Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Where are the German strategic bombers?

Dornier Do. 19 prototype
Whilst staring at the "Goodnight Mr Tom" theatre poster I geekily noticed that the "German" bombers all had four engines rather than the usual two. In fact they were mostly B-17 Flying fortresses.

So does it matter? Well yes. Arguably had the Luftwaffe had four-engined Dornier Do.19 or Junkers Ju.89 bombers available they could have decimated the airfields or London with a bomb load of 3520lbs and could have taken a lot more punishment. There is also an argument that they would have been decimated when they flew out of escort range as the Allies found in their early raids on Germany mounting in an unacceptable loss of men and materiel.

So why didn't they build or develop any four-engine bombers as the war went on?

Well, I'm glad you asked that question.

One of Germany's greatest problems and motivations for war was the severe lack of resources. As such manufacturing had to be prioritised. The ReichLuftMinistry (RLM) had worked out a ratio of materials needed for each aircraft which worked out thusly;

5 Single seat fighters = 3 Medium bombers = 1 heavy bomber

German military thinking was limited by this resource deficit and although OKW would have liked a large, all conquering war machine they had to accept the reality of "Blitzkrieg" and a minor adaption of Guderian's principles from "Achtung Panzer!"

This would run a limited thrust against the enemy in a single knockout blow. An overall strategic bomber fleet would be unnecessary in this sort of campaign and a fast mobile "flying artillery" of Ju. 87 Stukas backed up by a medium bomber fleet to decimate airfields and transport systems within a certain radius would be more than ample.

The RAF thought along the same lines at this point as they maintained light bombers such as the ill fated Fairey Battle or the Avro Anson or medium bombers like the Hampden or Vickers Wellington.

When it came to preparations for Operation Sealion the Luftwaffe fielded 3358 (2550 serviceable) aircraft with a breakdown of 934 (805) Bf.109s, 289 (224) Bf.110s, 1482 (998) medium bombers, 327 (261) Stukas, 195 (151) reconnaissance and 93 (80) coastal aircraft.

If you apply the RLM ratio and sub out the Medium bombers and the 75% serviceability rate the Luftwaffe planners used, they would have had only 371 bombers available with a total of 494.

Hermann Goering summed it up when he said that;

"The Führer will never ask how many engines my bombers have, only how many we have."

To make this case more pointedly lets look at a table of comparisons of specs for each aircraft;

ModelD0.19Ju.89He. 111Ju. 88WellingtonFW. 200
Range941 Mi1862 mi1429 mi1429 mi2550 mi2212 mi

(It should be noted that the bombload could be increased on both the He.111 and Ju.88 but at a cost to fuel efficiency and flight handling. The Ju.88 could carry up to 6,600lb on racks and the He.111 could carry up to 7,900lb but required rocket assisted launch!) 
General Wever, the Luftwaffe chief of staff between March 1935 and his tragic death in February 1936, was the main supporter of a strategic bomber force. He issued the Ural Bomber order for an aircraft that had a range long enough to drop an adequate bomb load on Russian industry in the Ural mountains. The aim was to create a fleet of bombers that could wage a war over a static front and bring an enemies industry to its knees. This was at odds with OKW's vision of a fast war that would mean less resources wasted and the Army were keen to have their aerial umbrella to protect their men and tanks. It was inevitable that after the air crash that claimed Wever's life that the project would be dropped.

General Ernst Udet, head of procurement and a former stunt pilot finally got his way on dive bombers supported by Jeschonnek and the new Chief of Staff Albrecht Kesselring who did not want to see men or materiel wasted and favoured fighters.

It is understandable when you look at the specifications of the aircraft as the two models put forward are very comparable to the two engine Heinkel and the modern Ju.88.

As for a long range reconnaissance craft, military planners didn't think they needed one until the war with the British Isles looked unavoidable in 1940 and Fw. 200 Condor airliners were converted with some success in the anti-shipping role. A formation was also used for bombing Manchester. However this was a temporary stopgap move and not to be considered for long term military strategy.

The problems really arose when the Luftwaffe hit the static front over the skies of England. Although temporary aerial superiority was gained over Kent and the South east the majority of British industry was merely shifted North and Squadrons were moved to Scotland for R&R away from the front.

This problem was exacerbated on the Russian front but still Luftwaffe planners preferred to go for quantity and the army had become to dependent on their aerial umbrella - everything was being  thrown at the Russian armoured columns - even Stukas fitted with Cannon from armoured cars wit recoil so strong it would stop the aircraft dead in the air. A four engine bomber would be fairly superfluous and once out of escort range a crew of eight maybe ten much needed airmen could be lost with no hope of retrieval.

However planners did look into a four engine scheme with the Messerschmitt Me. 264 coming out as a fore runner for the Amerika bomber plan and as a U-boat support craft. It was too little too late and with the prototypes destroyed in an air raid the RLM decided to drop any real interest as they could not spare the production capacity in 1943-4 as fighters to combat the Allied bomber offencive were needed.
Range9500 mi1814 mi2530 mi2000 mi
Bombload6614 lb13227 lb14 - 22,000lb8-17,000 lb

There was also the ill fated He.177 Grief which was nicknamed the "Flying firework" by her crews. The craft had two engines in each nacelle so gave the look of a two engined bomber. Unfortunatley due to a design botch an oil line ran across the hot engines and had a tendency to burst into flames in mid flight (hence the name). Its arrival to Luftflotte 6 on the eastern front was used to some effect by Feldmarschall Lohr against Russian transport systems and factories, even attacking Gorki. Unfortunately as the Wehrmacht withdrew further and further into Poland more and more targets dropped even out of the range of the 177 and the unit was used in normal tactical role of the Ju. 88 or He. 111.

There was the improved He 277 which put the engines into four nacelles instead of two that Dr Heinkel continued work on in private and was a marked improvement but Goering would not allow it's development!

I would also be amiss if I didn't mention the Dive order from General Udet. It was a devastating order from the head of procurement. Every bomber aircraft had to be able to act as a dive bomber as well as level bomber. This threw all kinds of spanners into the design process and vitally delayed the He 177 production and deployment. It wasn't until his death in 1941 that this order could be effectively rescinded but it had already set back the program by a detrimental amount of time.

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