Some very interesting reading on a device that helped shorten the war considerably.
Stay Alert, Armed and Dangerous!
April 7, 1945, should have been just another high-explosive day over Nazi Germany. That morning, as they had done on so many mornings for the past three years, the bomb-laden B-17s and B-24s lumbered into the sky from their airfields in southern England. An armada of 1,300 bombers, snug under the protection of 850 P-47 and P-51 fighters, droned majestically over the North Sea toward their targets in northern Germany. Marked for destruction were oil facilities and arms factories near Hamburg, as well as airfields where the revolutionary Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters were based.
No combat mission over Nazi Germany could ever truly be a “milk run.” Yet the Eighth Air Force had come a long way since the dark days of late 1943, when its raids against Regensburg and Schweinfurt cost 20 percent of the bombing force. By April 1945, only a month away from Hitler’s suicide and the Thousand-Year Reich’s surrender, Germany’s defenses were disintegrating. The Luftwaffe, crippled by fuel shortages and lack of trained pilots, was only capable of sporadic—albeit still deadly—attacks. German jets outclassed the slower propeller-driven Allied bombers and fighters, but there weren’t many of them. At this stage in the war, the biggest problem for the American and British bomber fleets wasn’t German aircraft, but rather finding fresh cities that hadn’t already been bombed to rubble.
Since the first Flying Fortresses had appeared over Germany in January 1943, the Luftwaffe had thrown everything it could think of to knock down the big American four-engined bombers. Single-engine fighters, twin-engined fighters, bombers converted into fighters, fighters carrying anti-tank guns, aerial rockets, and aerial bombs dropped into the bomber formations. The Luftwaffe was caught in a chicken-and-egg crossfire: to shoot down massed formations of heavy bombers bristling with machine guns, the Germans needed heavily armed and armored fighters. But these clumsy “assault fighters” were easy prey for the nimbler American fighter escorts.
Desperate for a solution, the Nazis turned to another idea. They would ram their fighters into the American bombers.
Read the Remainder at National Interest
For nearly seven decades, the defense-industrial complex of the Soviet Union went toe-to-toe with the best firms that the West had to offer.
In some cases, it surprised the West with cheap, innovative, effective systems. In others, it could barely manage to put together aircraft that could remain in the air, and ships that could stay at sea.
No single weapon could have saved the Soviet Union, but several might have shifted the contours of its collapse. The relationship between technology and the “human” elements of war, including doctrine and organization, is complex. Decisions about isolated systems can have far reaching implications for how a nation defends itself.
Weapons are often cancelled for good reason. Events intercede in ways that focus a nation’s attention on its true interests and needs, rather than on the pursuit of glory and prestige. In the Soviet case, many of the “wonder weapons” remained safely in the realm of imagination, both for the enemies of the USSR, and the USSR itself.
During the interwar period, the Soviet Union explored a variety of options for revitalizing its decrepit fleet. Until the first decade of the 20th century, the czars had maintained a relatively modern, powerful navy.
After the Russo-Japanese War, however, Russian shipbuilding fell steadily behind the West, and the revolution disrupted both the industry and the navy itself.
By the late 1930s, the Soviet economy had recovered to the point that Stalin could seriously consider a program of naval construction. The Sovetsky Soyuz-class battleships spearheaded an ambitious acquisition plan, which also included battlecruisers and aircraft carriers.
Based loosely on the Italian Littorio class, the Sovetsky Soyuzs would displace approximately 60,000 tons, carry nine 16-inch guns, and make 28 knots.
This made them competitive in size with the most powerful battleships in the world, although inexperience and shoddy Soviet construction practice would likely have rendered them troublesome in battle.
The Soviet Union laid down four of the intended 16 battleships between 1938 and 1940, parceling out construction between Leningrad, Nikolayev (on the Black Sea) and Molotovsk (on the White Sea). One was cancelled in 1940 because of poor workmanship.
The other three were suspended on the arrival of war, although plans proceeded to complete one (in Leningrad) even after World War II ended. Wiser heads eventually prevailed, and the ships were broken up in place.
Construction of the ships required an enormous investment of Soviet state resources. Had construction begun earlier, the USSR would have wasted a fair chunk of national income on three ships that could not escape the Baltic and the Black Sea, respectively, and one that would have been limited to convoy escort in the Arctic.
Literally any use of materials and industrial capacity would have served the USSR better in war than these four ships.
The Prussian made “Ballon Kanone” was the first Purpose Made AA Gun
The first untethered balloon flight took place on Nov. 21, 1783, with the first military use occurring during the French Revolutionary Wars. A century later during the Franco-Prussian War, the French again deployed observation balloons — and when Prussian troops besieged Paris, they became a vital lifeline out of the encircled city.
Which is why the Prussians developed the Ballon Kanone—history’s first purpose-made anti-aircraft gun.
The Prussians cut all communications between Paris and the provincial French forces and the first balloon, Neptune, left the city on Sept. 23, 1870, with regular flights beginning three days later. These flights carried supplies, 164 passengers and mail at a cost to senders of 20 centimes per letter.
Sixty-six balloon flights carried approximately 2.5 million letters during the siege. The French established two factories in Parisian railway stations to build and maintain the city’s small armada of balloons.
Read the Remainder at War is Boring
When the 1950s T.V. documentary series Air Power got around to covering the opening battles of World War II, it unfortunately reinforced a popular, and entirely incorrect, notion.
“The Polish air force is caught on the ground,” narrator Walter Cronkite grumbled over images of German bombers pummeling Polish installations. “The Polish air force is destroyed in three days.”
That’s exactly what Nazi propaganda reported after the German conquest of Poland in 1939. But it turns out Nazi propaganda wasn’t entirely honest.
Despite being badly out-classed and out-numbered three-to-one, Polish fighters shot down a large number German aircraft in the chaotic early days of the conflict. Warsaw’s air arm resisted effectively for nearly a week — and, at reduced capacity, continued fighting for more than two weeks.
That’s a Hell of a lot more than three days.
The German Luftwaffe certainly made an effort to destroy Polish aviation on the ground — but the stubborn Poles refused to just roll over.
Read the Remainder at War is Boring