires out from Hatfield to Canada before being transported by rail to a Canadian port and then by sea to Shanghai. From there they were transferred to Tazang Air Base for reassembly and were then test- flown under the direction of De Havilland personnel before being handed over to the Chinese.

First to arrive were several T. Mk.27 trainers, followed by considerable numbers of FB.26s and some T.29s. A fair number of aircraft sub- assemblies failed to survive the winter crossing of the Atlantic, through the Suez Canal and on to Shanghai, suffering severe salt corrosion and damage to electrical and metal parts. So bad was the damage that some aircraft could only be cannibalized for spares, and the remainder of the airframes scrapped.

Training accidents were common when the aircraft were flown by Chinese Air Force instructors and students, and many Mosquitos were written off. In an attempt to reduce these accidents, a fighter-bomber (KA252) was modified into a taxi-trainer, with the undercarriage locked down and bracing tubes bolted between each undercarriage leg, the fuselage and the outer wings. Although this machine could not be flown, the Chinese still managed to write this aircraft off when it was taxied into a hole.

It was in China that the Mosquito gained yet another nickname, ‘Lin Tai Yu’ after a legendary Empress who was ‘beautiful but wicked’. The Chinese attempted to use the aircraft against the Communists, with possibly four lost in combat, but in the end they were defeated by the Communist’s guerrilla tactics. The situation within the country had deteriorated, and by late 1948 the Canadians were advised to leave. Finally the Communists overran the country and the remaining airworthy Mosquitos were evacuated to Formosa by escaping Nationalist pilots. There they were used for a short while against shipping, but nothing further is known of their fate.


George E. Stewart DFC
George E. Stewart, a Canadian, flew 50 Ops on the Mosquito with No. 23 Squadron between July-November 1944 – all by the time he was 21. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this work, which was mostly day/night intruder operations.
After the war George spent time in China training Chinese Nationalist Air Force pilots on the aircraft in an effort to reduce their frightening loss of pilots to accidents. Both his unsurpassable knowledge of flying the Mosquito and his unquenchable enthusiasm for it will be of the utmost value to The People’s Mosquito as we move forward. Already over the three years he has given invaluable advice to both the Kiwi and US pilots who have flown the recently restored FB.26 KA114, which they have all used to good effect.

Bomber Command: To war

At the outbreak of war in September 1939, Bomber Command had an average daily availability of 500 aircraft (total aircraft establishment was 920 aircraft) organised in fifty-five squadrons controlled by five operational Groups. No. 1 and No. 2 Groups were equipped with light bombers – Fairey Battles and Bristol Blenheims respectively – and the other three Groups (3, 4 and 5) with twin-engined ‘strategic bombers’ – Handley Page Hampdens, Armstrong-Whitworth Whitleys and Vickers-Armstrongs Wellingtons respectively.

On 2 September all aircraft of the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) were ordered to deploy to France, the Battles of No. 1 Group duly crossed the Channel, one ditching en route but with the crew being rescued There were effectively four operational Groups left in the UK – Nos 2, 3, 4 and 5 – with No. 6 Group taking on the training role to administer the Group Pool squadrons. These latter units were squadrons within each Group which were given the task of training the crews arriving from Flying Training Schools to a standard whereby they were fit to join operational squadrons and of providing a pool of replacement crews. Any expansion of Bomber Command was faced with a number of hurdles, the most important of which were availability of aircraft, crews and airfields. Each of these aspects was to cause major problems in the early years of the war and in almost every instance the solution was, in some respects, a compromise. The overriding consideration throughout the expansion of the Command was that of maintaining the attack on Germany. Lead times required for new aircraft, airfield construction and the training of aircrew had an effect on the speed with which the expansion progressed.

Bomber Command was in action on day one of the war, a number of Blenheim reconnaissance sorties later followed by a Hampden/Wellington force in search of German shipping were conducted, whilst on the first night of the war Whitleys flew over the Ruhr dropping propaganda leaflets. The Ruhr was a most appropriate destination in Germany for this first, albeit only with paper, visit by Bomber Command as it was the Ruhr that was to receive a great deal of the Command’s effort once the bombing offensive was launched.

This pattern of activity of daylight searches for shipping and night leaflet dropping was to be the focus of Bomber Command’s war for the next few weeks; only small numbers of aircraft were involved and little action took place, although there were early indications of bomber vulnerability such as the loss of five Hampdens on a shipping sortie on 29 September. There appears to have been little reaction to this high level of losses from an attack with no result in terms of damage to the enemy. October and November were quiet months although in addition to limited operational flying a number of exercises were flown, such as that on 22 November to, ‘Investigate the factors of time and concentration of aircraft in attacks on targets situated in a relatively small area’ and that on 28 November on ships in the Belfast area to, ‘Give training and experience in the delivery of concentrated and rapid attack upon warships located in or near harbours.’ The latter exercise involved sixty aircraft from Nos 3 and 5 Groups. Despite losses and lack of success to date, the general opinion was still that aircraft could find and hit their targets and that they would be able to defend themselves. Indeed, the report on an attack on 3 December appeared to confirm this view: ‘Twenty-four Wellingtons carried out an attack upon enemy warships anchored in the vicinity of Heligoland. A total of sixty-three 500 lb semi armour piercing (SAP) bombs were dropped; a direct hit was obtained on a cruiser and probably on a second. At least three bombs were dropped so close to enemy warships as to make it likely that damage was caused and casualties were sustained. Heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered and some twenty enemy aircraft, including Me 110s, were seen, some of which attacked. One Me 109 was shot down and one appeared to have been hit. Three of our aircraft were hit but all returned safely to their bases.’ This report would seem to suggest that all was well and later that week the Air Ministry ordered attacks on naval forces in German estuaries ‘as soon as possible.’ On 14 December twelve Wellingtons from 99 Squadron were sent to patrol the Elbe Estuary and the Frisian Islands to attack shipping – and it was a disaster. Under fighter attack and in the face of heavy flak half of the attacking formation became casualties; not a promising start to the new campaign. Two days later the Commander-in-Chief presided over a conference of his Group commanders and senior staff to, ‘Examine the existing operating procedures with a view to making such modifications as might be considered desirable in the light of the experience gained in war conditions.’ The ink was hardly dry on the minutes of this meeting, which had reached no firm conclusions, when a second disastrous operation took place. On 18 December No. 3 Group sent twenty-four Wellingtons from three squadrons to patrol the Schillig Roads and Wilhelmshaven to report upon any enemy naval forces. ‘In Wilhelmshaven a battleship, two cruisers and four destroyers were seen in the harbour and alongside. They were not therefore attacked. There was heavy anti-aircraft fire and some twenty-five Me 109s and Me 40s (sic) attacked – at least twelve of which were shot down. Twelve of our aircraft failed to return, of these two are known to have descended into the North Sea on the way home.’ One initial reaction to this disaster was an Air Ministry order suspending attacks on naval forces until the armouring of the Wellington’s fuel tanks had been completed.

So with new aircraft types promised and a major growth in numbers, Bomber Command entered the first winter of the war. With a political injunction against attacks on land targets, the rationale for the strategic bombers had disappeared. The doctrine of bombing the enemy heartland and destroying his industrial capability had been removed at a stroke by the politicians. This was not so much on humanitarian grounds, although the American President had requested both sides to refrain from unrestrained bombing, but more because of a belief that the German bomb lift, i.e. weight of bombs to a target, was greater than that of the RAF.


Whilst the Wellingtons endeavoured to find and attack German shipping, the Whitleys were operating over Germany at night – but only dropping leaflets. This propaganda leaflet-dropping campaign (nickelling as it was called by Bomber Command) continued throughout the war. The first real test for the daylight bombing campaign came in December 1939 when, on a number of occasions, formations of Wellingtons were intercepted by fighters and suffered heavy losses. Another pillar of doctrine, that bombers flying in close formation using mutually supportive fire from their gun turrets could defeat fighter attack, was shattered. The number of sorties had been small and taken overall the losses were still seen as acceptable – and by no means an indicator that an offensive over the Ruhr would not succeed. Nevertheless, from January the Wellingtons and Hampdens joined the night leaflet campaign as there were no suitable bombing targets and it was an excellent way of giving crews practice in night operations. Losses from these sorties were low, as the Germans had not yet developed a night defence system.

One of the major dangers faced by the bomber crews was severe weather, icing being a particular hazard. The Whitley was prone to wing icing and, despite the use of anti-icing aids such as Kilfrost paste, the only real solution was to avoid the icing layers in the cloud. Given the poor performance of the aircraft and the often inadequate Met forecast this was easier said than done – once icing had been detected the only option was a descent in search of warmer air.

April/May 1940 brought a number of developments. The German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April gave Bomber Command a new set of targets, and on 11 April a small force of Wellingtons attacked the airfield at Stavanger in Norway – the first intentional bombing attack on a land target in Europe. The same month saw Hampdens fly the first of a new type of mission: minelaying. Gardening, as these sorties were code-named, was to become a major part of the Command’s work over the next five years. Finally, the German invasion of France in May led to a dramatic and short-lived tactical employment of the AASF Fairey Battles in attempting to stem the enemy armoured columns – with much heroism, and crippling losses among aircraft and aircrew.

The Blenheim squadrons were also heavily tasked in this period; indeed between 10 May (the date of the German invasion) and 25 June, the Blenheims operated on all but four days – flying 1,616 sorties for the loss of 104 aircraft.

By early June the battered remnants of the Bomber Command light bomber force had left France and returned to airfields in England; No. 1 Group had effectively ceased to exist.

The most significant event in May was the lifting of the ban on attacking targets in Germany; the first attack took place on the night of 15 May on oil and rail targets in the Ruhr area – the strategic offensive had started. As major industrial towns were concentrated in the relatively small geographic area of the Ruhr, this part of Germany was to be the focus of much of the bomber effort until the last months of the war. Italy’s entry into the war in June provided additional targets for the bombers.

