The Extremely Wild Blue Yonder

Never having been in any army, navy, or air force means I am disqualified from writing about military service. But I am allowed to read about it and to think about it…

I’m also allowed to look at maps and clocks and do mathematics. Recently I considered the twin bombing campaigns of the Second World War in Europe that were conducted against the Axis by the RAF and USAAF. By and large they came from much the same areas in the UK and went to much the same areas in Holland, Belgium,¬†France, Germany, and Italy. What they did there is different but that is the subject of another post.

First let’s consider the ranges: from the UK to the deepest part of Germany – about 800 miles. Anything less is a shorter distance. If you get shot down you only have to fly the one way.

Night Time: RAF, Bomber Command. Lancasters, Halifaxes, Stirlings, etc. Speed of laden aircraft: about 250 miles per hour. They needed about 3 and a half hours to get there and somewhat less to get back. If they were going to drop their bombs in the darkest part of the night – about 2:00 AM – they needed to start from the UK at about 10:00 or 10:30 in the evening. Which meant the crew would have started to get ready to go at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Day Time: USAAF, 8th Air Force. B-17’s and B-24’s. Speed much the same. Bomb load sacrificed for defensive capability. Again the same time there and back but with more flak and fighters. What time did they want to be over the target? Well, enough light to let the Nordens see the ground, but hopefully while the locals were still reeling from the night attack. So, perhaps early in the morning?

That would have meant a takeoff at 3:30 AM with the difficulty of setting off in darkness and forming up before dawn. If you are going to fly and fight in a box formation, trying to get into it in the dark would have been murder.

Or did it matter all that much – did they just accept that they were going to get pasted all the way in and all the way out and just opt for an easier takeoff when there was light? Off the ground at 5:00 and over Vienna at 8:30 then back either by noon or never again?

I wish I had more information about the timing of the actual bombing raids. There must have been some occasions when the planners had to do traffic cop duty to keep the returning stream of bombers separate from the outgoing one.

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