Why the Luftwaffe Failed


THE Junkers 87, better known as the Stuka dive-bomber, has registered on the popular imagination more deeply than any other airplane thus far exhibited in combat. Its swooping, plunging flight has a melodramatic quality that terrifies and sows panic. It suggests ominously the image of an eagle pouncing on its prey. With characteristic thoroughness, the Germans equipped the plane with weirdly wailing sirens to heighten its capacity to inspire fear. Moreover, the Stuka revealed itself to the world, first in Poland and then in Western Europe, as the most conspicuous element in the fearsome blitzkrieg, in a setting of demoralized armies, terrorized refugee populations, and swift collapse of nations.

All this tended to surround this plane with an aura of invincibility, of power far beyond the limited functions for which it had been specifically designed. Even some military experts were too dazzled by the achievements of the Stuka in its appropriate place to recognize its shortcomings when removed from that place. It was hard for them to realize that the very airplane which made the largest contribution to the Nazi conquest of Europe proved worthless in the attempt to invade the British Isles. It is a fact, nonetheless, that unwarranted reliance on this and similar types of aircraft was one of the principal contributing causes of Germany’s defeat in the Battle of Britain.

As the basic ingredient in Hitler’s Luftwaffe, indeed, the Stuka stands as a symbol of the essential lopsidedness of that service in Germany. It refutes the puerile assumption in some American circles that Germany is somehow ‘a natural air-power nation’ with a divine mandate to rule the world in this airpower age.

The Stuka is an all-metal, low-wing monoplane of cantilever construction, with a top speed of 242 miles an hour — 130 miles slower, that is, than its destined nemesis, the British Spitfire fighter. In 1940 its armament consisted of two fixed machine guns in the wings and one flexible machine gun in the rear cockpit, but it was entirely unprotected by machine-gun defensive fire power from underneath. When attacked from the rear, the Stuka had only one lightcalibre machine gun to ward off the eight machine guns of the standard Royal Air Force pursuits; attacked from below, it was wholly defenseless. Its striking range is no more than 200 miles, and it usually carries one bomb of 1100 pounds and four of 100 pounds each.

Not until the Battle of England put this airplane to a genuine test were its limitations uncovered in action. The Stukas performed brilliantly on the European continent; first, because in that theatre of war they were able to exploit fully the element of surprise and hence did not meet a real modern pursuit force in reasonably effective strength; and second, because there they did not operate as an Air Power weapon but essentially as an auxiliary of the Army.

What is true of the Stuka is true, with exceptions, of German aviation as a whole. The chief task of Hitler’s air arm in the Low Countries and in France, as in Poland before that, was to coöperate with the mechanized and motorized forces. In the European campaigns, Nazi aviation acted as a vital member of a team. Naturally, it also cleared the skies of hostile aircraft — pursuits engaging enemy planes in theair, and dive-bombers destroying them on the ground through devastating blows on airdromes, fuel concentrations, aviation factories. Meeting little opposition in the air, however, its primary job was to clear the ground for armored columns and motorized troops, helping to cut the enemy armies into ribbons for piecemeal annihilation, demoralizing armed forces and civilian populations behind the main fronts, and cutting interior lines of communication.

The Nazi air arm was basically conceived to deliver short, swift, relatively light blows — the kind that stagger the adversary and leave him helpless against the immediate follow-up by plunging mechanized divisions and an avalanche of motorized infantry behind them. German military aviation, in other words, in the main had been planned and built for simultaneous, coördinated action with surface forces.

The Luftwaffe is a distinctly separate and autonomous military service, on a basis of full equality with the German Army and Navy. The panzer divisions and other ground units do not have any aviation units attached to them permanently. Air support is given at places and in quantities found necessary by the High Command, and any of the available air strength is flexibly at the disposal of any commander of a local land, sea, or air action. Yet, because the main Nazi strategic conception rested on land operations, the German Air Power was primarily geared to answer the tactical demands of such operations. The strategy called for mechanized surface warfare, with the armies crossing only narrow water gaps, which could be readily done under the protection of the coöperating air force. That pattern dominated the creative minds entrusted with the designing of air equipment.

