World War II Warbirds

A variety of World War II warbirds played a pivotal part in the allied war effort such as the Lancaster bomber and the P-51 Mustang fighter.

Aircraft

  • B-24 Bomber (US):
    • Early models of the long range heavy bomber, known as the Liberator, were primarily used for transporting cargo and persons of special interest.
    • Some of them were fitted with radar and became effective at antisubmarine patrol, particularly in the mid-Atlantic, where German U-boats previously operated virtually unchallenged.
  • B-17 Bomber (US):
    • The ‘flying fortress’ was a four-engine heavy bomber used extensively throughout World War II.
    • The first prototype of the plane took to the skies in 1935 and was a formidable opponent for enemy fighters due to its mounted 0.50 calibre machine guns.
    • The plane was used extensively during the Allied breakout and Normandy invasion in June 1944.
    • There were several versions of the aircraft and 8,680 of the planes were built and converted for a variety of uses such as reconnaissance, troop transport, training and bombing.
  • P-47 (US):
    • The P-47 was a United States fighter-bomber used extensively throughout World War II.
    • Its primary weapon was .50 calibre machine guns, but it would also carry rockets.
    • It gained the nickname ‘Jug’ due to the profile looking similar to a milk jug.
    • From D-Day until VE day P-47 pilots supposedly destroyed 86,000 railroad cars.
  • P-51 (US):
    • The American single seater was designed in 1940 and were often used to escort bombers in raiders over Germany.
    • They were also used as fighter-bombers by both the US Air Force and RAF and helped ensured the superiority of airborne allied forces in 1944.
    • During World War II plucky Mustang pilots said they destroyed more than 4,950 enemy aircraft.
    • It was also extensively used in the Korean War.
  • Avro Lancaster (UK):
    • The four engine heavy bomber had a large, long bomb bay so could take the largest bombs the Royal Air Force (RAF) had.
    • Specifically it could hold the blockbuster bomb, the largest used by the RAF in the war.
    • It was affectionately known as the ‘Lanc’ and was one of the most successful bombers during the war.
  • Handley Page Halifax Bomber (UK):
    • They were a major part of the RAF’s bomber command and often performed strategic bombing missions at night.
    • The planes flew more than 47,000 missions during the war.
    • They were used for bombing, but also took part in towing aircraft and dropping people behind enemy lines.
    • However it was seen as inferior compared to the rival Lancaster plane because it could not carry the larger blockbuster bombs.
  • Short S.29 Stirling Bomber (UK):
    • The Short Stirling was a British four-engined heavy bomber of the Second World War.
    • It has the distinction of being the first four-engined bomber to be introduced into service with the RAF.
  • Messerschmitt BF110 (Germany):
    • The plane was a twin fighter and was used extensively by the Luftwaffe throughout World War Two.
    • It operated with some success early in the conflict but had a major weakness in that it was not very agile in the air.

Air Forces

  • Bomber Command (UK):
    • RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF’s bomber forces from 1936 to 1968.
    • It was responsible for the strategic bombing of Germany during the Second World War.
    • When the Command was founded in 1936 it was only intended to be a deterrent, but the reality when war broke out three years later was very different.
    • Bomber command crews suffered incredibly high casualty rates. A total of 55,573 died out of 125,000 (44.4% mortality rate), 8,403 were injured and 9,838 became prisoners of war.
    • Most who flew were very young and the vast majority were still in their late teens.
    • Crews came from across the globe, including the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all corners of the Commonwealth, as well as from occupied nations including Poland, France and Czechoslovakia.
    • May 1942 saw the first ‘thousand bomber raid’ against Cologne.
    • The famous ‘Dam Busters’ raid of May 1943 shocked the world with its audacity, as Guy Gibson’s 617 Squadron launched a daring raid on the dams surrounding the Ruhr Valley.
    • Other attacks, like that on the battleship Tirpitz the following year, eliminated the German navy’s last major surface ship.
    • Raids in 1944 and 1945 against German ‘V weapon’ launch sites were also a crucial defensive measure, helping to limit attacks from flying bombs and rockets on British cities.
    • Initially focused on strategic targets such as Germany’s industrial capacity, Bomber Command switched its attentions to tactical objectives in early 1944, helping to pave the way for D-Day, the allied invasion of occupied Europe.
    • The closing months of the war saw arguably the most controversial operations, such as the raid on Dresden in February 1945.
    • In four huge raids by the RAF and United States Army Air Force, a firestorm destroyed the city centre and killed thousands of civilians.
  • Luftwaffe (Germany):
    • The Luftwaffe was officially established in 1935 and the Condor Legion was sent to aid General Franco, which they did with devastating effect, in the Spanish Civil War.
    • The German Luftwaffe claimed roughly 70,000 aerial victories, while 75,000 of their fleet was destroyed or significantly damaged.
    • Of that, nearly 40,000 were written off.
    • Their total air fleet production stood at just under 120,000 planes, with a personnel of 3.4 million pilots in service between 1939 to 1945.
    • By the time the Second World War broke out, they were the most sophisticated, technologically advanced air force in the world.
  • Finnish Air Force:
    • Finland were involved in two major conflicts during the war, the Winter War with the Soviet Union in 1939 and the Continuation War between 1941 and 1944.
    • The Continuation War started because the Soviet Union wished to safeguard Leningrad so wanted a part of the Finnish naval base at Hanko.
    • When this was rejected they were attacked by the Soviets and had to sign the Treaty of Moscow, handing over parts of southeastern Finland.
    • As tensions between Germany and the Soviet Union grew in 1941 Finland and the Continuation War began.

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