Gradually getting used to this “no bandwidth limit on the smartphone” thing, I’ve been spending my evenings with Youtube documentaries lately. I was perplexed by a saying that was apparently current around the time the Brits were planning for the Battle of Britain, to the effect that “The bomber will always get through.” I wondered, how would they know? To the best of my knowledge at the time, prior to WWII Britain had only been bombed from the air by an occasional airship.
Turns out that is not the case. Turns out the Germans devoted substantial resources to bombing England in WWI with great big bomber aircraft, apparently because England was their only European opponent not getting its homeland kicked and they didn’t think that was fair or something. They didn’t do a lot of substantial harm, but they did bomb England with fixed-wing aircraft.
Their first generation of strategic heavy bomber was something called a Gotha…
And when that stopped working due to improvements in English fighter technology they came up with a real monster called the Zeppelin-Staaken, a plane with a crew of nine and a two-ton max bombload…
…and the Brits never succeeded in shooting one of those down. Hence the aphorism, “The bomber always gets through,” which they subsequently devoted much blood and treasure to proving wrong.
That got me to speculating: If the Germans hadn’t pointlessly given the English a taste of aerial bombardment in WWI, maybe the English wouldn’t have been as ready as they were for the Luftwaffe’s attempt to flatten their airpower in advance of invasion in WWII. Which could conceivably have led to the Germans successfully knocking England out of the war, which might have made WWII much harder for the Germans to lose.
Another thing I didn’t know – Those weren’t even the first big strategic bombers. The Russians did it first with something called a Sikorsky Ilya Muromets. Fun fact, it seems to have been originally designed as one of the world’s first closed-cockpit airliners, at a time when most aeroplanes still looked like bizarre kites.