Prelude to War
Las Palmeras was the successor of the great Tohorinese Empire, discoverer of the Maraconesian Isles and a nation renowned for its sailors and outstanding naval tradition since antiquity. Our Marina's role as a Spanish vassal was seemingly fixing the errors of the European Armada, and we played a dangerous Cat-and-Mouse game with the Royal Navy for centuries. The Palmeran Isle fought a standstill in the Spanish-American War and inflicted modest casualties on the relatively small US Navy (at the time) in exchange for heavy casualties on our own side, peace conditions for a status quo ante bellum for the recently independent nation was a declawing of our greatest asset: our once proud Navy.
In exchange for a clean slate, heavy artillery and Maxim guns...and the overall size of the Army...was reduced. The same could be said of the Navy's tonnage. For 50 years Las Palmeras was bound to oblige: that was the price for giving Uncle Sam a bloody nose in a defensive war. After being humiliated by U-Boats in the Great War, the Palmeran Staff had to think outside the box: and they thought up making an Air Fleet to patrol the sea and gratuitously bomb any would-be invaders, the aim was already to go above and beyond tactical support as the Air Fleet was no army's handmaiden, it had to deliver decisive strategic blows almost alone. After all, being written in the turn of the century, the Treaty said nothing about aerial warfare.
During the inter-war years, it was generally understood by the military and statesmen alike that modernizing the Palmeran Military would become necessary if our military capacities and political projection were to be taken seriously, thus theoretically dissuading attackers. At the time, Las Palmeras was no signatory of the Washington Naval Treaty after the Great War. It did not matter: desperate times called for desperate measures, and the nation took to sea birds for inspiration to fix its broken wings. It was under this political climate that the Blue Wind Plan (1924) was drifted and accepted (in 1926) to lay out the improvement of the defensive capability the Home Island, that is, our Navy, albeit not under a traditional navy: inspired by Futurism and a desire to bypass arms limitations, the nation sought to create an Air Fleet, conspicuosly placed as part of the small army as the Royal Palmeran Army Air Force in English, or RPAAF.
Because to the Great Depression, the plan was actually semi-secretly expanded, under the guise of "civilian contracting" and deficit spending, it was placed into action to keep the Shipping, Aluminium work, Mining and infrastructure ventures in action as those industries and enterprises were funneling their products in the nascent Air Industry, originally an enterprise of Aviation Clubs and ventures of ex-noble family groups like the Shinahari Company. Other works, like making measurement tools, and tests in pressurization, were disguised by construction companies or processing efforts that were also overhauling civilian infrastructure, updating factories and creating "civilian" aerodromes near the shores to protect shipping.
The Palmeran State disregarded the first and second London Naval Treaty, mostly citing the economic need to carry out pre-established manufacturing contracts...not that the public plan violated any international arms limitations even if it did reach the limit of tonnage established by the 50 year Paris Treaty. The final (public) version of Blue Wind, which had already been at work for almost a decade prior, called for the following:
10 to 15 Destroyer Escorts/Frigates.
A very long-range maritime patrol aircraft/passenger plane, with a "considerable" cargo load.
A long-range single-seat escort for the aforementioned patrol craft.
To compensate for the lack of battleships, carriers and cruisers, it was decided that several Air Groups with easily-replaceable torpedo bombers, dive bombers and recon planes would be in charge of repelling threats from surface ships and submarines in a projected range of up to 1200 to 4000 km away from our shores (though the plan wasn't completed at the start of 1942, by which, the war was nearing its end). With it, airplane production behind the Aluminum and civilian liner industries began to boom...though some claim we spied on M*tsubushi; but to our defense, the parallel developments of Palmeran and Japanese air aviation and torpedo design can be attributed to the shared need to compensate protection for long maritime distance in the first case and to bypass heavy guns by making very heavy long-range torpedoes in the latter. Admittingly, the modern post-Fubuki destroyer designs that became standard were "borrowed".
The Shinahari S-36 Albatross in civilian use, originally designed as an ambitious luxury Trans-Atlantic passenger plane, would be remembered for gaining a new lease on life when modified as a very heavy strategic bomber which would rain disaster onto German industrial targets.
Eager to avoid a repeat of the humiliation of the Great War, LP's Legislature approves of an "Armed Maritime Peace" plan, and used its armed trawlers to escort shipping convoys of aluminium and crab meat destined to Great Britain and France if near the isle. Most of these BB, BT, ST and RT (Bahamas, Bristol, Southampton and La Rochelle) routes faced no hostility, though some reported trailing by U-Boats, which at the time were based in the Baltic and had to head south.
