What was the point of a dive bomber?

Why were there dive bombers in WWII? Did it give greater accuracy in delivering the bomb? How hard was it to pull out of the dive? Are there still dive bombers?

Oops - meant to put this in GQ. Have self-reported asking for a move.

Greater accuracy. Put a target on the floor, like a plate. Try to throw a coin so that it lands on the target. Make your first throw from a low angle and your second throw from a high angle. The high angle will be easier. The lower the angle, the greater the potential range error.

Digital ballistic computers, munition guidance and the general improvements in anti-vehicle weaponry have rendered dive bombers largely moot although I’m sure there’s some jungle army with one somewhere.

Agreed - accuracy was the upside. The more vertical release path lessened the chances of over/under shooting the target due to horizontal travel. The downsides were the need for speed management (most dive bombers had aerodynamic speed brakes to prevent them from getting too fast and breaking up in a dive…these also created the cause of the classic “Stuka” whine), and exposure to ground fire.

The Stuka whine of the JU-87 were from air-driven sirens. Basically small two-bladed propellers mounted on one of the main landing gear strut spats leading edge.

Bombing was notoriously inaccurate until well after WW2, and dive bombers could be much more accurate.

Bombing was revolutionised by GPS and laser guidance. Now you can pretty much guarantee accuracy. Nowadays a bomb knows where it is and where it needs to go and can fly its way there.

Soon we’ll be discussing phenomenology with them.

Thanks, that helps explain it.

How much training did the pilots need? Was it physically difficult to pull the plane out of the dive after bomb’s away?

The main advantage of delivering a bomb in a dive is that you don’t move over the ground so much, so your bomb delivery spot does not move around so much if your timing is a fraction of a second off.
Also, the sight (and sound, in the case of Stukas) of a diving bomber terrifies the guys on the ground, quite out of proportion to the actual danger posed to them.
And to a lesser extent, the bomb hits more vertically, and harder, than a bomb dropped from a similar altitude but level flight. This helps somewhat to penetrate bunkers etc.

The main disadvantages of divebombing are:

  1. You are flying into the ground. More, a spot of the ground that will very,very,very soon be the ground zero of an exploding bomb. You need to turn away from that spot of ground pronto
  2. To someone on the ground, your plane is briefly an almost stationary target in the sky. In addition, your exit line is 100% predictable. This tends to lead to increased involuntary ventilation holes for you and your plane.
  3. Diving makes speed. Too much speed can rip off wings. Too much speed can make your turn altitude be 10 feet under ground. Too much speed can make you black out when pulling out of your dive. All of these are Bad Ideas.

As for skill requirement.
Divebombing just requires steady nerves and “normal” good piloting skills, nothing extraordinary. It is much easier to get right than accurate high-altitude bombing, and utterly trivial compared to air-to-air dogfighting skills.

All the above info based on books written by British and German WW2 flyers. Stuff like “the decisive duel”, “Stukas over the steppe”, etc…

There are another couple of advantages- you come in high and fast, thus less time for flak. You can come in from the clouds, making the run a surprise.

The IJN was so busy with the American torpedo bombers at Midway, they they had their fighter cao down low and they were caught rather by surprise by the dive bombers.

But yeh, the main reason is accuracy.

Dive-bombers, once they had made it to their initial point, were almost unstoppable.

Bombers of all type (dive, level, and torpedo) were vulnerable to fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft fire when flying predictable paths.
Level bombers and torpedo bombers, by their nature, tended to fly straight paths from their initial point to their release point with no variation in altitude or in course, a course that could take several minutes to complete. This made them easy targets for fighters right up until release and allowed anti-aircraft gunners to predict where the bombers would be so that shells could be properly timed to explode near them.

Dive-bombers added a third dimension, altitude, to the equation. Very few fighters could follow a dive-bomber into the dive as they were not designed for the same kind of stress the dive bombers were. Anti-aircraft fire had to adjust to a target that was rapidly shedding altitude and thus range.

Anti-aircraft fire isn’t “there’s the plane, everyone shoot at it.” Most of the time there would be a battery of several weapons controlled by a single fire control point. Fire control would predict the path of the target and calculate a point for a barrage that intercepted that path. The battery would fire as rapidly as possible to fill the sky with shells at that point. Fire control would move the box but changes in course or altitude would easily throw the calculations off and delay the next barrage as the guns and shells were reset for the new range (the introduction of the radar proximity fuse changed this equation dramatically). Even with the best tachymetric systems available, a firing solution could take 10-20 seconds to develop. On top of that you have to not only aim the gun, but adjust the timed fuses so they might go off near the target.

Dive-bombers took about a minute from their initial point to their release point. Spending 20-30 seconds of that time generating and adjusting a firing solution is not a recipe for defensive success.

In WWII, the US Navy trained for vertical dives. Once you added in the lift component from the wings, this resulted in an apparent angle of about 70 degree path. Not sure how steep an angle was used in the most recent wars, I think most aircraft came in pretty low to avoid missiles.

If you’ve got about 20 minutes or so, here’s the training film.

As to this question, dive bombers were, of course, designed to pull out of dives, usually by deploying control surfaces specifically for that purpose.

I understand it was designed to pull up. But did it take greater physical strength from the pilot than normal flying manoeuvres? Was it a hydraulic-aided system like power steering?

Yes, control surfaces had hydraulic power. That was, by that time, pretty standard fare in warplanes. The US Navy’s SBD Dauntless, the plane responsible for the destruction of four Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway, was noted for the quality of its hydraulic dive brakes. Pilots of dive bombers were no stronger than pilots of other planes.

I didn’t even need to look at the link to know what it was going to. :smiley:

I once heard that The Admiralty was moved to Bath in WWII in the belief that the hills surrounding it would make it more difficult for dive bombers. Is that true?

The stuka in particular actually had a sophisticated system to pull the plane out of a dive using a form of autopilot, which meant that it would pull out of a dive even if the pilot blacked out. It didn’t just pitch the elevators - it was rather sophisticated and controlled diving brakes, flaps, engine settings, aircraft trim, etc.

Apparently there are only two intact Stukas left in the whole world. There are also some wrecks.

I remember a scene in an old war film where a squadron leader is talking to veteran pilots explaining that he himself being 25 was too old for aerial combat in fighters. Pilots blackout when all the blood drains from their upper body during dives. The younger, fitter pilots were better able to survive. The old fogeys became pilot trainers and probably lived a lot longer. Was that accurate?

I guess this was before they developed the pressure suit. Not sure when that came in to use.

Dive bomber pilots tended to be selected from fighter pilot candidates as opposed to bomber ones, but otherwise, were not particularly strong. And, unlike a fighter, its a predictable, timed dive, so a lot easier technically and physically than the often violent and “as required” manoeuvres of a fighter. On the other hand, if AAA saw you once yiu began your dive and they started firing, you were screwed, a fighter at least has a chance to avoid.

Stukas were withdrawn from the Battle of Britain due to mounting losses to the Hurricanes.

As an aside, I recall reading a USAF study from the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. They looked at the physical requirements for flying then modern fighters versus the WW2 era planes and concluded that something like 70% of the WW2fighter pilots, if magically teleported to the era , would not qualify.