The propeller was part of the first airplane built by the Wright Brothers. World War I was fought by propeller plnes and huge advances were made during the inter-War era. World War II in the air was also primarily fought with propeller-driven fixed-wing aircraft. There were several types of
fixed-wing planes: fighters, bombers, reconisance, and cargo planes. All of the imporant air battles were fought primarily with fixed-wing propeller-driven aircraft. Both the Germans and Allies built excelent fighters. The Germans led the way in building sleek-all metal fighters. The Me-109 was their mainstay. Britain almost entered the war with Royal Air Force squadrons of biplanes. (The Royal Navy did begin the War with carrier biplanes--the reputable Fairey Swordfish .) The Me-109 was engaged by the British Spitfires while the Hurricans went after the slow moving and lightly armed bombers. Industry was a central factor in the air war. The Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a major factor in the early years of the Pacific War, bur was effective primarily because it had no armor protection for the pilot, giving it unrivaled speed and agility. Japan unlike the United States did not have the idustrial capacity to build the larger engines to drive the heavily armored planes which the Americans built in huge numbers. While the Zero cut a blazing path across the Pacific, by the end of the first year of war when improved American fighters began to arrive, many of Japan's experienced pilots had been lost. The Germans did not have the idustrial capacity to build heavy bombers. The Americas and the British built the iconic B-17 Flying Fotresss, B-24 Liberator, and Avro Lacaster as well as other types in huge numbers. And the Americans at the end of the war introduced the ultar-modern B-29 flying fortress. Both fighters and bombers were mostly propeller driven. And the War brought about the development of propeller technology to the limits. It was not possible to develop a fighter faster than the P-51 Mustang or the F4U Corsair simply because the propeller itself was an obstacle to air flow. This meant that it was not physically possible to break the sound barrier with a propeller plane, although in steep dives the planes approached the sound barrier. While the figters and bombers are the planes of greatest interest to military historians, the American C-47 cargo plane, often called the Goony Bird, played an important role in the War.
Both the Germans and Allies built excelent fighters. Military historians argue over the respective merits of the different fighters. Among the top-line fighters, the difference was likely to be the training and experiebce of the pilots. And here the Axis countries had the advantage at the onset of the War, but the Allies approach to pilot training proved to be the most effective. The Germans led the way in building sleek-all metal fighters. The ME-109 was their mainstay. Britain almost entered the war with Royal Air Force squadrons of biplanes. (The Royal Navy did begin the War with carrier biplanes--the reputable Fairey Swordfish .) The ME-109 was engaged by the British Spitfirs while the Hurricans went after the slow moving and lightly armed bombers. Industry was a cedntral factor in the air war. The Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a major factor in the early years of the Pacific War, bur was effective primarily because it had no armor protection for the pilot. Japan unlike the United States did not have the idustrial capacity to build the larger engines to drive the heavily armored planes which the Americans built in huge numbers. While the Zero cut a blazing path across the Pacific, by the end of the first year of war when improved American fighters began to arrive, many of Japan's experienced pilots had been lost. Both fighters and bombers were mostly propeller driven. And the War brought about the development of propeller technology to the limits. The P-51 Mustang was a combination of an American airframe and the British Royalls Rioyce engine. It is considered by many to be the premier propeller fighter of the War. It was not possible to develop a fighter faster than the P-51 Mustang or the F4U Corsair simply because the propeller itself was an obstacle to air flow. This meant that it was not physically possible to break the sound barrier with a propeller plane, although in steep dives the planes approached the sound barrier.
This is a complicated aircraft category to assess, in part because it overlaps with the fighter and bomber categories. And it was oftrm not a purpose built plane type. In fact, the USAF and RAF had no interest in such a plane, the were primarily interested in Bombers. And the fighters tgey develooped were to attack enemy bombers. As the war developed, fighters woukd be repurposed for ground attack. The American P-49 Thirderboldt and F4U Cirsair becamne superb ground attack planes as did the British Typhoon and Tempest, but each was desugned as a fighter. And developed rocket and napalm weapons fot thrm. Light bpmbers like the German Ju-87 Stuka might also be classified as ground support. One of the most imporrtant pure ground supporr plane of the War was the Ilyushin Il-2 (Илью́шин Ил-2) Shturmovik. tHis was purpose designed for ground attack and appeared just in time (1941). It was best known as a superb tank killer on the Eastern Front. It was the most massively produced plane of the War, indeed in any war. The Soviets in combination with its successor, the Ilyushin Il-10, built over 42,000 of these planes. This was possible because Soviet production was concentrated on only a few aircraft types and American Lend Lease provided large quantities of aluminum for aircraft production. The Shturmovik is regarded by many as the best ground attack aircraft of the War. It was an effective dive bombers and its guns could penetrate tank armor which was generally weak on top. Often the American P-39 Aircibras provided by Lend Lease would fly cover for the Shturmoviks. American Others might rank the American Republic P-47 Thunderboldt as the best ground attack plane because of its very large ordinance load. Over 15,000 were built. The P-47 was developed as a fightef before the American ground support doctrine was develope,. Amazingly the P-47 could also take on fighters, something few other ground attack aircraft could do.
