Monday, March 9, 2015

Benelux Airpower – 1940

The Luftwaffe trained intensively for close air support (CAS).Many personnel had combat experience in Spain and Poland. Luftwaffe headquarters were located with the headquarters of the army units they supported. Air liaison teams attached to Panzer divisions provided CAS within 45–75 minutes of a request. In contrast, the Allies had no specialist CAS aircraft, training, or doctrine. Allied air-ground communications and liaison were very poor. Superior logistics enabled German aircraft to fly more than four sorties a day, whereas French fighters and bombers flew 0.9 and 0.25 sorties a day, respectively.

Germany began with diversionary thrusts into Holland and Belgium that drew Allied forces forward to be cut off by another German thrust through the Ardennes to the English Channel. In three days, the Luftwaffe secured air superiority, annihilating the Belgian and Dutch air forces and destroying 229 French aircraft on the ground.

German airborne troops neutralized Belgium’s Eben Emael Fortress and seized Dutch airfields and bridges. Holland surrendered after a rapid German ground advance and a brutal air raid on Rotterdam. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe shielded German forces in the Ardennes from Allied reconnaissance.

Belgian Air Force
The Belgian Army has not always been small. In 1940 the Belgian Army counted no less than 550.000 soldiers, ten times the total size of its current military forces. But because of the small size of the country, and the tradition of cutting the defence budget every year, the Belgian Army has nearly always been, with exception of a few elite units, a second-rate force with obsolete equipment. On 10 May 1940, the day of the German invasion, the Belgian Air Force had 182 combat aircraft, but of these only the 11 Hawker Hurricanes were modern aircraft, while the Fiat C.R.42s and Fairey Battles were new, but inherently obsolete. Because of the vulnerability of the territory, it was inevitable that in both world wars the Belgian forces had to rely strongly on their allies. During WWII this meant that the few Belgians in military service after the occupation of the country itself, were part of foreign forces. For the air force, this also meant using foreign-built aircraft. Especially after WWII, when the original air force, created in 1913, had been destroyed and a new one was created by transferring Belgian RAF units. The British air force structure was later replaced by one along American lines, when US aircraft were delivered under the MADP program.

The market for home-built aircraft was always small. Until 1940 there was a small industry that built a number of own designs. The most famous of these is the Stampen-Vertongen SV 4 training biplane, a popular aircraft for aerobatics. Bombers and fighters comparable to the aircraft of other countries were also built, but were seldom granted a production contract. WWII put an end to most of the national aviation industries design capability.

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