So, as those of you who have heard me give a talk before can attest, I usually state that the first two and likely largest outlays an author should have are the editor and cover artist. Note that some self-assessment has led me to realize which I place first is dependent on what phase of the book I’m in / recent issues I may have had in one department or the other. But bottom line, if you have $500 for marketing, editing, and cover, I’d say that it should be $225 editing, $225 cover, and $50 for marketing. Why? Because if your cover is crap and your editing subpar, odds are a marketing budget under six figures isn’t going to do you any good.
A good “one stop shop” for indies is Reedsy, and an article on the service is here. I know a few authors who have found their editor on Reedsy, and generally the reviews have been good (although check out the comments for the article). From the editor side, I’ve heard of the stringent requirements to gain a listing. This is a good thing, as it means that odds are you’ll be happy with what you’re paying for. While I seem to keep running into my editors through “word of mouth,” “friends of friend” (and have been really lucky with both), or through folks finding me on Twitter people do point out that I’m the rare “extrovert author.” Reedsy seems to be a good resource for those who are less “Hi random person, I’d like to talk to you!” (Full disclosure–haven’t tried Book Angel yet, but I appreciate someone who reaches out to independent authors to help.)
Illustrators are a bit harder to wrangle. As I’ve mentioned before in a blog post or two, the first part is figuring out what you want out of the illustration. In this case, I was primarily concerned with ad copy (as some of the Usurper’s War imagery is getting repetitive after five years). This desire was followed closely by the possibility of images getting used again for novella / short story covers set in the Usurper’s War universe but not part of the main plotline. Thankfully, I recently discovered a Twitter page that features aviation artists (@theaviationart). There were also artists I had found on FB through several aviation artwork pages I’m part of. Through various means, I winnowed things down to the following:
For various reasons things didn’t work out with anyone in the list above. In some cases, it was a matter of timing. Others it was subject matter, as “alternate history” could potential cause other clients to call into question their attention to detail or accuracy. (Which, as you can see in every case, is most excellent.) Finally, there was that bugbear of price point, as I couldn’t quite justify spending four figures on art that was first and foremost going to be ad copy. All that being said, almost everyone was a professional, and I heartily encourage A. going to buy their art and B. seeing if your needs would mesh with their timing / ability more than mine did.
Ultimately, Itifonhom 3D Models was who I went with. We’d previously worked together before for the piece commemorating “Fate of the Falklands” out of Those In Peril. I knew from perusal of his site that World War II was his area of expertise, and he jumped at the opportunity. I think you’ll enjoy the two pieces below, both of which depict scenes from Against the Tide Imperial.
As for the book in question, things have moved along well. There’s going to be some parts that end up on the cutting room floor (see possible novella cover), but with a little bit of wrap up it’s getting close to time for it to go out to beta readers. I’ve been debating doing preorder, but after the algorithms screwed up with Aries Red Sky, that’s probably not going to happen.
Man. It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating the imminent release of Those In Periland preparing to go to Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE) Symposium in Utah. Next thing I know, 2019 is in the rearview mirror, the Phases of Mars series is complete, and Against The Tide Imperial is…well, still not done, but definitely getting there. Still, 3 anthologies in a year is not bad, and objectively I think it was a fair trade. I mean, guys—I edited S.M. Stirling, Kevin J. Anderson, Taylor Anderson, Sarah Hoyt, and David Weber this year. In books with my name on the front cover. Shout out to Chris Kennedy for taking on a beer bet and to team “and more” for being amazing.
By the numbers, over 1,500 people visited the page this year, which was almost double the number of folks who showed up in 2018. Thank you for coming along on this wild ride, and here’s to hoping that you continue to enjoy a glimpse inside the crazy. Externally, this was my second year in a row over 1,000 books sold / 500,000 Kindle pages read (not counting the anthologies) both online and in person, and with at least one book coming out that will helpfully increase. Moreover, I learned a lot this year about marketing, networking, and this profession in general. While those could be 20 or more blog posts in and of themselves, the “Top 3 Things I Learned in 2019 Are”:
#1 Professionalism Matters—Nothing like being the chief editor for something to help you realize one’s reputation precedes you. From the perspective of dealing with fellow authors, I was taken aback by the number of folks who do not understand some basic etiquette in dealing with their fellow human beings. Or the importance of things like, “Hey, when the requirement says 7-10,000 words, that means you don’t turn in 6500 and cop and attitude with the editor.” People will remember if you pull some prima donna crap when you really didn’t have to, and word spreads quickly. Likewise, if you become, shall we say, radioactive in other venues, there will be folks who have problems with sharing a common battlespace with you. Bottom line: If you’re involved in a project, be on time (or admit that you’re not going to be able to do something in a timely manner), write to the specifications, and don’t be a jerk.
#2 People Plan, the Universe Laughs—I can honestly say 2019, while not the craziest year I can remember (oh hey, 2009), was up there. Between deaths, getting forcibly invited to someone else’s car accident, a new job, and various other “What the Hell?!” things that occurred, I’ve come to realize the path to sanity involves accepting that life is chaos. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still very much a work in project on this.
However, I’ve increasingly tried to take an objective look at what has occurred, then ask myself “Why did this happen?” If it’s someone else’s fault, that’s usually followed by “Was this accidental, malicious, or unforeseeable? If accidental, has the other party acknowledged their role in the negative outcome and taken measures to keep it from happening again? If malicious, is this salvageable or is it time to just close that particular airlock?”
If it’s my error, “What have we learned and how do we keep from dropping that ball again?” This is usually followed by “How do we make amends?” Because saying “I’m sorry…” is kind of pointless unless there’s an actual intent to make things right.
