MiG-15 and Sea Fury

HMS Ocean and her escorts departed Kure on the evening of 8 August resuming operations off the Korean coast the following day. Unlike the previous patrol the weather was exceptionally fine which increased the sortie rate. This would be the day that the Sea Furies of No.802 NAS would tangle with MiG jet fighters. Having launched at 0600 hours in the morning Lt Carmichael, Lt Davis and Sub Lts Ellis and Haines departed Ocean and headed into the Pyongyang area to reconnoitre the railway line. Close to the village of Chinji-ri the flight spotted eight jet aircraft to the north. Quickly recognised as enemy fighters the Sea Furies dumped their external fuel tanks and assumed battle positions. Such was the pace of the battle that Sub Lt Ellis noticed streams of tracer passing each side of his aircraft. Calling ‘Break’ the Sea Furies broke off into a scissors break. It would appear from subsequent events that either the MiG pilots were inexperienced or they believed that their jet powered mounts would see them through without undertaking any clever manoeuvres. The result was that the Communist pilots were being shot at by the Sea Fury pilots from all angles thus Sub Lt Ellis was easily able to place hits on the wings of one MiG which limped away from the battle escorted by two others. Overall the dog fight lasted no more than five minutes after which the MiGs pulled away although there was an explosion on a hillside close by as an aircraft crashed. A call round the flight revealed that all the Sea Furies had survived and it was realised that the Fleet Air Arm had successfully shot down a jet fighter. Although Lt Carmichael as flight leader was accredited with the kill the other members of the flight were credited with a quarter each as it was impossible to ascertain who had fired the fatal shots. Overall this one fight had resulted in one destroyed aircraft with two others badly damaged. Further MiG reports were arriving at Ocean even as the Carmichael flight was heading home. One of the first to encounter this next wave was Lt Clark whose Sea Fury was hit by cannon fire in the starboard wing which began to blaze merrily. The pilot dropped the aircraft’s drop tanks and by careful side slipping managed to put out the fire. Eventually the badly damaged Sea Fury touched down on the deck of Ocean. Escorting Lt Clark was his wingman Lt McEnery who claimed hits on the tail of one of the attacking MiGs. The next attack was against a flight led by Lt Hallam who eventually had to break clear although his aircraft was hit by a 37 mm cannon shell behind the cockpit which left the pilot with no other option but to make a wheels-up landing at Chodo. His wingman Lt Jones managed to return to the carrier while a rescue mission was launched to collect Lt Hallam. Lt Carmichael was awarded the DSC and would eventually become a Commander. While the Sea Furies were tangling with the MiGs the Fireflies were dropping their bombs on a village just south of Chinnampo with great success. The following day was just as eventful. As before the Sea Furies departed to carry out strikes against railway targets led again by Lt Carmichael when yet again MiGs were spotted. External drop tanks were quickly cleared away and another dog fight quickly developed. Eventually the Sea Furies managed to reach cloud thus ending the engagement although at least one MiG was seen to limp away trailing black smoke courtesy of pilots Davis and Ellis. While the MiGs had sacrificed altitude to engage the Sea Furies it was unlikely that this would always be the case. Thus it was proposed that in theatre USAF F-86 Sabres should act as escorts to the Royal Navy fighters. However due to increasing commitments the USAF was not able to provide cover for these flights, therefore, further sorties had to be timed to coincide with F-86 patrols over Korea. When the Sabres were not available the Sea Furies flew in formations of eight aircraft that were intended to give cover to the attack aircraft while presenting the MiGs with too many targets. Even with these restrictions the Ocean air wing carried on regardless hitting all sorts of strategic and tactical targets. On 11 August this sudden flurry of jet fighter activity by the north ceased and on 13 August the carrier underwent a day of replenishment. Flying resumed again on 14 August and was a great deal quieter than before as the air wing concentrated on military targets in the Ongjin area, many of which were mortar positions. Having attacked the military positions the Sea Furies turned their attentions to road and rail bridges. However, No.802 NAS did lose an aircraft after a RATOG launch. Sub Lt Clark had used his RATOG to gain height rather than forward momentum on this occasion but once the rockets had finished firing the aircraft stalled and dived inverted into the sea. The pilot managed to escape and was successfully picked up by the plane-guard helicopter. Over the following days a similar pattern of missions was followed before the carrier departed on 18 August for Kure to avoid typhoon Karen. HMS Ocean arrived at Kure on the evening of 19 August mooring at the jetty opposite HMS Unicorn where replacement aircraft and stores were transferred.

With the squadrons fully re-stored with manpower and aircraft HMS Ocean put to sea on 26 August and resumed operations the following day. Bad weather dampened flying until 30 August when sorties were launched in support of landings near Paengyong-do. Further air support flights were undertaken over the Ongjin peninsula in support of further landings during which one Sea Fury was slightly damaged by ground fire. Other aircraft from Ocean continued to attack the usual range of targets and all aircraft returned safely after which the carrier withdrew for replenishment. Operations resumed on 1 September with the Sea Furies attacking bridges while the Fireflies concentrated on buildings thought to contain stores, ammunition or troops. Over the two following days Ocean’s aircraft continued their usual pattern of sorties although there was a new twist to these operations as a North Korean came on air posing as an American operations controller, however the pilots were suspicious as they were controlling a gunnery shoot for a Royal Navy Frigate. Flying on 4 September was cancelled as Typhoon Mary was moving in the vicinity of South Korea. Combat flying resumed the following day and all missions were completed without loss. Once the last aircraft had returned the carrier departed for Sasebo and arrived on 6 September. After a seven day sojourn in harbour HMS Ocean left Sasebo to resume patrol duties. On 14 September flying resumed with the Sea Furies and Fireflies spending much of their time searching for targets worthy of attention. Over the following few days a similar pattern of events occurred until on 17 September the Sea Furies struck at sluice gates controlling water flow at the mouths of the Haeju and Yonan rivers. All strikes were successful and the gates and supporting walls were destroyed by bombs. Over the following two days the air wing continued to strike their designated targets but on these occasions the crews were warned about the possibility of MiGs in the area although none were encountered. A replenishment day occupied 20 September. The next day MiGs were reported to be much in evidence and, therefore, some missions were diverted away from their primary targets. On 21 September No.802 NAS would have the Sea Fury of Lt Graham struck off charge due to the amount of anti-aircraft fire damage it had suffered whilst another would be totally destroyed when it ploughed into the flight-deck barrier. On 24 September the carrier undertook its final sorties of the patrol and then departed for Kure arriving on 25 September. Mooring alongside the jetty opposite Unicorn the usual process of exchanging aircraft and replenishing stores was undertaken.


