World War II: The War in the Air – Full Documentary


(racing orchestral music) – [Jeremy] During The Great War, there had been no dramatic
increase in aircraft speed. The 19 miles an hour achieved
by fighters 1914 rose to only 125 miles a hour as reached by the fighters of 1917 and 1918. Aircraft range, however,
was vastly extended. When the Frenchman Louis
Bleriot flew across the 20 miles of English channel in 1909, it was considered an amazing feat. That exactly two years
later, two English men, John Alcock and Arthur
Whitten Brown succeeded in crossing the Atlantic, crash
landing on the Irish coast in their converted Vickers Vimy bomber. In the 1920s, flying became
one of the great spectacles. (plane engine humming) Pilots like American Charles Lindbergh and English woman Amy Johnson, trail blazed their way around the world. Airlines followed in their wake, dramatically speeding up
communications around the globe and bringing it’s peoples closer together. Aircraft flew ever faster and ever higher. As for the military use of aircraft, the creation of strategic bombing forces, during 1940 cast a long shadow. Military strategists believed that the bomber could win wars on it’s own by striking at the heart
of an angry nation. But the fighters still had
an important role to play in gaining and maintaining air superiority over the ground battle. Up until the mid 1930s, the fighter looked a little different to that of The Great War. It’s wooden construction and twin wings made them slow to climb, thus making it difficult
to intercept the bombers before they dropped their bombs. The metal framed monoplanes, however, were a different story. They were fast enough
to catch the bombers. They were helped by the
introduction of radar which meant that the bombers
could be tracked well before they approached their targets. The Messerschmitt Me-109 was the German’s superior fighter in 1939. It had already proved itself
in Spain during the Civil War and a 109 Me, which ended service in 1939, was capable of speeds of
over 350 miles per hour. The German fighter pilots had also developed a highly
effective combat formation. The German’s also had
the twin-engined Me-110, who’s row was as a bomber escort. This too flew at more
than 350 miles per hour but lacked the maneuver
ability of the 109. During the invasion of
Poland on the low countries, the Luftwaffe achieved air supremacy by destroying opposing
air forces on the ground. (alarm sounding) While it was never wholly
successful in this, it’s fighters are matched
their often obsolete opponents and so air supremacy was quickly achieved. This did much to ensure the
success of the ground offenses. The one failure that
the Luftwaffe had during this first period of the war was against the British RAF in 1940. The RAF had two fighters which could match those of the Luftwaffe. One being the rugged Hawker Hurricane which could out maneuver the Me-110. The Supermarine Spitfire
could certainly keep up with the Me-109 at high speed. Although, it did lack fire power. The Me-109 and the Spitfire were evenly matched in performance. The Spitfire’s controls were
much quicker at high altitude and the cockpit, a lot less cramped. (plane engines blaring) The Me-109 only carted enough fuel for just over one hours flying which seriously limited it’s combat time over the English coast and
was a considerable draw back. The British radar stations were also becoming increasingly efficient. This, together with an
equally efficient command and control system, often
enabled the RAF fighters to gain altitude over their opponents. The Luftwaffe failed in their
attacked on the radar system and consequently suffered. In 1941, following the immense success of RAF fighter command
in the battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe performed
cross channel sweeps in order to draw the German
fighters into the air. The Germans, now operating
close to their bases in northern France,
has more fuel available for combat than their opponents. (propellers whirring) Their fighter strength in the
West was weakened considerably with Hitler’s invasion
of Russia in June 1941 but during the second half of 1941, the German’s introduced the
formidable Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Able to attain a speed of
well over 400 miles per hour, it could, at low altitude, out maneuver a Spitfire 5 then in service. Early in 1942 came the
appearance of the 109 Gustav. This was to become of the
backbone of the fighter arm as it performed well at high altitudes. This was especially so
after the US eight air force began it’s day light bombing offensive against occupied Europe in earnest at the end of that year. The P-47 Thunderbolt was
the main American fighter and, as with the Spitfire and the Me-109, underwent several
improvements during the war. The P-47 was able to achieve speeds of well over 400 miles per hour but was tied to the American bombers as that escort for much of