Above all these things, however, 2019 taught me this: “If I died tomorrow, would I be happy I spent ___ minutes / hours / days dealing with rectifying this problem?” Because having someone go from “I’m glad I’m finally going to meet him…” to “Whoa. He’s going to be dead in less than eight hours…” definitely made me start assessing time and how I spend it. Spend time doing what you love and with people who make time for you, as our hourglass only has so much sand in it.
#3 Network Makes The Dream Work—Among the “people who made time” for me were my writing tribe. It really does take a village, and one never knows what connection will suddenly bear fruit. I can honestly say that in 2019 I had positive interactions with people I first met back in the 1980s, went to school with in the 90s’, served with in the Army in the ’00s, and even folks I saw in passing at a random con sometime in the last six years. In some instances this was expected. In others, it was definitely one of us saying to each other or about someone else “Uhhhh, you know, let me see if _____ can help with that, because holy smokes you’re in a bad way”-response. The outcomes were almost always great and definitely far better than I would have accomplished on my own. Whether it was fiscal (increasing royalties!), introducing me to another pro who provided a story (or stories) for the anthologies, or just providing a “morale boost” when I was questioning my sanity for even pushing on with this crazy dream, I’d like to issue a blanket THANK YOU! to the tribe and fans at large. You all made 2019 great, and I look forward to what 2020 has to bring.
All right, that’s enough from the foxhole for today. I’m going back to figuring out what happens when over 100 American aircraft surprise six Japanese carriers equipped with stolen British radar. That’s right, it’s called “alternate history” for a reason, and boy howdy does the Kido Butai having decent radar change a lot of factors involved in World War II carrier fights.
So it’s been a busy couple of months with the imminent release of Those In Peril and making preparations for next year’s con season. But, I’m glad to report that Acts of War, the first novel in The Usurper’s War series, is back in the Top 100 for several categories on Amazon.
So if you haven’t already given it a shot, feel free to click on the hyperlink above. If you’d like to check out a sample, there’s one here. I’ve also broken ground on Against The Tide Imperial and hope to have it done by June of next year. Anita C. Young is working on the cover as we speak, so I’ll hopefully have that for readers of my newsletter by the start of the year. Hint: It involves a SBD Dauntless doing what it did best, i.e., making holes in enemy ships. If you’re intrigued, sign up for the newsletter here.
So, I’ve started my Nano project for this year (while still editing For Those In Peril…). For 2018 I decided to do the next novel in the Usurper’s War series. It is entitled Against the Tide Imperial, and I’ll hopefully be able to build off of Nano momentum to get it out in the first half of next year.
News Item #1: An Unproven Concept is now on sale. It will also be promoted by Free Kindle Books and Tips (a promotion website that comes highly recommended).
Please go to their FB page and give the promotion post a like to increase its FB reach.
News Item #2: Acts of War and Collisions of the Damned will shortly both be available for circulation with the Mid-Continent Public Library system in Kansas City, Missouri. This should also make them available for inter-library loans elsewhere in the United States.
News Items #3: On 31 January, I successfully defended my dissertation. Barring a few minor edits and rework of the conclusion, the long twilight struggle against academics is now over. Not quite a “Tearing down the Berlin Wall…” moment, but it’s definitely up there!
Go see Dunkirk. Seriously. I can’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil it, but go see the movie. Good cinematography, acting, scoring, and pacing. Yes, some rivet counters have complained about nitpicking things like the destroyers, Ju-87s’ sirens, and the actual Bf-109s used. (No, I’m not joking.) Ignore them and go see the movie posthaste.
So, remember way back when I said I was going to do fighter history and bombing history separate? Yeah, I refreshed my memory on bombing during World War I.
*insert yawn here*
I mean, it happened. There were even a few times it was effective in the “we made a big mess” kind of way. But compared to fighter combat, there’s not a whole lot of there, there. So, I’m making a command decision and we’re just going to go with general air warfare from here on out.
I have no idea how many parts this is going to be. Remember the Battle of Britain? Remember us hitting the 2,000 word limit so quick I didn’t even get to talk about Czechs, Poles, and other foreign pilots? We’re going to try to skip that this time around. Well, that’s probably going to happen again…so some things are going to get short shrift, as things don’t get really exciting until 1943.
“But wait a second! You were just talking about the Battle of Britain, now suddenly we’re in 1943? What the Hell happened in between?”
Look, I’m not saying there wasn’t important fighting. I’m just saying that most of November 1940 through, oh, January 1943 in Western Europe consisted of RAF Fighter Command creating squadron and wingcommander openings via ill-considered fighter sweeps. Followed shortly by the United States, after Pearl Harbor, deciding they wanted to jump on that bandwagon with largely symbolic raids through most of 1942. We’ll get to most of that fun in the next installment.
The sum effect of this on the war? Well, it created a lot of German aces…but not nearly as many as the Luftwaffe’s attack into Russia (Eastern Front is coming later in this series). It also provided convincing evidence that maaaaaaybe the Spitfire was not all that good of an escort fighter. Oh, and that home field advantage was a real thing when you added radar (also known as, “Were you bloody idiots paying attention to what you did to the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain?!!”). Finally, it drove home that there’s not a whole lot you can bomb in France when you’re fighting Germany.
However, I’m getting ahead of myself. That little problem about German factories being in, surprisingly, Germany had the Brits good and vexed as 1940 became 1941. First off, nothing like someone wailing on your country for several months during the day then continuing to do so at night to get the Vengeance Band warming up and looking for a lead singer. Indeed, some guy named Arthur Harris, while watching London burn one night in 1941 from the roof of the Air Ministry one night, started quoting scripture about “sowing wind” and “reaping whirlwinds.” Normally a bloke from Rhodesia muttering things from the Bible isn’t remarked upon by history. (Spoiler alert: This guy becomes important to our story in about 500 words.) In any case, Harris wasn’t alone, and as a matter of fact the RAF felt they had just the thing to get retribution: Bomber Command.
