THE PRICE OF VICTORY
B-17 $204,370. P-40 $44,892.
B-24 $215,516. P-47 $85,578.
B-25 $142,194. P-51 $51,572.
B-26 $192,426. C-47 $88,574.
B-29 $605,360. PT-17 $15,052.
P-38 $97,147. AT-6 $22,952.
6600 American service men died per MONTH, during WWII (about 220 a day).
PLANES A DAY WORLDWIDE
From Germany's invasion of Poland Sept. 1, 1939 and ending with Japan's surrender Sept. 2, 1945 --- 2,433 days.
From 1942 onward, America averaged 170 planes lost a day.
Nation Aircraft Average
USA 276,400 113
S Union 137,200 56
G Britain 108,500 45
Germany 109,000 45
Japan 76,300 31
How Many is a 1,000 planes?
B-17 production (12,731) wingtip to wingtip would extend 250 miles. 1,000 B-17s carried 2.5 million gallons of
high octane fuel.
Lifting 10,000 airmen to deliver 2,000 tons of bombs.
THE NUMBERS GAME
9.7 billion gallons of gasoline consumed, 1942-1945.
107.8 million hours flown, 1943-1945.
459.7 billion rounds of aircraft ammo fired overseas, 1942-1945.
7.9 million bombs dropped overseas, 1943-1945.
2.3 million combat sorties, 1941-1945 (one sortie = one takeoff).
299,230 aircraft accepted, 1940-1945.
808,471 aircraft engines accepted, 1940-1945.
799,972 propellers accepted, 1940-1945.
WWII MOST-PRODUCED COMBAT AIRCRAFT
II-2 Stum0vik 36,183
Yak 1, 3, 7, 9 31,000+
Bf 109 30,480
Fw 190 29,001
Ju 88 15,000
He 111 6,508
Bf 110 6,150
Rene Francillon, Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific war; Cajus Bekker, The Luftwaffe Diaries; Ray Wagner, American
Combat Planes; Wikipedia.
BALL PARK AVERAGE:
Chief of Staff to General, "Hmmm; 331 men killed and 308 aircraft destroyed. That's 11 people and 10 planes
"Uh, yes, sir. It's still the ballpark average."
"I'd like to see an improvement in bomber losses, those really add up."
"Were working on it, General. But it's sad to think that 10 young men alive today will be dead tomorrow."
"You know that's the price of doing business. Now then, what about the overseas and combat losses?"
According to the AAF Statistical Digest, in less than four years (December 1941- August 1945), the US Army Air
Forces lost 14,903 pilots, aircrew and assorted personnel plus 13,873 airplanes --- inside the continental United
States. They were the result of 52,651 aircraft accidents (6,039 involving fatalities) in 45 months.
Think about those numbers. They average 1,170 aircraft accidents
per month---- nearly 40 a day. (Less than one accident in four resulted in totaled aircraft, however.)
Those colossal losses cost the Axis powers nothing; not as
much as one 7.7 mm bullet.
It gets worse...
Almost 1,000 Army planes disappeared en route from the US
to foreign climes. But an eye-watering 43,581 aircraft were lost overseas including 22,948 on combat missions (18,418
against the Western Axis) and 20,633 attributed to non-combat causes overseas.
In August 1943, 60 B-17s were shot down among 376 losses. That was a 16 percent loss rate and meant 600 empty bunks
in England. In 1942-43 it was statistically impossible for bomber crews to complete a 25-mission tour in Europe.
Pacific theatre losses were far less (4,530 in combat) owing
to smaller forces committed. The worst B-29 mission, against Tokyo on May 25, 1945, cost 26 Superfortress, 5.6
percent of the 464 dispatched from the Marianas.
On average, 6,600 American servicemen died per month during
WWII, about 220 a day. By the end of the war, over 40,000 airmen were killed in combat theatres and another 18,000
wounded. Some 12,000 missing men were declared dead, including a number "liberated" by the Soviets but
never returned. More than 41,000 were captured, half of the 5,400 held by the Japanese died in captivity, compared
with one-tenth in German hands. Total combat casualties were pegged at 121,867.
US manpower made up the deficit. The AAF's peak strength was
reached in 1944 with 2,372,000 personnel, nearly twice the previous year's figure.
The losses were huge---but so were production totals. From
1941 through 1945, American industry delivered more than 276,000 military aircraft. That number was enough not
only for US Army, Navy and Marine Corps, but for allies as diverse as Britain, Australia, China and Russia. In
fact, from 1943 onward, America produced more planes than Britain and Russia combined. And more than Germany and
Japan together 1941-45.
However, our enemies took massive losses. Through much of
1944, the Luftwaffe sustained uncontrolled hemorrhaging, reaching 25 percent of aircrews and 40 planes a month.
And in late 1944 into 1945, nearly half the pilots in Japanese squadrons had flown fewer than 200 hours. The disparity
of two years before had been completely reversed.
