It seems mankind has been at war since the beginning of time. One of the oldest human skeletal remains was discovered with an arrow lodged in its ribs. As technology advanced, our ancestors moved on from spears and arrows to swords and firearms.
The first step towards using aviation in war started with the use of hot air balloons during the French Revolution in the late 1700s. During the American Civil War the Union Army used hot air balloons to conduct reconnaissance missions on the Confederate Army encampments hiding in the countryside. Since then, aviation technology has advanced at a rapid pace.
Here are some of the largest air battles in human history took place during World War II.
In July of the year 1940, Nazi Germany’s air force, known as the Luftwaffe, launched a massive bombing campaign on the United Kingdom. In response, the Royal Air Force took to the skies to defend the UK in what is now recognized as the first major military battle fought entirely by air forces. At one point in the campaign, the Luftwaffe was able to draw the entire Royal Air Force into the sky at once in defense of London and the south west UK. The Luftwaffe attacked the United Kingdom relentlessly day and night for several months, but in the end they could not match the superior firepower of the Royal Air Force. The Battle of Britain was the first major defeat of Nazi Germany’s armed forces and became a turning point in the war.
On December 7th 1941 the Japanese kicked off their pacific campaign by bombing Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Their goal was total domination of the pacific and control of all the natural resources of southeast Asia. They went on to attack the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. They were determined to extend their empire further and destroy anything that stood in their way. The Japanese viewed American aircraft carriers in the pacific as a threat to their further advancement. The decision was made to eliminate this threat preemptively.
The Battle of Midway took place in 1942, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This major naval and arial battle was fought at the Midway Atoll off the coast of Hawaii in the heart of the pacific ocean. The United States Army arrived with 360 aircraft vs Japan’s 276. A number of submarines and destroyers were also engaged in the fight on both sides. One month earlier, during the Battle of the Coral Sea, Japan had one aircraft carrier sunk and another fleet carrier severely damaged. This put the Japanese at a disadvantage and ultimately the United States was able to overpower them and win the battle.
From 1943 to 1945 there were massive air battles over Berlin as the US Air Force, RAF, and Red Air Force bombed the city relentlessly and the Germans fought hard to defend it with fighters and flak guns. Things came to head in April of 1945. The final Battle of Berlin was a strategic offensive operation launched by the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. It was one of the last major battles of World War II which took place on European soil. The Red Army of the Soviet Union surrounded Berlin from the north, south and east with approximately 2.3 million soldiers, 6,250 tanks and 7,500 aircraft that pummeled what remained of the city into rubble. After encircling the city, the Red Army attacked on April 16th. The infantry pushed their way into the perimeter of the city while Russian artillery bombarded the city center. The Red Army steadily took control of Berlin with the surviving Nazi forces surrendering or fleeing west. This devastating loss made it clear to the Nazis that they were losing the war. Several weeks later as Soviet forces were approaching Hitler’s bunker in Berlin, Hitler and his wife committed suicide. The defeat of Nazi Germany eventually brought World War II to a dramatic close.
Big Week, also know as Operation Argument, was a series of raids led by the United States Army and the Royal Air Force Bomber Command of Great Britain. This massive bombing campaign was carried out against Nazi Germany between February 20-25, 1944. The mission of Big Week was to destroy the German’s aircraft industry and ultimately weaken them, allowing the Allies to regain air superiority. A successful ground invasion of Europe relied on the destruction of Germany’s aircraft.
The Nazis lost 262 fighter planes and 350 aircrew were killed. The Royal Air Force lost 131 aircraft. The United States lost 254 aircraft. Over 2,000 Allied airmen were killed or captured. Despite the heavy Allied losses, the campaign was considered a success. Big Week was a huge moral boost for the Allied forces who then began preparation for the invasion of Normandy France.
On August 19th 1942, 6,000 Canadians landed at the Nazi controlled port of Dieppe, France. Their mission was to seize the port and destroy German defenses. Unfortunately for the Allied Forces, the Germans were tipped off about the raid in advance and they were ready and waiting. The Allied Forces lacked intelligence about the German defenses and they arrived without any element of surprise. The results were disastrous. More than half of the Allied troops that landed in Dieppe perished during the siege. More than 100 Allied aircraft were shot down. The raid was considered a major failure for the Allied forces and a costly lesson was learned that day.
The battle of Kursk was fought between the Soviet Union and Germany in 1943. While it was mot well known for the massive tank engagement on the ground, in the air it was considered the largest air battle in human history. It also proved to be an important turning point in defeating the Nazis. More than 3,000,000 men took part in the battle, including a whopping 5,000 planes for both sides. The Germans lost approximately 800 aircraft, and the Soviets over 2,500. The Soviet Army outnumbered the Germans 2.1 and in the end they were able to win the battle through massive superiority.