With the launch of bombing raids on Germany the focus of attack on industrial centres was intended to, ‘Cause the continuous interruption and dislocation of industry, particularly where the German aircraft industry is concentrated.’ On 4 June a new directive had been issued to Bomber Command but with the rider that: ‘The initiative lies with the enemy; our strategic policy is liable to be deflected by the turn of events from the course we should like to follow. The Command was instructed to pursue its campaign against German industry but to be ready to assist in countering any invasion.

With the launch of the bombing offensive the Command endeavoured to attack industrial targets in the Ruhr, this being deemed the area most likely to produce results as it was a major industrial area, often referred to as the ‘weapon smithy’ of the Reich. It was a major mining centre for coal and produced large quantities of coke to feed its own industries and those of other areas. It was home to major industrial towns such as Bochum, Dortmund, Duisburg and Essen, the latter being home to the massive Krupps works. However, the very nature of this industrial centre meant that it had a permanent haze, which made it very difficult for bombers find targets visually. All of these places became regular targets for the Command, as did places such as Gelsenkirchen where the two hydrogenation plants of Gelsenberg-Benzin and Hydrierwerke-Scholvern between them produced 575,000 tons of aviation fuel a year. In addition to the actual industrial targets great importance was attached to the comprehensive rail and canal network that linked Germany’s industrial centres. Indeed, the importance of the rail network became one of the Command’s justifications for its area bombing of cities.

A new directive was issued on 13 July, which stated that the primary aim was to, ‘Reduce the scale of air attack on this country with the aircraft and oil industries being the priority targets’. The Air Staff directive also recommended concentration of effort against a limited number of targets rather than the widespread attacks that had been made so far. It listed ten aircraft factories and five oil installations as the main targets, and it also estimated that bombers would have to hit an aircraft factory with 140 of the standard 500 lb bombs in order to have any effect. Secondary targets included communications centres. However, Portal as AOC-in-C considered the directive too restrictive and sought, and received, authority to be more flexible in his choice of targets. A new target category was added on 30 July with the Command ordered to attack power stations, the experts having decided that these were key targets that if destroyed would seriously disrupt German industry. Power stations featured in the summary of operations over the next few years, some as daylight attacks by the light and medium bombers, others as an aiming point within an area attack on a city. A summary in August showed that the Command had expended 41 per cent of its effort, in terms of bomb tonnage, against Luftwaffe-related targets and a further 21 per cent against oil targets.

The decision to include Operational Training Unit aircraft on ops was in part based on the desire to increase the number of aircraft operating each night but more particularly to provide trainee crews in the latter stages of their course with easy and relatively risk-free operational experience, the favoured mission being night leaflet-dropping over France. The first such op was flown by three OTU aircraft on the night of 18/19 July.

The increased threat from U-boats brought Bomber Command into this aspect of the maritime war, the first specific attack being made against the U-boat pens at Lorient on 2/3 September by thirty-nine Hampdens. A directive of 21 September instructed the Command to allocate three squadrons employed on minelaying to be transferred to attacks on U-boat targets. The same directive dictated a continued focus on the oil industry and also mentioned Berlin: ‘Although there are no objectives in Berlin of importance to our major plans, it is the intention that attacks on the city and its environs should be continued from time to time when favourable weather conditions permit. The primary aim of these attacks will be to cause the greatest possible disturbance and dislocation both to the industrial activities and civilian population generally.’ By the end of September the immediate threat of invasion had receded and the bomber effort was able to focus once more on the strategic offensive, with the light bombers of No. 2 Group contributing to the night attacks, although Blenheims also flew cloud-cover and anti-shipping operations.

The weather in October frustrated the attempt to return to the offensive over Germany, although it was fog at the home airfields that caused the greatest number of losses. On a bad night the Command could lose 10–20 per cent of the bombers to crashes in England; of seventy-three bombers that operated on the night of 16/17 October, fourteen crashed because of fog over their bases (and only three were lost over enemy territory). There had been a similar situation the previous month, as recounted by Ken Wallis (103 Squadron Wellington L7586): ‘At this stage of the war we had orders only to drop bombs if we could identify a military target and so we brought ours back until we could drop them on a harbour target in Holland. This meant of course that we had used more fuel than planned. As we flew over the North Sea we received a message that all aircraft were being diverted to Scotland – not an option for us, we didn’t have the fuel. Using the Darkie system we eventually persuaded someone that we had to try to land at an airfield on the east coast and so made for Binbrook, not that far from our own base. The fog was extensive and despite pass after pass over the airfield, during which we could dimly see the Chance Light, a landing was impossible and each time I just glimpsed a building or obstruction at the last moment and put the Wellington into a steep climb. The petrol gauges had been reading empty for some time and I requested permission to bale out the crew. I was told to fly a little further north – at which point both engines stopped. All the crew were able to get out but I was pretty low when I jumped. It was impossible to see where you were going to come down and I landed heavily and was knocked out, also damaging my back.’ So much for the crash: the subsequent few hours are also worth recounting: ‘When I came to I was near a hedge and had no idea where I was, the fog was still thick and moisture was dripping off the hedge. A few shots from the Mauser pistol that I always carried with me and a Policeman found me. He took me to a nearby large house and the owner was persuaded, with some reluctance, to take pity on a poor pilot. The owner was making tea as he couldn’t sleep and he grudgingly offered me a cup. When I asked to use his phone to call my base and check on my crew he was less than happy – until I offered to reverse the charges. At 6.00 am the next morning the maid arrived and I was looking forward to a good breakfast, especially after I gave her the chocolate and orange I had not eaten from my flying rations. No such luck. The Squadron Commander picked me up in his car at 8.00 am and we then picked up the rest of the crew from some cottages – they had done somewhat better than I had and had been plied with brandy for much of the night!’ They went to the crash site but little survived of the aircraft except the tail, Ken acquired the fabric from the part of the fin with the mission marks painted on it and this now hangs in the hall of his house. After this incident he was given 10 days leave and then it was back to operational flying.

October was a quiet month for the Command because of bad weather but on the 24th it acquired a new commander when Portal moved up to become Chief of the Air Staff, his place being taken by Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse. The strategy for the winter offensive was laid out in a directive of 30 October; it was not new in that oil was to be the priority target, followed by aircraft component and aluminium factories. However, the overall stated aim was for, ‘Regular concentrated attacks on objectives in large towns and centres of industry, with the primary aim of causing very heavy material destruction, which will demonstrate to the enemy the power and severity of air bombardment and the hardship and dislocation which will result from it.’ This core doctrine remained with Bomber Command to the end of the war, although it is interesting to note that oil and the aircraft industry became the focus of the USAAF’s daylight bombing offensive from 1942 onwards, whilst Bomber Command concentrated on area bombing of cities of industrial and communications importance. The directive also called on the Command to continue its contribution to the maritime war; indeed it could only reduce this involvement with prior agreement from the Admiralty. Agreement was reached to reduce the minelaying force to one dedicated squadron.

It must be remembered that at this stage of the war Bomber Command’s nightly aircraft availability was limited, and a night when around 100 bombers operated was close to a maximum effort. The attack on Hamburg (16/17 November) was the largest to date but only comprised 130 aircraft; the raid was mounted in retaliation for the attack on Coventry the previous night. Only half the crews reported bombing the target and it is likely that if night photographs had been available from all of them that the true percentage would have been far lower. Evidence was beginning to mount that the bomber offensive was failing to have any major effect as bombers were unable to find or hit targets. Other developments in this first full year of war included consideration of tour length for aircrew – and the introduction to service of new bomber types. Discussions on tour lengths had been prompted by concern over the strain of continual operational flying; the ‘squadron commander’s discretion’ policy was gradually replaced by a fixed tour of 200 operational hours, which equated to thirty to thirty-five ops, the policy being circulated to Group commanders on 29 November. Although this calculation changed at various times during the war the basic tour length was generally around thirty ops, more for Pathfinder crews and with some targets only counting as half an operation.

French Airpower 1918 Part I

World War One Aviation: French Two-Seaters 1918

World War One Aviation: French Fighters 1917

World War One Aviation: French Experimental Aircraft

World War One Aviation: French Bombers

In the 14 February La Guerre aérienne, former undersecretary of air Daniel Vincent advocated forming a doctrine for aviation, a “chain linking the past to the future.” Early in the war, he recalled, aviation had lacked organization and doctrine, and had thus fallen into the excessive individualism of “sporting” aviation, with “as many principles as chiefs.” At GQG Gen. Henri Pétain and Gen. Maurice Duval planned for the French air service to achieve a new level of organization, doctrine, and operations in 1918. With sufficient resources to form larger formations, it planned to annihilate enemy aviation and gain definitive aerial mastery in tactical offensive operations. GQG’s 11 February and 2 March orders prescribed aviation’s principal role to be the destruction of enemy aviation.

Pétain, emphasizing the importance of concentrating aerial forces, ordered the formation of combat and day- and night-bomber wings. The day bomber, however, with its relatively small bomb load, would serve mainly to force enemy aviation into battle with its fighter escort. Pétain wanted to wield aviation en masse against the coming German attack. “The action of the cannon will be extended by all disposable aviation,” he advised on 15 February. “With bombs and machine guns our planes will set upon columns in march, convoys, bivouacs, and parks day and night. . . . Army group commandants will assure the concentration of aeronautical means necessary to demoralize troops destined to lead and feed the attack.” Massive, concentrated, and precise bombing attacks on carefully selected military and industrial targets behind the front would aim primarily at material destruction, although GQG expected the attacks on troops to affect principally their morale. In the 2 March directive to combat aviation, Pétain advised that its concentrated assault on enemy aviation to secure aerial superiority and mobility over the battlefield would be one of the land operations’ conditions of success. Pétain’s air chief, General Duval, would serve under the direct orders of the general commanding the armies. By March GQG had thus formulated the doctrine and command arrangement for using mass aviation in future battles.

