12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII

Khalid Elhassan - August 22, 2017

Enemy bombers and ground attack aircraft overhead were among the most unwelcome sights for soldiers and civilians alike during WWII. From the demoralizing banshee wails of diving Stukas in the early days of the blitzkrieg to the heavy roar of thousands of engines above mingling with the ground shaking explosions of falling bombs during day and nighttime raids, few things during the war caused as much widespread terror and devastation as airplanes attacking ground targets. However, while terrifying to those below, bombing and ground attack were among the most hazardous occupations of WWII.

During a raid on Schweinfurt in 1943, out of 209 American bombers that crossed the coast into Europe, 39 were shot down, and 118 were severely damaged. In a raid on the Ploesti oilfields that same year, out of 162 US bombers that reached the target, 53 were shot down, 660 crewmen were lost, and of the surviving 109 bombers that made it back to Allied bases, 58 were damaged beyond repair. The RAF’s Bomber Command suffered a 59 percent casualty rate during the war: out of 125,000 aircrews who went on raids, 55,573 were killed, 8403 were wounded, and 9838 were captured. During the first month of combat following the Nazi invasion in 1941, Soviet Sturmovik ground attack squadrons suffered losses of 84 percent as they desperately sought to slow down the rampaging Germans.

Following are 12 notable bombers and ground attack airplanes of WWII.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
Diving Stuka. Aces Flying High

Junkers Ju 87 Stuka

The most distinctive airplane of the early war, the Stuka dive bomber, with its inverted gull wings and nerve-wracking shriek as it dove on targets, became the emblematic symbol of the blitzkrieg and terrified soldiers and civilians alike, from the Russian Steppe to the Atlantic, and from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara. The Battle of Britain exposed its vulnerability when operating beyond an umbrella of German aerial superiority, but in the right conditions, Stukas continued to wreak havoc and terrorize those on the ground until the war’s end.

The Stuka was designed in secrecy in 1933, back when Germany still pretended to comply with the Treaty of Versailles and its prohibition of a German air force. A prototype was built in Sweden, smuggled into Germany in 1934, and test flown in 1935. The inverted wings improved the pilot’s ground visibility, and allowed a shorter and sturdier undercarriage while retaining sufficient ground clearance for the propeller.

Ju 87A Stukas were tested during the Spanish Civil War, with mixed results that steadily improved as designers worked out the kinks and personnel gained operational experience. The Ju 87B version with which Germany entered WWII was typically armed with a 500-kilogram bomb, and had wind-driven sirens known as “Jericho Trumpets” that emitted an intimidating and demoralizing wail when the plane dove – an effect enhanced by cardboard sirens on the bombs. Bombload was increased to 1800 kg in the upgraded Ju 87D, which entered service in 1941. The Ju 87G, which became operational in 1943, carried two armor-piercing 37mm cannons in lieu of bombs, and proved especially lethal against tanks, whose thinner top armor was vulnerable to attacks from above.

The Stuka’s greatest asset was its pinpoint accuracy by WWII standards. In the hands of an experienced pilot, it could destroy a zigzagging target – Germany’s most decorated serviceman of the war, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, is credited with destroying 519 tanks, over 800 vehicles, 150 artillery positions, damaging a battleship, sinking a cruiser, a destroyer, 70 other seacraft, and downing 9 airplanes, mostly while flying a Stuka.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
B-17s bombing Germany during “Big Week” in 1944. Third Reich in Ruins

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The B-17 was likely America’s most iconic airplane of WWII. First flown in 1935, the Flying Fortress entered operational service in 1938. It was intended to be tough, as Boeing’s president had advised designers that he wanted an “aerial battleship”. Bristling with defensive machineguns, the B-17 was described by a reporter at its unveiling as a “Flying Fortress”, and Boeing quickly adopted and trademarked the nickname. B-17s became famous for their Eighth Air Force raids into Germany – a fame augmented by the wartime documentary Memphis Belle – and were legendary for their ability to survive significant punishment.