Lioré et Olivier LeO 451

Lucio Perinotto

Although the French had been early pioneers of military aviation and had developed important combat aircraft during World War I, few French designs played important roles in World War II. The most significant French bomber was the Liori et Olivier LeO 451. Introduced in 1937, this medium bomber, crewed by four, was driven by two 1,060-horsepower Gnome-Rhone 14N engines and could achieve a top speed of 298 miles per hour. Service ceiling was 29,530 feet, and range was 1,802 miles. The LeO 451 carried a bomb load of 3,086 pounds and was armed with a single 20-millimeter cannon and five 7.5-millimeter machine guns. Only 373 of these aircraft had been delivered to French forces before the armistice was signed with Germany on June 25, 1940. However, more were delivered to the Vichy French Air Force.

The LeO.451 was France’s best medium-bomber, powered by a pair of Gnome-Rhone 14N 48/49 or 38/39 14-cylinder air-cooled, 1,060-hp radial engines for a maximum speed of 300 mph at 13,125 feet, although its 20-mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannon firing from a dorsal turret, single 7.5 mm MAC 1934 in a “dustbin” retractable ventral turret, and one fixed-forward firing 7.5mm machine-gun comprised inadequate defense. Fuselage and wingroot bays stowed a 3,475-pound payload. As testimony to its general excellence, the LeO 451, a favorite import with Italian Air Force crews, was the last, pre-war French design to leave active French Air Force duty when it was finally retired in September 1957.

LeO 451. Armee de l’Air de Vichy. Aircraft with mine search ring, 1942.

The LeO 451 was the best French bomber of World War II and one of few available in quantity. It fought well during the Battle of France and also flew capably in the hands of Vichy French pilots.

No sooner had the Armee de l’Air become independent in April 1933 than it pressed for immediate expansion and modernization programs. Part of this entailed development of a new four-seat medium bomber capable of day and night operations. The medium strategic bomber LeO 451, designed by engineer Pierre Mercier and manufactured by the SNCASE company, made its first flight in January 1937 and entered service in the French Armée de l’Air in 1938. It was an all-metal, midwing, twin-engine craft with a glazed nose and twin rudders. In contrast to the ungainly aircraft of the early 1930s, the LeO 451 was beautifully streamlined and performed as good as it looked. Operationally, however, the type suffered from technical detriments that were never fully corrected. It had been designed for 1,600- horsepower engines at a time when no such power plants were available. Hence, employing 1,000-horsepower motors, LeO 451s remained significantly underpowered and never fulfilled their design potential. Worse still, when the French government decided to acquire the bomber in quantity, bureaucratic lethargy militated against mass production. By September 1939 only five LeO 451s had been delivered.

The German onslaught in Poland energized French aircraft production, and when the Battle of France commenced in May 1940 around 450 LeO 451s were available. They had been designed for medium-level bombing, but the speed of the German blitzkrieg necessitated their employment in low-level ground attacks. The bomber served well in that capacity, but, exposed to enemy fighters and antiaircraft fire, serious losses ensued. Yet the type remained in production after France’s capitulation, with an additional 150 being acquired. These were actively flown against the Allies in North Africa before Vichy France was occupied by the Germans. They confiscated about 94 LeO 451s; stripped of armament, these were flown as transports. A handful survived into the postwar period as survey aircraft.

The all-metal monocoque had a retractable landing gear, and double fin and rudder. It was operated by a crew of four (pilot, bomb aimer/radio operator/nose gunner, ventral gunner, and dorsal gunner), and had a length of 17.17 m (56 ft 4 in), a span of 22.52 m (73 ft 11 in), and a height of 4.24 m (17 ft 2 in). The two Hispano-Suiza 14 Aa 6/7 radial engines were on later models replaced with two 1,030-hp 14-cylinder, air-cooled Gnome Rhone 14 20/21 radial engines. The aircraft had a maximum speed of 480 km/h (480 mph), a maximum ceiling of 9,000 m (29,530 ft) and a maximum range of 2,900 km (1,800 miles). Although mainly relying on high speed and altitude, the LeO 451 was armed with one 20-mm Hispano-Suiza Hs 404 machine gun placed in dorsal turret, one forward-firing 7.5-mm Mac 34 machine gun mounted in the glazed nose, and one 7.5-mm Mac 34 machine gun placed in a retractable “dustbin” ventral turret. The aircraft could carry a load of 1,500 kg (3,305 lbs) in bombs, stored in fuselage and wing root bays. Produced between 1938 and 1942, 561 LeO 451 were built.


LeO 45.01

First prototype, powered by two Hispano-Suiza 14AA-6 / Hispano-Suiza 14AA-7 radial piston engines.

LeO 451.01

The first LeO 45.01 prototype was redesignated, fitted with two Gnome-Rhone 14R engines.

LeO 451

Production version variously fitted with Gnome-Rhône 14N-48 / Gnome-Rhône 14N-49 or Gnome-Rhône 14N-38 / Gnome-Rhône 14N-39 or Gnome & Rhône 14N-46 / Gnome-Rhône 14N-47 engines

LeO 451C

Twelve LeO 451T aircraft were redesignated, used as mail transport aircraft for Air France.

LeO 451E

Post-war flying laboratory, 11 modified.

LeO 451T

German-captured bombers modified for freight duty, seating for up to 17 troops. Around about 50 aircraft were modified.

