Tag Archives: World War II

72 Year Ago This Week: The First Ever Jet Airstrikes. A titanic failure for the Germans.

The First Ever Jet Airstrike Was a Disaster. Here’s The Bizarre Story.

When gunners spot them, they are stunned: their speed. No propellers.

From out of the northeast, rocketing down from medium altitude in a shallow dive intended to improve bombing accuracy the Germans are back again. It is one more day of airstrikes on the prize. This is the third set of airstrikes today.

But this one is different. The planes are flying much faster. And have no propellers.

The first jet airstrike in history has begun. German Arado Ar 234 medium bombers and Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter/attack jet aircraft are launching a last-ditch airstrike on this key target in a desperate attempt to halt the allied advance.

But it isn’t going well.

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany is the most heavily defended target from air attack ever. Since the allies seized the bridge in a lightning attack a few days ago around March 7th they have emplaced more anti-aircraft guns surrounding this key bridge than any other single target on earth. In the upcoming 10 days of the German Luftwaffe campaign against the Ludendorff Bridge approximately 367 combat aircraft will attack the target. The Germans throw everything at Ludendorff, fighters, bombers, frogmen, artillery and now the secret German super-weapons, the jet bombers and fighters. The Allies claim to shoot-down 30% of the German planes. None score an effective hit on the bridge.

Bridges are a notoriously difficult target to hit with fast jets. The Germans are learning this difficult lesson for the first time in history today. The U.S. Air Force relearns it years later between 1967 and 1972 during protracted (and largely ineffective) airstrikes on the Long Biên (“Paul Doumer”) Bridge. They finally develop a new secret weapon, a “guided bomb” directed to its target by a laser beam. The Americans destroyed the North Vietnamese bridge on the first try with laser-guided bombs in 1972.

A damaged bridge

The Germans have crude guided bombs now including the “Fritz” radio-guided dive-bomb, but neither the new Arado jet bombers nor the smaller Messerschmitt jets can carry the large Fritz guided “smart” bomb.

As the hours to seize the bridge from the Allies turn into days the Germans become increasingly desperate. Luftwaffe Chancellor Hermann Göring proposes a suicide attack with bomb-laden Me 262 jets. No volunteers come forward or a technical shortcoming of the aircraft’s aiming device- or both- prevents the desperate tactic.

Göring forms a secret, special unit named the “Gefechtsverband Kowalewski”. It is an elite cadre of handpicked, jet-qualified strike pilots from Kampfgeschwader 76, the 76th Bomber Wing formerly located in Norway. The first jet attack pilots in history.

On March 13 the Germans hurl 19 of the special Ar 234 medium bombers and 30 Messerschmitt Me 262 A-2a jet fighter-bombers from II Kampfgeschwader 51 against the target. They are led by special Luftwaffe jet pilot Hansgeorg Bätcher. Bätcher led a previous (unsuccessful) March 7th mission against the Ludendorff problem and lived to tell. He knew the target well. It takes a brave man to volunteer to return, but the German situation is increasingly desperate.

Arado AR234

It will be the first all-jet airstrike on a ground target in aviation history. Even with a full complement of heavy 1,000kg bombs weighing more than a ton the bombers can press home the attack run at over 660 km/h (410 mph), a nearly unheard of speed at the time. They are so fast the American anti-aircraft units will have trouble hitting them. Speed is their primary defense. For six days the III Gruppe/KG 76 pilots attempt to hit the bridge in nine separate strikes.

First jet airstrikes illustration (author unknown)

Seated in the bubble nose of their incredibly fast Arado jet bombers the pilots have an excellent view. The sky is entirely aglow with bursting anti-aircraft shells, the thickest they have ever seen. Diving into the fiery cauldron seems like certain death. Shrapnel from the thick flak peppers the Arados and Messerschmitts. Every one that survives is damaged by flak. And whether it is the concentration of the flak or the speed of the new jet bombers or the inaccuracy of the unguided “dumb” bombs, every single bomb misses the bridge.

The jet strike is a titanic failure for the Germans.

The German losses are devastating. Seven jet aircraft, including two shot down by Allied fighters, are destroyed in that raid alone. The Americans estimate that from Mar. 7th to the 17th they have shot down 109 German planes, and likely destroyed 36 more. Total losses for the Germans now total nearly one-third of their dedicated strike force.

The Germans have developed and fielded a revolutionary new weapon, the jet attack aircraft, but they have not developed the tactics and weapons necessary to capitalize on the new aircraft’s speed and power. The early German jets are also dangerous to fly and require an absurd amount of maintenance. Jet fuel is increasingly scarce as the war continues to go poorly for the Germans.

In a last desperate measure the Germans launch a huge ballistic missile strike on the Ludendorff Bridge using their super-weapon, the V-2 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the first of its type. But its crude gyro-controlled guidance system is so poor some missiles land on civilian villages miles away. Only one missile lands close to the bridge, missing the main span and doing no damage to stanchions on land. The missile strikes are also a failure.

While the German’s last-ditch campaign with their new super weapons fails, it heralds the arrival of the jet age and predicts the new direction of air war. They simply didn’t have all the details worked out, and the last months of a desperate war are a poor place to perfect a revolutionary new technology. Thankfully.

Salva

Salva

Enjoy a guided walkaround tour of the iconic B-17 Flying Fortress bomber

Up close and personal with the Boeing B-17 “Aluminum Overcast” owned by the EAA.