This, in the final analysis, resulted in a certain bias. While the Luftwaffe was separate and entirely autonomous, the emphasis on land operations affected the equipment in a way that showed up unfavorably in all-out air action. The kind of blows the Luftwaffe was capable of delivering, its restricted effective range of operation, its inadequacies in speed and fire power and protective armor, made it almost useless when there were no land forces present to exploit the initial demoralization — that is to say, in an unadulterated aerial assault against an enemy air force and vast ground targets. In short, German vision and audacity failed to go far enough.

The invasions of Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, and France were undertaken almost simultaneously on May 10, 1940. Four days later the Dutch armies gave up resistance. On May 16, Germany broke through the Maginot Line at Sedan. By May 21, Hitler’s war machine reached the English Channel at Abbeville; a week thereafter King Leopold of Belgium surrendered.

There was a pause in the German onward sweep at the Somme River, when the Nazi High Command seemed, to most observers, to be debating whether to pursue the advantage southward toward Paris or to swing northward to attack England. The British Isles squared themselves for the latter contingency.

The pendulum of public sentiment swings hysterically from extreme optimism to extreme pessimism and back again. When Hitler launched the Norwegian campaign, observers on the whole were sure that he was slated for disaster, though it should have been obvious that no naval force could block the German invasion of that country. Now, as the Germans stopped for breath behind the Somme, the same observers, reflecting the unreasoned popular feelings, were no less sure that Hitler could go on into England. They were wrong again. Before the Nazis could dream of diverting their campaign from France into England, they had to reduce the Royal Air Force to impotence. And to accomplish that they had to bring the Luftwaffe within striking distance by building and equipping a string of air bases. They had to organize an uninterrupted line of supplies, fuel, spare parts — and all this under the continual harassment of British airplanes. Also, they had to provide the necessary transport for moving expeditionary forces across the Channel. Without such preparations the German machine could not keep rolling across the water gap.

Ignoring these elementary considerations, the prophets of doom, official and civilian, held the floor.


It is important to try to understand why Hitler met his first and most significant setback, because it has much to teach us about German aviation in particular and about air warfare in general. Let us therefore look at the aerial weapons with which Britain and Germany confronted each other across the English Channel in the nerve-racked summer of 1940.

The Germans had a formidable numerical preponderance. Accurate figures cannot be ascertained, but an estimate of 3000 Nazi pursuit fighters against 1200 British fighters seems reasonable from the available information. Both sides, of course, possessed more, but these were roughly the units thrown into the battle over Southeastern England. For bombers the Nazis’ quantitative advantage was even greater. As the attacker, moreover, Hitler had the advantages that accrue to the initiator of an action.

We have considered the Junkers 87, or Stuka, the basic element in Germany’s aerial equipment. The Nazis also used a twin-engined dive-bomber, the Junkers 88, with a speed of 300 miles, a crew of four, and a striking range somewhat more extended than the Stuka’s 200 miles. It was equipped with three machine guns: one flexible machine gun firing forward, operated by a gunner in front of the pilot; and the other two in the rear, one above and another below the fuselage. Slower by some twentyfive miles, but otherwise similar, was the horizontal bomber Heinkel III Mark V, also a twin-engined, low-wing monoplane. There were, in addition, variants of the Dornier 17, or so-called ‘flying pencil,’ in the array of level-bombers.

The general military characteristics of all these twin-engined bombers were similar. They were fast for their time, but the speed had been bought at a serious cost in fighting ability. The Germans had sacrificed range, loadcarrying capacity, armor and armament, for the sake of additional miles per hour. The effective radius with a full explosive load was only about 600 miles — about half of the British range. The bomb capacity, varying with the range of operation, averaged a ton.

