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Series / Dogfights

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Dogfights was an American documentary series that aired on the History Channel from 2006-2008 that usually covered Ace Pilots from World War I to the present and future. On occasion, however, they would cover other, related topics, namely during several episodes that focused on World War II. The show recreated historic battles in CGI, accompanied by interviews with military and history scholars and (with the exception of World War I dogfights) surviving participants of said battles.

This show provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Most of the pilots featured on this show.
  • Anti-Air: Several, notably all of the USS Laffey's armament, as well as the German battleship Bismarck's and Japanese battleship Yamato's 20mm and 25mm anti-aircraft guns.
  • Armor Is Useless: Played straight and averted in different contexts.
    • In the air, there are significant trade-offs to armoring a plane and the applicability of the trope varies in part by time.
      • Particularly during WWI-era dogfights, which predate the introduction of incendiary rounds, the trope is played straight. Since most WWI planes were made of wood or metal skeletons with fabric stretched over them, most bullets that didn't hit the enemy's engine, fuel tank, gun, or pilot would tend to just pass through without doing much real damage, while later planes would tend to be monocoque designs that could more readily suffer structural failure from gunfire (monocoque construction is also known as "structural skin" - basically, the outer frame is also structural, rather than being a skin stretched over a skeleton). This light construction would allow WWI fighters to soak up enormous amounts of enemy fire before going down despite being almost completely unarmored.
      • Especially in WWII, the trope is averted, as armor proves very useful in keeping American bombers, Wildcats, Hellcats, Corsairs, and Thunderbolts in the air after taking huge amounts of punishment that their less-armored adversaries could not withstand, and with powerful engines like the Double Wasp, the armored American fighters (except for the earlier and relatively underpowered Wildcat) were able to keep up with lighter Japanese and German fighters despite the weight of their armor.
    • At sea, however, the trope is played straight on many occasions.
      • During "Death of the Japanese Navy", the Japanese go into the battle with armor-piercing shells loaded, as they expected to be fighting powerful surface combatants, such as Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet, rather than the virtually unarmored "tin cans" of Taffy 3, and for much of the first half of the battle, the Japanese shells punch clean through the destroyers and destroyer escorts without doing significant damage, as there isn't enough resistance to set off the shells' fuses unless they hit something like the engine machinery.
      • During the episode "Kamikaze", the destroyer USS Stanly is hit by an MXY-7 Ohka, which collides at high speed and sends its armor-piercing bomb right through the ship and out the other side before detonating harmlessly in the water, doing very little damage to the ship.
  • Arrow Cam:
    • Missiles and bombs will often be followed from launch to impact.
    • During naval episodes, particularly important shots such as the shot that sunk the Hood, will be followed from when they leave the muzzle of the gun to their point of impact.
    • In a bizarre sense, scenes where the camera is following a Kamikaze can be seen as a case of arrow cam, as Kamikaze attacks blur the line between normal cockpit or Over the Shoulder camera views and Arrow Cam due to the pilot and his plane being both combatant and projectile.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Japanese MXY-7 Ohka manned rocket-powered bomb was a terrifying weapon designed as the the ultimate embodiment of Kamikaze tactics - a nearly unstoppable, incredibly powerful suicide plane that could deliver a 2600lb high explosive payload at over 500 miles per hour, but it was also even within a logical and strategic framework that considers suicide attacks to be "practical"note , a very impractical weapon, as it had to be transported by slow and vulnerable G4M "Betty" bombers due to its short range, and on the rare occasion that Ohka attacks were successfully launched, their armor-piercing bombs would sometimes over-penetrate lightly-armored American destroyers and detonate relatively harmlessly on the other side of the ship. As a result, ultimately, Ohka failed to live up to its horrifying potential.
  • Badass Israeli: The pilots featured in the episodes "Dogfights of the Middle East" and "Desert Aces".
  • Belly-Scraping Flight:
    • "No Room for Error" focuses on dogfights that descend to barely above treetop levels and the additional dangers of fighting in aircraft at such low altitude.
