This book was originally published by Greenhill in 2003 and frontline are to be commended for republishing this collection of comments from leading German fighter pilots during interrogation after the end of the war in Europe. Highly Recommended.
NAME: Fighting the Bombers, The Luftwaffe’s Struggle Against The Allied Bomber Offensive
AUTHOR: edited by David C Isby
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Allied bomber offensive, WWII, World War Two, Second World War, strategic bombing, area bombing, precision bombing, pathfinders, interceptors, night fighters, Kammhuber Line, radar, command and control, rocket fighters, jet fighters, bomber escorts
DESCRIPTION: This book was originally published by Greenhill in 2003 and frontline are to be commended for republishing this collection of comments from leading German fighter pilots during interrogation after the end of the war in Europe.Highly Recommended.
This book is particularly valuable because it is based on the accounts of the Luftwaffe’s leading fighter pilots and senior officers, in their own words and sensitively edited into a single volume. These are the flyers who knew the German perception of the great air war over Germany and Occupied Europe in the greatest detail and strongest authority. As a perception, it also says much by what else is known but omitted from their accounts.
After the withdrawal from Dunkirk in 1940, Great Britain and the Commonwealth stood alone against Germany, supported only be those war fighters of defeated countries who had escaped German occupation of their homelands. The British were able to mount pinprick raids on Occupied Europe, using small Commando forces that were dropped by parachute or landed from small Coastal Forces boats and submarines. These raids were to increase in size, frequency and complexity, acquiring valuable intelligence and probing German defences to build the picture required for eventual liberation of Europe, but they were initially more value as morale boosters for the besieged British. There was initially no prospect of anything more aggressive and substantial on the ground. The one option that was open was to launch a bombing campaign that would intensify and cause fatal damage to the German war effort.
In 1940, the RAF was not well equipped to launching a strategic bombing campaign, even though this was the main justification for absorbing the Army and Royal Navy aviators in 1918.The reality was that the Army and Navy had developed an excellent capability with fighters for defence and attack and also developed a ground attack capability to support the Army. In addition, the Royal Navy had seen, from before the availability of heavier than air vehicles, the value of aerial warfare to compliment their traditional role of strategic warfare by blockading enemy coasts and bombarding shore targets. That appreciation led to the RN developing airships for coastal patrol and convoy escort, coupled with shipborne fighter and bomber aircraft and long range landplanes. The RAF inherited all of these skills and assets, but did very little with the strategic assets, failing to continue the RN plan for a mass attack on the German Fleet in port, using its new fleet of aircraft carriers and naval strike aircraft. In fairness to the RAF, the closing stages of WWI carried a natural preoccupation with concluding the land war on the Western Front.
After the end of WWI, the RAF suffered budget constraint with the other Services as politicians tried to spend the ‘peace dividend’, that illusive distraction that democracies give way to at the least excuse. The later price is always painful and, in 1940, the price was defeat in France and a Bomber Command that lacked modern strategic bombers. The most modern aircraft were twin engine machines with generally weak defensive armament, poor bomb aiming equipment and inadequate range and bomb-load. Essentially, they were similar to the German bombers but the Germans had been building bombers to support ground forces as flying artillery, with heavy fighter escort that could achieve air superiority.
Fortunately, effective strategic bombers were under construction and starting to arrive with squadrons. The Sterling and Halifax were solid machines and the Sterling was introducing much innovative equipment, although that was its weakness, due to unreliability. However, the Sterling was a great machine to fly, loved by its crews, and able to carry a worthwhile bomb load. The Halifax was a solid workhorse. The third heavy bomber, the Lancaster was superlative and became the backbone of the offensive. The twin engine Wellington soldiered on and its unique construction meant it could survive heavy damage. The Mosquito was also to prove invaluable because it carried a heavy bomb load for a twin engine two-man aircraft, achieved high speed to outrun enemy fighters, and was a true multi-role aircraft that could carry out low level precision attacks, making is suitable as a pathfinder, marking targets for the heavy bombers.
As the necessary aircraft were entering full production and arriving with squadrons in numbers, the RAF still lacked precision navigation systems, accurate bomb aiming equipment and long range fighter escorts to allow survival in daylight raids. The result was that the RAF bombers flew individually, rather than in formation, often missed targets until pathfinders were introduced. That meant that they had to avoid daylight flying. The USAAF began operating in 1942 with a very effective bomb sight and heavier defensive armament that allowed them to fly in formation and bomb with much greater accuracy. The arrival of the Mustang long range escort fighter squadrons improved USAAF survival figures. Together, the RAF and USAAF raids could be planned to provide round the clock bombing by large formations on selected target cities.
Against this Allied air war, the Germans had to react and at stages were able to inflict heavy losses on Allied bomber formations. The dual attack capability of the Allies forced the Luftwaffe to develop both day and night capabilities. Eventually, after the air war was effectively lost, the Germans began introducing rocket and jet fighter aircraft, but ignored the advice of their experienced pilots, spreading these advanced machines thinly and reducing their effectiveness, This story has been well told by the German pilots who were charged with defending their homeland from the greatest air armada ever launched.