Now, some of you may be saying, in your best rendition of “The Bride’s”-voice: “And what, pray tell, is Bomber Command?” Well, you can read the Wiki here, or go with the short hand explanation of Bomber Command as the manifestation of 1930s aerial warfare theory put into practical use. In the 1930s, air planners assumed several things:
The primary mission of a country’s air force was to drive home bomber attacks rather than support tactical ground operations.
Bomber attacks were intended to destroy the enemy’s means of war production. In other words, rather than killing an enemy’s tanks, artillery, ships, etc., by the bushel in direct combat, a prudent nation would kill them by the gross (and incidentally a whole bunch of civilians, but “Shhhhh!”) in the factory.
No escort fighter would ever be able to compete with a country’s interceptors due to the long ranges involved for the attacking air force.
However, due to contemporary aeronautical engineering, multi-engined aircraft would always be faster, fly higher, and be more heavily armed than possible with single-engined interceptors.
The British, having formed the first independent air force, proceeded to double down by forming the first independent command designed to attack based on these theories. They then expended a great amount of research developing long-ranged, heavy bombers to equip it. Unfortunately, as you may recall, I’ve spent two blog posts detailing how the war had not gone according to Douhet up to this point for either side. The folks making the decision to bomb Germany lived through it in real time, and had practical experience from 1939-1941.
Despite this, the British still seriously tried to knock Germany out of the war via strategic bombardment once the Battle of Britain was truly over.
Operations started going poorly right from the beginning. Funny thing about bombing a strange, blacked out country at night while under threat of immediate violent death: It tends to make you miss. As in, the average British bomber crew was missing entire cities by over five miles. Nor were they doing so maliciously–I mean, Cologne probably looks like Wiesbaden when you’ve got anti-aircraft artillery fire bursting around you and some crazy guy in a night fighters is looking to impress the local Fraulein by turning your bomber into a blazing comet.
It did not help that the Germans, like the RAF, quickly started figuring out things like interceptor control and ways to mount radar on twin-engined fighters. Remember the Bf-110 squadrons and how they were sitting ducks during daylight? Well, turned out it just needed someone to turn out the lights to really shine, as the large airframe and heavy armament made it an excellent night fighter. Things started getting kind of bloody over Germany. Even worse, folks like the British Army and Coastal Command started pointing out that it was kind of wasteful digging German irrigation ditches with 500-lb. bombs when there were plenty of other things those aircraft could be doing.
Just as it seemed like Bomber Command was going to get sharply reduced, two things happened. First, in typical government agency fashion, Bomber Command decided to “rebrand” itself. Its leaders accepted that it was not going to win the war by attempting to encourage the union of a British ordnance with German machine tools in the middle of the night. No, in typical gentlemanly fashion the RAF was going to merely “dehouse” Germany’s population in a humane fashion using rather potent high explosives followed by incendiaries.
*We’ll pause while those unfamiliar with this story wait for me to explain how one blows up civilian houses without blowing up civilians only to realize that I’d just type Coventry about 10,000 times. In other words, this was all sophistry, the British sooooooo did not have any f*cks left to give*
The second thing that made this all work was that the Air Ministry put a fellow in charge of Bomber Command that they knew could get the job done. Someone who would not blanche in the face of heavy losses, would merrily bomb Germany from Konigsberg to Cologne, and yet could subvert his inner Visigoth long enough to seem semi-sane on the newsreels or sit in the pew next to Allied senior officials. A God-fearing man, the chosen flag officer also had an amazing ability to quote all the good Hellfire and Damnation parts of the Old Testament at will. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Sir Arthur “Bomber” / “Butch” Harris, the man who replaced Peter Gabriel as singer of the Vengeance Band who took over RAF Bomber Command in February 1942:
“Wait a second, JY. This guy looks like someone’s genial grandfather. You’re making him sound like some crazed lunatic.”
You’re right, he does look like someone’s elder relative who always has the sweets, doesn’t he? But I assure you, behind that kind-looking exterior was a man who felt about Nazi Germany’s population about the way Mad Max felt about the man who murdered his family:
I mean, technically Max didn’t set the guy on fire himself, right? He was just “decarring” him.
When Harris took over, his command was equipped mainly with obsolescent twin-engine aircraft that did not carry much of a workable bomb load any appreciable distance. His crews could not navigate, tended to crash a lot, and they had few feasible electronic aids to help them see through the darkness. In short, your average bomber crew was just as dangerous to themselves as they were to the Germans. As in, “rednecks with a fridge full of tannerite” dangerous to themselves.
Three months later, Bomber Command was doing things like launching 1,000-aircraft raids. A couple months after that, it had replaced its obsolescent bombers with Handley Halifaxes, Short Stirlings and, the best of them all, Avro Lancasters. in large numbers. In order to better find targets, the RAF not only developed better radioaids, but also fielded a Pathfinder force to better mark the targets. Finally, in equipping their aircraft with ground mapping radar, Bomber Command proved serious about making sure the right Germans got bombed on any given night.
From the German perspective, the proverbial fecal matter was making sweet, sweet love to der lüfter as 1942 came to a close. While the Jagdflieger were more than holding their own in daylight, all of the above meant things were getting a little out of hand at night. Already tapped out fighting against the Soviets, dealing with the invasion of North Africa, and with the Battle of the Atlantic swinging like a pendulum, the last thing the Germans needed was to be dealing with a resurgent Bomber Command.