B-17s saw most use in Europe, in the strategic “Round the Clock” bombing campaign whereby US bombers attacked German targets during the day and the RAF bombed at night. RAF Bomber Command had begun the war with daylight raids unescorted by fighters, which lacked the range to accompany the bombers deep into Germany, but high losses to German fighters soon forced the RAF to switch to nighttime raids. When America entered the war, daylight bombing was the only practical option: US bomber training, doctrine, and bomb aiming equipment, were all based on clear target visibility, so it was either American daylight bombing or no American bombing at all.

US air commanders assumed that the more robust and heavily armed American bombers could fight their way to targets deep inside Germany, and relying on their own defensive firepower while flying in tight formations for mutual protection, conduct the raids with acceptable losses. While B-17s were exceptionally rugged, unescorted raids deep into Germany, such as those against the ball bearing and aircraft plants at Schweinfurt and Remagen in 1943, resulted in heavy and unsustainable losses to German fighters. American bombers were thus forced to pull back and limit themselves to targets closer to Britain and within fighter protection range. Fortunately, US fighter range steadily grew, and with the introduction of drop tanks, American P-38 and P-47 fighters began escorting B-17s and B-24 to targets deeper within the Reich.

The arrival of improved versions of the P-51 Mustang, equipped with drop tanks that gave them the range to escort bombers virtually anywhere in Europe, was a game-changer that finally removed all restrictions. From then on, steadily intensifying daylight raids by B-17s helped reduce the Reich to rubble. American bombing reached its high watermark in February 1945, with a 1000 bomber raid, escorted by 400 fighters, on Berlin, followed soon thereafter by joint American-British raids on Dresden which demolished the city and killed between 25,000 to 130,000 people.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
Junkers Ju 88. Pinterest

Junkers Ju 88

The twin-engine Ju 88 medium bomber was intended as a fast bomber that could outrun fighters. While that proved futile, as advanced fighters by war’s outbreak could readily overtake it, the Ju 88 succeeded as a versatile airplane that performed multiple roles, including level bomber, dive bomber, torpedo bomber, minelayer, as well as reconnaissance, heavy fighter, and night fighter.

The Ju 88 was just beginning operational deployment when the war began, and so saw limited service during the invasion of Poland. It played a greater role during the invasion of Norway in April of 1940, in both ground and anti-shipping roles. It saw significant service during the French campaign a month later, and while contributing its fair share to the German victory, it also experienced high losses due to wing design defects that led to instability and accidents, exacerbated by inadequate crew training. The shortcomings were addressed with a retraining program and the introduction of longer wingspans with rounded edges to improve handling.

The modifications were being introduced during the Battle of Britain, and while the Ju 88 performed better than other German bombers, it was vulnerable when stripped of fighter protection, and still suffered from a variety of bugs. However, by battle’s end an improved version that resolved the design shortcomings, the A-4, had been introduced. With a 5500 lbs bomb capacity and a 311 mph speed, the A-4 was the successful template upon which all future Ju 88s variants were based.

The improved Ju 88s performed exceptionally well in the 1941 invasion of the USSR. In addition to level bombing, a shortage of Stukas necessitated the use of Ju 88s as dive bombers, a role they performed well, while in the Baltic, Ju 88s inflicted heavy losses on Soviet shipping. Ju 88s also met with success in Italy, where they proved exceptionally lethal against allied shipping. It was the most successful twin-engine German bomber of the war, and roughly 16,000, with dozens of variants, were produced during the conflict – more than any other German twin-engine airplane.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
Halifax. Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Handley Page Halifax

The Halifax strategic heavy bomber was, along with the Avro Lancaster, the mainstay of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command, with 6127 built between 1940-1945. Less versatile than the better-known Lancasters because their bomb bay, divided into three compartments, could not carry huge individual bombs such as the 4000 lb “Cookie” or larger, Halifaxes could nonetheless carry 14,500 lbs of bombs that individually weighed up to 2000 lbs each.

First flown in 1939, Halifaxes entered service in November 1940 and saw combat in March 1941. At Bomber Command’s peak, it had 76 squadrons flying Halifaxes. In addition to bomber squadron duty, Halifaxes were also used in Pathfinder units that flew in advance of RAF nighttime bombing raids to locate the targets, then mark them with flares and colored incendiaries for the following bomber streams.

