During my military career and on into retirement, through contact with the public and with military
scholars and buffs, I have found strafing to be probably the least known and the most misunderstood
type of flying and fighting in all air warfare. Other combat pilots of strafing experience agree. This
circumstance certainly is not caused by a lack of strafing done in war, which has a record of great
use and contribution from World War I to the present date. But it simply has never received publicity
and acclaim. As Dr. Daniel R. Mortensen, Office of Air Force History, said to me years ago (back
when that office still existed), "As we all know, strafing [its history] has not been done."
This book is written to give a readable, understandable, and definitive story of strafing and its
warriors in World War II, with salute to other Wars. The "flying and shooting" and "calling the shots"
are told about in specifics and explained, along with note of high command impact on our low-level
I will cite the official definition of strafing from the United States Department of Defense Dictionary of
Military and Associated Terms ( JCS Pub 1-02):"the delivery of automatic weapon fire by aircraft on
ground targets." While concise, this covers much. It specifies actual firing of weapons, not a doctrine
or concept. And it is "automatic weapons"—machine guns/cannon—which eliminates rockets,
missiles, bombs, clusters, and other munitions (except gun pods) as strafing armament. It neither
designates who does it nor states who cannot. It can be done by any branch of service and any type
of unit, pilot and aircrew, or aircraft on any kind of target anywhere and in any role, task, or mission.
In actuality strafing has been used that broadly.
The name "strafing" is traced in the United States Air Force Dictionary as German—"strafe, to
punish," with original World War I application to air-ground attack, then evolving to such attack only
with guns. The dictionary notes that the term was unpopular with some Allied countries after the war
but that once the association had been made with the peculiar action of an airplane suddenly striking
from above with guns ablaze, it served a need that no older or alternate word seemed to fill.
Apparently that has remained the case, but with a strange record in usage. Most U.S. Combat
operations, units, aircraft, and pilots and aircrews historically have been designated by function—
fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, etc.—which reflects the primary thing they do. But that is not so for
the conduct of strafing and its unique name. No U.S. Units, aircraft, or pilots and aircrews have ever
held "strafing" or "strafers" as official designations. Thus strafing suffers a lack of name recognition in
both_ histories and news releases.
With that, I will leave official definitions to files and archives. The main story here is of duty, valor
and sacrifice. Out in the low-altitude skies, strafing carries a quite well known definition, a real world
reputation earned in battle over its history, "air war's bloodiest gunfighting." It is also an "art."
Allied Strafing in World War II