The Second World War

September 1, 1939 - September 2, 1945

The Second World War began with propeller driven aircraft and ended with jets and rockets.

United States Army

US Army Air Force

Formed from the US Army Air Corps, the United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States Army during World War II. The USAAF controlled all parts of military aviation. When WWII began in September 1939 the Air Corps had only 800 first line combat aircraft and 76 bases. The USAAF began a rapid expansion and at its peak had over 2.4 million men, nearly 80,000 aircraft and 1,600 bases around the world. Army Air Forces flew 2,352,800 sorties and suffered 88,119 casualties and lost 65,164 aircraft in WWII while destroying 40,259 enemy aircraft. 36 members of the Army Air Forces received the Medal of Honor. The USAAF was the direct precursor to the USAF.


United States Navy & Marine Corps


The United States Navy began experimenting with launching aircraft from ships shortly after WWI and commissioned their first carrier the USS Langley (CV-1) in 1920. On December 7, 1941 the USN had 8 carriers, 4,500 pilots and 3,400 planes. By 1943, the Navy's size was larger than the combined fleets of all the other combatant nations in WWII. During WWII Navy and Marine pilots destroyed over 15,000 enemy aircraft, sank 174 Japanese warships, 447 Japanese merchant ships, 63 German U-boats and assisted in destroying 157,000 tons of warships, 200,000 tons of merchant ships and six Japanese and 20 German submarines. By the end of WWII, the United States Navy had added hundreds of new ships, including 18 aircraft carriers and 8 battleships, and had over 70% of the world's total numbers and total tonnage of naval vessels of 1,000 tons or greater. At its peak, the U.S. Navy was operating 6,768 ships on V-J Day in August 1945.


British Empire

Royal Air Force

After it was recognized that Germany was a threat the RAF began to rapidly expand in bother aircraft and personnel. At the beginning of WWII they had about 167,000 personnel and by the end of the war over 1,000,000. The Battle of Britain was the RAFs most famous battle of the war where the RAF defended Britain against the Luftwaffe. Bomber Command had their own theory of strategic bombing and built long range bombers to implement it by attacking German cities at night. The RAF, along with its Commonwealth allies, fought in all theaters of WWII with great distinction.

Great Britain5  UK RAF  UK RN


Service Aéronautique

The French Air Force's performance in WWII was severely hampered by poor strategy, tactics, aircraft, weapons and communications equipment. Many of the French combat aircraft were not even combat ready with so called technical problems keeping many planes on the ground and un-calibrated machineguns and missing bomb sights being common. After the French surrender most of the air force served the Vichy government, A few pilots and aircraft escaped to England and the Soviet Union where they continued to fight.

France3 Free France

Soviet Union

Soviet Air Force

During the initial stages of the German attack on the Soviet Union most of the Soviet air force was destroyed in the first few days (some 2,000 aircraft). While the Soviets were trained in modern air tactics they lacked experienced pilots, support crews and effective leadership. As the war went on Soviet aircraft production ramped up with about 125,000 combat aircraft being produced. The Allies also supplied about 15,000 aircraft. By 1944 the Germans had lost air superiority on the Eastern Front and the restored Soviet air force was able to take the offensive.


Nationalist China

Republic Of China Air Force

The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) was formed by the Kuomintang in 1920 and began to integrate the Chinese warlord air forces in the 1930s. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) they began attacking Japanese warships and performing ground attack missions. On August 14, 1937 Chinese fighters fought Japanese fighters in the world's first dogfight between all metal monoplanes. In April 1938 two Chinese B-10 bombers fly a mission over Japan but only dropped leaflets. Initially they were equipped mostly with US aircraft but by the beginning of 1938 better performing Soviet aircraft began arriving. However by the beginning of 1942 the introduction of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero had caused the almost complete annihilation of the air force. This forced the Chinese to look for outside help and lead to the formation of the Flying Tigers with heavily armed and armored Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. As the war went on the Flying Tigers were absorbed by the USAAC and the Chinese air force was rebuilt and equipped with US aircraft.



Polemikí Aeroporía

The Greek air force only had 79 planes at the beginning of WWII. Despite that they managed to hold their own against the mush larger Italian air force. When Germany entered the war against Greece in April 1941 the Greek air force was largely destroyed with only 9 aircraft escaping to Egypt. 3 Greek squadrons were formed in the RAF and served effectively during the war. In 1944 the air force returned to Greece.



Sily Powietrzne

Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej

In spite of being outnumbered and having obsolescent aircraft the Polish air force gave a good account of itself during the first two weeks of the German Invasion Of Poland. They shot down about 285 aircraft for a loss of about 333 aircraft. After the fall of Poland many Polish pilots to France where they formed a fighter squadron and several smaller units accounting for 7.93% of Allied victories. After the fall of France, many Polish pilots joined the RAF. All in all the Polish Air Force in the United Kingdom accounted for 5% of the pilots active during the Battle of Britain and were responsible for 12% of total victories. They went on to serve with distinction during the rest of the war.