the war over northwest Europe. However, it suffered from
lack of range when it came to accompanying them deep into Germany. The problem was to be
solved with the introduction of the P-51B Mustang in 1940 which bolstered extra fuel tanks. At the same time in order to establish and maintain air supremacy over France in the low countries in preparation of the Normandy landings, the American fighters were
withdrawn from the bombers. Simultaneously, the RAF
introduced the Hawker Tempest which light late aversions
of the Thunderbolt could fly at over 400 miles per hour. The Germans enjoyed air supremacy on the eastern front until 1943. Obsolete Soviet types like
these Polikarpov I-15s and I-16s were no match
for the German fighters. Their strong and nautical
design tradition possessed by the Russians meant that by mid 1943, they were introducing air
craft like this make three. Perfectly capable of
matching the Luftwaffe. 2,000 British and
American aircraft supplied on the Lend-Lease proved
to be a great asset and some western Allied
fighter squadrons even fought on the eastern front for a time. (propellers whirring) Thus, the German’s found themselves also facing British Hurricanes as well as American P-39 Airacobsra and P-40 Warhawks. Obsolete Italian CR.42s took off to duel with just as dated
British Gloster Gladiators in the very early months
of the war in north Africa. For the British, three Gladiators, nicknamed Faith, Hope, and Charity, provided the main stay
of their air defense during the early months
of the Siege of Malta. The Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter dominated the Pacific War
during the initial conflict. The western view that the
Japanese pilots were not as skillful as their adversaries
soon proved to be untrue. 1940 saw the advent of the jet fighter. With the British Meteor engaging
German V-1 flying bombs. The German prototype, Heinkel He 178, was the very first jet aircraft and this actually flew
as early as August 1939. RAF officer, Frank
Whittle, had been working on jet engines in Britain for many years before his Gloster Whittle first flew in May 1941. Germany’s first operational
jet, the Messerschmitt Me 262, was delayed into service due to the fact that Hitler wanted it to be a
bomber rather than a fighter. The Arado 234, the so-called blitz bomber, was also introduced by the Germans. But faster than all the jets was the Me 163 Komet rocket plane, reaching a speed of
over 600 miles per hour. However it had only enough
fuel for 90 seconds of flight. After this, it would operate
as a high speed glider. The Lookheed P-80 Shooting Star was the jet fighter
introduced by the Americans. Although two was sent
to Italian Spring 1945, it entered service too late to see action. From 1939 to 45, aircraft
were used for spotting targets and controlling artillery fire as they had been in The Great War, but more efficient radio communications made them much more effective
during the second World War. (radio interference) The Germans developed fighter
ground attack into a fine art. Initially with their
Ju87 Stuka Dive Bomber. The Stuka proved a devastating weapon during the early campaigns. Working closely with the Panzer formations as aerial artillery, it’s
siren regularly served to terrify ground troops. (missile whistling) The British armed the Hurricane with bombs, calling it a Hurribomber during the desert
campaigns in north Africa. Both the British and the Germans also used their ground attack
aircraft as tank busters, equipping them with cannon
firing armor piercing ammunition. The Hawker Typhoon, a
rocket firing aircraft, was used extensively during
the latter half of the war. Especially during the 1944 to 45 campaign in northwest Europe. In the summer of 1941,
the Russians introduced their newly developed,
Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik. This was used and proved to be a very effective
close air support aircraft. However, as a result of it’s
early combat experience, it was to be extensively modified. By 1944, the art of close air
support had been developed to a high degree with radio
equipped air force teams operating with the forward troops. The Allies had such air
power that they were able to operate at cab-rank system with fighter bombers queuing up to be directing onto targets. Allied heavy bombers were used in Normandy as support to the ground troops. The objective being, to
soften up the German defenses before carrying out a
carpet bombing attack. (plane humming) The damage the bombers did on the ground often slowed the advance and inaccurate bombing meant that the friendly troops suffered but air power was also directly involved in the land war in all ways. Especially by virtue of
the Chance Vought aircraft. Development of airborne forces began with the Germans and the
Russians in the 1930s. During the invasion of
Norway in April 1940, the Germans were the first
to use them in action. The German airborne operations, most impressive invasion was