Aside from the limited orbit of operations with large loads of explosives, the most serious handicap of the German bombers was insufficient defensive fire power. In most instances they could meet an eight-gun assault from a British pursuit with only one gun, making a hopeless ratio of eight to one. Had Hitler’s bombardment aviation carried adequate combat power, they might have succeeded in fighting their way through to appointed targets, destroying British Air Power aloft and its sources on the ground; thus, a reversal of the whole battle might have resulted.

The amazing shortsightedness of the Germans in respect to aircraft armament may be judged by the fact that, even in the First World War, bombers were normally better armed than those on which Hitler relied for his conquest of England. Twenty years before the Nazis built their flocks of Stukas and Heinkels with only one gun against pursuing planes, twin guns were employed for protection against stern attacks.

In the fighter class, the Messerschmitt 109, equipped with the Daimler Benz engines, developing 850 horsepower at the start of the war and gradually boosted to the present 2000 horsepower or thereabouts, was the standard type. The great mass of Messerschmitts at the beginning of the war did not have more than 325 miles an hour speed, though later models in the Battle of Britain could do better than 350 miles. The Messerschmitt 109 had six machine guns — four in the wings and two in the fuselage, firing through the propeller, with a consequent lowering of the rate of fire. A cannon firing through the propeller shaft was installed later.

The Messerschmitt 110 was a twoseater fighter, powered with two Daimler Benz engines. It had two fixed cannons in the fuselage and four fixed machine guns, all firing forward through the nose. Like all twin-engined planes, it could not manœuvre as easily or as rapidly as the single-engined Messerschmitt 109. Occasionally the Nazi fighter force also employed the Heinkel 113, which had a good margin over the Messerschmitt in performance. The Germans claimed 380 miles per hour for this fighter, but apparently because of some defect it never appeared in quantity. It should be noted that, because these pursuits could shoot only or chiefly forward, they were handicapped for their important function in convoying bombers. True convoy fighters call for entirely different disposition of armament, and different military characteristics.

British aviation, while numerically weak, had come closer to achieving the military characteristics of true Air Power. In scale these qualities may have been inadequate, but the underlying conceptions were correct. British bombers sacrificed speed for defensive armament, range, and bomb load, which is a justifiable exchange. Since bombers cannot get away from fighters anyhow, speed becomes a secondary consideration. RAF bombers were equipped with front and rear turrets, housing two and four machine guns, and were able to fire them backward through an arc of 180 degrees.

The backbone of the British fighter command was the Spitfire, which was and remains the most effective singleengined fighter in the world. It had a speed of 370 miles which has since then been raised to over 400 miles. Its eight machine guns, installed in the wings, were free-firing. In speed, armor, fire power, and disposition of guns, it was superior to the Messerschmitt. The Hurricane, second in importance in the fighter command, was a somewhat larger plane, with a top speed of only 335 miles, but very manœuvrable. (The present Hurricane is powered with a Napier engine, has a speed of 400 m.p.h., and carries four 20 mm. cannon or twelve machine guns.) In the beginning the British defenders also used the Boulton-Paul Defiant, a two-seater pursuit fighter with a speed of about 300 miles, but the Germans soon discovered the absence of protective armament from below and forced the RAF to restrict its use to night fighting.

A fair qualitative ratio of Nazi and British fighting aircraft in the Battle of Britain is provided by the Spitfire and the Messerschmitt. The advantage in the confrontation was indisputably in favor of the British. The Spitfire had a margin of twenty-five miles an hour in speed. Though it did not at that time have a cannon, it had two more machine guns — none of them handicapped by synchronization through the propeller — and hence a greater volume of fire. Flying qualities were approximately the same, with a slight advantage for the British, since the Spitfire was better than the Messerschmitt at stalling speeds and manœuvring.

The amazement and terror evoked by the blitzkrieg triumphs in Europe fortified the myth of German Air Power. The less discriminating the observer — even if he happened to be an aviator himself — the more shrill he became in glorifying the alleged genius of the Nazis in the science of military aeronautics. In a few instances this unrestrained and uncritical admiration for German aviation served to warp the whole outlook of Americans on the world we live in. Certain in their own minds and nerves that Hitler’s Luftwaffe was invincible, they yearned to make terms with the inevitable and the preordained; they could not and would not concede even the possibility of aerial defeat of Germany.