Nonetheless, the Halifax’s compartmentalized bomb bay’s inability to carry huge bombs led to their gradual replacement in operational squadrons by Avro Lancasters, starting in 1943. As Halifaxes were being withdrawn from strategic bombing, their role was gradually shifted to daylight tactical strikes to plaster enemy strong points, troop concentrations, transportation and communication hubs, oil facilities, and starting in the summer of 1944, V-1 missile launch sites.

During the war Halifaxes flew 82,000 sorties, dropping 224,000 tons of bombs, at the cost of 1883 bombers. Halifaxes were also flown by the RAF’s Coastal Command on reconnaissance, meteorological, anti-submarine missions, and mine laying. They were also used in supporting roles such as parachuting Special Operations Executive agents into occupied Europe, dropping arms and supplies to Resistance groups, electronic warfare, glider tugs, and when necessary, were impressed as transports to airlift fuel to stalled armies during crises when ground resupply proved insufficient.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
B-24s bombing Ploesti at low level in 1943. Wikimedia

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

With over 19,000 built during the war, the B-24 Liberator holds the records of history’s most-produced American military airplane, most produced heavy bomber, and most produced multi-engine aircraft. First flown in 1939 and entering service in 1941, the B-24s had a distinct look with a box-like fuselage beneath a high wing, a twin tail assembly, and a tricycle landing gear that significantly improved ground visibility for taxiing, takeoffs, and landings.

B-24s, along with B-17s, were the mainstay of America’s strategic bombing campaign in Europe. Like B-17s, Liberators carried the Norden bombsight and flew in defensive “box” formations – although looser ones because B-24s were tougher to handle, making tight formations inadvisable. B-24s typically flew with a 5000 lbs bomb load, but for short missions could carry up to 16,000 lbs. They had a 1600 mile range for high altitude missions – 40% more than the B-17. However, B-24s had a 28,000-foot service ceiling, compared to 35,000 for the B-17, which meant Liberators were more exposed to flak. That, coupled with the Liberator’s greater vulnerability to damage and more cramped interior crew space, explains why aircrews generally preferred the more robust and easier to fly B-17 despite the B-24’s longer range, higher speed, heavier bomb load, and superior landing gear.

Long range made B-24s a natural fit for the Pacific Theater’s vast expanses, and they began replacing B-17s there starting in 1942. Long range also made them suitable for anti-submarine patrols, and they played a vital role in defeating the U-boat menace during the Battle of the Atlantic by closing the “Mid Atlantic Gap” – an area within which U-boats had been free to operate without fear of air attack. Their range also suited them well for flying high-priority cargo and VIPs – Winston Churchill’s personal transport was a Liberator.

The B-24s’ toughest raids were against the Ploesti oilfield complex in Romania – Germany’s most important single source, supplying one-third of the Reich’s oil and aviation fuel. The costliest of the Ploesti raids occurred on August 1st, 1943, “Black Sunday”, when 177 Liberators, unescorted by fighters, took off from North Africa and flew to their targets at treetop level to avoid detection. However, the enemy was alerted because of a cascade of mishaps, from a navigation error that took bombers over a German position en route to Ploesti to a navigator’s crash resulting in the bombers arriving in staggered groups rather than simultaneously, to a group leader, seeing all formation lost, breaking radio silence to order the scattered B-24s to make their individual ways to the targets and bomb as best they could. The Germans prepared a hot welcome: of the 177 Liberators that took off, 162 reached Ploesti, and of those 53 B-24s and 660 crewmen were lost. Of the 109 survivors that made it to an Allied base, 58 were damaged beyond repair.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
G4M Betty late in war, with piloted missile slung beneath. Battlefield Wiki

Mitsubishi G4M Betty

The twin-engine G4M Betty was the Japanese Navy’s mainland-based bomber of WWII, and Japan’s most produced bomber of the conflict. Test flown in 1939 and entering service in 1941, The Betty’s main assets were speed and exceptional long-range – it was designed to fly 2300 miles with a bomb load, and could do 3500 miles without. That made it difficult to intercept when used as a medium or high altitude bomber.

