Carrier Operations A Few Concepts from the early war years
Mix of Aircraft . Four squadrons made up the air unit of a fleet carrier. Fighters, scout bombers, dive bombers and
torpedo bombers were of about equal numbers at the
start of the war. It was soon found that there were not enough fighters to
provide both escort of bombers on strikes and for defense of the task force
at the same time. Then number of fighters was gradually increased throughout the war
until towards the end, when there were great numbers of carriers, some carried
only fighters dedicated to providing CAP for the task force and escort of missions.
Other carriers were dedicated to night operations. Such specialization freed
other carriers from these interruptive activities.
Pilot training .
Early naval aviators were trained in all four
tasks of aircraft. Specialization began with the increase in pilot training about the time war started in Europe.
Scout and Dive Bombers were the same type of aircraft and they were
used interchangeably. This meant that early in the war, there were twice as many
of this type of aircraft aboard and equal to the number of torpedo bombers and
Torpedo bombers .
Early torpedoes of all types, aerial,
submarine, and surface launched were highly inaccurate and unreliable. Although
a torpedo could be a devastating weapon, early successes were rare. The slow speed
of the torpedo meant that the plane had to launch from ahead of the target ship
because the ship could simply run away from a stern launched torpedo. The slow speed
of early torpedo bombers meant
that they had trouble getting ahead of a turning ship. Because torpedo bombers
were required to fly low and slow and to maneuver near the target, they were
specially vulnerable to defending aircraft and anti-aircraft fire during their attack.
After losing entire squadrons at Midway, TBs were reserved for second strikes
or used as horizontal bombers against land targets. The number of torpedo bombers was gradually reduced.
Launch Sequence .
Various aircraft types have different amounts of time they can remain in the air.
"Forming up" is the process during which the first launched planes will circle
while later planes are taking off and gain altitude and gather into the attack
formation. Speed of Launching
operations is critical so as to minimize the time and fuel lost in forming up before the
strike departs for the target. The three aircraft types: fighters, torpedo bombers
and dive bombers had vastly different air times. At the start of the war the
launch sequence was wrong with fighters sent up first. This was probably to provide
protection while the bombers were launched.
It was discovered that fighters lost so much air time waiting for the bombers to
launch that some
fighters returned to refuel and then catch up with the departed bombers.
It became obvious that the correct launch sequence was to put the long range dive
bombers in the air first and for the shorter range torpedo bombers next and then
release the flight to the target. The shortest range fighters launched last,
because they were fastest, they could catch up before the bombers reached
the target. Protect of the fleet was performed by a separate operation of CAP.
Combat Air Patrol -- CAP . These are fighters intended for
defense of the task force that circled the task force and was available to attack
snooping enemy scouts or incoming enemy formations. A few planes were
almost continually in the air. When a raid was expected, the CAP was enlarged
with elements deployed in the direction of the attack to intercept, interrupt
and destroy the enemy before it got to the task force.
Anti-submarine patrol was performed by torpedo bombers where the extra
eyes of a three man crew could keep good watch. It was found that they could
also provide defense from attack against enemy slow, low torpedo planes.
Flight Characteristics . Saunter - Flight for maximum time in the air. This was for defensive
patrolling to conserve fuel.
Linear - Flight for maximum distance. This was important to reach
a distant target or to allow maximum search distance.
Buster - Flight for maximum sustained speed.
Gate - Fly at maximum speed, this meant pushing the throttle past
the RPM limiting gate. Also called War Emergency Speed and was only used in actual combat
because the engine could be damaged.
Point Option A carrier is one place when a flight takes off ; it will be someplace else
when the aircraft returns. The planned movement of the carrier during
the flight is the continuously changing "Point Option" where the carrier
is expected to be at any time. A typical example is that the carrier plans
to continue steaming course 270 at speed 25 knots. Point Option can be
worked into battle plans to allow striking a target beyond normal range of the
aircraft by having the carrier close with the target while the aircraft is in
the air. During a four hour mission, the carrier may reduce the return
flight by almost a hundred miles. However, continued flight operations
may require the carrier to change heading to steam into the wind to launch or recover
other aircraft. An unfavorable wind direction can cause
the carrier to not be able to make the forward progress expected. A change
in the course of the task force will destroy the Point Option planning
for aircraft in the air. Under condition of radio silence the returning planes
will find empty sea where
they expected to find their home base. Both problems occurred during the maximum range
attack made at Midway and many fighter aircraft and crews were lost.
