1. TACTICS AGAINST GROUND TROOPS
German air attacks against ground troops consist primarily of two types of
action—low altitude strafing and dive bombing—and are usually made by air
units closely supporting an infantry or armored force. Their chief purpose
is to hinder troop movements and destroy communications, thus preventing
effective reinforcement and deployment of opposing troops. That the Germans
have attached an increased importance to such raids is shown by the fact that
special ground-attack units (Schlachtgeschwader) were organized during
1942, equipped principally with the new Hs 129, an aircraft designed especially
as a tank destroyer and antipersonnel weapon.
Dive bombers have been employed extensively against ground troops and fixed
defensive positions, often producing panic among troops who were facing them
for the first time. Troop movements have been critically hampered by accurate
bombing attacks on strategic roads and crossroads, followed by strafing of
personnel. Primary objectives of dive bombers, cooperating with ground
forces, are the opposition's lines of communication, which are systematically
attacked to disrupt movements of any kind, and to prevent effective counterattacks.
The Germans believe that a patrol of four planes is the most effective
ground-attack unit, since it is both maneuverable and sufficiently strong
to neutralize such targets as artillery positions and small columns of
troops. The number of such dive-bomber units normally employed on one
raid has been 8 to 10 (30 to 40 aircraft); these are escorted by about
10 fighters flying 1,000 to 2,000 feet above them. Formations approach
at 14,000 to 17,000 feet in the sun. When they are near the target, they
descend to about 6,000 feet. From this altitude they dive at a steep
angle, one after another.
Bombs are released during the pull-out, at altitudes of approximately
250 to 500 feet. The leader drops his bombs at about 300 feet; the
others, at 300 to 500 feet. Usually each aircraft releases one
large (550 lb.) and two or four small (110 lb.) bombs. The bombs
form no pattern, and the large bomb usually overshoots the small
ones, all generally falling within 50 to 150 yards of the target.
If antiaircraft fire is intense, aircraft fly in staggered formation, maintaining
extended intervals. Since very few aircraft will dive through intense antiaircraft
fire, the bombs are usually released above the barrage, with consequent loss of
accuracy and diminished effect. On strongly defended positions, only one run over
the target is made per sortie.
If antiaircraft fire is light, dive bombers often fly four in a single line. When
they reach the objective, all attack the same target, or else the formation
separates into pairs, each of which attacks a previously designated target. The
pairs also may subdivide, and dive on the assigned target from different
directions. They may repeat the attack if all bombs were not released during
the first dive. In this case they climb in a big arc to dive again.
Most of the dive bombers shot down by ground defenses are hit by light
antiaircraft guns just as the planes are pulling out of their dives. Since
at that time the entire belly of an aircraft is exposed to fire, the pull-out
is the bomber's moment of greatest vulnerability. Although aircraft have been
engaged by artillery during the actual dive, very few hits have been
scored. However, the bombers have been forced to take evasive action, thus
making accurate bombing impossible.
The effect of small-arms fire on the morale of pilots is considerable. Ground-attack
aircraft undoubtedly have been hit by it, and tracer or armor-piercing ammunition, fired
from the ground at close range, has a deterring effect. However, low-flying raids
have been very successful, both against troops and lightly armored vehicles. Bomb
splinters have been known to penetrate armored cars from 30 yards. If the driver's flap or the
car doors have been carelessly left open, "near misses" may also cause damage.
Attacks by cannon-firing aircraft are carried out at an angle varying
from 20 to 70 degrees, depending on the type of target. No particular
part of an armored vehicle seems to be aimed at, but roofs are hit
less often than are other parts of the vehicles. Pilots open fire at
about 200 yards, continuing to fire until they are past the target. Although
high-explosive, armor-piercing high-explosive, armor-piercing, and
incendiary ammunition are used, the belt loading is 75 percent
armor-piercing when the aircraft is to attack armored vehicles.
