Air Power in WWII American Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2640 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 16  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military

" "All of the family pictures are before me on the table," he continued. "I can close my eyes and imagine myself in our own living room at home, talking with you." He continued, talking about how his family should "feel resigned," but in a way, "happy for my sake." That may be puzzling as a statement, he continued, suggesting that he was lucky to still be alive.

That he was still alive was an amazing fact, considering that so many fliers had died and so many new replacements had come on a daily basis. "In combat mess almost every face is unfamiliar," he wrote. "We are not fighting for our country, but each of us for our own family, for our own plot of ground back home."

He closed by writing that he would be "seeing you all again, sometime, somewhere," suggesting that the place they would meet up might be heaven. "Until then, lots of love, your son, John." [Note: "John" did survive the war, but preferred his last name not be used in this published letter.]

The Dangers of Fighter Pilots being shot down

Incredible incidents of bravery and courage were shown by all who fought the Germans during the European theater of WWII. The tens of thousands of soldiers and airmen who were injured and who died will always be part of the American story of valor and strength. But there were those who were captured behind enemy lines who had a different story to tell - survival in some of the bleakest, most brutal environments known to humankind.

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To wit, in the last days of WWII, Colonel Hubert Zemke - knick-named "The Hub" - was shot down and parachuted into German territory and into German hands. Zemke, according to the book, Zemke's Stalag, had a higher total "of air victory credits than any other American fighter group flying in Europe." In fact, "his record of narrow escapes was also impressive; the fighter he flew sustained damage from enemy fire on no less than 12 occasions."

Term Paper on Air Power in WWII American Assignment

However, he wasn't so lucky on October 30, 1944, when, "with an almighty thump," his parachute hit the ground after he had floated down from his wrecked P-51 Mustang in enemy territory. Soon, he was in enemy hands, and was sent to Auswertestelle-West, the interrogation center, and let know that any attempt at escape would result in his death by bullet. After seven days in solitary confinement (6) and some cursory medical treatment for his seriously injured leg, Zemke was taken to a POW camp.

There, his mattress filled with wood shavings and freezing cold temperatures, Zemke was fed a "thin barley soup and black bread" once a day and by "the end of January 1945 it was evident that the combination of winter weather and insufficient food was beginning to take its toll on the POWs" (45). Energies, he writes, "were subdued by chill and hunger." The meager rations that were provided - including some of the vegetables that were "frozen or rotten" - further exacerbated the already horrendous environment. Eventually, on the first day of May, 1945, Zemke was a freeman, as the war was over for the Germans, at least in this region - albeit the "real war" was still being waged.

Freedom is a joyous thing and none more so than for those who have been closely confined for long periods," Zemke explains (83).

Body Armor ("Flak Suits") protected some Air Corps Fliers

Of all the dangers that Air Corps pilots and crewmen faced in the sky, getting a piece of shrapnel or a direct bullet from a machine gun, while not as serious as being killed or shot down in enemy territory, was potentially very lethal.

In fact, early in October of 1942, according to WWII Air Power, "a study revealed that about 70% of wounds received by 8th air force crews came from relatively low velocity missiles (shrapnel from flak bursts)." And so, body armor or "flak suits" as they were called at that time, were requested, ordered, and issued to fliers. The flak suits were made out of a heavy canvas which was covered with "...overlapping 2-inch squares of 20-gauge manganese steel," according to WWII Air Power. The first 600 were made by the Wilkinson Sword Company of the UK.


In recent video footage released by the Department of Defense during the initial phases of the war in Iraq, viewers are treated to a black-and-white movie of a plane moving rapidly towards a stationary target; suddenly, missiles are fired, and the target blows up. Is that was it was like to strafe an enemy target in WWII? Not according to Deadly Sky: The American Combat Airman in WWII. "If the prospect of dogfighting provoked elation and excitement among pilots," McManus writes, "then strafing usually evoked the opposite." It meant dive-bombing or shooting ground targets, and it was "deadly, dangerous business," not just because of the possibility of flak, but because you were flying at low altitudes. "If you got hit badly, you had little room to maneuver and very little time to get out of the aircraft safely."

This is just one small example of how today's air power - given to us in nice neat videos - could never capture the horror and awesome danger that WWII airmen were subjected to. May their courage and resilience never be forgotten, no matter how "modern" the weapons are with which subsequent wars are waged.


Green, Daniel. World War II Guide to Air Power: Body Armor ("Flak Suits"),

Information online] (Accessed 3 September 2004); available at

McManus, John C. Deadly Sky: The American Combat Airman in World War II; Novato, California: Presidio, 2000.

Merriman-Webster Online. Strategic, Tactical. Available at

Middlebrook, Martin. The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983.

USAF Museum. Report of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of War: Section One: Before Pearl Harbor: Assets and Liabilities.

USAF Museum. Report of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of War: Section One: Before Pearl Harbor: Blueprints for Air Power.

Spires, David N. Patton's Air Force: Forging a Legendary Air-Ground Team. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.

Zemke, Hubert as told to Freeman, Roger A. Zemke's Stalag. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

USAF Museum, Report of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of War, Section One: Before Pearl Harbor, Assets and Liabilities, 2004.

USAF Museum, Report of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of War, Section One: Before Pearl Harbor, Blueprints for Air Power, 2004

David N. Spires, Patton's Air Force (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002), 1-2.

Martin Middlebrook: The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983), 346.

Hubert Zemke as told to Roger A. Freeman, Zemke's Stalag (Washington:… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Air Power in WWII American.  (2004, October 3).  Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

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"Air Power in WWII American."  October 3, 2004.  Accessed September 28, 2020.