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Famous Air Battles of World War Two

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An exciting new generation of aircraft were built during the interwar period. The Germans had their Messerschmitts, Britain had its Spitfires and Japan had the A6M Zero. These were just a few of the planes that dominated the skies in the early 1940s. Then new aircraft such as the U.S. F6Fs were later added to Allied air forces. So a few notable air battles emerged that the Allies usually won.

The Battle of Britain was perhaps the largest of the air battles. It was during the months of 1940 that RAF and Luftwaffe aircraft met in the skies as German bombers blitzed various targets in Britain. Airfields were initially pounded by German aircraft, and then later cities. Squadrons of RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes scrambled to intercept German planes, and thanks to their radar were able to reach them sooner. Combined with the effectiveness of its own Spitfire and Hurricane, this gave the RAF the advantage required to defeat an otherwise larger air force. The Battle of Britain gradually petered out as Luftwaffe aircraft losses mounted. The RAF had ensured that the U.K. could not be defeated, at least with the German army.

Air battles were also a big part of the naval battles in the Pacific. Both the U.S. Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy had a number of fleet aircraft carriers that could support hundreds of planes from their decks. They usually carried a combination of fighters and bombers, so that the combat planes could give additional support for the bombers. A number of battles in the Pacific included fleets of Japanese and American aircraft carriers.

Among the first was the Battle of Coral Sea.[1] During this battle, the IJN targeted Port Moresby in New Guinea. Although considered a naval battle, aircraft dominated the encounter. U.S. planes took out the Shoho. Japanese planes later found the larger Lexington and Yorktown carriers. Their bombs sank the Lexington, although the USA salvaged the Yorktown. The IJN withdrew from the battle, and Port Moresby was held by the Allies. So the Battle of Coral Sea was an Allied victory.

Months later a larger air battle emerged around Midway Island. Midway included a U.S. airfield that was the target for a Japanese invasion fleet. The IJN divided a Japanese armada into smaller fleets that supported the invasion fleet. The most essential to Japan's operation was its carrier fleet, which included four aircraft carriers and hundreds of supported planes. The IJN expected that these would engage and defeat any U.S. carriers.

The air battle began over Midway Island when Japanese aircraft began to bomb the airfield there. However, thanks to code breakers the Navy informed U.S. planes of the approaching Japanese fleet so they were not caught on the ground. Although their pilots may as well have stayed on the runway as the Japanese A6M Zeroes wiped most of them out in the air. Bold air sorties from Midway toward the Japanese carriers had little impact, and merely ensured further losses of U.S. planes.

However, a later sortie from U.S. carriers reached a group of three Japanese carriers. SBD dive-bombers dived in from the clouds and delivered their payloads. Explosions and fires engulfed the three carriers, which gradually slipped beneath the sea. The last remaining Japanese carrier continued the battle, and a further wave of IJN aircraft spotted the USS Yorktown and dropped their bombs. The crew of the Yorktown did not abandon ship immediately, but later jumped ship after a further wave of planes bombed the carrier. An IJN submarine finished off the Yorktown. Despite this, the remaining Japanese carrier was also taken out by U.S. planes, which won a great victory for the U.S. Navy.

Planes also had a big impact at other naval battles such as at the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf in 1944, but surface fleet ships and submarines also provided much greater support for the U.S. aircraft carriers in these battles. However, Allied aircraft almost entirely won the Battle of Britain, Battle of Coral Sea and Battle of Midway.



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  1. "Battle of Coral Sea." WW2 Database. 9/10/2015 <Web >

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