With this in mind, the Luftwaffe began to take things seriously after Operation Millenium and began shifting more resources to the Nachtjagdgeschwader. In addition to upgraded Bf-110s, the Germans fielded the Ju-88C, which was basically an excellent day bomber with a nose full of cannons. Realizing that the RAF had decided bombloads were more important than belly turrets, they also developed “Schräge Musik” weapons kits that allowed a Bf-110 or Ju-88 to fire upwards.
Schräge Musik, which loosely translated to “slanted music” in English, was the German slang for jazz. However, as many a Lancaster crew could tell you, there was nothing smooth or mellow about two cannon dropping high explosive and armor piercing rounds upwards into a fully loaded bomb bay or unsealed fuel tanks:
Still, despite all these innovations and the ability to occasionally inflict severe losses on Bomber Command raids, at best 1942 ended with the Reich Defense Forces and Bomber Command at a draw. Which, given all the other crazy stuff that was going on for the Reich around that time, probably made Adolf Galland, now General of Fighters, breathe a sigh of relief. Indeed, in my minds eye, I see him laying next to some beautiful actress, smoking a post-“sortie” cigar, and thinking:
Ja, things are bad. I mean, my brothers keep getting whacked, the Russians are starting to figure out how to fly and shoot at the same time, and it’d be nice if the Fuhrer would stop declaring war on industrial nation after industrial nation.
*slow puff of cigar and pat of shapely behind off screen*
But hey, it’s not like anyone else is coming to the fight, right? I mean, what kind of idiot would attempt to bomb heavily defended German targets after how bad we kicked the RAF’s ass in 1939?
*completely apocryphal, utterly non-historical camera cut to General Ira C. Eaker, commander of the United States Eighth Air Force, turning his head as if Adolf’s thoughts are projected into his mind*
“Hey Butch, hold a brother’s pint for a second.”
*theatrical rolling up of sleeves*
“I think some Nazi just inquired about the Uncle Sam Special…”
Tune In Next Time For “Around the Clock,” a.k.a., Can’t tell Sam’s boys a damn thing.”
When last we left this journey through aerial mayhem, France had just been knocked out of the war, the British Army was busy thanking every boat owner in Southern England while wringing out their clothes, and the Luftwaffe had just learned how to say “Acthung! Spitfire!” In the (wholly apocryphal) words of Hermann Goering, “Don’t worry, this will be quick.”
*pause* Yeah, just like Hermann was a little premature in his boasting, I’m going to tell you up front I have no idea how long this one’s going to be. The Battle of Britain has probably been responsible for literally millions of gallons of ink being spilled. With so many authors out there choosing the final three books is going to be a bit, um, interesting. On one hand, you have the view that the Battle of Britain was the decisive battle of World War II. In the middle there’s the theory that the Germans could have pulled it off, but it would have required the luck equivalent of a strong run at the craps table. As in, hitting so many die rolls that the casino’s staff tells the gambler in question “Don’t come back here if you like your internal organs…”. Finally, there’s the school of thought that the Germans were never serious about Sea Lion, the British knew this, and it was all a propaganda stunt.
As for your humble host, I fully believe the German High Command was capable of saying, “Hey, here’s a great idea! Let’s take our tactical / operational air arm and try to set the conditions for an amphibious debacle that will make Gallipoli seem like a Sunday tram ride!” These are the folks who brought you Operation Barbarossa, so high stakes gambles were sort of baked into the cake. Similarly, given that France threw in the towel with most of its army still in the field and the Germans far from possessing overwhelming force, Great Britain was certainly capable of getting a case of the yips in mid-1940. Ergo, without further ado, let me tell you how Air Marshal Hugh Dowding was responsible for saving Western Civilization.
*angry murmur from other historians* What’s that? You think I’m disrespecting ol’ Winston “Foggy” Churchill, Wielder of the Tommy Gun and Chewer of the Cigar? Mmm, maybe. I mean, don’t get me wrong–Winston Churchill is certainly the reason that Great Britain didn’t say, “Oh eff this noise, we’re done…” in May 1940. Indeed, despite Churchill beating out Lord Halifax for the post of Prime Minister, half of his cabinet wanted to cut a deal in the interest of preserving the Empire…
*glare at internal editor*
…the British Empire. To which Churchill gave a long, blunt reply that basically broke down to:
“They are fucking Nazis. Negotiating with Nazis is like negotiating with a hungry lion. Have you bloody idiots not been paying attention for the last two years?”
Winston then followed this up with telling Parliament something about “fight them on the beaches, blah, blah, blah.” Subsequent to that speech, he regularly advised the womenfolk in his social circle that maybe they should resign themselves to taking out one last Nazi while ol’ Hans was ‘in the saddle.’ (I’m not kidding about that part. Seriously.) Finally, to demonstrate England’s resolve to the rest of the world, Winston proceeded to have the Royal Navy blast the living crap out of whatever French fleet units that did not immediately surrender, erm, I mean go into “internment.”
All this makes great history and does show a head of state that is, in the vernacular, not messing around. Buuuuuuttt, it ignores the fact that Churchill had not been Prime Minister from 1938-1940, was not particularly air minded and, despite his meddling nature, was not secure enough in his position to start meddling around with aerial defense of Great Britain. That job resided with one man: Air Marshal Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command.
Hugh Dowding was not a dashing fellow. Indeed, he is generally described as giving off the air of a particularly boring school principal who did not necessarily mix with those under his command. If there is a spectrum of leadership styles for aerial generals, Dowding is likely on the opposite side from Curtis Lemay. This is part of the reason he gets one or two sentences in most general histories, with the other being that he was cursed with back stabbers for subordinates (more on that later).
