A History of Strategic Bombing
Precision Bombing: Second World War 1939-1945Click thumbnail to view full-size
Target London 1914
Despite the warnings of visionary writers like H.G. Wells, London's air defenses in 1914, at the beginning of the First World War were almost no-existent. There is no evidence the British leaders expected London to be seriously attacked from the air. It had only been six years ago since the first flight of a British aircraft.
As the First World War began aircraft were rarely used, they were only used as a means of reconnaissance to help establish the locations of the enemy's positions, but soon that would change, and warfare would take on a completely new face.
Early in 1914 the Great European powers were locked in a bloody stalemate along a battle line known as "The Western Front."
The Western Front was a vast complex of trenches that ran through northern France and extended nearly 1,300 miles stretching from the English Channel to the Swiss border. This massive complex of trenches was a life-threatening place where millions of young men lost their lives fighting in a narrow space of land between the two enemy's trench systems which became known infamously as "no man's land."
No man's land on the Western Front was usually two to three hundred yards wide, most often much less, in some places close enough to smell the enemy's coffee brewing. Such fortifications had been dug in the past, most recently just outside the Confederate capital of Richmond during the American Civil War 1861-1865.
These massive earthworks were quite simply a fortification, as much offensive, as defensive in an attempt to gain an advantage on the enemy. On the land separating the trenches both combatants laid massive fields of barbed wire, an American invention made for cattle ranchers in the 1870s, now used to further impede troops from crossing the land between the trenches.
As the horrors of trench warfare continued Germany's military leaders desperately looked for a way out of the stalemate. They would put all of their hopes in an airship known as the Zeppelin, believing it the only way to break their nation free from the slaughter that was taking place in the fields of western Europe.
Zeppelin pilots picked London as their primary target during their push to bring the British military to the negotiation table. Those raids would create a massive panic among its citizens going down in history as the "First Blitz."
The metropolis of London served as the British Empire's nerve center, literally its beating heart. During the early years just before the twentieth century London's ports were the center of trade for her fleet of ships as they crossed vast oceans, gathering, and transporting, her goods to some of the most remote places on Earth.
On the night of May 31,1915, an enormous airship drifted silently unseen over London as the citizens of London settled down to sleep. Using the glow of London's city lights as a guide, the largest flying vessel ever constructed cruised silently in the pitch-black darkness nearly two miles above the city near the river Thames.
As the trap door opened beneath this peculiar 650-foot-long cigar shaped aircraft German airman began quickly dropping incendiary bombs and grenades out into the icy darkness above the city. Windows in London rattled as bombs rained down hitting buildings and homes shaking them down to their foundations.
Never before in its history had the citizens of London or much less any other city on earth would undergo such an experience. A few years before the attack, science fiction writer H.G. Wells had popularized Zeppelin attacks on cities.
As dawn shed light on the damage from the Zeppelin raid the night before, the residents of London now realized that H.G. Wells prophecy seemed all too real. The madness that had infected the battlefields of western Europe had now arrived on the streets of London.
Life in the Trenches
Trench Warfare: The Slaughter on the Western Front 1914-1918Click thumbnail to view full-size
The First Blitz
On the night of May 31,1915, the German Army's Zeppelin L38 cruised unnoticed high over the industrial part of London as its citizens slept comfortably in their beds. Suddenly bombs began exploding shattering the early morning silence near downtown London.
Soon afterward men, women, and children stood in the streets staring into the pitch-black darkness above them in amazement. In the course of its bombing raid, it released over 2,500 pounds of bombs.
The death toll that night was seven people killed and thirty-five injured. With the targeting of civilian populations from the air a new type of war had arrived. “Nowadays there is no such animal as a non-combatant,” justified German Navy zeppelin corps commander Peter Strasser “modern warfare is total warfare.”
Strasser commanded the German Navy's zeppelin fleet during WWI, one of Germany's most ambitious officers, he would lead his zeppelins in an all-out effort to destroy Britain's capital. London was the crown jewel of the British empire which stretched across the globe.