LeO 453

Post-war conversion to high-speed transports and search-and-rescue aircraft, powered by two 895 kW (1,200 hp) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-67 engines, seating for 6 passengers, range 3,500 km (1,890 nm, 2,175 mi) at 400 km/h (215 knots, 250 mph) cruising speed, 40 modified.

LeO 454

Bristol Hercules II engines, one prototype left unfinished.

LeO 455

High-altitude version with turbo-supercharged Gnome-Rhône 14R engines producing 1,375 hp (1025 kW) each, 400 ordered, one prototype built. The aircraft flew on 12 March 1939 but was later destroyed on the ground.

LeO 455Ph

Post-war photo-reconnaissance variant, powered by two 1,600 hp (1195 kW) SNECMA 14R engines. Five LeO 451s were modified and were used by the Institut Géographique National.

LeO 456 (LeO 451M)

Naval version for the French Navy, 68 ordered. Also known as the LeO 451M.

LeO 458

Wright GR-2600-A5B engines, ten ordered

PZL P. 37 Los

The Los (Elk) was a world-class attack bomber and Poland’s most formidable air weapon of World War II. It arrived in only limited quantities but nonetheless performed heroic work throughout a hopelessly lopsided campaign.

The amazing P. 37 Los had its origins in the experimental P.30 civilian transport of 1930, which failed to attract a buyer. That year a design team under Jerzy Dabrowksi conceived a modern bomber version of the same craft and proffered it to the government in 1934. A prototype was then authorized, first flying in 1936. The P. 37 marked a pinnacle in medium bomber development for, in terms of design and performance, it was years ahead of contemporary machines. This was a sleek, all-metal, low-wing monoplane employing stressed skin throughout. Although relatively low-powered, its broad-chord wings permitted amazing lifting abilities, and it could hoist more than 5,000 pounds of bombs aloft-the equivalent of half its own empty weight! No medium bomber in the world-and few heavy bombers for that matter-could approach such performance. The Los entered production in 1937, and the first units became operational the following year. The government originally ordered 150 machines, but resistance from the Polish High Command, which viewed medium bombers as expensive and unnecessary, managed to reduce procurement by a third. Meanwhile, other countries expressed great interest in the P. 37, with Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, and Yugoslavia placing sizable orders. A total of 103 machines were built.

By the advent of World War II in September 1939, the Polish air force could muster only 36 fully equipped P. 37s. Several score sat available in waiting but lacked bombsights and other essential equipment. Nonetheless, the Los roared into action, inflicting considerable damage upon advancing German columns. When the outcome of the fight became helpless, around 40 surviving machines fled to neutral Romania and were absorbed into its air force. Within two years these fugitives were reconditioned and flown with good effect against the Soviet Union.

Dimensions: wingspan, 58 feet, 8 inches; length, 42 feet, 4 inches; height, 16 feet, 8 inches Weights: empty, 9,293 pounds; gross, 19,577 pounds Power plant: 2 x 925-horsepower Bristol Pegasus radial engines Performance: maximum speed, 273 miles per hour; ceiling, 19,685 feet; range, 1,616 miles Armament: 3 x 7.7mm machine guns; up to 5,688 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1938-1939

Brygada Bombowa

In the spring of 1939 a new concept for the application of aviation into a conflict was established. Within this plan it was determined that a large force of bomber aircraft should be formed. Specific guidelines, which modified this plan, were not published until July 1939. The bomber group (later named Brygada Bombowa) was given the following tasks, in accordance with the guidelines as they then stood.

# intervening operations at the battlefield and close rear, against human forces of the enemy # attacking enemy aviation, most of all bombers and fighters, at airfields

# attacking railway and road transport of the enemy

# reconnaissance of the targets of bomber aviation operations will be generally carried out by the discretionary aviation of the Wodz Naczelny, using mostly army reconnaissance aviation.

Brygada Bombowa was formed virtually at the outbreak of war and included the following air units:

# X (210) Dywizjon Bombowy with:

# 11 (previously 211) Eskadra Bombowa – 9 PZL P. 37B Los

# 12 (previously 212) Eskadra Bombowa – 9 PZL P. 37B Los

# XV (215) Dywizjon Bombowy with: # 16 (previously 216) Eskadra Bombowa – 9 PZL P. 37B Los

# 17 (previously 217) Eskadra Bombowa – 9 PZL P. 37 Los

# II (112) Dywizjon Bombowy Lekki with:

# 1 (previously 21) Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

# 2 (previously 22) Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

# VI (11/6) Dywizjon Bombowy Lekki with:

# 4 (previously 64) Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

# 5 (previously 65) Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

# 55 Samodzielna Eskadra Bombowa – 10 PZL P. 23B Karas

Final evacuation of the Brygada Bombowa to Rumania took place on 17-18 September 1939. During the operations Karas crews dropped some 61 tonnes of bombs, and shot down at least 7 Bf 109s, while Los crews dropped 119 tonnes of bombs, and shot down three Bf 109s and an He 111.

PZL Aircraft (Panstwowe Zaklady Lotnicze)

Polish aircraft manufacturer; founded in 1928 as the Polish National Aircraft Establishment, it was chartered to manufacture both airframes and engines. Its airframes were PZLdesigned, but most of its engines were license-built Bristol designs. Several PZL (Polish Skoda) engine designs were run, but it is not known that any were put into production.

The chief designer of PZL airframes, Zygmunt Pulawski, produced a series of fighters from 1929 to 1936 that were world-class in their early years, partly because they were high-wing monoplanes when much of the world’s air forces still used biplanes. Designated P. 1 through P. 24-the P. 1 being the first fighter of indigenous Polish design-they featured gull wings and all-metal construction. The P. 24 was the first with an enclosed cockpit. Pulawski continued to refine the aerodynamics of his aircraft, but these fixed-gear fighters were not competitive with the new generation of German fighters they faced in 1939.

The P. 1 first flew on 29 September 1929, the P. 6 in August 1930, the P. 7 in October 1930, the P. 11 in August 1931, and the P. 24 in May 1933. The P. 24F had a 297 mph maximum speed at 13,945 feet and was the last of the series.

