AIR WAR PROSPECTS
By OUR AIR CORRESPONDENT
DESPITE concentrated night-raids of great intensity against Great Britain, and despite the continued lack of a satisfactory defence against the night-bomber, the events of the past few weeks have been full of encouragement for the future. The tottering of Italy, the abandonment of day bombing by the Germans, the successes of our own bombers, have all contributed to a more cheerful outlook than seemed possible a month or two ago.
Having survived the assaults of the summer days, and the desperate attacks of the winter nights, we can pause amid the devastation to look ahead with a fresh confidence. The war has now progressed far enough for certain lessons to be absorbed, assimilated, and applied to our advantage in the struggle still to come. Major-General J. Chaney, of the U.S. Army Air Corps, summed up the position well a week ago when he returned to America after watching the air war from this country for a month. His considered advice was : "Keep your air superiority, make a landing impossible, and make sure there is no sabotage."
The first of those points is the key to the whole situation. Our air superiority over Great Britain by day made possible that great victory of the Fighter Command over the Luftwaffe between June and August. It was not a superiority of numbers, for our aeroplanes were invariably outnumbered, but it was a superiority in equipment and in training of so marked a degree that between July 8th and August 24th enemy losses were in the ratio of more than 41 to T.
Bearing in mind that victory, given us by the excellence of our aeroplanes and crews, we must keep always before us the imperative necessity to maintain that technical superiority of our aeroplanes while building up their numbers. New German types will soon be appearing. Our own new types must rise as superior to them as the Spitfires and Hurricanes did to the Me. 509's and Ju. 87's last summer. Development does not fit in well with production, because existing jigs and schedules have to be torn up to make way for new designs. Yet some compromise is essential, and new aeroplanes must be pressed on which will incorporate in their design the lessons of the fierce fighting of last summer.
The same applies to the aircraft which America is sending us. General Chaney acknowledged that the aircraft industry of the United States was getting data worth hundreds of millions of dollars from British experience in warfare. He added, "I don't think this is sufficiently realised. It is a real present to the American people. All this information about aircraft performance under combat conditions enables the United States to go ahead with its rearmament pro-. gramme without wasting effort on the production of obsolete material or spending a great deal of money on research." Deficiencies in the defensive armament of American bombers, and the offensive armament of American fighters, are being corrected through experience gained in the battle for Britain.
All that is only just less important than hastening the progress of British designs. Soon large numbers of American aeroplanes will be operating in the R.A.F. The Americans build excellent flying-machines, but their experience of active service has been so limited that these fine flying-machines make less satisfactory fighting machines. Fortunately the deficiencies can be remedied relatively easily, and armament and armour added. A constant stream of British technicians is flowing across the Atlantic primed with the latest developments for increasing the military value of any aeroplane. The importance attgefied to the subject is shown by the appointment of Air-Chief- Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, who was Air Officer Com- manding-in-Chief of the Fighter Command R.A.F. up to a month ago, to advise American manufacturers on operational problems. As soon as some standardisation can be decided upon, the designs must be "frozen," so as not to hamper high-speed production by subsequent changes. This points to the importance of correct design in the first place.
The lessons learned in these past fifteen months are likely to have a marked influence on the tactics employed during the next phase of the air war. Both England and Germany have had to modify their ideas of speed and armament. Before the war we concentrated on the power-operated gun-turret as a defensive weapon for bombers. Germany relied on speed rather than armament. Yet in the test of action we found that for daylight raids we had not provided enough armament for security; the Germans discovered that they had not in- sisted upon enough speed. Hence the turn-over to night bombing, wherein darkness provides the necessary defence. That works well enough in winter—although by next winter we hope to have discovered the antidote to the night-attack. In summer, with its short nights, night-bombing is at a dis- advantage, and to continue the offensive resort must be made to high power of defence-or to 'speed.
Of these two choices sheer speed with no armament at all appears to be the most attractive in the light of past experi- ence. If this speed can be coupled with ability to fly high so much the better. The Germans have already tried the makeshift expedient of the fighter-bomber with some success. In the fast day-bomber of the near future armour rather than armament is likely to prove the best means of defence. Armour is less costly in speed and is less expensive in trained man- power, for it needs no operation. That in its turn drives the fighter from a multiplicity of small-bore machine-guns to a fewer number of shell-firing guns. So we see the tendency is for the bomber to be reduced in size in order to gain in speed, and for the fighter to grow in size in order to ga :n in fire-power.
Along these broad outlines the developments of the near future are likely to progress on both sides.. We already have a technical lead over Germany, and, with the vast resources of America at our disposal, we can reasonably hope to main- tain it. If we can achieve both technical and numerical superiority at the same time the prospects are bright. The side which can gain mastery in the air over enemy territory as well as over its own can maintain an air-offensive which, ch in smashing communications as well as the industrial and T economic life of a nation, can establish an internal blockade cc which must prove decisive. Our vast resources, in materials and designing skill, afford a logical foundation for the belief ou that we can establish a mastery of that sort over Germany. It in must be a gradual process, but it might be achieved by the In summer of 1942. That seems a long time ahead, but it would dt mean a war a year shorter than the last.