The Demise of the Luftwaffe Bomber Units

The Hütter Hü 211 was a German prototype long-range reconnaissance and heavy night fighter commissioned by the Reich Air Ministry in late 1944. The project stopped after an air raid destroyed the prototypes before they were finished.


The Blohm & Voss Bv P 188 was a long-range, heavy jet bomber design project by the Blohm & Voss aircraft manufacturing division during the last years of the Third Reich. It featured a novel W-wing planform with variable incidence.The project was rejected in favour of the Junkers Ju 287 and no aircraft was ever built.


The Junkers Ju 287 was an aerodynamic testbed built in Nazi Germany to develop the technology required for a multi-engine jet bomber. It was powered by four Junkers Jumo 004 engines, featured a revolutionary forward-swept wing, and apart from the wing was assembled largely from components scavenged from other aircraft. It was one of the first jet propelled aircraft built with fixed landing gear.

The unfinished second and third prototypes, which far more accurately reflected the design of the eventual production bomber, were captured by the Red Army in the closing stages of World War II and the design was further developed in the Soviet Union after the end of the war as the basis for the two OKB-1 EF 131 airframes, and later developed by the Soviets into the OKB-1 140.

In August 1944 OKL (Luftwaffe High Command) announced the future equipment of Luftwaffe squadrons for the period to December 1945. The nine and one-third bomber Geschwader in late summer 1944, most equipped with the Ju 88 and Ju 188, would be cut to eight, and in all probability two more would be disbanded during 1945 so that by the end of 1945 only six Geschwader would survive, equipped with the Ju 388 K-1. All Do 217-equipped units were to be disbanded by October 1944 at the latest. Ju 388 K-1s would replace the Ju 88 A-17s at KG 26. Between December 1944 and May 1945 three Gruppen of that unit were meant to get improved Ju 188s and Ju 388s for torpedo-bomber operations over the North Sea and Arctic waters. The fourth Gruppe would probably not come to operational strength because of the production situation at September 1944. The Gruppen to be disbanded were those flying the He 177 A-5 with remote control installations and the Do 217 K-3 with the Hs 293 A Kehl missile guidance system. As it could not be determined to what extent these aircraft would be required for missions in future, all 135 bombers would go provisionally into the OKL Reserve. A number of these were decommissioned on airfields in Denmark and Norway after the heavy losses suffered over Normandy and western France, some being cannibalised for their DB-605 engines for re-use in new machines. There would also be no further Fw 200 C units operating.

The further reduction of He 111 front-line groups would depend on demand: since the production of the He 111 H had been discontinued, the only fresh aircraft being delivered to units would arrive from the repair shops. III./KG 3 would receive ten aircraft monthly in connection with the V-1 flying bomb programme. If and how the He 111 H -20s with other bomber groups would be operational on the Eastern Front was left open.

OKL wanted the Me 262 A-1a/bo or A-2 available in two bomber Geschwader. From December 1944 a third Geschwader would be formed, and this strength would be maintained. The Me 262 Blitzbomber would be reduced to two Gruppen at the latest by March 1945 since KG 76 was being expanded into the first jet bomber Geschwader. III./KG 76 was planned as the first operational Gruppe with the Ar 234 C-3 or C-5. The first Do 335 bomber Gruppe was expected to be ready in July 1945: the Luftwaffe planners believed that this would be the first, and probably only bomber unit to have this aircraft before the year was out. The Ju 287 was to be the first heavy jet bomber with the Luftwaffe. The first Gruppe was expected to be ready from July 1945, the second to follow at the year’s end by the latest. Although up to 20 per cent shortages due to delivery problems had been allowed for, it would have needed a great effort to meet these estimates by the scheduled dates, not least because some Ju 88 S-3s, Ju 388 K-1 s, Me 262 A-1 s and Do 335 A-1 s were needed as training machines.

The dismantling and partial re-equipping of the bomber squadrons would continue to the end of 1945. Two Gruppen of LG 1 would receive the Ju 388 K-1 instead of Ju 88 A -4. KG 2 would be disbanded if the Do 335 A-1 was not available short-term: 14./KG 3 would be disbanded by October 1944 , the V-1- equipped III./KG 3 by September 1945 at the latest. The same went for KG 4, whose I. to III. Gruppen, mostly flying the He 111 H-20 and H- 16, would cease to operate between April and June 1945. KG 6 would lose its Ju 88 S-3 s and Ju 188s in favour of the Ju 388 K-1 in stages from February 1945, remaining operational until at least December 1945, while KG 26 would receive the Ju 388 M-1 for torpedo operations replacing its Ju 88 A-17s and Ju 188 A-3s.

OKL wanted the remainder of KG 27 disbanded by January 1945 and KG 30 by the end of that year. KG 40 was to remain in reserve, where the former bomber groups would be converted to the Me 262 fighter. The operational period of KG 51 with the Blitz bomber would be short: by the end of 1945 the recently converted units would be disbanded and replaced by KG 76.

KG 53 equipped with He 111 H-11, H-16 and H-22 would be dissolved in March 1945. It was intended to replace the Ju 88s of at least two Gruppen of KG 54 with the Me 262. KG 55 was to be disbanded by November 1945. I./KG 66 was the only Luftwaffe pathfinder unit and would remain in service, receiving the Ju 388 K-1 from August 1945. II. and III./ KG 76 would test the Ar 234 B-2 for its suitability as a fast bomber. KG 100 with its He 177 A-5 s would remain intact although no immediate operations were on hand for its PC 1400 X or Hs 293 missiles. As the last test unit, mostly equipped with the He 111 H-20, TGr 30 was to remain operational into the summer of 1945 although nobody could decide what should happen subsequently.

On account of lack of fuel and new replacement machines, the transport units were required to keep going with clapped-out original-issue machines or converted He 111 bombers. The surviving Gruppen of TG 1 to TG 4, except IV.TG 1, which flew the He 111 H-1 to H -5, were to keep the lower but more robust Ju 52/3m. IV.TG 4 would continue to fly heavy machines such as the four-engined Bv Pi 188, Fw 200 and Ju 290 and the three-engined Ju 252 and Ju 352. For transport missions over the battle zones, such as supply drop to encircled troops, TGr 20 would be used with He 111 H-6s, H -16 and principally H-20 s and H-22s.

Further changes were foreseen for 1946. From the end of 1945, the air offensive would be pursued using the Do 335 in four Gruppen at KG 2, while two Gruppen at KG 76 and 12 other Gruppen elsewhere would fly the Ar 234. It was hoped to fit out two Gruppen at LG 1 with the Ju 388 high-altitude bomber, and KG 6 would remain in commission with the Ju 388 beyond January 1946, as would pathfinder Gruppe I./KG 66. Three Gruppen of torpedo bombers were planned for KG 76.

From the summer of 1944, Jabos were only operational as sections of ZG 26 and ZG 76. Both could field a single Gruppe, I./ZG 26 and II./ZG 76. Since the production of the Me 410 had been cancelled in the interim, the only fresh arrivals were from the repairers. This state of affairs was not expected to continue beyond February 1945. To replace these Gruppen, at least eight Gruppen were to be equipped with the Do 335 by the end of 1945, provided this aircraft proved superior to the RAF Mosquito. It was believed that two ]abo Gruppen could be formed between August and the end of December 1945 using Ju 388 J-1s or J-3s.

In the later summer of 1944, 21 long-range reconnaissance Staffeln were operational flying the Ju 88 D or Ju 188 F. Another three flights had the Me 410. For night reconnaissance Aufklārungsgruppe Nacht had three Staffeln. 1. and 2. Staffel of Fernaufklārungsgruppe 5 flew maritime reconnaissance sorties, Aufklārungsgruppe 123 had two Staffeln equipped with Bf 109s. The majority of these units, 29 in all, were to be retained and would fly operations by day, 3 using the Ar 234 B-1, 14 the Do 335 A-4 and 10 the Ju 388 L-1, Ju 388 L-1s or L-3s would replace the Do 217s and Ju 188s of night reconnaissance units. A total of eight Staffeln of Ju 88 G-1s and G-6s would fly weather reporting, amongst them Wekusta OKL 1. He 177s of Wekusta OKL 2 flew long range reconnaissance. Later consideration was given to using the Ju 635 or perhaps the Hü 211.

The extent to which these extremely optimistic plans were called into question by the end of 1944 is demonstrated by the idea of operating KG 51 (Me 262 A-1a/A-2) and the Ar 234 B-2 at KG 76. Even after all Ju 388 production had been abandoned in favour of the jets, and the Do 335 and Ju 287 were put on hold, neither of the ambitious schemes for KG 51 and KG 76 ever came to fruition, not even partially.

Once the rearrangement of the bomber formations was given up as impossible, the fighter and Jabo units were given absolute priority. Since small piston-engined aircraft and jets were easier to manufacture, the schedule was drawn up for large numbers by the end of 1944. It was clear to the squadrons that the Fw 190 D-9 or the Bf 109 K-4 together with the Me 262 jet fighter, coming off the lines in ever greater numbers, were the likely new deliveries. JG 1 wanted to exchange its Fw 190 A-8s and Bf 109 G-10s for the Fw 190 A-9. JG 2 also required a complete changeover to the Fw 190 D-9. At JG 3 to JG 6, JG 11, JG 26, JG 27, JG 51 to JG 54 and JG 77, the existing Bf 109 G-6s, G-10s and G-14s were to be exchanged for G-10s and G-14s and principally K-4s. These machines would be delivered to squadrons from the beginning of 1945 to replace the Bf 109 G-6. All units flying the Fw 190 A-8 would make a gradual change to the A-9 and then D-9. Only a few units, in particular the three Gruppen of JG 26, were chosen to receive the Fw 190 D-12 instead of the A-9 or D-9 from the beginning of 1945.

All-weather units JG 300 and JG 301 had a special role. It was considered that the Fw 190 A-6 to A-8 and Bf 109 G-6 to G-10/R6 of JG 300 should be traded in for the Fw 190 A-6 to A-8 with A -9/R11 and then the Fw 190 D-9/R11. Later III./JG 301 would receive the Ta 152.

The only rocket-fighter Geschwader, JG 400, would continue to use the Me 163, and perhaps later the Me 263 (Ju 248). The only jet-fighter Geschwader, JG 7, would retain the Me 262 A-1a. All bomber Geschwader operating in the fighter role would receive the Bf 109 G-10 to K-4 or, to a lesser extent, the Fw 190 A-9/R 11, while all units awaited delivery of the Me 262.

Jabo formations were to be equipped with the Fw 190 F-8 and F-9 to await mass production of the Ta 152 when it was intended that many of these machine would be fitted to carry the Panzerblitz I to III or the Panzerschreck, both efficient anti-tank rocket. The Ta 152 would have been an outstanding ground-attack aircraft with it more powerful engine. However, mass production had not begun by the end of 1944. For the moment a few units with Hs 129 B-3 and Ju 87 D-5s still flew missions mostly over the Eastern Front.

The night Jabo Gruppen 1 SGr I to X flew mainly the Ju 87 D-3 and D-5 until the end of 1944 except 4./NSGr II, NSGr V, and NSGr VII equipped with the Fiat CR 42. Most of these unit also operated Ar 66 Cs and Ds, Go 145s, Fw 58s and Si 204 training aircraft converted to auxiliary night Jabos. All of these units flew initially with what was available. There is no indication of advance planning.

The seaworthy Do 24 T-1 flying boat dominated amongst the few remaining air-sea rescue units. For aerial protection and search missions some Ju 88 C-4s and C-7s, Fw 190 A-8s and Jabos such as the Me 410 were on hand. No forward plans are known of and are hardly to be expected in the light of the situation in 1945. In mid-December 1944 the general outlook was such that the intentions might still be forced through, though with delay. Once the Western Allies were advancing to the Rhine, and the Russians had begun their major offensive from Poland, the final collapse, perhaps within months, would become apparent.

From February 1945 – at steadily decreasing intervals – one emergency plan after another replaced the former policy. At the beginning of the year, the Ar 234, Do 335, He 162 and Me 262 were in the frame. Then the Do 335 was dropped. On 27 March 1945 Hitler put SS-Obergruppenführer Kammler in charge of the development, testing and completion of all jet aircraft. As ‘General Plenipotentiary for Jet Aircraft’ in April 1945 he ordered that the Me 262 alone was to be produced in the greatest numbers possible. In that decision he saw the one last chance, and a small one, of providing a local air defence. It was a vain hope, for the war had long been lost.