The differences between them were minor except that each made use of the most powerful engine then available, the largest being the Gnome-Rhone 14N 07 of 970 shp. Armament was two small-bore machine guns throughout production until the P. 24, which added two 20mm cannons in the wings. The P. 7 was still in service with the Polish air force when the Germans invaded in 1939. Other users were the Romanian (license-built by IAR), Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish air forces. Total production of the fighter series comprised approximately 500, about 200 for foreign customers.

The P. 38 Wilk, a twin-engine low-wing two-place multirole fighter powered by inverted air-cooled V-8 engines of PZL manufacture, first flew in May 1938 with the Ranger SGV-770B engine and in January 1939 with the intended PZL engines. Maximum speed was 289 mph. PZL built several advanced prototypes, including the P. 43, a single-engine low-wing all-metal three-place reconnaissance and attack fixed-gear monoplane; the P. 27, a twin-engine midwing all-metal three-place bomber; and the P. 44, a twin-engine low-wing all-metal 14-passenger transport with a twin-fin tail, designed to replace the DC-2 and Lockheed 10 and 14 airliners in Polish service.

The Egyptian Air Force 1956

Meteor NF.Mk.13. Unit: REAF. The Meteor NF.Mk.13 was externally similar to the NF.Mk.11 of which it was a tropicalised variant for RAF service in the Middle East. The Egyptian Air Force, in whose markings this example is illustrated, acquired six surplus NF.Mk.13s in middle of 1955. Three were destroyed during the Suez Canal conflict at the end of 1956.

MiG-15bis: This aircraft was shot down on 1st November 1956 in aerial combat and fell into the lake. Later it was lifted up by Israeli and exhibited at air force flying school.

Anticolonial movements around the world were invigorated by the shock of World War II, which undermined the authority and wealth of the imperial powers. British statesmen managed to disengage the United Kingdom from most of its overseas possessions with a degree of civility, but the Suez Canal was an exception: because of its importance to trade, military deployments, and the flow of oil, guaranteed access was regarded as a strategic imperative.

In July 1952 a revolution in Egypt led by army officers saw the overthrow of the king, the establishment of a republic, the replacement of constitutional monarchy with parliamentary government, and a reduction in British garrison forces. In mid-1956 the leader of the revolution, Nasser, now the president, nationalized the Suez Canal, a move that precipitated military intervention by the United Kingdom, France, and Israel.

Before addressing that intervention, the modernization program initiated by Egypt’s new government in 1952 must be outlined because of its implications for airpower. Reform was introduced across most sectors of society—political, legal, educational, financial, agricultural, military, and industrial. Included in the latter was the establishment of the Egyptian Aircraft Construction Factory at Helwan, near Cairo. The factory drew on expert assistance from foreign sources such as the renowned designer of the Bf-109 and convicted Nazi collaborator Willy Messerschmitt and the air force of fascist Spain. A primary trainer based on the German Bucker Bu 181D went into production, as did aero engines also derived from imported technology. Cairo’s Kader Factory for Developed Industries was another center of aircraft engineering.

President Nasser had served in the Egyptian Army in the 1948–49 war against Israel and was aware of the military’s deficiencies; consequently, post-revolution modernization was extended to the armed services.

After the war the United Kingdom had reequipped the REAF with small numbers of jet fighters and trainers, including the frontline Gloster Meteor. But the British attitude was disrespectful. Twelve Meteor F8s were promised, but five were diverted to Brazil and three to Israel, while the four that arrived in Egypt had had their guns removed. Several years later fourteen more Meteors were delivered, but half were dual-seat trainers, and drop-tanks that increased the aircraft’s range and, therefore, its combat capability were withheld. Requests to the United States for F-86 Sabres were rejected.

RAF instructors who trained Egyptian pilots on the Meteor found their students to be enthusiastic but below average. Poor standards extended to maintenance and logistics procedures, which were under-resourced and disorganized. At least leadership and flying training were placed on a potentially more professional basis with the formal establishment in 1951 of the Egyptian Air Academy.

As Egypt sought to exercise greater independence, the United Kingdom sought to maintain its grip on the Suez Canal. Additional strain was placed on the relationship by a series of terrorist raids by the Israeli secret service against British and U.S. interests in Egypt, intended to be perceived as the work of local anti-imperialists. In what became known as the “Lavon Affair” after the defense minister who approved it, Israeli agents placed bombs in British- and U.S.-sponsored libraries, movie theaters, and cultural centers around Egypt. Israel simultaneously pursued a policy of “active defense” against its prospective enemies, including “preemptive” strikes against Palestinian communities in the Egyptian-ruled Gaza Strip.

In an atmosphere of deteriorating relations with the West, the Egyptian government turned to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) for military aid. For the Soviets, this was an opportunity to strengthen their hand in the Cold War. Toward the end of 1955 air warfare matériel started pouring in to Egypt. Eighty-six MiG-15 interceptor/fighters headed the list, together with thirty-nine Il-28 twin-engine bombers, twenty Il-14 airlifters, training and support equipment, and ground-based defense systems. Egyptian Air Force (EAF) pilots were given hurried conversions, and on January 15, 1956, a flight of MiG-15s overflew Cairo to show the Egyptian people their new air force.

MiG-15s and Il-28s were good aircraft. The question was: did the EAF have the full suite of competencies—all of the elements of the Trenchard model—to use its equipment effectively? The challenge of changing from Western-bloc aircraft, systems, and practices was enormous. The language shift alone was demanding, affecting flight manuals, cockpit instrumentation, and maintenance publications. Furthermore, Russian air force training was notoriously rigid and controlled (like Soviet society itself), so while basic flying instruction was reasonable, pilots received little exposure to advanced combat maneuvers and tactics.

