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The Spanish Civil war started in July, 1936 as an internal military uprising that soon escalated into an ideological face-off between Right and Left. The Spanish Fascisti were supported by its ideologic cousins - Nazi Germany's Hitler and Fascist Italy's Mussolini. Both were interested in showing their nation's new strength and power and sent "volunteers" with modern equipment to help "their" side. This included air units.
The Loyalist/Republican side was not supported as openly by the western democracies, though they sent money and a little equipment. Various anti-fascists, from republicans to anarchists volunteered to fight. The Soviet Union, however, was interested in showing its strength, power, and technology, so it also sent air units.
Many new warfare techniques were studied here - including strategic bombing, dive-bombing, and high-speed dogfighting. New designs and design concepts got a thorough field test here on the eve of World War II. The Bf109, Bf110, He111, and Ju52 all first flew in combat over Spain.
When the Spanish Civil War first broke out in July, 1936, the only air units available were the Aeronautica Militar Española itself, which divided its NiD.52 biplane fighters: 7 to the Nationalists, 39 to the Republican/Loyalists. Most of its bomber uints (flying 1920s vintage Breguet XIX biplane bombers and Vildebeest torpedo bombers) went to the Republicans. Italy and Germany almost immediately sent aircraft and air force personnel.
By the end of 1936, Germany had sent a gruppe (3 sqdn) of He-51 biplane fighters, a squadron of 18 He-70 recon bombers, a gruppe (4 sqdn) of Ju.52 bomber/transports, a squadron of seaplanes, and an experimental squadron. Italy sent 127 Fiat CR.32 fighters and some SM.81 and Ca.135 bombers.
In response, the Soviet Union sent an expeditionary air force of I-15 and I-16 fighters, and SB-2 bombers. Republicans also bought small numbers of the following using donations: Dewoitine D.373s, D.500s, and D.510s, SPAD S.510Cs, Loire-Nieuport LN.46s, Potez Po.56 recon aircraft, Bloch MB.200 bombers. Where the Germans and Italians (and Russians) sent regular military pilots to Spain, the Republican volunteers units were filled with mercenaries and untrained idealists.
A major prize was Madrid. After a quick initial thrust that did not succeed, the Nationalists targetted periodic offensives designed to cut off Madrid. This kept Madrid in the center of the Republicans (and the world's) attention. They also ran offsensives to gobble pieces of the Republican/Basque stronghold in Northern Spain. The Republicans initial benefit in man-power began to give way to the Nationalists disciplined troops and superior weaponry.
Spain was a much lower density war than the following world conflagration. Where one side massed, the other massed to counter - but much of the rest of Spain was left rather thinly defended by both sides. One of the reasons for the Nationalist campaigns in the north was to remove a few hundred miles of confrontation.
The aircraft density was comparatively low, too - no more than a couple hundred aircraft in any one place. Except for places like Madrid, air cover was fairly scarce - unless you were the side launching the offensive. This low density added to the belief in air staffs across Europe that "the bomber will get through." It also helped that both sides employed two-engine monoplane bombers that outran the other side's biplane fighters.
Eventually, the Republican financial sources and diplomatic channels dried up, though Germany and Italy kept the Nationalists supplied. In April, 1939, the last Republicans surrendered.
Spain saw the beginnings of WWII aerial warfare. Missions included:
The Polikarpov I-15 Chato in the Spanish Civil War
Sitzkrieg (Phony War to the English and Drôle de Guerre to the French) was the name given to the period of time along the western front during the winter of 39-40 when the armies of France, Britain, and Germany stood an watched each other. Aerially, however, things were not so quiet. Fighters patrolled along their fronts and occasionally crossed over to fight the opposing patrol. The English patrolled the North Sea - and the Germans mined the English coast. England and France sent bombing raids carrying first leaflets then bombs over Germany. (See also Britain's Bombers)
After Poland, the Winter of 1939/40 was a period of quiet tension from Switzerland to the North Sea. Poland was defeated and parcelled out between Germany and the Soviet Union. Many of the remaining Balkan nations were swaying toward Germany. Italy was belligerent - but not at war. French and German troops stared at each other across the border - and aircraft performed minor sparing.