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC).

Even though it also participated in the War in the Pacific, attacking Japanese airfields and shipping early in WWII, it was used primarily in Europe, against German industrial and military targets. Serving with the Eighth Air Force, in UK, and Fifteenth Air Force, in Italy, the aircraft was used a strategic, high-flying, long-range bomber capable to sustain heavy battle damage.

Throughout the conflict, little less than one half of the 1.5M tons of bombs dropped by US aircraft on Germany and occupied territories were dropped by B-17s.

Between 1935 and May 1945, 12,732 B-17s were produced. Of these aircraft, 4,735 were lost during combat missions. Less than 100 B-17 airframes have survived since then, less than 15 are airworthy, none of them is a combat veteran. Among the Flying Fortress bombers that can still take to the air, there’s EAA’s B-17G-VE, serial number 44-85740, nicknamed “Aluminum Overcast.”

As explained by the EAA website, “Aluminum Overcast” carries the colors of the 398th Bomb Group of World War II, which flew hundreds of missions over Nazi-held territory during the war: in particular, it commemorates B-17G #42-102516 which was shot down on its 34th combat mission over Le Manior, France, on Aug. 13, 1944.

Filmed by our reader and friend Erik Johnston, the following walkaround video provides the unique opportunity to see the pilot Ken Morris sharing his extensive knowledge of this iconic airplane.


 

Did you know that the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit was inspired by the WWII B-29 Superfortress bomber?

The cockpit of Star Wars iconic, futuristic  spacecraft is based on the style coined by the WWII B-29.

Did you know that the Star Wars saga most famous spacecraft featured a cockpit clearly inspired to a World War II heavy bomber?

Well, the iconic greenhouse-style window of the Millennium Falcon was designed with the style of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a strategic bomber flying 30 years before Han Solo and Chewbacca first appeared driving the iconic spacecraft into the hyperspace, in mind.

hyperspace

As already explained here when we first published a quite unique walkaround video of the last flying Superfortress, the Boeing B-29 was a four-engine heavy bomber operational during WWII designed for high-altitude strategic bomber role that become particularly famous for carrying out the devastating atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

After the war, the advanced B-29s carried out several tasks including in-flight refueling, antisubmarine patrol, weather reconnaissance and rescue duty. The B-29 saw military service again in Korea between 1950 and 1953, battling new adversaries: jet fighters and electronic weapons. The last B-29 was retired from active service in September 1960.

The Superfortress featured pressurized cabin with the peculiar windows layout, tricycle dual wheeled landing gears, and a quite-advanced-for-the-time, remote, electronic fire-control system that controlled four machine gun turrets that complemented a manned, semi-automatic, rear gun turret.

Indeed, you most probably remember that gun turrets also equip George Lucas’s spacecraft and are used by both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker to fight Imperial TIE fighters as the Millennium Falcon escapes Death Star in Episode IV.

Anyway, the connections between WWII aircraft and Star Wars go well beyond the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit or manned gun turrets: it’s not a secret George Lucas draw inspiration from WWII newsreel and movies. Among them, 633 Squadron (1964) and The Dam Busters (1955) film about one of the Royal Air Force’s most famous raid in WWII against the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams, pivotal to Hitler’s industrial heartland in the Ruhr Valley, inspired the famous Death Star attack featured in “A New Hope.”

Image credit: Wiki (top), Lucas Films

This epic video shows RAF pilot recreating Battle of Britain moves in a vintage Spitfire

Ever wondered what it was like to fly in a Spitfire during the Battle of Britain? This  video will give you an idea.

The video below will bring you aboard a vintage Spitfire recreating classic Battle of Britain moves over the English Channel, in order to give an idea of how intense flying against Luftwaffe fighters in 1940 really was.

The display footage was filmed on Sep. 10, at the Guernsey Air Display in RAF BBMF (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight) Mk V Spitfire AB910. The legendary fighter was flown by Wg. Cdr. Justin Helliwell, flying along with another iconic aircraft, the Hurricane Mk II PZ865 piloted by Sqn. Ldr. Dunc Mason.

The Channel Island displays at Guernsey and Jersey were part of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and both air shows have been very special given the Island’s occupation during WWII.

Enjoy a video walk around of the only flying Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber

Everything you need to know about the legendary B-29 is in this video.

The Boeing B-29 was a four-engine heavy bomber operational during WWII designed for high-altitude strategic bomber role that become particularly famous for carrying out the devastating atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

After the war, the advanced B-29s carried out several tasks including in-flight refueling, antisubmarine patrol, weather reconnaissance and rescue duty. The B-29 saw military service again in Korea between 1950 and 1953, battling new adversaries: jet fighters and electronic weapons. The last B-29 was retired from active service in September 1960.

The Superfortress featured pressurized cabin, tricycle dual wheeled landing gears, and a quite-advanced-for-the-time, remote, electronic fire-control system that controlled four machine gun turrets that complemented a manned, semi-automatic, rear gun turret.

“FIFI” is the nickname of a surviving B-29 out of about 4,000 produced by Boeing, the only one currently flying. The aircraft is owned by the Commemorative Air Force, currently based at Addison, Texas that rescued it in the early 1970s.

Since then, the aircraft has taken part in airshows, documentaries, demo flights and movies.

In the video below, filmed by our reader and friend Erik Johnston, you can join the aircraft commander Allen Benzing in a guided tour outside and inside “FIFI.”