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Reflecting on D-Day: world-class training led to air supremacy

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Clint Atkins
  • AETC Public Affairs
Many know June 6, 1944, as D-Day, the day when more than 150,000 Allied Forces stormed the Nazi-occupied beaches of Normandy, France, selflessly risking their lives to establish a strategic beachhead.

Though the victory came at a high price, few friendly casualties were lost to enemy aircraft that day, largely due to the expert training American aircrews put to good use in the skies over Europe.

Prior to the invasion of Normandy, Allied Air Forces' air campaign against the Luftwaffe and German war factories crippled the Nazis' ability to effectively project air power over the theater.

"The air campaign had succeeded so fabulously that the Allies did not just have air superiority for the cross-channel invasion, but air supremacy," said Gary Boyd, Headquarters Air Education and Training Command historian. "The Luftwaffe had been decimated in the months and weeks leading up to the invasion. Germany lost almost half of all its available fighter pilots every month from February 1944 until D-Day. That was a staggering attrition rate and speaks to the general excellence of American training."

During the first six months of 1944, 6,813 bombers dropped 16,522 tons of bombs on aircraft factories, and 8,257 bombers dropped 21,268 tons of bombs on airfields and air parks. More than 3,500 enemy aircraft on the ground were destroyed or damaged.

Allied Air Forces ruled the skies over the theater with P-47 Thunderbolts, P-51 Mustangs, P-38 Lightnings, Spitfires and Hawker Typhoons. Within the five months prior to D-Day, Allied Air Forces killed 2,262 German fighter pilots. By May 1944, the Luftwaffe lost 50 percent of its available fighting force.

The historical military aviation achievements on and leading up to D-Day in Europe began with world-class training back in the United States.

By 1943, Army Air Forces Flying Training Command, what is now known as Air Education and Training Command, was effectively producing planeloads of pilots. Nearly 47,000 pilots graduated pilot training during the command's peak in 1943. The Army Air Forces Technical Training Command also reached an extraordinary level of production in 1943, graduating almost 644,000 technicians.

The U.S. Army Air Corps, which soon became the Army Air Forces, led by Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, masterfully implemented a vast expansion of its aviation training capabilities in 1942. The two decades prior saw relatively little production with a total of only 15,000 technicians, and even fewer pilots, graduated during those years.

When Arnold merged the flying and technical training missions July 31, 1943, creating the Army Air Forces Training Command, the command's size was larger than today's entire U.S. Air Force. At the height of World War II, the command boasted 461,656 personnel and 438 training bases.

The never-before-seen level of world-class aviation and technical training allowed the Army Air Forces and its allies to control the skies and provide game-changing support to the warfighters on the ground.

"No other nation could compete with the quality, consistency and industrial scale of American flying and technical training," Boyd said. "It was simply staggering. Our enemies were in denial at the scale and quality of the training effort. Nothing before or since has equaled the training efforts of the United States in World War II, and nowhere was its impact more telling than over the skies of Normandy."

Today, AETC has 23 wings at 12 bases that educated and trained 261,752 Airmen in fiscal year 2013, and continues to follow the precedence set by the World War II-era Airmen who established the U.S. Air Force as the best in the world.

"AETC proudly carries on the tradition of world-class training. Our high standard of excellence is forged from the fires of the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command," said Gen. Robin Rand, AETC commander. "Through all the years our mission remains support the warfighter by training Airmen who can deliver airpower wherever and whenever called."