RFT 092: A Significant Aviation History Week

June 9, 2017

This week marks two very significant anniversaries in aviation history. Both occurred during World War Two.

The Battle of Midway occurred 75 years ago this week, June 4-7 1942. Although it was a naval battle, the dramatic results were achieved primarily by naval aviation. Only seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched the United States into the war, the results of the battle crippled the Japanese navy for the remainder of the war. In this one battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu) were destroyed. The U.S.S. Yorktown was the only American aircraft carrier loss.

In terms of casualties, the results were equally as dramatic. The Japanese navy suffered 3057 dead, while 307 Americans had lost their lives.

In the European Theater, Operation Overlord – the Normandy invasion – commenced 73 years ago, on June 6, 1944. This was the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating. On just that one day, 160,000 allied troops crossed the English Channel. Allied casualties were immense, with 4414 confirmed dead on just that first day.

Airpower played a major role in the invasion. The allies had air superiority, which meant that their ground forces were not subject to German bomber attacks. Paratroopers were carried by transport aircraft, and gliders transported ground forces to unimproved sites in the dead of night. American fighter-bombers hammered German emplacements.

In terms of the overall plan, the invasion did not initially meet its objectives. The invasion beaches did not link up as planned, and the five critical bridgeheads did not get connected for six more days. Compared to allied casualties, the Germans lost 1000 men.

But the Normandy invasion was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich, and the lives lost, including a cousin I never met, were not in vain.

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