The Zeppelin's method of attack was simple, once the airship pierced through the ring of anti-aircraft guns surrounding London, they would fly as fast and as high possible in a straight line across the city.
The raids were always made at night during the dark of the moon, darkness always gave the Zeppelins the stealth they needed to survive on the battlefield. On moonless nights, despite their bulk Zeppelins could evade detection and pursuit.
Citizens of London demanded more protection from the Zeppelins which they now referred to as "Baby Killers." Immune from attack they would release their explosives and incendiary bombs as they flew over the city. Since at that time Britain's airplanes were simply not capable of reaching the proper altitudes to attack the German airships.
At the beginning of May 1915, German Zeppelin captains were assigned a target
they seemed to have little trouble locating. On clear nights early in the blitz the
British capital was visible for miles from the pilot seat of a Zeppelin, the glow served as a beacon to Zeppelin pilots.
While damage from the initial raids was slight, it would mark the end of a period lasting almost a thousand years since London had been attacked by an outside force. The Zeppelin attacks were a total surprise to Britain's military leadership who were completely unaware of any danger until the first bomb exploded on British soil. The Zeppelin Blitz was in fact the first days of what would later become known as "Strategic Bombing."
On September 8,1915, a Zeppelin cruised over St. Paul's Cathedral and unloaded a three-ton bomb, the largest dropped during the Blitz. The attack caused chaos killing 22 civilians including 6 children. It proved to be the worst attack of the war on London taking days to put out the fires, leaving several blocks in piles of rubble.
Zeppelins committed more than fifty bombing raids on Britain during the entire First World War. But the price in men and machines was heavy with seventy-seven of their one hundred fifteen craft either shot down or damaged.
These raids would kill nearly seven hundred poor souls and seriously injured almost two thousand. It was clear that bomb loads of Zeppelins had been insufficient to change the course of the war.
But a few farseeing individuals in Britain and elsewhere drew lessons from the Zeppelin raids of First World War and began shaping a new more deadly theory of strategic bombing.
In the 1920s, the British became the world's foremost proponent of strategic bombing. With a far-flung empire and lack of manpower, Britain would embrace the strategy.
The Great Zeppelin Raids on London: First World WarClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Air Raid on Baghdad Iraq 1990
Roosevelt's Arsenal of Democracy
The term Second World War refers to several conflicts fought by nation states over a period of six years beginning September 1,1939 and ending August 15,1945. In a century of unprecedented bloodshed those six years would be unequaled in barbarity.
Over fifty-five million men, women, and children world-wide would lose their lives or were left permanently scarred physically and emotionally by the end of the war. Only Britain and the United States intended from the outset of the Second World War to pursue a bombing strategy.
Both nations devoted large portions of their resources to build large fleets of heavy bombers despite the financial and moral arguments for diverting such resources for other purposes. Most countries involved in WWII rejected strategic bombing mostly because of the industrial and military effort it required.
The cost for strategic bombing was too great in terms of the reward, simply because many countries didn't possess the resources to build the massive bomber fleets needed to carry out the strategy.
No other country on earth had a deeper technical and economic base than the United States, and by the end of the Second World War over 300,000 aircraft would roll out of American factories. At the end of the Second World War the United States would rise to superpower status.
The B-17 and the B-24, both developed and manufactured in the United States would be the cornerstone of Allied Air Forces.
The B-17 was given the name the Flying Fortress but that could be applied to both airplanes. They were packed with eleven .50 caliber machine guns so when the planes few in formation they could jointly defend themselves from any enemy fighter attack. Their goal was to destroy key enemy targets with precision bombing.
The B-24 Liberator required more aluminum to build its 18,000 plus copies than any other airplane of any nation of any era, yet to this day it is less recognized, less famous, and less glamorized than its counterpart in the Second World War, the B-17.