Luftwaffe – The Battle of the Atlantic

Fw 200, “SG+KS” of I.Gruppe/KG 40.

Three He 111 bombers were flying westwards just above the surface of the North Sea, their slipstreams lashing the water and their pilots tensely concentrated on avoiding the single careless movement that would plunge them to destruction. For at flying speed water is as hard as stone.

They were flying low so as to duck beneath the British radar beams and thus achieve surprise for their attack on the convoy that had reportedly left Pentland Firth at noon, and was now steaming south along the Scottish coast. The autumn sun had set and twilight had descended. Only in the west was the sky still bright, and that meant favourable conditions: the bombers would attack from a dark horizon, and surprise should be complete.

In the leading Heinkel, as observer and commander, sat Major Martin Harlinghausen, X Air Corps’ chief of staff. Beside him, as pilot, was his staff operations officer, Captain Robert Kowalewski. The three machines represented X Air Corps’ staff section, an institution peculiar to the German Luftwaffe. The Corps, still under the command of Air General Hans Ferdinand Geisler, had now as formerly the task of attacking Britain’s shipping. But its leaders were not “chair-borne”. By leading the attack, they demanded nothing from the Geschwader and Gruppen that they were not prepared to undertake themselves.

Harlinghausen had developed a special method of attacking enemy ships, known as the “Swedish turnip” system. It was based on the old naval axiom that ships present the best target when approached directly from the beam. And the lower an aircraft’s approach, the higher the target stands out of the water, and the clearer becomes its silhouette against the horizon. The last applies particularly at dusk, but also on starlit or moonlit nights.

They sighted the convoy about twenty sea-miles north-east of Kinnaird Head, and promptly set a parallel course to plan the attack.

“We’ll take the fourth from the left,” said Harlinghausen. It was the largest vessel and presumably, with its extensive hull and superstructure aft and amidships, a tanker. Kowalewski banked left towards the convoy. “I can’t see her, Harling,” he said.

“Another ten degrees to port,” his chief corrected. He was lying prone and forward, his head almost against the cockpit Perspex, and so was able to concentrate exclusively on the target, while the pilot was farther back and otherwise preoccupied. After months of practice together, they had acquired instant mutual understanding and response.

“Now you are right on target,” said Harlinghausen. He exuded calm, having first tried out his “Swedish turnip” system long before in the Spanish civil war. Then it had been with the old He 59, which could only be used for low-level surprise attack, else it would be spotted too soon and shot down.

The He 111 now approached the tanker at a speed of about 200 m.p.h. and an altitude of forty-five meters. To maintain this also needed practice, for at such height the barometric altimeter was so unreliable that it often showed the plane as flying deep under the water. Correct altitude was, however, a crucial factor in Harlinghausen’s calculations, for in the first three seconds the bombs fell respectively five, fifteen and twenty-five metres, or forty-five in all. In this time the Heinkel covered a distance of 240 metres, so in order to hit the target that was the distance from which the bombs must be released. In three seconds their loss of momentum was minimal: they at first flew with the bomber and below it, then dropped against the target in a gentle arc.

The tanker’s silhouette loomed ever larger from the sea, her crew still unaware of the impending blow. Kowalewski aimed directly for the superstructure, below which was the engine-room. With every second the Heinkel drew eighty metres nearer, and decks, bridge and masts took shape. Finally at 240 metres the release signal was given, and four 500-lb. bombs fell in close succession. For Harlinghausen had adjusted the mechanism to produce the minimum interval between them, namely about eight metres. In this way one at least was bound to strike.

Three seconds later the Heinkel thundered across the tanker, and almost simultaneously the bombs struck. But they only detonated after a delay of eight seconds, when the aircraft was safely away. The tanker exploded in a sheet of flame.

As the Heinkel made a circuit, burning oil was seen pouring from the stricken vessel. She was an 8,000 tonner, as had been determined from the convoy’s radio exchanges. For the second Heinkel carried a monitoring team, tuned in to the same wavelength.

The convoy’s defences were now alerted, but ignoring the tracer that laced towards him Harlinghausen attacked again, this time using his starboard bomb-rack against a freighter.

During 1940 he and his pilot succeeded three times in sinking two ships on one sortie by using alternate bomb-racks. By September this single crew had claimed no less than 100,000 tons of shipping.

[During the first year of the war—i.e. from September 3, 1939 till August 30, 1940—the Luftwaffe claimed to have sunk a total of 1,376,813 tons. Figure published by the Allies after the war indicate that in fact they only lost some 440,000 tons to German air attack during this period.]

After that the operating conditions grew more difficult. The defence was stepped up, and each month it became harder to approach the ships. Though the “Lion” Geschwader , KG 26, were trained in low-level attack and practised with cement bombs in the Norwegian fiords, their successes were small and their losses increased.

But in October, 1940, success returned. The few available four-engined Focke-Wulf FW 200s, brought together to form I/KG 40 at Bordeaux, were flying armed reconnaissance patrols far out into the Atlantic. On October 24th while so engaged, First-Lieutenant Bernhard Jope came upon the 42,348-ton liner Empress of Britain, now being used as a troopship, some sixty miles west of Ireland. Going down, he attacked not from the beam but from astern. Bombs exploded in the superstructure, and the liner hove to on fire. The British tried to take her in tow, but two days later she was torpedoed by Lieutenant Jenisch’s U 32, which had been called to the scene by radio.

Let us move on to February 9, 1941. Twenty engines were being warmed up in front of the hangars of Bordeaux-Merignac airfield, but they represented only five aircraft: five four-engined Fw 200 “Condors”.

It was six in the morning as Captain Fritz Fliegel, squadron commander of 2/KG 40 took off, followed by First-Lieutenants Adam, Buchholz, Jope and Schlosser. The heavy machines left the ground reluctantly, their fuselage- and wing-tanks being filled to capacity with nearly 2,000 gallons of fuel. Each carried a crew of six: first pilot and co-pilot, two radio-operators, flight mechanic and rear-gunner.

But the bomb load was a mere 2,000 lb. Though the Fw 200 was the heaviest machine the Luftwaffe had, it had never been designed as a bomber, being only a converted air-liner. Germany’s real long-range bomber, the He 177, was still vainly in the testing stage. Considering their makeshift character, and how few they were, it is astonishing what the crews managed to achieve with these Condors.

Fliegel and his squadron headed south-west, their target a speck far off in the wastes of the Atlantic, somewhere between Portugal and the Azores. There the previous evening Lieutenant Nicolai Clausen of U-boat U 37 had happened upon a British convoy out from Gibraltar and bound for England. It was a chance encounter, for the convoys habitually made a wide detour to avoid the Luftwaffe and U-boat bases on the French coast. As the U 37 shadowed it, the sighting report was forwarded via C.-in-C. U-boats, Admiral Karl Dönitz, to KG 40 at Bordeaux. In the early hours of February 9th the U 37 attacked, sinking the freighters Courland and Estrellano. Then, remaining in contact, Clausen kept the approaching Condors informed of the convoy’s position. It was only a question of when they would get there.

They did so at noon, after over six hours’ flight, finding the convoy some 400 miles south-west of Lisbon. Fliegel allocated the targets and went down to attack. The need to do so was itself indicative of the makeshift character of the machines. They were unable to bomb horizontally from high altitude, as heavy bombers should, because of the lack of a suitable bomb-sight. The so-called “Lotfernrohr 7d” only came into use much later. Fliegel had to bring his heavy plane down low over the sea, then turn towards the selected ship and try to approach from the beam so that the target would present as large an image as possible.

At 400 yards range, and an altitude of about 150 feet, he let go the first of his four 500-lb. bombs. At the same moment the flight-mechanic opened fire with the ventral machine-guns, spraying the deck positions to hold down the ship’s anti-aircraft crews. Seconds later the Fw 200 roared over the mast-tops—surely a big enough target! First-Lieutenant Adam had his wing-tanks hit while still on the approach, and was lucky that his plane did not catch fire.

Petrol poured out in a sheet from holes the size of an orange, and he at once turned back in an attempt to reach the coast.

The other aircraft made repeated attacks. Buchholz, one of KG 40’s “aces”, missed his freighter by a hair’s breadth, the bombs exploding hard by the gunwale. Fliegel and Schlosser twice scored hits, Jope once. Five freighters were sunk: the British Jura, Dagmar I, Varna and Britannic, and the Norwegian Tejo. At the end U 37 came up again and sank a further vessel.

Thus convoy HG 53 had already lost half the sixteen ships that had set out from Gibraltar, despite the protection of nine escort vessels. Unless the remainder could take evasive action, the British Admiralty could only fear the worst. It took the extreme step of ordering the ships to disperse and make for their destination singly.

On the German side the success was greatly exaggerated. According to Secret Sitrep No. 520/21 of Luftwaffe Command Intelligence, 2/KG 40 reported six ships totalling 29,500 tons sunk, and three further ships totalling 16,000 tons damaged. Even experienced naval airmen found it difficult to estimate the size of ships from the air, especially while concentrating on attacking them. Thus Schlosser reported the 2,490-ton Britannic as a vessel of 6,000 tons, Fliegel the 967-ton Tejo as one of 3,500 tons. In fact only freighters of between 1,000 and 3,000 tons were at this time plying the Gibraltar route.

None the less, the Condors had accounted for five ships totalling 9,200 tons, and the number and size of their victims were not all that important. The paramount feature of their success was that for the first time it was based on close co-operation between the Luftwaffe and U-boat arms, even though on this occasion their official roles were reversed. Normally it was the function of aircraft to spot the convoys, and of U-boats to attack them. All the same, Dönitz took the success as a favourable sign. Perhaps now, at last, his submarines would receive better and more far-reaching information, instead of wasting so much of their energies in fruitless search.

In mid-March 1941 Dönitz received the new “Fliegerführer Atlantik”—none other than Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Harlinghausen—at Lorient, and said to him: “Imagine our situation as a land problem, with the enemy convoy at Hamburg, and my nearest U-boats at Oslo, Paris, Vienna and Prague—each with a maximum circle of vision of twenty miles. How on earth can they expect to find the convoy unless directed to it by air reconnaissance?”

The problem was as old as the war, and the idea of adapting the Fw 200 for long-range reconnaissance had already been mooted in autumn 1939 by Major Petersen, navigation officer on the staff of X Air Corps.

Created by Kurt Tank, the “Condor” had first flown in July 1937, and since then had beaten several long-distance records: Berlin-New York in twenty-five hours, New York-Berlin in twenty, Berlin-Tokio in forty-six hours eighteen minutes—all of course with intermediate landings. Export orders were mounting when the war came and put an end to the trade. By that time the Luftwaffe’s failure to develop a four-engined bomber-cum-reconnaissance aircraft had become public knowledge, so when X Air Corps suggested to Jeschonnek that the Fw 200 be used as a stop-gap, he agreed. Petersen, who had flown the plane as a civil airlines pilot, was himself put in charge of the first experimental squadron, and during the Norwegian campaign it did some useful reconnaissance.

For its new role Focke-Wulf reinforced the fuselage, built in auxiliary tanks and fitted bomb brackets under the wings. With that, plus the necessary re-arrangement of the interior, the military version of the Fw 200-C was ready. It did of course still betray its civil origin: it was too weak in structure, too slow and too vulnerable. Its initial armament of a single 20 mm cannon in a turret above the cockpit, plus two machine-guns in the ventral and rear-dorsal positions, could hardly be expected to offer much defence against fighter attack.

On the other hand its range was impressive—particularly at a time when the Luftwaffe was bitterly disappointed at the failure of the Ju 88 to fulfil its earlier promise. Even the “normal” version of the Fw 220-C had an operating radius of close on 1,000 miles, plus a twenty per cent reserve for navigation errors, discharging mission, etc. With auxiliary fuselage tanks this was raised to 1,100 miles, while the “long-distance” version, with fuel containers in place of bombs, could make a round trip of nearly 1,400 miles in both directions. Flights lasting fourteen to sixteen hours were by no means uncommon.