Units created for ground attack have been equipped chiefly with the
Hs 129, built with special protection for this type of
attack. The heavily armored cockpit makes action possible at low
altitudes. These aircraft take off in echelon, by sections, flying to
the target in close echelon formation if there is danger of attack by
enemy fighters. They avoid antiaircraft defenses as much as possible by
using cloud cover (if it exists), by approaching from the sun, and by
changing course frequently. The attack is made by individual sections
of the unit. While one section is attacking, another is moving away
from the target, and the third is approaching it. Each section flies
in close formation, diving directly at the target at about a 45-degree
angle. When leaving the objective, the planes fly in line ahead or
in echelon formation, strafing the area as they depart.
Fragmentation bombs are dropped on a target from an altitude of 60 to 100 feet during
the pull-out. After the bombs are released, the guns are fired at the target. In
place of bombs, the aircraft may mount the Mk 101
30-mm cannon, which is for use against tanks and armored cars.
As in the case of dive bombers, all operations by ground-attack aircraft are
usually escorted by fighters. The method of escort depends on the number and type
of enemy fighters which are likely to be encountered en route to, or in the
vicinity of, the objective.
It must be emphasized again that the weakness of attack aviation lies in the
vulnerability of low-flying aircraft to rifle and machine-gun fire.
2. FLYING DISCIPLINE
German Air Force documents have been stressing the necessity of dealing
harshly with breaches of flying discipline. A communication signed by
Marshal Goering himself lists such cases under the following headings:
a. Arbitrary deviation from a prescribed mission for the purpose of
so-called "visits" to acquaintances and relatives, involving departure
from the prescribed flying height.
b. Arbitrary low-level attacks.
c. Arbitrary acrobatics below 3,300 feet.
d. Arbitrary low flying.
e. Every other type of flying that endangers the aircraft or its occupants.
Goering sternly reminds all personnel of the great value of discipline, and
of the heavy burdens that are being placed on the German people in order to
maintain the Luftwaffe as a strong, well equipped force. He threatens the
severest punishment for all frivolous and thoughtless behavior which in any
way threatens to weaken the striking power of the service.
Other Air Force documents deal with specific cases and the punishments imposed. For
instance, during a 2-month period, 10 aircraft were destroyed and 4 damaged, and
18 people were killed as a result of these breaches of discipline. A total of
months of imprisonment was imposed, 52 weeks of
confinement to barracks, and 6 weeks of restriction to camp limits. Twenty men were
demoted. Six men who were killed were deprived of the honors of a military
funeral. In Germany this last punishment is much worse than it sounds; it
involves the refusal of pensions or any other form of state support for the
man's family and dependents.
One unusually serious case was made the subject of a special communication
which was to be read aloud to all flying crews in all German Air Force units, at
home and abroad: A young fighter pilot under training was ordered to take a
Bucker 131 (a light 2-seater training plane) from Schwechat to Villacoublay,
France. He was required to fly above 1,600-1,700 feet. At first, he obeyed
his instructions faithfully. But as he approached Ulm, he remembered that some
of his relatives lived in the neighborhood. He turned off his course, and
circled over their house three times, at altitudes ranging from 320 to
250 feet. By now he was only 3 miles from his parents' home. He decided to
pay them a visit, too. This time he circled over the house five times, at
heights between 170 and 250 feet. He then thought it only proper that he
should call on his fiancé, inasmuch
as he was in the neighborhood. So he set his course for Routlingen, and flew
over the girl's house four times, at approximately 150 feet. It was only
when he was leaving the area, and was about to return to his prescribed
course and altitude, that he decided to turn back, land, and offer a more
personal greeting. He made an excellent landing quite close to the
house. Unfortunately, the girl was not at home, and he had to take
off again. The pilot's prospective father-in-law started up the
engine. However, while the pilot was taking off, he hit a tree, crashed
on a road, and turned over. He himself was uninjured, but his passenger, a
clerk from the unit's orderly room, suffered injuries to his head and right leg.
A court-martial was held, and the pilot was sentenced to 7 years of
penal servitude and the loss of all military privileges and civil rights during
this period. This sentence was sustained by Marshal Goering, who turned down
all pleas for mercy and added that any part of the sentence falling within the
duration of the war was not to be included in the sentence of 7 years, but
added to it.