In late February French military intelligence noted a German aviation buildup in preparation for the coming battle. The French air service, which had increased aircraft supply 17 percent between November 1917 and March 1918, was equal to German aviation by itself. Since October 1917 the French had forced fighter and bomber production at a feverish pace, and by the beginning of the German offensive on 21 March they had 11 fighter groups, 5 day-bomber groups, and 7 night-bomber groups. Compared to the September 1917 2,870-plane program and the October 4,000-plane program, on 1 April the army had 2,750 planes at the front (1,400 observation and 1,350 combat planes), while the aviation reserve had 581 planes on 21 March. The fighter and day-bomber wings were equipped with Spad 7s and Spad 13s and Breguets, a combination that would simplify production, repair, and training.

In the March 1918 battle, Pétain used airplanes to deter the German offensive. In constant operations over the battle zone between 21 March and 12 June, 400 bombers dropped 1,200 tons of bombs, over 200 tons greater than in 1916 and 1917 operations combined. During the German assault from 21 to 31 March, fighter aviation supported the ground forces and did not seek air combat. From 1 April to 14 May, General Duval emphasized the aerial battle and would not let fighter reserves be used for the observation planes’ immediate protection. The wings entered action on 2 April, when a fighter wing and a bomber wing, named after their chiefs Philippe Féquant and Victor Ménard, formed a combat group. In the raids on the attacking German army, coordinating fighter escort with the bombers proved difficult, and Féquant’s fighters sometimes seemed disinterested in bomber escort. By 5 April complaints from the armies reminiscent of the 1916 and 1917 offensive abounded. The air reserve’s liaison with the armies lessened; sweeps behind enemy lines did not help the front; patrols were too high to attack low flying enemy aircraft and unable to protect reconnaissance airplanes near the lines.

The GQG’s next organizational measure, which marked a significant milestone in the concentration of French aviation, was forming the autonomous Aerial Division (Division aérienne) under General Duval on 14 May. The division was not a strategic arm, as GQG considered strategic aviation premature, but rather a tactical one. It included all the day bombers and half the fighters, the other half going to the armies. For bomber escort the division gradually replaced single-seaters with heavily armored and armed three-seat twin-engine Caudron R11s or Breguets, and it shortened the distance of the raids when German Fokker D7 fighters appeared. Ultimately, on 15 June the first and second aerial brigades were formed, the first under the command of Major de Goÿs, who had escaped from Germany after more than two years of imprisonment, the second under Féquant.

The Aerial Division’s critics, such as A. P. Voisin, judged that the airplane still lacked the offensive capacity to be more than an auxiliary to the ground forces. The division did not wreak much destruction on its land targets, while the Germans did not necessarily challenge the fighters. In general, the Aerial Division could not simultaneously fulfill the two contradictory demands of a combined fighter and bomber offensive and an air reserve to reinforce the armies’ air units. Voisin’s guiding assumption remained that the air arm serve as the army’s immediate auxiliary protecting army cooperation planes, while Pétain and Duval intended the Aerial Division for wider-ranging duties in support of the army.

Between the spring and summer the air arm and, more crucially, the proportion of its newer-model aircraft, grew. Sen. Gaston Menier, visiting Féquant’s second group at the front on 23 April, detected improvements since 1917: fewer unusable planes, reinforced frames and better motor-mount attachments that decreased the Spad’s engine vibrations, and better-trained pilots. On 25 April, however, Pétain noted that the implementation of the 5 April 1917 2,870-plane was not yet completed, while the 8 October 1917 4,000-plane program had not yet begun. He still needed more new fighters and observation planes, as Sopwiths and ARs still served in frontline squadrons. By the summer these circumstances improved. In April the air arm had 797 fighters, 1,605 artillery and army corps planes, and 413 bombers; in July it had 1,090 fighters, 1,733 artillery and army corps planes, and 438 bombers. The force in April comprised 1,723 modern and 1,092 obsolescent types, and in July it had 2,827 new types and 434 old models, an increase in modern types from 61 to 87 percent.

As the French army took the offensive that summer, in the 12 July Directive number 5 the air arm described its principles of attack, which emphasized simplicity, audacity, and rapidity to gain tactical surprise. After secret preparations, the preliminary artillery and bomber strikes would be as brief and violent as possible to enable tanks to rupture enemy lines. Aviation would thus assure aerial superiority. This document also emphasized the importance of air-artillery cooperation, but did not envisage liaison between tanks and airplanes. When Allied commander Gen. Ferdinand Foch stated the necessity for better communication between the Aerial Division and the army on 23 July, Duval blamed inadequate liaison on the army commanders, who had made no effort to improve communication with the division’s small staff, gave his officers no information, and did not respond to his liaison efforts. The army commanders did not understand the division’s purpose, General Duval concluded, and viewed it merely as a reservoir of reinforcements to protect their observation planes, rather than understanding its offensive mission in connection with the armies. General Duval believed that the army commanders wanted to control the division and use it to protect their observation planes. Army commanders also ignored the division’s efforts. In July Gen. Charles Mangin complained to a visiting parliamentary deputy about the insufficient use of bombers during the intensive bombardment of battlefield targets. Despite the criticisms and problems, the Aerial Division continued its offensives in 1918 and later formed the nucleus of Billy Mitchell’s 1,400-plane force in the fall Saint-Mihiel offensive.

If Commander Foch had concerns about Aerial Division liaison, he was pleased with the quality of aerial reconnaissance for the high command. The Weiller group—three squadrons of Breguets commanded by Paul-Louis Weiller—served directly under Foch as of 28 July. Each day they flew over the lines in groups of three at altitudes of nearly 8,000 meters to take a photographic map of enemy territory from 20 to 100 kilometers behind the rear. Every evening at GQG Foch used these photos to choose targets. For his unit’s work, Weiller was awarded the légion d’honneur, becoming one of its youngest recipients.

In August observation units theoretically comprised Breguets, Salmsons, and the Caudron R11. However, inadequate Salmson and Breguet-Renault engine production left Petain six squadrons short of the 2,870-plane program, while 24 of 53 Breguet squadrons were equipped with Fiat engines that were inferior to the Renault. Consequently, on 20 August, of 142 observation squadrons only 29 were equipped with Renault Breguets and 55 with Salmsons; two-seat Spads continued in service as a stopgap. During another visit to army corps squadrons on 13 August, Senator Menier observed that while army corps planes were supposed to protect themselves, they in fact required fighter protection over the German lines and did not always receive it; though pilots were skilled, gunners and mechanics tended to be inexperienced. At least the Breguets and Salmsons, valued for their strength and performance, gave army corps crews a chance against German fighters.

In bomber aviation, inadequate Breguet deliveries caused large gaps in the 15 day-bomber squadrons. Two Caproni night bomber squadrons needed refitting, while production of the Farman F50 night bomber, which already equipped two squadrons, needed to be stopped until the planes could be perfected. By September a Breguet with a 450-hp engine was under test. General Duval advised Dumesnil that the Caproni giant with 900 total horsepower was nose heavy, carried a small bomb load, and was not ready for wartime service. Most critically, exhaust flames from the engines threatened to set the gas tanks on fire. Night bombers remained a weakness of French aviation to the war’s end, but it was clear that the air arm was obtaining more and better tactical aircraft for daylight operations throughout 1918, though not as quickly as desired.

The emphasis on mass aviation required substantial expansion of training to increase aircrews and to replace losses. The French trained 6,909 pilots in 1918,21 and although they claimed that in 1919 they would be training 1,000 pilots a month, the number breveted annually from 1914 to 1918 (134 in 1914, 1,484 in 1915, 2,698 in 1916, and 5,609 in 1917) suggested that the rate of increase had peaked in 1917. French casualties in the war’s last six months, from May through October, totaled 2,327 killed, wounded, and missing at the front and in the rear. Combat casualties at the front reached 1,324, while 632 casualties were from accidents at the front and 371 were from accidents in the rear. Casualties peaked in June at 470, after which they declined steadily to the war’s end.

For massed tactics in aviation, the French fighter force had to relinquish some of its individualism to function effectively in 1918. In January Daniel Vincent advised that “the extreme individualism that gave aerial mastery in 1915 is no longer useful today.” This sentiment was echoed later by Jacques Mortane, editor of La Guerre aérienne, when he indicated that aviation was no longer a sport but an “arm” with rigid discipline and prepared operations similar to an infantry assault. Vincent attributed the change to the sense of discipline brought by newer recruits from other branches, although he might have acknowledged the importance of GQG’s leadership. However, individualism was too ingrained to be eliminated, and Mortane’s article was probably intended as much to remind pilots of the new order as to show the modification of tactics.

French ace of aces René Fonck exemplified the continued emphasis on individual tactics. In 1918 he firmly established himself as Guynemer’s heir in victories. He had 19 confirmed kills at the end of September 1917, 32 by the end of March 1918, and ultimately 75 by the war’s end, although he claimed 127. He twice shot down six planes in one day. Fonck continued to prefer individual combat, although at the war’s end he acknowledged that German group operations “compelled us to do one thing that was formerly exceptional, that is to fly in groups of generally four fighters. A lone encounter against ten would be too unequal.”24 In 1918 the Germans and English were operating in units of far more than 10 airplanes.

French bomber aviation emerged in 1918 as a tactical arm. At a conference with the British on 22 December 1917, General Duval had disagreed with the British policy of bombing enemy industrial centers and warned that the French did not intend to join British operations. He feared German reprisals and contended that neither Britain nor France had sufficient forces to conduct an effective strategic bombing campaign. The French revised their bombing scheme on 18 November 1917 and 5 January 1918, noting that their ideas were a “result of evolution during action, rather than a strategic plan.” Attempting to curtail railroad traffic in iron ore from the Saarbrücken and Lorraine basins, the French designated nine railroad stations within 45 miles of the line as targets. In January, following German simplification of their rail network into two independent traffic systems, economic and strategic, the French decreased the number of targets to four stations in the more vulnerable economic network to blockade the iron ore.

