Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Supermarine Walrus

Beyond Courage (Book Cover, Grub St)
The rescue of W/C W. G. G. Duncan Smith DSO DFC by a Walrus of 284 Squadron, 2 September 1943, off the Italian coast, whilst being attacked by Me109s of JG 52 (Barry Weekly)

The Supermarine Walrus owes its existence to R.J. Mitchell, the same aeronautical engineer who designed the Spitfire in its early stages.

In the early days of the Second World War in the Mediterranean, the Royal Air Force’s air-sea rescue (ASR) capabilities were small. The air fighting above Malta was serviced by motor launches, while most of the air fighting in the Western Desert occurred over land. That all changed with Operation Torch and Operation Husky.

In February 1943, No. 283 Squadron became the first RAF ASR squadron in the western Mediterranean. In anticipation of the invasion of Sicily, No. 284 Squadron formed in the United Kingdom and transited to Malta just in time for the assault. Both units flew the Walrus. With Allied aircraft flying to targets in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy from North Africa, Malta, and Pantelleria, these ASR crews would be busy during the campaign.

In fact, according to Beyond Courage, aviation historian Norman Franks’s book on Walrus squadrons in the Mediterranean, these squadrons made 36 rescues (of Allied and Axis aircrews) between the end of fighting in North African and the end of fighting in Sicily. It must have given Allied aircrews some confidence to know that if they went down over water there was a chance of rescue.


Specifications

Type: 3-4 seat amphibious reconnaissance aircraft

Powerplant: one 510kW (680hp) Bristol Pegasus VI radial engine

Performance: maximum speed 215km/h (135mph) at 1450m (4750ft); range 965km (600 miles); service ceiling 5650m (18,500ft); rate of climb 318 meters per minute (1050ft per minute)

Weights: empty 2220kg (4900lb); maximum take-off 3650kg (8050lb)

Wingspan: 14m (45ft 10in)

Length: 11.45m (36ft 7in)

Height: 4.6m (15ft 3in)

Armament: two or three 7.7mm (0.303in) Vickers K machine guns, plus 600lbs of wing-mounted equipment.


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The following Northwest African Coastal Air Force units used the Supermarine Walrus in the invasion of Sicily:

  • No. 283 Squadron RAF
  • No. 284 Squadron RAF

 

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Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Reggiane Re.2002 Ram

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The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt had yet to deploy to the Mediterranean in mid-1943, but its Italian doppelganger had. First flown in October 1940, and introduced to combat squadrons in March 1942, the Re.2002’s Piaggio engine proved unreliable. Consequently, the Regia Aeronautica employed the Reggiane Re.2002 as a fighter-bomber during the defence of Sicily. Re.2002 attack squadrons suffered heavy losses to RAF Spitfires while attempting to attack Allied shipping off the invasion beaches, losing 14 in four days. They were also heavily bombed on their aerodromes in southern Italy.


Specifications (Re.2002)

Type: single-seat fighter-bomber

Powerplant: one 877kW (1,175hp) Piaggio P.XIX RC 45 Turbine radial engine

Performance: maximum speed 530km/h (329mph); range 1100km (680 miles); service ceiling 10,500m (34,450ft)

Weights: empty 2400kg (5280lb); maximum take-off 3240kg (7128lb)

Wingspan: 11m (36ft 1in)

Length: 8.16m (26ft 9in)

Height: 3.15m (10ft 4in)

Armament: Two 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns and two 7.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns with an external bomb load of 650kg (1430lb) on three hardpoints


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The following Regia Aeronautica units flew Re.2002s in defence of Sicily:

  • 101 Gruppo Tuffatori
  • 102 Gruppo Tuffatori
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Martin B-26 Marauder

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The Martin B-26 Marauder was introduced to the Mediterranean Theatre by No. 14 Squadron RAF in mid-1942. No. 14 Squadron used these aircraft in the long-range maritime reconnaissance, minelaying, and anti-shipping roles. In March 1943, as the end in North Africa neared, the squadron began using their aircraft in the anti-submarine role. They also had a role in the slaughter of German and Italian air transports desperately trying to resupply the Tunisian bridgehead.