The Cairo Incident happened in 6/Oct./1939: A British tanker, Cairo, which had damaged its propeller in a Bahamian reef and fallen short of its convoy asked to be allowed inside a Palmeran Merchant Navy convoy, and the captain of the escort, (...) complied, unaware of intelligence reports on the merchant raiders and thinking that the British ship would go unnoticed in the group. The convoy were stopped by the "pocket battleship" Deutchland at 6:46 AM, which was hunting for Allied ships near the Bahamas lane at the time. Two air groups (+60 planes) are sent to hunt after it. The enemy battleship is sunk at 1:12 PM local-time in exchange for just one plane lost, though several are damaged.
On 9/Oct/1939, the Palmeran State and Nazi Germany were formally at war. Las Palmeras would spend the following seven months preparing for a war they only partially anticipated: recruiting needed personnel, arming trawlers as cheap surface naval defense, training new recruits, prepping the existing air-fleet, modifying S-36 planes for a military role, and producing more aircraft in assembly lines.
Between the Summer and Fall of 1940, the Palmeran Great Fleet had been sent to the United Kingdom, along with close to 126,000 personnel, a logistical feat on its own for our modest-sized nation. By then the offensive posture of Germany after it's invasion of France that year had lost steam and the Luftwaffe's grinding battle of attrition in the ongoing Battle of Belgium had convinced Palmeran General Headquarters that they could hasten the war's end by focusing on the strategic aspect of their "maritime reconnaissance planes", or bombers.
30/September/1940- The Great Air Fleet was battle-ready, reorganized as the 1st Bomber Command, formally headquartered outside of Lancashire, totaling more than 420 heavy bombers and close to 165 fighter planes divided into multiple Air Groups in several airbases around Northwest and Northeast England. The reason for not being stationed in Southern France was perhaps an over-cautious fear of German air raids hitting the expensive bombers on the ground. Though the planes could attack Hanseatic objectives directly, striking at targets in Southern Germany meant flying around France and making round trip of more than 2,600km, though the bombers could afford the range to make the journey. The Great Fleet was, at first, relegated to maritime patrol duties, in part this decision was approved by Palmeran High Command because of the need to keep U-Boats in the Baltic and away from our Southern shipping routes.
28/September/1940- The war's first Palmeran aerial kill: One Fw200 "Condor" is shot down by two Shinahari CM-39 fighters over the North Sea. The CM-39 was designed to patrol the seas around the Home Island, and fighters of Air Groups Menae and Sheru, stationed in Northumberland, proved vital in holding the Fw-200 maritime raider aircraft at bay, greatly helping RAF Coastal Command during the initial phases of the war.
25/December/1940- Patrol craft are responsible for sinking 5 U Boats and up to 34 Fw200 Condor planes by Christmas. By the end of 1940, the Italians had backed down to attempt hostilities against the French and they utilized previously tied up naval assets to aid the British Home Fleet's in the Baltic, holing up U-Boats and the Kriegsmarine more effectively.
Tired of being the "Cinderella Service", the first conflicts among Allied High Command begin, with Air Marshal Thoma Tamayo pugnaciously debating that his bombers can do a lot more than maritime patrol, and presented previously-laid out plans for an ambitious raid. French military leader, General Georges Blanchard, is skeptical and British Coastal Command takes the news with disappointment, RAF Bomber Command is enthusiastic. Tamayo goes ahead regardless.
1/January/1941- Palmeran air power is debuted on New Year's Day over Willhelmshaven, over 200 S-39/40 heavy bombers drop 1800 tons on dockyards, warehouses and oil storage tanks and lose only 3 planes to anti-air flak guns. A smaller strike group of 80 bombers with fighter escorts raid Luftwaffe bases in Norway.
3-5/February/1941- Set of daytime raids on U-Boat yards and/or oil storage facilities in Willhelmshaven, Bremen and Hamburg. Inconclusive result though Hamburg's docks and fuel tanks were reportedly set on fire for almost two days. Heavy losses, 45 bombers are lost (about 10% of the Air Fleet) and +540 pilots are killed or captured. The least damaged units, Air Groups Menae and Sheru, are switched to duties in night raids as the rest of the Fleet took a hiatus for several months in order to recover from its losses.
