Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Air War over Pennsylvania
In the first months of World War II in North America, a fierce battle took place over the skies of Pennsylvania. Both the U.S. and C.S. battle for dominance, though both sides took different approaches. The Confederates, with limited industry of their own, relied upon imported German fighters, and what was built in the south was often licenced from other companies. The Confederate Air Force was predominately a fighter and tactical bomber force. Fast Messerschmidt and Dixie-Martin fighters escorted dive-bombers and twin-engine bombers. Both were used to destroy U.S. Army targets and fortifications. The Confederates put only a token effort into destroying American industry. Those bombers that were not used by Patton on his march north, were often seen terrorizing Philadelphia. A few strategic raids were attempted early in the war; bombing runs on factories in Pittsburgh as well as docks and shipyards in Baltimore and New Amsterdam.
The U.S. Army Air Corp took a different approach. Fighters were used largely as interceptors, shooting down what few bombers the Confederates threw at American cities. Daily, over rural Pennsylvania and Maryland, fighters on both side circled in a deadly serious dance. Hundreds of fighters on both sides were downed in those first three months. The C.S.A.F.’s biggest disadvantage was that of numbers. They simply ran out of skilled pilots before the Army Air Corps. More Confederate bomber pilots were downed by ground fire than American interceptors. The same was said about the American Strategic Air Command. Four-engine bombers produced by Boeing and Convair targeted the industrial heartland of the Confederacy. Though losses were great, the bombers hit cities like Atlanta and Birmingham in daylight hours to great effect. Unlike night-time raids, the daytime bombers could zero in on industrial targets and destroy them, slowly eroding what little industrial capacity the Confederate States possessed.
In the end, the Air War over the Mid-Atlantic States was one of attrition, where the United States had far more pilots and aircraft.