How did Close Air Support action work in WW2?

How different was CAS in WW2 compared to other conflicts like Vietnam and Iraq?


Depends. Radio communications were more ubiquitous in Iraq and Vietnam. Generally, the guys on the ground in WW2 could not connect directly to the aircraft overhead. These aircraft would be ordered to an area to ‘attack the enemy’ by sight - which is why ‘Identification Panels’ and clear sky-visible markings on many armored vehicles - to tell aircraft who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Also, the enemy could be identified by colored smoke shells (recall in “A Bridge too far”, Michael Caine shouting into his microphone, “START THE PURPLE!”)

“Close air support” was generally recognized to be as dangerous to friendlies as enemys, unless the enemy could be clearly identified.

Artillery support was better in WW2 than air support, largely because of “Forward Observers” could direct and readjust fire.

Hope this helps!


Xfiles is totally right. WW2 didn’t have the communication worked out to do good CAS. It got better :grinning:

Watch “we were soldiers’”. Fun movie but 1 guy with a radio talking to air support from multiple branches of service. All that was brand new in the 60’s. Nowadays you begin to see shareable data links and a much more complete where CAS can begin to also direct ground fire to support their efforts.

More data is a good thing, once you figure out how to process it.


Not informed on post WWII, but for US tactical air operations by the 9th AF I recommend Thomas Hughes “Overlord Gen. Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power…”. It follows the development of tactical air combat from North Africa to The end of the War. After early failures, miscues and some pretty sketchy ideas, Quesada put together a new doctrine and created a highly effective force, including pilots on the ground with acting as liaisons and directing the attacks. Sadly, he and his techniques were shunted aside after the wars end, only to have to be relearned later.


Like much on WW2 it changed a lot between combatants and over time.
Early in the war the Germans had air liaison detachments with ground forces units that could pass requests directly to Luftwaffe headquarters to arrange support strikes. They also used ground markers to provide information to aircraft. But they didn’t go much beyond that, probably largely due to the progressive decline of the Luftwaffe tactical forces.
The British started the war with woeful coordination only bring done at headquarters level. The British started to get their act together in N Africa with the RAF commanders Tedder and Conningham. Started with air liaison at corp and division level they kept improving so by the time you of the fighting in Tunisia they had forward air controllers at the front, each of whom had their own cab rank of aircraft that they could directly talk to and direct to targets as identified. The idea being that as targets were identified an aircraft would be called from the airborne cab rank to strike it and then return to base to rearm,meanwhile a fresh aircraft takes off to replenish the cab rank. After this the RAF were just refining the FAC system rather than making major changes.
The senior leadership of the USAAF really opposed ground support and initially entered combat unprepared. They started copying the British, but it wasn’t until mid '44 that they got their act together. But CAS was always the poor relation; even in Korea there was a distinct preference for CAS by Navy/Marine flyers rather than USAF.
The US Navy/Marines in the PTO embraced FAC and developed the use of tactical air support with FAC to a degree that probably matched the British.
Afraid I don’t know details of Soviet CAS processes or how they developed.
I am not even sure if the Japanese developed the concept.

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As others have already stated Air Support was spotty at the best of times and while it did improve as the war went on it was often a crap shoot as to whether you were hit by friendly fire or enemy fire.

While there are no accurate measurements for those hit by friendly Air support I did read that if your unit requested air support there was a 1 in 4 chance your unit would be hit by friendly fire that increased or decreased depending on a number of factors including landmarks, size of attacking or defending force, how close you were to the enemy, how many air support craft were involved and so on.

I remember reading about Canadian units in Holland often would rather have artillery support over air support due to artillery being more accurate per se.