In May debates with the British, the French opposed both strategic aviation and aviation’s autonomy. General Duval commented on 31 May that “if we are defeated on land, the bombardment of Cologne is without interest.” Duval continued to judge Allied aviation insufficient to act both strategically and tactically at once and thus emphasized the tactical role in subordination to land forces. The French, though dismayed about Trenchard’s independent bomber force, were willing to provide it with airfields. However, when the Supreme War Council established an Inter-Allied Independent Air Force on 24 September, they insisted that requirements for land operations take precedence over any independent operations.

In 1918 French bomber crews in Breguets, usually carrying 24 10-kg bombs, aggressively raided across the lines in massed formations. Protected initially by single-seaters and later by a few heavily armed and armored Caudron R11 three-seaters or Breguet 14 escorts, the Breguets manned by skilled crews, their gunners armed with twin Lewis guns and carrying six circular drums of 97 cartridges for each gun, were not easy prey, even when alone. Gunner Sergeant André Duvau, at age 32 often called “Père Duvau” by squadron mates, had spent nearly 10 months in the back seat of Sopwiths and then Breguets. Returning from a raid in mid-July, he and his pilot lost their squadron in clouds. Duvau spotted five German fighters climbing to meet them, warned his pilot, who then did a climbing banked turn to give Duvau a clear shot at them. As German bullets struck the Breguet, Duvau fired only seven shots in two short bursts at the leader, who spun and then plunged earthward, while the others turned away. Duvau survived those raids without incident, but he recalled the risks—of frostbite, antiaircraft fire, German fighters, accidents—and the fears engendered by witnessing the fate of other aircrew, fears of crashing in flames just off the field and of being badly burned.

During the spring and summer Pétain and Duval apprised Undersecretary Jacques-Louis Dumesnil of their rapidly escalating goals for aviation. On 24 April, emphasizing the necessity for more and better airplanes, Pétain proposed a 6,000-plane air arm of new types, including 300-hp fighters, night bombers, two-seat fighters, three-seat battle planes, improved Breguet day bombers, and armored Salmson observation planes. They would require 26,000 personnel, including 800 officers and 9,000 trained technicians.

On 24 May Pétain asked for the following aircraft types: high- and medium-altitude single-seat fighters; a long-range reconnaissance plane to penetrate 200 kilometers into the enemy rear; a well-armed, fast, high-altitude, medium day bomber that could operate from unprepared airfields to extend the artillery by attacking railroads and troops; a medium night bomber; and a long-range heavy bomber to attack German industrial centers as far as the Ruhr. The last was intended to “paralyze the economic life of Germany and its war industries by methodical, massive, and repeated action against principal industrial cities, important marshalling yards, and to weaken the morale of its population by giving them a feeling of insecurity in a zone extending as far as possible into enemy territory.” Pétain’s priorities, in order, were to obtain new model two-seat combat planes, heavy and medium night bombers, armored assault planes, and three-seat combat planes, and to perfect present single-seat fighters and then day bombers.

On 24 August Pétain insisted, as “an absolute necessity,” that he have the 148 squadrons of Renault-Breguets and Salmsons with more powerful engines by 1919’s first trimester. He hoped to use the Breguet models and more powerful 200-hp Capronis as night bombers.

Fulfilling these requests depended on either unpredictable technological progress or increased production. For the latter, however, the French also had to consider the Allies’ air arms. Although the War Committee on 27 May determined to assure that Allied requests for materiel did not injure French interests, on 17 September Dumesnil contended that they would have been able to realize the 4,000-plane program if they had not had to deliver large amounts of equipment to the Allies. The United States, given the same priority as the French army, received 1,430 first-class planes (Spads, Breguets, and Salmsons) between 1 April and 16 September. If the United States were self-sufficient by early 1919, the French could achieve the 6,000-plane program, which they had initially intended for 1 April 1919.

Another reason for France’s failure to achieve the 4,000-plane program on schedule was the underestimation of aircraft losses. The expected 33 percent monthly wastage of bombers had reached at least 50 percent in recent battles, and replacements dominated the supply. By late September supplies sufficed to create the new units, since Renault-Breguet production increased.

French Airpower 1918 Part II

Close Quarters, by Russell Smith (SPAD XIII & Fokker DVII)

In 1918 German fighter aviation’s progress required simultaneously increasing craft quality and quantity. Several excellent 300-hp single-seaters were likely to appear in 1919. By mid-September 300-hp Nieuports and Sopwith Dolphins were in production; the prototype Spad Herbemont had recently completed “extremely brilliant” tests; and the Béchereau airframe showed great promise. The 2,870-plane program had stipulated 60 Spad squadrons by spring 1918; the 4,000-plane program required 84 by 1 October, which seemed unlikely since in mid-September fighter aviation had only 64 squadrons. Two-seat types were undergoing final tests in the fall. Two-seat fighters—the SEA (Société d’études aéronautiques) with a 375-hp Lorraine engine, the Breguet with a 450-hp Renault or Liberty, and the Morane with a Bugatti 420-hp engine—were under development, but in 1919 fighter aviation’s fate depended entirely upon future developments. Only in November would the army begin to receive the first Hanriot and Spad Herbemont two-seat fighters, with another (the first machine of the new firm SEA created by young designers Henri Potez and Marcel Bloch) offering further prospects. On 19 September GQG determined its needs based on a 4,200-plane program.

Aviation’s politics and administration stabilized considerably in 1918. Daniel Vincent’s February article posited that the press constantly raised public concern about aviation because the air arm lacked a doctrine of industrial production. Jacques Mortane followed Vincent’s editorial with a call for an air ministry, noting that Britain had an air ministry and Germany possessed a “dictator of the air” in Hoeppner. The call for an air ministry would make no progress during the war. The political clamor for change remained focused on the lack of strategic bombers, though some key air advocates implied the need for an air ministry by attributing all deficiencies to the absence of unified control.

While 1918’s battles confirmed the French high command’s use of bombers against battlefield objectives and enemy transport, the GQG still faced vigorous and persistent criticism in parliament and the public arena from advocates of strategic air power. Premier Georges Clemenceau and Minister of Munitions Louis Loucheur supported the high command before parliament. On 5 April Loucheur, emphasizing the importance of strafing enemy columns, asserted that French and British aviation had retarded the enemy’s arrival on the battlefield by one to two days, while Clemenceau on 3 June gave bomber attacks on the battlefield partial credit for halting the recent enemy advance. On 3 August, after the first summer offensive, Loucheur stressed the importance of demoralizing the Germans by bombing their rear.

Still, parliamentary deputy Pierre Etienne Flandin continued to advocate strategic bombardment in 3 July and 18 September reports. Clemenceau had written him that concentration of forces was essential to victory, and that operations against enemy cities, though possibly of economic and morale importance, were only secondary. Flandin criticized the limited scope of France’s military chiefs and the “narrow doctrine of conduct of the war” that attributed only moderate importance to attacking the industries that produced war materiel. All parliamentary deputies and the high command as well, as General Pétain’s requests indicated, regretted the industry’s inability to perfect a long-range bomber. The deputies, however, had placed top priority on the bomber, but for the high command the long-range bomber was only one of many desired types.

In the military administration of aviation technology and production, 1918 was the era of the technocrats. Martinot-Lagarde of the aero-engine section and Legras of the propeller service—both graduates of the École Polytechnique—were joined in 1918 by another polytechnician, 38-year-old Albert Caquot, whom Colonel Dhé and Dumesnil appointed director of the STAé on 11 January 1918. In 1914 Caquot, a bridge builder, specialist in reinforced-concrete construction and aviation, and an advocate of organizational solutions to problems, had designed a stationary observation balloon, whose streamlined form made it superior to the German Drachen in its ability to remain steady in high winds. After having created an observation balloon for the British fleet in 1916, Caquot had been sent to Britain in 1916 to direct the British fleet’s use of captive balloons against submarines. Caquot balloons formed barrages above London and Paris to protect against German bombers.

At STAé Caquot now dealt with airplanes, at a time when the inability to perfect new materiel threatened to compromise the Allies’ opportunities for aerial supremacy. The problem lay, as it had in 1917, in the Spad 13 and its 220-hp Hispano-Suiza engines. The prototype engine had passed its tests, but some 10,000 production engines had failed their 10-hour acceptance tests, usually through a seizure that left a “salad” of connecting rods or destroyed the crankcase. Caquot ordered the tests of 10 engines. He stopped the first after one hour, the second after two, and so on, to open the crankcase and dismantle the moving pieces. After four hours the cause of the problem became apparent. The oil pipe in the crankcase had broken under pressure, though the engine continued to run for a time.

Caquot attributed the difference in performance between the prototype and the series to weather. The prototype had been tested in warm weather, while the series appeared in the winter. The viscosity of the oils used in 1917 varied greatly with the temperature, and their thickening in the winter led to excessive pressure in the Hispano-Suiza’s oil-circulation system. Technicians had to decrease the oil flow to limit its pressure to a level that the pipe could withstand. After Caquot designed a simple, inexpensive safety valve for the end of the oil pump, Hispano-Suiza production continued.

Caquot’s solutions did not always work. His addition of bracing struts to correct the Morane fighter’s weakness in dives reduced its performance so that it was relegated to training. Yet in most crucial situations, his genius for diagnosing a problem and finding a simple solution benefitted the air arm. When the front complained about excessive Breguet 14 modification, Caquot settled on a mass production aircraft, which was then license produced by large manufacturers such as Michelin. Caquot’s transmission of U.S. propeller research to French manufacturers enabled them to improve their airscrews. Ultimately, Caquot generously surrendered all his rights to the French state at no charge and received medals from all the major Allied powers and gratitude from the French government.40

Caquot praised Minister of Munitions Loucheur’s further mobilization of aviation. Between three and five times a week the directors of the technical and production sections met with Dhé, Duval, and Loucheur or Loucheur’s adviser, engineer Ernst Mercier, to plan the air service’s development. They then met with the industrialists once a week to set production schedules. By May an editorial in La Guerre aérienne, “L’Arme à deux têtes” (the arm with two heads), praised the division of labor between the undersecretary and the munitions ministry. The undersecretary, as the client, selected and perfected types and then, in consultation with GQG, determined the quantity needed, while the ministry, as the supplier, managed serial production. From the spring to the war’s end La Guerre aérienne tended to praise the rear’s organization. An editorial in early June lauded the STAé’s efforts in converting theoretical programs from the front into technical specifications for engineers and builders and asserted that the STAé had clearly outdone its less organized German counterpart and a German industry that was more dispersed and less standardized than the French. In an early August editorial it recognized that fundamental to aviation’s “new phase of its evolution”—collective effort as opposed to individual action—was the French industrial effort, which enabled the new doctrine. In September the journal concluded that quality and quantity determined the command’s aerial tactics, which had left the realm of improvisation and had now become part of a methodical plan, in which aviation was indispensable as an arm of military intelligence and destruction.