the island of Crete in May 1941 with some 5,000 men being dropped. The Germans ceased mounting
any more such operations on a large scale due
to the substantial loss of Junkers Ju 52 transports. The British and Americans also
began to use airborne forces to spear ahead their
invasion in northwest Africa from November 1942 onwards. (guns firing) The first Allied airborne
army was formed in spring 1944 and their divisions played a major part in the Normandy landings. In September 1944, they very nearly hit
the Germans in Holland. But because the ground forces were unable to link up with the British
and Polish paratroops, at Arnhem in time, this operation failed. The Germans and the Allies
used glider borne troops along with paratroops in their
airborne operations. This meant that once an
air field had been secured, reinforcements could be flown in as the Germans did in Crete. The Germans had the largest
transport aircraft of the war. The Me 323 Gigant, this
also had a glider version. The Chindits and Burma in 1944 even created makeshift air strips deep inside Japanese occupied territory in order to fly in troops and supplies. Burma and the Pacific also
saw extensive use made of re-supply by parachute. There was to be the air lift of material from India to China. In the early 1920s, American
General Billy Mitchell, plotted out a series of experiments to demonstrate how effective
could be against ships. The second World War was
to prove Mitchell right. The aircraft carrier took over as the Navy’s principal
weapon from the battle ship and so transformed the war at sea. But land based aircraft
were just as effective. The Royal Navy in the
Mediterranean suffered, especially, from aircraft operating
from south Italy and Sicily in it’s attempts to motor supply. During the evacuations of
the army from France in 1940 and Crete in 1941, the
British lost vast numbers of war ships to German air attack. The capital ships, prince
of Wales and Repulse were also lost to Japanese air
attack off the Malayan coast in December of 1941. The German battle ship, Tirpitz, which had long been a major
threat to the supply convoys to Russia was finally lost
to heavy British bombers. The amazing 12,000 pound tallboy
was the actual bomb used. This unique bomb had defused in the tail which enabled it to
penetrate the ship’s armor before detonating. The arctic convoy has
also suffered from attack by German aircraft based in Norway, which, like Sicily on the Mediterranean was likened to a land aircraft carrier. This led to the warships
themselves adopting even stronger anti-aircraft armament, consequently, aircraft losses were high. By the end of 1941, the RAF’s
anti-shipping of squadrons mainly equipped with the Bofor, was suffering a significantly
higher casualty rate than any other branch of the service. In the Mediterranean from 1943, the Allies suffered
several shipping loses due to the introduction of
Germany’s anti-ship weapon, HS 293 glider bomb which
probed extremely effective. The British designed
another anti-shipping weapon in order to attack the Tirpitz, Highball which worked on the same principal as the bouncing bomb used in the RAF’s famous Dams Raid of 1943 but was never used in anger. The Battle of the Atlantic was World War II’s
longest running campaign and the aircraft played
an ever increasing role. During the first half of the battle, long range German Focke-Wulf
Condors operating from western France ranged far and
wide over the Atlantic. They directed U-boats onto convoys and themselves attack ships with success. Likewise, Allied aircraft,
as they had done together with air ships during The Great War, could spot a U-boat on the surface and direct war ships onto them. Due to the fact that a surfaced U-boat was extremely vulnerable to air attack, half of the German submarine
sank during the war. The Leigh Light was a search
light system developed by the RAF. This was fitted down to the fuser lodge for attacked surface U-boats at night. May 1943 saw the turning point
in the Battle of the Atlantic when the German’s were forced to temporarily withdraw their U-boats. This was due mainly to
the increasing production of more effective naval weapons
and anti-submarine tactics and also to aircraft. The very long range American B-24 Liberator maritime patrol aircraft was instrumental in finally
closing the so-called Black Gap. This part of the north
Atlantic could not be covered by land based aircraft until the B-24. The maritime patrol B-24s
previously had another role which was considered to be more important. Namely, as a strategic bomber. During the great war of 1914-18, German Zeppelins and native
bombers had attacked England. Western targets in Germany were also hit by British and French bombers. This had lead to the belief that bombing could
destroy a country’s will to continue to wage war but in place into this were attacks against civilians which was seen as contrary