However, one of the things Dowding was good at was organization. Another was remaining calm. Both of these were necessary in May 1940 as everyone in London was running around going “Holy shit, holy shit…the Germans are right across the bloody Channel. Holy shit!” like they’d just witnessed a horrible car crash. In the final years of peace, Dowding had already begun putting together what would later be called an integrated air defense system (IADS). This defensive network relied on radar to provide early warning (Chain Home), guns to keep the the Lufwaffe from coming over at too low of an altitude, interceptors to deal with the German aircraft and, most importantly, a series of control command posts to make sure said Spitfires, Hurricanes and *gulp* “other fighters” were in the right place at the right time. In large part, Dowding was calmer because, unlike France and Poland, geography meant that he didn’t have to worry about panzers on his runways.
The British defense system looked like this:
Now, if you’re looking at that map and thinking, “Whoa, the guys in 11 Group sure look like they’ve drawn the short straw…”, you would be absolutely correct. After a last, “Okay, are we really doing this?” check from Adolph Hitler, the pilots in southern Kent got to find out how annoying it is to get the notice to scramble…then end up with Bf-109s in your takeoff queue.
That being said, the Germans found out a few things very quickly. One, while the RAF would still have village idiot squadron commanders flying in vics throughout the battle, self-preservation and attrition helped weed many of these men out. Ergo, it started becoming harder and harder to find quacking fighters with roundels. That’s not to say squadrons rotated in from No. 12 and 13 group didn’t occasionally get smacked around due to inexperience, but as June became July, the RAF started figuring out what in the Hell it was doing.
Helping this process was the innate advantage of fighting over home turn. Although the British air/sea rescue process over the Channel was criminally negligent, things were far better inland. If a Fighter Command pilot ‘took to the silk’ in the morning and was not injured, it was not unheard of for him to be sitting in another Hurricane or Spitfire within forty-eight hours.
This fact underscores another point–the Luftwaffe, for the first time, found itself in an even fight. There are various ways of counting airframes at the beginning of the Battle of Britain, and most sources will choose a method that suits the historian’s overarching thesis. (We’re sneaky like that.) However, only recently have folks started taking into account things like German pilot fatigue, high engine hours, and the operational wear and tear of operating very far forward from their depots into account. As June turned to July, the Jagdwaffe was sucking wind like a welterweight that had been throwing nothing but haymakers for ten rounds.
This analogy is particularly apt when one looks back at the map above. Notice that blue line that indicates the 109s’ maximum range? Yeaaaaahhh, that’s kind of important. Like most bomber disciples, Hermann Goering and his chief of aircraft development, Ernst Udet, had not invested in the development of a long-range, single-engine fighter. (In this they were not alone–you’ll get to hear how the Americans dropped this ball in a later post.) This made sense, as the Luftwaffe was a tactical / operational air arm. Long story short, this meant most of the German fighter pilots had to keep one eye on the fuel gauge as they started mixing it up with Hurricanes and Spitfires. Once the red light started glowing, it was time to head for home…or figure out how long one could tread water.
“Wait a second, James. In the last blog post you told us there were two German fighters. What about the Bf-110?!” Well, funny thing about radar–it tells people you’re coming. At that point, things like slashing attacks from upsun become problematic, and people end up having to actually dogfight. The 110, which had seemed quite capable on the continent, quickly found itself the equivalent of a station wagon in an Indy race. Although it still occasionally managed to surprise an unwary RAF fighter or two, by June it became apparent the 110 could not even look after itself, much less escort German bombers.
Speaking of escorting, also hindering the Jagdwaffe were tactical decisions forced upon them by higher headquarters. As the German Kampfgruppen began getting repeatedly mauled, they began to complain to higher headquarters that the Jagdwaffe were off hunting kills rather than actually, you know, escorting. This would be a common bomber refrain throughout the war for all sides. The Luftwaffe head shed, horrified at their losses, were the first to make the critical error of tying their fighter pilots to within visual range of the bombers as opposed to giving them free rein. This was a major error, as it meant that the 109s could no longer “free hunt,” but were forced to fly fuel drinking weaving patterns above their slower bomber brethren. I’ll let Adolf Galland sum up the problem:
“[The fighter pilots’] element is to attack, to track, to hunt, and to destroy the enemy. Only in this way can the eager and skillful fighter pilot display his ability. Tie him to a narrow and confined task, rob him of his initiative, and you take away from him the best and most valuable qualities he posses: aggressive spirit, joy of action, and the passion of the hunter.”
— General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe.
The change in tactics allowed the RAF the respite of largely taking off and forming up in peace rather than having to worry about “fights on” from the moment their wheels left the grass. Moreover, it often allowed the Spitfires and Hurricanes to gain advantageous positions and seize the initiative. It was a rude awakening for the Jagdwaffe, and a harbinger of things to come for them later in the war.
As opposed to Goering, Dowding managed his end of the Battle of Britain like a maestro. Ever cognizant of the fact that he just had to keep the issue in doubt until September 30th at the latest, Dowding conducted an aerial economy of force operation. Despite Churchill’s pressures, Dowding refused to overly commit to protecting Channel convoys when the same resources could be moved by rail. Squadrons were committed as they became available, with the initial combatants wearing down the 109s so that later entries had free runs at bomber formations. Despite the temptation to meddle in squadron tactics, Dowding let leaders figure their own methods.
As time went on, the respite from German bounces as the RAF climbed to altitude, the winning of the production war, and the German decision to switch to targeting cities all contributed to Dowding’s victory. After getting through the critical period of mid-July to early August when Fighter Command was losing pilots quicker than they could replace them, by August 31st Dowding had actually started getting enough pilots to flesh out the squadrons he’d rotated north due to their losses. When Hermann Goering got the bright idea to go after London in order to force Fighter Command into a final series of battles, the new numbers ensured that didn’t go well. To follow our earlier analogy, the hard swinging welterweight found out that their opponent not only had one hell of a corner man, but had somehow put on 20 pounds in between bells.