Naval attack planes are similar in function to ground attack planes. Given the constraints of carriers, they had to have special design features. Some planes could be modified for carrier deployment, but most were specially designed for carrier operations. Carrier and ground attack planes both include dive bombers. Naval types include torpedo planes which are often called torpedo planes as they can be fitted with bombs. Unlike dive bombers, these planes made horizontal runs. There is overlap here because fighters can be used for ground attack as well. This was especially the case of American fighters which has large powerful engines. Naval attack aircraft were primarily American and Japanese as these were the countries that deployed powerful carrier forces. The Japanese began the War with the most effective carrier aircraft. They placed a great emphasis on torpedo attack while the Americans concentrated on dive bombers. The Japanese did not have the industrial and technical capability to upgrade their carrier aircraft during the War. The Americans did. The at the end of the War Japanese were still using the same aircraftt with which they lauched the War. Building larger aircraft with more powerful engines required more raw materials and a greater industrial plant. The Americans deployed a whole new generation of aircraft which reached the maximum performance capabilities of propller capabilities. The British also had carriers, but were so focused on the air war with the Germans gave little attention to carrier aircraft development and wereactually using bipales well into the War. They modified RAF fightrs for carrier use, but for naval attack planes as well as fighters turned to the Americans.
World War I began without specialized air craft types, but during the War specialized types did emerge including very effective fighters and primitive bombers. The Allies at the end of the War were building a substantial fleet of longer-range bombers to begin the strategic bombardment of Germany in 1919. The War ended before this began (November 1918). After the War the dictum became accepted in military thinking, 'The bomber will always get through.' And advances in aviation created substantially improved bombers with higher speeds and longer ranges which seemd to confirm this dictum. America and Britain built strategic, in part to prevent another war fought in the trenches with massive casualties. The Germans did not have the industrial capacity to build both a tactical and strategic airforce. They chose to build a tactical airforce with the strategic concept that they would defeat other countries before they could launch a strategic bombing campaign. Luftwaffe chief Göring assured the German people that his fighters could prevent Allied fighters from reaching German cities. He was almost right--almost. It was the threat of Lufwaffe bombers that cowed the abnodened Czechs into submission (September 1938). And Luftwaffe bombers terrorized Europe with a series of dreadful terror raids. The Channel stopped the Panzers (May 1940) and the British Chain Home Stations provided an adenum to the bomber dictum--adequately escorted bombers will always get through. The bombers in the past could get through bcause they were so difficult to find and intercept by just running air patrols. And the British RAF had just enough fighter strength to blood the Luftwaffe bombers for the first time. Air Chief Marshall Dowding masterly defeated the Luftwaffe bomberr offensive in the Battle of Britain.
The German Whermacht had essentially invented modern war with Blitkrieg and its light- and medium-bombers (Stukas, Donniers, and Heinkels) were designed for tactical operations. They were not well-suited for strategic operations because of limited range and small payloads. 'Bomber' Harris fortold the future. "The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind." Pre-War British bombers were unequal to the task. But having staved off defeat, the British began build the Avro Lancaster that could reach targets deep in the Reich with substantial payloads. A great deal of British industrial strength was focused on strategic bombing. The Lancaster was their most important plane. The British built other bombers which were used to the end of the war such as the Wellington and Halifax. The Short Stirling was reassigned to glider tow planes when the Halifax entered the war. And after Hitler declared war on America, the United States entered he War, America vast industrial might began turnin out B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators, both of which could reach the industrial cities of the Reich from bases in Britain--the unsinkable aircraft carrier Hitler decided to leave in his rear when he turned east and launched Barbarossa (June 1941). The Germans did not have the industrial capacity to build heavy bombers, locked as they were in a life and death struggle in the East. This left British industry largely in tact and the war plants the Soviets moved beyond the Urals out of range of German bombers. America had the industrial capacity to not only build strategic bombers, but a whole host of light and medium bombers as well. And build them in huge numbers. The strategic bombardment of Germany was begun by the British with night operations (1942). The Americans joined this effort with tharound the clock bombardment of Germany (1943). The American idea that well armed bombers could fight their way through to targets in the Reich proved unfounded. And American airmen took dreadful casualties. This changed with the arrival of long-range P-51 Mustang escorts. Göring said after the War that he knew the War was lost when he saw the P-51s over Berlin. The industrial cities of Germany were left vast piles of rubble. The Japanese had begun strategic bombing when they used their bombers against undefended Chinese cities, first in Shanghai (1931). Japanese military planners assumed that the vast distances of the Pacific would prevent enemy bomvbers from ever reaching their vulnerable wood and paper cities. The Americans solved the distance problem with blood and technology. The Marines and army took the Marianas. Ameican industry designed and built the ultra-modern B-29 Superfortress (1944).
