Saturday, December 29, 2012

U.S. Air Force Museum - The World War II Years

This next part represents the time that the US officially fought in World War II.  I realize in the last post I have a picture of the Hurricane but that would have been before the US officially entered the war, so I stuck it there.
 On the morning of December 7th, 1941, the Japanese Navy launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.  This dragged the United States into a war it had already been inching its way into for at least a year.  The above aircraft is the Curtiss P-36 Hawk and is painted in the colors of one of the squadrons defending Pearl Harbor.  Very few US planes met the Japanese attackers because they were completely caught by surprise and one of the American Generals thought it would be a good idea to pack the planes together.  The planes that did get up were operating at bases in the outlying areas of Honolulu.  The plane itself was outmatched by most of its Axis adversaries and was relegated to training duties after our entry into the war.
 This is the Seversky P-35 which is the forerunner to the P-47 (more about that one later).  It is painted in the markings of a plane that saw service in the Phillippines.  To me, the Phillippines was the greater mistake of the war than Pearl Harbor.  Unlike the leaders at Pearl Harbor, MacArthur did have access to the reports that something was up because the Phillippines were a likely target of Japanese aggression.  By the time the first Japanese bombs had dropped on the Phillippines, it had been a few hours since Pearl Harbor was attacked but MacArthur was caught completely off guard.  He still was able to make a decent defense but was recalled when the situation looked really grim.  I'm not sure how good of a defense we could have made given the distance but that defense would have been much easier if many of MacArthur's planes weren't caught on the ground.
 The next plane is the P-40 Warhawk.  Probably one of the most famous fighters of World War II.  While outmaneuvered by the Japanese Zero, it was faster and heavier armed and armored.  It held its own until better planes came into service.
 On April 18th, 1942, B-25 Mitchell Bombers like the one depicted above were launched off the USS Hornet and attacked targets in the city of Tokyo.  Tactically, the raid had little effect.  A few targets were hit but there was little damage inflicted.  16 planes were used.  Of the 80 airmen that flew out, 3 were killed and 8 were captured.  15 planes were lost as well.  Strategically, the raid led to the Battle of Midway and we all know how that turned out.
 This is a P-39 Airacobra.  It was used a little by the US Air Force but the Soviets found it more useful because of the big gun on the front.
 The Super Airacobra.
 The AT-6 Jeep which was used for training.  I put this one in here because it has a woman flyer in it.
 The PT-19 Kaydet which was also a training aircraft.
 One of the neat aspects of the Air Force Museum is the number of foreign aircraft it has.  The above Aircraft is a Mosquito.  It was constructed used plywood which made it very fast and maneuverable.  It was also pretty vulnerable.
 The Noseart of the B-24 Liberator.
 The B-24 Liberator itself.  This plane is famous in this neck of the woods because of its production at Willow Run.  When the war began, Henry Ford was approached to see if he could produce bombers for the war effort.  Ford did have some aviation experience with the Ford Tri-Motor.  So he went to the plant where these were produced and boasted that he could produce a plane an hour.  By the end of the war, he matched that target.  In fact, Willow Run produced more heavy bombers than the Axis countries combined (Yeah, yeah, they didn't have many heavy bombers to speak of).  I think that is very impressive.
 The P-38 Lightning which was nicknamed the Forked-Tail Devil by the Germans.  Because of the turbocharger, it wasn't particularly effective in the European theater but was devastating in the Pacific.  It represented one of the first long ranged fighters in the war and because of that it was selected in the mission to kill Yamamoto (the architect behind the attack on Pearl Harbor).
 The P-47 Thunderbolt which was affectionately named the Jug by it's pilots.  It was another long range fighter but was more effective in the ground attack role than the air to air role.  It could withstand a good amount of punishment and could almost hit supersonic in a dive.
 The B-26 Marauder.  This represented the new wave of bombers.  It was fast but difficult to fly.  In fact it was called the Widowmaker in development.  Eventually the kinks were worked out and it became a highly sucessful medium bomber.
 I wanted to use a better picture of the Spitfire but the lighting conditions in the museum aren't the greatest.
 Probably one of my favorite planes from the war is the B-17 Flying Fortress.  It could take a tremendous amount of punishment and represented the tip of the spear against the Germans.
 If this were a Navy fighter it would be perfect but it is not, so it will have to do.  The P-51 Mustang is probably one of the most lengendary fighters of the war (You can keep your Messershmitts).  It was faster than most of the propellor planes and because of its wing designs, was one of the most maneuverable.  Chuck Yeager flew one and became an ace in one day (I think he also downed a Me-262).
 The venerable C-47.  This aircraft was built in the 30's and I think there are still some flying in parts of the world.
 The Focke-Wulfe 190.  This was one of the more advanced German propellor fighters.  It could almost give the P-51 a run for its money.   Almost.
 World War II also saw the emergence of the next phase in the story of flight, the jet engine.  Jet propulsion represented a tremendous leap over the propellor planes.  Fortunately for us, the Germans couldn't produce enough of these to make a serious threat.  Also fortunately for us, the Germans were led by a manman who thought this would better used in the ground attack role.  In my opinion, the only thing that the Me-262 has going for it is that it was the first jet aircraft.  The early American and British designs were better (mainly because we had access to better materials), although this was the first use of swept wings.
 The PBY Catalina.  The Air Force used a few of these in the rescue mode.  This plane was used by the Navy for reconaissance and many other things.  It is a very cool aircraft.
 August 6th, 1945 saw the dawning of another era, the Atomic Age.  It was on this morning that the Enola Gay would drop the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima.  90,000 to 160,000 were killed in this attack (Record keeping wasn't the greatest, so they aren't sure) The above plane is Bocks Car.
 Three days later, this plane would be the one to drop the atomic bomb over Nagasaki.  This would be the act that would bring the war to a conclusion.  I hate to think of what would have happened if we would have had to invade Japan.  60,000 to 80,000 people were killed in this attack.
 The bomb dropped by Bocks Car was a plutonium implosion device.  Detonators were placed around a shell of plutonium and they would cause it to compress and form a critical mass.  This was the more technically complicated of the two styles of bombs used.  Because of this, a version was tested in New Mexico before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  It had a blast yield of 21 kilotons which is the explosive power of 21,000 tons of TNT.
 The bomb dropped by the Enola Gay was a uranium device.  An explosion triggered two pieces of uranium to fuse together and form the critical mass.  It had a blast yield of 16 kilotons.  I have mixed feelings about both of these attacks.  On one hand, they brought the war to a quick conclusion and potentially saved millions of lives on both sides.  But on the other hand, they killed countless civillians immediately and many more because of their after effects.  I realize that our bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan involved the killing of civillians (honestly, there is little sugarcoating of that) but still.  I guess I still lean towards us being justified in their use because an invasion would have been costly and like it our not, without the presence of atomic weapons, we probably would have been at war with the Soviets within 20 years of the end of World War II.
 Another aircraft that represented a quantum leap is the P-61 Black Widow.  It was equipped with a radar that enabled it to be used as a night fighter.  It would usher in the use of radar equipped planes.  But a more interesting story is how they used it during the raid of a Japanese POW camp.  The American prisoners looked up and realized how far things had come.
 I think the above is one of the first helicopters and it may have even saw use during the War.
I leave you with one more aircraft from World War II.  The above is called the Oka (or Cherry Blossom) and represented a guided missile of sorts.  The pilot would be bolted in and this would be launched from a bomber.  It's purpose was to crash into American ships.  It's one thing to send out men realizing they may die...but I think its something else sending them out realizing they will die.

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