The B-29 Bomber A Hemisphere Defense Weapon
When the Boeing B-29 Superfortress made its combat debut, against the Makasan railway depot in Bangkok, Thailand, on June 5, 1944, the Allies were preparing to assault the beaches of Normandy France.
Nine months later on the night of March 9,1945, a legion of 380 B-29s attacked Tokyo at low level with incendiary bombs. The bombs those B-29s dropped that nigh would ignite the hottest fire storm in human history. They devastated 16 square miles of the Japanese capital leaving it a heap of smoldering ruins killing over 100,000 Japanese.
Five months later on August 6,1945, a lone B-29 would strike Hiroshima from high altitude with a single uranium U235 gun-type atomic bomb, setting off a fire ball flattening the city and killing over 70,000 people. Just a few days later, another B-29 would target Nagasaki dropping a plutonium implosion weapon on Nagasaki.
The B-29 Superfortress was, in its day, the most advance bomber in the world.
The B-29 was the ultimate product of an American industrial system that was capable of manufacturing any weapon of war quickly and efficiently, and in extraordinary numbers. In 1944 alone, American factories rolled out almost 100,000 airplanes no other country on the planet could have achieved such a feat.
The wing of the B-29 spanned 141 feet and 3 inches. The innovative design and configuration of the wing enabled the B-29 to fly very fast at high altitudes. Most revolutionary was the size and sophistication of the pressurized sections of the fuselage, the B-29's eleven crewman flew in relative comfort at extreme altitude.
The B-29 was capable of cruising at speeds in excess of 320 mph at over 30,000 feet while holding a bombload of about eight tons. It was the only aircraft in the American arsenal that could carry the atomic bomb.
By the end of the Second World War almost 4,000 B-29 rolled of the assembly lines in the United States.
The B-29 Superfortress
The Bomber that Changed the Face of BattleClick thumbnail to view full-size
The World's First Intercontinental Bomber
On the 1st of March 1954, the United States exploded the world's first thermonuclear bomb, code named "Castle Bravo," it was the largest nuclear device ever tested by the United States with the explosive force of fifteen- megatons of TNT.
The United States military would quickly weaponize the thermonuclear bomb and code name it "Castle Romeo." The bomb weighed over 41,000 pounds and had the yield of eleven-megatons of TNT.
The US Air Force needed a plane large enough to carry their new bomb, the B-36 was created to carry out that new mission. The enormous B-36 was one of the most awe-inspiring aircraft ever to fly, with its graceful tubular fuselage stretching over 163 feet and a rudder the height of a five-story building.
With a gross weight of 265,000 pounds, it was one of the heaviest aircraft to ever fly.
At the tip of its nose the B-36 had a raised cockpit with a greenhouse type canopy rising a foot above the fuselage. It had a wingspan of 230 feet, and six massive 4,360 cubic-inch engines making the B-36 the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever manufactured.
The bomber was so large its crew of 15 moved from the front to the back of the bomber by pulling themselves along a tunnel on a trolley and slept in bunks when off duty.
The B-36 was powered by an array of pusher propellers and turbojets. One pilot remarked flying the B-36 was like flying an apartment house, as it flew overhead those who witnessed it could feel the ground shake.
The B-36 was nicknamed the "Peacemaker" to stress that its purpose was to prevent war through deterrence.
The Many Faces Of The B-36Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Many Variations Of The Convair B-36 Peacemaker
There were several variations of the B-36, one carried its own fighter escort, which was carried completely within its fuselage, and launched by a trapeze located in one of its bomb bays. All variations of the B-36 carried eight remotely operated gun turrets, six of which retracted and were covered by faired doors to reduce drag, all gun turrets carried pairs of 20mm cannons.
The B-36 had an operational altitude of 46,100 feet a remarkable achievement for an aircraft of such great proportions. It was the first manned intercontinental bomber capable of traveling 10,000 miles without refueling.
