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SS Youth in
Beyond Normandy




Leyte Gulf:
U.S. Army Air Force

With our Leyte Gulf game nearing completion, it’s well past time for a look at another aspect of the game: the truly awesome aircraft fielded by the U.S. Army Air Force. We’ve looked at the Navy’s second-generation planes, and these include some outstanding airplanes. But the Air Force has its own wonder weapons.

The B-29 Superfortress is an awesome weapon. Its range and land attack factor only fit on the counter with difficulty; during game development, some of the playtesters suggested just putting the “infinity” symbol in place of its range (anything the American player might want to bomb will be within range of this plane’s bases). It also has by far the toughest defensive armament of any bomber in the game series.

And that’s without the atomic bomb.

Democracy’s ultimate weapon.

The B-29 took surprisingly long in development, considering its technological superiority to all other such planes when it did enter service in the spring of 1944. The Superfortress had no paint job, in order to save weight, but by this point the USAAF’s generals had come to believe the silvery metal finish of their planes was in itself beautiful and had eschewed camouflage.

The operations against the Marianas, an important part of the Leyte Gulf scenarios, were intended to gain bases from which the B-29 could bomb Japan. The heavy raids against Japan continued until the end of the war, but B-29 squadrons based on Tinian, Guam and Saipan also hit targets in the Philippines in support of the American invasion.

One of the finest men I ever knew. The author’s father’s CO,
Benjamin O. Davis Jr., in a P-51B.

The strategic bombing campaign in Europe also showed the fine qualities of the North American P-51 Mustang fighter. The P-51B, with its Merlin engine, was already an outstanding combat plane when the D model introduced the “bubble” canopy for greater visibility. The P-51D entered service in the spring of 1944, and it is the best fighter seen so far in the game series with an air-to-air combat factor of 7 (no plane other plane has better than a 6) and outstanding range. The Navy and Marines’ F4U Corsair has a similar range but a lower rating; the Corsair is tougher to shoot down, though.


The Air Force preferred to vary its sources of aircraft, and the P-47D Thunderbolt served alongside the Mustang. This was a gigantic fighter plane, the largest built by any nation during World War II, coming in at 19,400 pounds against 11,600 for the P-51D or 13,000 for the Corsair, themselves large fighters.

The P-47D had been designed around a powerful engine, the 2,000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp, and all the power allowed it to carry a large array of ordnance. While it was formidable in air-to-air combat, it also made an excellent fighter-bomber. And it was a tough plane, capable of absorbing a great deal of punishment.

The plane’s B model entered service in January 1943 in Europe, and the P-47D first saw service in the Pacific late that year. It also armed the Mexican Air Force squadron that appears in Leyte Gulf, and was the plane flown by the famed “Tuskegee Airmen.”

In game terms, the P-47D has a ground attack strength usually only seen on small bombers (it’s actually better against land targets than anything the Japanese have). Only the P-51D has a better rating in air-to-air combat, and only a handful are its equal (F4U and the Japanese A7M “Reppu” — but the Japanese plane is only available as a hypothetical, as it did not enter service in any numbers). Like the F4U, the P47D is tough to shoot down. The P-47B model is also in the game; it’s also frightening in air-to-air combat but has merely mortal range and ground-attack characteristics.

As if this quality was not enough, the Air Force also has huge numbers of each of these planes: 24 B-29 counters, for example, and 18 of the P-51D. In the historical scenarios, it rapidly becomes obvious why the Japanese believed they had to defeat the American invasion fleet: If they allow the Americans to obtain bases for aircraft like this, their own planes will be blown out of the sky. Even in the “worst case” scenarios giving the Japanese the aircraft types and numbers that American planners saw as the maximum possibility (and these are wildly generous when seen in the light of 60 years’ historical hindsight), the Japanese can’t stand up to aircraft like these. They’re going to have to depend on the fleet.

Mike Bennighof
April 2005