Fourteenth Air Force


14th Air Force B-24, China, c. 1944.


Newly arrived Fourteenth Air Force B-24 Liberators on the line at Kunming Airport.


B-25s in China.


The Japanese were unable to defeat Nationalist China before they had commitments to their Pacific War, from December 1941. Now with Allied aid supporting China, even if in limited quantities, the Chinese were getting stronger as the Japanese were weakening. A stalemate now existed in China and the Japanese Imperial army no longer had the will to try and defeat the Chinese. At the same time, the Nationalist and Communist forces could not hope in the short term to defeat such large Japanese forces stationed in China. Japanese tactics had also changed since 1941 with the emphasis now on holding onto what they had gained rather than trying to conquer more territory. When they went out on operations the main aim of the Japanese was to take food and other supplies from the population. As time went on, the Japanese Imperial army was less willing to confront Chinese forces, whether regular or guerrilla. At the same time, the average Chinese soldier had lost their inferiority complex towards the Japanese army and its soldiers.

Although the Chinese theatre was still important to the Japanese, the situation with the Allies was to take on more significance. Their struggles in the Pacific from 1942–5 and with the British in Burma from 1943–5 became more important. Much of their heavy equipment had, however, been transported to other theatres and in particular the Pacific Islands. Because of their weaknesses the Japanese Imperial army had now to concentrate on trying to control the guerrilla threat in China until 1945 (see Chapter 6).

In one final desperate effort to reverse their decline in China the Imperial army launched a large-scale offensive. In April 1944, the ‘Ichi-Go’, or ‘Number One’, offensive was begun and was to be one of Japan’s last major operations in China. Huge Japanese forces were marshalled for the offensive with 400,000 men, 1,500 artillery pieces and 800 tanks taken from all over China. Ichi-Go was divided into two separate operations with the first, ‘Ka-Go’, aimed at destroying all Nationalist forces still north of the Yangtze River. One of Ka-Go’s aims was to surround and destroy the Nationalist army that held part of the Peking–Wuhan railway. This objective was easily achieved, although the Japanese advance was limited by lack of supplies once they out reached their supply lines. A second phase, known as Operation ‘U-Go’, was to be launched once Ka-Go had got underway. The aim of U-Go was to knock out the airbases of the US 14th Air Force which were being used to bomb the Japanese mainland. After destroying these airbases the combined Japanese force was to advance into Szechwan province with the ultimate aim of capturing the wartime capital Chungking. Nationalist divisions facing the offensive were made up of poorly trained and armed conscripts who were soon demoralized and fell back in front of the advancing Japanese. U-Go was a great success and the US air bases fell in quick succession as the Nationalist forces retreated in confusion. On 8 August the city of Hengyang, to the east of the Chinese capital, fell to the Japanese and it seemed that an advance on Chungking was now inevitable. As the campaign in southern China dragged into November 1944, however, the Japanese began to run out of food and other supplies. Vital air cover was also lost when the Japanese had to send its fighters to Japan to defend their homeland. Over the next few months Ichi-Go ground to a halt and the Chinese finally began to make some successful counter-attacks. Chiang Kai-shek had been proved right when he said that ‘The Japanese will run out of blood before the Chinese will run out of ground’.

In April and May 1945 the Japanese launched what was to be their last offensive in China with the aim of capturing a US air base at Chihchiang. The Chihchiang Offensive was launched from territory recently taken during the Ichi-Go operation. Large Nationalist forces were stationed to halt the advance and after being reinforced to a strength of four divisions they threw back the Japanese. In early 1945 the Japanese Imperial High Command had already introduced plans to consolidate their positions in China. By withdrawing units from outlying garrisons in southern China they intended to concentrate them in central China in the region of Wuhan. Other formations would be gathered in the Canton region and in the Peking region, where they faced less opposition from guerrilla forces. As the Japanese tried to move their forces into these fastnesses they came under attack by Chinese guerrillas.

Fourteenth Air Force

By the time the land route to China had been reopened, the Chennault air plan had already come a cropper. Even Roosevelt finally accepted the conclusion his military chiefs had reached long before: the Chinese Nationalists would do little to defeat Japan. Within China, signs of shirking were only too clear. Inflation and corruption, fueled by American supplies and money, became rampant. Chinese military casualties fell below 300,000 for the first time since 1937. The American military mission in Chungking, now directed by Major General Albert C. Wedemeyer, believed that only the Communist Eighth Route Army and the OSS-supported Chinese-Mongolian partisans were real fighters.

The decline of the Nationalist Army did not reflect any lack of effort by Tenth Air Force’s air transports in flying “the Hump.” By August 1943, C-46s were delivering 5,000 tons of supplies a month to China, an unthinkable figure when Chiang had demanded that support a year earlier. By January 1944, Tenth Air Force effort reached 15,000 tons a month. The commitment took a heavy toll. The transport force lost at least one aircraft for every one of the 500 air miles between India and China; more than 1,000 aircrewmen perished along the route. At its peak strength, Tenth Air Force had 650 aircraft in the air every day, around the clock. This effort made it possible for Chennault to mount Operation Matterhorn, the strategic bombardment of Chinese and Formosan targets with B-24s and B-29s based in China.

The opportunity cost to the Chinese Nationalists was high, too, since 90 percent of the cargo tonnage in 1943–44 was aviation gasoline and ordnance, not Lend-Lease arms for the Chinese Army. This imbalance exacted its toll all too soon. As the airlift over “the Hump” provided more logistical support, Arnold sent more operational wings to China and created a new command for Chennault, the Fourteenth Air Force, which included one B-29 bombardment wing. When Churchill and Roosevelt met Chiang Kaishek on their way to Teheran in November 1943, they promised Chiang, awash in self-importance, a great air war from China against Japan. Their meeting coincided with the first American bombardment of Formosa. They also promised to push operations in Burma to open the Ledo-Burma Road and increase Lend-Lease aid. In return for recognition of his role as Allied Generalissimo in Asia, Chiang promised to use his army to the best of its limited ability to support the American and British offensive.

In the latter half of 1943, the effect of the mounting Allied air raids from inland China against Japanese communications, port facilities and merchant shipping forced the Japanese to launch a radical campaign to neutralize Allied forward airfields. Unable to destroy Allied air power with their own air forces, the Japanese Army untertook a land expedition to capture the airfields directly. In the spring of 1944, two Japanese armies operating from north and south opened a corridor from Hankow to Hanoi. The success of this campaign forced a· major change in Allied planning for the China-Burma theatre. For the first time, the Allied tactical air forces in China received the manpower and equipment to take the fight to the Japanese on equal terms. The Flying Tigers struck back …

On Thanksgiving morning, November 1943, a raiding force of 14 Mitchell bombers escorted by 8 Mustangs and 8 Lightnings departed their forward bases in China to strike at Japanese airfields on Formosa.

Flying at wave-top level over the Formosa Strait to avoid radar detection, the pilots of the 14th Air Force (joined en route by aircraft of the Chinese-American Composite Wing) struck a completely unprepared target. Forty-two Japanese aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Not a single Allied airplane, not a pilot, was lost.

It was this raid, and what it heralded for the future, which convinced the Japanese High Command of the necessity to eliminate Allied air power in China.

In December of 1943, Lieutenant-General Shunroku Hata, commanding officer of the China Expeditionary Army, ordered an immediate aerial offensive against American installations to be followed by a massive land offensive in the spring of 1944. The Flying Tigers were to be exterminated!

Operation /chi Go, the code-name for the planned spring campaign, was expected to realise several purposes. Chennault’s airfields would be neutralized by the novel approach of capturing them with ground forces, a reliable land transport route would be established from northern China to Indochina, potential bases from which B-29 bombers could strike the Japanese mainland would be destroyed and, finally, Chang Kai Shek’s Nationalist government could well be overthrown by a substantial military reverse.

The poorly led Chinese armies were no match for regular Japanese troops. Attacking from north and south, the Japanese forged a corridor along the old railway route from Sienning through Changsha, Hengyang and Lingling to the ancient capital of Kweilin.

A great part of the Chinese army simply vanished. The surviving remnants were pushed back either side of the corridor. By the beginning of December, 1944, the railroad from Hanoi to Hankow was operating again. The Japanese army was reorganizing in preparation for the final drive on Kunming and the Nationalist capital at Chungking. Detached forces were steadily mopping up the few remaining Allied bases in the mountainous eastern pocket.

The very low priority accorded the ChinaBurma theatre by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington restricted the Allied response to the Japanese offensive to a more or less ineffective air interdiction of supply lines.

