A Brief History
Earlier today, we included an article on “The Deadliest Bombing Raid of All Time“, when on March 9, 1945 the Japanese capital of Tokyo was bombed with high explosive and fire bombs killing perhaps 100,000 people and laying waste to one of the world’s largest cities. Here we have a list of 10 men who are famous or infamous in the field of military bombing from the air. One is from a motion picture, the others are all quite real. So, let us count down the top 10 famous/infamous bombers in military history…
10. Giulio Douhet.
An Italian General and Air Marshall that was one of the earliest proponents of airpower in a strategic bombing role, kind of the European Billy Mitchell. He is the inspiration for the adage “The bomber will always get through.”
9. Hans-Ulrich Rudel.
Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber pilot (for Germany) during World War II, he was the best of the best. Sure he sank a battleship (Russian), 2 cruisers, and a destroyer, but he also destroyed 4 trains, 519 tanks, 800 vehicles and flew over 2500 combat missions. (Note: The crew of the Memphis Belle was allowed to leave combat after 25 missions.) He also destroyed 150 artillery pieces and a lot of other allied equipment, including shooting down 9 allied airplanes. He was the only man given the highest medals Germany had to offer in World War II.
8. George H. W. Bush.
Not only was he the first president named George Bush, he was also the only US president to have been a bomber pilot. He flew US Navy Grumman TBM Avengers during World War II and was shot down, picked up by a US submarine and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.
7. Billy Mitchell.
US Army Air Corps advocate of bomber airplanes demonstrated the superiority of airplanes over ships by sinking World War I German battleships after the war. Court-martialed for insubordination, he was appreciated after his death with a Medal of Honor and by being the only person (ever) that had a US warplane named after him (B-25 Mitchell).
6. Jimmy Stewart.
Yes, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, famous movie actor and star of the film Strategic Air Command, was a bomber pilot in World War II and a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve.
5. Curtis LeMay
This USAF General led bombing of Japan and later ran for vice president in 1968 with Governor George Wallace. LeMay was famous during the Cold War as head of the Strategic Air Command (US Air Force bombers.)
4. Slim Pickens
This actor in the movie Dr. Strangelove, playing a B-52 pilot, rode an H-Bomb like a horse!
3. “Bomber” Harris
He led British bomber forces in World War II. The Air Marshall said that Germans “have sown the wind, now they shall reap the whirlwind.”
2. Jimmy Doolittle
He led the “Doolittle” raid on Japan in 1942, getting some measure of revenge for Pearl Harbor. Doolittle was quite a pilot, being the first man to fly an “outside loop” (normal loops you see at air shows are inside loops) and the first to take off, fly and land an airplane completely by instruments with no visibility outside of the cockpit. His raid was later recreated in a harrowing scene featured in the Academy Award-winning blockbuster 2001 film Pearl Harbor with Alec Baldwin portraying Doolittle, a man who did much! We strongly recommend seeing the Director’s Cut version of the film, which is far superior to the theatrically released version, and watching the companion documentary available as part of the four-disc Director’s Cut DVD release titled “One Hour Over Tokyo: The true story behind James Doolittle and the Tokyo Raiders” (50 minutes).
1. Paul Tibbets
He dropped the first atom bomb used in combat on Hiroshima near the end of World War II in 1945. He never regretted it and thought it was the right thing to do at the time.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you or anyone in your family ever flown bomber planes during wartime? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, see…
Lindqvist, Sven and Linda Haverty Rugg. A History of Bombing. The New Press, 2003.