Skip to comments.Clear Skies Over Normandy
Posted on 06/06/2009 4:03:14 AM PDT by Kaslin
The sea swelled, the rain came down in torrents, but the skies were clear. Sixty-five years ago, when the first men of the 29th Infantry Division waded onto Omaha Beach, they faced terrible resistance crack German troops, mines, mortars and artillery. There was, however, one vital element that was blessedly missing. There were no German airplanes flying above them on D-Day.
This did not happen by chance. It had been planned long before at the very start of the war and it came at a terrible price. Just two years earlier, the Luftwaffe was the strongest and most experienced air force in the world. If the German Air Force had been even a fraction of its former self on D-Day, it could have turned the tide of the battle. But in a fateful decision shortly after Pearl Harbor, the military command in Washington decided they would sacrifice tens of thousands of young Americans as cannon fodder to whittle down the German Air Force and give the Allies time to build up their land forces. In all, upwards of 60,000 Americans would lose their lives in the struggle for the air.
When the U.S. found itself suddenly at war on December 7, 1941, even though it had ample warning, it had no Army, no Air Force and most of its Pacific fleet lay at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. It would take two years to train the troops and build the equipment necessary to defeat the Axis powers. But with two great oceans protecting the United States, the War Department understood the nation was safe from enemy bombs and decided to put its bombers up against the Germans long before its army fired a shot.
The experience of Curtis LeMay, a little known pilot in the Army Air Force, who had been a lieutenant less than two years before, illustrates just how unprepared the United States was when it entered the war. In early 1942, LeMay was suddenly placed in charge of a about 1,000 young recruits who would make up the crews and maintenance staff for the 305th bombardment group consisting of 35 B-17 bombers. LeMay found himself on a barren landing strip in Utah that had no buildings, no cooks and no support staff. None of his pilots knew how to fly the powerful B-17s having just been trained only on small, single-engine planes. Most of them were teen agers who had been sitting in classrooms or on tractors just a couple of months earlier. To complicate matters, LeMay was given only three B-17s to train his 35 crews. There just werent any more to go around.
LeMay understood that in spite of having almost nothing to work with, these crews would soon be facing a vastly superior enemy. He organized a merciless, 24-hour schedule. There were only three men, including LeMay, who could even teach the green crews how to fly the planes, navigate, bomb and shoot their machine guns. After just a few months, the 305th Bomber Group headed to England. The pilots actually had to wait at factories in Kansas and Nebraska for their planes to come off the assembly line. LeMay was worried all 35 planes would even make it across the Atlantic. They did.
Nazi German was at the height of its power in 1942 it controlled the entire continent of Europe and was half-way across the Soviet Union when these young American flyers went up against them. Over the next two years, these two air forces fought epic battles with hundreds of planes in the air. On some missions, as many as 60 B-17s would go down. With ten men in a crew, that meant 600 airmen were lost. The odds of anyone making it to the 25th mission were small and the airmen understood that. Still they kept going back up every day. The men of the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe suffered a higher casualty rate than the marines in the Pacific. LeMay would become perhaps the most brilliant commander of the war designing ingenious strategies. But even after he was promoted to general (at the age of 36) he insisted on flying the lead bomber on every dangerous mission because he understood that was the best way to get his crews to go up against the impossible odds they faced.
What the senior staff in the Pentagon understood was that the U.S. had a much greater industrial capacity to replace the planes and train new crews than the Germans. It became a deadly war of attrition, but by the time of the invasion, it was the Allies that ruled the skies. By June 6, 1944, those early B-17 crews and their fighter escorts had done their work.
It is hard for us to grasp the concept of a world war today not just two or three nations fighting, but practically every country, every man and every resource devoted to the conflict. We tend to think that a war of that scale cannot turn on the actions of a single individual. Men like Curtis LeMay prove that wrong.
B-17’s were bombers. Indirectly they reduced the number of German planes in the air on D-Day by attriting German industrial capacity. I would have thought it was fighter planes that got the credit for “winning the air war.”
I don’t mean in any way to demean the accomplishments of LeMay and the B-17 pilots. I guess I don’t understand the dual emphasis of the article on US bombers and the fact that D-Day was successful because there were no German planes in the air.
What the nuclear deterrent has saved my generation from.