A report submitted to London early in 1956 by the British air attaché in Cairo noted that while the EAF’s handful of experienced pilots were good, the majority were ill disciplined, had poor flying techniques, were below standard in instrument and night flying, and had little comprehension of air warfare operations and tactics. And the shortage of qualified mechanics was a greater problem. In the attaché’s opinion, the EAF was in “no position to take on the Israelis.” In truth, the EAF’s ability to attack Israel was more image than substance, and the assertion made by some commentators that the influx of Soviet aircraft had altered the balance of power in the Middle East was disingenuous.

Egypt’s air strategy was shaped as much by its air force’s limitations and the defensive doctrine of its Soviet mentors as it was by the prevailing circumstances. Controlling Egyptian airspace and protecting the army were the EAF’s primary tasks, followed by close attack (noting that the EAF’s best aircraft, the MiG-15 air superiority fighter, was unsuited to that role). Given the EAF’s low standards—including a reluctance to fly at night—and the qualitative and numerical superiority of the Anglo-French land- and naval-based air forces, neither of those objectives was credible.

The Anglo-French plan centered on a large-scale amphibious and airborne invasion to seize control of the canal, but the British Army commander in chief of British and French forces, Gen. Charles Keightley, thought that a “strategic” bombing campaign might by itself be sufficient to achieve victory. An advocate of advanced technology, Keightley believed that the RAF’s new fleet of Valiant and Canberra jet bombers would be able to achieve a politically inexpensive victory by destroying the Egyptian economy and national will and precipitating a popular uprising against Nasser.

General Keightley’s analysis suffered from considerable technical, doctrinal, and political shortcomings. Technically, the Valiants and Canberras had only recently entered service, and concepts for their use were immature. Bombing accuracy was an issue. Because several daytime reconnaissance flights over Egypt by RAF Canberra PR7s had been attacked by EAF MiG-15s, British planners decided that the offensive would be conducted at night and from high altitude. Those parameters enhanced safety but at the cost of bombing accuracy. Doctrinally, while Egypt was making economic and industrial progress, it was still an undeveloped, agrarian-based society, and as the failed U.S. Air Force (USAF) campaign against North Korea several years previously had revealed, a scarcity of high-value targets can negate the concept of strategic bombing. Finally, in the postcolonial world, there was already international unease at the prospect of two advanced, wealthy states attacking a backward, poor state for entirely selfish reasons. Even before the fighting began, the United Kingdom and France had very little political capital to expend.

A three-phase plan for the invasion was endorsed on September 8, 1956. Phases 1 and 2 were to be solely air campaigns in which winning air supremacy over Egypt would be followed by a ten-day “aero-psychological” offensive directed against “transportation, communication, and economic centers [and] Egyptian morale” that would, if General Keightley were correct, bring about the country’s collapse and Nasser’s overthrow. Air- and sea-borne forces would then land unopposed in phase 3 and seize the canal.

The war started on October 29, 1956, when, before the Anglo-French offensive in the Suez zone had begun, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula. As part of Dayan’s maneuver and encirclement plan, C-47 airlifter crews flew at low level under enemy radar to drop paratroopers, and P-51 Mustang pilots disrupted the Egyptian command-and-control system by cutting telephone lines with specially designed chain devices attached to their aircrafts’ wings or, if that failed, with their propellers. Air defense was provided by patrols of Mystère fighters. Once Israeli soldiers were on the ground, the IAF turned its attention to close attack and interdiction.

For a period the EAF fought back. MiG-15, Meteor, and Vampire units attacked the Israeli Army, and MiG-15s clashed with Mystères. However, the IAF quickly asserted its dominance. The Israelis also dominated another vital component of airpower: the contest for management and maintenance superiority. IAF engineers were able to generate four sorties a day from their strike/fighters—a rate twice that of their enemies, which effectively doubled the size of the IAF’s fleet. Fighting between the opposing armies was sometimes intense, but within days the Sinai was under Israeli control.

Taranto Carrier Raid – 11 November 1940

Determined to bring the war to the Italian Navy, Admiral Arthur Cunningham led a strong Royal Navy fleet to within 180 miles of the Italian port of Taranto. Swordfish torpedo planes from the fleet carrier HMS Illustrious attacked Italian warships in the harbor. Achieving complete tactical surprise, the “Swordfish” holed three battleships and a cruiser in exchange for the loss of just two of the old biplanes. The lopsided result deeply impressed all navies, newly revealing the striking power of naval aircraft and vulnerability of capital warships. The Japanese especially noted the similarities between Taranto and Pearl Harbor and carefully studied the Taranto raid as they prepared to attack the U. S. Pacific Fleet. Perhaps it may be interesting to record that a naval Japanese mission visited Taranto in Jan- and Feb. 1941.

Further proof that the Axis Powers were prepared to widen the war even more came with the signing of the Tripartite Pact linking them with Japan in late September and reports of a meeting held between Hitler and the Spanish Caudillo Francisco Franco at Hendaye in the Pyrenees on 23 October. Mussolini had struck both before and after these diplomatic initiatives had been arranged. His reckless enthusiasm for the Axis war effort had been shown firstly in a cross-border attack launched by his 10th Army on Egypt in mid-September and then by an invasion of Greece from across the Albanian border in late October. While his military forces didn’t cover themselves in glory in either of these two new theatres, the Regia Marina – now boasting six battleships – was not doing much more than engaging in mining operations, escorting convoys and skirmishing unsuccessfully with Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet. Worse was to follow for Il Duce and his fleet before November was out. During the night of 11-12 November, two waves of Swordfish aircraft from the carrier Illustrious had the temerity to attack the Italian Fleet as it lay at anchor in harbour at Taranto, crippling three of its battleships while slightly damaging a heavy cruiser and a destroyer into the bargain.

British navy raid on the principal Italian naval base, the fortified harbor of Taranto. Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham and Rear Admiral A. L. St. G. Lyster of the carrier Illustrious planned the operation, code-named JUDGMENT. The date for the raid was to be 27 October 1940, the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and a night with a full moon. Thirty Fairey Swordfish were slated to make the attack from the aircraft carriers Illustrious and Eagle. The Swordfish, though it was a 10-year-old biplane, was nonetheless a reliable, sturdy torpedo platform, especially effective in night operations.