Then, in April, 1940, Germany launched a series of attacks against Denmark and Norway, then in May, Holland and Belgium (all neutral nations without powerful militaries) and then France.
Norway and Denmark were minor battles, aerially speaking. Neither nation had a large air force. Denmark was overwhelmed so quickly, they did not have a chance to use their aircraft. The Norwegian campaign took more time and Britain was able to reinforce Norway - but not with much. They managed to send in a squadron of Gloster Gladiators (promised French aircraft never arrived).
The Luftwaffe used 340 bombers (He-111s and Do17s), 40 Stukas, 100 fighters and 557 transport planes in their effort. Immediately, they moved aircraft into captured airfields at Fornebu, Stavanger, and Bergen.
By the time the RAF sent a single dquadron of Gladiator biplane fighters over to Trondheim, the situation was already quite bad. In a matter of days, in the face of overwhelming force, No. 263 sqdn was destroyed. It returned in a month, by which point Norway was all but lost - and the Battle of France was an issue by itself.
|342 medium bombers||KG30 (Ju88A)
KG26, KGr100 (He111H)
KG4 (He111H + Do17Z)
|39 Dive bombers||I/StG1|
|102 Fighters||II/JG27 - Bf109E-1s
I/ZG1, I/ZG76 - Bf110C-4s
58 Misc (Seaplanes, recon)
|Mostly Ju52s + few W.34s|
|Royal Norwegian Air Force||12 Fighters||6 Gladiator Is
6 Gladiator IIs
|RAF/FAA||HMS Ark Royal and
(23-Apr-40 to 8-Jun-40)
|No. 800 Sqdn: 9 Skua, 2 Roc
No. 801 Sqdn: 9 Skua, 3 Roc
No. 810 Sqdn: 10 Swordfish
No. 820 Sqdn: 11 Swordfish
1 Walrus Flying boat
18 Sea Gladiators
(max at any one time)
|No. 263 sqdn (Gladiators)
No. 46 sqdn (Hurricane Is)
|24 Dive bombers launched from England||RNAS Skuas|
|Medium bombers launched from England||Hampdens
The storm of war broke over Western Europe in early May, 1940. Waves of bombers, escorted by fighters struck Holland and Belgium, two neutral countries, as France. Belgium and Holland both had air forces, and both were small (compared to their neighbors) and equipped with some obsolete aircraft. In both cases, they believed that by maintaining neutrality, they could avoid war. Belgian Air Force. Dutch Air force.
In both cases, both air forces were attacked without warning and started at a major disadvantage. Both were overwhelmed by the numbers of Luftwaffe aircraft they faced. The Luftwaffe concentrated its attention for the first few days on the Dutch and Belgian (and French) air bases.
The LVA was attacked at dawn on 10-May-40. 56 of the 71 alert aircraft manage to take off. However, by the end of the day, a total of 49 were out of action - most of them destroyued on the ground in continous raids by the Luftwaffe. Dutch fighters did bring down a noticeable number of Ju52 transports. The rest of the LVA was out of action by 14-May, either by being destroyed or captured on the ground (either by air attack or by ground capture of the air fields) or destroyed in combat. A few of the Dutch Navy's Fokker T.VIII float planes retreated to England.
Addition details about Air War over Holland.
The BAR was also attacked at dawn on 10-May-40. They were not damaged quite as badly the first day (only about half the Belgian Air Force was put out of commission). Their most modern equipment was a squadron of Hurricane Is. License-built Hurricances were not yet operational. On the whole, Belgium held out more than a week. However, Germany brought overwhelming force at a few key points of the Belgian defenses, and near-constant air superiority allowed them freedom of action. Still, fighters went up and fought the enemy where they found them; Fairey Fox biplanes, when they returned, brought back the dismal information about Germany advances. After a week, Belgian aircraft were simply withdrawn to France and later Britain - more as a means of preserving the pilots than to preserve the machines.
