Conquering the Night: Army Air Forces Night Fighters at War - World War II and the European War, Radar Illuminates the Night, P-61, Training, Operation Strangle, D-Day, Japan Against the Rising Sun
Professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction, this unique USAF publication traces the AAF's development of aerial night fighting, including technology, training, and tactical operations in the North African, European, Pacific, and Asian theaters of war. More
Professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction, this unique USAF publication traces the AAF's development of aerial night fighting, including technology, training, and tactical operations in the North African, European, Pacific, and Asian theaters of war. In this effort the United States never wanted for recruits in what was, from start to finish, an all-volunteer night fighting force.
For combatants, a constant in warfare through the ages has been the sanctuary of night, a refuge from the terror of the day's armed struggle. On the other hand, darkness has offered protection for operations made too dangerous by daylight. Combat has also extended into the twilight as day has seemed to provide too little time for the destruction demanded in modern mass warfare.
In World War II the United States Army Air Forces (AAF) flew nighttime missions to counter enemy activities under cover of darkness. Allied air forces had established air superiority over the battlefield and behind their own lines, and so Axis air forces had to exploit the night's protection for their attacks on Allied installations. AAF night fighters sought to deny the enemy use of the night for these attacks. Also, by 1944 Allied daylight air superiority made Axis forces maneuver and resupply at night, by air, land, and sea. U.S. night fighters sought to disrupt these activities as an extension of daylight interdiction and harassment efforts. The AAF would seek to deny the enemy the night, while capitalizing on the night in support of daylight operations.
The first true night fighter aircraft were British, struggling to hunt down German Zeppelins lurking in the night skies over England in 1915. These slow behemoths were sitting ducks in daylight, so they were used primarily after dark. For six months British airmen struggled to find the Zeppelins and shoot them down. This effort exposed several problems: once notified, how to ascend and reach the enemy's altitude before he flew out of range; how to find the enemy in a darkened sky; and, finally, how to knock him down. Technology soon provided answers, allowing R. A. J. Warneford to use aerial bombs to claim the first Zeppelin in June 1915. British night defenses exacted an increasing toll, claiming 79 of the 123 airships Germany built for the war.
The enemy then switched from Zeppelins to a bomber airplane offensive against England. At first striking by day, German Gothas and Giants soon sought the night's protection from British defenses. What airmen lost in bombing accuracy by flying at night they more than made up in safety against enemy defenses. The night assault caught the public's imagination, but caused no serious damage. British planes performed well against German bombers protected by machine guns and the dark; in fact, the night itself proved the greater danger. In nineteen night raids, the defense, guided by radio intercepts, ground observers, searchlights, and blind luck, claimed twenty-four invading bombers, while thirty-six others were destroyed in unrelated crashes. Together, German bombers and airships claimed about 1,400 dead on the ground and nearly 3,400 injured, enough to threaten the British sense of pride and breach the insular protection previously afforded by the English Channel. Though the German aerial offensive hardly threatened the British war effort, it did force a diversion of eight hundred British fighters from the Western Front, where they were sorely needed. Though primitive, this first "Battle of Britain" set the stage for the aerial night fighting in the next war.
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