13 Massive Air Battles That Changed World History

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

St. Mihiel, France
> Conflict: World War I
> Date(s) of battle: Sept. 12-16, 1918
> Combatants: Germany / United States, France
> Aircraft used: Germany 500 / U.S., France 1,476

The Allies were developing more sophisticated uses of air power in concert with ground forces in the last months of World War I. A major operation involved breaking through the salient around the French city of St. Mihiel, part of the “Hundred Days’ Offensive” by the Allies that ended with the surrender of the German Empire. The Allies utilized their nearly three-to-one air superiority during the battle, with each side losing about the same number of planes, and air power was a major factor in the Allied victory.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Khalkhin Gol, Mongolia
> Conflict: Soviet-Japanese border conflicts
> Date(s) of battle: May 11-Sept.16, 1939
> Combatants: Japan / Soviet Union
> Aircraft used: Soviet Union 900 / Japan 400

The Soviet Union was engaged in border disputes with Japan in the run-up to the Second World War, including the Battles of Khalin Gol, which lasted more than four months. The Soviet Union was victorious, but Japan produced a new hero in flying ace pilot Hiromichi Shinohara. Known as “The Richthofen of the Orient” (after famed WWI German flyer Baron Manfred von Richthofen), he had no flying experience before joining the military, but claimed 58 victories over a three-month period and on one occasion shot down 11 Soviet planes in one day. Shinohara was killed in aerial combat.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

> Conflict: World War II
> Date(s) of battle: July 10-Oct. 31, 1940
> Combatants: Germany / Great Britain
> Aircraft used: Germany 1,887-2,800 / Great Britain 675

After the spectacular fall of France to the Nazis in June 1940, Germany was poised to end all resistance in Europe by doing something no nation had done since William the Conqueror in 1066 – successfully invade England by sea. To do this, the Germans needed to defeat the Royal Air Force. Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering was confident that his Luftwaffe could do the job. But the British, supplemented by expat pilots from captive nations such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, were more than a match for the German air force. The long-running air battle marked the first success by the Allies over Germany and scuttled Nazi invasion plans.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

> Conflict: World War II
> Date(s) of battle: June 3-6, 1942
> Combatants: Japan / United States
> Aircraft used: Japan 272 / United States 348

Six months after the attack on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy sought to eliminate the U.S. aircraft carriers that had been out at sea that fateful day. American code breakers succeeded in determining Japanese naval strength and position ahead of a planned attack near Midway, an American island possession in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Tactical errors by Japanese leaders led to a crushing defeat as American aviators sank all four Japanese aircraft carriers. The Japanese lost 300 planes while the U.S. lost 145, and the Japanese never regained the naval initiative in the PacificI.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Dieppe, France
> Conflict: World War II
> Date(s) of battle: Aug. 19, 1942
> Combatants: Germany/Western Allies
> Aircraft used: Germany unknown / Great Britain, Canada 74 squadrons

Almost two years before the D-Day invasion of France, the Allies launched an amphibious attack on the French port of Dieppe with support from the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. The results were disastrous as invading troops foundered on the beach because Germany had advance knowledge of the invasion; Allied intelligence of German defenses was poor; and there was a lack of coordination. The Luftwaffe lost 48 planes and the Royal Air Force had 106 aircraft shot down. It was the largest single day of air combat in World War II up to that point.

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