On May 12, Begium sent its main striking arm (the squadron of Fairey Battles) to destroy the bridges at Maastricht. They were decimated; after that, the Battles were used only as high speed messengers.
|Hawker Hurricane I||1-3||Fokker D.XXI||1-9|
|Fiat CR.42||4-9||Fokker G.I||10-14|
|Gloster Gladiator I||10-13||Douglas DB-8A-3N||15-20|
|Fairey Fox VIC||14-20|
|Fairey Battle||1-3||Fokker T.V||1-5|
|Renard R31||4-6||Fokker T.VIII||6-9|
|Fairey Fox Recon||7-12||Fokker C.V||10-11|
|Fairey Fox Bomber||13-20||Fokker C.X||12-18|
France was one of the premier militaries in the world. It had a large air force, but had been suffering from delays in developing modern aircraft.
On May 10th, the same storm broke over France as broke over the Low Countries. The French Air Force was under the command of the Army, and senior army commanders believed the air force was fragile. It was committed against the German air and land threats late and in small packets.
Almost immediately, a major battle involving aircraft arouse. While reeling under Luftwaffe air assault on their air bases, on 11-May-40, German Wehrmacht units seized key bridges in the Sedan area over the Meuse River. On 12-May-40 Britain and France carried out a series of air missions to drop the bridges by air to halt the German penetration of France. None were successful.
The Random Encounter Tables for France have two columns - one for September 1939, and one for May, 1940. Between these two dates, France was rapidly changing her mix of available aircraft, trying to modernize before the deluge could strike.
|Fighters|| Sept 39
| May 40
|Curtiss Hawk 75A-1||12-14||13-14|
|Curtiss Hawk 75A-2||15-16||15-16|
|Curtiss Hawk 75A-3||--||17|
|Hawker Hurricane IA||--||20|
|Caudron C.445M (transp)||3-4||4||16-20|
|Farman F.222 BN5||5||--||26|
|Martin 167F A3||--||9-10||43-50|
|Bloch MB.210 B4||13-17||12||57-61|
|Potez Po.633 B2||--||--||88-90|
|Fairey Battle III||--||19-20||93-100|
Due to the high number of aircraft types, I added a D100 column to the May 40 encounters, to allow for a more precise random selection for the purists (who will probably quibble constantly with the numbers anyway...) and to allow for statistically less signfigant aircraft to appear.
This campaign, of course, is well covered by Achtung! Spitfire.
Germany wanted to knock England out of the war, especially right after she had lost a lot of her heavy equipment in the Battle of France. This would allow Germany to digest her conquests of the last year in peace. A quick invasion followed by an Armistice would do it. However, England still had the Royal Navy which could operate under a fighter umbrella from the RAF. So, to knock England out of the war, he had to destroy the RAF so that the Luftwaffe could then damage the Royal Navy and then he could threaten to invade.
Hitler believed that the threat of invasion, rather than having to actually carry out Operation Zeelowë (Sea Lion), would do to bring England to terms. I don't think Winston Churchill would have agreed.
At any rate, Herman Göring promised Hitler that his Luftwaffe would not have any problem wiping out the RAF (which, after all, had just lost a significant number of fighters in France).
The RAF had a number of things in its favor:
More important than just an excellent and accurate radar system, the RAF had thecommand/control infrastructure in place to forward radar information to information centers which could then allocate forces to intercept the enemy.
The Luftwaffe had a few points in its favor:
Experience can be a two edged sword, since the Luftwaffe's bombers had not faced an opponent as strong or as well organized as the RAF. While their confidence allowed them to carry out their missions, their belief in their experience was a weight against learning from their current experience.
Included in the mix was the Corpo Aero Italiano sent from Italy to forcefully show the flag. They did not perform well at all. Details from Håkan Gustavsson.
|Luftwaffe:||Escorted day bombing raids
Escorted convoy attacks
Unescorted night bombing raids
Britain was not exactly sitting around doing nothing in the way of an aerial offensive between 1939 and 1942 when the Americans began to arrive. Britain had organized Bomber Command before the war and trained it for both tactical and strategic bombing. When the balloon went up, so did the British bombers.