The significance of the above was seen when I/KG 40, newly formed by Lieutenant Colonel Petersen, was posted in the summer of 1940 to south-west France on the Atlantic: 1 and 2 Squadrons to Bordeaux-Merignac, 3 Squadron to Cognac. They could carry out armed reconnaissance all the way from the Bay of Biscay to the west of Ireland, then continue on to land at Stavanger-Sola, or Vaernes near Trondheim, in Norway. On the next day or the day after they would make the same flight in reverse.

Thus, for all the improvised character of the instrument, the Luftwaffe was able to supply the far-scanning eyes that the U-boats so badly needed. Speaking on December 30, 1940, to the command armed forces staff on the situation in the Atlantic, Dönitz urged: “Just let me have a minimum of twenty Fw 200s solely for reconnaissance purposes, and the U-boat successes will shoot up!” And on January 4, 1941, the German Admiralty reiterated: “To enable our naval command centres to prosecute the war in the Atlantic systematic reconnaissance is essential.”

But behind the façade of sober discussion was a battle royal as to who should have the ultimate operational control of the Condor Gruppe: the Luftwaffe or the Navy. On January 6th Hitler himself decided the issue with the order: “I/KG 40 will be under the command of the Commander in Chief of the Navy.” And he tried to appease Goering by giving him back the Navy’s Kampfgruppe 806, so that he could add its Ju 88s to Sperrle’s Luftflotte 3 for the bomber raids on England.

It was one of those decisions that gave little satisfaction to either side. Dönitz won control of I/KG 40, only to find that the Gruppe was much weaker than he had thought. For though its full establishment was twenty to twenty-five machines, the daily serviceability state was at best six to eight—another demonstration that a plane improvised from an air-liner was unsuited to the wear and tear of operations. How could such a small handful of aircraft be expected to comb the wastes of the Atlantic with anything like the thoroughness the U-boat chief required?

On January 16, 1941, Captain Verlohr, squadron commander of I/KG 40, sighted a convoy west of Ireland, and sank two ships totalling 10,857 tons by the “Swedish turnip” method. After that he remained in contact for several hours till his fuel was only just enough to bring him home. Meanwhile he was unsuccessful either in getting a second Fw 200 to relieve him or in bringing U-boats to the scene—they were too far away. Consequently contact was lost, night fell, and next morning the convoy was no longer to be found.

The same thing happened on January 23rd, 28th and 31 st. On each occasion a large convoy was sighted, and always the aircraft was forced to leave before U-boats reached the position. On the other hand the aircraft themselves sank ships every time. In fact the sinkings achieved by “armed reconnaissance” rose from fifteen vessels totalling 63,175 tons in January, to twenty-two totalling 84,515 tons in February. These are the Allied figures that became available after the war. The contemporary claims were a good deal higher.

To carry out their long-distance missions successfully, with all that that entailed, the Condor crews had to operate at the limit of their capacity. They represented the cream of the bomber training schools, where trial crews were put together and their performance judged. And they learnt much from their senior colleagues, who as former Lufthansa pilots were already expert at blind and long-distance flying. Most successful operationally were Lieutenant-Colonel Petersen—soon to command the whole KG 40 Geschwader —then his Gruppen and squadron commanders Verlohr, Daser, Buchholz, Jope and Mayr. The last two are still chief pilots with Lufthansa today.

Yet no string of individual performances could disguise the fact that the main job of providing effective reconnaissance for the U-boat arm could never be carried out so long as the number of serviceable aircraft could be counted on the fingers of one hand. In 1941 the monthly production of Focke-Wulf Condors amounted to only four or five, which represented no net increase. As the U-boats still sailed blindly through the seas, the following dialogue would take place each morning at Dönitz’s war-room at Lorient between himself and his chief of operations, Commander Eberhardt Godt:

Dönitz: “Are there any reconnaissance flights today?”

Godt : “Jawohl, Herr Admiral.”

Dönitz : “By how many aircraft?”

Godt : “By one, Herr Admiral”

The two would look at each other and smile sadly; and Dönitz, whose U-boats were the paramount source of concern to the British, would shrug his shoulders in resignation.

Even Martin Harlinghausen could do nothing to improve the situation when, in March 1941, he became first Fliegerführer Atlantik, with the task of concentrating all maritime aircraft under one command. With Goering and Jeschonnek contesting the naval control of I/KG 40 from the start, Hitler finally rescinded his previous order and put the Condors too under the new Fliegerführer’s command. But though this saved appearances, the job of providing reconnaissance for the C.-in-C. U-boats remained the same, and as the months went by there was still no increase in the force.

Harlinghausen—to whom Dönitz had allocated Château Branderion, some twelve miles distant from Lorient, as staff HQ—had moreover other tasks on hand. The first was to combat the shipping lanes from the Irish Sea through the English Channel to the Tyne; the second to support Sperrle’s Luftflotte 3 in its attacks on British harbours.

To serve this far-flung battle-line the Fliegerführer had the following forces at his command:

At Bordeaux: I/KG 40 (Fw 200), HI/KG 40 (He 111, later Fw 200)

In Holland: II/KG 40 (Do 217)

In Brittany (Lannion): One LR reconnaissance squadron, 3 (F)/123 (Ju 88)

Three coastal Gruppen, two equipped with Ju 88s, the third still with He 115 seaplanes

These forces maintained daily patrols of the British shipping lanes from the Irish Sea to the Thames estuary, not only reporting convoys but attacking them. Even those “fat, tired birds”, the ancient He 115s under Major Stockmann, with their two 500-lb. bombs and two forward firing fixed machine-guns, scored successes, flying from Brest to the Bristol Channel.

But the spring months of 1941 also saw a strengthening of the British defence. Not only were the convoys provided with more powerful anti-submarine escort, but the light flak defences of the mercantile ships were also greatly augmented—as the German airmen found to their cost. Low-level attack by the “Swedish turnip” method was still the order of the day, and as the planes screamed over the mast-tops they were vulnerable targets for seconds on end.

At the outset it was calculated by the Fliegerführer Atlantik’s staff that for every aircraft lost 30,000 tons of shipping were sunk. Now the ratio abruptly changed. The aircraft, confronted with a wall of flak, could no longer get at the ships. By June the losses were so heavy that Harlinghausen had to bar the method of attack that he himself had introduced in 1939.

British counter-measures also compelled the U-boats to abandon their productive hunting grounds in the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland. Six of them were lost there between March 7th and April 5th alone, amongst them the vessels of such outstanding U-boat captains as Prien (U 47), Schepke (U 100) and Kretschmer (U 99), who was the only one to be rescued. Dönitz withdrew his vessels far to the west, there to conduct wide-spread searches of the North Atlantic, in regions mostly out of range for the Condors, whose western limit of reconnaissance was the twenty-second parallel, about 1,000 miles from their base of operations.

In mid-July, 1941, co-operation between the two arms took a new short lease of life when Dönitz sent his U-boat packs to harass the convoys leaving Gibraltar. But though the U-boat operations were thus again within the Condors’ range, low-level attacks, except occasionally on isolated ships, were now out of the question, and the sighting had to be done through binoculars. None the less, they did a much better job of reconnaissance, and on a number of occasions, after the U-boats had been driven off by the escort, they led them back to the convoy’s position.

In September, 1941, Dönitz brought the U-boats to the north again, and in November the Condors flew sixty-two reconnaissance missions over the North Atlantic. But though five convoys were sighted, with only one could they keep in touch for two consecutive days. The rest were lost sight of. In December there were only twenty-three missions, though on one occasion the convoy was shadowed for five whole days. “In every case,” the Fliegerführer Atlantik war diary records, “fixes were given to bring U-boats to the scene.”

After that the co-operative effort was again disrupted. The U-boats were engaged in the Mediterranean, and from January, 1942, along the Atlantic coast of America, seeking hunting grounds where the defence was still new and inexperienced. I/KG 40 was posted to Vaernes in Norway. For in 1942 the Allies began to send convoys to Russia, thereby opening up a giant new operations zone: the Arctic Ocean.

Meanwhile, on the English Channel coast, the British had since mid-1941 been waging a non-stop bomber offensive in the hope of compelling the Luftwaffe to withdraw some of its fighter units from the Russian front. But in fact the only two fighter Geschwader stationed on the Channel—the “Richthofen” JG 2 and the “Schlageter” JG 26—continued to oppose these raids alone. In autumn, 1941, II/JG 26 was re-equipped with the first production series of the new fighter type, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Acting defensively, these fighters and the Me 109s inflicted considerable losses.

The period was marked by three main episodes:

  1. The vain attempt of the Luftwaffe, despite 218 sorties, to rescue the Bismarck from her pursuit by the British fleet (May 26-28, 1941).
  2. The successful break through the Channel, aided by strong air cover, of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen (February 12, 1942).
  3. The British and Canadian landing attempt at Dieppe, bloodily repulsed and with the loss of 106 British bombers and fighters (August 19, 1942).

When on May 24, 1941, Luftflotte 3’s H.Q. in Paris was apprised of the 41,700-ton Bismarck’s intention of docking at St. Nazaire, she had already sunk the British battle-cruiser Hood. The Luftwaffe was bidden to do all it could to secure her arrival at that port. It would, however, be at least two days before she could steam into range of Ju 88 and He 111 cover. Meanwhile, where was she?

On May 26th—the vital day for making contact—a low-pressure front from the north-west, with its resulting storms, made flying almost impossible. Though Harlinghausen’s reconnaissance planes took off, they flew into a visionless void. At 15.45 a single Fw 200 did, however, suddenly happen upon the British battleship Rodney, with several destroyers. But the near-by flagship King George V was completely hidden by the low-scudding clouds, and unlike British long-range reconnaissance aircraft, the Condors still carried no radar aid.

According to the information given—certainly inexact in the prevailing weather conditions—the enemy’s position was some 750 miles off the French coast. Yet the maximum distance the Ju 88s and He 111s could fly out to sea was 550 miles. That settled the matter, and the take-off was ordered for the following morning (27th May) at 03.00. By that time the Bismarck’s fate had been sealed. At 21.05 the previous evening torpedoes from aircraft of the carrier Ark Royal had damaged her propellers and rudder, and she could no longer elude pursuit.

The last friends the battleship saw, as she fought for her life, was at 09.50 on the 27th. They were five Ju 88s of the coastal Gruppe 606, which had left their base hours before. In the midst of the great artillery duel they tried to intervene by diving on the nearest cruiser, but every bomb missed. When an hour later seventeen Heinkels of I/KG 28 arrived on the scene from Nantes, the Bismarck was already beneath the waves. Unsuccessfully they attacked the Ark Royal, each with two 500-lb. and eight 250-lb. bombs, all of which again missed.

After that came Kampfgruppe 100, II/KG 1, II/KG 54 and I/KG 77 in succession, but none of them found the enemy. For months on end these formations had been engaged in night bomber attacks on England, and suddenly to send them out over stormy seas to the limit of their range, on a job for which they had never been trained, was optimistic indeed. As for the Geschwader that had been so trained—KGs 26 and 30—no one thought of these until it was too late. Though the returning British fleet was again harried from the air during the whole of the following day, and hundreds of bombs were dropped, only one destroyer (the Mashona) was so damaged that it finally sank off the west coast of Ireland.

The German aircrews returned in chastened mood. All the 218 sorties they had flown had not helped the Bismarck a jot. Only next year did their fortunes change for the better: with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau venture, Dieppe, and above all with the knock-out blow in the Arctic against Convoy PQ 17.


Give and Take in the Air

Pursuing their pre-war policies of attempting to subjugate an enemy through bombing, the British and Americans were by 1942 in possession of a rapidly- expanding fleet of several makes of four-engine bombers capable of carrying, in the case of the British Lancaster B1 for example, 12 000 lb a distance of 1730 miles, and in the case of the American Boeing B 17F, 6000 lb for 1300 miles. The major performance difference between the respective types lay in their ceilings of 24 500 ft and 37 500 ft, and their operating mode. The British intended mainly to operate in a continuous stream under cover of darkness; the Americans to fight their way through by day in packed formations protected by batteries of heavy machine- guns escorted part of the way by short-range fighters. Each method posed the German defenders with conflicting defensive problems, while their attackers faced the perennial difficulties of finding and hitting targets. Remarkable in technology as the contending aircraft and anti-aircraft guns were; well as their crews might be trained; skilful as the directors of operations would become in deploying several hundred machines at once over strategically important industrial targets, centres of communication and population, success in attack and defence depended in the final analysis upon a few electronic devices. Without them the bombers would rarely hit their targets; the fighters could not find the bombers; and the bombers could not counter a growing array of defensive measures.

