Today the numbers involved in Operation Overlord are unthinkable: 6,000 bombers, more than 5,000 fighters, some 1,600 transport aircraft, and 2,500 gliders. All crammed into scores of airfields throughout Britain, but mainly in southern England. All were serviced, armed, and assigned aircrews, eager to take off on the day called “D.”
That spring, the American public avidly followed the European Theater “ace race” as Thunderbolt and Mustang pilots vied for the highest score. The 4th Fighter Group competed with the 56th to produce the top gun, and by June 5, the highest scores were Capt. Robert S. Johnson, rotated Stateside with 27, Maj. Francis S. Gabreski with 22, and Capt. Don Gentile, also rotated, with 21.83. But the Fourth’s public affairs officer had the wider view. Captain Grover Hall said, “After D-Day, a pilot with 90 planes won’t be worth five column inches of print.”
The Luftwaffe, though highly experienced, had felt the effect of prolonged air combat. After the fighter arm’s glory days in the fall of 1943, when as many as 60 American bombers were hacked down at a time, the Jagdwaffe’s ranks had been steadily depleted. While the Reich continued producing thousands of Bf 109s, Fw 190s and other fighters, pilot training and quality steadily declined. By the summer of 1944, Lt. Gen. Adolf Galland’s day fighters sometimes incurred a ghastly attrition of 25 percent aircrews and 40 percent aircraft per month.
The Luftwaffe fought a four-front war: in the West, the East, the Mediterranean, and at home. When the crunch came in Normandy, perhaps 900 German aircraft were available in the West to oppose a crushing coalition numbering some 13,000 aircraft — a disparity of nearly 15 to 1.
by Barrett Tillman
To read the full article from the August 2014 issue of Flight Journal, click here.