    • During "Kamikaze", while one of the Corsairs that was protecting the Laffey chases a Kamikaze at extremely low altitude, trying to force it to break off its attack, and ending with the the Kamikaze striking Laffey's mast and careening into the water, followed shortly by the Corsair striking Laffey's radar antenna, sheering it off and forcing the Corsair pilot to bail out.
  • Bomb Whistle: It is almost guaranteed that if a bomb is about to hit something, it will get Arrow Cam and have the obligatory whistling sound effect.
  • Camera Abuse: The "camera" occasionally shakes when an aircraft passes or an explosion occurs, even though the show is done primarily in CGI and there is no physical camera.
  • Captain Obvious: During "Kamikaze", one of the Japanese pilots interviewed is Hideo Suzuki, who volunteered to fly an Ohka manned missile and performed his one orientation flight. Later, after explaining why the program was Awesome, but Impractical, the narrator informs us that Hideo Suzuki was "never selected for his glorious death".
  • Career-Ending Injury: The pilot followed during the first segment of "Night Fighters" gets shot in the shoulder by a Japanese floatplane as day is breaking near the end of his mission, which caused enough damage to his shoulder that it permanently ended his career as a fighter pilot.
  • The Cavalry: In "Kamikaze," the USS Laffey, besieged by Japanese planes, gets two. The first one is 4 FM-2 Wildcats from the USS Shamrock Bay, but they could not do much against the large number of enemies beyond shooting a few down before running out of ammo and buzzing the rest before they had to disengage due to low fuel. However, when all seemed lost for the Laffey, 12 US Marine Corps F4U Corsair fighters arrived to deal with the attackers.
  • Cool Boat: Several, most of which are from World War II, namely the Japanese battleship Yamato and German battleship Bismarck.
  • Cool Plane: Quite a few. Some of the rarer/newer ones include the Me-262 jet from World War II, the B-17 Old 666 in "Long Odds," and pretty much all of the planes in "Dogfights of the Future".
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: In some dogfights, being outnumbered actually is an advantage. When you surround a plane, you run the risk of shooting your allies when firing at the enemy while the enemy can shoot at any time without risk. It's worse with missiles because they track ally planes as well which is one reason why guns never became obsolete.
  • Critical Hit: Early in her fight against the German battleship Bismark, the HMS Hood takes a hit that blasts her in half; within three minutes, she completely sinks.
  • Dated History: Some of the events described in the show have been at least in part debunked by later analysis of records.
    • In "Dogfights of Desert Storm", a segment follows an unarmed EF-111A Raven electronic warfare plane that is credited with scoring a "maneuvering kill" by tricking an Iraqi Mirage F1 into flying into a mountainside. Analysis of Iraqi records in 2011 showed that only one Mirage F1 sortied that night, and it returned to base safely, claiming to have shot down an EF-111A Raven.
    • In "Long Odds", the B-17 "Old 666" claims to have shot down five Japanese fighters over the course of its famous mapping mission. However, Japanese records claim that they lost no planes during that time and that one plane had to return to base due to engine troubles and three other fighters were damaged.
  • David Versus Goliath: The Battle off Samar, featured in the episode "Death of the Japanese Navy", was a massive naval mismatch that was a part of the largest naval battle in history. The battle pitted a handful of destroyers and escort carriers against a massive force of Japanese battleships including the 72,000 ton Yamato. To emphasize the size of the mismatch, the Yamato alone weighed more then all of the American ships of Taffy 3 put together. Promotional ads for the episode when the show was airing would bill the fight as Yamato, the largest battleship ever built versus Taffy 3... not the largest battleship ever built. Ironically, despite the great emphasis placed on Yamato's presence, it accomplished very little during the battle and Kongo, a much older battleship, and the heavy cruisers did most of the damage to Taffy 3.