It is possible to outline only a few complex moves here, starting with the night in March 1942 when 80 Gee-fitted bombers started fires in the Ruhr, to which another 270 bombers homed with devastating effect. This was more impressive than all previous raids, for a study of air photographs, linked to operational analysis, had indicated that only 30% of night-flying crews were dropping their bombs within five miles of the intended target. It was all the more successful because the Germans, who used Lorenz beams, allowed themselves to be deluded by subsidiary Lorenz transmissions. This shielded Gee from jamming for nearly a year, by which time mitigating measures (such as changing the Gee frequency) had been prepared.

Complementary to Gee was Oboe, a bomb-aiming radio aid which emitted a tone to the aircraft and instructed it exactly when to release its bombs to within 20 yards of the target. Fitted into another triumph of technology (the 400-mph, twin-engine Mosquito light bomber of wooden construction), Oboe spearheaded the technique of dropping special pyrotechnic candle `marker bombs’ as a guide for fire- raisers which, in turn, led the stream of bombers to the target. But because of screening caused by the Earth’s curvature, Oboe was limited in range by the maximum altitude of the Mosquito at 37 000 ft. It was a downwards-scanning radar device called H2S (because initially its sceptical designers thought its prospects stank) which gave accurate navigation to unlimited distances by displaying on the CRT a picture of the terrain below which could be related to a chart. Oboe came into service in December 1942; H2S two months later. Along with Gee they enabled Allied bombers to find their targets unerringly. Moreover, Oboe escaped jamming because German scientists did not relate its signal to a bombing aid, and H2S could not be jammed. The outcome was the delivery of vast tonnages of high explosive in bombs which, in due course, weighed as much as 10 tons. Their purpose was to pulverize factories, penetrate 15-ft-thick concrete U-boat shelters and sink pin-point targets, such as the 42 000-ton battleship Tirpitz, which was achieved with two 12 000-lb bomb hits and several near-misses. In addition, fire-bombs could engulf a city in flames to create a new phenomenon, the firestorm, caused by air sucked through burning buildings with blast-furnace force. But just as this vast new technology of electronics, aerodynamics and metallurgy was invented for massive forces of destruction, defences were strengthened by parallel efforts every bit as impressive.

Improved ground radar sought to establish the position of the attackers prior to engagement by radar- directed guns and interception by radar-equipped fighters. Commanders and controllers connived with scientists to devise better techniques with existing equipment while calling for still more sophisticated devices. The battle swayed to and fro as one side or the other obtained some transitory advantage. For example, the employment of `Window’ – clouds of metallic chaff cut to a precise length to give false echoes on German radar – created chaos among the German air defence systems when first used on the night of 24th July 1942 during a major attack on Hamburg. Only 12 out of 741 bombers were lost. But the Germans had successes too. When 367 US Air Force B 17s attacked the Messerschmitt factory at Regensburg and the ball-bearing factory at Schweinfurt in daylight on 17th August 1943, they lost 59 aircraft and had 55 bombers damaged beyond repair as the result of superbly-directed fighter attacks. And that same night when 597 RAF bombers attacked the rocket weapons experimental establishment at Peenemünde, the night fighters, despite interference from Window, brought down or severely damaged another 72 machines. In terms of technical warfare, however, Peenemünde had a very special significance not simply as the first instance in which a Master Bomber aircraft directed the bombers by markers and radio instructions against pin-point objects within the target area; nor because of specific aiming, with some success, against the living quarters of the scientists and technologists; but chiefly because this was the first shot in the anti-rocket missile war.

Devastating attacks on cities, such as those on Hamburg in the summer of 1943 and on Berlin a few months later, seemed to Speer to have German morale reeling. Speer feared too that persistent attacks on key industrial targets might cause economic collapse. But invariably the Allies, from lack of intelligence or failure to hit the target or from severe losses, called off campaigns when Speer thought they were on the verge of success. On the other hand, there were periods in which the German defences inflicted terrible execution on Allied bombers, such as the end of 1943 and early 1944. The classic debacles were over Schweinfurt on 14th October, when 60 B 17s were lost and 138 severely damaged; or the night of 30th March 1944 when 294 German fighters shot down 94 RAF bombers out of 794 during an abortive attack on Nürnberg. Such reverses led to deep-penetration raids being called off until new methods could be devised. Both by night and by day the answer lay with the introduction of long-range fighter escorts fitted with drop fuel tanks, and by still more sophisticated Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) allied to deception measures and the jamming of enemy airborne intercept radar. It was struggle with no reprieve for errors and omissions. For example, the habit of British bomber crews to switch on their H2S sets throughout the flight presented German fighter controllers with ECM-free plots until, after a year of fatal consequences, the Allies realized what was happening. Or the German failure to concentrate on jet fighters which might well have won air superiority and put an end to daylight bombing.

Persistent heavy losses weighed heavily against air forces. There had to come a point at which replacement of machines and crew became impossible or morale was severely shaken. Had punitive losses been inflicted upon the 10 000 or more aircraft committed to support of the invasion of Europe in June 1944, airborne troops might not have survived; and air support for the rest of the amphibious force might have been so impaired that the Allied cause would have suffered even stiffer resistance from the Germans than was actually the case. As it was, Allied air superiority gave their surface forces a free hand to bear down overwhelmingly upon the Germans at any time.

List of World War II electronic warfare equipment

  • Abdullah – British radar homing system for attacking German radar sites – carried by rocket-armed Typhoons for Operation Overlord.
  • AI (Airborne Interception) – Night fighter radar.
  • Airborne Cigar (A.B.C.) – ARI TR3549 radar jammer carried by 101 Sqn Lancasters based at Ludford Magna, and from March 1945 by 462 Sqn RAAF, operating from RAF Foulsham. These aircraft carried an 8th crew member to monitor and then jam Lichtenstein radar of German night fighters.
  • Airborne Grocer – British 50 cm radar jammer against early model (B/C and C-1) UHF band Lichtenstein – see also Grocer/Ground Grocer.
  • Alberich – German anti-ASDIC rubber coating for U-boat hulls – tested on U-67.
  • ASDIC – British sonar system used for hunting U-boats.
  • Aspidistra – used for Corona, q.v.
  • Aspirin – British Knickebein jammer.
  • ASH – Air to Surface H or AI Mk XV (U.S AN/APS-4). centimetric airborne air-air radar derived from ASV operating at 3 cm wavelength at a frequency of 10 GHz. Used by 100 Group Mosquitos; postwar in the Sea Hornet N.F. Mark 21.
  • ASV – Air to Surface Vessel radar. A 1.5 metre radar that could detect surfaced submarines at up to 36 miles.
  • Beam Approach Beacon System (BABS) ARI TR3567 – British blind-landing system using the Eureka beacon.
  • Benjamin – British Y-Gerät jammer – see also Domino.
  • Berlin, German Funkgerät or FuG 240 night fighter radar, introduced April 1945, centimetric (microwave) frequency radar (9 cm/3 GHz).
  • Boozer – ARI R1618 fighter radar early warning device fitted to British bombers.
  • BremenanlageFuG 244/245, German omnidirectional airborne search (AEW-capable) radar (experimental only).
  • Bromide – British X-Gerät jammer.
  • Bumerang – German codename for Oboe-guided Mosquitoes when detected on Flammen radar – ‘boomerang’, from curved track flown
  • BUPS – Beacon Ultra Portable S-band, AN/UPN-1.
  • Carpet – 100 Group W/T (morse radio) jammer – from TRE; US version built as AN/APT-2.
  • Cigar (later “Ground Cigar”) – earlier ground-based version of Airborne Cigar.
  • Corona – 100 Group radio transmissions using German-speaking personnel, and later WAAFs, for spoof controlling of German night fighters to confuse German counter-attacks.
  • Chaff – shorter-length Window for use against possible German development of microwave radar, e.g. Berlin.
  • Chain Home radar – British land based early warning radar used during the Battle of Britain – from TRE.
  • Düppel – German radar countermeasure called chaff in the US or Window in Britain.
  • Darky – British backup homing system: the pilot could be talked back to his home base by voice radio on 6.440 MHz
  • Diver – Integrated RAF and Royal Observer Corps system for intercepting German V1 flying bombs in flight.
  • Domino – British Y-Gerät jammer – see also Benjamin.
  • Egerland – German fire-control radar-linked Marbach and Kulmbach systems, only two built by 1945
  • Egon – German-devised bomb-targeting system using the Erstling IFF system and two Freya radar ground stations for bomb-aiming.
  • Eureka – portable homing beacon system – ground transmitter – see also Rebecca.
  • Filbert – 29-foot-long (8.8 m) naval barrage balloon fitted with internal 9 feet (2.7 m) radar reflector, for Operation Glimmer and Operation Taxable.
  • Flammen – German plotting system for detecting Oboe-equipped Pathfinder Mosquitos.
  • Funk-Gerät — German prefix-phrase for nearly all their military avionics system designations, translated as “radio equipment” and abbreviated as FuG.
  • Fishpond – British fighter warning radar add-on to H2S, fitted early 1944 to some bombers.
  • FlensburgFuG 227, German radar detector fitted to night fighters to detect the British Monica tail warning radar transmissions.
  • Freya – German ground based air search radar.
  • G-H – British radio navigation system used for blind bombing, from TRE.
  • GEE – British radio navigation system forerunner of LORAN, from TRE.
  • Grocer (later “Ground Grocer”) – ground-based version of Airborne Grocer.
  • Gufo radar – Italian naval search radar (official designation EC3/ter) employed by the Regia Marina. Operational from 1942 to 1943.
  • H.F. D/F (High Frequency Direction Finding) – provided a radio position fix for the RAF up to 100 miles from the transmitters in Britain. The system was based on voice communications, and was used for aircraft to find their home bases. With the development of GEE, its primary function ceased but it remained in use until the end of the war as a backup system and a communications system between aircraft and their bases.
  • H2S – British ground mapping radar to see target at night and through cloud cover – from TRE.
  • H2X – American 10 GHz ground mapping radar, higher frequency development of British H2S. Equivalent to S-band H2S Mark III.
  • High Tea – British sonobuoy used by RAF Coastal Command in 1944.
  • Himmelbett – German controlled night fighter method.
  • Hohentwiel – FuG 200, German UHF airborne radar optimized for maritime patrol use, named for Hohentwiel, an extinct volcano in south-western Germany.
  • Hookah – ARI R1625/R1668 British jammer-homer operating on 490 MHz (to jam the Germans’ FuG 202 and 212 AI radars) and 530–600Mhz.
  • Huff-Duff – Allied HF/DF High Frequency Direction Finding.
  • Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) – means of identifying possible enemy aircraft detected on Chain Home early warning system using transponder fitted in RAF aircraft – from TRE.
  • Jay beams – were introduced partly as a deception to help to confuse the Germans over the use of GEE. It was nevertheless just as useful as a homing beacon. A number of transmitters, from Lossiemouth to Manston in Kent transmitted on slightly different frequencies transmitted a narrow beam across the North Sea using a S.B.A. (Standard Beam Approach) transmitter, receivers for-which were fitted to all British bombers and could be received over a range of 350 miles at 10,000 feet. Once a bomber found a beam it could fly down it back to Britain. In late 1943, all but two beams were closed with the final two shutting down towards the end of 1944 because GEE could do the job better and their use to deceive the Germans was by now redundant.
  • Jostle – 2.5kW airborne jamming transmitter carried in sealed bomb bays of 100 Group Fortresses, from TRE.
  • Kehl – series of German aircraft-mounted, joystick interface radio control transmitter sets, designated FuG 203, for use in MCLOS operation of Hs 293 and Fritz X weapons, its signals were received by the FuG 230 Straßburg units in the ordnance. Named after Strasbourg, France and Kehl, one of its German suburbs.
  • Kettenhund – German jammer of the Eureka beacon.
  • Knickebein – German dual beam radio navigation aid, used early 1940.
  • Kulmbach – German targeting radar based on Marbach – linked with Marbach to form Egerland.
  • Lichtenstein – German UHF (B/C and C-1 versions), later VHF (SN-2 version) night fighter radar, introduced 1941/1942, with both versions compromised after July 1944.
  • Lorenz – German blind-landing aid.
  • LORAN – American navigation aid.
  • Lucero – British homing system carried by some Mosquitos for homing-in on Kettenhund jammers (Eureka jammer), from TRE.
  • Mandrel – jammer for Freya and Würzburg radar used by 100 Group, from TRE. US version built as AN/APT-3.
  • Marbach – German microwave ground-based search radar, c. 1945.
  • Metox – metre-wavelength ASV radar detector fitted to German submarines
  • Meacon – Masking BEACON – British long wave jamming station – see Meaconing.
  • M.F. D/F (Medium Frequency Direction Finding) – provided a radio position fix for the RAF up to 230 miles from the transmitters in Britain. The system was based on voice communications.
  • Mickey — American nickname for their H2X 10 GHz band blind bombing radar
  • Monica tail warning radar – fixed rearward-pointing radar fitted to British bombers to warn of attacking fighters.
  • Moonshine – ARI TR1427 British airborne spoofer/jammer installed in 20 modified Boulton Paul Defiants (No. 515 Squadron RAF) to defeat Freya, from TRE.
  • NaxosFuG 350, German H2S detection and homing device, not capable of detecting the Americans’ similar, higher frequency (10 GHz) H2X radar.
  • NeptunFuG 216, -217 & -218, German high-VHF-band (125 to 187 MHz) night fighter AI radar, introduced mid/late 1944, generally used the Hirschgeweih antenna setup of Lichtenstein VHF-band radar sets with shorter dipole elements, as a replacement for the compromised Lichtenstein SN-2 90 MHz AI equipment.
  • Newhaven – target marking blind using H2S then with visual backup marking, from Newhaven, East Sussex.
  • Oboe – British twin beam navigation system, similar to Knickebein but pulse-based.
  • Parramatta – target marking by blind dropped ground markers – prefixed with ‘musical’ when Oboe-guided – from Parramatta, New South Wales.
  • Perfectos – device carried by night fighting Mosquitos for homing-in on German nightfighter radar transmissions and triggering IFF.
  • Ping-Pong – ground-based direction finder accurate to a quarter degree, three of them could be used to make a plotting system for triangulating German radar site positions, allowing them to be attacked and disabled immediately prior to Overlord.
  • Piperack – airborne jamming transmitter carried by a lead aircraft that produced a cone of jamming behind it, within which the following bomber stream could shelter, carried by 100 Group Fortresses and Liberators, from TRE.
  • Pip-squeak – “Huff-Duff” IFF system used by the RAF in the Battle of Britain, to track fighter squadrons in the air.
  • Rebecca – portable radio beacon system – airborne receiver – see also Eureka
  • Roderich – German 4W radar jammer for use against H2S.
  • Rope – extended-length Window suspended from a small parachute; dropped by aircraft of 218 and 617 Squadrons to deceive German Seetakt coastal radar during Operation Glimmer and Operation Taxable.
  • Seetakt – a shipborne radar developed in the 1930s and used by Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, later improved into Freya air search radar.
  • Serrate – British radar detection and homing device, used by night fighters to track down German night fighters with early UHF-band versions of Lichtenstein.
  • Shiver – first attempts at jamming Würzburg using ground transmissions.
  • Tinsel – British technique of transmitting amplified engine noise on German night fighter voice frequencies to hinder them.
  • Village Inn – British radar-aimed Automatic Gun-Laying Turret (AGLT) fitted to some Lancasters in 1944 – from TRE.
  • Wanganui – target marking by blind-dropped sky markers when ground concealed by cloud – prefixed with ‘musical’ when Oboe-guided – from Wanganui, New Zealand.
  • Window – strips of aluminium foil dropped to flood German radar with false echoes – from TRE.
  • Würzburg – German ground based air search radar.
  • X-Gerät – German multiple beam guided blind bombing system
  • Y-Gerät – German single beam guided blind bombing system, also known as Wotan.