It was not until General Albert Wedemeyer replaced General Stilwell that the principal Allied focus shifted from Burma to China.

Claire Chennault, commander of the 14th Air Force, at last found a commanding officer receptive to his perception of the proper employment of US air power. He argued vigorously that with sufficient aircraft and supplies he could sever enemy supply lines, weaken and demoralize their ground forces and provide such air support as would allow the ·numerically huge Chinese armies to best their hated foes.

The first task facing Wedemeyer on assuming command was to halt the Japanese advance and, if possible, seize the initiative with a determined counter-offensive. Wedemeyer and Chennault worked well together; the fruit of their joint planning became known as Operation Alpha.

Air operations in China were completely reorganized. After lengthy debate, Washington agreed to close down the strategic bombing offensive of the Japanese mainland from the bases around Chengtu. The tremendous cost of lifting supplies over the hump did not produce a comparable result. Nor did it aid one whit in the defense of China; furthermore, the Marianas offered a much better site for the mighty Superforts.

Wedemeyer was given permission to make some use of the B-29’s before they departed for the Pacific.

On the eve of the start of Operation Alpha, the 14th Air Force mustered some 700 serviceable aircraft together with an adequate level of munitions, replacements and gasoline. They were at least on par with their adversary. For the first time in their operational history, the Flying Tigers could not use the chronic shortages of manpower and equipment as the excuse for their troubles. They had the tools to get the job done …

The Japanese did not look kindly on the growing U.S. Army Air Forces presence in China, however, and ordered the China expeditionary army to begin ICHI-GO (Operation One) in January 1944. For the next ten months the Japanese Army pushed the Nationalists back and overran base after base, forcing the forward-based Fourteenth Air Force fighters and bombers deeper into China, more than half of which remained unconquered. The Chinese Army’s resistance was erratic and ultimately futile, but Japanese casualties and the lengthening logistical tail of the Japanese divisions brought operations to a halt in January 1945. The Japanese generals in China cautioned Tokyo that they could not advance far enough to capture the bases of the new B-29s, which had a range of 4,000 miles.

The strategic bombing champions, however, had already concluded that an enlarged Matterhorn was too tall a challenge. With the decline of Fourteenth Air Force and military support of Chiang Kai-shek, operations in the China-Burma-India theater, divided into the Southeast Asia and Chinese theaters in 1944, reverted to a British Commonwealth effort to restore the British Empire, a goal the United States failed to support with any enthusiasm. The war with Japan would be won elsewhere.



Russian MiG-15 Aces in Korea, from left to right: Aleksandr P. Smorchkov (8 kills), Nikolai Ivanovich Ivanov (6), Semen Alexeievich Fedorets (8), Yevgeni G. Pepelyayev (19) and Sergei Makarovich Kramarenko (13).

On Sunday, June 25, 1950, the North Korean Peoples Army suddenly launched its invasion of South Korea by crossing the 38th Parallel. Spearheaded by T-34/85 tanks and supported by swarms of 11- 10 Shturmovik ground-attack aircraft, the offensive rapidly pushed South Korean and UN troops back.

USAF F-80s, F-5 1 s, F-82s, and B-26s were quickly in the fray, wreaking successful havoc on Communist supply lines, and some big scores were built up against obsolescent Russian- built piston-engined aircraft; as the tide of war was beginning to turn and the North Korean advance slowed down to a halt, the advent of the Mikoyan-Guryevich MiG-15 mid-wing monoplane jets came to the Allies as one of the nastiest surprises of the war.

On November 1, 1950, UN pilots submitted first sighting reports of MiG- 15s in Korean colors and, although 12 days later the first victory was reported, it soon became very obvious that the F-80s, F-84s, and Meteors had at a stroke become obsolete. The MiGs could even outclimb the F-86s that entered combat in December, 1950, and enjoying an untouchable ceiling of 15,200 meters, they could dive down on their prey and climb back up to a safe position after striking with relative impunity. From their experience Russian pilots determined that the MiG’s main strength though lay in its enormous firepower, offered by one N-37 37mm cannon and two NS-23KM 23 mm cannon. A two-second burst would pour a devastating 14 kilograms of lead into the enemy plane, tearing it to pieces, while the MiG could take a lot of punishment from the Sabres’ .50 caliber guns thanks to its heavier armor protection.

United States military authorities have always felt certain that skilled Soviet airmen fought in Korea. The actual Soviet involvement has long been due to continuous Soviet attempts to hide their participation at all. Glasnost and Perestrojka as late as 1993 have laid Open fragments of Russian files, allow allowing to make a fairer comparison of the history of aerial warfare. Although there are many Russian participants who are still reluctant to talk freely about their experiences, there is no more denying that the combatants in Korea in terms of technical and psychological quality were actually more evenly matched, and that UN estimates of their air-to-air losses were grossly underestimated.

The VVS posted its 64 IAK on secret mission to Korea primarily tasked with blunting the Allied air offensive against the north. It was comprised of some elite fighter divisions which were rotated in and out after six to twelve months of combat. Commanding officer at its peak was General Major G.A. Lobov, late of the crack 7 GIAD of World War I1 fame with I9 air victories to his credit, who was destined to add four more kills to his already distinguished record in the ferocious air battles fought over Korea. In 1952 the 64 IAK commanded three fighter air divisions along with two antiaircraft divisions (85mm and 57mm guns), having a total of 26,000 men in strength. Recent information from Russia reveals that a total of 10 fighter divisions were committed to action in Korea at one time or another. The following units have been traced so far:

32 IAD

913 IAP

151 IAD


216 IAD

518 IAP

303 IAD

18 GIAP,

523 IAP,

17 IAP

304 IAD

324 IAD

176 GIAP,

196 IAP

As the Soviet Air Force was undergoing a complete transformation in modern equipment, units were deployed not uniformly prepared, some containing a relative proportion of pilots with an all too brief training period on jets; the tough veterans of the Patriotic War, however, formed the bulk and guts of the Soviet fighter force in Korea. They devised tactics under combat conditions that put the good qualities of the MiG to best advantage. In fact, the aircraft itself was confidence-inspiring, as it proved a clear ascendancy in many respects over the best enemy fighter, the F-86.

For fear of Soviet airmen falling into enemy hands, orders were given that prohibited pilots from penetrating a restricted area 100 kilometers wide north of the 38th Parallel, and from flying over coastal areas with the risk of imminent enemy naval vessels. Some Russians said that American pilots were quick to make good use of these restrictions when things were beginning to become too rough, running for the safety of these areas.

One of the first divisions to become operational was the 324 IAD under the high caliber leadership of the legendary Ivan Kozhedub, the Allied ace of aces of World War I1 with 62 kills. The unit had distinguished itself against the Luftwaffe during the so-called Svir-Petrozavodsk campaign (June-August, 1944) and was now tasked with neutralizing the Allied bombing campaign against North Korea, producing six more Heroes of the Soviet Union, the highest Soviet military distinction; whereas Kozhedub did not see any combat in Korea, his deputy, Vitalij Ivanovich Popkov, did. Popkov, a brilliant pilot and able tactician with 41 air victories against the Luftwaffe, went off whenever the opportunity arose, reporting the destruction of three more enemy planes in the skies above Korea.

On September 19, 1950, well before the first MiG-sightings were reported by the Allies, Podpolkovnik Aleksandr Karasyov, another notable fighter ace of World War 11 with 30 kills, again proved his attributes by flaming three F-84 Thunderjets in quick succession. On December 24 Kapitan Stepan Naumenko of the crack 29 GIAP had the distinction of becoming the first Soviet fighter ace in Korea by scoring his 5th air victory.

Aggressive, flying a formidable fighting machine and almost always enjoying the advantage of height, the Russians in time enjoyed moments of glory in their principal function of stopping the B-29s from systematically bombing North Korean industries, airfields, and bridges. On April 12, 195 1, 48 B-29s were ordered off to strike the railroad bridges at Andong and Sinuiju, but 36 MiGs rose to engage them and claimed to have knocked down nine heavies, while the Americans admitted the loss of three of their number with seven more sustaining damage. On May 20 Starshij Lejtenant Fyodor Shabanov became the first fighter pilot in history to destroy five jets in air combat when he forced down an F-86 to bring his tally to six – five against jets – tying him with the American Jim Jabara of the 335th FIS, who, by coincidence, racked up his fifth and sixth victories that same day.

