Considering the Spitfire's chronic lack of range, was the RAF doing unescorted bombing runs over Nazi Germany in 1940-42 or did they have another fighter that escorted their bombers?

2 Answers 2


Most bombing by both the RAF and USAAF was partially or fully unescorted.

Early in the war, virtually all long-distance bombing raids took place at night to avoid the possibility of interception. The Germans used searchlights and AA guns to try to combat this. Later in the war they developed night fighters.

The United States eventually perfected daytime, high-altitude bombing. This required aircraft with oxygen supplies and masks, as well as a very sophisticated bomb sight.

The diagram below shows the evolving range of possible escort during the war:

increasing escort range

As you can surmise from the diagram, before 1943 any bombing beyond the area of the English channel or other allied bases was unescorted.

  • 3
    "The United States eventually perfected daytime, high-altitude bombing." cannot accept these, it was highly inaccurate area bombing no better or worse than British, the Norden bomb sight was much hyped but results were not any better than the British.
    – pugsville
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 6:42
  • @pugsville - Isn't "not any better" itself an accomplishment though? This allowed the two allies between them to carry out 24-hour bombing operations without a huge drop-off in quality.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 7:18
  • @pugsville I think Tyler Durden is speaking about the capacity to launch raids with numerous aircrafts at high altitude, with escorts Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 18:23
  • @Tyler Durden: you forgot to mention the radar covergae against night and day raids Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 18:23

The RAF, as a general rule, conducted all of their bombing operations against Germany at night. Escorts were not really necessary under these conditions and probably would have been more of a liability than any protection. The USAAF believed that they could conduct precision daylight bombing and executed their operations against Germany during the day. The American leadership initially believed that the B-17 and B-24 bombers were so heavily defended that they would not need to be escorted. When this was proven to be incorrect, it lead to the rapid and joint British-American development of the P-51 Mustang (North American air frame with a Rolls Royce engine). The P-51 became the best all-around fighter of the war. It should be noted that the British bombing operations at night were highly successful, albeit inducing civilian carnage that today's society would have fits over.

Strategic Bombing during WWII

  • And then the Germans created night fighters equipped with radar that could find the bombers in darkness, in clouds, and shoot them down without ever being seen...
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 4:16
  • Lower numbers would have gone a long way to mitigating that. The RAF changed tactics to confuse the ground based interception Radars - essentially by overwhelming them. In May 1942 in the 1000 bomber raid on Cologne the RAF only lost 4 aircraft to night fighters. When the Germans created aircraft mounted sets a series of defections allowed the RAF to create countermeasures that jammed the German Radar sets.
    – Kobunite
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 8:13
  • 2
    That "general rule" was a sudden change of doctrine, adopted after unescorted daylight raids early in the war, which resulted in unacceptably heavy losses (e.g. Heligoland Bight) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Heligoland_Bight_%281939%29 Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 18:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.