A fire on the Illustrious, which destroyed several aircraft, forced postponement of the operation. Then the Eagle, which had sustained near misses from Italian bombs, was found to have been more seriously damaged than originally estimated.

As a consequence, the attack was delayed until the next full moon, when the raid was conducted by the Illustrious alone. Twenty-one Swordfish fitted with extra fuel tanks participated, with 11 of them armed with torpedoes and the remainder carrying bombs and flares. The torpedoes were modified to negate the effects of “porpoising” in the harbor’s shallow water.

At 8:30 P. M. on 11 November, Illustrious launched her aircraft some 170 miles from Taranto. All six of Italy’s battleships were in the harbor, where they were protected by barrage balloons, more than 200 antiaircraft guns, and torpedo nets, although the quantity of the latter was far short of the number the Italian navy considered necessary. The planes set out in two waves an hour apart. The first wave achieved complete surprise when it arrived at Taranto at 11:00 P. M. The pilots cut off their engines and glided in to only a few hundred yards from their targets before releasing the torpedoes against the battleships, which were illuminated by the flares and Italian antiaircraft tracers. Conte di Cavourwas the first battleship struck, followed by Littorio. In the second attack at 11:50, Littorio was struck again, and Duilio was also hit. In the two attacks, Conte di Cavour and Duilio each took one torpedo and Littorio three.

Conte di Cavour was the only battleship to sink, and she went down in shallow water. Italian tugs towed the other two damaged ships to shore. The cruiser Trento and destroyer Libeccio were both hit by bombs, but the bombs did not explode and caused only minor damage. Fifty-two Italian sailors died in the attack. The British lost two planes; the crewmen of one were rescued by the Italians.

As the maximum depth of water at any time in the harbour at Taranto was only 49′ (42′ has been quoted as the depth where the Italian battleships were moored). The torpedoes used at Taranto were a mix of contact and magnetic pistols. The greatest damage was done by the torpedoes equipped with the magnetic pistol and which were set to run at 34′.

Conte di Cavour was later raised and towed to Trieste to be repaired, but the work was not completed and she was never recommissioned. The Littorio was overhauled by March 1941, and the Duilio, which was transferred to Genoa, was repaired and returned to Taranto in May 1941. The Taranto raid thus deprived Italy of its naval advantage and at least temporarily altered the Mediterranean balance of power, and it also underscored the effectiveness of naval aircraft.

Taranto, only one-third of the planned torpedo netting was actually in place by the time the attack came in November 1940.  A further, and somewhat fortuitous, chink in the Italian armor was the fact that a major storm had blown a significant number of the barrage balloons loose from their moorings.  These, too, had yet to be replaced, with the result that there were several sizeable gaps in the balloon barrage– and the British planes in fact slipped through at least one of these gaps in making their attack.

The chief Italian failing at Taranto in terms of “nature of means” was their lack of radar. In the pre-war years, the Italians had gone with the cheaper alternative of sophisticated listening devices as early-warning for their coasts (despite the fact that Marconi, the inventor of wireless telegraphy, had demonstrated a working radar set for the Army a couple years before the war). The listening devices indeed picked up the first wave of British aircraft while they were still about 30 miles offshore, but once the enemy planes got over land there was no way to track their direction.

Everyone on the British side was delighted with the results of Operation Judgment, since it appeared to have eased the Allied naval position in the Central Mediterranean, by reducing the risks to their convoy traffic and boosting morale in their own ranks, while complicating the Italian strategic situation and deflating the enemy. Cunningham summed up the cost-benefit analysis of the entire operation perfectly by stating: `As an example of “economy of force” it is probably unsurpassed.’ He was not prone to exaggeration and his enthusiasm for taking the fight to the Italians was infectious.



In 1940-41 Britain’s night defences were in a poor state with few suitable aircraft able to successfully operate at night, although Blenheim night fighters were gradually being replaced by the more powerful Beaufighters, albeit in small numbers. Airborne Interception (AI) radar was still in its infancy, so unarmed Douglas Havoc bombers were modified and fitted with a 2,700 million candle-power searchlight, developed and built by GEC, in the nose behind a flat transparent screen with power for the light coming from lead-acid batteries in the bomb bay. The aircraft was guided to enemy aircraft by a mix of ground control and its own on-board AI Mk.IV radar. As the Havoc’s own armament had been removed, the aircraft was accompanied by a pair of Hurricanes, which, when the target was illuminated, would then attack the enemy bomber and shoot it down.

These composite Turbinlite squadrons, which had been created out of desperation rather than with any real hope of success, achieved little, and, with the rapid development of AI radar and the introduction of the Mosquito night fighter, this wasteful and fruitless experiment was finally abandoned in late 1942.

Air Marshal Sholto Douglas, who had become C-in-C of Fighter Command, promoted the use of twin-engined American-made Douglas Havoc aircraft against the German night bombers:

A more promising idea upon which there was spent a great deal of money and time and effort was an extension of the use of airborne radar. Known as Turbinlite it called for the combined use of radar and an airborne searchlight … The object aimed at with Turbinlite was to place the two aircraft behind the enemy raider. The Havoc would detect it with its radar and illuminate it with its searchlight in such a way that the Hurricane could then close in for the kill.

Getting a 2,700-million candlepower searchlight to function inside a plane was difficult. Flying a Hurricane in formation with a Douglas Havoc weighted in this way, and doing it in darkness, was virtually impossible. What a pity that before Sholto Douglas ‘spent a great deal of money and time and effort’ on this idea it didn’t occur to him that if the Havoc pilot had the enemy on his radar, and in front of him, he didn’t need a friend in a nearby Hurricane. He could blow the raider out of the sky with a gun.

Night-fighter strength was increased with the decision to form specialist Flights to operate modified AI-equipped Havocs, the modification being the addition of a high-power searchlight (The Helmore searchlight). Each of these Fighter Flights was to have an establishment of 8 + 1 Turbinlite Havocs in what on paper looked like the brilliantly simple idea of taking a searchlight into the air to help turn night into day. In essence the system was simple, a Turbinlite Havoc would work as a pair with a single-seat fighter and both would initially be vectored to the target by a ground controller. Once the Havoc AI operator had acquired the target he would home it, position the fighter and when the time was right, turn on the searchlight to allow the fighter to make his attack.