The MiGs appeared in increasing numbers as the war wore on, with poorly trained Chinese and North Korean units entering the fray, only to be whittled down by the battle-hardened Sabre pilots. The Allied fighters, though, again fared badly engaging Soviet MiGs on September 10, when the 64 IAK submitted claims for five F-86s, five F-84s, and one each F-80 and Gloster Meteor, all without loss; Kapitan G.I. Ges, an ace with five kills in World War 11, accounted for the Meteor. Two weeks later, on September 26, Starshij Lejtenant N.V. Sutyagin claimed another of these to raise his bag to nine as the 303 and 324 IADs were claiming a total of four F-86s, three F-84s, and two Meteors, again without loss. In fact, the Soviet fighter elite in Korea considered the Americans less aggressive and flexible when met on equal terms, and lagging behind in fighting morale considering them unmotivated, fighting without cause.

The B-29s took another terrible battering on October 23. This time the MiGs were really ready. 56 fighters were put into the air during the raid, 12 of which were kept in reserve to intercept any bombers that might break through. 44 relentlessly attacked the bombers, 12 of these being claimed destroyed despite an escort of 55 F-84s, four of the Thunderjets also being knocked down. One MiG fell victim to the screening force of 34 F-86s over North Korean territory. As is so often the case, accounts from the opposing sides vary, and the exact figures are a matter of dispute. Whatever the truth, the B-29s were relegated to night raids following their heavy losses.

The hopelessly inferior Meteors were again meat on the table on December 1, 195 1, when the glorious 176 GTAP got into its last scrap with the Australians, coming away with nine kills. Kapitan S.M. Krarnarenko was high-scorer that day with a double, while singles were turned in by Podpolkovnik S.F. Vishnyakov, Major S.P. Subbotin, Kapitan A.F. Vasko, who was a 15-victory in World War 11, Starshij Lejtenant F.A. Zubakin, P.S. Milaushkin, A.F. Golovachyov, and 1.N.Gulyj.

The number one jet ace of all time is squadron leader Kapitan Nikolaj Sutyagin. He went to war as a deputy squadron leader with the 17 IAP and claimed his first success on June 19, 195 1. Three days later he was able to bring his tally to three with two F-86s. He continued to chalk up victories on a regular basis and excelled in December, 195 1, reporting the destruction of five enemy planes in the air. He finished with a confirmed total of 22 kills during 149 sorties, his score running as follows: 15 F-86s, three F-84s, two F- 80s, and two Meteors.

The runner-up was the highly talented commander of the 196 IAP, Polkovnik Yevgenij Pepelyaev, whose score is quoted by some sources as 23, although this is considered a combined total of his personal victories and shares. Pepelyaev required only 108 sorties to amass his impressive score of 19 kills, all of which were achieved against jets: 14 Sabres, two F-84s, one F-94, and one F-80. He also made a distinguished record as leader of the regiment, which finished the conflict as one of the top-scorers with 100 air victories against 24 aircraft and five pilots lost to enemy action during the period of April, 195 1 to February, 1952. Among stellar performers in Korea was Major Dmitrij Oskin, who scored a string of eight victories in 23 days of combat between October-December, 1951 and wound up as an ace with 15 confirmed kills. Major S.A. Bakhayev is credited with 11 victories in Korea and one RB-29 intruder during the cold war period on December 29, 1950, while serving with the 523 IAP.

The Korean War produced 51 Russian fighter aces scoring five or more confirmed air victories; numerous other pilots made acedom by combining their World War II bag with credits in Korea. The 303 IAD boasted a total of 12 Heroes of the Soviet Union in MiG- 15s.

The war ended on July 27, 1953. Total losses are a matter of dispute. Material disclosed by the VVS General Staff in 1993 indicates that the 64 IAK was credited with downing 1,106 enemy aircraft, 650 of which were F-86s, in 1,872 aerial en-counters. Overall losses (conceivably not including missing in action or non-operational causes) were 335 planes and 120 pilots. Some Soviet sources quote a final score (not including Chinese and Korean victories) of some 1,300 for the loss of 345 MiGs. The Chinese and Korean air forces claimed a combined total of 231 victories at the cost of 271 of their number; the Americans reported the destruction of 954 aircraft, 827 of which were MiGs (or 893 resp. 841 as suggested by other sources), admitting the loss of 78 Sabres, 14 F-80s, and 18 F- 84s in air-to-air combat and 971 losses overall, mostly to groundfire and non-operational causes.

Operation Airthief – the plan to hijack an Fw 190A


Armin Faber’s Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of III/JG 2 at RAF Pembrey, June 1942.

In June 1942, Oberstleutnant Armin Faber was Gruppen-Adjutant to the commander of the III fighter Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) based in Morlaix in Brittany. On 23 June, he was given special permission to fly a combat mission with 7th Staffel. The unit operated Focke-Wulf 190 fighters.
The FW-190 had only recently arrived with front line units at this time and its superior performance had caused the Allies so many problems that they were considering mounting a commando raid on a French airfield to capture one for evaluation.
7th Staffel was scrambled to intercept a force of six Bostons on their way back from a bombing mission; the Bostons were escorted by three Czechoslovak-manned RAF squadrons, 310 Squadron, 312 Squadron and 313 Squadron commanded by Alois Vašátko. A fight developed over the English Channel with the escorting Spitfires, during which Faber was attacked by Sergeant František Trejtnar (Czech) of 310 Squadron. In his efforts to shake off the Spitfire, Faber flew north over Exeter in Devon. After much high-speed manoeuvring, Faber, with only one cannon working, pulled an Immelmann turn into the sun and shot down his pursuer in a head-on attack.
Trejnar bailed out safely, although he had a shrapnel wound in his arm and sustained a broken leg on landing; his Spitfire crashed near the village of Black Dog, Devon. Meanwhile, the disorientated Faber now mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and flew north instead of south. Thinking South Wales was France, he turned towards the nearest airfield – RAF Pembrey. Observers on the ground could not believe their eyes as Faber waggled his wings in a victory celebration, lowered the Focke-Wulf’s undercarriage and landed.
The Pembrey Duty Pilot, one Sergeant Jeffreys, grabbed a Very pistol and ran from the control tower and jumped onto the wing of Faber’s aircraft as it taxied in. Faber was apprehended and later taken to RAF Fairwood Common by Group Captain David Atcherley (twin brother of Richard Atcherley) for interrogation.


By the spring of 1942 the Fw 190 had become an uncomfortably sharp thorn in the side of RAF Fighter Command. Obviously, if an airworthy example of the Fw 190 could be captured and its secrets probed, that would be of inestimable value. Capt. Philip Pinckney, a British commando officer, hatched a daring plan to gain that end.

In an operation of this type, two men might succeed where more might fail. Pinckney suggested that his good friend Jeffrey Quill, chief test pilot at the Supermarine Company, should accompany him on the enterprise.

The essentials of the plan were as follows. On Night 1 a Royal Navy motor gunboat, equipped with direction-finding radio, was to carry the pair to a point within about two miles of a selected beach on the French coast, where they would disembark into a folding canoe. The pair would paddle ashore, hide their boat in sand dunes and lie up during the following day. On Night 2 the pair would move inland to within observation range of the selected Fw 190 airfield, and hide up before dawn. During the daylight hours the pair would keep the airfield under observation and plan their attack. On Night 3 the pair would penetrate the airfield defences by stealth, and conceal themselves as near as possible to one or more Fw 190s at their dispersal points. The pair would then wait until the next day, when the ground crew arrived to run the engine of one of the fighters.

The pair would then break cover, shoot or drive away the ground crewmen, and Jeffrey Quill would jump into the cockpit and taxi the machine to the runway. As he did so, Pinckney would be outside the plane warding off any attempt to interfere with the operation. Once Quill was safely airborne, Pinckney would withdraw to a previously prepared hide. On Night 4 he would return to the hidden canoe. Just before dawn he would launch the craft and paddle out to sea, making radio transmissions so that the motor gunboat could home on the craft and pick him up.

Yet in a remarkable coincidence, on the very day Pinckney submitted his proposal, the need for this risky operation disappeared. On the afternoon of 23 June an Fw 190 pilot had become disorientated in a dogfight with Spitfires over southern England. He mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and made a wheels-down landing at Pembrey airfield, south Wales [above]. Thus, the RAF gained the coveted example of an Fw 190, without having to resort to the risky ‘Airthief operation.

