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Book One World War Three 1946

Book One World War Three 1946
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Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Fifteenth Rises Again

In May 1946 the 15th Air Force had basically ceased to exist. It’s once proud fleet of B-17 and B-24 bombers were being scrapped at a record pace. Dumped unceremoniously into ravines, oceans and even mines, these products of Detroit and Ford’s Forest Run Factory had both caused the death of many and at the same time saved others with their powerful engines, well thought out designs and 50 caliber machine guns. The bombs they dropped had brought Fascism to its knees where it was finished off by the armies put on shore or attacking from the East.

The newest among them that were still flying were being brought to their new bases in Turkey. The B-24M was the latest and greatest of this workhorse bomber. Over a thousand had been flown from the factory straight to scrap heaps in 1945. The other 1,500 were only available by clerical error. All should have been scrapped by May, 1946 but the lucky 1500 escaped destruction and were instead parked wing to wing awaiting their fate when the Soviets struck. This lucky 1500 would form the bulk of the 15th or the next 2 months.

Although the B-17 Fighting Fortress took the limelight away from the B-24 Liberator it was the most abundantly produced heavy bomber and American plane of World War II. The Willow Run factory outside of Detroit was producing 650 a month at peak but now was producing 150. It far outstripped the more glamourous in bombs dropped, enemy fighters shot down and missions flown. Much like the P-38 Lightning being overshadowed by the less versatile P-51, the B-24 deserves higher praise than it garners.

The 8th Air Force took over 8 months to become operational but the newly reconstituted 15th would be operating in 6 from bases near Adana Turkey. The Turks had been developing the site since June and it was near a number of ports on the Mediterranean where supplies could be shipped to easily until the bottleneck caused by the Seehunds off the coast of Tobruk appeared. 10 Freighters went down in the first week before the alarm was raised. The supply route had to be changed to the Suez until an answer for the Seehunds could be found. With LeMay screaming for supplies the 15th was put on the back burner for a good 3 weeks. The first 1000 plane raid was scheduled for November 3rd, 1946.

It was anticipated that the losses would be high and in the 15% range but it would free up SAC from its missions and give LeMay time to restock his squadrons. No one expected the 15th to do any better or even any worse than SAC. The 15th welcomed many of the former bomber crews that were rejected by SAC for security reasons. Now that the cat was out of the bag every veteran was fair game and Twinning had many of the best working for him. Men that had been saddled with questionable relatives or had made some bad political decisions in the past were now working for him and were eager to prove their patriotism.

A couple of squadrons were working on special formations and maneuvers designed to evade the Stalin’s Fire missile. The bomber crews had notice with growing envy how easily the fighter pilots avoided both the X-4 air to air missile as well as the Wasserfal surface to air version. They were fairly easy to out maneuver for the fighters who did not have to fly in rigid formation.
The concept was to maneuver in formation on a squad level to spoof the missiles and then to quickly link up with the other squadrons before the Red fighter pilots attacked. LeMay had virtually forbid SAC from such experiments but Twinning encouraged them if only to keep the moral of the bomber crews high enough to function. SAC was on the verge of becoming non- operational and all knew it but LeMay.

LeMay was a brilliant strategic thinker with amazing insights on the tactical level as well. An example was his stripping of the B-29 of all defensive guns and armor once it became apparent that the Japanese could not defend themselves with fighter planes and the jet stream caused the B-29 to drop incendiaries at low altitudes. The increase in ordnance was a determining factor in creating the firestorms that killed hundreds of thousands.

In hindsight it did little to win the war but it was a novel solution to a problem that won LeMay the praise he deserved. LeMay was not one to learn from his mistakes however and he relied on “his gut” for far too many decisions of late. This had led to the losses that could not be sustained, yet did have the effect the NATO planners wanted. The Soviet Army was going to invade Turkey and that was the real reason for the sacrifices being made by SAC and soon the 15th. Twinning and LeMay were not told this in so many words and if they were successful in their missions then possibly the next phase of the war would be unnecessary but few who knew the true odds were optimistic.

The greatest killer of bombers was still the conventional single seat fighter plane second only to the 90 mm proximity fuse anti-aircraft gun. The Yaks, Lags and MiGs shot down the bulk of the B-29s once their formations were broken apart by the missile volleys and marauding jets. The Soviet jets were kept pretty busy by the P-80 Shooting Stars of the USAAF so it was up to the swarms of Yak 3, 9, La 7 to bore in. Both the Soviets and NATO leaders knew the current missile systems were a temporary advantage for the defense. You would need more than a 10% hit rate to have a lasting effect on a strategic level so the race was on for the next technological leap forward for either the defense or the offence in the war over the skies of Eurasia.

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