Bell V-247 Vigilant Unmanned Tiltrotor

The US military is showing increased interest in vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned air vehicles (UAV), going beyond current helicopter-derived UAVs such as the Northrop MQ-8 Fire Scouts ordered by the US Navy.

The most dramatic innovation to date is the Bell 247 Vigilant UAV, first announced on September 22, which adapts the company’s advanced tiltrotor technology to an unmanned design: a single-engine 29,000lb (13,150kg) tiltrotor that builds on Bell’s earlier Eagle Eye tilt.

Bell Helicopter has recently announced an unmanned tiltrotor, the V-247 Vigilant. The manufacturer says the design will combine long endurance and speed with the ability to operate without a runway

(such as in maritime environments or in contested areas with no secure runways). It said the V-247 is “designed to address the evolving demands of the military and transportation sectors for unmanned aircraft for a shipborne UAS platform”. The aircraft is being designed for electronic warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, escort, C4 (command, control, communications and computer), persistent fre, and tactical distribution. Bell Helicopter says the design, which could be ready for production in 2023, will satisfy the spectrum of capabilities outlined in the 2016 Marine Corps Aviation Plan, and that it will leverage the experience of the V-22, UH-1Y/AH-1Z, and V-280 Valor for the V-247’s development.

The V-247 will have a 65ft (19m) wingspan and a 30ft (9m) rotor diameter. Its cruise speed will be 250kts (462km/h), endurance speed 180kts (333km/h) and maximum speed 300kts (555km/h) at maximum continuous power. It will offer a 29,500lb (13,380kg) maximum gross weight and be able to carry 13,000lb (4,535kg) of fuel, sensors and armament. Range will be 450 nautical miles (833km) and time on station 11 hours.

Folding blades will ensure compatibility with hangars on DDG ships, and two V-247s will be able to be transported in a C-17. The aircraft will have a modular payload system, a redundant flight control system, and an electro-optical and targeting system. The bays on the aircraft will be able to carry sensors, fuel, sonar buoys, LIDAR equipment, radar, a Mk50 torpedo or Hellfire missiles.

Designed as a company-funded independent research and development effort and capable of operating from ships, the V-247 is intended for the US Marine Corps, providing greater UAV capability than its current RQ-7 Shadow UAVs.


The US Marine Corps has budgeted the Marine Unmanned Experimental (MUX) programme for a VTOL UAV to start in FY2018. MUX is required to have performance (including armament) comparable to the US Air Force General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. In addition to the V-247, MUX competitors are likely to include the Northrop Grumman Tactically Exploitable Reconnaissance Node flying wing (developed under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract) and the Karem Swift tiltrotor.

The US Marine Corps issued a request for information-(RFI) linked to an ambitious programme to deliver a ship-based, vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle for use from the latter part of the next decade. As outlined on 8 March 2018, the Marine Air Ground Task Force – Unmanned Expeditionary Capabilities (MUX) activity would field an aircraft capable of operating autonomously from an amphibious assault ship and providing persistent multi-role aerial coverage from up to 350nm (648km) away.

Expected roles would include early warning defence, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and communications relay capabilities, according to the USMC’s request, with a secondary priority being offensive air support.

The MUX aircraft will have an unrefueled combat radius of 350- 700nm, and be capable of achieving cruise speeds of 200-300kt (370-555km/h) with a full payload. This performance will complement the long-range capabilities of the USMC’s Lockheed Martin F-35B/Cs, Bell Boeing MV-22, Sikorsky CH-53K and Future Vertical Lift rotorcraft, the RFI shows.

Since revealing its MUX ambitions in August 2016, the USMC has attracted interest from four major US contractors. Bell is developing the V-247 Vigilant tiltrotor, Boeing a tail-sitting flying wing dubbed the MUX-1, Lockheed’s Skunk Works unit – partnered with Piasecki Aircraft – a tilting duct fan aircraft named ARES, and Northrop Grumman the Tern tail sitting flying wing.

Bell V-280 Pushing the envelop

Since its first flight on December 18, 2017, the Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor Joint Multirole-Technology Demonstrator has achieved more than 125 hours of rotor turn time and nearly 45 hours of flight time in a test programme currently based at Bell’s Amarillo, Texas, facility (planned to move to Fort Worth, Texas, later this year).

To date, the V-280 has undertaken and demonstrated ground taxi, hover taxi, low altitude hovering manoeuvres, including 360 pedal turns and forward/aft/lateral repositions, 60kts (110km/h) roll-on landings, and forward flight out to 195kts (360km/h). The first cruise mode flight took place on May 11 and during July and August US Army test pilots flew the V-280 from the Amarillo facility.

By the end of the test programme, it will have demonstrated its designed maximum speed of 280kts (518km/h). Next steps include making the retractable undercarriage fully functional, developing the designed-in pilot-augmentation functions, using the Lockheed Martin Pilot Distributed Aperture System that provides 360° vision to the pilots (based on the system onboard the F-35 Lightning II) and using the head-up display and head down display.

Built as a technology demonstrator, the V-280’s design features are intended to increase performance and lower costs for production aircraft. These include all-composite wings and rotors and a straight wing design without sweepback or taper.

This is intended to lead to a unit price, in production quantities, of about $30 million in current year dollars, some 50% greater than current UH-60 versions. The improved performance of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) rotorcraft is not going to make them cheap to buy. While price has not been identified as a major determinant, the scope of potential FVL procurements is likely to make it an important consideration.

The V-280’s two General Electric T64-GE-419 engines, as currently used to power the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion, are likely to be replaced by engines with improved fuel consumption once these become available. Unlike the older Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, the V-280’s engine nacelles do not change positions between vertical take-o and cruise flight, just its rotors. This requires a sophisticated clutch and gear system and transmission. The V-280 reportedly offers improved low-altitude manoeuvrability and reduced downwash and acoustic signature.

Bell is positioned to use the technologies being demonstrated on the V-280, designed to FVL Capability Set 3, on smaller platforms. It is currently working on a tiltrotor UAV, the V-247 Valiant, intended to meet the US Marine Corps’ Marine Unmanned Expeditionary requirement (operating the Osprey has made the Marines enthusiastic about tiltrotors). A scaled-down V-280 has been mentioned as a possible Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype.



The Schweinfurt Raid – Americas Worst Day

14 OCTOBER 1943

“The mission of October 14th had demonstrated that the cost of such deep penetrations by daylight without fighter escort was too high … the Eighth Air Force was in no position to make further penetrations either to Schweinfurt or to any other objectives deep in German territory.” US Official Report on the Schweinfurt Raid.

It is a great tragedy of war that commanders can blindly persist with plans which have been repeatedly proven to be dangerously misguided. After World War I, visionary young officers in a number of countries argued that in the future wars would be won not by armies or navies but by fleets of aircraft bombing enemy cities, in what became known as `strategic’ bombing. World War II saw the creation of such strategic bombing fleets, chiefly by the British and Americans, of which perhaps the strongest and the most famous was `The Mighty Eighth’, the USAAF (US Army Air Force) Eighth Air Force. This was air war in what had always been seen by its advocates as its most pure and effective form. But the practical problems of carrying out long-range strategic bombing were immense. One issue in particular came to dominate the argument: in the absence of an effective fighter escort with enough range, was it possible for heavy bombers to fly unescorted over the heart of Germany in daylight? After heavy losses sustained in the first attacks on German cities after May 1940, the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command concluded that it was not, and switched to night bombing. The USAAF persisted in unescorted daylight bombing. On 14 October 1943 it launched an air armada against Schweinfurt, one of the most heavily defended industrial towns of the Third Reich.

The Strategic Context

On 21 January 1943 the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) issued the `Casablanca Directive’ in support of a plan from Lieutenant General Ira C Eaker, commander of Eighth Air Force, to start a Combined Bombing Offensive (CBO) against Germany, with the British bombing at night and the Americans by day. This confirmed that the primary objective of the CBO was `the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened’.

Planned in four phases between April 1943 and April 1944, the CBO only reached its full significance when the `Point Blank Directive’, which amended the `Casablanca Directive’, was issued by the CCS on 10 June 1943. While listing various categories of targets, it gave absolute priority to the destruction of German fighters and the factories where they were built, as it was realized that `Operation Overlord’, the projected liberation of France in 1944, could not be launched until air supremacy had been achieved. The directive reflected also the express wish of the US bomber commanders, who, during the first 14 operations of the CBO, had sustained virtually all their losses from enemy fighters as opposed to Flak (German anti-aircraft fire). Eaker concluded that only once he had annihilated the German fighter air arm would it be safe to penetrate into the heart of Germany.