Fw 190 – Entry into service In March 1941




Oberleutnant Otto Behrens assumed command of Erprobungsstaffel 190 based at Rechlin- Roggenthin. The unit received six pre-production Fw 190A-Os and its brief was to test the new tighter under service conditions. The pilots and ground crews assigned to the Erprobungstaffel were drawn from II. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 26, and the latter unit was earmarked to receive the first production Fw 190s when these became available.

During early service trials the Fw 190A-0 exhibited a number of serious shortcomings. The new BMW 801C engine suffered from overheating, although not to the same extent as the BMW 139. The engine’s automatic fuel control system also gave trouble. For a given throttle-setting, set by the pilot, this automatic system should have established the optimum relationship between aircraft altitude, fuel flow, fuel mixture, engine revolutions, supercharger gear selection, propeller pitch setting and ignition timing. The system did not work reliably at first, but a string of modifications over a long period reduced the problems to an acceptable level.

In June 1941 the first four production Fw 190A-1s emerged from the Marienburg factory. By August, monthly production reached 30 aircraft. The first two aircraft off the Arado/Warnemunde production line were delivered in August, and the first two from the AGO/Oschersleben plant followed in October. The initial production version carried an armament of four MG 17 7.9-mm machine-guns, two on top of the forward fuselage and two in the wing roots, with all four synchronised to fire through the airscrew.

By the end of September 1941 the Luftwaffe had accepted a total of 82 Fw 190A-1s. One Gruppe, II./JG 26 based at Moorseele in Belgium, had re-equipped with the new fighter and deliveries had started to III./JG 26 based at Liegescourt in northern France.

British intelligence

By this time the British Air Ministry had received vague and contradictory evidence as to the existence of the new German fighter. The Air Ministry Weekly Intelligence Summary dated 13 August 1941. a secret document issued to all RAF units and made available to all officers and aircrew, carried the following report:

“A certain number of these new fighters have been produced, hut information is very scanty. The general design is said to be based on American practice and the aircraft is probably a low-wing monoplane with a fairly short fuselage and a span of about 30 feet. This new aircraft is fitted with a two-bank radial, an engine of the same type as that in the Dornier 217. It is definitely known that this particular machine had to be fitted with an auxiliary mechanically-driven fan to keep the engine temperatures within reasonable limits. It is also reported that it is equipped with a very large airscrew and that the undercarriage is extraordinarily high in order to give the necessary ground clearance. Rough estimates show that the speed of the Fw 190 is somewhere between 370 and 380 mph at 18-20,000 ft.”

Although brief, the report was accurate except in two respects. The propeller fitted to the Fw 190 was not particularly large. Also, and more importantly, the report underestimated the maximum speed of the Fw 190 by about 30 mph (48 km/h).

Soon after II./JG 26 commenced combat patrols in September, the RAF pilot’s reports began to mention encounters with a new German fighter type. Following action on 18 September, a combat report noted the destruction of “a Curtiss Hawk (or Fw 190)”. Almost certainly the aircraft was the Fw 190 flown by the commander of II./JG 26, Hauptmann Walter Adolph, who was shot clown and killed on that day.

Three days later, while escorting Blenheim bombers attacking the power station at Gusnay near Bethune, the Polish No. 315 Squadron reported that its Spitfires had destroyed “one unknown enemy aircraft with a radial engine”. Almost certainly this was the Fw 190 of Lieutenant Ulrich Dzialas, who was lost at that time.

The evidence mounted slowly, and more months elapsed before the RAF Intelligence Sevice committed itself to a positive identification of the new German fighter. In the issue dated 29 October 1941 the Weekly Intelligence Summary stated: “In recent weeks a radial-engined type of fighter has been reported as a French aircraft, the Bloch 151, and as a new type of German fighter, the Fw 190. There is as yet insufficient evidence to say with certainty what the new aircraft is”.

By the beginning of 1942 RAF Intelligence had at last established beyond doubt that the aircraft was indeed the Fw 190. Also, from the reports of disgruntled fighter pilots who encountered it in combat, it became clear that the radial-engined Fw 190 was a formidable opponent. It had a dear margin in performance over the Spitfire Mk V, the best aircraft RAF Fighter Command then had available.

Even after it began flying combat missions the Fw 190 continued to suffer from engine overheating. Sometimes this led to fires in flight and, following losses to this cause, an edict was issued forbidding pilots to fly over the sea beyond gliding range from the coast. Despite that difficulty, the Fw 190 proved a formidable adversary. In the months that followed the RAF learned to its discomfort that the new German fighter had the edge in performance over any of its operational types.

USAF Bomber Doctrine -Vietnam



USAF planners wished to declare the Korean War a success and move on. Most of all, they wished to put the experience-which they viewed as an aberration-behind them. FEAF’s 1954 final Report on the Korean War repeated a conclusion that Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer had already drawn in 1950: the Korean conflict contained so many unusual factors as to make it a poor model for planning. In particular, the USAF wished to distance itself from the close air-support operations that had been a main a feature of the war. The report stated, “Because FEAF provided UN ground forces lavish close air support in Korea is no reason to assume this condition will exist in future wars.”

Air Force leaders were instead anxious to reassert their priority: preparing for strategic air war against the USSR. The funding allotted to the services as a result of the Korean War had greatly increased Strategic Air Command’s size and strength; now, more than ever, SAC’s mission reigned supreme in the USAF. General LeMay was appointed Vice Chief of Staff in 1957 and Chief of Staff in 1961; in 1964 three quarters of the Air Staff’s upper echelon came from SAC. Between 1954 and 1962 the United States’ total nuclear arsenal grew from 1,750 to 26,500 weapons. SAC, which controlled the majority of them, planned to deliver them in a “massive pre-emptive bomber assault.” Other contingencies received little attention. Despite the political upheaval in Southeast Asia in the 1950s, the Air University Quarterly Review published (in the whole of the decade) only two articles relating air power to insurgency movements there.

USAF Manual 1-8, “Strategic Air Operations” (May 1954), drew upon teachings of the Air Corps Tactical School and the interpretation of World War II experience to make claims much like those highlighted in the Air Service’s post-World War I assessment, Sherman’s 1926 Air Warfare, or the ACTS doctrine manuals of the 1930s. Long-range bombers would strike the enemy nation itself so as to collapse the enemy’s capacity and will to fight. Though nuclear weapons would make any claim to “precision” bombing absurd, the industrial fabric theory still took pride of place:

The fabric of modern nations is such a complete interweaving of major single elements that the elimination of one element can create widespread influence on the whole. Some of the elements are of such importance that [their] complete elimination . . . would cause collapse of the national structure. . . . Others exert influence which, while not immediately evident, is cumulative and transferable, and when brought under the effects of air weapons, results in a general widespread weakening and eventual collapse.”

The manual was not revised until 1965.

In the meantime, the USAF found itself in yet another limited war in Asia. Unlike the Korean War, it had no clear starting point. When President Lyndon Johnson and his advisors dramatically increased the U. S. commitment to South Vietnam, they hoped that air power might facilitate a quick, painless campaign that would not divert too much time or too many resources from their domestic agenda. They hoped that air strikes would demonstrate U. S. resolve, bolster morale in the South, erode the Viet Cong’s morale, and generally intimidate the insurgency’s leadership.

In April 1964, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had compiled a list of ninety-four bombing targets in North Vietnam. The air force wanted these attacked immediately and heavily, to impose psychological shock as well as physical damage. But the Johnson administration chose a more graduated approach that would punish, by reprisal, acts of terror by the Viet Cong. After guerillas struck a U. S. Special Forces camp at Pleiku in February 1965, American policymakers implemented Operation Rolling Thunder, an aerial interdiction campaign characterized by increasing pressure on the enemy. In August 1965, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara rejected a JCS recommendation for attacks on North Vietnam’s strategic oil facilities and electric power plants. Hanoi began to disperse the nation’s limited industry and build up its air defenses, aided by supplies and workers from the USSR and China. Given this, the JCS called for expanded bombing late in 1965. Johnson did in fact expand the air campaign in 1966 and 1967: in June 1966, North Vietnamese oil storage was bombed for the first time; in May 1967, Hanoi’s main power station was attacked.