  • Determinator:
    • In the episode "Long Odds," Stanly "Swede" Vejtasa, the pilot of a lone, slow divebomber who was trapped by three Japanese fighter planes and had to maneuver with them for about 20 minutes, constantly undergoing turns up to 9G's. Not only did he shoot two of the planes down, he dodged a fanatical ramming attempt but still sliced into the third fighter's wing, forcing it to retreat and repair. In those days of the war, American fighter planes were very outmatched against the Japanese Zero; for a lone, slow bomber to outmaneuver and defeat three Zeroes at once in an intense, 20 minute dogfight is practically a mythical achievement. Of course, said pilot was transferred to a fighter squadron immediately afterwards.
    • In the episode "Thunderbolt," one plane was shot so badly that it went into a spin and caught fire. The pilot, whose eyes had been burned by oil, was able to stop the spin and fly back to base. On his way back, a German pilot emptied all of his ammunition on the plane and it kept flying.
    • During "Kamikaze", when one crew member of the USS Laffey suggests abandoning their badly damaged ship, Captain Becton snapped back "No! I'll never abandon ship as long as a single gun will fire.", making his intention to fight to the bitter end very clear. Fortunately, not long after, Marine Corps Corsairs arrive and drive off the Kamikazes.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome/Do Not Go Gentle: In the episode "Long Odds", with the segment on Old 666, Joe Sarnoski is shot by a Japanese fighter. He is mortally wounded and dying, despite this he crawls back to his gun mount and shoots down a twin-engine Japanese fighter before he collapses and dies. He is posthumously given the Medal Of Honor for this.
  • Eagle Land: A common criticism of the series is that it was Ameri-centric, as almost all of the episodes were about American pilots. However, there are many episodes that focus on/feature non-American pilots, including Japanese, Israeli, German, British, and more.
    • The episode "Hunt for the Bismarck" solely features the British, and the first two episodes of season 2 are centered on the Japanese and Germans respectively.
  • Energy Weapon: The episode "Dogfights of the Future" actually gives a rare realistic representation of how actual laser weapons work and how they would realistically implemented in the future.
  • Epic Ship-on-Ship Action: Two episodes focus on warships - specifically on the Bismarck ("Hunt for the Bismarck") and the Yamato ("Death of the Japanese Navy"), both of which engage in surface action against the Royal Navy and US Navy, respectively.
    • "Hunt for the Bismarck" covers pretty much all of Bismarck's (rather short) career as a battleship - the Battle of Denmark Strait, in which Bismarck sunk HMS Hood; HMS Victorious and HMS Ark Royal's torpedo attacks on the Bismarck; and the Last Battle of the Bismarck, when Bismarck is engaged by the British Home Fleet and sunk by the overwhelming firepower of HMS Rodney, HMS King George V, and their escorts.
    • "Death of the Japanese Navy" similarly covers the every battle Yamato was actually involved in. First, the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, where American aircraft attacked the Japense Center Force and sunk her sister ship, Musashi. The second segment, and the one most focused on ship-on-ship action, covers the Battle off Samar, where the survivors of the Center Force - Yamato, alongside the battleships Nagato, Haruna, and Kongo, as well as six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eleven destroyers - attempted to carry out their original mission of sinking whatever forces were protecting the American troops landing on Leyte and attacking American amphibious forces, but against all odds were forced to retreat by Task Group 77.4.3, aka "Taffy 3", which consisted of six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts that put together weighed less than Yamato. The destroyers forced Yamato to make an early departure when they bracketed her with torpedoes in a way that forced her to turn away from the battle to avoid getting hit, and as a result, Yamato barely managed to contribute anything to the battle and most of the damage Taffy 3 suffered was at the hands of Kongo and Center Force's heavy cruisers. The final segment covers the Battle of South China Sea/Operation Ten-Go, where American carrier aircraft engaged Yamato en route to Okinawa, where she was supposed to beach herself and shell Allied forces until the Americans were defeated or her guns were silenced. The explosion of Yamato''s magazines as she sunk was likened to a funeral pyre for the Imperial Japanese Navy.
  • Every Bullet is a Tracer: Inverted by the American RADAR-equipped Hellcats in "Night Fighters" - in order to preserve their pilots' night vision, they don't carry any tracers, rather than the normal 1-in-5 loads used by most other fighters or the low-visibility tracers the Black Widow used.
