On September 1, 1939, the German military forces i

4018 WORDS

On September 1, 1939, the German military forces invaded Poland
to begin World War II. This invasion was very successful because of
its use of a new military strategic theory -- blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg,
literally "lightning war," involved the fast and deadly coordination
of two distinct forces, the Wermacht and the Luftwaffe. The Wermacht
advanced on the ground, while the Luftwaffe destroyed the enemy air
force, attacked enemy ground forces, and disrupted enemy communication
and transportation systems. This setup was responsible for the
successful invasions of Poland, Norway, Western Europe, the Balkans
and the initial success of the Russian invasion. For many years
after the first of September, the air war in Europe was dominated by
the Luftwaffe. No other nation involved in the war had the experience,
technology, or numbers to challenge the Luftwaffe's superiority. It
was not until the United States joined the war effort that any great
harm was done to Germany and even then, German air superiority
remained unscathed. It was not until the advent of the North American

P-51 Mustang fighter, and all of the improvements, benefits, and side
effects that it brought with it, that the Allies were able to achieve
air superiority over the Germans.

Reasons for the Pre-P-51 Air Situation

The continued domination of the European skies by the Luftwaffe
was caused by two factors, the first of which was the difference in
military theory between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force. The
theories concerning the purpose and function of the Luftwaffe and RAF
were exactly opposite and were a result of their experiences in World

War I. During WW I, Germany attempted a strategic bombing effort
directed against England using Gothas (biplane bombers) and Zeppelins
(slow-moving hot-air balloons) which did not give much of a result.

This, plus the fact that German military theory at the beginning of WW

II was based much more on fast quick results (Blitzkrieg), meant that

Germany decided not to develop a strategic air force. The Luftwaffe
had experienced great success when they used tactical ground-attack
aircraft in Spain (i.e. at Guernica), and so they figured that their
air force should mainly consist of this kind of planes. So Germany
made the Luftwaffe a ground support force that was essentially an
extension of the army and functioned as a long- range, aerial
artillery. The RAF, on the other hand, had experimented with
ground-attack fighters during WW I, and had suffered grievous casualty
rates. This, combined with the fact that the British had been deeply
enraged and offended by the German Gotha and Zeppelin attacks on their
home soil, made them determined to develop a strategic air force that
would be capable of bombing German soil in the next war. Thus, at the
beginning of WW II, the RAF was mostly a strategic force that
consisted of heavy bombers and backup fighters, and lacked any
tactical dive- bombers or ground-attack fighters. (Boyne 21)

The Pre-P-51 Situation

Because of these fundamental differences, the situation that
resulted after the air war began was: bombers in enemy territory vs.
attack planes. The "in enemy territory" was the second reason for the
domination of the Luftwaffe. At the beginning of WW II, and for many
years afterward, the Allies had no long-range escort fighters, which
meant that the bombers were forced to fly most of their long journeys
alone. (Perret 104) Before the P-51 was brought into combat, the main

Allied fighters were the American P-47 Thunderbolt and the British

Spitfire, neither of which had a very long range. The rule-of-thumb
for fighter ranges was that they could go as far as Aachen, which was
about 250 miles from the Allied fighters' home bases in England,
before they had to turn around. Unfortunately, most of the bombers'
targets were between 400 and 700 miles from England. (Bailey 2-3)

This meant that bombers could only be escorted into the Benelux
countries, northern France, and the very western fringe of Germany.

When these unescorted, ungainly, slow, unmaneuverable bombers flew
over Germany, they were practically sitting ducks for the fast German
fighters. On the other hand, the bombers were equipped with several
machine guns and were able to consistently shoot down some of their
attackers. Because of this, "U.S. strategists were not yet convinced
of the need for long-range fighters; they continued to cling to the
belief that their big bomber formations could defend themselves over

Germany." (Bailey 153)

The Allied Purpose in the Air War

The Allies knew that they had to drive German industry into the
ground in order to win the war. Since the factories, refineries,
assembly-lines, and other industry-related structures were all inland,

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