to the laws of war. In the 1930s, the bombing
of Madrid and Guernica during the Spanish Civil War
served to convince people that the bomber would dominate
future and major wars. This was reinforced by
Japanese air attacks on Chinese cities like Shanghai in 1937. The greatest fear was that air forces would employ gas bombs. Therefore, as the war
showed no sign of ending, nations began to equip their
civilians with gas masks. In 1939, at the outbreak of
war, the combatant nations laid down very strict guidelines
for their bomber forces to adhere to, they should
only attack military targets but within three weeks of the
German invasion of Poland, the Luftwaffe was bombing Warsaw. Their justification for
this by the Germans was that the Polish capital had
made itself a military target by refusing to surrender. The German attack on
Rogadam in May 1940 was for the same reason but
could have been avoided if the message to the German bombers to turn back had got
through to them in time. During the Battle of
Britain, the main targets for the German bombs were the air fields, radar stations, docks,
and air craft factories. The Blitz on Britain so
very nearly didn’t happen. It was the result of a navigational error by a German bomber
which dropped it’s bombs on London by mistake. This lead to the RAF’s
immediate retaliation with a raid on Berlin, the
era of city busting had begun. Even so, at this stage,
the bombers if both sides were still instructed to
attack specific targets such as munition factories but
they had severe problems in achieving accuracy. At the beginning of the
way, both the Luftwaffe and the RAF intended to bomb by day since it was easier to find the target. However, at the beginning of the 1940s, the British bombers had
changed to bombing at night as they had suffered severe losses at the hands of the German fighters, By September 1940, the Germans had begun night bombing
for the same reason. Navigation, which was
reliant on dead reckoning, suffered however. Bomb sights too were a little
different than those of 1918 and were just as inaccurate. In the summer of 1941,
the British commission were studying bombing
accuracy and established that only some %10 of bombs
were getting their bombs to within five miles of
targets within western Germany. Something had to be done
to improve navigation. – It was inevitable that
civilians would suffer. As the munition factories were usually in urban areas or close to them. By the autumn of 1940, the
Germans had developed a system of radio beams intercepting
over the target in order to improve accuracy. The RAF then rapidly
developed counter measures to bend the beams. Then by the spring of 1942, the RAF introduced a
similar system called Gee. This was incorporated in a
new breed of heavy bombers. At the outbreak of the war, both the Luftwaffe and the RAF possessed only medium bombers. Like the Heinkel He 111
and the Vickers Wellington and these had limited range and pay load. Initially, the Germans saw no real need for longe range heavy bombers as they thought only of war
against neighboring nations. They did reconsider this
decision later during the war but heavy bombers like
this Heinkel He 177. Never really got beyond
the prototype stage. Such were the conflicting
priorities of bombs for new air craft types. The RAF too initially
concentrated on medium bombers in an attempt to match
the Luftwaffe numerically. However, specifications for
heavy bombers were ready by the late 1930s. These began to come into the service during the first half of 1941 but with the spring of
1942, came an aircraft that was to become one of the outstanding bombers of
the war the Avro Lancaster. Winston Churchill during this time had seen RAF bomber command
as the only direct way of striking back at Germany and reducing the pressure on the Russians. With enough heavy bombers, the RAF could destroy the Germany economy and almost definitely
the morale of her people by attacking her cities. There was, however, a problem. Britain’s aircraft need
was not only bombers. There was an extreme shortage of maritime patrol
aircraft in the Atlantic which were desperately needed
to keep the U-boats at bay which meant that the production of bombers could not be
given absolutely priority. In February 1942, RAF bomber
command received a new chief. Arthur Harris, soon to be
nicknamed Bomber Harris, was a very straight talking man. He believed and the air
staff supported him, that the policy of city busting or aerial bombing could
bring Germany to her knees. This would achieve the final victory. Without large ground force
casualties being suffered. With this in mind, Harris
launched 3,000 bomber raids at the end of May 1942. This was to confirm and
prove what could be done if he had sufficient bombers, At the time, this meant borrowing aircraft from other sourcse. The RAF could not
maintain this size of raid and would be unable to do so until mid 1944, but