By September 30th, it was clear to everyone involved that the Luftwaffe would not be obtaining air superiority in 1940, if ever. Hitler, not having really wanted to force England to the negotiating table through invasion, began to look east. The Luftwaffe would continue to send fighter-bombers by day and their medium bombers by night for several months, but quickly became consumed in preparations for Operation Barbarossa. A couple of day fighter Gruppen remained in the West, but by March 1941 the majority of the Jagdwaffe were gathering in eastern Germany and Poland for a date with the Red Air Force.
Great Britain, bloodied and battered, had a brief moment where the cabinet once more suggested that the nation seek the best deal possible. Churchill, as was his wont, quickly squashed this idea. Possibly with physical violence.
(Note: I have no proof that anyone got DDT’d in that cabinet meeting…but I have visions of Winston Churchill coming across the table a couple of times. “Winston!” “I didn’t hit him in the face and he’s already had all the damn children he should! Amazed I was able to actually find them to kick given how much he’s been crying about surrendering…”)
Air Marshal Dowding, despite having overseen the first successful defense of Britain proper in centuries, was forced out against his will in favor of the former commander of No. 12 Group, Trafford Leigh-Mallory. Leigh-Mallory speciously claimed that Dowding had basically left kills on the table by not following his suggestions of forming RAF squadrons into “big wings” of multiple units prior to vectoring them against incoming German bombers. Of course, Leigh-Mallory conveniently failed to discuss just how his “big wings” would have formed in the face of free hunting Jagdwaffe 109s. Nor did Leigh-Mallory address the fact that said big wings, by virtue of being easier to spot, would likely have suffered mightily at the hands of even the bomber-bound German escorts.
In any case Churchill, unimpressed with Dowding’s lack of offensive spirit and demeanor, summarily sacked his head of Fighter Command in December 1940. Forced to retire…
*loud klaxon* Oh, hey, the Eschewing Easy Alarm is going off. Better wrap this up before I kill someone through rhetorical bludgeoning.
1.) For the first time, radar changed the course of a campaign. Without Chain Home, Spitfires and Hurricanes would have been forced to fly standing patrols and been unable to mass against German attacks. It wasn’t perfect, but after two decades of the aerial offense largely having its way, things appeared to have swung decisively towards the defense.
2.) The German Luftwaffe, for all its potency, demonstrated the perils of thinking all air power was the same. For various reasons, the Germans found themselves attempting to kick Great Britain’s door in with twin-engine bombers and tactical fighter aircraft. The 109 was arguably superior to both of the British front line fighters and had its way against just about everything else (e.g., the Defiant), but simply lacked the legs to gain air superiority over southern England. As the British would find out when they went on the offensive, gaining air supremacy required range.
3.) The devil is in the pilot and airframe replacement program. Whether one believes that Fighter Command was on the ropes or not (a topic of much recent debate), the fact remains that the Jagdwaffe could not regenerate fighters nearly as fast as the RAF could. Moreover, for the first (but certainly not the last) time, the Germans began to suffer decreasing effectiveness due to a lack of “bench.” Although several individuals (e.g., Galland and Moelders) ran up impressive kill tallies, many more Experten from the Polish and French campaigns were either killed or became prisoners of war. Concurrently, the Germans’ airframes also began to wear out due to a poorly organized depot system. Both of these issues were the proverbial canaries in the coal mine for the Luftwaffe.
4.) Firepower improvement was relative. The RAF’s decision to go to the “8-gun monoplane” was both vindicated and disproven by the Battle of Britain. As the Hurricane and Spitfire‘s designers had expected, their battery of machine guns were quite destructive. Unfortunately, all too often the level of damage tapped out at the “We’re going to need a firehose to wash the gunners’ blood out of the aircraft” versus the “Mein Gott, they just sawed off our wing…”-level. As mentioned above, aircrew being wounded but alive to kvetch about poor fighter protection ultimately led to German errors…yet the RAF expedited cannon armaments after the Battle of Britain for a reason.
5.) Overclaiming influenced the course of the campaign. Despite strenuous rules being put in place, the Jagdwaffe‘s victory claims led to less than optimal operational decision making by Lufwaffe leadership. Many histories of the Battle of Britain discuss Goering constantly referring to Fighter Command’s “last few Spitfires.” This is not hyperbole–the Germans actually believed it. While no small part of this miscalculation was due to Lord Beaverbrook’s strenuous efforts, in the main it was because German pilots often mistook a fighter diving away on fire as one that actually crashed.
Three books for the masses:
The Most Dangerous Enemy by Stephen Bungay. This one is borderline between a book for the masses versus the monkhood. Bungay’s got an easy writing style, but it’s a really thick work.
2.) Everyone involved possesses a general knowledge of World War II, is willing to go to the Wiki article on it or, is so highly motivated they think Antony Beevor‘s or Max Hastings’ single volume histories are a worthwhile afternoon killer. (Both are excellent. Harsh, but excellent.) So the apocryphal quote at the top of things hasn’t totally lost you.
3.) In this same vein World War II is, to quote a Prolific Trekcatchphrase, “my jam.” So I might occasionally throw out references to people, places, and things without a hyperlink. Mea culpa in advance, but these blog posts (yeah, it’s going to be plural) will start looking like a Smurf infestation if I link every name I drop.
4.) Readers will realize that The Usurper’s War-series is fiction. Meaning that I played with some things there that may not have reflected the actual history. So when I start talking about “This didn’t happen until 1944…” and it’s something I made happen in 1943 in Acts of War or Collisions of the Damned…that’s why they call it alternate history.
Without further ado…
All That Passed Before
When last we left the aerial arena, people were flying around in biplanes blazing away at one another. The Allies had been preparing to unleash a massive aerial armada, the Germans were going to valiantly try to stop it, and the war was going to end in bloody street fighting burg by burg. Except…the Germans, their resolve weakened by the blockade and the realization that Americans apparently liked to make babies circa 1895-1900, tossed in the towel on 11 November 1918.
