Through much of the year, the Royal Air Force
(RAF) launched nightly raids of 200 to 300 aircraft. Then came Cologne.
Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, chief of Bomber
Command, sought a dramatic increase for one
huge blow at Germany’s urban-industrial network. His steely focus alit upon Cologne, leading
to Operation Millennium.
Bomber Command had struck Cologne five
times that year but never with more than 263 aircraft. To assemble a force of 1,000 bombers, Harris
tapped training squadrons and RAF Coastal Command. It worked: Operation Millennium lofted
1,047 bombers, of which 868 hit the target.
Taking off the evening of May 30, the attackers
benefited from the moonlight, with easy navigation to the target on the Rhine, barely 300 miles
from London. Mission planners concentrated the
attack into just 90 minutes, saturating the defenses.
The RAF dropped nearly 1,500 tons of bombs
on the city of some 700,000. Forty-four bombers
were lost—less than 4 percent and, therefore, an
acceptable attrition in war’s grim ledger.
That August, the Allied air effort came together
with two significant events. On the 19th, the RAF
supported Operation Jubilee, the amphibious
raid on Dieppe, France, resulting in one of the
biggest air battles to date. The Luftwaffe downed
100 British planes, losing about 50 fighters and
bombers, but one of the RAF victories presaged
things to come. Pilot Officer Hollis Hills, a Californian in the Royal Canadian Air Force, flew a
Mustang I on a reconnaissance mission with his
section leader. The North American fighters tangled with Focke-Wulf 190s, and Hills notched the
Mustang’s first kill. His leader ditched offshore
but survived the encounter.
That same week, the nascent U.S. Eighth Air
Force logged its first heavy bomber mission. The
dozen B-17s were flush with talent: Maj. Paul
Tibbets flew the lead Fortress with Brig. Gen.
Ira Eaker onboard. Though intercepted, they
bombed rail yards near Rouen and returned without a loss. The mission was tiny by the standards
of later that year, but the pattern was set.
In his mission summary, Eaker wrote, “When
the last of the three 190s broke off combat, I
moved to the other side of the waist gunners’
station and observed at least a dozen puffs from
exploding shells. They were deadly accurate as to
altitude but several hundred yards to port. Mean-
while there was fighter activity overhead and to
our rear. The RAF wing covering our withdrawal
had climbed above us and passed somewhat
astern as we left the target area.
“Now they ran into some 35–40 enemy fight-
ers which evidently had been reluctant to engage
our Fortresses at close quarters. I can understand
why. They had never seen our new B-17s before
and the sight of the big guns bristling from every
angle probably gave the Nazis ample reason to
In early December, the RAF demonstrated
another variety of bombing. The de Havilland
Mosquito, still relatively new in service, flew a
low-level attack on German facilities in the Neth-
erlands. Sharing honors with Lockheed Venturas
and Douglas Bostons, the “Mossies” under Wing
Commander Hughie Edwards—who held the
Victoria Cross—targeted an electronics factory. It
was a major effort, with 93 RAF aircraft meeting
heavy resistance. The British lost 14 planes and
three crash-landed in exchange for months of
The Anglo-Americans demonstrated the depth
and variety of their growing capability. In occupied Europe, Nazi Germany could expect additional air attacks from high altitude and low, by
day and by night.
Pacific Offense and Defense
In 1941, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, chief of Japan’s
Combined Fleet, famously predicted that he
might run wild for six months, but thereafter
he could assure nothing. His calendar proved
precise: Exactly six months after Pearl Harbor,
the Imperial Japanese Navy suffered a crushing
defeat at Midway, losing not only four precious
carriers and most of their aircrews but also the
strategic initiative. Between those mile markers on the oceanic route to Tokyo Bay, carriers
replaced battleships as the invaluable players in
Japan’s stunning advances in the Asia-Pacific
theater had rocked the West on its heels in a
1940s’ version of shock and awe. In December 1941, when 380 carrier planes crippled or
destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at its
Hawaiian base, it was only the beginning of a
seagoing blitzkrieg. Beneath an umbrella of army
and navy aircraft, Imperial forces already had
conquered most of the China coast, then added
the oil-rich East Indies and the Philippines. The
long-range, high-performance Mitsubishi A6M
Zero fighter, unlike anything elsewhere on the
planet, demonstrated with violent certainty that
“made in Japan” was no longer a pejorative.
Flight Petty Officer Saburo Sakai, one of the few
survivors of the 1942 bloodletting, recalled how
the situation changed: “I am confident that Japanese pilots were superior on a one-on-one basis.
But the ability to work as a team both offensively
and defensively that the Americans had was very
impressive. Perhaps this comes from the team
spirit and thinking they developed playing American football. This hit us particularly hard in the
Japan’s stunning advances in the Asia-
Pacific theater had rocked the West on its
heels in a 1940s’ version of shock and awe.