In 1918 Loucheur and the aviation agencies attempted to control prices and increase licensed production. In mid-April he considered the aviation service’s contract justifications absolutely insufficient to determine whether prices were too high and insisted that the contract service under Commandant Guignard be placed under Colonel Weyl in the munitions ministry, who would collaborate with Guignard. The prices of Hispano-Suiza 200-hp engines dropped from 18,000 to 22,500 francs at the end of 1917 to 17,500 to 18,000 in mid-1918.

A report in October 1919 contended that the Hispano-Suiza should have cost 8,500 francs, allowing for a net engine cost of 4,500, 15 percent profit, a 10 percent allowance, and 150 percent for general costs and labor. Yet such postwar calculations appear unrealistic, and Dhé justified the prices with the state’s wartime need to develop aero engine production. Builders had used their profits to remunerate capital invested in the enterprise and to expand plant capacity, while continually rising material and labor costs made such calculations of net cost purely theoretical. The aviation service could not requisition engines or militarize factories because it lacked qualified technical personnel to assure production at commandeered factories, so the directorate had emphasized engine quantity and quality above all else. While the French airplanes lacked the finesse of the German Fokkers with their thick cantilever wings, Capt. Albert Etévé of the STAé emphasized the quality, officially called rusticité, characterized by the adoption of very simple construction procedures allowing numerous airframes to be built quickly and cheaply.

With further increases in licensed manufacture, in 1918 subcontractors played a decisive role in aviation production. They reaped 61.9 percent of the total business in 1918, up from 27.3 percent in 1916 and 35.1 percent in 1917. In airframe manufacture the subcontractors’ market share rose from 16.2 percent in 1916 to 43.7 percent in 1917 to 61 percent in 1918. In engine manufacture, it declined from 32.9 percent in 1916 to 27.2 percent in 1917, because of Hispano-Suiza’s introduction of its 200- to 220-hp engine and Salmson’s launching of its 200- to 260-hp series engine, but then it rose to 62.7 percent in 1918. Thus, in 1918 the dominant or parent manufacturers had 38.1 percent of the market: the aircraft producers and engine manufacturers had 39 percent and 37.3 percent of their markets, respectively.

Circumstances within the industry varied. Hispano-Suiza built 14.8 percent of its 25,741 engines in 1918; its 14 subcontractors, which included Peugeot, constructed 85.2 percent. The parent firms Spad and Blériot reaped 17 and 26 percent of the profits respectively on Spad production in 1918, and their subcontractors gained 57 percent. Breguet earned 13.7 percent of the profits from Breguet 14 production in 1918; its subcontractors, which included Michelin and Renault, obtained 86.3 percent. Firms like Renault and Salmson, however, did not subcontract their production.

The aircraft industry remained centered in Paris and its suburbs, where 90 percent of French planes were built, despite limited decentralization in 1918 during the German advances toward Paris. Among the largest factories were Farman, with some 5,000 workers, and Nieuport, with 3,600 workers. The general condition of the factories was good, and most of them were entirely or partially fireproof. The larger companies had assembly plants, and the smaller ones had assembly shops. Women painted, varnished, stretched cloth over frames, and did light woodwork. Assembly rooms were well ventilated to release varnish fumes that could cause eye inflammation, headaches, or stomach trouble, and employees who worked in the varnish room fortified themselves with milk. Large factories had surgical stations staffed by trained nurses. The ordinary working day was 10 hours. Employees were paid 1.5 to 3 francs an hour or by piece, while foremen and staffs were paid monthly. Generally, the number of engines obtainable determined production. French standardization and coordination of production impressed American attaché H. Barclay Warburton in July as offering the potential for large-scale inter-Allied standardization of Spad production, despite enormous difficulties with political and industrial interests.

In 1918, of 41,336 engines manufactured in France through November, 29,461 were stationary engines (V types or in-lines), 5,526 were radials, and 6,349 were rotaries, a dramatic change from the 1917 proportions, in which rotaries and stationary-engine deliveries were nearly comparable (10,757 to 11,395) and radials were relatively scarce (1,223). As orders for rotary engines declined, Gnome and Rhône shifted to producing the Salmson Canton-Unné radial.

In August it took an average of 6.29 workers per month about 250 hours to manufacture a Hispano-Suiza engine. The Hispano-Suiza was one of the most easily constructed wartime engines, since in its parts design Birkigt had been preoccupied with ease of production and had created special machine tools and machines to produce complicated and delicate parts. In 1918 15,108 Hispano-Suiza 200- to 220-hp engines were delivered, only 956 by the parent company; the largest numbers, 4,451, 2,239, 1,784, 1,470, and 1,410, were delivered by Peugeot, Mayen, Brasier, Fives Lille, and Delaunay, respectively. Another 2,166 300-hp engines were delivered in 1918, 814 by the parent company.

In 1918 Renault doubled its engine production from 2,470 in 1917 to 5,050 and nearly trebled its aircraft production from 290 to 870 in its second year of aircraft assembly. From 1 October 1917 to 30 September 1918 Renault’s sales of aero engine and airframes came to 29.3 and 5.5 percent respectively of its total business.

Even with the most successful aviation production apparatus in the world, the French still needed imports in certain categories. France needed more Breguets than Renault could deliver engines and secured Fiat A12bis 300-hp engines from Italy, although the Fiat Breguet was inferior to the Renault-Breguet. France received some 2,200 Fiats. The undersecretary in late August was still seeking a firm agreement on an order of 1,800 Fiats placed the previous month, although France had only delivered 800 of the promised 4,200 tons of raw materials to Italy in return. English and U.S. competition for the Italian engines, since Italian firms were already preparing for peacetime, made arrangements difficult. In September Martinot-Lagarde was in Italy to secure more Fiat A12bis engines as quickly as possible and to remedy the engine’s defects. Aircraft expert Dorand looked to Italy and England as potential sources for Caproni and Handley Page night bombers respectively.

Yet the search for engines indicated a temporary decline in powerful-engine production, not a lack of their development. At the Armistice the French were introducing the next generation of lighter, more powerful, mostly water-cooled engines: the 300-hp Hispano-Suiza V8, 450-hp 12-cylinder Renault, and the 400-hp Lorraine-Dietrich, as well as a 16-cylinder, 450-hp Bugatti, and a 500-hp Salmson twin-row radial.

In 1918 the French aviation industry produced 24,652 airplanes and 44,563 engines. Its monthly aircraft production rose from 1,714 in January to 2,362, its peak, in October. Its monthly aero engine production increased from 2,567 in January to a high of 4,196 in October. In November 1918 it employed 185,000 workers. Twenty-three percent were women, who were most numerous as textile workers in the airframe factories, where they composed a third of the work force. At the Armistice the production service, which had grown from fewer than 20 officers before mobilization to 540 officers and 3,000 personnel, was delivering a plane, completely equipped, armed, and with replacement parts, every 15 minutes, day and night, and a motor, complete with all accessories, every 10 minutes.

On 19 November parliamentary deputy D’Aubigny assessed the state of French aviation at the Armistice. He charged that France had not fulfilled its promises to the United States, which had only 642 planes in line at the Armistice, 50 percent fewer than promised for 1 July. In October France had only 2,639 planes at the front, all of them what he termed obsolete Spad 7s and Spad 13s and obsolescent Breguet 14s. The absence of heavy bombers to perform reprisal raids on German territory particularly annoyed him, since the army subcommission had long advocated them. The quality of French observation planes was inferior, with no hope for improvement in 1919. The new Nieuport and Sopwith fighters did not fully benefit from the 300-hp engine, while the Béchereau frame was still not ready. His previous 3 May report had criticized the absence of unified direction for aviation, and he now attributed all of aviation’s problems to its lack of guidance. The politicians of the aviation commission, still dissatisfied with France’s failure to develop strategic airpower, thus ended the war on a negative note.

Yet D’Aubigny’s assessment was excessively negative. Perhaps the service lacked unified leadership, perhaps its aircraft were not as modern as the politicians and General Pétain desired. Still, its procurement apparatus had obtained more materiel from its industry than any other country. At the 11 November Armistice, French aviation comprised 247 squadrons with 3,222 aircraft on the Western Front (France’s Northeastern Front): 1,152 fighters, 1,585 observation planes, 285 day bombers, and 200 night bombers. The Aerial Division had 6 combat groups of 432 Spads, 5 bomber groups of 225 Breguets, and 4 squadrons of 60 long-range escort Caudron RIIA3s, for a total of 717 planes. Independent combat units comprised 42 squadrons of 720 Spads, 5 night bomber groups totaled 200 bombers, mostly Voisins, and 148 squadrons of 1,585 observation planes included 645 Breguets, 530 Salmsons, 305 two-seat Spads, 30 Caudrons, and 75 Voisins. The air arm had fallen 348 fighters and 575 bombers short of the 4,000-plane program, which anticipated having 1,500 fighters, 1,000 bombers and 1,500 observation planes at the front. Yet in depots there were nearly 2,600 airplanes waiting in the General Aviation Reserve. On all fronts the French air service had 336 squadrons, operated by 6,417 pilots, 1,682 observers, and 80,000 nonflying personnel. In air strength it was the world’s largest air force.

