10 Air Attacks that Shook the World
August 16, 2011
by Subhayan Mukerjee
Maintaining air superiority has been one of the cornerstones of every major war that has waged ever since the invention of the airplane; be it the classic World War I dog fights or the atomic bombings in 1945 to the more recent usage of droids in America’s war on terror. However if it is organized missions and calculated air strikes that we’re talking about, then it mostly begins post World War I. This list picks up ten such military aircraft missions that were instrumental in shaping world history, and politics. “Air power may end war, or end civilization” – Winston Churchill, 1933
The Bombing of Guernica
Aircraft of note: Heinkel He-111 The only major conflict during the otherwise uneasy lull in Europe between the two World Wars was the Spanish Civil War. Of course, relentless wars (or rather, bickerings) for Independence had been raging (in several Asian countries) for decades, none had escalated to the status of a full blown war, save for this. This was a typical Civil war: One faction of the population (the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco) fighting another (the Republicans who were protecting the left wing government). And as with most civil wars, the neighboring countries saw in this, an opportunity to intervene, and rally their own forces. As a result the Soviet Union sprung to the aid of the Republicans providing them with Polikarpov fighters and the Tupolev SB-2 bomber. Italy, under Mussolini, supported Franco. The Nationalists, however had asked for help from a far more formidable ally, in the form of Germany. Germany, who were looking for an excuse to divert international attention away from its own military
rearmament jumped to their aid. It sent in nearly 19000 odd volunteers into Spain, mostly from its Luftwaffe, and they formed what was known as the Condor Legion. Despite their seemingly amateurish roots, the bombers of the Condor Legion attacked the small town of Guernica in northern Spain on April 26th, 1937. Though Guernica was hardly of any strategic value from a military point of view, this one attack codenamed Operation Rügen , changed the world’s views on the potential of the bomber. For over three hours, German Heinkel He-111’s, accompanied by strafing fighters, pounded the small town with 45,000 kg of high explosive and incendiary bombs, decimating nearly a third of the entire population and injuring a thousand. Seventy percent of the town was destroyed and fires that started by the incendiaries raged for three days. For Germany this attack was a huge success because they had seen this primarily as an opportunity to test their own troops and equipment. This was also the first instance of a Nazi tactic that would later be known as carpet-bombing. Also, this raid made many other European countries fear Germany, and made them more yielding to the German demands. The bombing of Guernica was the subject of a famous anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso.
Blitzkrieg over Poland
Aircraft of note: Messerschmitt Bf109 Germany’s Blitzkrieg, or lightning war over Poland kicked off the Second World War on September 1, 1939. The Blitzkrieg was a kind of battle strategy that had never been seen before. It relied entirely on speed, tact, and surprise and was particularly devised to generate psychological shock and strew chaos all over enemy ground. A formidable combination of the German Luftwaffe, supported by ground forces proved too mighty for the ill-prepared Poles to counter. The best fighter aircraft in the Polish inventory, the P.Z.L P.11 was comprehensively outclassed by the hard hitting Messerschmitt in speed, maneuverability and strike abilities. Poland nevertheless, put up a brave fight. Though their defense ultimately failed, The P.11’s did claim 126 Luftwaffe aircraft in the process. The German Propaganda Ministry made a huge hue and cry over...