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Dive bombing

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Dive bombing was a technique of tactical bombing from aircraft, pioneered by the United States Marine Corps in Haiti in 1919. Lieutenant (later brigadier general) Lawson H.M. Sanderson discovered he could deliver bombs much more accurately in a 70-degree power dive on the target, than by the then-accepted technique of horizontal bombing from medium altitude. It became an official U.S. Navy technique, although the Army Air Corps believed that its much-overrated bombsights could achieve equal accuracy.[1] Unquestionably, the technique was demanding both on aircraft and crew; if the gravity experienced during the dive rendered the pilot unconscious, a fatal crash was unavoidable.

Airframes of dive bombers had to be reinforced to withstand the accelerations both of the dive and the sharp pullout.

World War II

The German Luftwaffe was enthusiastic about the technique, and Adolf Hitler eventually, and unrealistically, demanded that every German aircraft, even medium to large bombers, must have dive-bombing capability. Early in the war, they were especially effective with the Ju-87 Stuka, which, in support of ground troops, not only dive bombed, but did so while using a purpose-built siren powered by the airflow of the dive. The scream of a diving Stuka was unmistakable and terrifying in Poland and France, but the slow Stuka was not survivable against the better-organized integrated air defense system encountered in the Battle of Britain.

Dive bombing was, however, one of the basic U.S. Navy methods of attacking ships at sea. While the dive was a predictable path, it was at high speed. It was far more difficult to shoot down a SBD Dauntless dive bomber than a torpedo bomber that had to fly a low, straight and level path at its target. Navy doctrine called for simultaneous dive and torpedo bombing attacks against ships, forcing the defenders to honor two quite different threats. Fighter aircraft would protect both types against enemy aircraft, and increasingly would direct independent gun and rocket light attacks against the ships.


  1. Robert Guttman (July 2000), "Curtiss SB2C Helldiver: The Last Dive Bomber", Aviation History