  • Faceless Goons: A few episodes focus on how it's easier to be violent against a machine with a pilot you can't see than it is to be violent against a human. The most notable example is Art Fielder in "No Room For Error", who witnessed an enemy pilot's gruesome death after bailing out at 400 mph and was quite shaken up by it, saying that he'd always thought about it as "machine against machine" and seeing an actual human die was a different thing entirely.
  • Flies Like Crazy:
    • A North Korean pilot in "MiG Alley," who performed several extreme maneuvers to escape an F-86 pilot. Ultimately, the North Korean pilot flew a little too crazily and crashed his plane into a mud flat.
    • A navy F-4 pilot sent his plane into an out of control tumble as a way to dump airspeed get an attacking MiG to overshoot. The Navy pilot then regained control and shot down the MiG.
    • Subverted in one episode where an American P-51D pilot is dogfighting a German Fw-190 and every time he comes out of a dive or climb, the Fw-190 is right on top of him, and after several minutes of thinking he's tangling with some sort of Kraut super soldier who can throw his plane through these incredibly tight maneuvers at high speed and sustain incredible G's, he spots another Fw-190 diving as he's climbing and realizes that he's actually been dogfighting two German fighters at the same time, and if anything, he was the one flying like crazy.
    • In a more nautical interpretation of the trope, in the episode "Kamikaze", the captain of the USS Laffey maneuvers his ship so violently that it's likened to dogfighting the Kamikazes. After a few hits, he's forced to alternate going fast and slow as going fast makes the ship a harder target for the Kamikazes but fans the flames raging on his ship, while going slow lets the firefighter crews put out the fire but leaves the ship a sitting duck for the Kamikazes.
    • In another naval take on "driving like crazy", the destroyers and destroyer escorts of Taffy 3 in "Death of the Japanese Navy" maneuver like crazy in a mad dash to get within torpedo range of the Japanese fleet, using counter-intuitive tactics like chasing the splashes of Japanese gunfire on the reasoning that the Japanese would correct their aim after each missed shot, so they won't shoot at the same spot they just hit.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: The episodes "Hunt for the Bismarck", "Death of the Japanese Navy", and "Kamikaze", while definitely featuring aerial battles and the typical Super-Detailed Fight Narration of the series, stick out for focusing heavily on naval actions, even as they try to highlight the role of aviation in those battles.
  • Fragile Speedster: Most Japanese aircraft, particularly their fighters, are this, as they easily go down in flames when hit by a burst of .50 caliber bullets due to having almost no armor and no self-sealing fuel tanks, as they compromised nearly everything else for range and maneuverability.
  • Glass Cannon: The Japanese bombers featured, namely the "Val" dive bomber, are this. While they are capable of delivering devastating blows to American ships, like all Japanese planes, they go down easily in 1-2 bursts from American fighters.
  • Guy in Back: Several aircraft featured have different kinds of this crewman, mostly gunners, but also others like radio and radar operators are shown, and sometimes they're featured in the interviews.
  • Hero-Tracking Failure: Bismarck's anti-air guns suffer badly from this, being unable to hit any of HMS Victorious or HMS Ark Royal's Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers because they would fly lower than Bismarck's guns could aim and slower than the fire control system was configured to calculate lead for.
  • I Got You Covered:
    • The role of a wingman protecting their lead, while the leader takes an offensive role is often noted.
    • Especially in Pacific Theater episodes, a mutual form of this known as the Thach Weave will come into play. The Thach Weave is a defensive maneuver in which two (or four) allied pilots enter a flat scissors with each other, swinging back and forth across each other's flight path, such that any enemy pursuing either will quickly be in the other's sights. It was primarily introduced to overcome the disadvantages of the Wildcat, but other fighters would continue to employ it as an effective defensive maneuver.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: In the episode "Guadalcanal," one pilot got his wristwatch shot off by a bullet from a Japanese plane.