While the fighters and bombers are the planes of greatest interest to military historians, transport plnes also played an important role in the War. This began in the German offensive in the West, especially in the Netherlands and Belgium where transports were used to drop parachute units. This was the first use of parachute troops and shicked Western military estblishments. The Luftwaffe mainstay was the Ju-52, a take off of the Ford Tri-Motor. Air transport was not a priority for the Luftwaffe which because of Germany's limired industrial capavity did not evn have a strategic bomber force. Thus the Ju-52 was very slow, had a limited range, and relatively small lift capability. As a result, it could only be ued hen the Luftwaffe had ir superiority. Noticing the German parchusettes, the U.S. Army decided to create its own parchutte divisions. And gpt themhad the perfect drop vehicle, the iconic C-47 Skytain (the British called it the Dakota), the military version of the Douglas DC-3. The Germans would srike again with their parchutests, taking the Crete (May 1941). But the losses were such that Hitler would never again allow a major drop. While droping paravuttesrs grabbed the headlines, this was not the major use fot transport planes. The planes had a miriad of uses, inserting ground troops, supplying forward or surrounded units, delivering critical supplies, evacuating wonded, transporing key personnel, and other a wide range of other uses. It was the Germans again who began using transport airgraft to supply encircled units. This occurred after the Red Army offensive befor Moscow (December 1941). After halting the German Typhoon offensive, the Red Army's powerful winter counter-offensive to force German armies back to Oryol, Vyazma and Vitebsk, and nearly surrounding three German field armies in the process. The Luftwaffe played a key role in prevent a total collapse of Army Group Center. A surounded German garrison in Demyansk held out with air supply for 4 months. The Lufwaffe wth its relatively limited air transport capacity suceeded because the surrounded garison was rather small, theroutes were reltively short, and German fighters still held air superiority. All of these factors were not in place when Göring pledged to supply the surrounded 6th Army in Stalingrad during the following winter. The Germans not on used the Ju-52, but pressed bombers into service. The Germans also used Ju-52s after the Allied Torch Landings to rush men to Tunisia (November 1942). The United States Air Forces unlike the Luftwaffe, did have a modern transport, the C-47, often called the most importnt transport aurcraft of all time. And thanks to the American aircraftindustry, had them in large numbers. The C-47, often affectionally called the Goony Bird, played a major role in the War. The C-47s were used to supply surrounded and forward units to great affect necause they were available in such large numbers. And they made possible major parachute drops that had a substantial impact on the war effort. This began on Sicily (July 1943), but most famoudly was executed as part of the Normandy D-Day landings (June 1944). And the C-47 got supplies hrough to the surronded Batogne Garison during the German Bulge Offensive (December 1944). Amother American transport, the C-47 got supplies through to China, flying over the Hump. At the end of the War, C-47s dropped supplies on Japanese prison camps in an effort to save the starving prisoners.
Surely the premier long range reconnaisance aircraft of the War was the American Consolidated Catalina Patrol Boat (PBY). Y was the Navy code for the manufactuer--Consolidated Aircraft. The Catalina was ideal for ocean areas and was heavily used in both the Pacific and the Atlantic in areas where the enemy did not have air dominace and radar. It was big, slow, and virtually unarmed, but had encrebible range. Spped is not important for a recon plane. Range and the ability o loiter for extended operiods are the vital chracteristic. It was the PBY supplied to the British that fouund Bismark (March 1941). The PBYs iperating from Miday plsyed a key role in the battle (June 1941). It played a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic, helping to locate German U-boats. This made it difficult for he U-boars to suface and charge their batteries. Some were converted into night torpedo bombers. They served in many of the Allied navies throughout the war. Even when its intended improved Cornnado appeard, the Catalinas in service continued to be used. The U.S. Navy planned the Consolidated Coronado PB2Y as a successor, but the more nimble Catalina continued to be used. The Cornado took on the use more of a transport.
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