Behind this rationalization of objectives lay the prolonged, often bitter Anglo-US debate over the merits of daylight strategic bombing. While General Henry H (`Hap’) Arnold, commander of the USAAF, had been greatly impressed by the British theory of strategic bombing, neither he nor his subordinates approved of the costly results of RAF night bombing. Daylight bombing, the Americans argued, would enable them to hit pinpoint targets, such as oil installations and aircraft factories. The main US heavy bombers, the B-17 `Flying Fortress’ and B-24 `Liberator’, were also less suited to night flying.

The American Plan

A draft version of `Point Blank’ issued on 14 May had already noted the critical importance of ball bearings to the German war effort. The `concentration of that industry’, it pointed out, made 76% of German ball¬ bearing production `outstandingly vulnerable to air attacks’. US strategic planners prioritized the five ball-bearing plants located at Schweinfurt – which between them supplied 52.2% of all German ball-bearing production, and 39.1% of ball bearings obtained from all sources – for their increasingly ambitious daylight bombing offensives. RAF Bomber Command declined to take part in an offensive against such small, remote targets.

The first major USAAF raid on Schweinfurt, and subsequent raids on Germany, had already demonstrated the immense problems in planning and executing such deep penetration operations, especially when the limit of US fighter cover was 250 miles out from England, barely reaching the westernmost towns of Germany. A double mission of 376 Flying Fortresses had been despatched to Schweinfurt and Regensburg on 17 August, unescorted for most of the way. In the consequent ferocious air battles, 60 US bombers were shot down, mostly by the Luftwaffe fighter command, a loss rate of 16%. Since each crew flew 25 missions before a rest, a loss rate above 4% for each mission made death almost a statistical certainty.

Despite these losses and the evident problem of lacking long-range fighter aircraft protection, US commanders stubbornly persevered with plans for a second raid on Schweinfurt. Lieutenant General Eaker remained convinced of the strategic and economic necessity of completely eliminating ball-bearing production at these key plants, which had only been partially destroyed during the first raid. Eaker also remained confident of the merits of precision bombing, so recently improved by the invention of the Norden bombsight, and new electronic and radar navigation systems. Despite the recent heavy losses, US commanders remained convinced of the high survivability of their self-defending bomber force, provided they strictly adopted the correct tactical formation. By 1943 US bombardment groups had developed the `combat box’, a new staggered formation comprising three squadron formations, each covering the other at different heights and with complementary arcs of fire. Within this box, it was theorized, the recently increased armament of the B-17s and B-24s (up to twelve .50-calibre machine guns, mostly situated within power-driven plexiglass turrets), could successfully protect them from all angles. Given such an extremely tight formation, it was contended that the R-17s and the B-24s, carrying 5,000-lb and 8,000-lb bomb loads respectively, could fend off any serious German attacks.

The second Schweinfurt raid was scheduled by Eaker and his staff for Thursday, 14 October 1943. Three simultaneous penetrations were initially planned. Eighth Air Force’s 1st and 3rd Bombardment Divisions, comprising 360 B-17s, were to cross the Netherlands in two task forces 30 miles apart. Meanwhile 60 B-24s of 2nd Bombardment Division would form a third task force to fly further south. As the B-17s’ routes would take them beyond normal maximum endurance, it was planned that those without long-range `Tokio’ fuel tanks would carry an extra fuel tank in the bomb bay, reducing their bomb-load capacity. One group of short-range P-47 Thunderbolt fighters was to escort each of the penetrating task forces as far as possible, and an additional group was to provide cover from about half-way across the English Channel. To protect stragglers, two squadrons of RAF Spitfire IXs would sweep the assembly area five minutes after the last of the attacking forces had left, and other RAF squadrons would be held in readiness for action if required.

The German Plan

The US plans had been conducted against the background of several ominous developments in German ground and fighter defensive organization. During 1943 the emphasis had shifted increasingly to concerted action against daylight raiders. Even though the British raids over Germany were still more numerous, the US precision raids were of much greater potential consequence for the German war industry. The first raid on Schweinfurt had come as a particular shock to the German high command, who regarded the ball-bearing industry as their Achilles’ heel. After this first raid, Albert Speer, the armaments minister, had predicted that if the raids continued at such levels the German armaments industry would come to a standstill in four months.

The major reorganization required to meet these new mass precision raids was no easy task. There was an overall shortage of trained and experienced Luftwaffe pilots, with many of them increasingly diverted to the beleaguered Eastern Front. During 1943, as the tide of war slowly turned against Germany, Luftwaffe fighter defences were further undermined by direct political interference by Adolf Hitler himself, who ordered a reduction in fighter construction in favour of ground-level attack aircraft and bombers. Consequently, of the 7,477 single-engined fighters produced in the first eight months of 1943, only a small proportion were allocated to home defence units

Despite these crises, by August 1943 German defensive plans had created a formidable network. This consisted basically of two elements – anti-aircraft guns and fighters. In the course of 1943 the number of Flak guns deployed in Germany significantly rose from 14,949 to 20,625, chiefly light guns of 20-40 mm calibre and heavier guns of 88-128 mm calibre. New `Flak towers’ and associated guns were reorganized to provide arcs of predicted fire, to engage bombers from the start of their level bombing run with box barrages put up at their approximate height just short of their anticipated bomb release point.

Of far greater significance in German defence planning against future US daylight raids were its interceptor fighters, of which the most common were the Messerschmidt Me 109G, with a speed in excess of 380 mph, and the even faster Foche-Wulf FW 190A, compared to 200 mph for the US bombers. The basic Luftwaffe operational unit for defensive purposes continued to be the Jagdgeschwader (`fighter group’ or JG) of about 120 aircraft.

German methods and plans for attacking the improved US bomber formations increased in variety and efficiency during 1943. The main objective was for fighters to continually break up the bomber formations so that individual aircraft could be finished off as they fell away damaged. German fighter pilots soon realized that the new US box formations produced far less fire from the front than from any other angle. Consequently, the Luftwaffe developed several different methods of head-on attack, which varied from Scbwarm (`swarm’ of 4 aircraft) to Staffel (`squadron’ of about 12 aircraft) strength. Often flying parallel and in front of US bombers, on a signal from their coordinator (frequently in a converted Junkers Ju 88 light bomber) the fighters would sweep into their attack, either half rolling away in front of the bombers or pulling up over the top of them, and then flying back to attack from the front. By early August 1943, the increased firepower of the FW 190s also encouraged Schwarm-strength attacks in line abreast from the rear. During deep penetration missions such as Schweinfurt, fighters would refuel and each attack the bombers two or three more times.

Other methods of breaking up offensive bomber formations included using twin-engined aircraft, such as the Messerschmidt Me 110 and Me 410s, to fly above the tightly packed bombers and drop fragmentation bombs. Explosive rocket projectiles, carried by FW 190s and Me 109s, could also cause immense damage when lobbed into tightly packed bomber formations at between 1,000 and 1,700 yard range.

The Early Stages

From the very start, the massive bombing raid launched against Schweinfurt on 14 October 1943 was significantly compromised by the one uncontrollable factor in any battle plan: inclement weather. The heavily overcast conditions caused chaos at designated rendezvous points. This problem, combined with % the heavy losses of the previous week over Munster and elsewhere, meant that it was impossible to muster the projected 360 battle-worthy B-17s. The B-24s of 2nd Bombardment Division were also particularly badly affected. With only two units of 29 planes finally joining together, numbers were insufficient for any deep penetration raid, and they were forced to fly an uneventful diversionary feint across the North Sea towards the Frisian Islands.

Vivid memories of the first costly August raid meant that morale among many bomber crews was unusually low. A medical officer present at the final briefing noted how the first mention of Schweinfurt, `shocked the crews completely… it was obvious many doubted that they would return’. Over Walcheren Island, the escorting P-47 fighters managed to repel the first German attacks, made by single-engined fighters from JG26. It was a deceptively easy start. As on the first Schweinfurt raid, the Luftwaffe made its appearance in force at around 1.00 p. m., immediately after the P-47 escorts had turned back near Aachen.

The Main Battle

Between Aachen and Frankfurt the now unprotected 1st Bombardment Division faced a relentless onslaught, mainly from FW 190s and Me 109s. For three solid hours the unescorted bombers were exposed to the full fury of the German flak and fighters. Wave after wave of fighters closed in for the kill. Most of the tactics used by the German fighters that horrendous day had been used before – formation attacks, the use of rockets and heavy-calibre cannon, air-to-air bombing, concentration on one group at a time and on stragglers. But never before had the enemy made such full and expertly coordinated use of these tactics. As Lieutenant General Eaker later privately confessed to his superior General Arnold, the Luftwaffe `turned in a performance unprecedented in its magnitude, in the cleverness with which it was planned, and in the severity with which it was executed’. Most alarming for the US aircrews was the sheer scale of the enemy attacks. General Adolf Galland recalled that he `managed to send up almost all the fighters and destroyers [Me 110s and Me 410s] available for the defence of the Reich, and, in addition to this, some fighters of the Third Air Fleet (Luftflotte 3) in France. Altogether some 300 day fighters and 40 destroyers took part in the battle which for us was the most successful of the year’.

One unpleasant variation of the Luftwaffe’s normal tactics was the use of single-engined fighters as a screen for twin-engined aircraft to close in for rocket attacks. These rockets, which travelled slowly enough to be clearly visible, presented an especially chilling sight. One US bomber pilot recalled watching in horror as one rocket arched through his formation heading straight for a nearby B-17. Striking the fuselage just to the rear of the cockpit it tore open the side of the plane and blew one wing completely off. The pilot briefly glimpsed the men in the cockpit still sitting at their controls, then they were engulfed in flames.

The German fighters systematically concentrated on one formation at a time, breaking it up with rocket attacks and then finishing off cripples with gunfire. In a further comment upon this desperate period after the P-47s had turned back, another pilot remembered how `all hell was let loose… the scene [was] similar to a parachute invasion, there were so many crews bailing out’. It was a sadly mauled 1st Bombardment Division that finally reached the target from Frankfurt. Its leading element, 40th Combat Bombardment Wing, lost 27 aircraft before Schweinfurt was even reached – its 350th Group losing all but three out of 15 aircraft.

By contrast, 3rd Bombardment Division escaped far more lightly. Departing the English coast about 10 miles south of Harwich at 12.25 p. m., five minutes after the 1st Bombardment Division, it picked up its escort of 53 P-47s 30 minutes later after crossing the Belgian coast. At Eupen, just after the escorting P-47s had turned back, a sharp southward turn took the B-17s away from the route of 1st Division towards Trier and Mosel. Flying to the east of Luxembourg, the bombers avoided the Ruhr Flak concentrations. At 2.05 p. m., 3rd Division again turned east towards the `Initial Point’ of the bombing run, near Darmstadt. Only between Mosel and Darmstadt did the air battle intensify, and the first serious pass was made around the Trier area. By the time they reached Schweinfurt their leading formation, 96th Combat Bombardment Group, had lost only one aircraft.

The Bombing Run

The US bombing over the target itself was unusually effective. A sudden change of course near the `Initial Point’ confused enemy fighters, and the air attacks diminished significantly as the B-17s turned into their bomb run. For once the weather was kind, and good visibility allowed 1st Division to drop a high concentration of bombs on all its Schweinfurt target areas. Even the crippled 40th Group put over half its bombs within 1,000 feet of the aiming point. The thick smoke from 1st Division’s attack meant that 3rd Division was less successful. In all, 228 surviving B-17s dropped some 395 tons of high explosive bombs and 88 tons of incendiary bombs on and about all three of the big ball-bearing plants. Of 1,222 high explosive bombs dropped, 143 fell within the factory area, 88 of which were direct hits on the factory buildings.

After the final bombing run, 1st Division turned south and then west below Schweinfurt, but there was no let-up in the Luftwaffe attacks. Fighters from JG3 and JG51 attacked the trailing 41st Wing, while FW 190s shot down three B-17s of the leading 379th Group. Around Metz and Stuttgart, twin-engined night fighters joined the attack, continuing as the bombers flew across France. By the time of its return to England, 1st Division had lost a further 10 aircraft, making a total of 45 for the mission, not counting crew losses in damaged aircraft.