The Battle of Britain, however, cannot be explained unless and until we acknowledge the qualitative superiority of British Air Power for the specific task of seizing and holding the skies.


The Battle of Britain, a pamphlet summing up the official British Air Ministry record for the period August 8 to October 31, 1940, distinguishes four phases in that epochal struggle.

The first, from August 8 to August 18, was marked by a concentrated all-out attack on Channel convoys, the southeastern coast and harbors of England, and the airdromes located in that area.

In the second, from August 19 to September 5, the aerial fire of Germany was directed against inland fighter airdromes.

The third phase, from September 6 to October 5, compassed the mighty attack on London, seat of the Government and heart of the British Empire.

Finally, in the fourth phase, which the Air Ministry dates as October 6 to October 31 but which has really continued since then, the Luftwaffe has been attacking the entire country in night raids, in a diversified action against all vital objectives.

Behind this matter-of-fact recapitulation of the campaign lies a clear record of Nazi aerial failure. The Air Ministry account at several points indicates frank bafflement at the shifting of the Nazi strategy in these various stages. With no apparent or sufficient cause, the conflict kept entering a new phase of operation without having brought the preceding phase to a conclusion. But by now we have enough detailed information from official and unofficial sources to permit a consistent analysis of what happened.

I am convinced that the failure of the first all-out effort to capture the southeast segment of English sky astonished and shocked the Germans. Whatever misgivings they may have entertained on the further developments, they gambled optimistically on that initial success. The startling loss of this gamble, throwing doubt on their fundamental strategic ideas, left the Nazis as bewildered as the French had been by the crumbling of the defensive Maginot Line strategy. The bewilderment was merely deepened by the miscarrying of the second stage of the undertaking. Far from adhering to a rigid program or schedule, as some have supposed, the German High Command was forced to improvise in an almost panicky spirit as it went along.

Curiously, it may well have been the British success at Dunkirk which encouraged Hitler and his associates in their self-assured expectation of easy access to England. It had been possible for the Royal Air Force, under exceedingly unfavorable conditions, to achieve a local if temporary air mastery over a corridor of Channel stretching from Dunkirk to England. The Nazis consequently estimated that they could do the same, and even more easily. As for the setback at Dunkirk, they preferred to credit that to extraneous circumstances — such as their lack of prepared bases and the resultant inability to exercise their numerical advantage — rather than to the intrinsic superiority of British air equipment.

The Luftwaffe attacked the coast from Weymouth to the Thames Estuary, pounding Portland, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Dover, Norwich, and striking at the fighter airdromes in the area — at Dover, Hawkinge, Middle Wallop, Biggin Hill, even as far as Croydon. The tactical objective was to seize local air domination and under its cover to land a great expeditionary force.

Goering threw his Stukas and Heinkels and Messerschmitts into the enterprise unsparingly. The fact that he lost at least 697 aircraft in the first ten days is a measure of the fury and profligacy of the onslaught. He was willing to pay any price for that invasion bridgehead and counted on overwhelming numbers to make up the differential in aviation performance. His calculations proved wrong. It is true that the British pilots, because of their numerical weakness, were overworked, being obliged to fly and fight from dawn to dusk and beyond. But in the end it became apparent that numbers without adequate quality are well-nigh worthless against a determined opponent properly equipped.

Notwithstanding initial failure, the Luftwaffe continued to fight an advance action for the ground forces waiting on the other side of the Channel. When Messerschmitts showed themselves unable to eliminate the British Spitfires and Hurricanes in the air, the attackers evidently decided to eliminate them on the ground, in their airdromes. They assumed — mistakenly, as they soon learned — that the RAF fighter command, being chiefly concerned with the defense of the coastline, would be concentrated within easy reach, and that as a result the airdromes would be packed tight with aircraft.

