Fighter jets were born in the rage of the First World War, but they really grew up during the Second World War. Here the control of the sky became almost as important as the control of the land below. Huge bomber fleets could turn entire cities into glowing rubble and destroy battleships built for years in just a few minutes.
For the first time, the Air Force could make the difference between victory and defeat Let's take a closer look at the most powerful air forces of World War II.
. 8 The Polish Air Force
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland in the opening act of World War II.
The German Air Force planned to capture and destroy the Polish Air Force on site before it could react. German propaganda trumpeted the assertion that the Polish Air Force had been eradicated in just three days, and a totally one-sided slaughter had become the generally accepted version of events. However, Polish airmen fought longer, harder and more effective than generally recognized.
While the Germans destroyed a large number of aircraft on the ground during the first hours of the attack, most of them were training aircraft. Much of the Polish fighter survived.
This left only about 200 Polish fighter jets against far more than a thousand German air force machines in hopeless superiority. To make matters worse, even the best Polish aircraft were hopelessly overtaken. The PZL P.11 was not terrible at its introduction in 1934, but by 1939 it was already very outdated.
The Polish Air Force could at least count on some extremely talented pilots. Although numerically outnumbered and burdened with substandard airplanes, the Poles shot more than 100 air force machines out of the sky, destroying hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles on the ground.
With sinking deliveries of aircraft, fuel and spare parts, the Poles tried The effectiveness of the Air Force declined rapidly, but the last kills were recorded only on 17 September 1939. Many of the surviving pilots escaped to Britain to join the RAF, where they were among the bravest and deadliest pilots  of the Battle of Britain.
. 7 Army de l'air
France's Air Force was once the envy of the world. In 1918, more than 3,000 front-line aircraft could be launched to the sky, more than any other nation could muster. France had produced some of the greatest pilots of the war, and French planes were among the most advanced.
In 1934, the Army de l 'air was established as an independent branch of the military place next to the Army and the Navy. However, until the outbreak of the Second World War, France had squandered its leadership in the race for supremacy over the sky.
As Germany became more and more threatening, the French had invested three billion francs, about 40% of their total military budget. in the defenses of the Maginot Line . Substantial amounts also flowed into four immensely expensive new battleships, which would be of little use for a future war with their increasingly warlike German neighbors.
The Army de l 'air received only about one-tenth of the funds that the Army de l' air received German Air Force in the years leading up to World War II. It went to war in 1939 with about 250 Einsatzbombern and 800 hunters. The numbers were not terrible, but most of these machines were outdated and unsuitable for the demands of a modern war.
The Dewoitine D.520 was a notable exception. It was probably even superior to the best German fighters, but only a handful of squadrons had been equipped with them. When Germany invaded France in May 1940, there were too few to have any real influence.
While individual French pilots fought bravely, there was almost no ground control, and there was little evidence that a coherent overarching strategy was approaching. It was not uncommon for pilots to return to their home airfields just to find them already overrun by the Germans.
The Army de l & # 39; air coincided with France, but some pilots fled to continue fighting with the British Royal Air Force and the US Air Force Free French Forces.
. 6 Regia Aeronautica
When Italy declared war on France on June 10, 1940, this seemed to be a catastrophe for the Allies. The Italian army numbered 2.5 million and its powerful fleet would threaten vital shipping routes in the Mediterranean. The Italian Air Force, the Regia Aeronautica counted nearly 3,000 aircraft, and the Italians had more aviation world records than any other nation in the world.
It would turn out that much of this power was illusory. In November 1939 General Giuseppe Valle had carried out a review of the capabilities of the Regia Aeronautica. He found that much of the fleet was outdated and much of it was not ready for use. His report that the famous Regia Aeronautica could summon only 396 somewhat modern bombers and 129 modern fighters, promptly brought him the bag.
Mussolini expected to benefit from a swift war, and the alarming news of his Air Force's shameful state did not make it deter him.
In October 1940, he even sent an optimistic air force to help his German ally in the Battle of Britain . It was the kind of help the Germans could do without; Twenty-four Italian planes were shot down without any response after they had only completed the targeting exercises for the pilots of the British Royal Air Force.