Poland WWII

Nazi Germany


At the beginning of WWII the Luftwaffe was arguably strongest, most doctrinally advanced and most battle experienced air force in the world. Officially unveiled in 1935, the Luftwaffe was optimized to support the army's Blitzkrieg tactics. It's aircraft were technically superior to most other nations. It was a major reason for Nazi Germany's success in the war. Even though it was defeated by the RAF in the Battle Of Britain, this was only a minor setback. The Luftwaffe went on to annihilate the Soviet air force in operation Barbarossa while also fighting in North Africa, the Mediterranean and the English Channel. As the air war turned into a battle of attrition the Luftwaffe gradually lost air superiority and went on to the defensive. By mid 1944 it had virtually disappeared from the skies of Western Europe leaving the German Army to fight without air support. It continued to fight into the last days of the war and fielded a revolutionary new generation of jet and rocket powered aircraft. During WWII the Luftwaffe shot down about 70,000 enemy aircraft for a loss of about 70,000 aircraft. 2,500 pilots shot down five or more enemy aircraft and 103 shot down more than 100 enemy aircraft each. The Luftwaffe fielded about 95,000 aircraft during the war. The Luftwaffe also fielded it's own parachute troops (Fallschirmjäger) as well as several Luftwaffe Field Divisions including the Hermann Göring panzer division. They also fielded an enormous number of anti aircraft troops.

Germany Nazi

Japanese Empire

Imperial Japanese Army Air Service

The Imperial Japanese Army Air Service was the Japanese army land based air force. Founded in 1919 they began producing aircraft comparable to current Western types. It's primary mission was to support the Army and it focused on ground attack and tactical air defense leaving long range strike and strategic defense to the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. By 1941 the Army Air Service had about 1,500 combat aircraft. In the first years of the war they proved to be very effective owing to a combination of technically advanced aircraft, experienced pilots and lack of preparation of the allied forces. As the war continued Japans limited industrial capacity proved to be unable to produce the huge volume of aircraft needed to fight the war. Also, as experienced pilots were lost they were unable to adequately train replacements due to a lack of fuel and time. Eventually this forced them to resort to kamikaze attacks. Japanese aircraft were generally very maneuverable however they almost all were poorly armored and lacked self sealing fuel tanks causing them to become very vulnerable to the better armed and armored Allied planes.

Japan Rising Sun

Japanese Empire

Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service

The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service was the air arm of the Imperial Japanese Navy. They were responsible for the operation of naval aircraft and long range strike and strategic defense. They acquired their first aircraft in 1910. Initially producing copies of Western aircraft, they quickly began building their own sophisticated aircraft. The IJN launched the world's first purpose built aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. Naval pilot training was excellent and produced a group of well trained, long serving pilot corps. It was these pilots who produced the striking early Japanese naval victories. After the Battle Of The Coral Sea and the Battle Of Midway and the sinking of 5 aircraft carriers and heavy damage to another and the heavy loss of pilots the Air Service began to rapidly decline. They were unable to adequately train replacements due to a lack of fuel and time. This resulted in increasing losses of poorly trained pilots as the war went on. By the end of the war the navy was reduced to launching land based kamikaze attacks. Japanese aircraft were generally very maneuverable however they almost all were poorly armored and lacked self sealing fuel tanks causing them to become very vulnerable to the better armed and armored Allied planes.

Japan Rising Sun

Italian Empire

Regia Aeronautica

The Regia Aeronautica was founded on March 28, 1923. It entered combat in 1935 in Ethiopia and then went on to fight in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 where it had considerable success. In 1940 when Italy entered WWII the air force fielded about 3,000 aircraft, although only about 60% were serviceable. While Italian aircraft designs were advanced for the late 1930s, they did not have the manufacturing capacity to keep up with the other major WWII powers. Besides the Mediterranean and North African theaters the Regia Aeronautica fought on the Russian front and over England. After the Italian surrender in September 1943 some pilots fled north to form the Republican Air Force and continued to fight for Mussolini. The majority of the Regia Aeronautica took up arms against the Axis, flying over 4,000 missions between September 1943 and May 1945.

Italy WWII



The Finnish Air Force was founded in March 1918 making in one of the oldest in the world. During the Winter War the Soviet Union deployed about 700 fighters and 800 bombers against the Finns 31 fighters and 17 bombers. Despite their overwhelming numerical superiority the Soviets were unable to cause significant damage. As the war went on the Finns were able to purchase some additional aircraft. By the end of the war the Finns had shot down 218 Soviet aircraft while losing only 47. By the beginning of the Continuation War Finland had been able to bring their strength up to about 550 aircraft of a wide variety of types. Their main mission was to achieve air superiority over Finland and prevent Soviet air power from reinforcing their front lines. The fighter squadrons were very successful during the Finnish offensive of 1941. As Germany began to supply aircraft to the Finns the older types were gradually replaced. The Finnish Air Force did not bomb any civilian targets during either war. They shot down 1,621 Soviet aircraft while losing 210 of its own aircraft during the Continuation War.

Finland  Finland_Air_force1


An tAerchór

The Irish Air Corps began as the National Army Air Service in 1921 during the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks when a Martinsyde Type A Mark II was purchased and put on 24-hour standby at Croydon Airport to allow Michael Collins to escape back to Ireland if the talks failed. This became the first National Army Air Service aircraft. By the end of 1922 they had six Bristol F2B fighters and four Martinsyde F4 Fighters and about 400 men. The name was changed to the Irish Army Air Corps in 1924. It remained part of the Army until the 1990s. In the 1930s they acquired the Gloster Gladiator, Avro Anson Mark I, Supermarine Walrus, Westland Lysander Mark II and several trainers. During World War II there are no records of Air Corps planes engaging any belligerent aircraft. They Hawker Hector light bombers and seized interned a Hudson, a Fairey Battle and three Hurricanes. After the war the Hurricanes were replaced by Supermarine Seafires and Spitfire trainers. Avro Anson light transports were operated as communications aircraft between 1946 and retirement in 1962. After WWII the Air Corps gradually added jet aircraft and helicopters. Today the Irish Air Corps main missions are maritime patrol and search and rescue.


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