The USAAF first deployed the B-26 in the Mediterranean during Operation Torch. For the campaign in North Africa, these medium bombers deployed in low-level attacks against heavily defended targets. Heavy losses forced their reorientation as a medium-level bomber.

For Operation Husky, the bulk of Martin B-26 Marauders served in the Strategic Air Force under Major General James Doolittle. These B-26s were part of the 2686th Medium Bombardment Wing (Provincial), established from 6 June to 3 September 1943. Flying missions from North Africa, these aircraft struck enemy aerodromes, war industry, and lines of communication in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy.


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Specifications (B-26A)

Type: seven-seat medium bomber

Powerplant: two 1379kW (1850hp) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-5 18-cylinder two-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 507km/h (315mph) at 4570m (15,000ft); climb to 4570m (15,000ft) in 12 minutes 30 seconds; service ceiling 7620m (25,000ft); range 1609km (1000 miles)

Weights: empty 9696kg (21,375lb); maximum take-off 14,515kg (32,000lb)

Wingspan: 18.81m (65ft)

Length: 17.07m (56ft)

Height: 6.05m (19ft 10in)

Armament: one 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable forward-firing machine gun in the nose position, two 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in the dorsal turret and one 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable rearward-firing machine gun in the tail position, plus an internal and external bomb load of 4800lb (2177kg)


The following Mediterranean Air Command units flew the Martin B-26 during Operation HUSKY:

Northwest African Coastal Air Force

  • No. 14 Squadron RAF

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 34th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 37th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 95th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 432nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 437th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 438th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 439th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 440th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 441st Bombardment Squadron
  • US 442nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 443rd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 444th Bombardment Squadron
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Dornier Do 217

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A Fritz X bomb fired from a Do 217 speeds toward the Italian battleship Roma

The Dornier Do 217 was a development of the pre-war Do 17, commonly known as the fliegender bleistift or “flying pencil”.  

In response to their ejection from the continent of Africa, the Luftwaffe established a new bomber command (Fernkampffuehrer Luftflotte 2) to control all long-range bombers based in Sicily, Italy, and southern France. The bulk of these aircraft were Ju 88s, although Dornier Do 217s and Heinkel He 111s rounded out the order of battle. Allied strikes on airfields in close proximity to the front line meant that these units were largely unable to concentrate for decisive effect during the Battle of Sicily.  

In summer 1943, the Germans deployed a new weapon that would make concentration a mute point. Flying from bases in southern France, Do 217s from III Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 100 ushered in the age of precision aircraft-fired munitions. They deployed the Fritz X glide bomb over Sicily in July, but the first successful strike with the weapon did not occur until September.  In the wake of the armistice with the Allies, the Italian battleship Roma was sailing for Allied ports. Six III/KG 100 Dorniers attacked and sunk the battleship using Fritz X glide bombs. They flew the K-2 model, featuring an extended wingspan with Kehl radio gear (for guiding the bombs) to carry Fritz X bombs on underwing racks.


Specifications (Do 217M-1)

Type: four-seat heavy bomber

Powerplant: two 1287kW (1726hp) Daimler-Benz DB 603A 12-cylinder inverted-vee engines

Performance: maximum speed 557km/h (347mph); climb rate 210m (688ft) per minute; ceiling 7370m (24,180ft); range 2145km (1332 miles)

Weights: empty 9100kg (20,062lb); maximum take-off 16,700kg (36,817lb)

Wingspan: 19m (62ft 4in)

Length: 17m (55ft 9in)

Height: 4.96m (16ft 4in)

Armament: four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 81 machine guns in nose and lateral positions;
two 13 mm (.51 in) MG 131 machine guns in dorsal and ventral positions; max bomb load 4000kg (8800lb) internally & externally; max internal load 3000kg (6600 lb)


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The following Luftflotte 2 units flew the Dornier Do 217 during Operation HUSKY:

Bombers (Ju 88, Do 117 & He 111)