A stripped-down version of the B-36 would later be used in a reconnaissance role which was capable of flying over 50,000 feet at a top speed of 423 miles per hour. The large wing area, and the two jet pods supplementing the piston engines, made the B-36 more maneuverable at high altitudes than jet interceptors of the day.
The B-36 set the standard for range and payload for American transcontinental bombers.
The most unusual variation of the B-36 was the NB-36H which housed a nuclear reactor located in the tail of the plane for airborne atomic tests. This plane was completely unarmed and had a distinctive cobra-like hood over its cockpit. It was used to determine the reaction of nuclear radioactivity on instruments and other operating parts of the aircraft in anticipation of atomic powered flight.
This plane was not powered by the reactor. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, due to the fact if a B-36 powered by an atomic reactor did happen to crash the radiation from the core of the reactor could have escaped releasing lethal radiation over a large area.
Deployed along with the B-47, the B-36 provided the United States Air Force the means to deliver its massive thermonuclear bomb until the Boeing B-52 took over as the mainstay of America's nuclear bomber force in the second half of the 1950s.
Over 384 B-36s were built. Entering service in 1948, the B-36 was the primary nuclear weapons delivery vehicle of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) until it was retired on February 12th, 1959. All but five B-36s were scrapped, the rest were sent to the US Air Force's desert graveyard in Arizona.
The B-36: Largest Piston Driven Bomber Ever In ServiceClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Convair B-36 Peacemaker
The Aerial Titan
B-36 Aerial TitanClick thumbnail to view full-size
The B-52 Stratofortress A Cold War Icon
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is the ultimate symbol of strategic air power and has been the backbone of American air power doctrine since the U.S. Air Force was formed out of the USAAF (United States Army Air Force) in 1947.
The B-52 first entered service with the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command in the Cold War in the 1950s, where it remained on alert until 1991 until the former Soviet Union collapsed.
For over 40 years it was America's big stick delivering the possibility of an immediate nuclear strike any time and at any place in the world.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, B-52s were flying conventional bombing missions against enemy targets in Vietnam. In the 1990s, as the fleet was in its fourth decade of service, B-52s were flying conventional bombing missions against targets in Iraq and, later, in the Balkans.
In 2001 and 2002, as these great planes were nearing their fiftieth anniversary, they were pounding al-Qaeda terrorist hiding in Afghan caves. The B-52 has served in many variations, in many wars for sixty years and will continue in service until the year 2040.
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress: The Jet Age of BombersClick thumbnail to view full-size
The B-1 Lancer
The B-1 Lancer Bomber: A Cold War Bomber
Since the days when the B-1 bomber was no more than a design idea, the plane was subject to considerable controversy from its expense to its weaponry, and to its performance.
The B-1 did not fly a single combat mission for more than fourteen years after the U.S. Air Force first put it into activity.
The most unusual feature about the B-1 bomber is its movable wing. For take-off and slow flight, the B-1's pilot can extend his B-1's wingspan out to 136 feet 8 inches.
For supersonic flight the B-1's pivoting wings can be sweep back from 15 degrees to 65 degrees a span of 78 feet. In the fully swept configuration, the B-1 bomber can exceed Mach 2 at high altitude and Mach 1 for low-level penetration missions.
The B-1 project can be traced back to 1962 when the U.S. Department of Defense began searching for a new airborne component for the country's nuclear defense forces. The United States was at the height of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union.
The Cold War got its name because it never "heated up." No real battles were ever fought directly between the United States and the Soviet Union, though tensions were often high, especially with thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at each country ready to launch at a moment's notice. Today, however, it has become one of the United States first lines of defense against international terrorism.
In June 1970, Rockwell International successor to North American was chosen to design America's newest strategic deterrent to replace the aging Boeing B-52 fleet. Beginning flight testing in late 1974 the swept-winged B-1 was a versatile weapon covering a wide variety of roles.
Although considerably smaller than the B-52, the B-1 can carry approximately twice the load of the B-52 at speeds of more than Mach 2. Its four General Electric F101-GE-100 turbofans pushes the B-1 to speeds of over 1,400 miles-per-hour.