The war’s end had the perverse effect of flooding the market with aircraft. People who had no business driving, much less flying a plane, plunked down good money to go break their necks. Permissiveness was the rule of the day, and lots of people who had no business flying quickly found out Sir Isaac Newton holds veto power over all matters aeronautical. Despite the appalling death toll, however, this period meant aviation captured the imagination the world over, with everyone from daring barnstormers to famous aviatrices keeping the public’s collective eye skyward. Thus even in the midst of the Great Depression, people were still finding funds to press the proverbial envelope faster and higher. However, in no way was this progression universal nor necessarily embraced by military establishments.
Ergo, when Great European Rematch began in September 1939, combatants had both single seat, high speed monoplanes in their inventory…and poor bastards who were puttering around in the sky in biplanes. As in, if you flew fighters for the Royal Air Force or Fleet Air Arm, your war potentially started off with this beauty as you primary mount:
Meanwhile, the Germans, allegedly limited by the Versailles treaty, were licking their chops at the thought of facing Gloster Gladiators while tooling around in their brand new Bf-109s and Bf-110s. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words (coincidentally where we’re at right now), so I’ll just put the 109 and 110 up for comparison:
The Western Front 1940
Thankfully for many British pilots, the Germans went east (Poland) then north (Norway) before coming west. The Luftwaffe, having sent “volunteers” to fight in the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930s, had learned some things. First, without having the ability to really have an air force thanks to the Treaty of Versailles, they largely skipped bomber barons stifling fighter development to the degree that Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Corps (later United States Army Air Force) did. Oh, don’t get me wrong–Herman Goering and Nazi hierarchy made Byzantine aircraft development into a way of life. Buuuuuuuttt, there was no Trenchard (RAF) or Arnold (USAAC / USAAF) actively sacrificing single engine fighter developmental programs that would have saved lives in favor of heavy bomber programs. (More on that in a later post…it’s not quite as much a jerk move as it sounds.)
This free fighter development and Spanish warm up match led to the Jagdflieger developing the four-aircraft flight (Schwarm) as the most flexible formation for combat. In this flight, you had two leaders (#1 and #3) and their wingmen (#2 and #4), with each leader / wingman combination known as a Rotte. Each leader could choose a target, with the wingman making sure no one showed up and disturbed the leader while he went about his killing. Given the high closing speeds brought about by the advances in air technology, the Germans discovered that this was the best blend between not having a bunch of yahoos throwing themselves around the sky and formations so rigid they were basically a squadron leader looking for stuff to kill and his eleven subordinates trying not to run into him.
*pause as the reader goes through that last paragraph again*
“What? No one would be so stupid as to fly around like tha…”
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Royal Air Force. When the Germans turned west in May 1940, the standard Royal Air Force tactics were to fly around in squadron formation. These squadron formations, in turn, were divided into ‘vics’ of three. In practice, this was supposed to mean that the squadron technically had four groups by which to attack opposing bombers. Upon seeing the enemy, RAF squadron leaders were expected to call out a target, then a numbered attack. At this point, the vics would then proceed to attack said target in a proscribed, organized manner in sequence. Imagine a great waltz, except the orchestra is playing the “Death by Machine Gun, Aerial Movement” from the Spandau Ballet school of composition.
To be fair, in September 1939 this was a reasonable supposition. Fighters, at least to the RAF, were not supposed to be a primary concern. No one in the RAF had been informed that they’d be fighting in continental Europe (see part about Versailles Treaties, War to End All Wars, Appeasement, etc.) in the 1930s. Ergo, the good folks in Fighter Command drew a radius from Germany, looked at their own monoplanes’ performance, and said, “Well there’s no way the bloody Germans are getting their fighters here. At least, not more than once.” Thus, it was easy to see how the war could have been started still flying these formations, even with various individuals writing report after report about operations in Spain.
Still, by May 1940 the Germans’ methods should not have been totally a surprise. There were Polish pilots who had fled across Europe and were providing first hand testimony about how the Jagdwaffe just might know what it was about. British pilots had danced with their German counterparts during the so-called Phony War as well as in Norway prior to the storm breaking over France in May 1940. So perhaps even a circular or a “Hey chaps, the Germans tend to come in groups of four, with two of those four having every intent of collecting scalps. Might be time to throw out these stilted attack plans and get your heads on a swivel…” would have saved lives.
Instead, the RAF and their French counterparts got an aerial skull dragging. As in, most fights went pretty much like this clip from the miniseries “A Piece of Cake”:
Except, rather than Spitfires, the RAF was flying the slower Hurricane. Having been slow to make changes in the eight months of relative peace, a few weeks of penning “We’re sorry your son got blasted to kingdom come because his eyes were on his leader…” letters made some folks change their methods. They decided it was a good idea to put a “rover” up behind the squadron vic’s, with this position intended to give the rest of the squadron some warning that they were being stalked by approaching German fighters.
*momentary pause and cut to Jagdflieger laughing uncontrollably while discussing how they blew the “rover” out of the sky, then proceeded on down to flame a couple more of remaining British fighters*
So dangerous did this position become, there were documented cases of squadron commanders having to write up officers for “lack of moral fiber” and insubordination. Which is a polite way of saying that pilots were starting to tell squadron commanders where to get off, they weren’t serving as the flaming canary in the proverbial coal mine. As many Hurricane pilots found out, having an unsealed fuel tank in front of the cockpit could end very, very poorly when 109s were about. Listen to your buddy scream the whole 10-15,000 feet down, suddenly “I will see to it that you are transferred to the infantry…” doesn’t seem so threatening.