No. 93 Squadron carried out initial development work, having virtually given-up its previous work with the LAM, but it was the formation of No. 1451 (Fighter) Flight at Hunsdon in May 1941 that really got the project underway. The Flight was tasked with training four other Turbinlite Flights and it was one of these, No. 1452 Flight that developed the standard tactic. On 6 November the CO, Sqn Ldr J E Marshall, submitted a progress report in which he detailed this tactic: ‘In this attack, the parasite, when given the word, dives forward so as to lose about 500 ft. The AI operator keeps the Turbinlite pilot directed on to the target, and gives the pilot the word to illuminate when he can see by his tubes that the parasite is approximately 300 yards behind the target. The parasite then sees the target illuminated slightly above him and is able to make a well-timed and effective attack.’ A follow-up report stated: ‘success in the scheme depends among other things on each member of the crew taking the correct action at the appropriate moment. As orders are passed from one to another, and as the conditions of the intercept will seldom be identical on two nights, it is clear that a complete understanding must exist between each member of the team.

The satellite pilot should always work with the same Turbinlite pilot . . . it is particularly easy in the first few seconds to miss an illuminated target.’ The original concept was for the Flight to work with single-seat squadrons, although Marshall was convinced that the fighter needed to be part of the Turbinlite unit. All ten Flights had formed by the end of the year and all were engaged with intensive training to try and make the system work; it was 1942 before they were truly part of the night-defence Order of Battle.

Havocs were the main carrier of the Turbinlite, though this was also fitted to individual aircraft of other types. It was a 2,700-million candlepower searchlight, fitted in the nose, drawing current from a large generator set in the fuselage. Its name was originally the Helmore light, after its chief proposer, Wing Commander (later Air Commodore) W. Helmore, pilot, engineer and wartime broadcaster. The idea was that the Havoc should take off, in pitch darkness, in close formation with two Hurricanes, which could see special rear-facing lights on the Havoc. The formation would be vectored on to the enemy by GCI, until the Havoc could use its AI Mk IV, which had a transmitter aerial on each side of its flat glass nose. Eventually the formation might be lucky enough to come within 1,000 feet of the target, directly astern of it. Then, instead of shooting down the enemy, the Havoc would switch on its searchlight – which might or might not score a bull. At this, the Hurricanes had to overtake the Havoc and shoot the enemy down. What happened in practice was that the target instantly jinked out of the bright beam faster than the Havoc could follow, usually by turning one way and then, when the Havoc had set up the ‘wrong’ bank, by reversing the turn. The Hurricanes got in each other’s way, and in the Havoc’s way; or they obstructed the beam, or (on several occasions) got the Havoc in their sights instead. What almost always happened was that the target got away, while a Havoc and two rather helpless Hurricanes floundered about completely lost, and with their pilots’ night-adapted vision destroyed. Only once, in 1942, was the system credited with a kill; unfortunately the victim belonged to the RAF.

The Turbinlite Flights were all operational by early 1942, which in theory boosted the night defence capability, and indeed all were upgraded to squadron status – as 530 to 539 squadrons – in September 1942. However, their operational record was poor, with plenty of flying accidents but very few successes and in January 1943 they were all disbanded. Fighter Command flew over 16,000 night sorties in 1942, including intruder operations, and claims were made for the destruction of 182 enemy aircraft (43 of those by intruder ops), with a further 43 ‘Probables’ and 137 ‘Damaged’. The Command lost 40 aircraft destroyed in night ops over the UK. The Fighter Command Diary summarised the night operations for 1942: ‘the year was largely one of consolidation and unremitting patrol work. If there were no spectacular achievements, Fighter Command’s success must be measured not by the number of aircraft shot down but by the relatively few occasions on which British towns and industries were troubled by night air attack.’

Turbinlite Flights

Flight no. Formed Airfield

1451 Flt 22 May 1941 Hunsdon

1452 Flt 7 Jul 1941 West Mailing

1453 Flt 10 Jul 1941 Wittering

1454 Flt 27 Jun 1941 Colerne

1455 Flt 7 Jul 1941 Tangmere

1456 Flt 24 Nov 1941 Honiley

1456 Flt 15 Sep 1941 Colerne

1458 Flt 6 Dec 1941 Middle Wallop

1459 Flt 20 Sep 1941 Hunsdon

1460 Flt 15 Dec 1941 Acklington


“Puff the Magic Dragon.”

The majority of Viet Cong and NVA attacks against bases took place at night and the Air Force responded by converting the Second World War vintage transport planes into flying gun platforms. The AC-47s were armed with three 7.62 miniguns, each capable of firing up to 6,000 rounds per minute, in one side of the fuselage; several tons of ammunition were also loaded on board. The planes could circle a base when it was under attack, illuminating the target area with 2-million candlepower flares. It would stay overhead until the base’s own helicopters were in the air and able to take over. They were known as Spooky, but the GIs christened it Puff the Magic Dragon after a well-known song because the thousands of tracer bullets made it look like the plane was breathing fire.

The AC-119 Shadow and AC-119 Stinger were introduced at a later date. The Stinger was also armed with two 20mm multi-barrel guns capable of firing up to 2,500 high explosive incendiary rounds per minute while a 2-billion candlepower searchlight lit up targets.

The need for fighter planes to be fast and highly maneuverable seriously restricts the weight and bulk of the guns and ammunition that can be fitted into them; this limits their ability to strafe ground targets. A cargo plane, with machine guns in the cargo bay firing sideways, is not subject to these restrictions and can place much heavier fire on ground targets.