Having reached the target with relatively few losses, 3rd Division suffered much more heavily on the homeward journey. Immediately after leaving Schweinfurt a very intense attack took place by about 160 single-engined aircraft, backed by twin-engined Me 110s, Me 210s, and Ju-88s, with the lower flying bomber groups as the main focus. Particularly badly hit again was 96th Group; 14 aircraft were lost in the return.

Poor weather again played a critical role on the final return leg as thick fog, reducing visibility to 100 yards, closed airfields in England. This prevented Allied fighters from escorting either division to their home bases, while German fighters from JG2 were able to pursue and inflict even more casualties on the dismayed and weary bomber crews as they limped across the normally friendly English Channel waters.

The Aftermath

The battle had been an unmitigated triumph for German defensive plans and a huge blow to US air power. Eaker’s doctrine of unescorted daylight precision bombing had been shattered beyond repair. Out of 260 bombers which pressed the attack, 60 B-17s had been shot down – an appalling loss rate of almost 25%. A further 12 aircraft which made it home were fit only for scrap, and 121 needed repairs. Only 62 out of 260 aircraft were left relatively unscathed. Over 600 men, many of them experienced crewmen, were missing either as prisoners or dead. Wild US claims of first 288, and then 186, enemy fighters destroyed were soon disproved – the Germans lost 38 fighters destroyed in combat and 20 damaged.

The attack on 14 October remained the most important and successful of the 16 Allied bombing raids on Schweinfurt in the course of the war. Albert Speer later suggested that 67% of the plants’ ball-bearing production had been lost – a possibly exaggerated figure. German reorganization and redeployment of factories was so rapid and thorough that further attacks – the next now delayed by four months due to the terrible US losses – were far less successful.

Forever known as `Black Thursday’ in US air force history, the Schweinfurt raid represented the highest percentage loss to any major USAAF task force during the whole wartime campaign. Only with the development of the long-range P-51 Mustang fighter, capable, with its extra fuel tanks, of escorting heavy bombers all the way to such distant targets, did deep penetration daylight precision bombing become a feasible way of waging the war in the air.


This C-type camera is fitted to the rear cockpit of a BE 2c reconnaissance aircraft. The observer operated the shutter of the camera by pulling a cord attached to its trigger. The C-type utilized the body of the earlier A-type camera with the addition of a plate-changing top and a second magazine. The first magazine held 18 photographic plates, stacked face down over the camera’s focal plane. Once exposed, each plate slid over to a frame in the second magazine, into which it fell.

Before the Battle of Neuve Chapelle began on March 10, 1915, reconnaissance aircraft from 2 and 3 Squadrons of the RFC photographed the entire German defensive position successfully at the point where an enemy salient jutted out into the British front lines (above left). The German trenches detected on the photographs were then traced carefully onto a skeleton map (above right), on which details of the British plan of attack were eventually superimposed. Copies of this map were distributed to the attacking infantry and supporting artillery as part of the preparations for the British assault.

This aerial view of Gaza and the surrounding countryside was shot by an Australian pilot in early 1918. The RFC had started photographing the whole of the area in which the British were confronting the Turks the previous year. Air reconnaissance played an important part in paving the way for the British and Commonwealth breakthrough.

Aerial photographs were taken vertically downward or at an oblique angle, which allowed cameras to “see” farther behind the enemy lines. They had varied and equally important uses. First and foremost, both sides used them as the basis for constructing detailed maps of enemy lines. Photographs could also pinpoint artillery positions, while pilots and observers could detect and record reinforcements of men and materials being brought up to the front.

The British were the first to make use of coordinated aerial photography. In advance of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which began on March 10, 1915, two RFC reconnaissance squadrons successfully photographed the entire German defensive system at the point where a salient jutted out into the BEF’s positions close to their junction with the French Army. The enemy trenches shown on the photographs were traced onto a skeleton map on which details of the British plan of attack were superimposed. It was the start of a process that was to lead to the development of a whole new science of photographic interpretation, which was to play a major part in the future military direction of the war.


Aerial success at Neuve Chapelle triggered a decision to speed up the expansion of the RFC and its photographic capabilities. In August 1915, Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Trenchard was appointed its new commander. A dominant personality with a foghorn of a voice, which earned him the nickname “Boom,” Trenchard was air power’s most fervent apostle. Immediately, he started to plan for a massive expansion in the size of the RFC, pushing for the introduction of faster airplanes with more powerful engines and equipped with better weapons. He also advocated the development of bombers.

Effective aerial reconnaissance was an integral part of Trenchard’s master plan. He immediately put the 32-year-old John Moore-Brabazon, who in 1909 had become the first Englishman to fly in an airplane in Britain, in charge of RFC aerial photography. Sergeant Major Victor Laws, the RFC’s only experienced photographic specialist, was assigned to work alongside him. In September, Laws returned to Britain to set up the new RFC School of Photography at Farnborough. Two months later, he became its head.

At Farnborough, candidates were trained in all aspects of aerial photography. They learned how to develop and print glass plates, make enlargements, maintain aerial cameras, and use photographs to make maps. They were also taught how to use shadows to measure the scale of objects on the ground, spot enemy machine gun and artillery positions, locate unit headquarters, and to analyze troop movements. Having completed their training, they were posted back to France to staff the photographic units that were soon being attached to each frontline squadron.

Results became more and more impressive. Before the Battle of the Somme began in July 1916, all the German positions had been photographed by the RFC and detailed maps of them plotted. The French, with their “Plans Directeur,” excelled even the RFC in the amount of detailed information their maps contained. Gleaned over time and intended primarily to assist the French artillery, they clearly identified the most vital points in the enemy defenses.

Each sector of the French-held front had its own “Chef de Cartographie,” selected for his specialist knowledge of the particular area. According to one American observer, this involved “going out not only into the foremost observation posts but even into ‘No-Man’s Land,’ as well as analyzing all the aerial photographs and other intelligence available to him.” In addition, in the person of Captain Eugene Marie Edmond Pepin, the French possessed one of the greatest pioneers of aerial photographic interpretation to emerge on either side during the course of the entire war.


By December 1917, a vast photographic map of the whole of the Western Front had been painstakingly built up; the map was amended constantly as new photographs were obtained. The ever-increasing number of photographs being taken enabled the Allied commanders finally to check the great German offensive of March 1918 and then to launch their war-winning counteroffensives that summer. The Germans could not match the massive Allied photographic effort, although, by mid-1917, their Imperial Air Service was taking around 4,000 aerial photographs a day, covering the entire Western Front roughly twice a month.

Between January 1918 and the Armistice that November, Allied airplanes took more than 10 million aerial photographs over France and Belgium, by which time the Americans had arrived to complement British and French efforts. Following its entry into the war, the USA was quick to learn from previous precepts. Aerial observers were taught the skills of aerial photography at Langley Field, Virginia; Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Madison Barracks in New York City; and the Eastman-Kodak plant in Rochester, New York. An aerial photographic center was also established in Tours, France, where newly arrived US air observers could draw directly on British and French experience.

American realization of the importance of thorough photographic interpretation was swift. An official US Army handbook published in 1918 stated clearly how aerial photography had become “one of the most important sources of information” at a commander’s disposal. The handbook continued: “In fact, it alone makes possible the exact location of the enemy’s defensive works and their detailed study. The enemy, realizing its importance, tries to render this study difficult. Skillful camouflage, a large number of defenses, and imitation works are some of the means employed. As a result, the study of aerial photographs must be entrusted to specialists, who should be provided with all possible means of verification.” American photographic interpreters accordingly were tasked with studying the details of German fortifications, unit structure, and the way in which the Germans went about organizing attack and defense.

Photographic reconnaissance played its part in war zones far from the Western Front as well. Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) airplanes scouted for the British and Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) when they landed in Gallipoli in 1915, while RFC and RNAS machines supported British, South African, and Belgian forces from the Congo in the campaign in German East Africa (now Tanzania). One of their successes came when an RNAS seaplane spotted and photographed the German cruiser Königsberg as she lay skulking in the delta of the Rufiji River in April that year. The Königsberg was damaged by British river monitors on July 5; she was finally sunk a week later with accurate gunnery spotting by an RNAS airplane providing the key to the ship’s destruction.

Palestine and the Sinai Desert were among other areas that witnessed substantial air reconnaissance activity. It started in early 1915 when Turkish forces advancing across the Sinai on the Suez Canal were spotted by British and French airplanes. Subsequently, the Turks were repulsed. Two years later, the boot was on the other foot when a largely British and Australian army, commanded by General Edmund Allenby, advanced across the Sinai in its turn to defeat the Turks in the battle of Gaza. Allenby then pressed northward, capturing Jerusalem, occupying Palestine, and, by the time the war came to an end, securing Allied control of much of Syria.

Much of the territory over which Allenby’s troops were to advance had never been surveyed or mapped thoroughly. RFC photographic reconnaissance was to change all that. In late 1916, photographic officer Hugh Hamshaw-Thomas was put in command of aerial reconnaissance. A one-time Cambridge paleontologist now based in Egypt, Hamshaw-Thomas approached his photographic tasks in the same studious way in which he had previously unearthed Jurassic fossils. His unit constructed huge photo mosaics—sets of photographs that were literally stuck together—to create an aerial view of a large area. Hamshaw-Thomas used these to produce detailed maps of more than 500 sq. miles (1,295km2) of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. His painstaking labors demonstrated yet again how important aerial photography was as an adjunct to military intelligence.

VPAF Fresco

A VPAF MiG-17 dives.

A series of fighter planes, named after the Soviet aircraft design team of Mikoyan and Gurevich. Both Soviet-made MiGs and Chinese copies are referred to as MiGs. The MiGs used by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) were typically armed with cannon (23-mm or 30-mm) and/or short-range Atoll heat-seeking missiles.

The MiG-17, sometimes called Fresco by the Americans, was a small, short-range fighter. It was not very fast but could turn more tightly than the American fighters. Some of those used by the DRV were made in China, under the designation Shenyang J-5. When the United States launched its first air strikes against North Vietnam, Operation Pierce Arrow, on August 5, 1964, after the Tonkin Gulf incidents, there were no MiGs in North Vietnam, but a group of DRV pilots were being trained in southern China to fly MiG-17s. They flew back to Vietnam in their MiGs on August 6. The first success against U.S. aircraft was on April 4, 1965, when two MiG-17s shot down two F-105s near the Ham Rong Bridge in Thanh Hoa province. The first U.S. success against the MiGs was on June 17, when two F-4B Phantoms shot down two MiG-17s.

The MiG-19, sometimes called Farmer by the Americans, was not quite so maneuverable but considerably faster. The DRV only acquired a few MiG-19s during the war, some or all of which were made in China under the designation Shenyang J-6.

The MiG-21, sometimes called Fishbed by the Americans, began to arrive in late 1965 and became available for combat in February 1966. It was faster than the MiG-17 but less maneuverable, and also gave its pilot a much more restricted field of vision. The MiG-21 was the main DRV fighter in the late stages of the war.


The seemingly ceaseless series of American air raids on Noi Bai, Kep, Kien An and Hoa Lac airfields between January 1967 and March 1968 eventually had the desired effect of all but grounding the VPAF by the early spring. Some 17 MiG fighters and three helicopters had been destroyed in these attacks, as well as a number of fuel tankers. Buildings and aircraft handling areas had also been badly damaged. The four key bases were put out of action on 36 separate occasions, totalling 120 days during the 15-month airfield offensive.

Despite these raids, Tho Xuan in Thanh Hoa Province was completed in early 1968, which meant that the VPAF could now operate from here in defence of the southern front. The bomb-damaged airfields at Vinh, Dong Hoi, Cam Thuy (in Thanh Hoa Province), Anh Son (in Nghe An Province) and Gat (in Quang Binh Province) were also rebuilt. Later, the airfields at Tho Xuan, Vinh, Anh Son and Dong Hoi received new communications systems and additional runways. Closer to the capital, the VPAF command concentrated on improving three main airfields at Hanoi, Gia Lam and Noi Bai, as well as organising support command stations at Hoa Lac, Kien An and Tho Xuan. The forward command remained in Military District No 4, whilst Tho Xuan airfield was expanded to become both a major VPAF base in its own right and home for the increased activities planned to the south of the country.

In May, the Commander-in-Chief Nguyen Van Tien, Chief of the General Staff Tran Manh, his deputy, Nguyen Phuc Trach and other high-ranking VPAF officers visited Military District No 4 to assess the state of its airfields, study the weather conditions and consider enemy tactics. The construction of new airfields was ordered, together with the re-construction of existing ones. The few serviceable aircraft were regularly subjected to temporary deployments, to Noi Bai, Gia Lam, Kep, Hoa Lac, Kien An, Tho Xuan and Vinh, according to operational requirements.