Argentine A-4s in combat

Grupo 5 de Caza, Fuerza Aerea Argentina.

Argentina was the first export customer for the Skyhawk. Between 1966 and 1970, the Fuerza Aérea Argentina took delivery of fifty refurbished A-4Bs and A-4Cs from the USA. Argentina’s naval air arm, Comando de la Aviación Naval Argentina (CANA) acquired sixteen A-4Qs for use from the aircraft-carrier ARA 25 de Mayo (ex-HMS Venerable). When not embarked, they were based at Naval Air Base (BAN) Comandante Espora, Bahia Blanca.

South American politics being what they are, the first action seen by Argentine Skyhawks was not made against an external aggressor. In December 1975 Navy Skyhawks of 3 Escuadrilla de Caza y Ataque (3 a Esc) made one strike against rebels in Buenos Aries during an internal revolt within the Air Force. During a 1978 dispute with neighbouring Chile over the Beagle Channel at the southern tip of South America, CANA’s A-4Qs flew CAP sorties from 25 de Mayo, which sailed to the region as part of Operation Tronador. Although combat was not joined, there were several interceptions of Chilean Navy aircraft and a Skyhawk was nearly cleared to shoot down a Chilean CASA C.212 Aviocar.

The FAA’s Skyhawks were operated by Grupo 5 de Caza at BAM (air base) Villa Reynolds and Grupo 4 at BAM El Plumerillo. These aircraft were designated A-4P by the US government and the manufacturer, but were usually known as A-4Bs in Argentine service. In 1976 twenty-five more A-4s, this time C models, were imported for the FAA. Like the B/Ps these had been reworked and updated with many A-4F features.

In the late 1970s, both services were desperate to acquire more Skyhawks and other modern weapons, but a US arms embargo against the ruling Argentine military junta prevented this. By March 1982, when Argentina launched an invasion of the British territory of the Falkland Islands (known to them as las Islas Malvinas) approximately thirty-six A-4s remained in FAA service, and ten more could be made ready for action by CANA. The latter, embarked on 25 de Mayo, supported the initial amphibious landings near Port Stanley, and one was operated from the airfield there to test its suitability for A-4s. Fortunately for the British, the airfield was not regarded as safe for operations with a combat load, and for the rest of the war the Skyhawks were operating at maximum range from shore bases on the mainland, a distance of at least 380 nautical miles (705km).

In mid-April, the CANA A-4s were readied for attacks on the British fleet then arriving in Falklands waters, but the loss of the cruiser Belgrano to the British submarine HMS Conqueror forced 25 de Mayo back to port to avoid a similar fate. From then on, the A-4Qs operated from Rio Grande. Although the A-4Qs were Sidewinder capable, they operated with bombs only during the war.

The first full engagement between the FAA Skyhawks and the British task force on 12 May saw HMS Glasgow badly damaged and four A-4s shot down by SAMs and AAA. After this, air force operations fell into a pattern of high-level transit with a refuelling from a KC-130 tanker and a low-level attack run with 5001b Mk 82 ‘Snake eye’, 7501b M-117 or 1,0001b British-made bombs. The A-4Cs had been modified to mount five weapons pylons so could carry two additional Mk 82s in addition to up to three on the centreline. Israeli-made Shafrir I AAMs had been seen on A-4Cs in 1978, but were probably only fitted for publicity purposes during the tensions with Chile, and were not properly integrated with the Skyhawks until after the Falklands War.

Incorrect fusing and the ultra-low-level height from which they were dropped prevented many Argentine bombs from exploding. This was fortunate for the British, as four more ships would have probably been lost had all bombs detonated on impact. Other ‘duds’ fell close to British command posts on land. The bravery of the Argentine A-4 pilots cannot be questioned – the majority of their aircraft did not have a remotely modern navigation system, none had radar, radar warning, ECM or guided weapons of any kind, and they had just enough fuel for a single pass on the target, which was defended by guns, ship- and ground-launched SAMs and Sea Harriers with all-aspect AAMs. Against the Sea Harrier, the A-4s were effectively defenceless, with no missiles of their own and only an unreliable cannon. Accordingly they suffered eight losses to ‘La Meurta Negra’ (The Black Death) The battles of 21 May

One of the heaviest days of air combat was 21 May 1982, the day the British task force began its landings at San Carlos Water in Falkland Sound. Following reconnaissance sorties and some attacks by aircraft from Port Stanley, and by FAAIAI Daggers from the mainland, FAA and CANA Skyhawks were launched against the landings.

First to arrive over the Falklands were two flights of three A-4Bs of Grupo 5, each armed with a single British-made 1,0001b (454kg) bomb. Coming across the ‘Leander’- class frigate HMS Argonaut (F56), which was sailing unescorted, they struck it with two bombs at 1230 hours. Neither bomb exploded, but the ship was badly damaged by explosions of its own Seacat missiles and was out of action for five days.

A second flight of Grupo 5 A-4Bs was already refuelling from a KC-130 as the first mission returned. One of the four Skyhawks was unable to take on fuel and dropped out, followed by another for technical reasons. A third bombed an abandoned Argentine freighter by mistake, leaving Capitán Carballo to attack the Type 21 frigate HMS Ardent (F174) alone. Carballo’s bomb was a near miss and he escaped the scene, but his attack attracted the attention of a combat air patrol of two Sea Harriers, flown by Lieutenant Commanders Mike Blissett and Neil Thomas of No. 800 Squadron from HMS Hermes (R12).

Thomas recalled: ‘We were at about 1,000 feet halfway down Falkland Sound, and [the Type 22 frigate HMS] Brilliant vectored us off West Falkland after a contact they’d got.’ This was Carballo’s Skyhawk, making good its escape. ‘We headed off at a fair old rate of knots, and were approaching Chartres [Settlement] when we picked up four A-4s coming over the ridge’.

This was a Grupo 4 attack, intended to be co-ordinated with one by Grupo 5, but which had the misfortune to arrive just as the defences were at their most alert. The tracks of the attacking and defending aircraft crossed at right angles, and as the Sea Harriers broke to starboard to get behind them the A-4s also broke into a hard 180- degree turn to starboard.

As soon as they saw us the A-4s turned tail, jettisoned their bombs and headed off to the south’. Thomas and Blissett pulled harder into their turn, wheeling at full throttle through a 270 -degree turn which placed them directly in the Skyhawks ’ six o ’clock position.

They must have lost a lot of speed, because we ended up about a mile and a half astern. Mike was nearer than myself, and fired; I couldn’t see him until then. He got the man on the left, and having picked Mike up reasonably well to my left, about 40 degrees off, I got a very good growl from the target, so I just shot the missile and it went straight to it. The other two A-4s broke to starboard, with Mike close astern of them. I got a growl from my second Sidewinder but couldn’t fire, because I didn’t know where Mike was. So we missed the other two’. In fact, Mike Blissett damaged one of the other A-4s with cannon fire, although it returned safely to base. The two Skyhawks came down within a hundred metres of each other. Both pilots, Teniente (Lieutenant) Nestor Lopez and Primer Teniente (1st Lieutenant) Daniel Manzotti being killed.

Although a morning mission by CANA A-4s had been ordered to turn back, in the afternoon the same six A-4Qs were launched with different pilots in two divisions; the first led by Capitán de Corbeta (Lieutenant Commander) Alberto Philippi, and the second by Teniente de Navio (Lieutenant) Benito Rotolo. Each aircraft was armed with four 5001b snakeye bombs and 200 rounds of cannon ammunition and carried two 300- gallon tanks. Forty-two minutes after take-off from Rio Grande, Philippi’s division descended to 100ft and then to 50ft as it crossed Falkland Sound, having failed to find its briefed target, a British frigate acting as a radar picket. Rotolo’s three Skyhawks were about twenty minutes behind the first flight.

Since the earlier FAA A-4 attack, Ardent had been damaged by two bombs from a Grupo 6 Dagger and was making its way to the safety of a group of British ships when Philippi’s A-4s approached in battle formation at 450kts (833km/h). Adjusting his flight path to make a diagonal attack, Philippi fired his cannon, which promptly jammed, and dropped his bombs at the preset 250-millisecond interval as the ship launched two Corvus chaff/flare rockets. Electronic countermeasures had no effect on the A-4s or their ‘dumb’ weapons, and several of the retarded bombs hit Ardent in the stern, as did those of his wingman, Teniente de Navio José Area.

Arca describes his attack and the aftermath: ‘When I started the bomb run against the frigate as the No. 2 , 1 had only seven or ten seconds of separation between myself and the aircraft of Capitán Philippi when I needed nineteen seconds to avoid the bomb explosions. I could not adopt the correct position because when we started the bomb run a curtain of fire formed between the ship and us. The ricochets and the explosions were too close to our aircraft. I remember that I saw a missile launch from the ship and I broke right to avoid it and then I returned to course. Because of the small separation between the planes our manoeuvres to line up for bomb launch were almost simultaneous and I saw the launch of the four bombs of Capt. Philippi and the bomb tails open. At this moment I hoped that he missed the target so as not to give me problems with the explosions, but the fourth bomb made a direct hit on the stern. The explosion was immense and I had no choice but to pass through the fireball at the same time that I said to the leader “one on the stern” and dropped my bombs. After that I heard [No. 3 Teniente de Fragata (Sub-Lieutenant) Marcello] Márquez saying ‘another on the stern’. After we left the target parallel to the shore I identified my leader at 1000 metres to the left and Márquez at 1000 or 1500 metres to the right. No more than fifteen seconds after that Márquez said “here come the Sea Harriers” and at that moment I saw a Sea Harrier firing a Sidewinder that after a short flight went up the exhaust nozzle of Philippi’s plane. I looked to the right and didn’t see Márquez but a Sea Harrier instead and almost at the same time I received the first 30mm shell hits on the right wing. Flying at only three metres altitude I almost hit the water and I tried to control the airplane and go for the one that attacked me to break his aim, but I received more hits on the left wing. I prepared to eject because the hydraulic system was totally destroyed and I had lost the electrical system and oxygen. At 480 knots I turned to manual control (although the NATOPS manual said that the top speed for this was 250 knots) and I tried to turn to face one of the Harriers. The combat lasted for about 40 seconds and they left me, maybe because they don’t have fuel or ammunition. I headed to Puerto Argentino [Port Stanley] over the coast, trying to avoid Goose Green, at low altitude and 500 knots and watching the fuel quantity indicator, because I now had only 1001bs, which was going very fast because of the holes, six on the left wing and four on the right.