The United States began giving serious consideration to this idea in 1963. In December 1964, combat tests began in Vietnam of an aircraft initially designated the FC-47: an old C-47 cargo plane, with six 7.62-mm miniguns each capable of firing either 3,000 or 6,000 rounds per minute, all pointed to the same side of the aircraft. The tests were successful, and more C-47s were converted in the following months, with varying armaments. Three miniguns per plane eventually became standard. The plane was redesignated the AC-47 late in 1965. It was officially called the “Spooky,” unofficially “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The U.S. Air Force (USAF) stopped operating AC-47s in Southeast Asia toward the end of 1969; most of the aircraft were turned over to the Vietnamese Air Force and the Royal Laotian Air Force. The AC-47 had had an impact on the war far out of proportion to its numbers—only 53 were built—and very low cost.

Toward the end of 1966, modified AC-47s with added armor and fire extinguishers were being sent to Nakhon Phanom in Thailand, to be used for operations in Laos, where the danger of ground fire was too great for the unarmored AC-47s used for missions in South Vietnam.

The AC-130 Spectre was a larger and much more modern aircraft. It carried four 7.62-mm miniguns, and also four 20-mm Vulcan cannons. The Vulcan used the same basic Gatling-gun design as the minigun: six barrels rotating at high speed around a common axis. Early Vulcans could fire 2,500 rounds (usually high-explosive incendiary, sometimes armor-piercing incendiary) per minute. Later models fired up to 6,000 rounds per minute. The AC-130 also carried more equipment than the AC-47 for detecting targets at night: a side-looking radar, an infrared device that could detect the engines of trucks by their heat, and a starlight scope that could amplify images in dim light. Initial combat tests from September to December 1967 were highly successful, but there was resistance to the AC-130 design from people who felt that the Air Force needed its limited number of C-130 aircraft for transport purposes, and could not afford to convert any significant number of them to gunships. Arguments over this issue, and problems with the infrared gear and other equipment, delayed the program; in late 1968 and early 1969 only four were in action, based at Ubon in Thailand, and mainly devoted to hunting trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Some AC-130 aircraft were given heavier weapons, both to make their fire more destructive and to enable them to fire from a greater distance and thus reduce their exposure to anti-aircraft fire. The Surprise Package variant of the AC-130A, carrying two 40-mm Bofors cannon originally designed as anti-aircraft guns, plus two 20-mm guns, underwent its first combat trial in December 1969; the 40-mm cannon became standard equipment for the AC-130 during 1970. The Pave Aegis variant of the AC-130E, introduced around the beginning of 1972, had a 105-mm cannon as well as one 40-mm and two smaller guns.

The AC-130 also came to be equipped with a laser target designator, to guide a smart bomb (see bombs) to its target. The first combat use of this system was on February 1, 1971; the bomb was dropped by an F-4 Phantom.

The AC-119, based on the old C-119 “Flying Boxcar” transport plane, was slower than the AC-130 and had less armor and much less powerful guns, but it was cheaper; it eventually replaced the AC-47 as the USAF gunship for use inside South Vietnam, and was also used to a significant extent in Cambodia and Laos. The AC-119G Shadow, equipped with four 7.62-mm miniguns, began to arrive in Vietnam in the last week of 1968, and began combat trials early in 1969. The AC-119K Stinger, with four miniguns and two 20-mm cannon, began to arrive in South Vietnam in November 1969 and began combat trials the same month.
A Cheap and Simple Concept

The fixed wing gunship was a great developmental and operational success. A few dedicated, innovative individuals brought forth a new concept quickly and cheaply that fit the war that was being fought in Vietnam. The basic gunship concept is quite simple: an aircraft flying in a level turn around a point on the ground (as if tethered to a pylon, hence called a “pylon turn”) can deliver fairly accurate firepower from guns firing perpendicular to the line of flight. This concept was first proposed in 1926 and demonstrated the next year. A number of other airmen later advanced the idea, but the Army Air Forces/US Air Force did not pick up on it until the early 1960s. The idea reached Capt. John Simmons at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, through an indirect route. After overcoming numerous rebuffs, he pushed through a modest test program in mid 1963 that demonstrated that a pilot could track a target while in a pylon turn. The breakthrough came in August 1964 when a C-131 armed with a 7.62 mm Gattling gun achieved better than expected accuracy in firing tests over the Gulf of Mexico. The next month, three Gattling guns were mounted aboard a C-47 and also successfully tested. Capt. Ronald Terry forcefully articulated a concept of C-47s delivering accurate and massive firepower to hamlets under attack. Things moved ahead rather rapidly, for on November 2, 1964 Terry helped brief the concept to the Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay, who ordered that the C-47 be tested in Vietnam.

Opposition to the Gunship Concept

There was opposition to the concept. Gen. Walter Sweeney, commander of Tactical Air Command, had two seemingly contrary objections: could the aircraft survive, and if so, would it undermine the Air Force’s position in the battle with the Army over armed helicopters? In addition, he did not see how the gunship would work in other conflicts, specifically one in Europe. Therefore, success in Vietnam might saddle the command with a number of aircraft that would prove useless and vulnerable where it really counted, in Europe. Certainly, the idea of using obsolete transports to support besieged hamlets at night, at low speeds, and from low altitudes did not appeal to the airmen, who thought primarily in terms of newer aircraft flying ever higher and faster. Nevertheless, the tests went forward.

Gunships Quickly Prove Their Worth

Terry and his team arrived in South Vietnam in December 1964. The gunship quickly demonstrated that it not only worked but was valuable. On its first night mission on 23-24 December, it helped repel a Vietcong attack on an outpost. The gunship concept would be used in two very different roles. The first was to provide heavy firepower to ground forces engaged in combat in South Vietnam. The other was to interdict enemy logistics in Laos. The aircraft’s success continued, but better gunships were coming on-line. On December 1, 1969, US Air Force AC-47s flew their last mission. In November 1966, the C-130 was actually picked as a follow-on aircraft. The four-engined turboprop had much greater flying performance than the ancient “Gooney Bird” and carried much heavier firepower, four 7.62 mm and four 20 mm Gattling guns compared to the AC-47’s three 7.62 mm guns. Nicknamed “Spectre,” it also mounted an array of advanced Sensors.