Aircraft were essential to both the Allies and the Axis. Both sides built loads of planes for their air forces and navies to blow up targets with. Aircraft carriers made bombers increasingly essential for naval battles as well as those inland. Consequently, there were a variety of airstrikes during the war. These were six of the more notable WWII airstrikes.
Battle of Taranto
When Italy declared war with Britain in 1940, the North Africa Campaign expanded. The Mediterranean included vital naval supply routes for both sides' armies. As such, the Royal Navy planned a bold airstrike targeting the Italian naval base of Taranto with its aircraft carriers. The naval base was a shallow-water port, but Britain made modifications to its torpedoes so they could be effective in shallow water.
The Illustrious carrier bombed Taranto in November 1940. A few Swordfish torpedo-bombers pounded the Italian battleships at Taranto. They effectively sank the Conte di Cavour in harbor, and their torpedoes ravaged two further Italian battleships. They had put half of Italy's battleship fleet out of action, which tipped the balance of the Mediterranean naval war in Britain's favor.
The Battle of Taranto proved that torpedo-bombers could effectively bomb warships in shallow-water ports. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) took note, and duly laid down plans for its own aircraft carrier airstrike at Pearl Harbor as the Allied economic embargo expanded. The IJN's operation was considerably larger than the Royal Navy's Battle of Taranto as it included six fleet aircraft carriers and more than 300 planes (plus five minisubmarines). With that they planned to wipe out the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The IJN fleet bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Japan's planes ravaged the battleships in the harbor, and wiped out hundreds of U.S. aircraft at the airfields with two sorties. As hardly any U.S. planes took off, the IJN lost just 29 aircraft during the operation.
However, no U.S. aircraft carriers were at Pearl when the IJN bombed it. The IJN also abandoned a potential third wave that could have blown up oil supplies. Japan celebrated a great victory, but the operation did not have enough impact to ensure any sort of victory in the Pacific War.
Following a string of Japanese victories in the Pacific War in 1942, the Allies planned a new operation to bomb Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Nagayo and Yokohama. It was a daring operation that potentially jeopardized the Hornet aircraft carrier. In addition, it also required B-25 bombers to take off from carriers to bomb their targets.
Despite such pitfalls, the Doolittle Raid went ahead in April 1942. The B-25 bombers took off from the Hornet a little earlier than planned as a Japanese picket ship discovered the fleet. Only a small number of Japanese planes intercepted the B-25s as they bombed their targets. It was a small-scale raid that had little impact on military and industrial targets, but it proved the Allies could still bomb Japan at a time when the IJN had not had any notable defeats.
Truk was a part of the Caroline Islands that included an IJN naval base. There the IJN had stationed warships that could potentially provide naval support for Japanese troops in the Marshall Islands during 1944. As such, in February 1944 the U.S. Navy dispatched Task Force 58 to Truk to bomb the IJN base there.
Recon planes gave away U.S. plans to bomb Truk in February. Consequently, the IJN removed some of its heavier capital ships from the harbor before the airstrike. Nevertheless, Task Force 58 planes still bombed cruisers and destroyers at Truk to good effect. In addition, they destroyed 270 Japanese aircraft during the raid. In comparison, the U.S. lost 25 planes during the airstrike. Truk remained cut off for the rest of the war.
In 1943, the Allies stepped up bombing campaigns of German industrial targets. Operation Chastise was an RAF bombing raid in May 1943 that targeted Ruhr dams such as the Möhne and Eder Dam. Aside from destroying hydroelectric dams, invaluable to German industry, the breaching of the dams could also flood nearby industrial targets.
To blow the dams up, the RAF added a new Upkeep bomb to Squadron X bombers. That was a drum-shaped bomb that could skip across water surfaces when dropped at lower altitudes. With those bombs, RAF pilots effectively breached the Ruhr dams to generate tsunami-like floods in Germany's industrial heartland. The flooding destroyed 12 war production factories, railways and power stations.
The Dambuster Raids had considerable impact on German steel production in the Ruhr. Steel production dropped by about 20,000 tons. There was also a notable drop in coal output in the region.
The Tirpitz was one of the Bismark-class battleships that remained intact by 1944, albeit more as a stationary gun platform. Numerous RAF bombing raids had put the ship out of action, but none had enough impact to sink it. Consequently, the RAF dispatched a squadron of Lancaster heavy bombers to finish off the Tirpitz in November 1944.
For Operation Catechism, the RAF fitted more accurate Tallboy bombs to the Lancaster bombers. The bombers bombed the Tirpitz near Tromso. The battleship's anti-aircraft guns had no impact on the Lancaster bombers, and the Luftwaffe was nowhere to be seen. The RAF bombers pounded the German battleship, which suddenly capsized after an explosion from her ammunition magazine. As such, the Lancaster planes had effectively sunk the Tirpitz.
Those were just a few of the more notable airstrikes during the period. Overall, the airstrikes devastated naval fleets, ships, industrial targets and more besides. So bombers were crucial to both the Allies and Axis.