Air-to-air combat was a staple of modern war almost as soon as the technology for aerial warfare became practical. From the early 20th century through the end of the Cold War, air battles were determining factors in military campaigns. Today, air superiority allows the United States to engage in conflicts around the world relatively free of the risks inherent in ground warfare — as is currently being demonstrated in the U.S.’s bombing of ISIS targets in Iraq.
There was an earlier era in warfare when aerial combat wasn’t quite so seemless. During the 20th century, when powerful conventional militaries frequently fought wars against each other and before U.S. air power became essentially uncontested, air-to-air battles could last days and involve thousands of aircraft. These battles often played a decisive factor in the outcome of the wars they were a part of.
The University of Norwich has released the following infographic documenting the largest and longest air battles in history. Most of them are from the first half of the 20th century, and were fought on an immense and even baffling scale.
Today, most wars are fought within countries, or between militia groups or other irregular forces that don’t have an aerial component to them. This chart is proof of how different things were even a few decades ago, when the sky itself was hotly contested territory.
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