Uncle Sam sent many of his sons to war with absolute minimums
of training. Some fighter pilots entered combat in 1942 with less than one hour in their assigned aircraft.
The 357th Fighter Group (often known as The Yoxford Boys)
went to England in late 1943 having trained on P-39s. The group never saw a Mustang until shortly before its first
combat mission. A high-time P-51 pilot had 30 hours in type. Many had fewer than five hours. Some had one hour.
With arrival of new aircraft, many combat units transitioned
in combat. The attitude was, "They all have a stick and a throttle. Go fly `em." When the famed 4th Fighter
Group converted from P-47s to P-51s in February 1944, there was no time to stand down for an orderly transition.
The Group commander, Col. Donald Blakeslee, said, "You can learn to fly `51s on the way to the target. (Note:
Gone West HNL QB Brewster Morgan (Morgan's Corner up in Nuuanu off of Old Pali Road), a Honolulu boy and a member
of the 4th Fighter Group, told me that they actually did stand down one day to transition from the P47 to the P51.
They were pissed that the old groups still had the P47 [Brewster was with the Eagle Squadron in the Spitfire......later
in the P47 when the US got into it in '42] and the newer groups coming over from the US all had P-51s. Blakeslee
finally convinced AF to let them convert by standing down just one day. An interesting side note........Brewster
was shot down over France in '44 and became a POW.......his roommate?.......Douglas Bader.......top English ace
with two wooden legs...Bader lost one of his legs when he bailed out and was captured.......the Germans asked the
Brits to send him another leg......which they did....BD).
A future P-47 ace said, "I was sent to England to die." He was not alone. Some fighter pilots tucked
their wheels in the well on their first combat mission with one previous flight in the aircraft.
Meanwhile, many bomber crews were still learning their trade:
of Jimmy Doolittle's 15 pilots on the April 1942 Tokyo raid, only five had won their wings before 1941. All but
one of the 16 copilots were less than a year out of flight school.
In WWII flying safety took a back seat to combat. The AAF's
worst accident rate was recorded by the A-36 Invader version of the P-51: a staggering 274 accidents per 100,000
flying hours. Next worst were the P-39 at 245, the P-40 at 188, and the P-38 at 139. All were Allison powered.
Bomber wrecks were fewer but more expensive. The B-17 and
B-24 averaged 30 and 35 accidents per 100,000 flight hours, respectively----a horrific figure considering that
from 1980 to 2000 the Air Force's major mishap rate was less than 2.
The B-29 was even worse at 40; the world's most sophisticated,
most capable and most expensive bomber was too urgently needed to stand down for mere safety reasons. The AAF set
a reasonably high standard for B-29 pilots, but the desired figures were seldom attained. The original cadre of
the 58th Bomb Wing was to have 400 hours of multi-engine time, but there were not enough experienced pilots to
meet the criterion. Only ten percent had overseas experience. Conversely, when a $2.1 billion B-2 crashed in 2008,
the Air Force initiated a two-month "safety pause" rather than declare a "stand down", let
The B-29 was no better for maintenance. Though the R3350 was
known as a complicated, troublesome power-plant, no more than half the mechanics had previous experience with the
Duplex Cyclone. But they made it work.
Perhaps the greatest unsung success story of
AAF training was Navigators. The Army graduated some 50,000 during the War. And many had never flown out of sight
of land before leaving "Uncle Sugar" for a war zone. Yet the huge majority found their way across oceans
and continents without getting lost or running out of fuel --- a stirring tribute to the AAF's educational establishments.
Cadet To Colonel:
It was possible for a flying cadet at the time of Pearl Harbor
to finish the war with eagles on his shoulders. That was the record of John D. Landers, a 21-year-old Texan, who
was commissioned a second lieutenant on December 12, 1941. He joined his combat squadron with 209 hours total flight
time, including 2 ½ in P-40s. He finished the war as a full colonel, commanding an 8th Air Force Group ---
at age 24.
As the training pipeline filled up, however those low figures
became exceptions. By early 1944, the average AAF fighter pilot entering combat had logged at least 450 hours,
usually including 250 hours in training. At the same time, many captains and first lieutenants claimed over 600
At its height in mid-1944, the Army Air Forces had 2.6 million people and nearly 80,000 aircraft of all types.
Today the US Air Force employs 327,000 active personnel (plus 170,000 civilians) with 5,500+ manned and perhaps
200 unmanned aircraft. The 2009 figures represent about 12 percent of the manpower and 7 percent of the airplanes
of the WWII peak.
Whether there will ever be another war is doubtful, as fighters and bombers have given way to helicopters and remotely-controlled
drones over Afghanistan and Iraq. But within living memory, men left the earth in 1,000-plane formations and fought
major battles five miles high, leaving a legacy that remains timeless.