But the RAF had profited from the experience of the Polish and the French airmen. Instead of bunching their planes at known spots where the enemy could attack them by surprise, the British wisely dispersed them in the environs of the bases, singly and often under camouflage.

Some airdromes were quickly put out of action in the second phase of the battle. But the birds had flown these nests. Before long the RAF was locating and intercepting the invading aircraft and cutting heavily into their strength. The German bombers were like so many clay pigeons for British fighters, and few of them ever reached their targets. In this second phase the Nazis lost at least 562 aircraft at a cost of only 119 to the British.

Failure to defeat the British fighter command meant failure to accomplish the preliminary objective: the capture of aerial control as a prelude to invasion by land forces. It meant that the German invasion program was doomed. Hitler’s High Command had planned a combined land, sea, and air lightning stroke against the island, analogous to the stroke against Norway, to be broadened subsequently into a campaign analogous to those on the mainland. This did not materialize. Instead the Germans unexpectedly faced a prolonged all-air struggle, for which they were neither equipped physically nor prepared psychologically. An all-air struggle it has remained throughout, with the armies and navies on both sides, rather to their own surprise and chagrin, reduced to the rôle of impotent spectators.

As the shortcomings of their aircraft became manifest, almost from the first day, the Germans kept shifting their formations, increasing and rearranging their pursuit convoys, desperately seeking to convert their numerical strength into tactical values. The obvious lack of clarity and sureness in the tactics during these critical days and in the subsequent phases of the battle may justly be taken as proof that the Germans were as backward in their air strategy as in their air equipment; the two things go together as a matter of course. But no matter how the invading planes jockeyed, the faster, deadlier British craft beat them to the punch. The Germans lacked the appropriate equipment, and the attempt to use makeshift equipment proved costly and useless.

The failure of the second phase of the battle underlined the bankruptcy of Germany’s aerial conceptions. For the first time, perhaps, the High Command was obliged to concede that there was some logic to the contentions of aeronautical ‘visionaries’ who had foreseen and foretold an all-air war in which the other services would be supernumeraries. At that point, no doubt, the mirage of a simultaneous land, sea, and air campaign against England began to evaporate. The realization probably dawned in Germany ‘s Army minds that joint movement on two levels, the surface and the air above it, is impossible when the upper level is in hostile hands — that mastery of the air must come first.

In any case, it is apparent that Germany’s Air Power was finally released, at that point in the Battle of Britain, to fight on its own, simply and solely as an air force. It was given a free hand to act as a genuine and independent strategic arm, not merely as an advance agent of the Army.

Marshal Goering’s Luftwaffe began its new phase of activity with an attempt to destroy London. This harked back to textbook strategy of the Army type, which had always regarded the capture of the enemy’s capital as a first goal. Under modern conditions, the capital is not as vital an objective as in the past; modern communications and other technical advances now enable a government to function from almost any place. The attack also fitted into General Douhet’s aerial doctrine, prescribing an attack on an important and sentimental or emotional target with a view to coaxing the entire defensive aviation into action and forcing it to accept combat. London was certainly that sort of target. But the Douhet doctrine holds good only when the attacker has sufficient integrated combat power. Hitler’s aviation decidedly did not possess this. Inevitably the assault on London resulted in a wholesale slaughter of the attacking German aircraft without strategic gains for these losses. By no stretch of the imagination could the annihilation of blocks of city residences affect the strength of British Air Power, which should have been the primary Nazi objective.

For a while the Nazis tried to maintain their morale by concealing the magnitude of their losses from the Luftwaffe personnel. For instance, they ordered pilots to land at airdromes other than those from which they had taken off, so that they would be unable to check up on the casualties. But the looming extinction of their own forces finally undermined the self-confidence of the leaders and the attack on London was called off.