There does seem to be an awful lot of connections left out of the story. I too would expect the emphasis to be on fighters. It’s as easy to bomb a tank factory as it is to bomb a plane factory.
I wish we had some more like General LeMay today. Of course, we can’t bomb everyone back into the “stone age” but there are a few that are just begging for it.
I totally agree with this point of view. Not just the 17s but the constant bombardment of industrial facilities that knocked out the ability to replace the fighters and lots of other war materiel by the time our fighter strenght was up to start knocking their aircraft out of action.
” Of course, we cant bomb everyone back into the stone age but there are a few that are just begging for it.”
It’s a dilemma though. How do you bomb someone back to the stone age when they never left in the first place?
You should read Speer's Inside the Third Reich. At the same time that Speer was arguing for the necessity of dispersing ball bearing manufacturing, Bomber Harris was arguing against targeting ball bearing factories, reasoning that the Germans must certainly have already dispersed this vital industry.
Most of the economic impact of Allied bombing during the War was a result of attacks on oil refineries and coal liquidification facilities. Bombing, on the whole was effective, however. The Germans diverted two million men and valuable equipment, including 88-mm cannon from the east to counter air raids.
Escort fighters would not have risen to challenge flights of fighters, the Luftwaffe was destroyed trying to counter Allied bombing attacks. The Battle of Britain had been a disaster for the Luftwaffe, largely because of Hitler's insistence on targeting London and other inland cities. The Luftwaffe was agruably winning until Hitler changed the goal from commanding the sky over southern England in support of an invasion to bringing England to her knees by aerial bombardment. Hitler assumed that the British would reject Churchill and sue for peace after a short period of aerial punishment from the Luftwaffe.
The Luftwaffe did not have the capacity for sustained long range bombing. Ju-88 suffered about a 12% loss rate on raids over London during the Blitz. ME-109 only carried enough fuel to fly from France to London and back and stay over London for five minutes, according to Adolf Galland. The cream of the Luftwaffe's fighter pilots splashed into the channel short of France, short of fuel.
When the Americans arrived, with aircraft production in good months greater than German production during the entire War, they delivered a death blow to the teetering Luftwaffe. American planes were also superior to almost every German model, with the exception of the ME-262. The British also produced large numbers of fine planes and outstanding pilots. (When Herr Goering, excuse me, Meyer, asked Galland if there was anything he could do to help, Galland famously replied, "Ja, get me a squadron of Spitfires!")
Good point. Maybe take away their access to rocks and sharp sticks.
You can thank Curtis LeMay for part of that also, because he ran the Strategic Air Command after the war.
Incredable...1st your confusing the battle of Britain which was a battle using the Spitfire fighter as a defence. The Brits won it because the Germans, who’s military hirearchy consisted of political blowhards kissing up to a madman who changed tactics from bombing strategic targets..... Aircraft factories, and airfields etc to bombing London.
If some German worth his salt spoke up against these people they were gone... This plus radar enabled the Brits to amass their fighters at choke points which proved costly to the Germans because it allowed those Brit factories to build fighters and bombers.
I’m amazed at the current little understanding of what took place of tatics or the equipment used during WWII. B-17 and 24’s were long range bombers, (they weren’t called Flyng Fortresses for nothing),In that crew of 10, they had 50 cal machine gunners, some single and some double barrel in the; nose, tail, 2 fuselage either side, and underbelly)
Because of their range (700+ mi up and back) flew without fighter escort (range 400mi- or + up and back) deep into enemy territory bombing factories, transport terminals, and fuel supply points Thanks to that decision by Hitler to discontinue stategic bombing we kept our eye upon the doughnut not upon the hole. From wars outset the only fighter which had a range of 1000 miles was the Jap Zero thats 500 mi up and back (usually 350 mi if air combact was expected).
If you were to put a WWII fighter next to todays jets F-16 they’d look like Piper Cubs.
To understand what went on rent “12 O’clock High”,because decisions to send these young men out on missions was not taken lightly. 12 O’clock High does if I recall have news reel clips of bombing missions.
There's a humorous anecdote about a B-17 pilot that had landed on a fog shrouded runway in England shortly after LeMay's arrival. The pilot was having trouble seeing anything.