Unsurprisingly, the air force chafed at the early restrictions: both during and after the war the air force claimed that Rolling Thunder had been undermined by civilian meddling in timing and targeting. Gradual ism, they argued, flew in the face of well-established war-fighting principles. While it is true that all major targets were not destroyed until 1967 (whereas the air force would have preferred an all-out assault in 1965), the civilian intervention may not have been so consequential as the USAF has maintained. The JCS list grew from 94 to 242 targets shortly after Rolling Thunder began, and the latter number changed little through the rest of the campaign. In 1965, 158 of these targets were destroyed (nearly all of them military targets below the 20th parallel); in 1966, 22 more were destroyed. Johnson released nearly all the remaining targets for attack in 1967, and by December almost all of North Vietnam’s industrial war capacity had been destroyed. There was, by the end of the war, virtually no target left unbombed that might have been bombed. Indeed, during the course of the war the USAF dropped some 6,162,000 tons of bombs-vastly more than had been dropped by the Allied powers in all of World War II. Yet this had not brought capitulation.

Robert Pape has argued that there is “no evidence that executing the sharp knock in 1965, instead of 1967, would have produced better results.” Structural factors (including Vietnam’s economy and geography) and the nature of the war itself helped insulate the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong against interdiction and coercive air power. This insulation was furthered by evacuation programs in all major towns and villages. Finally, even if an earlier all-out air assault had convinced the North to stop supporting the Viet Cong, this was no guarantee that they would not have continued the war on their own, and at their own pace.

The Nixon administration instituted a program of “Vietnamization”- a means of reducing American involvement by returning the main responsibility for the ground war to the South Vietnamese. In addition, the president allowed the JCS to give more freedom to U. S. air commanders. Operation Linebacker, an aerial interdiction campaign to halt Hanoi’s 1972 spring offensive, largely succeeded and appeared to put a settlement within reach. But North Vietnamese negotiators stalled, prompting Linebacker II, an eleven-day campaign (18-29 December) to bring enemy negotiators back to the table to sign a final accord. Linebacker II concentrated on military assets in and around Hanoi. On 29 December, communist leaders indicated their willingness to resume serious negotiations. This reflected the success of both Linebacker campaigns, which were oriented toward fundamentally different circumstances and goals than Rolling Thunder had been.

Many observers, civilian and military, argued that if a Linebacker-style campaign had gone forward from the outset, the war would have ended much sooner. Frustrated over the political constraints placed upon them, airmen argued-in the tradition of Harris-that they might have won had they been free to fight as they saw fit. Writing in the June 1975 Air Force Magazine, General T. R. Milton, USAF (Ret.) argued that Linebacker II was “an object lesson in how the war might have been won, and won long ago, if only there had not been such political inhibition.” But this perspective overlooked the crucial differences between 1965 and 1972. Linebacker I’s success was facilitated by the fact that, when it took place, Hanoi had shifted to a conventional strategy that was far more vulnerable to air power’s effects than the earlier guerilla war had been. And when Linebacker II commenced, Hanoi had already achieved most of its political goals and was prepared to sign an accord that would put it, ultimately, within easy grasp of its final aims. These important distinctions often were overlooked, however, leaving a false impression of bombing’s utility and reinforcing proclamations about its future application in war.



The Imperial Japanese Navy began experimenting with aviation as early as the British and Americans. But because Japan did not see much combat in World War I, it had fallen behind the other powers by 1918. To catch up, it turned to its traditional mentors: for the army, the French; for the navy, the British. A British naval mission arrived in 1920 complete with over one hundred demonstration aircraft in a bid to boost the British aviation industry. British pilots formed the first faculty of the newly established Japanese naval aviation school at Lake Kasumigaura. British naval architects helped Japan complete its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. British aircraft designers helped Mitsubishi design its initial carrier aircraft. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War and Air, was confident Britain and Japan would never go to war—“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime,” he exclaimed in 1924—so what was the harm?

While the Japanese were always happy to learn from gaijin, they sought to achieve self-sufficiency as soon as possible. By 1941, they had succeeded—spectacularly so. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan had the finest naval aircraft, pilots, and aircraft carriers in the world, all overseen by its Naval Aviation Department, created in 1927.

Japan not only had more aircraft carriers than any other navy—ten—but the most modern of them, the Shokaku (Soaring Crane) and Zuikaku (Happy Crane), built after the lifting of treaty limits in 1936, were superior to anything the U.S. Navy would deploy until 1943. These 29,800-ton monsters could carry seventy-two aircraft and steam over eleven thousand miles without refueling—easily enough to get to Hawaii and back—with a top speed of over 34 knots (39 mph). Their completion by the end of September 1941 made the raid on Pearl Harbor possible, and their subsequent absence at Midway may have tipped the outcome of that critical battle against Japan.

The Japanese navy had at first tried building aircraft itself, but by the early 1930s it had settled on a better division of labor: Navy engineers would come up with specifications for airplanes and private firms would compete to build them. Japan did not have a large civil aviation industry, but three major firms—Mitsubishi, Nakajima, and Aichi—developed a high degree of sophistication as they became the primary suppliers for the navy. (The army, which rarely spoke to the navy, acquired its aircraft separately, mainly from these same firms.) Japanese industry boosted its airplane production from 1,181 in 1936 to more than 5,000 in 1941. This was still only a fifth of the U.S. total that year, but the Japanese navy deployed more aircraft on the eve of Pearl Harbor—over three thousand—than either the British or Americans, and their aircraft enjoyed, on the whole, a substantial qualitative edge.

The planes that would devastate Pearl Harbor were designed in the mid-1930s. The Aichi D3A1 Type 99 dive bomber, dubbed “Val” by the Allies, was similar to the Stuka on which it was modeled. The Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 (Kate) was a versatile three-man bomber that could drop either one torpedo or several bombs. Its maximum speed was 100 mph faster than its British counterpart, the Swordfish, and 30 mph faster than its U.S. counterpart, the Douglas Devastator. To go along with these carrier-based attack aircraft, the Japanese navy developed two potent land-based bombers, each with twin engines, a crew of seven, and the capacity to carry either bombs or torpedoes. The Mitsubishi G3M2 Type 96 (Nell) was adopted in 1936; five years later came the Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 (Betty), with a phenomenal range of 3,700 miles—greater than the B-17, though it lacked the Flying Fortress’s bomb capacity. They were not used at Pearl Harbor, but they would be employed with deadly efficiency in the western Pacific. All of these attack aircraft struck fear into the hearts of Allied seamen in the war’s early days as they sank one ship after another.

The most feared of all Japanese aircraft was the Mitsubishi A6M2 Type O (Zero) fighter, which entered service in the summer of 1940. The Zero’s brilliant designer, Jiro Horikoshi, created a sleek airplane that was faster, more nimble, and had greater range than any contemporary fighter, land-or sea-based. Its armaments—two 7.7 mm machine guns in the nose, two 20 mm cannons in the wings—were also more formidable than those of any comparable aircraft. This lethal combination of firepower and high performance was made possible by the use of a newly developed zinc-aluminum alloy that was stronger and lighter than the materials used to build other airplanes.

Upon its introduction, the Zero allowed the Japanese to wipe the Chinese air force from the sky. In the early years of the war in the Pacific, it also ran rings around British and American warplanes. Not until 1943 did the U.S. produce a superior aircraft. By that time the Zero’s weaknesses, which it shared with other Japanese planes, had become apparent: Built to maximize offensive power, it lacked basic defensive elements such as armor and antiexplosive, self-sealing gas tanks. This was in accordance with the bushido ethic which placed a low priority on individual warriors’ self-preservation. (For the same reason, many Japanese pilots disdained wearing parachutes in combat because they did not want to risk the disgrace of being captured.) It meant that, once hit, Japanese airplanes did not have much ability to survive; the Betty bomber was later nicknamed “Zippo” by U.S. fighter pilots for its tendency to go up in flames. But in the war’s early days this was not much of a concern, because Allied defenders generally lacked airplanes capable of keeping up with, much less hitting, their attackers.

Japan’s edge in the quality of its personnel was even greater than its edge in the quality of its airplanes. Naval aviators, known as the Sea Eagles, formed a small, elite corps of volunteers. Unlike in the U.S. or British navies, most were not commissioned officers. They were generally either NCOs drawn from the surface fleet or teenage boys recruited straight out of civilian schools. Competition for flight training was ferocious, and cadets were disqualified for the slightest failing. In the 1930s the navy graduated only one hundred pilots a year. The crème de la crème were selected for aircraft carriers; landing on a bobbing strip of steel in the middle of the ocean was rightly considered the most demanding task a pilot could perform.

The pilots, and the rest of Japan’s navy, conducted tough drills in harsh conditions, including stormy weather and darkness, leading many to comment afterward, “War is so easy, compared with peacetime exercises!” Through relentless practice, Japan’s naval pilots attained unparalleled accuracy in dive bombing, high-level bombing, and aerial torpedoing, as well as learning how to coordinate these different modes of attack into a coherent tactical framework. The performance of many pilots was further enhanced by their participation in Japan’s war in China, which began in 1937. This taught the Japanese, for instance, about the need to have fighters escort long-range bombers to their targets—a seemingly obvious point, but one that the British and Americans would not grasp until they had suffered horrific bomber losses during the first few years of the war.