Close to the runway I tried to put down the landing gear but only the right and the front wheels went down. The indicator said the left one was not secured. I told that to the operations command and he said “the left landing gear is missing, I can see the sky through the holes you have, go and eject over the bay”. I had no choice. Climbing to 2500 feet I went to the ejection point. I held my oxygen mask and with the right hand I pulled the ejection handle. After a powerful explosion and having the sensation of tumbling I found myself descending by parachute. The aircraft continued flying in a spiral towards me, like he was trying to hit me, refusing to let me abandon him. He passed close to me and made another circuit before the anti-aircraft artillery, watchful of the danger, shot him down’.

José Area landed in the water and was rescued by an Argentine Army UH-1 helicopter. His colleagues were not as lucky, Philippi was shot down by a Sidewinder fired by Lieutenant Clive Morrell of No. 800 Squadron, who had inflicted the damage on Area. Philippi also ejected safely, but spent three days evading capture before reaching an isolated cottage. He was returned to Rio Grande on 30 May. Marquez’s A-4 had been hit by cannon fire from the Sea Harrier of Flight Lieutenant John Leeming, an RAF exchange pilot, and had disintegrated, killing him instantly.

Ardent was attacked by Rotolo’s A-4s fifteen minutes after the first CANA attack. No further hits were scored and the three A-4s escaped with minor shrapnel damage. The frigate had suffered mortal damage and had to be abandoned, listing and on fire. She sank the following evening.

In the final accounting, FAA Skyhawks flew 219 combat sorties during the conflict, sinking four Royal Navy warships and damaging many others. Against this must be balanced the loss of nineteen aircraft and seventeen pilots. CANA Skyhawks flew thirtyfour sorties. Losses were three A-4s and two pilots, with fatal damage claimed on two warships – results hotly debated between the two services. Whatever the actual balance, the A-4 was the most successful Argentine aircraft in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict.

The war led to a collapse of the military junta in Argentina and an eventual return to democracy, but it was not until 1994 that the USA lifted the arms embargo and agreed to the supply of late-model A-4s to the FAA. The new FAA Skyhawks, designated A-4AR (A-4M) and TA-4AR (OA-4M) achieved initial operating capability (IOC) in mid-2000.


Airplane went into World War I, actually, as a civil model with wooden structure and skin of wings and fuselage made of canvas. The air speed was around 100 km/h and endurance around an hour or two. Load capacity was just enough to take into the air a pilot and an observer. Already in the first year of the war, with slight modifications, the airplane went through a transformation from effective scout and aircraft for fire correction to successful airplane for aerial support, aerial superiority and bomber.

Until 1918, fighter airplanes could reach the speed of 200 km/h, at the same time armed with up to two synchronized fixed forward firing machine guns with the rate of fire of over 1,000 bullets per minute. At the same time reconnaissance airplanes could reach altitudes of more than 6,000 meters.

By the end of the war, typical design of fighter airplane was biplane with pulling propeller, open cockpit, while the landing gear was still fixed without the possibility to be retracted. This kind of standard fighter airplane arrangement remained until 1930s.

From fragile, poorly maneuverable aircraft made of wooden structure and canvas, fighter airplanes developed into highly maneuverable aircraft, able to perform tight turns and withstand significant damage earned in battle. To be able to tolerate significant dynamic loads during air battles and tight turns the airplane had to become more structurally strong. So the structure started to be designed from steel tubes and front skin from aluminum and its alloys. However, Germany designed already in 1915 the first airplane of all-metal structure. It was Junkers J.1 with braced load bearing structure made of steel tubes, covered by skin made of duraluminium sheets.

The tactics of fighter airplanes use was adapted to its virtues and flaws. As a rule, faster airplanes were less maneuverable and vice versa. SPAD XIII was for sure one of the fastest fighters in World War I. If such an airplane had an air duel with a more maneuverable airplane like Fokker Dr.I, it would certainly use its advantage in air speed and try to use tactics of fast attacks and escapes. Using the tactics of sharp maneuvering with tight turns would significantly reduce its chances of survival against Dr.I.

How to achieve optimal maneuverability, the most important property of the fighter airplane, kept even today considering the closest range aerial battle hidden behind very well-known term “dogfight”?

Maneuverability of the airplane manifests itself in maximum achievable angular velocity around its longitudinal and perpendicular axis, in the ability to swiftly change direction of rotation around these two axes, and in maximum achievable and sustainable turn rate.

Experience in designing World War I fighter airplanes showed that airplanes with more than one wing (biplanes and triplanes) were more maneuverable. Firstly, multi-winged airplanes have larger wing/lift surface (and smaller wing loading) which will result in the ability to pull tighter turns. Secondly, considering that during tight turns wing loading is most significant, two or three wings braced with struts and wires gives more compact unit with much higher strength and stiffness. Thirdly, with multi-winged airplanes with tendency of bigger lifting surface, single wing can be designed with smaller span and chord, thus making the airplane able to faster change the direction of rotation around longitudinal axis and have higher angular velocity around longitudinal axis. The most maneuverable World War I airplanes, considering their aerodynamic properties, were Sopwith Triplane and Fokker Dr. I, both triplanes. Their flaw was, of course, lower flight speed. Maneuverability and controllability of the airplanes can be also largely influenced by the direction of rotation of rotary engines, but this subject will be covered later.

From fragile aircraft from the early beginning of 20th century, with main intention to realize more or less safe flight with the ability to control it, till the end of World War I, in only 15 years or so, the airplanes evolved into combat machines with the efficiency crucial to bring advantage on and over the battlefield. During only four years of world conflict, military aviation progressed to the level that would have taken twenty years in peacetime.

With the development of airplanes and arms race, the aviation industry was also developing very fast. More than 225,000 aircraft of all kinds were produced during the war. British Royal Air Corp had only 140 aircraft at the beginning of the war; at the end it had an astonishing 22,000. At the beginning of war the airplanes were manufactured manually in very small batches. Until the mid of the war, the production was reorganized into massive serial production, driven by sophisticated design systems. At the same time systems of radio communication, hindsight, oxygen supply, heating, and, of course, weapon systems were also developing very intensively.


As the war months were passing by, governments of the confronted sides started to pay the greatest attention to the development of fighter aviation and combat formations. From 1916 until 1918 some of the deadliest war machines of World War I were to appear in the sky. Faster, more agile and with higher fire power, these fighters retired airplanes like Fokker E. III or FE-2.

One of the favorite British pilot’s airplanes during World War I was a small fighter produced by Sopwith Aviation, called by the pilots “Pup”. This airplane was introduced in operational units of Royal Air and Navy forces at the end of 1916. It had installed one Vickers machine gun with Sopwith-Kauper system of synchronization. Although powered, in first variants, with engine rated at only 80 hp, this less than 6 meters long airplane was probably the easiest fighter to fly among fighters of World War I. Extremely maneuverable, it had a turn rate even twice as good as some other opponent airplanes. It was also constructionally simple; at the ends of the trailing edges of each wing it had ailerons and at the middle section of the top wing there was a cutout under which the pilot was seated. The empty airplane had a weight of only 388 kilograms. Later, after the installation of more powerful Gnome Monosoupape engine rated at 100 hp, the airplane became even more maneuverable.

British used “Pup” also as a test plane for future airplanes and system development.

The idea of launching and landing fighter airplanes on the deck of ships existed long before World War I. First airplane carriers were actually battle-cruisers with installed wooden launch ramps on the top of their cannon barrels. First take-offs from the battle-cruiser were performed in November 1910, from the cruiser Birmingham. First landings were performed in January 1911, on the battleship Pennsylvania. These trials were conducted by the American Eugene Ely, in his Curtiss biplane. Although these efforts paved the way to the development of naval fighter aviation, still quite a lot of time was to pass until reliable and safe usage of airplanes on the decks of the ships was possible. The advantages of this kind of airplane usage were significant. In the time of World War I the Allies made a lot of efforts to develop a concept of fighter airplanes use from the decks of the ships. Although at the beginning in a very impractical way, this is where the story of airplane carriers began. Taking off from adapted deck of the battleships was in some way acceptable, but the real challenge for the pilot would start after returning from the mission. In fact, it was impossible to land and airplane on the mother ship, so the landing was carried out by landing on the sea in the proximity of the ship. This was, of course, extremely dangerous for the pilot.

In August 1917, the first successful landing on the deck of a rearranged battleship H. M. S Furious was performed. It was actually the first historical successful landing of an airplane on a ship in motion; performed by pilot E. H. Dunning in his Sopwith “Pup”. On the basis of Sopwith “Pup”, one more excellent British fighter airplane emerged – Sopwith Camel. This airplane, credited with 1,294 downed enemy aircraft, was the most successful fighter of World War I. It was in operational units from May 1917.

Camel was the conventional biplane of its time. Wooden fuselage and wing structure reinforced with wires, with skin made of canvas, as a standard embodied 9-cylinder air-cooled rotary engine rated at 130 hp. Compared to its predecessor, Camel was extremely demanding for flying and it asked for a skilled pilot at commands to become a deadly weapon. Reactive momentum and gyroscopic effect of precession, as consequence of propeller and complete engine rotation, were especially pronounced in Camel.