There is strong reason to suppose that the all-out assault on the British capital, if it had been kept up a few weeks longer, might finally have succeeded. In the long run, overwhelming mass and continuity of action have their effects. The RAF pilots were brave and skilled, but relatively few and overworked beyond human endurance. It is possible that they might not have held out during another thirty days’ unrelieved bombardment. But Marshal Goering saw his aerial armada and his men being whittled down almost to the point of elimination, while he had no way of estimating losses by the enemy, which seemed invincible. It is not at all out of the question that he stopped the offensive just in time to waste his whole investment.

Having learned the tragic effect of the inferiority of their aviation the hard way, the Nazis refrained from further bold bombardment of predetermined targets protected by concentrated aerial forces. Instead they decided to exploit the element of surprise. They began to scatter their strength by attacking a great variety of targets over a huge area. Their efforts resolved into a haphazard attempt at aerial blockade of the British Isles. In this they again disclosed their confusion. They should have known in advance that successful blockade cannot be enforced until the opposing force is neutralized or eliminated. They could do neither to the RAF.

Shortness of range automatically safeguarded important industrial objectives farther north and counted out the Stukas except in the southeast of the island. A few experiments in daylight bombing ended disastrously for the Germans. Hitler’s planes did not possess the combat power for bold day operations, nor the bomb capacity to make them decisive.

Thus the Germans were restricted to the comparatively ineffectual night hours. The destruction accomplished in night raids from the very high altitudes may be enormous; surely there is no call to minimize the total death and property destruction and dislocation of everyday existence achieved by this method. But in raiding under the veil of darkness the aim is necessarily haphazard, and the type of methodical, planned annihilation of specific military and morale targets essential for victory is made difficult if not impossible. The hope of cracking British morale by means of such hit-andmiss tactics soon faded.

In desperation Marshal Goering resorted to a trick which Russia used in the First World War. In 1917 the German Navy was pressing its entry into the Gulf of Riga. The Germans brought in so many pursuits that our bombers were easily intercepted and destroyed. Because of range shortage, the pursuits under my command could not protect them. Under these circumstances the tasks of the bombers reverted to the pursuits. Equipped with extra gas tanks and bomb racks, we attacked shore fortifications and the German Navy, only to find that we lacked the Striking Power to do real damage. Twenty-three years later the Germans, at this stage in the Battle of Britain, similarly converted their pursuits into bombers.

They were no more successful than we had been. The improvised bombers could deliver only weak explosive loads, which are useful in coöperative action with land forces, but were inadequate as an Air Power weapon. Approaching in daylight, they were soon forced into combat. They thereupon had to unload their bombs, willy-nilly, and revert into pursuits. Outclassed, they were doomed as soon as overtaken. The expedient was abandoned and nothing remained to the Germans but more night raids, an operation which has become increasingly hazardous as counter-measures, such as radio detection of night fighters, have progressed.

From August 8 to October 31, the Germans lost 2375 aircraft in England in daylight. The Air Ministry figure, clearly on the modest side, does not include planes destroyed in night fighting, aircraft damaged, and the large number which unquestionably succumbed over the Channel and beyond it on their retreat from England. In a single day, on September 15, the Luftwaffe left 185 of its planes in England. This immense investment had killed some thousands of Englishmen, wrecked a vast amount of British property, destroyed some RAF planes and pilots. But tactically it had got Hitler nothing.

Seven years of Nazi concentration on aerial preparedness thus ended in fiasco. Only the impressiveness of the preceding European victories blurred this fact. A Luftwaffe which had proved well suited to act with the Army and the Navy showed up as helpless in unadulterated air combat.

In the United States the full growth of Air Power had been retarded by the inertia and the mental timidity of oldline Navy and Army leaders with whom the final decisions rested. These brakes on air development did not exist in Germany, where the revolutionary Nazi mentality broke through traditional restraints. The Nazis, kicking over all traditional notions, new to political power and hence with less to unlearn, broke through traditional barriers. Broke through — but stopped far short of an Air Power as self-contained in its actions in the air as navies used to be in their actions on the seas.