. 5 Imperial Japanese Air Service
In 1925, an American named General William Mitchell filed a warning report about a possible Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor's US military base. Nobody paid attention to it. The idea seemed fantastic then, just as it happened 16 years later in 1941.
The Japanese were indeed much stronger and braver than almost everyone had expected. Aircraft carriers would overshadow battleships, and the Japanese had invested heavily in these war weapons. With the skilful use of their carriers, Japan had the means to project air power over the Pacific Ocean.
In the outstanding Mitsubishi Zero they owned a long-range aircraft-based fighter, which in 1941 was at least competitive with every other fighter in the world. For a clout, they could take the torpedo bomber Nakajima B5N, probably the best aircraft of its kind in the world.
For a time, Japan raged and scored victory for victory, but the first big blow for Japan's air power came in the Battle of Midway . The 292 aircraft they lost could be replaced. Four porters and many of their best, most experienced pilots could not.
Japan produced nearly 80,000 aircraft between 1939 and 1945. This was a lot, but still less than any of the main fighters except China. To make matters worse, they continued to rely almost exclusively on the Mitsubishi Zero, even after being overshadowed by the next generation of American aircraft.
The failure of the mass production of a successor to the Mitsubishi Zero cost Japan much money from the beginning of 1944 when the Americans launched a strategic bombing campaign against Japanese cities. Zeroes were unable to climb high enough to attack the attackers, leaving US bombers free to roam the home island.
A lack of fuel, aircraft, and seasoned pilots had persuaded the Japanese to pursue a strategy of massaging kamikaze attacks until October 1944. These caused immense destruction, but were a sign of the weakness of Japan. Since Japan could not compete with conventional means, this was the only way for the Japanese Air Force to change the course of the war.
. 4 The Red Air Force
In June 1941, the Red Air Force had a frontal strength of nearly 10,000 aircraft. In terms of sheer numbers, it made the world's strongest air force, but it lagged far behind in terms of operational effectiveness.
The vast majority of its aircraft were outdated and many of the most competent officers had been released, imprisoned or killed during Stalin's purges. A miserable training program meant that Soviet pilots often had only about 10 hours of solo flight experience.
To make matters worse, Stalin had banned the reconnaissance flights that exposed the extent of the massive buildup of the German military along the 1,800 miles German-Soviet border.
The invasion, of which Stalin was convinced would never take place, took place on June 22, 1941. The German hammer blow landed with devastating consequences. On the first day alone nearly 2,000 Soviet aircraft were destroyed. Within weeks of the invasion, the Red Air Force had virtually ceased to exist.
Despite the huge losses, the Red Air Force recovered surprisingly quickly. Most of the aircraft had been devastated so most pilots could fly on another day.
The factories were moved far to the east, safely out of reach of Germany, and they began to produce large-scale aircraft. Unlike the outdated designs they replaced, some of them were extremely good. The Ilyushin II-2 is considered by many to be the best ground attack aircraft of the war. Only five of them survived to this day, but more than 36,000 were built, making it the most-produced World War II aircraft.
In 1941, inexperienced Soviet pilots had desperately resorted to ramming German aircraft until the end of the war. Leading aces had scores of kills on their behalf.
. 3 The Royal Air Force
In the years following the First World War, an Italian military theorist named General Giulio Douhet spread the theory that future wars could be won by air power alone. The bomber would always come through and leave nothing but glowing ruins. The task of the army would be to simply clean up destroyed survivors and occupation areas.
The prospect of death from above was a particularly worrying island homeland for the British, who were largely protected from attack until the early 20th century.
While most nations focused on using aircraft best to support their army, the British did not have a large army and did not expect to deploy one. The RAF, which became an independent branch of the armed forces as early as 1918, focused its attention primarily on the defense of British airspace.
The result was that by the summer of 1940 the British were able to retrieve the most sophisticated ground control system in the world, a chain of radar stations on the coast and almost as many single-engine fighter aircraft as the Luftwaffe.
