By the time World War II began, planes had become much safer, faster and more reliable. They were adopted as standard for bombing raids and taking out other aircraft because they were much faster than airships. The world’s largest military Air Force by the start of the Second World War in 1939 was the Soviet Red Air Force, and although much depleted, it would stage the largest air operations of WWII over the four years of combat with the German Luftwaffe.
Arguably the war’s most important air operation, known as the Battle of Britain, took place during 1940 over Britain and the English Channel between Britain’s Royal Air Force and Germany’s Luftwaffe over a period of several months. In the end Britain emerged victorious, and this caused Adolf Hitler to give up his plan to invade Britain. Other prominent air force operations during the Second World War include the Allied bombing of Germany during 1942-1944, and the Red Air Force operations in support of srategic ground offensives on the Eastern Front. The aerial warfare in Pacific Ocean theatre was of a comparable strategic significance to the Battle of Britain but was largely conducted by the US and Japanese naval aviation services and not by air forces.
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The Supermarine Spitfire was a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s. It was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft and was the only British fighter in continuous production throughout the war.
Spitfire LF Mk IX, MH434, flown by Ray Hanna in 2005. This aircraft shot down a Fw 190 in 1943 while serving with 222 Squadron RAF
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Messerschmitt Me 262
The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (“Swallow”) was the world’s first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began but engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944. Compared with Allied fighters of its day, including the British jet-powered Gloster Meteor, it was much faster and better armed. One of the most advanced aviation designs in operational use during World War II, the Me 262 was used in a variety of roles, including light bomber, reconnaissance and even experimental night fighter versions.
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The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II, the Korean War and several other conflicts. During World War II, Mustang pilots claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft shot down, second only to the Grumman F6F Hellcat among Allied aircraft.
P-51D-5NA 44-13357 of 8th AF / 361st FG / 374th FS Tika IV, assigned to Lt. Vernon R. Richards
It was conceived, designed and built by North American Aviation (NAA), under the direction of lead engineer Edgar Schmued, in response to a specification issued directly to NAA by the British Purchasing Commission; the prototype NA-73X airframe was rolled out on 9 September 1940, albeit without an engine, 102 days after the contract was signed and it was first flown on 26 October.
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Mitsubishi A6M Zero
The first Zeros (pre-series A6M2) went into operation in July 1940. On 13 September 1940, the Zeros scored their first air-to-air victories when 13 A6M2s led by Lieutenant Saburo Shindo attacked 27 Soviet-built Polikarpov I-15s and I-16s of the Chinese Nationalist Air Force, shooting down all the fighters without loss to themselves. By the time they were redeployed a year later, the Zeros had shot down 99 Chinese aircraft (266 according to other sources).
A6M3 Model 22, flown by Japanese Ace Hiroyoshi Nishizawa
over the Solomon Islands, 1943
At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor 420 Zeros were active in the Pacific. The carrier-borne Model 21 was the type encountered by the Americans. Its tremendous range of over 2,600 km (1,600 mi) allowed it to range farther from its carrier than expected, appearing over distant battlefronts and giving Allied commanders the impression that there were several times as many Zeros as actually existed.
The Zero quickly gained a fearsome reputation. Thanks to a combination of excellent maneuverability and firepower, it easily disposed of the motley collection of Allied aircraft sent against it in the Pacific in 1941. It proved a difficult opponent even for the Supermarine Spitfire. Although not as fast as the British fighter, the Mitsubishi fighter could out-turn the Spitfire with ease, could sustain a climb at a very steep angle, and could stay in the air for three times as long.
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Enola Gay is a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, named after Enola Gay Tibbets, mother of the pilot, then-Colonel (later Brigadier General) Paul Tibbets. On 6 August 1945, during the final stages of World War II, it became the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb as a weapon of war. The bomb, code-named “Little Boy”, was targeted at the city of Hiroshima, Japan, and caused extensive destruction.
Enola Gay after Hiroshima mission, entering hard-stand. It is in its 6th BG livery, victor number 82 visible on fuselage just forward of the tail fin
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Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft developed in the 1930s for the then United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers, the Boeing entry outperformed both competitors and more than met the Air Corps’ expectations. Although Boeing lost the contract because the prototype crashed, the Air Corps was so impressed with Boeing’s design that they ordered 13 more B-17s for further evaluation. From its introduction in 1938, the B-17 Flying Fortress evolved through numerous design advances.
The B-17 was primarily employed by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the daylight precision strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets. The United States Eight Air Force based at many airfields in southern England, such as Thorpe Abbotts airfield and the Fifteenth Air Force based in Italy – with many units stationed at the existing bases surrounding Foggia – complemented the RAF Bomber Command’s nighttime area bombing in Operiation Pointblank to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for Operation Overlord. The B-17 also participated to a lesser extent in the War in the Pacific where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields.
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The Hawker Typhoon was a British single-seat fighter-bomber, produced by Hawker Aircraft. While the Typhoon was designed to be a medium-high altitude interceptor, and a direct replacement for the Hawker Hurricane, several design problems were encountered, and the Typhoon never completely satisfied this requirement.Other external events in 1940 prolonged the gestation of the Typhoon.
Typhoon Ib EK139 N “Dirty Dora” of 175 Sqn. being armed with 500 lb (227 kg) concrete practice bombs in late 1943
Nicknamed the Tiffy in RAF slang, the Typhoon’s service introduction in mid-1941 was also plagued with problems, and for several months the aircraft faced a doubtful future. However, in 1941 the Luftwaffe brought the formidable Focke-Wulf Fw 190 into service: the Typhoon was the only fighter in the RAF inventory capable of catching the Fw 190 at low altitudes and, as a result, secured a new role as a low-altitude interceptor. Through the support of pilots such as Roland Beamont the Typhoon also established itself in roles such as night-time intruderand a long-range fighter. From late 1942 the Typhoon was equipped with bombs; from late 1943 ground attack rockets were added to the Typhoon’s armoury. Using these two weapons, the Typhoon became one of the Second World War’s most successful ground-attack aircraft.
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The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Although largely overshadowed by the Supermarine Spitfire, the aircraft became renowned during the Battle of Britain, accounting for 60% of the RAF’s air victories in the battle, and served in all the major theatres of the Second World War.
The 1930s design evolved through several versions and adaptations, resulting in a series of aircraft which acted as interceptor-fighters, fighter-bombers (also called “Hurribombers”), and graound support aircraft. Further versions known as the Sea Hurricane had modifications which enabled operation from ships. Some were converted as catapult-launched convoy escorts, known as “Hurricats”. More than 14,000 Hurricanes were built by the end of 1944 (including about 1,200 converted to Sea Hurricanes and some 1,400 built in Canada by the Canada Car and Foudry).