From the German perspective, the Fall of France reinforced the Spanish Civil War’s lessons. The Schwarm had been validated as the base formation that allowed a squadron to put the maximum number of shooters forward. Almost as importantly, it allowed the maximum visual coverage of a given airspace, meaning that if everyone was doing their job it was very hard to surprise German fighters. The 109, even with its flaw such as poor landing characteristics, limited firepower, and short range, was proven to be more than capable to defeating anything it ran into. The 110, although not quite as effective as they had hoped, was also capable of conducting effective slashing attacks and escaping French and British fighters attempts to get it into a dogfight. Both fighters proved extremely capable bomber destroyers, with the British Fairey Battle and Blenheim along with everything in the French arsenal proving easy prey. As the German Army chased the British off the continent then proceeded to “march in the shade” when they got to Paris, the Jagdwaffe had achieved its primary mission of gaining then maintaining air superiority.
In some ways, the RAF got a blessing in disguise by just how quickly the Germans blitzkrieg rolled over the Allied ground forces. France fell so quickly and decisively that it took the Chamberlain government with it. Winston Churchill, being a much cold-blooded bastard than his predecessor, ignored French pleas to send the more advance Spitfire to try and retrieve the situation. As a result, the first time the Jagdflieger got a good look at the most advanced British fighter, it was over Dunkirk. Moreover, it was after Fighter Command had belatedly started telling squadron leaders “Hey, those numbered attacks? Maaaaayyyybeee not the best idea.” Being prewar officers rather than combat technicians, many of these leaders were loathe to change…but at least they’d been told. With the Luftwaffe now right across the Channel rather than well outside of fighter range, the crucible of combat would provide a lot more motivation for innovation.
What Changed, What Stayed the Same
1.) As noted in the last post, most kills were by surprise. Especially the poor bastards flying as rovers/weavers/sacrificial lambs. But even for the Germans, the cases where someone was not doing their job often led to a British Hurricane or French fighter getting their licks in and away before anyone knew what was coming.
2.) A big change was air combat’s speed. At the end of World War I, fighters topped out at 150 miles an hour. At the beginning of World War II, most fighters were either at or right around 300 miles per hour. Well, except for the Gladiators. *shudder* In any case, that dot on the windscreen turned into an angry fighter with its nose and wings twinkling much, much faster than it had in World War I. Conversely, this meant that combats took place over a much wider area. This could rapidly lead to what several pilots referred to as “empty sky syndrome,” i.e., a fight going from “Oh my God, we’re all gonna die in collisions…” to “Where the f__k did everyone go?” in a matter of seconds.
3.) Firepower relative to World War I made a massive increase. Not only did fighters now have to worry about bringing down heavily armored bombers, but the speed of combat meant a maneuvering target was only in the sights for a fleeting moment. More due to the first than the second, interwar designers had started hanging more and more machine guns on fighters (Britain) or switched to cannon / machine gun combinations (Germany). Whether it was the 8 x .303s (Spitfire / Hurricane) or 1 x 20mm / 2 x MGs (Germany) armament, World War II fighters opened the dance hitting way harder. Things would only get heavier as the war went on.
4.) Deflection shooting became a thing. This was not totally different than World War I. However, the amount of lead to blast someone crossing front to left at a relative velocity of 50-60 miles per hour is a whole different world than that of 300 mph. To quote German ace Hans-Joachim Marseille (who would later go on to fame in North Africa after the Battle of Britain)
“As long as I look into the muzzles, nothing can happen to me. Only if he pulls lead am I in danger.”
That’s right, if you were looking right into someone’s guns and your both in a turn, he couldn’t hit you. Or more correctly, if he was so close that he would be able to actually to hit without pulling the necessary lead, you needed to worry less about machine guns and more about the imminent collision.In some cases, pilots had to pull so much lead to account for the drop of their bullets that their target wasn’t even necessarily in sight beneath the nose of their aircraft. Although some services (e.g., the USN/USMC and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had practiced this task as a course du jour, none of the European powers had given it much thought. Why? Bombers don’t maneuver (RAF) and the Jagdflieger generally assumed one either had it or they didn’t. By and large, the gunnery syllabi for these two services wouldn’t change much throughout the war.
5.) Despite heavier armament, most kills still happened at short range. This was partially a factor of the “never saw what hit him” as well as the lack of deflection training. How short is short? In ground combat, the average machine gun was capable of shooting out to 1000 meters, with most shooting taking place at 4-500 meters depending on line of sight. In the initial stages of World War II, the British set the convergence point of their guns, i.e. the point where all 8 streams should meet, at 300 meters…and found that people were just flat out missing targets at that range. With a few exceptions, most Experten (German aces) and their RAF counterparts found that shooting over 200 meters didn’t accomplish much other than warning your prey. This fact did not change even when engaging with 20mm cannon versus the British .303 machine guns.
6.) The bomber, contrary to what interwar pundits had speculated, did not “always get through.” In fact, beginning with the British daylight attack on Wilhelmshaven and going all the way until the French capitulated, bombers often took a mauling on both sides. Given the Germans achieved air superiority fairly on, this lesson didn’t quite have time to sink…okay, who am I kidding? Despite irrefutable evidence that bombers were vulnerable, everyone kept thinking unescorted bombing attacks had a chance. This…well, let’s just say this is going to become important next post.
Overall, fighter combat was largely taking up where it had left off in World War I, just faster, more lethal, and with new formations. The Schwarm was as revolutionary to the profession as the the forward pass was to North American football and was a large part of the reason Britain found itself alone. However, as will be shown in my next post, there was something to be said for playing a home versus away game when it came to vying for air superiority. Geography, in the form of the English Channel, was about to flip the script for the Jagdwaffe.