Britain developed heavy bombers before the war, like the AW.38 Whitley Mk V. While weak, under-armed, and capable of small bomb loads by later standards, these were giants of the air at the time - and they were available. Britain was also well-equipped with medium bombers - the Wellington and the Hampden. These had the range to hit coastal Germany.
From 3-Sep-39 until 10-May-40, Bomber Command was under orders to attack only non-land based military targets, which limited them to attacking German navy ships in rather well-protected harbors and leaflet raids.
On 10-May-40, the Luftwaffe bombed Rotterdam in Holland and Antwerp in Belgium - both civilian targets (actually more by accident than design). Starting that evening, Churchill allowed Bomber Command to attack anything they wished. And they did - but not very accurately.
Daylight raids quickly became costly. The short-ranged Hurricane and Spitfire could not visit the continent, so missions beyond the northern France or the Belgian coast went in unescorted - at rather great cost. The RAF began to fly by night.
In July, 1941, the RAF gave the B-17C its initiation to combat - with less than satisfactory results! Similar initial raids with various heavy bombers as they became available were also costly.
By 1942, RAF Bomber Command switched completely to night bombing, where the target was a city rather than precise targets (like a factory or railyard). These grew into 1000 bomber raids during 1943, which were about as devastating as the London Blitz. These raids lead to Operation Steinbock.
Through out the war, sea control of the approaches to Britains ports were extremely important. Britain is an island and much of its food and raw industrial materials came from abroad (abroad being anywhere not on the island of Britain). Germany tried to choke off these routes with U-boats and air patrols in the Channel, the North Sea, the Barents Sea reaching out of northern Norway, and from France reaching across the Bay of Biscay out into the Atlantic. Where U-boats might lurk, RAF Coastal Command was ordered to patrol, usually in second-line aircraft. As technology and available aircraft improved, it became harder and harder for U-boats to work effectively. In addition to ASW patrols, Coastal command also worked against Axis coastal transportation.
It was not a one-sided proposition. Patrolling too close to France occasionally led to visits form German interceptors.
As the war progressed, the Luftwaffe trained units to spot for the U-boats and to attack on their own. The FX 1400 and Hs293 stand-off weapons were developed with an anti-ship capability in mind - since closing with allied shipping brought fighters, who removed the attacking bombers.
More Information: Jeff Noakes's site about Coastal Command (orbat, Liberator eqipment details, ASW instructions)
Surface search patrol (spotting for submarines)
In May, Bismarck, the Kreigsmarine's new full-sized battleship and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen sortied from Germany through the North Sea heading for the Atlantic. This set off a major panic in the Royal Navy, who sent everything it could muster to catch and destroy Bismarck before it could begin to prey on North Atlantic convoy traffic. Among units sent were the brand new HMS Victorious, her air squadrons still working up to operational status.
Air units from HMS Victorious found and attacked Bismarck, doing the damage that eventually doomed her by leaving her unable to avoid Force H from Gibraltar. They also helped track Bismarck.
The Swordfish of HMS Ark Royal received an unintended practice attack! At 18:00 hrs on 26-May-41, 15 Swordfish attacked a single large warship they had found by ASV with torpedos. However, the vessel was HMS Sheffield, the Royal Navy cruiser shadowing Bismarck some 20 miles further on. Fortunately, of the dozen aircraft that attacked, no hits occurred. The magnetic detenators in use were faulty. As the Swordfish returned to Ark Royal, armorers were already at work connecting conventional detenators to the reloads.
At 21:00 hours, 13 Swordfish launched the final aerial attack against Bismarck. This attack caused the rudder damage that doomed Bismarck.
Admiral Somerville wanted to fly again the next day, but was ordered not to fly, lest there be a repeat of the attack on Sheffield.
In the end, aircraft did not sink the Bismarck - but they certainly contributed to its end!
|HMS Ark Royal
(with Force H)
HMS Victorious sqdns: Green
HMS Ark Royal sqdns: Good
Operation Cerberus was a plan to move three large German warships from Brest to safer anchorage in Germany. Germany chose to move the vessels through the Channel. While under the guns of almost every weapon in England's arsenal, it was also within range of whatever protection the Luftwaffe could provide. The date selected provided a dark night and, fortuitous for the Germans, poor weather. The Luftwaffe support plan, devised by General Galland, was called Operation Thunderbolt.
