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Allied Heavies Vs German Flak

by Till Daisd
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Flak Vs Bombers

In contrast to flak damage, the percentage of allied bombers lost to or damaged by enemy fighters significantly decreased during the 1944

The Allied bomber onslaught was a massive industrial battle with more than one million tons of bombs dropped, almost one million civilians killed or injured, and more than 3,500,000 industrial and residential structures destroyed. Many times, the aerial conflict that took place over Germany has been compared to a conflict between bombers and day/nightfighters. However, historians typically overlook the significance of German anti-aircraft fortifications (flak).

In late 1943, the USAAF started to take the science of “flak analysis” seriously after realizing, to its detriment, that the Flakwaffe constituted a significantly higher threat than had been initially predicted, according to Donald Nijboer in his book German Flak Defences Vs Allied Heavy Bombers. Monthly increases in the number of heavy bombers damaged or shot down required a shift in strategy and the application of electronic countermeasures. The Eighth Air Force initially employed chaff on December 20, of that same year, two months after the USAAF unveiled the gun-laying Carpet I radar jammer. Although these techniques lessened losses, they were never entirely successful.

Allied Heavies Vs German Flak: why Allied Bombers Never Defeated Nazi’s Flakwaffe

An extensive study titled “An Evaluation Taken to Protect Bombers from Loss and Damage” was produced by the Eighth Air Force Operational Analysis Section of Headquarters in November 1944. The outcomes were sobering. Although new strategies were suggested, many of the outdated practices persisted. The report said, among other things, that:

The enemy’s flak defenses have been consolidated over the past year, and our bombers have encountered many more guns. While the percentage of bombers lost to flak has decreased only somewhat, the percentage of bombers destroyed or damaged by opposing fighters has drastically decreased. The amount of flak damage has stayed essentially consistent. As a result, the proportional importance of flak has steadily increased until June, July, and August 1944, when flak was responsible for around two-thirds of the 700 bombers that were lost and 98 percent of the 13,000 bombers that were damaged.

The current rate is startling in terms of quantity. In each of the six months ending in September 1944, 3,360 to 4,453 bombers returned with flak damage, which represents a monthly average that is nearly twice as high as the total number of bombers damaged by flak throughout the first year of operations. The fact that we have been flying over targets that are being defended by more and more guns seems to have offset all of our efforts to lessen the damage caused by flak. In addition, it’s likely that the enemy’s equipment, gunnery, and ammo have improved.

The target of 60 guns from a year ago will probably be defended by 300 guns today. This makes it crucial that we step up our efforts to reduce flak risks by reevaluating the strategies we have been employing and such novel strategies that provide genuine prospects.

The main strategies to lower flak risks are:

  • 1. Avoid flying over flak defenses en route to and from the target
  • 2. Enter and leave the target area on course, which crosses over the weakest flak defenses in the shortest time possible — i.e. with allowances for wind vector.
  • 3. Fly at the highest altitude consistent with other defensive and offensive considerations.
  • 4. Plan the spacing and axes of attack of bombing units to make the fullest use of the radio countermeasures Window and Carpet.
  • 5. Minimize the number of bombers flying together as a bombing unit.
  • 6. Increase the spread of the entire formation in altitude and breadth to reduce the risk of barrage fire.
  • 7. Close up in trail so as to reduce the time between attacks of successive bombing units, and thus saturate the enemy flak defenses when they are employing continuously pointed or predicted concentration firing tactics.
  • 8. Plan evasive action when flying over known anti-aircraft positions (except on a bomb run) to make it difficult or impossible for the enemy to get accurate data for continuously pointed or predicted concentration firing tactics.

Dismissed as ineffective and a waste of resources, the Flakwaffe in fact made a major contribution to the defense of the Third Reich. At least half of the USAAF aircraft shot down over Germany fell to flak (5,380), and it was estimated that flak accounted for 1,229 aircraft lost by Bomber Command between January 1942 and April 1945. The anti-aircraft fire served two purposes. The two roles were to shoot down hostile aircraft and, more importantly, to make bombers drop their ammunition earlier or from a higher altitude, decreasing the precision of their bombing. In addition to harming aircraft, flak caused bombers to lose altitude, slow down, and become easy targets for German fighters on the prowl.

We never overcame the German flak artillery, Commander Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the USAAF’s commanding general, said.

German Flak Defences Vs Allied Heavy Bombers is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo by German Federal Archives and U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia

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