However, as with the Zero fighter, speed and range were bought by making the plane as light as possible, at the expense of basic protections such as armor plate and self-sealing fuel tanks. As a result, Bettys readily caught on fire when their fuel tanks were hit, earning them nicknames such as the “flying Zippo” or “type one lighter” by both friend and foe. But if it did not flame up, it was otherwise quite resilient, capable of surviving significant damage.

In addition to level bombing, Bettys were used as a torpedo bomber, and it was in that role that they sank the British battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales in the war’s early days. However, the low, slow, and steady approach required for torpedo launch took away the Betty’s speed advantage and made it and its readily flammable fuel tanks vulnerable to defensive fire.

Bettys wreaked considerable havoc during the war’s first year, inaugurating the Japanese conquest of the Philippines by devastating Clark Field, America’s main airbase in the islands, on December 8, 1941; sank the Prince of Wales and Repulse off the Malayan coast two days later; and ranged the breadth and width of the Pacific, utilizing their long-range to bomb far-flung targets from Australia to the Aleutians.

Once US fighters and trained pilots began flooding into the Pacific, Betty’s vulnerability when flying without fighter protection was exposed. While speed and range made interception difficult, when Bettys were intercepted they suffered heavily. Redesigns ameliorated the vulnerabilities by introducing plate armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, at the cost of reduced speed and range, but by then Japan was well on the way to losing the war, and the improved Bettys were flying with negligible fighter cover against swarms of US fighters. By war’s end, Bettys had been reduced to suicide bombers, or as launch platforms for missiles piloted by suicide flyers.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
Pe-2s releasing bombs during raid. World War II Wiki

Petlyakov Pe-2

The Pe-2 was the Soviets’ most produced twin-engine aircraft of WWII, with 11,427 built. A fast, maneuverable, and resilient aircraft, it performed functions similar to the better known British Mosquito. Versatile, it proved itself in a variety of tasks: in addition to their main role as light bombers, Pe-2s were also successful in reconnaissance, heavy fighter, and night fighter assignments.

Initially designed in prison as a fighter by the aeronautical engineer Vladimir Petlyakov, who had been swept into the gulag during Stalin’s purges and was highly motivated to earn a pardon, the plane was advanced for its day. Prototypes flew in late 1939, and Petlyakov and his design team got to see their plane from the roof of their prison as it flew for the crowds outside during the 1940 May Day parade. However, impressed by the German blitzkreig, the Red Air Force changed its mind as it saw a greater need for dive bombers, and ordered Petylakov to change his design from a fighter to a dive bomber, giving him 45 days to do so. Petlyakov did so, and a pleased Stalin ordered him freed.

The first Pe-2s entered service in the spring of 1941, but most were destroyed in the early days of Operation Barbarossa. However, by late 1941, when the German advance was finally halted and the Soviets regrouped, Pe-2s began proving themselves as elusive and highly accurate light bombers. Unique among WWII belligerents, the Soviets made significant use of women in combat, and many Pe-2s were flown by females, while various Pe-2 squadrons were commanded by women.

Pe-2 squadrons frequently devastated German supply and troop convoys by first destroying the lead vehicles to block the road, working over the rest of the stalled column, then fleeing before German fighters arrived. Another favored tactic was known as the “Carousel”, in which Pe-2s circled a target, making repeated diving attacks until they ran out of munitions or were forced to scatter by the arrival of German fighter protection. However, as the war progressed, the Soviets began to wrest aerial supremacy and Pe-2s came to operate under an increasingly effective umbrella of Soviet fighters. Pe-2s played a significant role from late 1941 onwards, from the Battle of Moscow, to Stalingrad, to Kursk, and helped pave the way for the Soviet juggernaut as it rolled to Berlin.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
Lancaster during raid on Duisberg, releasing “Windows” chaff, followed a split second later by its bombload of a 4000 lbs “Cookie” bomb and 103 incendiaries. AR Gunners Magazine