  • Part of I/Lehrgeschwader (LG) 1
  • Kampfgeschwader (KG) 1
    • Gruppenstab KG 1
    • I/KG 1
    • II/KG 1
  • KG 6
    • Gruppenstab KG 6
    • I/KG 6
    • III/KG 6
  • KG 26
    • Gruppenstab KG 26
    • I/KG 26
    • III/KG 26
  • KG 30
    • III/KG 30
  • KG 54
    • III/KG 54
  • KG 76
    • Gruppenstab KG 76
    • I/KG 76
    • II/KG 76
  • KG 77
    • II/KG 77
  • KG 100
    • Gruppenstab KG 100
    • II/KG 100
    • III/KG 100
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk / Kittyhawk

After surviving the German pass, Charles “Seabuster” Hall spotted what he identified as a pair of Fw 190s angling in on the egressing bombers. He positioned his P-40 on the tail of the trailing fighter and loosed a long burst from his .50 caliber machine guns. This time the Tuskegee airman was able to follow his victim as the machine dove abruptly toward the ground. The Fw 190 hit the ground in a “big cloud of dust.”

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

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The Vintage Wings of Canada “Stocky” Edwards Kittyhawk in No. 260 Squadron RAF colours

The Curtiss P-40 was the workhorse of the Allied air forces in the middle years of the Second World War. For Operation Husky, most US fighter squadrons flew the Warhawk, the code-name for the P-40F/L/K/M and N variants. Squadrons like the 99th Fighter Squadron — the famous Tuskegee originals — flew combat air patrols over the beaches and escorted bombers of the Tactical and Strategic Air Forces on missions around Sicily and Sardinia.

The British code-named these variants the Kittyhawk. They saw extensive use with the Desert Air Force as both fighters and fighter-bombers. By mid-1943, the Desert Air Force had received large stocks of Supermarine Spitfires, relegating Kittyhawks to the fighter-bomber role. These ‘Kittybombers’ provided close air support to Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army in Sicily. Some French units also flew Kittyhawks on local air defence missions with the Coastal Air Force.  


Specifications (P-40M)

Type: single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber

Powerplant: one 895kW (1200hp) Allison V-1710-81 12-cylinder Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 552km/h (343 mph); climb to 6095m (20,000ft) in 8 minutes 48 seconds; service ceiling 9450m (31,000ft); range 1207km (750 miles)

Weights: empty 2812kg (6200lb); maximum take-off 5171kg (11,400lb)

Wingspan: 11.37m (37ft 4in)

Length: 10.16m (33ft 4in)

Height: 3.23m (10ft 7in)

Armament: six 12.7mm (0.5in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing, plus an external bomb load of 680kg (1500lb)


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The following Mediterranean Air Command units used the Curtiss P-40 / Kittyhawk in the invasion of Sicily:

Northwest African Coastal Air Force

  • No. II/5 (French) Squadron
  • No. II/7 (French) Squadron

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 317th Fighter Squadron
  • US 318th Fighter Squadron
  • US 319th Fighter Squadron

Norwest African Tactical Air Force

  • Desert Air Force
    • No. 3 Squadron RAAF
    • No. 5 Squadron SAAF
    • No. 112 Squadron RAF
    • No. 250 Squadron RAF
    • No. 260 Squadron RAF
    • No. 450 Squadron RAAF
    • US 64th Fighter Squadron
    • US 65th Fighter Squadron
    • US 66th Fighter Squadron
    • US 85th Fighter Squadron
    • US 86th Fighter Squadron
    • US 87th Fighter Squadron
  • XII Air Support Command
    • US 58th Fighter Squadron
    • US 59th Fighter Squadron
    • US 60th Fighter Squadron
    • US 99th Fighter Squadron
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Dewoitine D.520

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A Dewoitine D.520 tangles with a Messerschmitt Bf 109E during the Battle of France (Image: QuentinR.deviantart.com on @DeviantArt)

This French fighter was one of few aircraft to serve on both sides during the Second World War. The Dewoitine D.520 first entered service in early 1940, before the German Blitzkrieg rampaged across France. After the fall of France, the fighter served both the Vichy French and Free French air forces. When Vichy French forces in North Africa sided with the Allies in late 1942, a number of these aircraft served briefly in Tunisia. The Allies quickly phased these out in favour of types like the Spitfire and P-39 Aircobra.