The fliers who attacked Pearl Harbor had an average of eight hundred hours of flying time, almost three times as much as the average U.S. Navy pilot, and most had combat experience that the Americans lacked. There was no question that Japanese aviators were vastly superior; the problem was that there were not enough of them. On the eve of war, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps had 8,000 active-duty pilots; the Japanese navy had only 3,500, and just 900 of them were carrier-qualified. This was not because of America’s larger population size (which did not prevent Japan from having almost twice as many men in uniform overall in 1941); it was mainly because the U.S. Navy emphasized quantity over quality. Japan made the opposite decision, which meant that if its samurai of the skies could not win a quick victory, they would be bled dry in a war of attrition.

This was one of many dilemmas confronting the commander in chief of the Imperial Japanese Navís Combined Fleet as he contemplated the prospect of conflict with the United States. Since August 1939 that job had been held by Isoroku Yamamoto, an unlikely candidate to be one of the leading Axis commanders. Yamamoto had become familiar with America as a student at Harvard, 1919–21, and as naval attaché in Washington, 1925–28. He admired the American people—Lincoln ranked high in his personal pantheon—and disliked Japan’s new allies, the Nazis. Moreover, he was well aware of the vast advantages the U.S., with its larger population, richer economy, and greater industrial capacity, possessed in any confrontation with Japan. He counseled Tokyo to avoid awakening this sleeping giant. “If I am told to fight regardless of the consequences,” he warned Japan’s premier, prophetically, in 1940, “I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third year.” On another occasion he wrote, “A war between Japan and the United States would be a major calamity for the world.”

Such views, though widely held within the upper ranks of the more cosmopolitan navy, were heresy to the narrow-minded, nationalistic army officers who dominated the government. While serving as vice minister of the navy from 1935 to 1939, Yamamoto’s life was in constant jeopardy from right-wing assassins; there was a price of 100,000 yen on his head. The navy appointed him commander of the Combined Fleet, rather than navy minister, in large part simply to get him out of Tokyo and out to sea, where he would be safe from attack by his own countrymen.

By 1941, Yamamoto’s views were in a decided minority in the government. After President Roosevelt embargoed all oil and scrap metal sales to Japan in July in retaliation for the occupation of southern Indochina, Tokyo decided it had no choice but to go to war in order to, as the Foreign Ministry put it, “secure the raw materials of the South Seas.” Because all the decision makers assumed (perhaps wrongly) that the U.S. would not stand by as Japan gobbled up Dutch and British colonies, it was decided that war against the U.S. was inevitable. And since the Imperial Navy had only enough fuel for eighteen months of operations, the sooner the better.

The fifty-seven-year-old Yamamoto would be at the forefront of the war effort. Like his hero, Admiral Togo, he was not very big, even by Japanese standards—only five feet three inches, 125 pounds—but his broad shoulders, shaved head, and thick chest conveyed an impression of strength. As a young ensign at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, he had been severely wounded by an exploding gun. For the rest of his life he walked around with two fingers missing on his left hand and the lower half of his body badly scarred. “Whenever I go into a public bath, people think I’m a gangster,” he good-humoredly complained. Among the geishas of Tokyo, whose establishments he liked to frequent, the admiral was jocularly known as “Eighty Sen,” “since,” a biographer writes, “the regular charge for a geisha’s manicure—all ten fingers—was one yen.” That he would gladly take this kind of ribbing suggests that Yamamoto was notably lacking in the pomposity that often comes with high rank. He had a good sense of humor as well as a tendency to speak his mind.

Yamamoto gave up alcohol as a young man, making him a rarity in the hard-drinking world of the Imperial Navy. His only weakness, other than the geishas (one of whom became his mistress), was an obsessive love of games of chance. He would bet on anything, from bowling to blackjack. He was skilled at shogi (Japanese chess), bridge, and especially poker, which he would gladly play for thirty or forty hours at a stretch. He often told his subordinates that if he retired from the navy he would move to Monaco to become a professional card player. He would apply this gambler’s mentality—always carefully calculating the odds and not being afraid to risk everything on one roll of the dice—throughout his naval career.

Although not a pilot himself, Yamamoto had spent much of his career around naval aviation. After a brief stint as second-in-command of the Kasumigaura flight school, he went on to command the aircraft carrier Akagi and then two carriers arrayed in a carrier division. These sea commands were interspersed with stints as technical director of the navís Aviation Department and head of the entire department. In these assignments, he came to the conclusion that in the next war, carriers would be the most important elements of sea power.

This view did not win the assent of many other admirals. In the 1930s the navy continued building battleships, including two of the biggest ever made, the Yamato and Musahi. Their advocates boasted that these 72,000-ton behemoths, with their eighteen-inch guns, were virtually unsinkable and unstoppable. Yamamoto, who noted that each one cost the same as one thousand airplanes, was not impressed. He echoed fliers who jeered that the “three great follies of the world were the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, and the battleship Yamato.” Indeed, both the Yamato and Musahi would be sunk during the war without ever getting a chance to inflict a single blow on the enemy.

Guided Bombs in Korea


The VB-3 Razon (for range and azimuth) was a standard 1,000-pound general purpose bomb fitted with flight control surfaces. Development of the Razon began in 1942, but it did not see use during World War II.


The ASM-A-1 Tarzon, also known as VB-13, was a guided bomb developed by the United States Army Air Forces during the late 1940s. Mating the guidance system of the earlier Razon radio-controlled weapon with a British Tallboy 12,000-pound (5,400 kg) bomb, the ASM-A-1 saw brief operational service in the Korean War before being withdrawn from service in 1951.

As with aircraft design, guided weapons development did not cease in the aftermath of World War II. Allied and German progress in the latter stages of the war appeared so promising that a number of related projects were contracted by the U. S. military throughout the late 1940s. Not surprisingly, much of the emphasis within the munitions community in the early postwar period remained on further development and testing of atomic weapons. However, following the Operation Sandstone atomic bomb tests of early 1948, Air Proving Ground Command reorganized several of its units returning from the Marshall Islands to create a 750-man group dedicated to the acquisition of guided weapons. Based at Eglin Air Force Base, in the Florida panhandle, the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group was specifically charged to develop tactics and techniques for guided missile operations. Although the term “guided missile” conjured up images of exotic weaponry that captured the imagination of neighbors in nearby Fort Walton Beach, as used in the postwar period it designated the limited mix of existing guided weapons, all of which had pre-1945 antecedents.

By December 1948 the Group was conducting proving demonstrations on four distinct guided weapons, only one of which was a self-propelled missile. However, the one thing that all four did have in common was the implementation of radio control for guidance. The most “missile-like” weapon under test, the JB-2, was simply an American adaptation of the German V-1, or “Buzz-Bomb.” Powered by a pulse-jet engine, this short-range, high-explosive missile was modified to allow launch from a parent aircraft and adapted to guidance either by preset data or remote radio control while in right. Capable of a fifty-mile range at speeds up to 440 miles per hour, the fact that the JB-2 was never fielded was more a function of its inaccuracy, which was in the half-mile range, than the mere result of budget constraints. Another Guided Missiles Group project that likewise never saw production was Project Banshee. Hoping to prove that “a pin-point target can be precision-bombed by remote control, at a very long range from an operating base,” Banshee underwent operational testing beginning in February 1949. Using equipment designed and fabricated by General Electric and RCA, airmen were able to fry a B-29 aircraft 2,000 miles and drop a bomb on a target by remote control, using two airborne navigation stations. Despite achieving “excellent” results on several test rights, it became clear that the electronic equipment still suffered from technical difficulties. Beyond this, even at its best Banshee could hope to achieve an accuracy no better than a manned B-29 bomber.

Not every early postwar test project ended in obscurity-in fact, two survived to see not only quantity production but also actual combat in Korea. Classified as air-to-surface missiles, these two weapons were a continuation of the wartime high-angle bomb project, and bore the designation “VB” for vertical bomb. Similar to the VB-1 Azon, discussed in the previously, the VB-3 Razon bomb consisted of a free-falling M-65 1,000-pound general-purpose bomb, fitted with a special tail section for guidance. Like Azon, the tail fins contained the equipment necessary to receive transmitted radio signals from the aircraft and apply the appropriate control surface movements. However, in place of cruciform fins, the Razon tail employed a pair of in-line octagonal shrouds-the rearmost containing the elevators and rudders that allowed the bomb to be controlled in both azimuth and range-mounted on struts containing roll stabilization surfaces. In practice, Razon was controlled by a bombardier using a method reminiscent of earlier Azon and Fritz-X deployment, namely by means of a rare attached to the bomb’s tail and superimposed upon the target through the optics of a bombsight.