Avro Lancaster

The Avro Lancaster was Britain’s most successful bomber of WWII. First flown in 1941 and entering operational service in February of 1942, it became the mainstay of Britain’s strategic bombing campaign, displacing the RAF’s other heavy bombers, the Halifax and Sterling, to become Britain’s principal bomber in the second half of the war. Lancasters carried 64% of the tonnage dropped by Bomber Command during the conflict, They could also carry the heaviest payload of the war at 22,000 lbs bomb, exceeding the 20,000 lbs maximum payload of the bigger and more advanced B-29 – an airplane twice as heavy as the Lancaster.

Bomber Command preferred Lancasters because, unlike the Halifax whose bomb bay was compartmentalized, thus limiting the size of the individual bombs it could carry, the Lancaster had a long and unobstructed bomb bay. That allowed them to carry the RAF’s biggest bombs, such as the 4000 lbs “Cookie” and 12,000 lbs “Tall Boy”. Specially modified Lancasters could also carry the 22,000 lbs “Grand Slam” – the heaviest payload of any WWII bomber.

On strategic bombing raids, Lancasters typically carried a mix of large high explosive bombs, such as 2000 lbs bombs or 4000 lbs and heavier “blockbusters”, plus clusters of smaller incendiary bombs. The idea was that the big bombs would tear open buildings and the incendiaries would start fires in their innards, now well ventilated. The blockbusters would hopefully have also ruptured the city’s water mains, making firefighting difficult or impossible. That allowed individual fires to coalesce into larger conflagrations that, if conditions were ripe, could produce firestorms in which hurricane strength walls of flame and whirling tornados of fire would sweep and dance through cities, killing tens of thousands by burning them to cinders or, as the stories-high inferno sucked oxygen out of the air, suffocating those whom the flames did not touch.

Lancasters were capable of great precision by WWII standards. Equipped with ground-mapping radar, by 1944 they could bomb at night with higher accuracy than American bombers could during the day. In the runup to D-Day, Lancasters accurately bombed communications and transportation targets such as bridges and rail yards.

In addition to strategic bombing, Lancasters were used by 617 Squadron, “The Dam Busters”, immortalized in the book and movie of the same name, for special operation aerial attacks, such as breaching the Ruhr dams in 1943. Lancasters has flown by 617 Squadron also sank the battleship Tirpitz in 1944 with 12,000 lbs “Tall Boys”, and were used in Operation Manna towards war’s end, a mercy mission that dropped food into Holland to avert widespread starvation.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
B-25 pulling up after a skip-bombing attack on a Japanese ship. World War II Multimedia Database

North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell

Named in honor of military aviation advocate Billy Mitchell, the twin-engine B-25 was America’s most produced medium bomber of the war, with nearly 10,000 built. A versatile and durable airplane that could absorb significant punishment and keep flying, it was designed in response to a 1939 Air Corps solicitation that called for an airplane capable of carrying a 2400 lbs bombload for 1200 miles at 300 m.p.h. First flown in 1940 and entering service in 1941, the B-25 exceeded the bomb load and range requirements, with 3000 lbs for 1350 miles, while coming close to the solicited speed at 272 m.p.h. Later versions flew faster than 300 m.p.h., were capable of carrying bombloads of more than 5000 lbs, and, with drop tanks, had a range of over 3000 miles.

The B-25’s range made it ideal for the vast expanses of the Asian and Pacific Theaters, and it was there that most Mitchells served during the war. Their first major operation was the Doolittle Raid in April of 1942, when B-25s were flown off aircraft carriers to bomb Tokyo – a raid that caused the Japanese high command such loss of face that it set in motion what turned out to be a catastrophic attempt to seize Midway a few months later.