Each engine puts out more out more than 30,000 pounds of thrust. From an operational standpoint, the B-1 has been well designed. It can withstand the explosive force of a nearby nuclear blast and take-off quickly even if under attack.
A switch behind the nose landing gear strut starts-up the engines and energizes the electronics and flight control system even while the crew is climbing aboard. Pre-flight and take-off requires only a fraction of the time needed for a B-52 to get airborne.
The Rockwell B-1 Lancer BomberClick thumbnail to view full-size
The B-2 Bomber a New Beginning
In the early 1940s, the Horten brothers built and flew an all wood flying wing for Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It was discovered that flying wings are difficult to see on radar. The B-2 Stealth Bomber was specially built as a flying wing to make it stealthy, or difficult for the enemy to find.
Every single detail has been designed to make the aircraft almost invisible to radar. It took many years to design and build the B-2. To find the right materials, more than 900 different metals, plastics, and other materials were tested. In 1997, the B-2 was made available to fly missions with the U.S. Air Force.
The B-2 is the most sophisticated big bomber the world has ever seen. It is also the most expensive costing over $1 billion per airplane to build. The B-2 was created to destroy enemy nuclear missile bases without being seen or shot down. When the Sun's rays hit the surface of an aircraft, it warms up. The paint used on the B-2 only slightly heats up.
This makes the B-2 difficult to find with infrared heat-seeking equipment. The B-2 also has no tail fin because radar would be able to detect its sharp angles.
The use of special anti-radar coatings and curvatures rather than flat surfaces means that the B-2 appears no bigger than a bird to all but the most powerful land-based radars.
Traditionally, large numbers of military personnel and equipment deployed from many locations around the world were necessary to wage an attack in enemy territory. On October 7, 2001, six B-2 bombers took off from Whiteman Air Force Base Missouri. Their mission was to fly halfway around the world and hit ground targets in Afghanistan, it would take them forty-four hours to complete their mission.
Not only was this to be the longest combat mission in the history of aviation, but it would also usher in a new age in modern warfare. Their targets included airfields and air defense sites, fuel depots, military bases, and hideouts of the Al Qaeda organization which carried out the attacks on 911. The attacks were carefully planned to avoid hitting Afghan citizens.
They were so successful that in three days, most Taliban air defenses had been destroyed and United States forces were in control of the skies over Afghanistan. The B-2 played a major role in Operation Enduring Freedom.
The B-2 bomber changed the rules in strategic bombing with its incredibly long range. This remarkable bomber can fly more than 7,595 miles without refueling. It can fly over 11,000 miles with just one refueling. And when the B-2 bomber needs to refuel, it does so in the air. The B-2 can fly halfway around the world, go straight to a conflict zone, drop his payload, and return back to its base in Missouri in time for its pilots to eat dinner. It's an amazing statement in technology.
The Horten Brother's HO-229 the World's First Stealth Bomber
A History of the HO-229 Stealth Bomber
The legacy of the Horten brother's original design lives on in the American B-2 Stealth bomber.
The aircraft's design proved not only to be aerodynamically efficient, but also to reduce the radar signature. As the British began to develop and improve the radar technology in the Second World War, Nazi Germany became increasingly aware of the need to defeat its penetrating gaze.
The brothers used a unique glue in their planes, instead of metal nails or rivets. This was not a glue, but a carbon composite, and HO-229's low profile made their aircraft more difficult to see on radar.
In 2009, a full-size version of the HO-229 was constructed for a television documentary. It cost $250,000 and took 2,500-man hours to build, but its radar profile was found to be less than 40% of a World War II fighter. Not was their design revolutionary, had it gone into production, it would have been the world's first stealth bomber.
The B-2 the World's Most Futuristic Bomber
The B-2 Spirit Stealth BomberClick thumbnail to view full-size
B-2 Spirit Spirit
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.