the British bombers had to contend with an ever more effective German air defense, a combination of radars, search lights, anti-aircraft guns, and night fighters. Were organized in zones
covering the approaches to Germany and the major cities. RAF bomber command would
pay dearly for it’s attacks because of these defenses. Harris was by now
looking to the Americans, who’s eight air force was
now building up in Britain to lend weight to the campaign. It’s main strength lay in the
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. While it did carry the bomb
load of the RAF’s Lancaster, it had more defensive weapons. The Americans believed that
they could attack Germany by day and use the B-17’s armament
to keep the fighters at bay. The eight air force B-17s
made their operational debut in mid August 1942. It was to be some months though before they were in sufficient strengths, to launch major attacks against Germany. In the meantime, they gained
operational experience over France and the low countries. Earlier results were
very impressive in terms of bombing accuracy, due
to the northern bomb site with which the US aircraft were equipped. In January 1943, the Allies agreed on a combined bombing
offensive as a necessary step to final victory over Germany. Point Blank was the code name the RAF used and continued to attack by night WHile the American’s did so by day. This was called round the clock bombing. Point blank was launched
by the RAF in March 1943. This was the beginning of what is known as the Batlte of the Rua,
the main industrial region in western Germany, which
lay against the east bank of the river rine. The battle lasted four months but the result was inconclusive. Industrial haze and defective German air defenses were the main reason but the RAF underestimated the German’s recovery
rate from these attacks. Another mistake the RAF
made was to ignore the fact that the British people
had remained resilient under the Blitz of 1940 to 41. They believed theat the Germans would crack under the same pressure. Not all of the RAF attacks
went on the city busting short. Light and medium bombers
did make attacks by day. To cause surprise, many of
these were made at low levels. The twin engined De Havilland Mosquito with it’s all wooden air frame, was particularly effective at low level. The attacks on the Gustava Annual in northern France proved this. British aircraft designer
Barnes Wallis was responsible for the RAF’s most
spectacular rate of the war, against the Dams in May 1943. Wallis designed a special
type of bomb for this as conventional types would not work. The newly designed bomb would bounce on the water and strike
horizontally rather than vertically. A special Lancaster squadron
was formed for the operation which took place on the
sixteenth, seventeenth of May. Two of the three dams
attacked were breached but eight out of the 19 aircraft
involved failed to return. Even so, the attack provided a major boost to RAF bomber commands morale. Towards the end of July 1943, Harris targeted the northern
German city port of Hamburg which he was determined to destroy. Four attacks over 10 days,
almost achieved this, creating the most horrific fire storms. With the Americans attacking
my dad to intensify the damage. All this in 1943 was a bath
month for the American bombers. On the first of the month,
the ninth air force based in north Africa, launched
a low level attack against the Ploiesti oil fields in Romania. The low altitude of the bombers meant that the German radars were unable to spot them on their way to the target. Giving the German air
defenses little or no warning that the bombers were approaching. The bombers reached the oil fields and caused considerable damage. Their return flight, however,
was not such a success. One third of the 177 B-24s were lost. Many other bombers were severely damaged. Only two weeks later, the
eight air force struck at the Me-109 fighter
factory at Rittersberg and of all bearing factory at Shenefelt. Encountering high loses yet again, with 60 of the 376 bombers
involved being shot down and 170 damaged. No air force could continue
with such high loses. This led to the withdrawal of the eight air force to the fringes In October 1943, the Americans attack Shenefelt again and 68-B, 17 failed to return. The Americans were losing
confidence in daylight attacks and considered switching
to night operations. The main problem was that their bombers, although heavily armed,
could not defend themselves. Yet they did have
dedicated escort fighters like the P-47 Thunderbolt
and P-38 Lightening but neither of these types have the range to escort the bombers to
targets deep in Germany. The P-51B Mustang was the answer which began to appear in early 1944. In autumn 1943, RAF bomber
command opened a third of it’s major offenses under
point blank against Berlin. It was to be the grimmest battle due to the defenses around the German capital. Berlin was attacked several
times during the winter of 1943 to 44 but hopes that the RAF