The B-25’s versatility lent itself to a variety of roles revolving around interdiction, close air support, and especially in Burma, battlefield isolation and destruction of communication links. Designed for medium-altitude level bombing, that proved ineffectual over the dense vegetation of Asia and the Pacific, so the B-25s came down and performed superbly in low-level attacks with parachute-retarded bombs that slowed their descent, allowing the Mitchells to exit the blast zone before detonation. Ground attack versions equipped with up to 18 forward-firing .50 caliber machine guns were employed in strafing runs that shredded their targets. B-25s were similarly adaptable at sea, where they proved lethal against Japanese shipping in skip bombing attacks whereby Mitchells skimmed the waves before releasing their bombs to skip over the water’s surface to their targets.

In North Africa and the Mediterranean, B-25s were used in ground support, and in the Italian Campaign, were employed in severing rail and road links. The US Army Air Force did not use B-25s in the European Theater of Operations, but the RAF received 900 Mitchells through Lend-Lease and put them to good use in ground support roles, as did the Free French.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
Il-2 Sturmoviks attacking German column during Battle of Kursk. Wikimedia

Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik

Nicknamed “The Flying Tank“, the Il-2 Sturmovik ground attack bomber was the most produced military airplane in history, with over 36,000 built. Designed in 1938, the Sturmovik’s most distinguishing feature was a 1500 lbs armored tub that protected the pilot, engine, fuel tank, and radiator, rendering it one of the toughest and most survivable airplanes of its day, nearly impervious to bullets and 20 mm cannon fire from below. That gave Il-2 pilots the confidence to press and persist in attacks in the teeth of fierce ground fire that would have been foolhardy or even suicidal with other aircraft.

Prototypes first flew in 1939, and Il-2s entered operational service in May 1941. Armed with two 23mm cannons, two machine guns, and loaded with up to 1300 lbs of bombs plus 12 rockets, the Sturmovik carried a devastating punch. A punch that became stronger in 1943, with the introduction of shaped charge bomblets weighing 3.3 lbs yet capable of penetrating the thinner armor atop German tanks, and which the Il-2s carried in clusters of 192 to shower on enemy columns.

At war’s beginning, insufficient training on the aircraft, which had been introduced to operational squadrons only a month before the German invasion, meant that few pilots were capable of utilizing it to its full. Between that and inadequate fighter protection, Il-2s suffered appalling losses to German fighters – e.g.; during the first month of fighting, the Fourth Air Regiment lost 55 of its 65 Sturmovik. Once reasonable fighter protection became available as the Soviets clawed their way back to aerial parity and then supremacy, and as Il-2 pilots gained experience, tactics improved and Sturmoviks began wreaking havoc. During the Battle of Stalingrad, Il-2s helped seal the Soviet victory with a treetop level raid on the main airbase from which supplies were flown to the besieged Germans, destroying 72 cargo planes on the ground, shooting down others, and damaging many more. That crippled an already struggling resupply operation and hastened the trapped Germans’ surrender.

By the time of the Battle of Kursk, Stormovik tactics had been further honed, and new ones introduced, such as the “Circle of Death” in which groups of 8 or more Il-2s flew a circle around a target, each protecting the one ahead with its forward-firing machine guns and cannons from enemy fighters, while taking turns to dive and attack the target, then rejoin the circle and allow another plane to leave the circle and attack. Sturmovik squadrons by then had also learned to operate in close coordination with ground forces to decimate the Germans, such as a mass Il-2 attack on July 7, 1943, that was credited with destroying 70 German tanks in 20 minutes. Against soft targets such as supply convoys and troops caught in the open, Sturmoviks was even more murderous.

So important was the plane to the Soviet war effort that when production numbers fell below expectations, Stalin wrote those responsible ” Our Red Army now needs IL-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. … I ask you not to try the government’s patience, and demand that you manufacture more ILs. This is my final warning.” Unsurprisingly, production increased sharply soon thereafter.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
De Haviland Mosquito. Warbirds News

De Haviland Mosquito

Nicknamed “The Wooden Wonder” because it was constructed almost entirely of wood, the twin-engine Mosquito was one of the most versatile and successful airplanes of WWII. It almost never get off the drawing board, as its basic concept of a bomber bereft of defensive weapons, relying instead on speed and agility to avoid and escape danger rather than fight it off, went against conventional wisdom at a time when bombers bristling with machine guns to fend off fighters was the norm. The Mosquito was the anti-Fortress, and it took significant cajoling to win the Air Ministry’s grudging approval, and only after it was repeatedly emphasized that wood was one of the few abundant resources in wartime Britain, so a mostly wooden plane would have little adverse impact on the production of other aircraft the Ministry deemed a higher priority, because it would not compete with them for precious stocks of metals and alloys.