This force was tested in the Battle of Britain, the first battle in history, to be tested almost exclusively by airplanes. While the number of airplanes involved was comparatively low compared to some of the remaining missions, the importance of the Battle of Britain can hardly be overstated.
If the RAF and Fighter Command had lost control of the skies over southern England, even for a short while Hitler might have dared to justify his threat of invasion .
Britain's offensive capabilities were not in line with her defensive capabilities, at least not until the launch of the heavy Avro Lancaster bomber in February 1942. Heavy casualties at the start of the war forced the RAF to carry out nocturnal bombing, which was much safer but far less effective. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill took up the idea of bombing Germany to a large extent. The bombing campaign gradually developed into a life of its own, such as Arthur Harris, chief of The Bomber Command of the RAF, insisting that his bombers alone are a weapon of war.
How effective the bombing campaign is is still controversial among historians. Despite the great destruction of Germany, military production increased well into 1944. As the German Minister of Armaments Albert Speer stated, every weapon and every aircraft that defended Germany against air strikes was a lost weapon for the decisive eastern front.
. 2 The Air Force
At the end of the First World War Germany had been banned from operating an air force under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. By 1939, the German Air Force (19659006) had risen again and was considered the most modern and powerful air force in the world. Early German victories over Poland and France gave the Luftwaffe an aura of invincibility. But as the war waned its weaknesses, it gradually became apparent.
The Air Force lacked a modern torpedo bomber, it had no strategic bombers, and its dreaded JU-87 Stuka submersible was already outdated by the outbreak of the war.
Like all National Socialist institutions, the Luftwaffe was a vipers' nest of struggles and personal infighting. Chairman was Hermann Göring a once daring fighter pilot, who had become a lazy, sycophant drug addict until 1939.
The Luftwaffe was designed as an offensive weapon, which should be used in close support by the German army. While German aircraft dominated the sky, the German army won its major victories from 1939 to 1942. As German planes became rarer, German victories became increasingly rare.
After the Battle of Stalingrad which was almost as catastrophic for the Luftwaffe as it was for the German army, the Luftwaffe was far too thin on the vital eastern front. In the meantime, the Allied bombing campaign forced a large number of aircraft to protect the German sky.
The Luftwaffe's revolutionary jet fighters may have been a weapon of war, but they came too late to change the course of the conflict. Germany had boasted in 1939 of the world's strongest air force, but was crushed in a war of attrition before it was finally completely paralyzed by fuel shortages.
1 The United States Army Air Force
American military planners went to war in December 1941 with several speculations about the capabilities of their aircraft.
They believed their fighters were competitive, and their heavy bombers were quite capable of escorting themselves without defending fighters in broad daylight, and that the North Bombshield would allow their aircraft to land a bomb from a height of 20,000 feet in a cucumber tube.
This optimism quickly proved out of place. American fighter aircraft were clearly inferior to the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero, as the pilots called their Brewster Buffalos "flying coffins". Even the heavily armed Flying Fortress bombers were severely hit when they ventured alone across occupied Europe.
The Americans were forced to abandon widespread forays into National Socialist Germany and settle for softer targets within the limited range of escorting fighters.
The US already had a solution to their fighter-escort problem, but they just did not know it yet. P-51 Mustangs had flown for the first time in 1940, but were viewed as mediocre, somewhat subdued aircraft. This changed in October 1942, when a British engineer proposed to equip them with the Rolls Royce engines driving Britain's Supermarine Spitfires.
With this simple change, the P-51 became one of the greatest fighters of the war. They were the rarest animals: a long-range hunter capable of outdoing short-range interceptors. With an additional fuel tank, they could operate deep in the heart of the empire. When Goering first learned that P-51 had been sighted over Germany, he became furious and dismissed it as an outrageous lie.
The P-51s were used almost exclusively in Europe, but other excellent aircraft such as the Vought F4U Corsair and The Grumman F6F Hellcat changed the balance of power in the Pacific theater of war.
The Americans not only had quality, they also had quantity. Between 1942 and 1945, American factories produced around 275,000 aircraft. This was more than Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom combined.
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