Bomblets: Facts From The Air War Over Germany

Hermann Göring at Hans Jeschonnek’s funeral.
German 8.8 cm FlaK Cannon – At Bir al Hakim, near Tobruk, North Africa. The Germans have deployed the Flak Cannon in an anti-tank role to protect a supply point. 4 June 1942.
Focke-Wulf FW 190 – German technicians work to repair the single seat fighter on the Russian front.

Because of his failure to stop the Anglo-American bombing offensive, Herr Generaloberst Hans Jeschonnek, the 44 year old Chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff, committed suicide on 18 August 1943. (Generaloberst doesn’t have an exact equivalent in the British or American armed forces but would be more or less the equivalent of a three star general.)

The Luftwaffe controlled all anti-aircraft or flak units in Nazi Germany. At its height in 1944, over 900,000 men and women operated the German flak defenses. (I should note that boys as young as 14 were incorporated into flak defense. They were known to Germans as the kinderflak. Russian POWs also filled out the ranks of the flak batteries in exchange for enough food to keep themselves alive. Over 3.5 mm Russian POWs were intentionally starved to death by the Nazis.)

The flak system operated by those 900,000 people was comprised of 14,250 heavy guns, primarily the famous German “88”, which fired a shell measuring 8.8 cm in circumference at its base, almost 35,000 lighter guns, 1,500 barrage balloons, and almost 7,000 heavy searchlights. At the time of its maximum power in late 1944, the German flak organization could fire 5,000 tons of shells per minute into the sky. (Those are American tons not metric tonnes.)

50% of American aircraft losses in combat are attributed to flak. The other 50% of US bomber losses were caused by German fighters. USAAF estimated that 90% of American bombers shot from the sky by German fighters never saw their attacker.

When USAAF B-17s went operational over German Occupied Europe each waist gunner had 200 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition for his machine gun. This was quickly raised to 600 rounds per waist gunner. Who thought of the original load of 200 .50 caliber bullets? Did they have a reason? Its worth noting that the ammunition load on Allied and German single engine fighters in World War Two worked out to an average of six seconds of firing. That was all. If you pushed your firing button and held it down for six seconds you expended all of your ammunition.

The two single engine fighters which comprised the backbone of the daytime fighter defense for the Germans were the Bf 109 and the FW 190. Neither plane could remain in the air more than 90 minutes. Because these were high performance warplanes which had not been substantially refined from their initial production types, they were very difficult and very dangerous to fly. Because of their very limited training time, new pilots often crashed before they even saw the enemy.

While working for Shell Oil Company in the 1930s, US Army Airforce reservist, Major James Doolittle, persuaded the company to build a refinery that would produce 100 octane aviation gasoline. This was higher than the octane of German aviation fuel and gave a speed advantage to American and Allied planes. Just adding five or ten MPH to a plane could make the difference between life and death.

After the US entered World War Two, the USA supplied the Soviet Union with all of its requirements for high octane aviation fuel which the Russians could not produce.

All facts from To Command the Sky: the Battle for Air Superiority Over Germany, 1942-1944 by Stephen L McFarland and Wesley Phillips Newton (3 stars) and Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton by Martin van Creveld (4 Stars).

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia and the Polish forum Bunkier.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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