Between the end of 1967 and May 1968 many groups of newly graduating pilots returned home from the Soviet Union and from the air force school at Xiangyun, in China’s Yunnan Province. Among them were 50 MiG-17-qualified and 30 MiG-21-qualified pilots whose arrival increased the number available for frontline duty.

In the six months from April 1968, the Americans flew 79,000 missions against Military District No 4 from Lam River, in Nghe An Province, to Gianh River, in Quang Binh Province. Units of the 921st and 923rd FRs not involved in the defence of Hanoi played an active part in defending the district’s transport routes, as well as participating in battles in South Vietnam and Laos. In addition, preparations were made for future land and sea battles.

The Americans, however, felt that the Vietnamese pilots in Military District No 4 were not able to fight effectively, and therefore attached no great importance to their operations. The VPAF also suffered from the close proximity of US Navy carrier groups to this long and narrow region of the country that was hemmed in by mountains on one side and the sea on the other. The weather was also generally bad and unpredictable.

In early April 1968, as part of the VPAF plan to conduct operations over Military District No 4, the 923rd FR sent two MiG-17s down to Vinh airfield. They were soon spotted by the enemy, however, the Americans mounting more than 100 bomber sorties in a savage raid on the airfield. Both MiGs were so badly damaged that they could not be flown again, the jets subsequently being broken up and useable parts transported to Hanoi by truck.

From late 1967, the 923rd FR had operated a supplementary command station at Tho Xuan airfield under the leadership of Lam Van Lich and Mai Duc Toai. By early May 1968, the fighter regiment had completed its preparatory work to allow it to fly combat sorties over Military District No 4. It was during a major engagement on 7 May north of Vinh that the Americans became aware that MiG-21s were now operating over Military District No 4. Both a MiG-21 and an F-4B from VF-96, embarked in USS Enterprise (CVAN-65), were lost during the clash. In the wake of this action both the US Navy and the USAF began increasing the number of escort fighters assigned to strikes in southern North Vietnam. In order to protect the bombers more effectively, they were assigned to fly in trail formation in two- or four-aircraft sections, ready to react when MiGs were encountered.

Having seen little in the way of aerial action since mid-February due to a shortage of aircraft, the 923rd sent a pair of MiG-17s southward on 14 June after the VPAF HQ command post and VPAF Deputy Commander Dao Dinh Luyen decided to deploy both MiG-17s and MiG-21s to intercept American strike formations. That morning, future aces Luu Huy Chao and Le Hai flew from Gia Lam down to Tho Xuan. After being briefed on their mission by the regiment’s command duty officer, ace Nguyen Van Bay, they were placed on combat standby. That same afternoon, radar stations detected US Navy aircraft 60 km east of Cua Sot. At 1428 hrs, Luu Huy Chao and Le Hai took off from Tho Xuan, the latter subsequently reporting;

‘Our flight flew south, following Route 15. We flew at an altitude of about 300 m, with mountains towering alongside us. After passing Nghia Dan, the ground command post ordered us to climb to 1500 m and head for Thanh Chuong. We were still at 1500 m when the mobile ground control station at Quang Binh alerted us to six F-4s 100 degrees to our left and flying at an altitude of 3000 m. We increased speed, and when we reached 2000 m I reported sighting the target. Chao gave the order, “You attack. I’ll cover you.”

‘Because I’d switched on my afterburner in time, I was able to turn inside and quickly close on an aircraft trying to make a diving turn. With Chao covering me, I turned left and tried to hit an F-4, but with no success. The enemy flight leader made a steep turn. I chose to follow the wingman, turned left and dropped the nose of my MiG to lose some altitude and close up. I fired two long bursts. The F-4 caught fire and crashed near our radar station. I made a left climbing turn to regain my original wingman position.

‘Suddenly, another F-4 popped up ahead of us at an altitude of 1000 m. I closed in before opening fire, but I didn’t hit the F-4, which escaped. Chao recognised the enemy’s attempt to leave on a southeasterly heading. He turned right and found an F-4 dead ahead. He fired a burst at it, but the range was too great and he missed. Turning right, he saw another F-4 heading for the coast. Chao positioned himself behind the target and fired two or three quick bursts. The F-4 blew up and crashed.’

As the rest of the Phantom IIs departed, the MiG-17 pair flew along Route No 15 and landed safely at Tho Xuan. US Navy records do not confirm these losses, however.

Since the deployment to Military District No 4, both the 921st and 923rd FRs had emerged victorious from three successive aerial battles, claiming four US Navy Phantom IIs destroyed (only two were confirmed by US Navy records). Once they had recovered from the surprise of encountering MiGs so far from their northern bases, the US Navy in particular began employing new tactics against the VPAF fighters. It assigned a larger number of F-8 Crusaders to conduct fighter missions and deception operations designed to lure MiGs into engaging them. Usually flying in step formation, with extended separation between aircraft to facilitate splitting up to attack opposing fighters, the F-8 pilots also tried to lure the MiGs into flying over the Gulf of Tonkin within range of missile-armed warships. Finally, they exploited locations with parallel mountain ranges, enabling them to fly into North Vietnamese airspace at low altitude without being detected by radar.

These tactics paid dividends when, on 9 and 29 July, the 923rd FR lost its two most-experienced MiG-17 pilots in combat with F-8s. The unit had established a number of visual observation posts in the Cam Bridge and Vinh airfield areas in an effort to negate the new tactics being used by the US Navy. The 923rd had also formed a forward combat element headed by deputy CO Le Oanh and ground control officer Le Viet Dien. Nguyen Phi Hung and Nguyen Phu Ninh were sent to Tho Xuan on 9 July to intercept the low-flying fighters, both pilots being ordered to covertly take off and then circle over Thung Nua Mountain awaiting further orders.

The pair took off and followed Highway 15 at an altitude of 150 m, and after passing Nghia Dan GCI informed them of two F-8s flying over the Cam area. Heading for Thanh Chuong, Ninh spotted the Crusaders ahead and at 45 degrees to the right of them. As they climbed to 1500 m Hung ordered Ninh to attack, the latter immediately switching on his afterburner and turning in hard. The two F-8s also went in to afterburner and turned for the mountains. As Ninh continued the chase, the F-8s split up. Ninh pursued the Crusader that had turned to the left, firing three cannon bursts at it – his shells hit the top of the jet’s fuselage. Ninh then made a hard turn to break away, spotting Hung pursuing another F-8 towards the Gulf of Tonkin as he did so. Nguyen Phi Hung stuck with his opponent and his burst of cannon fire hit the F-8, which he claimed dived into the sea (according to US Navy records, no F-8s were lost on this date).

The command post then ordered the MiG pair to head for home, but during their return flight they were intercepted by more F-8s over Nghia Dan. Hung told Ninh to continue back to base, then turned around to attack their pursuers. All alone, low on fuel and almost out of ammunition, Hung spotted one of the F-8s launching a missile at his MiG. Ninh, meanwhile, attempted to rescue his leader, but after failing to find Hung he descended to lower altitude before returning to Tho Xuan. Hung avoided two enemy missiles but his aircraft was hit by the third. Immediately turning back towards the coast, he was too low to eject and was killed. By shooting down the F-8 over Ha Tinh, 25-year-old 1Lt Nguyen Phi Hung had scored his fifth victory and had, briefly, become an ace. He had then been shot down by F-8E pilot Lt Cdr John Nichols of VF-191, embarked in Ticonderoga.

The US Navy had another tactic up its sleeve when it came to dealing with increased MiG activity in Military District No 4. The idea was that when VPAF jets were encountered, a flight of F-8s would try to lure them out over the Gulf of Tonkin, where another flight of Crusaders would be lying in wait. Such tactics were employed on 29 July, when a large formation of US Navy strike aircraft, escorted by fighters, attacked transport and other targets at Thanh Chuong, Vinh and Nghe An. In response, VPAF HQ ordered its fighter pilots to defend Route 7 and the Duc Tho and Gianh ferry crossings.

According to the Vietnamese plan, the MiG-17s would fight at low altitude while MiG-21s engaged other enemy aircraft at high altitude. At 1016 hrs command duty officer Dao Dinh Luyen ordered the primary MiG-17 flight of Luu Huy Chao, Hoang Ich, Le Hai and Le Si Diep to take off and head for Nghia Dan, in Nghe An Province. Four minutes later the MiG-21 pair took off to provide support and cover for the mission. Complete radio silence was maintained.

The MiG-17s climbed to an altitude of 2000 m, at which point Chao spotted F-8s four kilometres away. The MiG-17s duly engaged eight Crusaders in a hectic dogfight. While Chao was chasing one of the American fighters he spotted another aircraft flying across his nose from left to right. He immediately turned towards it and fired from a range of 400 m. His shells hit the F-8’s nose. He fired a second burst until his ammunition was exhausted. Chao broke off the engagement and turned away hard. When he rolled his aircraft back to level flight in order to see what was happening he spotted a missile streaking towards Hoang Ich’s MiG. Chao shouted over the radio for Ich to turn hard to avoid the weapon.

Le Hai was also in the thick of the action, as he recalled years later;

‘I spotted an F-8 making a left-hand turn and manoeuvred hard to turn inside him. When the range was right I fired my first burst, but my shells went behind his tail. I fired a second burst and the shells hit the F-8, which rolled completely upside-down. I broke away and saw another F-8 flying underneath and parallel to me. I immediately rolled inverted and dived in pursuit of the enemy aircraft. When I had a stable view of the jet in my gunsight I fired a burst from my cannon but soon ran out of ammunition. The F-8 fled towards the Gulf of Tonkin. I returned to Tho Xuan airfield.

‘We lost our comrade Le Si Diep in that battle. He’d just returned from hospital after being wounded so hadn’t yet recovered his strength. For that reason, he was left behind when we turned sharply. Just as I took aim and was preparing to fire at the rearmost F-8, I heard Chao’s voice shouting, “Eject! Eject!” Looking back, I saw that Diep’s MiG had turned into a ball of flames but I didn’t see his parachute open.’

The F-8 claimed by Le Hai represented his fifth victory, making him an ace according to VPAF records. US Navy records, however, did not confirm that any Crusader had fallen victim to a MiG. Fellow ace Luu Huy Chao also claimed an F-8 destroyed. Le Si Diep’s fighter had been hit by a missile launched by Cdr Guy Cane in an F-8E from VF-53, embarked in Bon Homme Richard. Diep had tried to level his wings and climb but his MiG-17 crashed northwest of Tan Ky, in Nghe An Province. 1Lt Le Si Diep ejected but it was an unsuccessful escape, and he was listed as killed in action.

On 13 August the VPAF-ADF issued order 730/TM-QC signed by Col Dang Tinh, command CO, concerning the organisation of air force units, including the 923rd FR. The regiment was reinforced with additional personnel for its combat, logistical, communications, ground control and technical groups. This took its total complement to more than 400, including 80 pilots. The regiment subsequently organised 195 training days, during which nearly 4000 takeoffs were made and more than 1500 hours flown. In addition, there were 120 nocturnal flights totalling 20 hours. To improve its infrastructure, the regiment built 198 bunkers to provide protection against cluster bombs, as well as three cast-concrete shelters for personnel, aircraft and equipment.

From the end of the year, following an order from the MoD, the VPAF’s presence in Military District No 4 was reduced to a token force. This followed in the wake of President Johnson’s announcement on 1 November of a unilateral cessation of bombing by US forces, thus signalling an end to the long-running Operation Rolling Thunder. The VPAF could now take stock of what it had achieved. In the 1305 days of the US offensive (2 March 1965 to 2 November 1968) the VPAF had flown 1602 sorties and claimed 218 aircraft of 19 different types destroyed. Against the well-trained and numerically superior American forces, the VPAF, with fewer pilots and aircraft, had gradually developed its proficiency so that losses had been reduced as lessons were learned. The MiG fighter regiments had managed to provide a satisfactory response, with an effective defence of both Hanoi and Military District No 4. North Vietnam had started with 36 pilots and 36 MiG fighters, and by 1968 it had two fighter regiments with double the number of fighter pilots and five times the number of aircraft.