The Battle of the Bulge began Dec. 16, 1944. It was Hitler's last desperate attempt to turn the tide of the war in favor of Germany and the Axis powers. His intention was to split the Allied forces -- composed mainly of American and British military -- in half, encircle and destroy them. The Allies managed to thwart Hitler's plan, and much of their success can be attributed to superior airpower.
The Allies relied on several types and models of aircraft to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. The British Supermarine Spitfire was used as a fighter, bomber and a reconnaissance aircraft. The British Hawker Typhoon was used against ground forces and carried hundreds of pounds of bombs and rockets. The American P-51 Mustang could fly long distances as an escort for other aircraft that were more vulnerable. The B-17 Flying Fortress was a bomber that could endure significant amounts of enemy fire and was armed with up to 13 machine guns. The American P-47 Thunderbolt was lethal because its heavy design allowed it to withstand much more damage than other fighters, giving it more time to terrorize the enemy's ground forces.
German forces relied heavily on air support during the Battle of the Bulge, committing 2,400 planes to the effort. Among the German planes were the Heinkel He 111, which was a heavily armed bomber loaded with up to seven machine guns. The Germans also relied on ME-262 jet fighters, which were so fast that it was almost impossible for the Allies to defeat them in the air.
The Germans began the Battle of the Bulge by using aircraft to attack a thin section of the Allied forces in the Ardennes Forest, near the border of Belgium and Germany. The Allies were surprised by the offensive. This surprise, together with weather conditions that grounded Allied aircraft during the first few days of the enemy's attack, allowed the Germans to wreak havoc on the Allied ground forces. The Germans succeeded in splitting the Allied forces in half.
Allied Counteroffensive: Air-to-Air Strategy
The weather cleared Dec. 23, 1944. The Allied air forces were ready to strike. Their primary objective was to achieve and maintain air superiority over the German forces, which they quickly accomplished because the German air offensive was poorly coordinated. Severe fuel shortages and the long distances between the battlefield and air bases also exacerbated the German air force's weak performance.
Allied Counteroffensive: Air-to-Ground Strategies
After achieving superiority in the air, Allied air forces focused on air-to-ground operations. They had several objectives: to attack German ground forces; to disrupt German rail supply lines; to delay and obstruct German supply lines on the road; and to destroy all German storage and supply facilities near the Ardennes Forest. The attack on German supply lines was critical to an enemy that was already running dangerously low on supplies. As the battle continued, German tanks and trucks would often run out of gasoline, forcing their crews to abandon them.