On the basis of the Battle of Britain, a good many American military experts jumped to the rash conclusion that Air Power alone cannot achieve a definitive victory over an enemy. This is not only erroneous but, to the extent that it may influence our American aviation ideas and war strategics, also mischievous.

The fact that the Germans failed to knock out England from the air does not mean that knockouts from the air are impossible. It means only that Germany was not properly prepared to knock out England. One might as reasonably argue that guns cannot kill tigers because a volley of buckshot cannot do it. In claiming that Air Power can, under certain circumstances, win a battle or a war, we necessarily assume that the appropriate strategy, tactics, and weapons for that purpose are available.

The German four-engined Condor, in flying from Berlin to New York nonstop, had to carry about 20,000 pounds of gas. The same type of plane, in a flight from the French coast to London and back, would need only about 5000 pounds of fuel. The difference of some 15,000 pounds might have been used to provide adequate defensive fire power, with enough margin to spare for a load of explosives that might have worked as much havoc in a single raid as was accomplished by fifteen Stuka dive-bombers or seven horizontal-bombers of the sort used in the Battle of Britain. Hitler, had he foreseen the need, could have possessed an armada of such bombers and the whole story would have been quite different.

The possibilities of destruction from the skies have scarcely been touched. Germany has failed in this as completely as other nations, and the failure to conquer the British Isles with the Luftwaffe is the irrefutable proof.

Just as the scientist learns from an unsuccessful experiment how to achieve success in the next try, so the Battle of Britain has given aerial strategists proof that nations can be wrecked and forced to surrender from the air alone. In the very shortcomings of Nazi equipment for such an enterprise they can see clear indications of the future development of equipment to match the tactical task. The student of aerial warfare can discern the nature of the German errors and, therefore, how they can be avoided and how to score a decision through Air Power. Those errors are twofold: —

1. The attempted strategic bombardment of a nation without sufficient combat power to eliminate or neutralize the opposing Air Power. If German bombers, instead of carrying three single machine guns, had been equipped with turrets like the British bombers, each housing four machine guns, Hitler would have been spared his four to one ratio of losses. Four times as many British planes would have been shot down, and this drain on the RAF might easily have given Germany mastery of the English skies.

2. A mistaken choice of the vital target. Those thousands of planes and pilots invested in striking at London might have been expended more intelligently against key industrial centres; against production units of the aviation industry, especially those related to the fighter command, such as the RollsRoyce engine plants as well as Spitfire and Hurricane plants. That would have amounted to a double-barreled attack on the opposing air force, eliminating it simultaneously in the air and on the ground. In fine, the Germans used the wrong kind of air force at the wrong place.

We must assume that our enemies, too, have learned the lessons of the struggle for English skies. Presumably they are putting all their inventive and engineering skills behind new weapons alongside which the Luftwaffe of the Battle of Britain will seem utterly primitive. They are weapons, we may be sure, shaped for long-range attack not only on the British Isles but on a larger ‘island’: the American continent.

Axis preoccupation with closer, more immediate targets, however, is likely to delay practical construction of adequate all-out transoceanic aerial equipment. That, in turn, gives us the chance to get a head start — provided we begin now! Tactically speaking, the 2000 to 3000 mile gap between the Aleutian Islands and Japan is just another English Channel. Despite the larger geographical scale, we can succeed where the Germans failed.

Much of the new American aerial equipment has greater range and greater combat power than the aviation the Nazis were able to throw against Britain. But such things are wholly relative. For the tasks that face America our equipment is even more backward than the German Luftwaffe proved in the Battle of Britain. Our aviation has been conceived exclusively as one element in the triumvirate of land, sea, and air forces. Even in our most recent aircraft, no provision has been made for the kind of Air Power that can strike on its own at the enemy’s primary sources of military vitality.

If we are expelled from the Southern Pacific, we shall lose the possibility of the relatively short jumps from island to island in the roundabout approach to Japan itself. We shall then have no alternative but to fight directly from the American side of the Pacific. It is our duty to prepare for such a contingency now. The Battle of Britain shows us how.