    • Even better, an F-4 Phantom ace scored the first—and ONLY—supersonic gun kill on a MiG-21 in the middle of a very high-g turn. To give you an idea, supersonic bullets were fired from a supersonic fighter, in the middle of a tight, high-G turn in order to hit a supersonic target that is also in a tight turn, slicing off a wing in a single burst. As a more coincidental and amusing example, a famous WW2 American ace was launching a surprise attack on a swarm of German fighters with a P-38, and right as he was about to pull the trigger on his first target, his propellers stop because he forgot to switch the fuel lines when he jettisoned the external fuel tanks just before the dogfight. He fired anyway, scoring the only kill in history with a craft that was just gliding without thrust.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: While impressive shows of piloting skill are expected from a series focused on dogfights, two examples stand out as particularly improbable.
    • In "Long Odds", Stanley "Swede" Vejtasa manages to take on three of Japan's infamously agile A6M Zero fighters in a slow, lightly-armed SBD Daultless dive bomber and shoots them all down in a dogfight, which earns him a Navy Cross and an immediate transfer to a fighter wing.
    • In "Dogfights of Desert Storm", an unarmed American EF-111A Raven electronic warfare plane manages to score a kill on an Iraqi Mirage F1 by tricking it into flying into the ground.note 
  • Improbable Weapon User: During a segment about the Korean War, a veteran U.S pilot recalls how a MiG he was chasing after flew so low to the ground in an arid dried-up riverbed that the MiG's jet exhaust was kicking up dirt and rocks that pelted the pursuing U.S pilot's plane. The veteran thinks this was an intentional attempt to drive him off, meaning the communist pilot was essentially attempting to beat a fighter jet with dirt and rocks.
  • In Medias Res: Pretty much every episode starts with the planes flying into battle before providing the historical context of the war being fought, a quick bio of the pilot(s), and the technical details of the planes involved, at which point the battle resumes.
  • Just Plane Wrong:
    • While the show is generally very accurate, the series oversells how problematic not having a gun was for the F-4 Phantom II in Vietnam and oversells the value of the SUU-16/A gun pod, which was widely regarded as an unreliable, difficult to aim hunk of junk that wasn't worth its weight and veteran pilots like Robin Olds would actually refuse to have any of the pilots under them use it because the temptations it offered inexperienced pilots who knew little or nothing about gunfighting were too dangerous. The show also generally neglects to mention that USAF combat fighter training was inadequate at the time and this was another major cause of the problems they faced using their missiles effectively, while the Navy's TOP GUN program prove very effective and Navy Phantoms would consistently outscore their Air Force counterparts despite Navy Phantoms never using guns due to better training and the superior performance of the navy's AIM-9 Sidewinder missile over the air force's AIM-4 Falcon missile. The Air Force would eventually learn its lesson and bolster its dogfighting training and ditch the AIM-4 in favor of the AIM-9 and bring their performance closer to the Navy's levels.
    • In "Night Fighters", the CGI scenes show the P-61 Black Widow with its propellers counter-rotating like the P-38 Lighting, while the Black Widow did not actually use counter-rotating propellers and instead had both engines rotating the same waynote , which can be seen some of the in the archival footage segments.
  • Kill It with Fire: The great effectiveness of American armor piercing-incendiary (AP-I) ammunition against Japanese planes, which tended to not have self-sealing fuel tanks, is frequently noted and contributes to the nature of Japanese fighters as Fragile Speedsters.
  • Lightning Bruiser:
    • The P-47 Thunderbolt is very fast, very heavily armored, very heavily armed with its eight .50 caliber machine guns, and can fly very high thanks to its turbocharger. Its trade-off is that its range isn't as great as the P-51's and that it's a very large fighter.
    • Much like the P-47, the F4U Corsair is very fast and well armored, but while it's more agile than the Thunderbolt, it lacks the turbocharger and only has six guns and its very long nose makes it difficult to land.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The B-1R bombers in "Dogfights of the Future" were shown being capable of firing volleys of missiles that could wipe out almost an entire squadron of enemy fighters.
