Aluminum Overcast

The B-36 is really worthy of a post of its own, but I’m just too lazy to write it right now. I tend to think of it in terms of Strategic Air Command and the nuclear bomber role. But design actually began in 1941, with the vision of a conventional bomber that would strike the heart of Germany from bases in the US. As such, it carried a massive bomb load. And for the first time, I’ve found video of it actually dropping conventional bombs. It’s clearly the forefather of the Arc Light.


9 thoughts on “Aluminum Overcast”

  1. I wonder if Luftwaffe aircraft could have been effective against the B-36 had the war lasted into 1946-47. With a 48,000 pound payload, the heart of Germany would have been destroyed.

    1. The piston engine fighters would likely have been rather ineffectual, but the jets such as the Me262 would have still been a credible threat.

      Also, one thing the 20thAF learned in bombing Japan with B-29s was that really high altitude bombing was a completely different matter than what the B-17s and B-24s were doing. Adding just a couple thousand feet to their ceilings put the B-29s in the jet stream. The incredible wind speeds (and the difference between surface and winds aloft) mean they couldn’t hit a city, much less a target. That’s the primary reason the B-29s switched to incendieary raids against Japan. Whether the same issue would have arisen from B-36 raids against Germany, I don’t know.

    2. Weather conditions over Japan, especially with the jet stream, made precision bombing over Japan a nightmare. LeMay relieved Possum Hansel because he wasn’t making things work with the 29. LeMay ended up fearing he was going to be relieved because he wasn’t doing any better than Hansel. Then he got the idea for the fire raids, and those were a slaughter.

      The jet stream rarely caused problems in Europe as it normally swung to the north over the North Atlantic. That was not the case over east Asia. It often played a role even at altitudes as low as 30,000 feet. We were bombing from altitudes as high as 40,000 feet over Europe. Even without the jet stream, precision bombing became harder as operational altitudes increased. That’s nothing I wouldn’t have expected.

      I would side with LeMay that the Nukes really weren’t necessary. All they were waiting for was the one thing they would not quit fighting without, recognition of the Emperor. I firmly believe the nukes the nukes did not end the war. Unconditional surrender was not going to work with the Japs anymore than it did with the Germans. And certainly was not going to work if they were going to kill Hirohito. Japan would have gone down in flames first.

  2. Hard to say if the Luftwaffe would have been effective against it. I doubt we would have fielded a significant number of 36s by the end of ’47. The amount of material required to build one of them was immense. A change of spark plugs alone required, iirc, 385 plugs. Our industry was pretty much maxed out at the time and we would have had to divert a lot to build the things.

    The Luftwaffe had the basics of what we had in the 50s, If the could have come up with some kind of homing system for the rockets they tried against the 8th AF raids, then yes they could have murdered the B-36, or anything else we flew over Germany. If they had to rely solely on cannon, then they would have been no more effective against the 36 than against the 17 or 24. There would have been fewer 36s flying, however, and every one that went down would have had a much higher price tag attached to it. The 17 and 24 were expensive enough.

    1. There was actually a fiction novel written around just that scenario. Titled “The Big One,” if I remember correctly, written by a Stuart Slade. Britain capitulated under the leadership of Lord Halifax, but most of the Royal Navy and a hunk of the RAF escapes to Canada with the Royals.

      Fast forward to 1947 and the war is ended when a couple dozen nuclear weapons gut Nazi Germany in a single day. Pretty impressive novel from what I remember.

    2. If the AAF tried to raid Germany with just a few 36s, it would have been a slaughter. The number of fighters available to meet them would have been so large they would have overwhelmed the Bombers defenses. If Britain had surrendered (or did what was the sensible thing, end their involvement in the war as Churchill knew he should) then Germany and the Soviets would have could have destroyed each other. Ivan would not have made it without our help and we would have been shed of Stalin. Hitler had no desire for world domination, but Stalin did.

    3. It wasn’t just a few 36s though. The Peacemaker got priority production and there were at least a couple hundred in the raid in June ’47 that dropped over 200 nuclear weapons on Nazi Germany.

      My understanding of the situation was that the Peacemaker could simply fly higher than just about anything the Germans had, and that the utility of the German “wunderwaffe” uber-weapons is grossly overstated. Would it have been hard to crack the Nazi ADS? Probably. Could they have killed enough Peacemakers to prevent crippling nuclear strikes on their population and production centers? I don’t think so.

      And in the book, the US helps Russia hold the line at the Volga. Costs us 1.2 million KIA and the Russians even more, but the line is held, Russia is no longer Communist, and Hitler was evaporated along with the rest of Berlin. And quite honestly, think that would lead to a better world than the one we have today.

    4. 200 36s would not have made it. The Germans had the Me-262 and jet technology would have improved by leaps and bounds. If the Germans had an additional 2 years to build a Jet AF, and with the fall of Britain, Festung Europa would have had a lid as well.

      German industrial production did not fall appreciably until the 8th AF started the oil campaign. Oil refineries were far more delicate than industries supported by machine tools. Had we been forced off the British Isles, then an air campaign would have become, for all practical purposes, impossible. The furthest we could have gone and still maintained any sort of campaign would have been Iceland.

      I doubt we could have maintained logistical support to Iceland with the Atlantic essentially becoming a German Lake. They had discovered air independent propulsion, and we weren’t even close. The only way we could have beat that was with a nuke sub, and we were quite aways from that.

      I realize it’s just a novel, but it’s improbable. The Stalin factor, by itself, would put paid to that. We couldn’t even maintain the shuttle bombing scheme because of his paranoia. IT sounds like it might be a good yarn though.

      For another very good yarn, try Turtledove’s “Guns Of The South.”

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