20/April/1941- Hitler's 51st Birthday. Maj. Gen. Tamayo is against the operation as it had little strategic value but concedes its' a PR mission for the Allies and a propaganda attack against so he orders a token volunteer unit be selected. muster up about 20 aircraft and crews in total whose goal is to target the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof (a railway station). The RAF conducts the majority of the bombing, with the RPAAF and the Armée de l'Air contributing only with token forces. No RPAAF planes are shot down though all craft are damaged.
6-14/July/1941- Operation Magic Broomstick, a.k.a "The Big Hit". To support the upcoming offensives in Belgium and the Low Countries, Allied High Command deemed it appropriate to apply pressure on Nazi aircraft production and win air superiority. Maj. Gen. Tamayo organizes the RPAAF's string of raids among several cities in Saxony and Bavaria to strike at airplane assembly lines, SynthOil plants and ball bearing factories. The majority of RAF Bomber Command's medium and heavy bombers were also to participate. This time the bombers counted with over 126 CM-39 fighter escorts that had disposable fuel-tanks and further protection from AdA fighters. This Allied operation coincided with the ongoing "Night Blitz", when hundreds of Nazi bombers stationed in Northwest coastal cities, attacked London to politically pressure them.
The Allied raids ended up dropping roughly 21,000 tons on their targets and the Big Hit nearly exhausted the air crews -many which participated in almost 1,600 sorties all together- and the RPAAF suffered a horrifying drop of 16% available bombers (64 destroyed), more than thrice the maximum projected loss sustainability rate from the previous year and the fighter escorts lost 19% of their planes. In total, over +808 pilots were killed or captured. In contrast, its estimated that the Luftwaffe lost up hundreds of planes and 1 out of 4 of their best fighter pilots, many whom were killed and irreplaceable. Damage to the Nazi aircraft industry was inconclusive though. The RAF and the RPAAF could train a new pool of recruit pilots and eventually rebuild their losses, the Germans couldn't.
Despite these terrifying losses, the Wehrmacht...or Hitler and the SS...nonetheless decided to try to counter-attack the Allied armies in Belgium, and in Operation Bodenplatte (20/August/1941), the Nazis pitched their fighters in trying to destroy the RAF and AdA . Tactically, the Luftwaffe won a day's Pyrrhic victory and suffered losses between 33% to almost 50% of their available fighter strength; strategically the Luftwaffe was beyond salvation or repair by that point, they lost their ability to attack, let alone defend their own airspace while their armies were overrun. Though the French never came to understand the strategic importance of bombing during the war, their never-ending tactical raids whittled down the technologically superior German radar systems, even if the Nazis themselves failed to maximize its use and never developed a coordinated ground-controlled interception network. French actions in Southern Germany also helped spur enemy fighter sorties, which made useful if not uncoordinated distractions, or made the interceptors sitting ducks and spectators if the Air Fleet were to attack after the Germans spent their fuel.
By October of 1941 its suspected that the Nazis were more reliant on observers from civil defense than complex radar systems and successful interceptions had already begun to decrease dramatically since the previous two months.
29/November/1941- RPAAF bombs Leuna Works in Anhalt-Saxony (the Reich's biggest synthetic oil plant) with over 250 planes, roughly 1400 tons of bombs are dropped and 6 bombers were shot down. The chemical complex was set on fire for several days. From there on RPAAF operations turned East as the British had the Ruhr by then the French were pushing into Rhineland; that is, industry there was ironically off limits.
25/December/1941- Operation Fireplace: Bombing of oil storage facilities in Hamburg and Stettin with 325 planes.
The start of the year went swimmingly: the Nazis had lost a good chunk of their industry, the RPAAF struck with near-total impunity, "fighter screen" tactics allowed for escorts to directly attack enemy fighters in advance of the bombers and strafe at enemy airfields, flak was thinning out as the Germans were running low on copper, successful interceptions from a poorly trained and weakened Luftwaffe were rare and cooperation with British peers was at an all-time high.
And then the British Air Marshal was replaced by another that favored area bombardment (in entire cities) over precision bombing. With the end in sight but with no way out other than forward to avoid bankruptcy (as the Allied powers would lose their dollar reserves by summer and talks over loans with the US had broken down), the Allies wanted to destroy German morale. This new policy wanted to turn the German civilians against the Nazi Party and Hitler, after the SS purged any "defeatist" generals months prior. Thoma Tamayo and Palmeran High Command objected and wanted to continue to hit industrial targets -specifically Synthetic Oil refineries, then factories, then rail stations- and refused to intentionally target residential areas.