The Mosquito was tested for the first time in November 1940, and prototypes demonstrated that they could outrun a Spitfire. It entered production the following year, and proved a smashing success. Mosquitoes began service as photo-reconnaissance airplanes, in which task they were served well by a speed and agility that allowed them to evade or outrun German interceptors. Having demonstrated that they could survive over hostile skies, Mosquitoes were soon employed in direct combat in a variety of roles.

Their bombload of 4000 lbs was only slightly less than the 4500 lbs typically carried by B-17s, but Mosquitoes could deliver their bombload with greater precision. They carried out pin-point attacks on targets throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, conducted night-time raids on Luftwaffe airfields, served as Pathfinders ahead of the nighttime bomber streams by marking out the target areas with colored incendiaries, carried out nighttime nuisance bombings, and flew special operations raids such as precision attacks on Gestapo and German intelligence facilities, and smashing the walls of Nazi prisons to facilitate jailbreaks. Mosquitoes also served successfully as fighters, night bombers, in anti-submarine and anti-shipping roles, and as a fast transport for high-value cargoes.

Perhaps the greatest compliment given the Mosquitoes came from Luftwaffe chief Herman Goering while addressing German manufacturers in 1943: “It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that?

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
Boeing photograph comparing B-29 and B-17. Quora

Boeing B-29 Super Fortress

Best known as the plane the dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the B-29 Super Fortress featured innovations such as a pressurized cabin and machine gun turrets that could be fired by remote control. It was the most technologically advanced and revolutionary bomber of WWII, as well as the most expensive military project of the conflict, with a price tag greater than that of the Manhattan Project.

Prototypes first flew in 1942, and the plane was introduced to service in May, 1944. B-29s initially bombed Japan from bases in China, but shaky logistics, with all fuel, supplies, and bombs needing to be flown from India over the Himalayas, coupled with the airbases’ vulnerability to Japanese attack, rendered a sustained bombing campaign from China impractical. The Mariana Islands, located 1500 miles south of Tokyo and thus within B-29 range, were a better option as they could be supplied limitlessly by ship and were beyond Japanese reach. Once they were captured and the necessary airbases and facilities built, B-29s were rebased there and began bombing Japan in October, 1944, from the Mariana islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.

12 Bomber Aircraft That Carried The Most Devastating Bombing Campaigns of WWII
B-29s out of Guam attacking Japan. Political Forum

The B-29 had been designed for high altitude bombing, but when it began bombing Japan it was discovered that Japanese skies differed from Europe’s due to a fast-moving jet stream that rendered accurate bombing from high altitudes difficult and often impossible. As a result, B-29s were forced to descend and began bombing from medium altitudes to improve accuracy.

When General Curtis LeMay took command of the 20th Air Force, he introduced new tactics: realizing that Japanese air power by 1945 was negligible, B-29s were stripped of defensive weapons that had become superfluous, in order to maximize bombload. The bombload was changed from the high explosives suitable for European cities of brick and concrete buildings to incendiaries which would prove more effective against Japanese cities whose buildings were mostly wooden. And the B-29s were ordered to bomb from low altitudes. Aircrews were appalled at first, fearing that they would get massacred, but LeMay’s tactics worked, resulting in the incineration of Japanese cities and the devastation of Japan, without corresponding devastation of B-29 squadrons. Japan was reeling from the months of mounting destruction inflicted by Super Fortresses by the time the B-29s Enola Gay and Bock’s Car delivered the atomic coup de grace.

B-29s continued in American service for years after WWII, seeing action again during the Korean War, before they were retired in 1960. A reverse-engineered Soviet copy, the Tu-4, flew for the Red Air Force until the mid 1960s.

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