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World War II, Air War Against Germany


WORLD WAR II, AIR WAR AGAINST GERMANY. On the eve of World War II the German Air Force (GAF) was the most powerful in the world. However,

it was designed primarily for the direct support of ground armies, a circumstance that would cripple it in its coming battle with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF).

Overall Allied strategy for the war in western Europe called for an assault in force launched from Britain as a base and aimed at the heart of Germany. At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, the RAF and USAAF made Allied air superiority a top priority. To cripple Adolf Hitler's plane production, the USAAF focused its initial bombing efforts on German aircraft and ballbearing plants. Its effort during 1943 was disappointing, however, owing primarily to the severe losses suffered by bomber forces operating over Germany beyond the reach of escort fighters. Between February and May 1944, long-range escort fighters began to accompany the U.S. bombers all the way to their targets and back. Although German aircraft production continued to increase until September 1944, the GAF could not make effective use of the growing number of aircrafts because of (1) the loss of experienced GAF pilots brought on by the attempt to halt the bombing offensive, and (2) a critical gasoline shortage beginning in May 1944, which also made it difficult to train new GAF pilots.

In late 1944, the USAAF bomber forces concentrated on Germany's synthetic oil plants and transportation network.

The GAF, already so weakened by June 1944 that it could not oppose the landings at Normandy, fell into disarray. Hopelessly outnumbered by the combined forces of the USAAF and RAF, and undergoing unceasing attack by day and night, the GAF had lost the battle. Not even the introduction of the new high-speed jet fighter (Messerschmitt 262) could stem the tide.

The inability of the German high command, including Adolf Hitler, to see the GAF as anything more than a supporting arm of the army contributed measurably to the Allied victory in the air. Despite the threat posed by Allied bombing from 1940 onward, it was late 1942 before any serious effort was made to increase the size and capabilities of the GAF. Then, when massive energies were applied to the task, the USAAF and RAF buildup already out-paced that of Germany, while the Allied bombing of the aircraft factories and fuel sources further hampered German efforts. With the destruction of surface transportation between and within its bases and factories during the winter of 1944–45, the GAF could offer but token resistance.


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DavidMacIsaac/a. r.

See alsoAir Force, United States ; Air Power, Strategic ; Aircraft Armament ; Aircraft, Bomber ; Aircraft, Fighter ; Bombing ; Normandy Invasion ; Ploesti Oil Fields, Air Raids on ; World War II, Air War Against Japan .

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