Other than being fascinating as an operation (the German plan well as the English reponse), due to it's limited scale, Operation Thunderbolt is a good campaign scale.
Operation Cerberus was one of Germany's more successful combined arms ventures. The Kreigsmarine was particularly bad at cooperation, but on this occasion, placing an air liaison on board each of the major combatants seems to have worked well.
The basic plan involved Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen leaving Brest at about midnight. By day light, the ships (with escorting destroyers was to be off Cherbourg and under an umbrella of fighters. Galland's plan was to have a squadron (16 fighters) over the flotilla for some 35 minutes (which could be extended by about 10 minutes if nothing exciting happened). During the last 10 minutes, the next squadron would show up. The relieved squadron would go land and refuel and get ready for the next spot in the rotation. One squadron was to remain in readiness to provide reinforcements at all times.
In addition to the Luftwaffe and the Kreigsmarine, various signal units had worked for months on a jamming plan to blind various British surface and air search radars - the largest jamming effort of either side up to that point in the war. This part of the plan was quite successful.
The Germans waited for poor weather, which occurred on 17-Feb-42. Visibility was poor, the ceiling was well under 1000 ft. The Germans were not spotted until after 10:00 AM, by which point they were off Cherbourg.
Most of the British bombers missed their targets completely. Of those that did see their target, none of their direct attacks caused any damage. With radar out, British shore batteries were helpless. Eventually, calmer heads prevailed and on toward the end of the afternoon and the British medium bombers began laying minefields ahead of the advancing German vessels.
|JG2||90 Bf109F & FW190A-2|
|JG26||90 Bf109F & FW190A-2|
|I?/ZG76||30 Bf110C night fighters|
The Luftwaffe organized it forces to have a staffel of fighters circling over the flotilla at all times. Each staffel's sortie was timed to allow it to take off, locate the flotilla, and to remain on station for about 45 minutes. There was a 10 minute overlap with the next staffel (in case they were late). When in incoming staffel was on time, there were two staffeln on station.
Coastal Command reacted with a rather untidy response, calling on all bombers available. Some 250 responded, as well as fighters from 15 squadrons. These included:
A Gallant Sortie
While after recovering from the Battle of Britain, and with the coming of the Americans, the Allies began a series of bombing campaigns against Germany and the occupied countries that only grew in intensity. In addition to the massive clouds of USAAF and RAF strategic bombers that struck by day and night, there were smaller raids, usually more selective of their targets.
Anopheles de Havillandus: a mission scenario generator by Prof. Errata
After a devastating bomber raid on the cultural city of Cologne, Hitler order the Luftwaffe to strike back at English cultural targets. The name comes from a well-known German tourist guide book that Hitler mentioned when he announced the raids. He joked that he wanted to mark off the targets from his Baedeker's Tourist Guide as the raids were carried out.
The raids were all executed at night. The Luftwaffe had learned its lesson since the Battle of Britain. The raiders flew singly or in small groups. The Luftwaffe thought that such raids would be harder to detect and intercept. However, by this time, ADGB (Air Defense Great Britain, Fighter Command's heir) was well organized for night defense. The first attack was against Exeter.
After the devastating 1000 bomber raids on Hamburg, Hitler order the Luftwaffe to strike back. To carry out this command, Goering scraped together a force of 250 bombers with orders to raid Britain in repayment for their attacks. In October, 1943, the Luftwaffe launched the first of 29 raids sometimes called "the Little Blitz." Most raids were made at night. London was hit 21-Jan-44. The last raid was in March 44.
The schwerpunkt of this assault was a group of He-177 heavy bombers. The entire force was composed as follows:
They were opposed by the Air Defense Great Britain (ADGB) Command, which had been created from the Battle of Britain's Fighter Command. ADGB was an integrated command consisting of radar, command/control, AAA, and day and night interceptors.
