Crucial WW II Air Battles
In WW I, airplanes (and balloons)
excelled at reconnaissance and artillery
observation—significant factors on the
Western Front. But there were far too
few aircraft of limited capability to exert
anything approaching the “decisive”
contribution that Whitehouse’s volume
Two decades passed, and the military
aviation millennium arrived with a
crescendo that reverberates 70 years
later. Bombers evolved from twin-engine
biplanes into four-engine super fortresses
of continental reach. The 120mph Great
War fighters shed their upper wings
and emerged as 400mph monoplanes.
Aircraft carriers, which barely existed in
1918, displaced battleships as the oceanic
champions of the Atlantic and Pacific.
Not only technology but also industrial
and organizational progress accelerated
in a stunning metamorphosis between
1939 and 1945. The airy armadas
envisioned by theorists General Douhet
and Lord Trenchard were supported by vast
production, training, and maintenance
networks that spanned the globe.
Campaigns, Not Battles
A battle is typically a single event focused
in time and place that often produces a
world-changing result: Marathon, Tours,
Hastings, Waterloo. Yet for all its reach and
striking power, aviation fought and won
few victories in what we can reasonably call
“battles.” Far more often, aerial victories
were campaigns. The 1940 Battle of Britain
lasted four months; the 1942 Battle of
Guadalcanal, six. The battle for control of
Malta’s skies lasted two and a half years.
The Air Battle of Northern Europe (a U.S.
Army moniker) lasted two.
The few aerial battles that fit the
historic definition include all five carrier
engagements in the Pacific during 1942 and
1944. Coral Sea, Midway, and Philippine
Sea were two-day affairs. Eastern Solomons
and Santa Cruz, part of the Guadalcanal
campaign, were fought and concluded
Thus, here is our evaluation of WW II’s
most significant aerial engagements,
however they are defined.