In order to remedy the parallax problem that had plagued wartime engineers’ attempts at range guidance, the standard M-series Norden bombsight was modified with a clever crab and jag attachment. The “crab” portion of this device consisted of a mirror placed between the target mirror and the telescopic lens system of the bombsight. This mirror not only projected an image of the rare onto the target mirror but also calculated the correct time of fall when the trail angle set into the sight was aligned exactly with the angle of the “crab” mirror setting. In principle, this allowed the bombardier to simply superimpose the rare image on the target throughout bomb descent using a radio control joystick. However, because any movement of the bomb’s control surfaces during the drop caused a variation in the time of fall, affecting range, the “jag” attachment was introduced to compensate for this effect by changing the rate set into the bombsight each time course corrections were made. In theory, by keeping the images of the rare and target in perfect collimation via radio control throughout the bomb’s descent, a bombardier could score a direct hit with Razon virtually every drop. In actuality, testing still showed Razon to be far more accurate in azimuth than range. For example, of the eight bombs tested in August 1948, fully three out of four had an azimuth error of zero, while the average range error was almost 200 feet. Only one of the eight scored a direct hit. Still, Razon bombing showed enough promise in early testing that approximately five hundred tail assemblies were produced by Union Switch and Signal Company and stockpiled, allowing their use in the early months of the Korean War.

Although development and testing of a second vertical bomb, the VB-13 Tarzon, trailed Razon, it too had its roots in the World War II high-angle dirigible bomb project. Realizing that some of Azon’s deficiencies in accuracy could be negated through increased firepower-in this case, bomb tonnage- Gulf Research and Development Corporation received Army authorization in February 1945 to investigate the aerodynamic aspects of the problem of controlling larger bombs. Simple scaling up of Razon proved unsatisfactory, since the derecting forces on a given bomb increase with the square of the diameter, while the mass to be controlled increases as the cube of the diameter. A larger bomb thus required disproportionately larger control surfaces- which, in turn, magnified the problem of range error due to variation in time of fall-and limited in number and placement its carriage by existing bombers. Several preliminary models were built in mid-1945 but failed to reach combat, and by 1947 the NDRC was still of the opinion that “future developments in this field will require considerable fundamental research.”

Ironically, at the time this NDRC report was issued, Bell Aircraft Corporation had already developed a working solution involving a bomb an order of magnitude larger than Azon and Razon. Once again following technological precedent, Bell designed only a bomb tail guidance assembly to be mated to an existing bomb. In order to gain the full advantages of increased yield, however, the warhead selected for this project was the British “Tallboy,” a 12,000-pound bomb in use by Bomber Command by 1944, and procured by the Air Force as the general-purpose M-112 bomb following the war. The name of the resulting guided weapon, Tarzon, was arrived at as a clever-sounding pseudo-acronym combining Tallboy, range, and azimuth only. In order to produce sufficient force to steer Tarzon without introducing giant fins that would exceed a standard bomb bay, Bell attached a lift ring to the warhead around the bomb’s approximate center of gravity. The effect of this ring shroud was to greatly amplify directional changes introduced by the tail surfaces, much like the wings of an airplane. However, this ingenious solution to heavy bomb guidance was not itself without antecedent. In order to adapt its NDRC-sponsored Roc radar-guided bomb to naval aircraft in 1944, Douglas Aircraft Company had replaced large crossed wings with a ring shroud, greatly reducing its cross-sectional area. Even so, Tarzon measured twenty-one feet in length, four and one-half feet in diameter, and with a gross weight of 13,000 pounds, could be dropped only by a specially modified B-29 Superfortress with cutouts in the bomb bay doors, and was limited to a single bomb per aircraft sortie.

In virtually every other respect, Tarzon was an enlarged version of Razon. For example, its tail section consisted of an octagonal shroud containing pitch and yaw control surfaces, connecting struts with roll stabilization surfaces, a rare cone, and a center section containing the radio receiver, gyroscope, batteries, and servomotors. Guidance equipment aboard the launching aircraft similarly consisted of a radio transmitter controlled by a two-axis control stick, and a Norden M-series bombsight modified with crab and jag attachments. Although development of Tarzon lagged Razon by several years, testing of the two bombs was performed concurrently in 1948-49 by the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group. However, because of its greater size and cost, and retarded development, far fewer Tarzon bombs were dropped on Eglin test ranges during this period. For example, during the month of August 1948, as four Razon drops per week were contributing to improved tactics, training, and accuracy, a single Tarzon was expended to determine the effect of applying maximum up control using a recently modified tail assembly. By mid-1949, Razon had been upgraded with “the newest modification of radio control equipment” and underwent extensive testing under a variety of conditions, including night rights. During this same period, Far East Air Forces sent two airmen from Japan to Eglin for “training in the tactical application of VB-type bombs,” where they participated in a variety of missions and dropped sixteen Razons before returning to their unit. Meanwhile, Tarzon testing under cold weather conditions produced results that “were at best only fair, due to rare failure.”

Notwithstanding the steady introduction of new technology throughout the late 1940s, the early fighting in Korea closely resembled that of World War II-familiar faces and weapons engaged in a familiar war-winning strategy. However, the exploitation of existing jet fighter technology, which rapidly translated into American air superiority, created a combat environment conducive to the introduction of precision bombardment at a time when the ground situation desperately called for it. The radio-controlled vertical bombs just described were not the only postwar attempts at precision. In 1949 the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group took on seven additional test projects, including the VB-6 Felix, a heat-seeking bomb designed to steer itself toward the target producing the highest temperature emanation within the twenty-degree scope of its forward sensor. Felix was envisioned as a decisive tactical weapon, but initial tests were disappointing. Although the decision to return the bomb to the research and development phase was based primarily on insufficient reaction speed of its control surfaces, the final test report also noted “lack of a suitable target during this time would also negate any efforts to test it, even if a theoretically workable model was available.” Thus, as America went back to war in 1950, its best prospects for precision guidance bore a remarkable resemblance to the radiocontrolled weapons used during World War II.

Once war broke out, it did not take long for bombing accuracy to surface as a deficient capability. Specifically in the realm of strategic bombardment, despite the use of sophisticated, computer-assisted bombing systems such as the Air Force’s K-series, CEPs remained in the 500-foot range, far from optimal given North Korea’s rugged terrain and segregated targets. Not surprisingly, as the only guided weapon in quantity production prior to 1950, Razon emerged early in the conflict as a promising alternative to gravity bombs. As previously noted, preparations for the implementation of Razon by Far East Air Forces bomber crews anticipated the Korean conflict. As early as 1949, Air Proving Ground had trained three officers and six enlisted men of the 19th Bombardment Group for Razon work and in early 1950 began delivering specially equipped aircraft and a supply of Razon tail assemblies to this same group, which was based on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Clearly, the intent was to establish a training cadre that would instruct additional aircrews of this group to use Razon. However, shortly after the outbreak of war in Korea, it became apparent that neither the personnel nor the equipment was being utilized, and Far East Air Forces headquarters turned to the Air Proving Ground for additional assistance.

Because of the resulting delay in assembling the necessary equipment and personnel, the 19th Bombardment Group did not fry its first Razon combat mission over Korea until August 23, 1950. Even then, the first several missions produced unsatisfactory results because of frequent bomb malfunctions, some caused by damage from the bombs’ long storage and poor packaging, and some by the relative inexperience of the group’s operators and maintainers. Moreover, even though missile reliability quickly rose to 96 percent, from the outset Razon remained far more accurate in azimuth than in range, making it a weapon best suited for use against long, narrow targets. Like its Azon predecessor, Razon was used almost exclusively against bridges in Korea, with defensible results-during the last four months of 1950, fifteen Korean bridges were destroyed using Razon bombs. However, to put these results into perspective, a total of 489 Razons were dropped during this period, of which 331 were controllable. Razon was far from attaining the long-sought single-bomb destruction capability, and yet it had its supporters. The low percentage of targets destroyed was partially attributable to the fact that limited equipment and crews forced training to be combined with combat missions. As an example, one bombardier destroyed two bridges with his first two bombs, but was then instructed to drop the remaining six for practice. In every case where a bridge was destroyed by Razon, additional bombs were dropped on the same target for practice. Although clearly not unbiased, the onsite Razon project officer estimated that “any bridge can be successfully severed or destroyed with a maximum of four Razon missiles.