  • Medals for Everyone: After the B-17 crew featured in "Long Odds" completes a vital mapping mission and survives an attack from twenty Japanese Zeros, everyone receives the Distinguished Service Cross — except Captain Jay Zeamer and Lieutenant Joseph Sarnoski, who are awarded the Medal of Honor (the latter posthumously).
  • Nicknaming the Enemy:
    • Whenever the MXY-7 Ohka manned missile shows up, its nickname among American sailors, the "baka bomb" will likely be mentioned.
    • Some of the interviewees still refer to their adversaries by period nicknames like "Japs", "Krauts" or "Jerries", or "Charlie", depending on who they were fighting.
  • Not Quite Dead: After Old 666's mapping mission in "Long Odds", it was thought that Captain Jay Zeamer had died of blood loss and that any honors he received would be posthumous like those received by bombardier Joe Sarnoski, but closer inspection revealed that he was still alive and after medical treatment, he would return to duty, this time as a Tactical Airfield Inspector.
  • Number of the Beast: In "Long Odds," one of the stories is about a World War II B-17 that is about to be scrapped, as it gets blown away every time it goes on a mission, so a crew decides to take it and beef it up. The tail number? 666. Ironically, all but one of the crew survives a massive attack by over 20 Japanese fighter planes.
  • Old-School Dogfight: Happens in almost every episode to some degree, in particular the episodes taking place between World War I and The Korean War, when guns were still the primary weapons of fighters. Even during the Vietnam War and Arab-Isreali Wars, the show focuses heavily on gunfights during those wars and only occasionally features pure missile battles.
  • Pardo Push: An episode features a Korean War incident where one Saber pilot pushed his wingman's plane with his own until they got back to South Korean airspace.
  • Present Tense Narrative: The battles are narrated in present tense as they play out on-screen.
  • Ramming Always Works: Since even heavily-armored planes are relatively fragile compared to ships and tanks, a mid-air collision is pretty much guaranteed to do heavy damage to one or both planes. On a few occasions, pilots actually try to ram other planes on purpose.
    • This was the thinking behind the German Sonderkommando Elbe featured in "Luftwaffe's Deadliest Mission" - they would take their fighters, ram them into American bombers, bail out just before impact, get back to their base, hop in another fighter, and do the whole thing all over again. Ultimately, very few planes in Sonderkommando Elbe actually managed to connect a ramming attack, and fewer still survived doing this, though their attacks did tend to work insofar as a successful ramming would take down a bomber. Fortunately for the few pilots who survived performing these attacks, there was never a second Sonderkommando Elbe mission.
    • During Stanley "Swede" Vejtasa's fight against three Zeros in "Long Odds", after shooting two down, the last Zero makes a desperate attempt to ram him and take Swede down with him. Vejtasa attempts to dodge the Zero, but doesn't quite fully evade the attack and his wingtip hits the Zero's wing near the base. Fortunately for Vejtasa, his Dauntless was a durable plane and survived the collision, while the Zero pilot was rather less lucky and the lightly-armored Zero had its entire wing torn off in the collision.
  • Refuge in Audacity: While one might expect soldiers and fighter pilots to have balls of titanium, there are some truly stand-out examples:
    • The Battle off Samar. America's Taffy 3, consisting of destroyers and light carriers, vs. Japan's Center Force, whose much larger warships include the ginormous Yamato which outweighs all of Taffy 3 by itself. A true David vs. Goliath situation. So what does Taffy 3 do? Attack! Attack! Attack! And it works, driving away the Center Force.
    • On the Axis side, there's Sonderkommando Elbe, German pilots who use their fighters to ram Allied bombers. Ballsy, yes, but the true audacity comes when one Luftwaffe pilot flies right into an Allied bomber formation and simply weaves through the whole lot of them, knowing that they can't shoot at him without the risk of a friendly-fire incident.
  • Reporting Names: Japanese fighters are nearly always referred to by their American reporting names, with the exception of the A6M "Zeke", which even in America was better known as the Zero (from its designation Rei-sen or "Type Zero"), and the MXY-7 Ohka rocket-powered manned bomb, which is referred to by its nickname, the "baka bomb" or just "baka" from the Japanese word for idiot or fool.