4/January/1942- 190 bombers and 100 fighters set out to destroy railways and barracks in Dresden to support ongoing Polish uprising. Only 2 aircraft are shot down. Several Luftwaffe interceptors are reported as shot down or strafed in the ground.
1-6/February/1942- Bombing of German-held positions in Warsaw. Follow-up attack on Dresden's warehouses and train station. +6 heavy bombers lost.
16/February/1942- USSR declares war on Nazi Germany. Soviet reserve forces in Europe annex the Baltic countries and attack Königsberg.
6/March/1942- Surrender of Nazi Germany. "Reich-Chancellor", Herman Goering, surrenders to the Supreme Allied Commander (General Alphonse-Joseph Georges) because Hitler was "incapacitated". In the months and years to follow, much of the RPAAF's crews would come to Germany as Survey and Damage Assessment groups and even as a re-purposed occupation force.
Conclusions in Hindsight: was bombing worth it?
Historians, military analysts and political commentators to the day continue to debate the value and contribution of the air campaign: French sources tend to down-play the importance of the Air Fleet and consider that French blood on the battlefield won the war, and that slogging the Germans into a financially unbearable war of attrition worked as planned. Palmeran sources, on the other hand, tend to argue that strategic bombing put a fatal dent on Nazi industry, knocked out the Luftwaffe's best and contributed to claiming Allied air superiority in the war. British historians now tend to doubt that bombing led to a decisive knock-out blow but do contend that it did hasten Nazi Germany's defeat. Even the most conservative of French military figures admit the RPAAF was a beneficially giant distraction, considering that it statistically took over 8,000 shells of multi-purpose 8.8 cm Flak to successfully take down a bomber, the RPAAF effectively made the Germans waste a lot of munitions that could've otherwise be used at the front as anti-tank weapons or artillery, without mentioning the toll on the already precarious demand for copper within German industry.
Ethically, some consider that bombings were immoral, though that could be seen as too idealistic and within LP, some pacifists were even rebuked as Nazi apologists for it. The general consensus among veterans being that that the enemy forfeited the right to complain when the Nazis indiscriminately bombed many civilian urban areas around Europe and would've done the same to the Home Island if given the chance. Palmeran High Command officially stated that "precision bombing" was designed to minimize "collateral damage", but were limited with the technology of the era. The general consensus is that the Air Fleet did its best to avoid civilian casualties, with their analog sights committed to focused area bombardment, and anything else would either have been ineffective or suicidal.
The bold appearance of heavy Palmeran bombers over the Reich prompted the enemy to try to upgrade their interceptors and an arms race between both nations began, albeit mostly in the form of upgrades to existing platforms. Following July of 1941, the enemy abandoned the production of bombers in favor of single-seat fighters, but the effort was too late. Early on in the campaign, the Germans assessed that the BF-109F's 15mm cannon and 7.92 machine guns weren't enough to take out the S-40 bomber without sustained fire (20% of +2000 fired bullets hit with the technology of the era) in the rear, much less the earlier BF-109E variant which only had machine guns. By which then, they were vulnerable to the bomber's defenses if they stuck around for too long or got close. Such a conundrum led them to rush production of the BF-109G model, with two 13mm cannons instead of machine guns and a few variants at the end of the war had a 30 mm (1.18 in) cannon which was probably rushed into production judging by its poor performance, atrocious recoil and bad accuracy; nonetheless, lucky hits proved to be fatal to bombers. At the final phases of the war, the Folke-Wulf 190 interceptor was also pressed into service, its' development into the production-lines was also sped up, and it was also a formidable foe if it didn't mechanically fail.
Bomber Command replied to German developments by adding more armored plates to the plane and improving the self-sealing fuel tanks, issuing flak-jackets to air crew, and also increasing the amount of American made .50 cal machine guns to defend the bombers. By the end of the war, most S-40 bombers had eight machine guns in the fuselage, two at the nose, one at the tip, two in lower ball turret, one at the top of the cabin and one 20mm cannon in the tail...totaling 14 defensive guns. Even from the start, the Bf-109s were unused to combating heavy bombers with many machine gun turrets, and they soon received the nickname of "Flying Porcupines", as the RAF they previously encountered preferred the opposite approach: to ditch MGs in favor of efficiency and bomb load. After surveys stated that bombers unfortunate enough to have strayed off from V formations accounted for most casualties by fighter, Bomber Command began to fly in staggered formations. This added the slight problem that badly-timed bombs could hit friendly bombers below should planes cross paths, but it also made defense easier as machine gunners could lay down suppressive fire in kill-zones should enemy fighters fly around them.