The Regia Aeronautica also employed some captured D.520s in the defence of Italy. Its 20mm cannon made it a decent gun platform to take on large American daylight bombers like the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator. Unfortunately, the French-built cannons were not compatible with Italian-built ammunition, meaning the Italians were dependent on French depots for their supply. After the 8 September 1943 Italian armistice, both the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force and the German-backed Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana used the type.   


Specifications (D.520C.1)

Type: single-seat fighter

Powerplant: one 930hp (693kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Y-45 12-cylinder Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 540km/h (336mph); climb to 4000m (13,125ft) in 5 minutes 49 seconds; service ceiling 11,000m (36,090ft); range 1540km (957 miles)

Weights: empty 2125kg (4685lb); maximum take-off 2790kg (6151lb)

Wingspan: 10.2m (33ft 6in)

Length: 8.76m (28ft 9in)

Height: 2.57m (8ft 5in)

Armament: one 20mm (0.79in) fixed forward-firing cannon in the nose, and four 7.5mm (0.29in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing


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The following Regia Aeronautica units used the Dewoitine D.520 in the defence of Sicily and southern Italy:

  • 161 Gruppo Autonomo Caccia Terrestre
    • 162 Squadriglia
    • 164 Squadriglia
    • 371 Squadriglia
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Junkers Ju 52

The performance of the transport crews is beyond praise. Even though they had succeeded in getting their planes with the urgently required load safely into the cauldron, while refuelling, unloading, and reloading, they were exposed to uninterrupted bombing and low-level attacks. If they survived these they had to face the return journey which was no less dangerous than the fly-in. Landing at last in Sicily, they were often raided on their airfields.

– General Adolf Galland, quoted in Eagles over Husky

 

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The Flying Legends Junkers Ju 52 F-AZJU

 

In the winter of 1942-1943, the Luftwaffe stretched its logistical capabilities to the breaking point. On the Eastern Front, the Russians had surrounded the German 6th Army at Stalingrad while the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa and the retreat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps into Libya and Tunisia also required attention. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring promised Hitler that Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 52 transports — supplemented by bombers — could keep the 6th Army supplied. In reality, the Luftwaffe could only supply a fraction of the 700 daily tons required.

At the same time, Ju 52s were busy building up a large German and Italian army group in Tunisia. Months later, when the Allied navies sealed the Sicilian Strait, these same transport aircraft attempted to maintain an air bridge between Europe and Tunis. They paid a dear price for their efforts. The Allied air forces destroyed 400 Axis transports and 32 fighters at the cost of just 35 Allied fighters.

The German transport fleet played an important role during Operation Husky. They airlanded the 1st Parachute Division in Sicily just in time to thwart General Montgomery’s push to Catania and Messina. The transport crews took another thrashing for their efforts and the Germans withdrew them after losing 10 percent of the force to RAF Spitfires on 25 July 1943. By the end of 1943, the Allies had decimated the German transport force and air mobility ceased to be a meaningful Luftwaffe capability.


Specifications (Junkers Ju 52)

Type: three-seat transport with accommodation for 18 troops, 12 litters, or freight

Powerplant: three 544kW (730hp) BMW 132T-2 nine-cylinder radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 286km/h (178mph); climb to 3,000m (9,845ft) in 17 minutes 30 seconds; service ceiling 5,900m (19,360ft); range 1,305km (811 miles)

Weights: empty 6,500kg (14,328lb); maximum take-off 11,030kg (24,317lb)

Wingspan: 29.20m (95ft 10in)

Length: 18.90m (62ft)

Height: 4.52m (14ft 10in)

Armament: one 13mm (0.51in) or 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable rearward-firing machine-gun in rear dorsal position, provision for one 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable machine gun in forward dorsal position and one 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable lateral-firing machine gun in each of the two beam positions.


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The following Luftflotte 2 units flew the Junkers Ju 52 during Operation Husky:

  • Transportgeschwader (TG) 1
    • III/TG 1
  • TG 2
    • III/TG 2
  • TG 3
    • IV/TG 3
  • TG 5
    • I/TG 5
  • II Fliegerkorps Transportstaffel