Aircraft Carriers, Dive Bombers, and Torpedo Planes

John A. Collett

The British Navy has virtually controlled the Mediterranean Sea throughout the war using battleships and cruisers with very little air support. (British aircraft carriers haven't so far had the aircraft striking power possessed by their American and Japanese counterparts.) How can they do this when they have operated well within the range of German and Italian long-range, land-based bombers? The reason is simple; long-range army bombers doing high altitude horizontal bombing are not the weapon to gain control of the sea. It may sound like a startling statement, and is meant as no reflection on our gallant allies who have done a magnificent job, but had the American task forces built around aircraft carriers which have operated so successfully in the Pacific been introduced into the Mediterranean against the British Navy as it has there been constituted, they would have swept that ocean clear of British sea power in very short order. It would simply be a case of using the most effective naval weapon against something which was never designed to oppose it. British naval power has operated very successfully against German and Italian air power except in the restricted waters of Crete and Norway but against an enemy using aircraft carrier task forces as the American and Japanese Navies do it would be a very different story indeed.

Why cannot the dive bomber and the torpedo plane then be land-based and thus control the sea without the use of any aircraft carrier? The dive bomber by reason of its very construction is a short-range airplane and there are no long-range dive bombers in the world today. Whether one could be designed is very questionable and if it could it would be so large as to be relatively ineffective. The torpedo plane, to only a slightly less extent, must also be a short-range weapon. While it is perfectly feasible to launch aerial torpedoes from even the largest army bombers and therefore carry them long distances, the large unwieldy plane flying low in a torpedo attack is extremely vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire as well as fighter plane attack.

The newest type American carrier-based torpedo planes operated in large numbers against a single target are a greatly superior weapon by reason of their vastly superior maneuverability and relative smallness. We have then established beyond a reasonable doubt that our most potential aerial weapon against warships is a short-range weapon. Either, then, the enemy fleet must approach close to our shores, as the British aircraft carrier Illustrious did when it was so effectively attacked by German dive bombers, or else we must take our planes to sea on aircraft carriers and attack him in the middle of the ocean as British torpedo planes did to the German battleship Bismarck in the Atlantic. If we are to control the supply lines of the world which stretch across vast oceans, we must carry our most effective aerial weapon to the very middle of those oceans.

Major de Seversky states that the carrier airplane by reason of the limitations inherent in its construction must invariably be inferior to the land-based airplane. This is true only for bombing planes and is most decidedly not true of fighter planes. The latest type of Japanese and American carrier-based navy fighter planes are fully a match for the best land-based pursuit planes. The feat of shooting down five large Japanese army land-based bombers by Lieutenant Commander O'Hare in a very few minutes is a pretty good demonstration of the effectiveness of our carrier-based fighters. Japanese Navy carrier- based fighters have held their own with the best allied pursuit planes in northern Australia. I will grant the Major we can't base any flying fortresses on our carriers but I am sure that for our particular aerial problem we would find them not nearly as useful as what we have.

In summation let us put the case this way. Aircraft carriers cannot successfully operate close to shore where they can be attacked in overwhelming numbers by land-based aircraft particularly of the torpedo and dive bombing variety. They din and have operated at moderate distances well within the sphere of long-range army bombers and come off extremely well. Major de Seversky's fundamental thesis that with the increasing range of land-based army bombers aircraft carriers will become obsolete as they are forced to operate within that range will simply not hold water. They are already operating practically with impunity where land-based bombers can and have reached them. As fighter aircraft become more and more effective the carrier will have stronger and stronger aerial protection and the job for the attacking bombers will become harder and harder. Our large carrier building program is sound indeed and will give us complete control of the oceans of the world.

 

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