At the end of the operation, about 130 bombers of the original 427 were left. Many were lost to AAA and night fighters; some were lost due to equipment failure or crashes. Other than the He-177, most were used at low level in an attempt to slip under the British radar defenses.
Clash of the Titans: A post-Steinbok meeting of a B-17 vs. an He-177
After the liberation of France (and the Russian offensives to clear Ukraine, Rumania, and the Baltic States, as well as the Armistice with Finland) in the summer of 1944, things began to close in on Germany from all sides. The mass of Allied airpower continued to grow as the air units of the Liftwaffe continued to deplete.
The Luftwaffe clung on defending Germany to the best of their ability, willing to try ever more desparate weapons to try to stem the assault. even as the ring was closing, Me262, Me163, Ar 234, He162 took to the air and more still poured out of factories. Still more powerful weapons were under development, including SAMs, ASM, and AAMs.
But there was no one to fly them, and not enough fuel to run them. Pilot schools ran increasingly shorter classes and turned out replacement pilots of less and quality. By the summer of 1944, a stable He177 was finally available - but needed too much of the diminishing fuel supply to fly. Most bomber units were deactivated.
In the face of ever increasing numbers of allied aircraft, ever fewer Luftwaffe aircraft took to the air until the bitter end.
The German Navy built the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin; it was completed but not outfitted because the Luftwaffe and Navy could not agree who would control the air group. The air group was planned as 40 aircraft:
The Luftwaffe had two fighter staffeln training for carrier operations since 1938 or 39 (Tr.186); they participated in the Polish Campaign.
The Graf Zeppelin was intended to provide air-cover for a surface raiding squadron. Certainly adding the Graf Zeppelin and a few destroyers to the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen or to the Battle of North Cape makes a more interesting problem for the British!
No, it did not happen. Jet vs. jet combat did not occur until the Korean War. But the potential did exist. Germany had (as of January, 1945):
If you extend the war a few months, Germany can add:
If you knock out some internal squabbling, the Heinkel He280 was under development before the Me262. It was slower - but more maneuverable. It could have been ready a year earlier.
Britain had operational Meteor Is operating over England in July, 1944, though admittedly, they had very short legs; still, they could be used as last ditch interceptors for a long range Arado strike on Dover or the Thames estuary. Meteor IIIs were operational by October, 1944 and could have been used over Germany by Spring 1945. You can also fly solitaire missions (with any post-June 1944 British aircraft) that the British jets were used for: shooting down V-1 Flying Bombs. For a twist, you can use the Meteor against the Fielser Fi103R (Reichenberg), a piloted version that was to be used by volunteer pilots against high-value pilots (say Buckingham Palace or Whitehall).
America could have put P-80As in the field before the end of the War in Europe; extend the war a few months and they may well have done so. Indeed, 3 YP-80As did fly a few missions over Italy during 1945, although they ran into no enemy aircraft.
Consider an all-jet strike on the Remagen bridge (which was actually hit by Ar 234s) escorted by Me 262s being bounced by Meteor IIIs, or P-80s bouncing an attack by Me-262s
OK, say we let Patton have his way, and fight the Soviets while the US and Britain are at the height of their military strength in Europe. Two bloks of massive forces can make quite a crash when thrown together.
There already are a few scenarios published in Air Power that show some of the fighting that actually took place:
But these describe actual erroneous contacts. Other possibilities include:
|Nation||Fighters||FBs or Lt Bombers|
|USA||P-51, P-47, P-38 (rare)||A-26, P-47|
|RAF||Spitfire, Tempest||Typhoon, Mosquito|
|USSR||Yak 3, Yak 9, La-7, P-63||Yak, Il-2 Sturmovik, Il-10, Pe-2, Tu-2, P-39, P-63|
|USA||P-51, P-47, P-38 (rare)||B-25, B-26|
|RAF||Spitfire, Tempest, Typhoon|
|USSR||Yak, La-7||Il-4, Tu-2|
If we extend this fracas a year or two (God help Central Europe!), other aircraft can be added: Early Allied jets, B-29s, B-35 flying wings, Soviet early jets (MiG-9, MiG-13, Yak-15)...