  • Rock Beats Laser:
    • In the "Gun Kills of Vietnam" two propeller-driven A-1 Skyraiders, armed only with cannon and without effective lead-computing gunsights, manage to shoot down an enemy MiG-17 jet fighter.
    • In other Vietnam War episodes, the show will often bring up the disadvantage of early-model F-4 Phantom IIs in close-quarters due to their lack of a gun. However, it's routinely subverted as such segments will focus on the lengths the metaphorical "laser" must then go to in order to counter the "rock" despite the prevailing theory suggesting that missiles were supposed to make guns obsolete. Unfortunately, early air-to-air missiles were unreliable and the rules of engagement prevented the use of missiles outside of visual range, taking away one of their biggest advantages.
  • Schematized Prop: When someone who was personally involved in the events of a segment is being interviewed, the background will usually be schematics of the plane they flew or the ship they served on.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario:
    • For the Americans, these are the eventual fates of the USS Johnston, USS Hoel, USS Samuel B. Roberts, and USS St. Lo at the hands of the Japanese during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
    • The British, meanwhile, have the HMS Hood, with Sole Survivor Ted Briggs' detailed account shown as he makes his way out of the ship's bridge and into the water.
    • In turn, the German battleship Bismarck suffers this fate following an hours-long assault by British battleships, and ends with her being torpedoed by a British Cruiser and scuttled by her own crew at the same time.
    • The Japanese battleship Yamato is crippled by numerous bombs and torpedoes in a relentless air attack by US Navy Helldivers, Hellcats, Avengers, and Corsairs. While Damage Control does manage to counter-flood the ship, it only delays the inevitable when the huge battleship finally capsizes and explodes.
  • Sniping the Cockpit: On occasion, a plane will be taken out not by tearing the plane apart, but by shooting the pilot, such as happened to one of the Kamikaze pilots attacking USS Laffey during "Kamikaze".
  • Spent Shells Shower: In an episode featuring the F-4 Phantom II in Vietnam, the center-mounted cannon is seen spitting a flickering muzzle blast and dumping spent brass all over the jungle.
  • Stone Wall: The F4F Wildcat repeatedly proves its great durability to rival that of the P-47 Thunderbolt, but is also slow and unmaneuverable for a fighter and only has four machine guns to most other US fighters' six.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: The first portion of the episode "Secret Weapons of World War II" covered the Me-163 Komet rocket plane, while two other segments featured the Me-262 Schwalbe jet fighter.
  • Suicide Attack:
    • The Japanese have several examples, namely Kamikazes, the Kaiten manned torpedo, and the rocket-powered "Ohka" manned bomb.
    • Subverted by the German Sonderkommando Elbe, a unit trained to ram their fighters into American B-17 and B-24 bombers, which despite having all the appearance of a suicide attack, was a mission that at least some of the pilots were expected to survive, as they were intended to bail out of their planes right before their fighters impacted the bombers.
  • Suicide Mission:
    • During "Long Odds" the crew of B-17 "Old 666" volunteers to go on a vital reconnaissance mission deep in Japanese-controlled airspace, which was widely considered a suicide mission. If not for the tremendous increases the crew made to their plane's armament, including covering a fatal and well-known blind spot in the front, as well as the incredible tenacity of the crew, they would likely have all died, rather than only one member of the crew. Of some note, Captain Jay Zeamer actually rejected orders for an additional flight over Buka airdrome, as he felt their existing mission was already suicidal enough. For extraordinary heroism, bombardier Joseph Sarnoski was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, pilot Jay Zeamer was also awarded the Medal of Honor, and the entire rest of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, making it the most highly decorated mission in the history of American aviation.