Graf Zeppelin II



Last photograph of Graf Zeppelin towed from Swinocijscie Poland to Leningrad. April 17. 1947.

In April 1945, Soviet troops found the carrier’s artillery had been dismantled, the installation of fire control equipment had not been finished and the electrical installations partially installed as well as the flight equipment. There was a complete engine room and the power station was fully operational. Among the explosives, ten depth charges had been set off in the engine room. Water had penetrated through small blow-holes, cracks and leakages and the ship settled on the bottom in water seven meters deep. Seepage was so slow the water in the engine room was lower than that outside the hull. By 17th August 1945 the ship had been examined by teams of the 77th Emergency Rescue Unit. The carrier lay on the bottom with only half a degree of list to starboard. On the starboard were 36 holes up 1.0 X 1.0 meters made by shells and fragments. All the turbines, boilers and power plants had been blown up damaging the nearby watertight bulkheads. One .8 x .3 meter hole had been blown in the underwater part of the ship along with a .3 meter crack. The propellers had been dismantled and placed on the flight deck to minimize electrochemical corrosion of the hull. The aircraft elevators had been blown up as well. The ship was raised by simply sealing the underwater hole and crack and pumping out the water. Ten longitudinal and twelve transverse bulkheads had to be sealed to give the ship the necessary buoyancy. Cracks above the waterline and portholes were sealed with wielded metal sheets. Due to extensive damage and time pressures damage to ship’s deck were not mended. After the repairs were completed the ship was towed to Świnoujście, the former Kriegsmarine base known as Swinemunde. On 19th August the hulk was included in the Soviet Navy as a spoil of war. At the Potsdam Conference (17th July until 2nd August) the first agreement was reached on how to dispose of captured German surface vessels. On 23rd January 1946 an Anglo-American-Soviet committee was formed to deal with these matters. All combat and auxiliary vessels were divided into three categories A, B or C. The Graf Zeppelin was given to the Soviets by lot and came under category C – ships sunk, damaged or unfinished that required over six months of repairs using the resources of German shipyards. It was the recommendation of the committee that category C ships should be scuttled in deep water or dismantled by a given date. Admiral Kuzniecov requested to repair the Graf Zeppelin for use as an experimental platform for the construction of Soviet aircraft carriers. Initially he was given approval for the Baltic shipyard in Leningrad to carry out the necessary repairs; however the authorities chose the simpler option of complying with the terms of the allied agreement. On March 17th 1947 a resolution was passed that all category C vessels were to be destroyed in 1947. The command of the Soviet Navy had managed to convince the government to run durability tests on the vessels.

From 2nd February 1947 the Graf Zeppelin was classified as experimental platform PB-101. The destruction was to be carried out in a manner that allowed the collection of experimental data and experiences. A special committee head by Vice-Admiral Rall was formed and ordered to sink the carrier while testing its resistance to aerial bombs, artillery shells, and torpedoes in two variants, static and dynamic. Static meaning that the munitions would be placed in the ship and detonated and dynamic that they would be delivered by simulated attacks. The detonation of mines at various depths and distances from the ship was also considered. Between the tests teams of scientists would be sent aboard to assess the effects of the explosions. They were allowed to conduct minor repairs to stop the ship from sinking too soon.

At 2.45 pm on 14th August 1947 PB-101, as she was now known was pulled out onto the out roadstead of Świnoujście from where she was escorted by various vessels to the five mile square designated as the test area. Due to draining of three starboard rooms in the bulges she had a 3 degree list to port. When she arrived on the evening 15/16th August if was found that she could not be anchored. One of the main anchor chain links failed and the light kedge anchor could not prevent the ship from drifting. This was to affect the final outcome of the testing.

The first tests were carried out on the morning of 16th August. First a FAB-1000 bomb was exploded in the funnel along with three FAB-100 bombs and two 180 mm shells set under the flight deck. For the second test a FAB-1000 bomb was detonated on the flight deck. For the third a FAB-250 was set off on the flight deck and two 180 mm shells on the upper hangar deck. For the forth a FAB-500 over the flight deck set on a 2.7 meter high tripod, a FAB-250 on the upper hangar deck, another on the flight deck and a FAB-100 on the C deck. The fifth and last of the series, a FAB-500 and FAB-100 detonated on the flight deck with part of the bombs set deep in holes cut in the deck to simulate penetration.

The funnel was ripped open down to the flight deck but the island was not damaged, with the shockwave failing to deform the smoke ducts. No increase in pressure in the boilers was reported and on the armoured gratings an intact spider’s web was found. Of the three FAB-100 bombs detonated on the flight deck the most damaging was the one not set in the deck. The shockwaves of those set in deck were directed down into the hangar. The 180 mm shells caused various damage, the most effective being mixed armour piercing high explosive.

After the first series of tests an air raid was carried out on the ship by 39 aircraft from the 12th Guards Mine Torpedo Division and 25 Pe-2 dive bombers. On the day of the test there were only 100 P-50 exercise bombs available in the entire 4th Fleet instead of the 156 required. Therefore only 24 Pe-2 crews could perform the bombardment. Two nine plane flights dropped their payloads on the leader’s signal, the rest individually. A white 20 x 20 meter cross had be painted on the flight deck with arms 5 meters wide. The first group dropped 28 bombs from a height of 2070 meters, the second 36 from about the same height and the third attack carried out individually another 24 bombs. Three aircraft were forced to emergency dump their ordnance. The effects of the attack on what was a ‘sitting duck’ were farcical. Of the 100 bombs dropped only six hit the target, and there were only five marks on the flight deck. (Soviet pilots claimed there were eleven hits, some of the bombs having struck already damaged areas.) The test failed to give any useful information. The P-50 bombs were too small causing 5-10 cm dents in the flight deck and blew a hole about one meter in diameter in the starboard bulge. The pilots complained about poor visibility.

Another series of static explosions followed. After the forth series the entire island was wiped out and the upper hanger seriously damaged. The effect of the fifth series was the most spectacular. A FAB-550 bomb on the flight deck blew a three meter hole and a FAB-100 bomb in the hanger demolished all the light walls and destroyed the equipment. That concluded the static tests and preparations for the testing of underwater munitions where begun. On 17th August the weather bean to worsen and the carrier started to drift towards the shoals. There was the possibility that the ship would drift into waters too shallow to sink her. Rall decided to abandon the testing and finish off the carrier with torpedoes. The planed bombardment by cruisers had been cancelled because of an accident in one of the main turrets of the Molotov. The usage of the 180mm artillery was banned in the entire Soviet Navy for the year 1947. Three torpedo boats and the destroyers Slavny, Srogy, and Stroiny were summoned. The torpedo boats arrived first. The first run by TK-248 was unsuccessful, the torpedo passing under the carrier’s keel. After 15 minutes a torpedo fired by TK-503 hit the starboard side near frame 130. The explosion destroyed the bulge but the armoured belt remained unscathed. After an hour the destroyers arrived and the Slavny hit again the starboard side near frame 180 where there was no bulge. The carrier began to list to the twice damaged starboard. After 15 minutes the list reached 25 degrees, and the ship started to trim to bow. After another eight minutes the Graf Zeppelin with a 90 degree list 25 degree trim to bow slipped below the surface. The date was 18th August 1947.

The results of the tests were kept secret and the allies only informed that she had been sunk. The gap between the summer of 1945 when she was raised and March 1947 when her fate was decided remains a mystery. The German Admiral Ruge claimed in a book that the carrier capsized while being towed from Stettin to a Russian port due to the stowage of steel sheets on the flight deck According to gossip circulating in the Baltic Fleet published by Marek Twardowski in a magazine article, in 1946 the ship was towed to a Leningrad shipyard to be prepared for service. The authorities found this a welcome occasion for the transport of heavy loot which was placed on the flight deck because the damaged elevators prevented the stowage in the hangers. Placing a heavy weight on the flight deck made the ship unstable and she capsized in the shallow fairway. Most of the goods from the flight deck fell in the water, whilst those stored below caused serious damage to the bulkheads and braces. Raising the ship was not difficult but she was no longer suitable for reconstruction and had to be sunk to cover the accident. This supports the account of Ruge but is most probably untrue.