Because of the reactive momentum to rotating engine, roll rate around longitudinal axis was so high to the right that some pilots actually preferred rolling the airplane 270° to the right instead of 90° to the left. The consequence of pronounced gyroscopic effect of precession was that the airplane, during sharp left turn, had the tendency to raise the nose; in this situation the pilot should have counteracted using the rudder. This kind of airplane behavior in the air, for inexperienced and unskilled pilot, could cause airplane to stall. Pilots used to say that once a pilot has learned how to fly Camel, they will never be able to fly “normal” airplane again. Also, the fact is that this fighter with two Vickers machine guns and in hands of a skilled pilot represented real terror in the sky. Some of the most successful aces of World War I flew Camel. Some of them with more than 50 aerial victories and some with 6 victories in a single day. Many technical innovations are also contributed to Camel. Some of those innovations were used later in aviation, especially in airplanes of World War II. A version with illuminated instrumental panel for night operation was developed; a version with strengthened landing gear for airplane carrier operation was developed; a version for concept study of dive bomber was developed. Naval variant of Camel was powered by a more powerful engine, rated at 150 hp. This variant also had an option to be broken in half over hinges in position behind the pilot’s cockpit, to occupy less space on the ship deck.

Overall 5,490 Camels were produced and used in air forces of Britain, Canada, USA, Belgium, Greece. In naval version Camel was deployed on ten capital ships and 17 battle-cruisers of the British Royal Navy.

The most famous fighter designed by the French during World War I was SPAD S. XIII, developed by Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD), from its predecessor, SPAD S. VII. Great delight of the French pilots who tested SPAD S. XIII between April and September 1917, induced the French government to order initially 2,000 of these aircraft. Until the end of the war, a total of 8,472 pieces were ordered for the French and Allied squadrons. Compared to its predecessors XIII had inline water-cooled engine rated at 235 hp, which gave it higher top horizontal speed of around 220 km/h, but also smaller maneuverability compared to its contemporaries. Because of its characteristics, pilots of S. XIII relied in aerial battle mostly on the hit and run tactics; rather than trying to outmaneuver the opponent in close combat. One more important characteristic of S. XIII was its excellent structural strength, which enabled it to reach the speed of 400 km/h in dive. Many allied aces flew SPAD S. XIII, including Rene Fonck, the top allied ace with 75 aerial victories. SPAD S. XIII coped excellently with best German fighters, until the summer of 1918, when Fokker D. VII appeared in the sky, the best fighter airplane produced during World War I.

When it made its first appearance in May 1918, Fokker D. VII showed very soon its real combat potential. With excellent control and maneuvering characteristics and operational ceiling of more than 6,000 meters, this fighter could cope with any Allied fighter. In August 1918 only, German pilots managed to down 565 enemy airplanes. The structure of D. VII was designed so that it could accept Mercedes D-IIIa, inline water-cooled engine rated at 175 hp, or more powerful, BMW IIIa rated at 185 hp, also inline water-cooled. A powerful engine and small frontal aerodynamic drag gave D. VII the rate of climb unseen before on any other fighter in war. Box-like fuselage structure was designed in the form of braced girder, made of welded steel tubes and covered by metal sheets at the front part of the aircraft, and canvas on the rear part. Two wings were braced by rigid struts, but without use of additional wires to get a more rigid wing structure. As a matter of fact, even struts were not necessary because wings themselves had enough strength; the installation of struts was merely a consequence of tradition and general disbelief in new wing concept. Among the best pilots who flew D. VII were Ernest Udet, with 62 aerial victories and Erich Löwenhardt, with 52. Although D. VII squadrons were giving big punches to Allied formations, until the end of the war their number was limited and their effect decreased by the huge number of newly built Allied airplanes, with the greatest number of Sopwith Camel and SPAD S. XIII among them. Formidable reputation of Fokker D. VII was proven by the fact that this was the only type of German Airplane that was specifically mentioned by the Allies in the Armistice ending the war, requiring Germany to surrender all D. VII to Allies. The production and use of this airplane continued for several years after the war. The American Navy and Marine Corp used it until the year 1924.

Airco DH 10


With World War I bomber airplane started its affirmation on the war scene. Until the end of the war strategic bombers could carry up to three tons of bombs at a distance of a few hundred kilometers. Although in the first months of the war, bombing was limited in manual dropping of smaller bombs over the enemy, Italy and Russia were the first initiators of strategic bombers aviation concept. Already in 1913 Russia possessed the first big 4-engine airplane, designed by famous Igor Sikorsky. With the beginning of hostilities, further 80 huge bombers “Ilya Mourometz” (named after a hero from a Russian legend) were ordered.

This bomber possessed top technology of the time; it had a closed cockpit, heating over channeling of the hot engine exhaust gasses, electrical energy supplied by a generator driven by air stream during flight. Especially useful was the option to approach the engines from inside the airplane during flight.

The formation which used Ilya Mourometz bombers, performed in the period from 1915 to 1917, above the territory of Germany and Lithuania, 400 missions with the loss of only one bomber. Successful use of strategic bomber force attracted attention of all sides in the conflict and gave crucial input to heavy bomber development.

Other famous heavy bombers of World War I were Italian Caproni Ca. 3 and German airplanes of Gothas and Fridrichshafen class, with a range of 800 kilometers with 500 kilos of deadly payload. The later developed German Giant could carry a payload of two tons of bombs, flying at the altitudes unreachable for fighter airplanes of the time.


With the development of airplanes, airplane engines were also being developed during World War I. As the race in airplane performances was waged, the engines were becoming more powerful, lighter, more reliable and with better power-to-weight ratio. It is interesting how the engine was developing through the war; from practically adapted engines that followed the logic of automobile water-cooled engine, over rotary air-cooled engines, to inline water-cooled airplane engines.

The type of engines that was used by the Wright brothers, from the beginning of the aviation story, was too complex and too heavy for airplane application. Although the mentioned engine was used successfully, with the development of fighter aviation in World War I, more reliable, simpler and more powerful engines were needed. The right engines that could cope with the challenges facing airplane designers were rotary air-cooled airplane engines. Although they appeared at the end of the first decade of 20th century, the real blossom and full application emerged during World War I. The first engine that introduced the concept of rotational air-cooled engine was French Gnome Monosoupape, from 1909.

The main idea of airplane designers of the era was to get rid of engine water cooling system, considering that it asked for installations such as ducts, chiller, and water pump. All these installations made the engine heavier and were also subjected to failures which decreased the reliability of the engine and airplane. On the other side, every engine needs cooling, especially as the engines were becoming more powerful and generated higher heat emission. The main advantage of the air-cooled engines is that they do not need water installations. But to take away the heat, the engine had to become rotational to ensure adequate airflow around the engine cylinders. Rotational air-cooled engines totally changed the logic of piston engines with internal combustion. As we all know, standard airplane internal combustion piston engine turns linear motion of the pistons inside cylinders into rotational motion of the crankshaft, which is then directly or over gearbox transferred to drive the propeller. This kind of arrangement was standard for the airplane’s drive, until the advent of the rotary engines with radial arrangement of cylinders. With the rotary engines the logic of work was totally different; here the crankshaft remained motionless, while the cylinders and complete motor were rotating around the crankshaft. So, the propeller was attached to the rotary engine and was rotating with it. This principle of engine run was preventing the engine from overheating, despite the non-existence of water cooling, considering that the engine cylinders were rotating together with the engine in the surrounding air.

Because of its principle of operation where complete, quite massive engine rotates around a motionless crankshaft, rotary engines had some nasty habits that could be characterized as flaws, but once mastered they could be turned into advantage. Strong reactive momentum and gyroscopic effect of precession were the consequence of relatively substantial mass of the engine that rotates around longitudinal axis of the airplane. Reactive momentum to the airplane is direct consequence of rotary engine rotation and has tendency to rotate the airframe in the direction opposite to the direction of engine rotation. That is why the fighter airplanes of World War I could almost instantaneously rotate to the right around their longitudinal axis, but were quite sluggish in rotation to the left. This phenomenon was so expressed that airplanes could rotate faster to the right for 270°, than to the left for 90°.

The outcome of gyroscopic effect of precession, as consequence of engine rotation, was that during, for example, right turn, the airplane had the tendency to lower the nose toward the ground. The intensity of this behavior depended on the rate of turn and the number of engine revolutions. To keep the turn coordinated in horizontal plane the pilot had to counteract with the tail rudder. For an inexperienced pilot, this flight characteristic could be deadly, especially when flying at low altitude. Sopwith Camel had an especially nasty habit when we talk about gyroscopic effect of precession. It was said for the Camel that it killed more Allied pilots than German fighters did. However, once the pilot mastered flying of one of these airplanes, he would become the most dangerous adversary in very maneuverable fighter airplane.

Rotary engines were very popular through most of World War I. They were simple and more reliable than previous water-cooled engines. Nevertheless, they used to waste great amount of fuel and castor oil for lubrication. Unburned castor oil would be thrown away from the engine, greatly in the face of the pilot who was sitting in the open cockpit, only a meter or so behind the engine. The scarf the pilots used to wear around their necks was actually a towel used to wipe off castor oil from their goggles.

Limitation of rotary engines was in their power that was practically limited to around 280 hp. So, before the end of the war, the designers of airplane engines turned again toward the inline water-cooled engines, despite their complexity. In 1917 the American company Packard Motor designed the most powerful airplane engine of the time; it was Liberty, 12-cylinder inline water-cooled engine, rated at 410 hp.

In favor of the decline of popularity of rotation engines before the end of World War I, speak the fighter planes such as SPAD S. XIII and Fokker D. VII, which used inline water-cooled engines. BMW IIIa, which was installed in the best fighter plane of World War I, Fokker D. VII, was a 6-cylinder inline water-cooled engine. When optimally balanced, it had very little vibration. Rated at 185 hp, for the time it had very high compression ratio of 6.4. The installed carburetor was adjusting fuel-air mixture depending on the flight altitude, so that constant power output could be maintained until the altitude of 2,000 meters. It was a decisive advantage over competitive engines.

An important step forward came with the inline Hispano-Suiza, V-8 engine that introduced the engine concept with aluminum block, with only inner wall of cylinders made of steel sheet; this way power-to-weight ratio was significantly raised. From the initial 140 hp, the engine power was raised to approximately 300 hp.