Reconnoscience is vital in the determination of battle plans. Battles have
been won and lost on a scouting report. Conditions that make reporting
Weather - cloud cover can prevent an entire fleet from being sighted.
Enemy aircraft -- cause a scout to seek cover clouds that also prevent sighting.
Obvious a scout shot down does not give future information. However, a clever Japanese admiral
was able to suspect the presence of an American carrier when his scouts in one sector
Enemy anti-aircraft fire keeps the scout from closing for good identification.
Ship recognition -- a carrier is a large, flat ship. So is a tanker.
The Japanese wasted a major strike on oiler Neosho at Coral Sea when he thought he was sending his planes
against Yorktown or Lexington. Common destroyers are frequently
reported as more significant cruisers.
Camaflague. This is a whole topic. Japanese carriers had the outline of a
battleship painted on there flight deck, guns and all. The bow wave of a ship
gives a good hint at the ship's speed. False bow waves and disruptive patterns
were painted on the sides of ships to confuse submarine, air, and surface observers.
Position reports -- locations were only know by guessing locations based on
the scout's course, speed and time of travel.
Coding -- errors in transmission of sighting reports cause erroneous actions
to be taken. One report of a carrier and two battleships caused a major US strike
launch on a target that was really a cruiser and two destroyers when a radioman
put his finger on the wrong line of the code sheet.
Incomplete reports -- a report might leave off one piece of information making
the whole report meaningless. This was specially true of other intercepting a good report
but because the sender was not know. The home location knew where the scout was supposed
to be, but others receivers were left in the dark.
Scout not knowing the big picture. -- Australian pilots were key in the early
SW pacific. Yet they did not know of current USN operations.
Radio silence -- it was up to the scout to determine if the sighting was of
sufficient merit to break radio silence. Silence protected the scout and also kept
the enemy from being sure he had been sighted. Japanese ship commanders would often
reverse course when known to have been sighted to foil attacks.
Predisposition of thinking.
An Australian sighting of Japanese ships heading towards Port Moresby was take by
Washington to be Fletcher's fleet on a raid on Rabaul. Stupid, but...
Failure to receive. The radio station at Townson? airfield was down because of
an air raid when sighting was made of a Japanese cruiser force heading to attack the
US on the invasion beaches at Guadalcanal.
The pilot had to break off the search to return with the report, but too late.
Delay forwarding reports. The chain of reporting from MacAurthur's
SW Pacific Command to Nimitz South Pacific Command sometimes took eight hours.
Too many messages. Dozens of messages are received at once, detection of
the significant ones is often difficult.
Radio conditions -- specially in the tropic Pacific were horrible early in the war.
Bad radio conditions prevented flights being redirected after launch.
Radio chatter -- all aircraft radio traffic was on one frequency. Contact reports were
lost in poor radio discipline by excitable fighter pilots. "Got the bugger" would
mask a report of an approaching flight of bombers.
Inadequate equipment -- Equipment was upgraded during shipyard overhaul periods.
Saratoga had particularly bad radio reception during several critical battles early
in the Pacific War.
Pre-Radar. Radar was still experimental and only certain ships were equiped..
Different models of radar were installed as ships received overhauls and
therefore radars of different characteristics existed between ships and most did
have any radar.
Early-Radar. Intrupereting radio signals was as much art as science and
clouds and natural features could hide or distort a reading. Blue (DD-) never saw the
approaching enemy cruisers at Savo with the signal lost to rain and nearby islands.
In the Battle of the Pips, in fogbound Aleutian waters, a US force attacked radar contacts
where not there. It was later suspected it was reflection from several
enemy submarines some distance off in the fog.
Natural phenomena -- several isolated reefs were taken for ships and
attacked, some were so realistic they were attacked multiple times over the months.
RADAR . Research and development efforts were divided among several vital
Air search was the earliest usage, to extend discovery of approaching aircraft
at a distance above the horizon.
Surface search was used for detection of surface contacts, such as
submarines, for station keeping and navigation, and for range and direction of warships at night.
Fire control radar was specialized from surface search as needed for determining range and
bearing, specially at night or bad weather; this allowed Americans to eventually match and exceed
Japan at night fighting.
Airborne radar extended search capabilities at a
greater distance and at night and poor weather, as well as target acquisition.
Airborn radar had to be made smaller and rugged to withstand the controled crash of carrier landings.
An extension of radar was the
proximity fuse that allowed shells to detect and explode near air targets.
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of the early years.
Last updated on October 25, 2006
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