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Thread: Minimum weather conditions for fighter bombers

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    Default Minimum weather conditions for fighter bombers

    I'm reading an account of how weather affected the various arms of the AEF during the initial phases of OVERLORD, and a paragraph summarising the minimum conditions required for bombing operations includes the following:

    "Time and again, however, the best way to hit small hard-point targets in Normandy (eg, gun revetments or Tiger tanks) was with bombs or rockets deliverede close in by fighter bombers such as the RAF's Typhoons or the P-47 Thunderbolt flown by the Ninth United States Army Air Force. But to approach the five percent hit rate which was optimally obtainable with such missions, the cloud base should be at least 500 ft and the forward visibility a good mile."

    Could these types really operate effectively in such restricted conditions? Assuming that both types would have been flown at high speed would it really have been possible for a pilot to acquire a target with such limited visibility?

    Brian

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    You are opening a huge can of worms Brian. Forgetting for a moment that many modern historians doubt if 2TAF ever reached 5% hits in perfect weather, you need to define "effective". You can navigate visually in those weather conditions at speeds of 250 to 300 mph (having done it a few times), but you need to plan ahead, and have really good maps or really good knowledge of the operating area. I suspect that in the conditions you list a good pilot could locate a target area, and then locate individual targets within in, but it could involve multiple passes over the target, and repeated exposure to ground fire. The chance of mis-identification and friendly fire (air to ground and ground to air) goes up the longer you mill about.

    It appears that some of the main benefits of large numbers of 2TAF aircraft over the battlefield were physiological - bad guys kept their heads down and moved slowly, while good guys felt encouraged and moved with more confidence, as the RPs and 20 mm shells were distributed more or less at random. In that sense, yes they could be effective.

    PS - in the 1960s the RCAF operated CF-104s in weather like that at 600 mph, over much of the same area. Targetting was by radar, but navigation was a mix of radar and good old fashioned "contact flying" (looking out the window). I wll try to find some more info on that.

    PPS - in Hugh Halliday's book "Typhoon and Tempest - the Canadian Story" he reprints a post war analysis of Typhoon tactics, by W/C F.G. Grant. He states that dive bombing was most effective when started at 8,000 to 10,000 feet, while low level bombing was most effective when started at 3,000 feet. Cannon fire runs started at 3,000 feet, and gun firing took place at 300 knots, and target ranges of 600 down to 200 yards. So, a 500 foot ceiling was probably far from optimum, but gun fire was possible if the target location was known. Also, transit was perferablly above 12,000 feet, to avoid light anti-aircraft fire.
    Last edited by Bill Walker; 28th June 2010 at 00:07.

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    Thank you for such an informative response Bill, 'tis much appreciated.

    My reason for asking is that because of the meteorological requirements of the land, sea and air elements of the AEF involved in NEPTUNE, the first assault phase of OVERLORD, were so unique and varied, that Eisenhower's senior met advisor, Gp Capt Stagg, was forced to simplify them to give his forecasters something to aim at (forgive the pun). Basically what he came up with was a minimum visibility of 3 miles and little cloud below 8000 ft, the base of the lowest cloud to be no lower than 3000 ft, these conditions lasting from D-day to D+2. That was undoubtedly an over-simplification, but having found the reference to apparently infinitely lower minumum conditions I began to wonder if Stagg had got it wrong.

    In fact Stagg's thinking fits in quite neatly with your description and it is the reference that is misleading ("The weather for OVERLORD" by Neville Brown, published in 1994 in the Journal of Meteorology).

    One other question you might be able to answer, as the USAAF bomber squadrons operated by day did they rely on a visual identification of their targets rather than using navigational techniques? (Hope I've not over-simplified the question.)

    Brian

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    Modern philosophers argue that reality does not exist, and they have the same credibility are modern historians arguing that RPs and cannon fire were just "spread at random". Just which hit probabilities were less than 5% (per rocket? per aircraft? per strike? per bomb?).

    A few points to bear in mind. Allied commanders became worried by the reliance of forward troops to advance without air support - a habit which suggests that such were indeed successful. German troops report the intense dislike of the jabo, which again suggests they were not ineffectual, and German commanders report how crippled they were by Allied air superiority. The intense effort placed on camouflage passed the same message. Operational analysis does exist for the number of weapons needed to destroy bridges, for example. I think some are quoted in the original 2 TAF book by Chris Shores.

    I think you mean psychological rather than physiological. However, such effects would not have arisen with a grounding in hard experience.

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    Like I said guys, this is a can of worms. (And yes, I meant psychological. Darn spell chequer.)

    I wasn't there, so I have to go by what others tell me. There have been several documented studies that show RP hits were only a few % of rockets fired, although others point out that most such studies only cover very specific areas at very specific times. Similar studies show very low percentages of 20 mm rounds hit the intended target. The quick and cheap answer to this issue, at the time, was to just fire more rounds and more RPs. Interestingly, the US found similar statistics early in the Viet Nam war, which lead to their great interest in precision munitions.

    There are mixed results on the question of bridges as well. There have been several lively exchanges on this topic over at TOCH. Some bridges were taken out on the first strike, others continued to carry traffic after dozens of air strikes, with heavy losses to the attackers. Hard to generalize one way or the other, I think.

    There can be no doubt of the effectiveness of the combined army and 2TAF effort in Normandy and on into Germany. The questions only come about when we look at details - like what did the RPs really hit, and how often.

    I will stand by my original position - some portion of the 2 TAF aid to the army was psychological, and this could be accomplished under terrible weather conditions. If you really wanted to hit something, however, you needed higher ceilings.

    Today the psychological aspect of warfare is understood and acknowledged. Grunts around the world are trained to fire "in the general direction", even without a visible target. The actual odds of hitting someone are terribly small, but the idea is to force the enemy to keep their heads down, and restrict their movement. The same approach can work with air support. The modern buzzword for unguided RPs today is "an area weapon", acknowledging that you aim at an area, not a person or a vehicle. RCAF pilots in the 1960s and 1970s boasted of occasional direct hits on small targets with unguided RPs at weapons ranges in Europe, but a lot of this was luck. We can't expect that they would have done this consistently while under fire.

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