could achieve another Hamburg were in vain. Bomber loses rose drastically
as the battle wore on. Berlin, although bruised,
was not destroyed. For RAF bomber command,
it was a battle lost. In the Mediterranean, the
newly formed US 15th air force had also begun to attack
targets in Germany but the strategic bombing forces in Britain were now passed
through Eisenhowers command. In order to prepare for
the cross channel invasion. While the bomber barrens, American Charles Patch and Arthur Harris believed it was a mistake to switch their attacks from Germany. The contribution they made
to the success Overlord, the invasion of France, was immense. This was both in destroying
transportation targets and drastically reducing the Luftwaffe’s strength
in Northern France. In September 1944, the bombers returned to Germany in force. Oil was now the top priority. Although, city busting continued. The Luftwaffe continued to
attack bombers in the air but with largee numbers of Mustangs about, success was harder to achieve. Meanwhile, Germany’s infrastructure was being steadily destroyed but it was the attack on
Dresden in February 1945, which brought the morality of
aerial bombing to the fall, this city had virtually no
targets of military significance. Yet much of it was destroyed. And 50,000 lives lost, even so the bombers
continued to blitz Germany until the very end of the war. During this time, larger
types of bombs were used. Ranging from this 9,000 pound type to the 22,000 pound grand slam which the RAF used against to divide up and other difficult targets. The long strategic bombing offensive against Germany was not
decisive on it’s own. It failed to break the
morale of the German people. Though it could not prevent
German War production from peeking during late 1943. The costume bombers and the lives of their crew was very high. RAF bomber command loses was such that of every `100 air crew
who embarked on a tour of operations, 60 would be killed before they had completed
the statutory 30 missions. It was the same for the Americans. However, the offensive did
make a significant contribution to the defeat of Hitler’s Germany which compensated for the high
loses in man and aircraft. In the war on south east
Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese used their bombers to spearhead their oriental Blitzkrieg. The Japanese did not see bombing as decisive in it’s own right but air attacks on the
Philippines, Singapore, and else where undoubtedly had an effect on the morale of the defenders. The Allies on the other hand, were out of range of the mainlands Japan for much of the war. In fact, before June 1944, only one air attack was made on Japan. This was the Strike by B-25
bombers from the carrier Hornet. In April 1942, it was no more than a morale raiser for the Americans. It was not until the massive Boeing B-29 which could carry a 20,000
pound bomb load over 3,000 miles and which came with a service in 1944 that land based American
bombers could reach Japan. The B-29 was sent to India
and to bases in southern China and made it’s first
attack on Japan from China on the 15th of June, 1944. The Japanese then launched
an attack into southern China and the B-29 bases then
had to be evacuated. However, in the mid summer of
1944, the capture of Saipan in the Mariana Islands
in the central pacific, gave the B-29s alternative
basis within range of Japan. Towards the end of November, they resumed high altitude attacks. The results in terms of bombing
accuracy were disappointing. The Japanese fighters were
shooting down and damaging an increasing number of B-29s,
not without cust themselves. The B-29s then decided to
switch to night bombing and attack at low level,
hoping to improve accuracy. As many Japanese houses were built of wood in centuries made up most the bomb load. The first of these attacks
was made against the Japanese capital, Tokyo, on the night
of 9th, 10th March 1945. The results, two square miles of her city being totally destroyed. This led to attacks on
other Japanese cities. Okayama, captured at
thee end of March 1945 brought Japan within P-51 Mustang range and meant that the B-29s
could resume daylight raids and that B-17s could joint them. Bombing of Japan continued
throughout the summer of 1945, destroying much
of the remaining industry. The Japanese began to make signs for peace but would not accept
unconditional surrender. A large proportion of a population wanted to fight on to the bitter end. Despite the obliteration
of Japanese cities, this lead to the decision
to use the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, consequently, surrender. It could be argued that
the pre-war era theorists had finally been vindicated. However, it was the weapon
and not the delivery which had proved decisive. The future capability of the atomic bomb was to prove immense. (racing orchestral music)

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