(See also the new post on picturing massive numbers here.)
I've written four or five posts on glorious quantitative visual displays of massive amounts of WWII bombers, most of which I've gathered together below. This subject came up today when I found another of these images in a small hand-out broadside published by the National Savings Committee of Great Britain, urging people to save money and be thrifty, keeping money in the banks, in an effort to control prices and have money available to the government for war production. The legend states: "For it is by the measure of our self-denial that we can prove
worthy debtors to our airmen; and by our Savings that we can help to give them wings for victory". The point is driven home by a now-familiar representation of hundreds of bombers rising from the horizon--a remarkable vision, especially if you tried to visualize the real thing.
Here are a few other similar images:
(A) This widely circulated and published photo appeared in 1942 (particularly in LIFE Magazine in 17 September 1942 and the Illustrated London News in the next month), and showed 4,500 aircraft models suspended from the ceiling of Chicago’s Union Station It is the result of an inspiration derived from President Franklin Roosevelt’s assertion that America would produce 185,000 war-focused aircraft in 1942 and 1943.
The planes in this photo were hanging 60-feet above the floor of the station, with wing spans between one foot and four feet (for the bombers). It was a fantastic, blustery, iconic effort to show what it meant to look at 4500 planes—and these paled in comparison to a drawing (which I unfortunately do not have) that appeared in the Illustrated London News on 21 February 1941, showing the entire production fleet of 185,000 aircraft—a column of planes one mile wide and 117 miles long.
Using this photo then to interpolate that full production figure of 185k, you’d have to piece 48 of these photos together to show full production, or a version of this photo that was 8 inches wide and 32 feet long. (The second image of Union Station and the planes is by FSA photographer Jack Delano.)
(B) This arresting cover image for The Illustrated London News of 21 February 1942 illustrates the (new) American production program for planes and tanks for 1942 and 1943 (It reminds me too of an earlier post I did with a similar cover for LIFE magazine here.) The caption reads: "185,000 planes form a mile-wide blanket of bombers under a blanket of fighters stretching 117 miles" which is actually a double blanket of planes--if they were thinned out to form one layer it would stretch one mile wide from Washington D.C. to New York City, which is quite an unimaginable ribbon.
The reality of the situation was greater than this: by 1945 over 300,000 planes were produced, 275,000 of them after Pearl Harbor. And this from a combined aviation industry which before 1939 had produced fewer than 6,000 planes a year. The war effort increased this by orders of magnitude, and by war's end there were 81 production facilities with a combined area of 175 million feet, all bumped up within four years. I've never read about it, but I have no doubt that one of the key ingredients to this sort of hyper-successful undertaking was organization--the oversight and control for this process must've been fast and decisive, with little room for mid-level anything. I think that this is the only way the whole thing could've worked so well.
(C) This tremendous display is half of a double-page spread that appeared in The Illustrated London News for 7 September 1940. It was meant to bolster the civilian population of Britain during the time of the German attacks, shoping that "Over one thousand Nazi aircraft (were) brought down over Great Britain in ...20 Days..." The artwork, drawn by Bryan de Grineau, actually depicts 1000 planes, and accurately depicted ones at that. What the graphic doesn't tally though are the airmen losses, which would be considerably more thanb the 1000 aircraft: for example, of the aircraft involved in the sustain air-invasion of England, the Dornier 215's had a crew of four, Dornier 17's three, Heinkel 111's four, Messerschmitt 110's two, and Junkers 88's three. Thus there were thousands more airmen lost, a commodity that the Nazis could little afford.
(This continues a thread on The Battle of Britain and also a post on "What 185,000 Planes Looks Like").
The results of the battle (and if you take a look at this earlier post for the full narrative), in terms of aircraft and humans,
were, for England: 1,023 fighters: 376 bombers, 148 coastal command aircraft for a total of 1,547 aircraft and 544 pilots and aircrew killed. There were also 27,450
civilians killed and 32,138 wounded. The Germans lost 873 fighters and 1,014
bombers for a total of 1,887 aircraft and 2,500 pilots
I find this visual display of quantitative data beautiful and compelling--and overwhelming in its way.
The Battle of Britain was fought primarily from 10 July to 31 October 1940, so by the time this image was published the Brits had been able to turn the tide of Hitler's plan. (The air strikes wouldn't really end until the Nazis turned their attention to the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa in May 1941.) And that plan, named Luftschlacht um England, was to overtake and destroy the British capacity in the air, for as long as the English had command of the airspace there would be no way that the Nazis could force an invasion by land/sea (at least in the minds of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and Hitler). And so the Nazis failed--it was their first major defeat, and, especially, with the turning of attention east, it was a pivotal point of the war.
(D) This last image is a “Not a Display of Toys”, shows only one section of a large airfield “in Europe” (actually in U.S.-administered Munich). There’s about 300 B-17’s (e?) parked wingtip to wingtip, off duty now from the fight in Europe, but (as the caption says) prepared for a fight in Japan. I don’t think anyone in high command had any doubt that these planes had seen their last action. The atom bomb worked, and would work again (and again, and more so if necessary), and the fear that these planes would make their way East was not a real concern. This photo represents about 7% of the highest number of B-17's in service in Europe at any given time.