    • During "Kamikaze", USS Laffey (DD-724) was on Picket Station 1, north of Okinawa and closest to the Japanese Home Islands, a post that was infamous for eating ships alive - the last four destroyers on picket duty there had all come under heavy Kamikaze attack - even compared to the other already quite dangerous picket stationsnote , but one which had to be covered to protect American forces on the island. Against a force of 50 Japanese planes, Laffey sustained incredible damage, including four bomb hits and six Kamikaze crashes before Marine Corps Corsairs arrived and were able to drive the remaining Japanese planes off.
    • In "Most Dangerous Mission of the Luftwaffe", the flights of Sonderkommando Elbe are detailed, and while their mission involved deliberately slamming their aircraft into other planes, these attacks were not supposed to be suicide attacks, though the mission was incredibly dangerous and high attrition was expected. Instead, the pilots were expected to bail out just before their fighters collided with Allied bombers and the survivors were expected to get back to a Luftwaffe base, get in another fighter, and do it again. While only a handful of successful ramming attacks were achieved, even more incredibly, a few of the pilots did, in fact, survive and lived to give interviews for the episode.
    • The final segment of "Death of the Japanese Navy" covers Operation Ten-Go, wherein the battleship Yamato and a handful of escorts was expected to make a mad dash to Okinawa to support the Japanese defenders on the island or die tryingnote , and die trying she did, with the explosion of her ammunition magazines being likened to the funeral pyre of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
  • Super-Detailed Fight Narration: This is a main focus of the show. In addition to narrating the fights as they occur, the show will often take a minute to compare the strengths of the opposing planes, show how a given maneuver is supposed to work, or explore alternative courses of action and explain why the chosen course of action was better than the alternatives.
  • Tactical Withdrawal: Supersonic American jets always had the option to light the afterburner and disengage from the slower but more maneuverable MiG-17s and 19s of the North Vietnamese Air Force when they felt themselves to be at a disadvantage.
  • Too Clever by Half: In the first segment of "Zero Killer", Japanese ace Toshiyuki Sueda proves too clever for his own good when he attempts a bold vertical climbing maneuver that had earned him several kills against the F4F Wildcat. In his maneuver, he'd climb straight up, nose over, and shoot down the poor schmuck in a stalled-out Wildcat who had followed him. Unfortunately for Sueda, the American pilot was flying the new F6F Hellcat, which looked very similar to the Wildcat, but had a much more powerful engine and was able to follow the Zero through this maneuver and emerge victorious. The American pilot's own involvement bordered on Achievements in Ignorance, as he saw Sueda start the maneuver and thought the Japanese pilot must be a complete novice to attempt such a reckless move and followed him through it with no idea of the deadly trap it was supposed to be until he realized after shooting Sueda down that, had he been flying the old Wildcat, he'd almost certainly have died then and there.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: "Dogfights of the Future", which focuses on speculative near-future air and space combat scenarios, such as stealth fighter plus "missile truck" combos like the F-22 and proposed B-1R (since then, the B-1R was canceled, but similar proposals using planes like the F-15X have been made), wherein the stealth fighter would close with enemy planes while undetected and send targeting information to a larger, less stealthy plane with lots and lots of missiles, which would then launch a Macross Missile Massacre at the enemy planes. Another near-future combat scenario explored is a low earth orbit battle using lasers, which are depicted very realistically.
  • Vehicular Turnabout: Quite a few, namely a P-51 Mustang in Luftwaffe colors, and the famous Akutan Zero.
  • Worthy Adversary: German ace Egon Mayer in the episode "Thunderbolt" apparently gained this view of one P-47 pilot as he was unable to take the plane down after having expended all of his ammunition on him.
  • Zerg Rush: Kamikaze attacks are often performed in this manner, with large numbers of barely-trained pilots attempting to overwhelm a warship's defenses with sheer numbers until Kamikazes start getting through, shutting down the ship's defenses and making it easier for more to get through until a Kamikaze finally lands a killing blow. During the episode "Kamikaze", USS Laffey comes under a particularly vicious Kamikaze attack from some 50 Japanese planes.


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Secret Weapons of WWII

In this episode, three prominent secret weapon projects from both the Allied and Axis Powers are covered, all of which only became fully known well after the war had ended.

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Main / SecretWeapon

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