General Arnold, at his recent press conference, surprised most of his listeners when he stated the first-line strength of the Luftwaffe has been well maintained and that it probably is nearly as high as it has ever been. This despite the undeniable evidence supplied by photographic reconnaissance, which has revealed very serious damage to a number of German aircraft factories.
General Arnold further pointed out, however, that this first-line strength may be only a shell, as the constant attrition of air battles and the destruction of production facilities has depleted the Luftwaffe's reserves to a dangerous extent. The German Air Force was probably at its peak during 1942 when production of all types may have been as high as 2,500 planes per month. At that time newly constructed or reconditioned aircraft were delivered from the factories to depots behind the lines and flown out to squadrons as required. Since the first of this year, however, fighters and bombers have been delivered directly to squadrons, and since February losses in the air and on the ground have been greater than monthly production. During April and May, the effect of this has been a very spotty fighter defense.
Our air leaders, on the other hand, have questions of their own to settle, and among them is: Exactly what will be the character of the air operation we must meet on D-day and thereafter?
New versions of the FW-190 are now in the air. Among them is one fitted with the powerful DB-603 inverted V-engine (1,700 hp), instead of the BMW-801 radial. Another (which may turn out to be the FW-290 or an advanced 190 series) is powered by the 18-cylinder 2,100 hp BMW-802 engine, similar in power to that of the Thunderbolt's Double Wasp, but a much lighter airplane. Improved supercharging and power-boosting equipment further improve performance.
A brand new fighter-bomber reported in action is the Arado AR-240 two-seater, powered by two DB-603's. Speed is over 340 mph and bomb load is 2,000 pounds. The new Junkers JU-288 has roughly similar characteristics, and is sufficiently different from the original JU-88 as to be classed as a new airplane. The ME-410 is still fairly new, frequently used in raids over England. The Dornier 217 has come up with a short-wing, heavily armed, specially equipped night fighter version. Heinkel has a new fighter/dive bomber which may be the "secret plane" reported by the German Transocean Agency a few days ago in London. At least one or two jet-propelled interceptors are reported to be in production and may be in limited service, said to be in the 500 mph class, with extremely fast climb. The Nazis froze their designs in the 1939-41 period in the interest of quantity production, research slowed down, and this impressive crop of newcomers is at least a year late.
Despite the great emphasis on fighters during the past 15 or 18 months, improved bombers are now reported in service. The FW-200, a long-range patrol bomber used as a spotter for U-boat wolf packs, is being gradually replaced by the more powerful Heinkel 177, fitted with two Daimler-Benz 610 engines (doubled 605's, making the 177 a 4-engine bomber for power, but with the efficiency of a twin-engine job). This big bomber, long under development and with more bugs than usual, carries a seven-man crew and up to four tons of bombs. This aircraft employs the Hs. 293 glider bombs against shipping.
Some of the unorthodox types which may be encountered include the Blohm & Voss BV-141 asymmetrical or offside reconnaissance plane (BMW 1,800 hp engine, some models possibly jet-propelled); the Siamese Wing, consisting of two Heinkel 111s joined together as a huge glider tug, with a fifth engine (BMW radial) added; and the giant ME-323 powered glider, with six Gnome-Rhone 900 hp engines, wing span of 180 feet, capable of carrying 125 or more armed troops. These are the Luftwaffe's "odd three" and there may be more. Time will tell.