The Balance of Aerial Power
Thank you for another great issue (June 2019). I was particularly intrigued by Vincent O’Hara’s article “D-Day, A Year Too Late?” (pp. 14–19), which asks the question: Could the invasion of northwestern Europe have been completed in 1943?
O’Hara quite rightly lists the four requirements for a successful invasion, and air supremacy is the second. But then he does not examine the state of the aerial conflict in the summer of 1943 and how it might have affected a cross-Channel invasion at that time. One could argue that air supremacy would not be realized until the summer of 1944.
If an invasion had been attempted in the summer of 1943, the Luftwaffe would have made the price in Allied ships and men very high. At that time, the German fighter force was strong enough to escort bombers and fighter bombers to the Normandy coast and beaches. A crowded English Channel would have provided ample targets.
As Steven J. Zaloga points out in Operation Pointblank 1944 (Osprey, 2011), the destruction of the German fighter force was as much the strategic objective of the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe as the destruction of German war production. A total of 8,749 German single-engine fighters were destroyed on the Western Front from 30 June 1943 to 30 June 1944. More important, 1,200 German fighter pilots were lost in the first six months of 1944.
Also, by the summer of 1944, the Germans were feeling a shortage of aircraft fuel. The first effect was to limit the hours training aircraft could be flown, in turn reducing the quality of Luftwaffe pilot training.
On the Allied side, great improvements in fighter aircraft were made. In September 1943, the superb P-51B Mustang was introduced. By the spring of 1944, Allied escort fighters were taking a toll on the German Air Force in the air, and they were strafing them on the ground.
In short, the Luftwaffe was a much more effective force in the summer of 1943. It would have made a cross-Channel invasion at that time a very costly enterprise. The Allies saved themselves much blood by waiting until true aerial supremacy was achieved over the invasion front.
The author responds: Mr. Merkle is right that a powerful German Air Force would have caused problems over any beachhead, as it did for the Allied forces landing in Italy in September 1943. My article did take this superiority for granted. A more extensive analysis would have considered this question in detail. In brief, I think by midsummer 1943, given the proximity of air bases and superior numbers, the Allies could have secured air superiority over the beachheads and farther inland. This superiority would not have been as absolute as it was in 1944, but it would have been enough.
What About Dieppe?
I was surprised that Vincent O’Hara in “D-Day, A Year Too Late?” made no reference to the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942, which had a profound effect on Allied invasion planning. Intending to seize and temporarily hold a French Channel port while gathering intelligence and destroying enemy installations, a force of 6,050 Canadian, British, and American troops encountered fierce German counterattacks that resulted in a 60 percent casualty rate among the raiders and a complete military disaster for the Allies.
The raid revealed many shortcomings in Allied preparations and convinced the British high command that a cross-Channel invasion of occupied France would require far more resources and personnel than originally thought. Hence their extreme reluctance to support the U.S. demand for a cross-Channel assault in 1943.
Lessons learned from the Dieppe Raid were applied to the North African and Italian landings with considerable success. Ultimately, the outcome of the June 1944 invasion of Normandy was bought with Soviet blood, as General Sir Alan Brooke of the Imperial General Staff had anticipated, along with the experience gained from the Dieppe Raid and its successors.
Yalu River and McGiffin
I found Commander Mark Metcalf’s article in the April issue, “Humiliation Is Prologue” (pp. 42–47), of great interest, as much of it reflected the late-19th-century efforts of the Imperial Chinese Navy to modernize. Handicapped by corruption, treachery, and incompetence on shore, the Chinese fleet was defeated by the Japanese at the 1894 Battle of the Yalu River. The battle was not as one-sided as it may have appeared, as the newer Japanese ships were unable to overcome the two Chinese ironclad battleships, the Ting Yuen and Chen Yuen. The action, while fatal to imperial China, confirmed that heavily armed and armored battleships could retain their place in the naval hierarchy.
Philo N. McGiffin, an 1884 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was executive officer of the Chen Yuen. Unemployed by the small contemporary U.S. Navy, he and many other foreign officers were employed by the Chinese Navy. Captain McGiffin is the subject of a current exhibit at the Naval Academy Museum (See “Museum Report,” p. 58).
His story is included in a China Daily online article, “Remembering Maritime Heroes from Abroad” by reporter Peng Yining. She interviewed several Chinese scholars who are attempting to learn more about these foreign officers. Chinese interest in the First Sino-Japanese War has even resulted in the construction of a full-size replica of the Chinese flagship Ting Yuen in the port of Weihai.
Setting the Record Straight
It’s not often that I—or anybody—get to correct Barrett Tillman, but in his review of David Rigby’s book Wade McClusky and the Battle of Midway in the June issue (p. 64), he writes, “At least one aircraft type is misidentified: the ‘Douglas R-5D’ when the R5D was the Curtiss Commando, C-46 to the Army.” Actually, the R5D (without the dash) was the Douglas C-54 Skymaster, while the Navy designation for the C-46 was R5C.
Your April 2019 issue has an error that a lot of old salts probably noticed. On page 50 of “A Least-Likely Combatant,” the “Climax at Coral Sea” section tells of the USS Yorktown (CV-10). It should be CV-5.