LeMay got on the horn and said, "Can you see the runway lights and follow them?" The pilot retorted back, "Hell... I can't even see my co-pilot!"
Got your book yet?
If the Germans could have put Me262s over the beaches that day things might have turned out rather different. The Nazi’s lost the war when they lost control of the sky.
Yep... Hitler didn’t listen to his commanders who knew the value of the ME 262.
Hitler made a number of mistakes that cost him the war and his life. The failure to update his aircraft designs was one of them—along will delaying the V-2.
Error One—Targeting cities rather than bases in the Battle of Britain. He got all emotional when the RAF bombed Berlin.
Error Two— Invading Russia when he did.
Error Three—Declaring war on the USA after Pearl Harbor. He didn’t need to do it. Japan broke the treaty when it attacked the USA.
Error Four—Not supporting Rommel in Africa.
Error Five— Not getting Spain to join him in the war.
Error Six— The war against the Jews that took too many resources from the war effort.
Error Seven— Poor treatment of the Ukrainians and Russians caused them to support Stalin.
Error Eight— Losing control of the Air.
Error Nine— Not getting an atomic weapons program started and funded.
Error Ten— Not improving the U-Boats until it was too late to win the Battle of the Atlantic.
Error Eleven— Trusting Enigma Code that the British had cracked.
Error Twelve—Not getting Argentina to join him in the war.
I would say going into Africa in the first place. Rommel and the Afrika Korps could have been put to much better use elsewhere.
If Rommel had seized Egypt the Moselem Brotherhood would have joined them in revolt against England—this would have set the Middle East on fire and undermined England. They went in to support the Italians but, if they had more resources the war could have been won in Africa.
Here is a D-Day thread
Consider that German fighters had to approach and take out an aircraft with such comprehensive and overlapping fire angles that it was called “The Flying Fortress. That cost the German fighters dearly.
Maybe today - bookmobile coming to town ...
I actually wrote a paper concerning this topic for my MA. The American bombing campaign directed against the German aircraft assembly plants was largely ineffective. The Germans rapidly dispersed the industry and the weather over Europe made continual bombing impossible with so many targets. In other words they were able to rebuild targets that had been hit before the Americans could return. The great value in the American bombing campaign was the destruction of the Luftwaffe fighter arm in the West.
The Germans would send their fighters up to contest the bomber stream. Once the Americans could provide fighter escort all the way to Berlin and back, there was no way the Luftwaffe could effectively challenge the bombers. Now the P-51 gets credit for being the plane that changed the war because it could take the bombers all the way to the target and back but this is a myth. The plane that broke the Luftwaffe’s back was the P-47. It had been fighting the Germans for almost a year and a half before the Mustang came on the scene. By the time of the Big Week (Feb. 1944) the P-47 could take the bombers within site of Berlin thanks to extended range drop tanks.
So the Germans lost the airwar for good after Big Week. There were simply too many American bombers and fighters and too few German planes. Additionally, German pilots flew until they were killed or wounded. Experienced pilots were rarely taken from the line to train new pilots. Finally, the extended range of the American fighters meant that even when the Germans could find the pilots and synthetic fuel to equip their planes, training was severely curtailed because there was no airspace free from roaming Allied planes.
"The Germans would send their fighters up to contest the bomber stream. Once the Americans could provide fighter escort all the way to Berlin and back, there was no way the Luftwaffe could effectively challenge the bombers. Now the P-51 gets credit for being the plane that changed the war because it could take the bombers all the way to the target and back but this is a myth. The plane that broke the Luftwaffes back was the P-47. It had been fighting the Germans for almost a year and a half before the Mustang came on the scene. By the time of the Big Week (Feb. 1944) the P-47 could take the bombers within site of Berlin thanks to extended range drop tanks."
"So the Germans lost the airwar for good after Big Week. There were simply too many American bombers and fighters and too few German planes. Additionally, German pilots flew until they were killed or wounded. Experienced pilots were rarely taken from the line to train new pilots. Finally, the extended range of the American fighters meant that even when the Germans could find the pilots and synthetic fuel to equip their planes, training was severely curtailed because there was no airspace free from roaming Allied planes."
Thanks for the history lesson. FR is always great at getting knowledgeable info on stuff like this.
The German Airforce destroyed itself going after the bombers.