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A strafing maneuver performed by an F-16 aircraft at the Smoky Hill ANG Range open house on Saturday, August 1, 2009.

A German vehicle column destroyed by ground-attack aircraft close to Arnhem, 23 September 1944.

Strafing is the practice of attacking ground targets from low-flying aircraft using aircraft-mounted automatic weapons.[1] This means that, although ground attack using automatic weapons fire is very often accompanied with bombing or rocket fire, the term "strafing" does not specifically include the last two.[2]

Less commonly, the term can be used—by extension—to describe high-speed firing runs by any land or naval craft (e.g. fast boats) using smaller-caliber weapons and targeting stationary or slow-moving targets.[citation needed]

Etymology[edit | edit source]

The word is an adaptation of German strafen, to punish, specifically from the humorous adaptation of the World War I German catchphrase "Gott strafe England" (May God punish England).[3][4]

History[edit | edit source]

The earliest use of military aircraft was for observation and directing of artillery but strafing was frequently practiced in World War I. Trenches and supply columns were routinely attacked from the air in the second half of the war. Strafing with machine guns was used when precision was needed (facing small targets), but non-strafing attack methods (primarily small bombs) were preferred for larger targets, area targets, or when low-altitude flying was too risky. The German army was the first to introduce a class of aircraft specially designed for strafing, the ground-attack aircraft.

These developments continued through World War II with dedicated aircraft including the concept of the heavily-protected cockpit or "bathtub" to permit the pilot to survive counterfire. A Spitfire strafed the command car of Erwin Rommel on 17 July 1944, affecting his possible participation in the 20 July 1944 Operation Valkyrie coup. In the Korean War in 1950-3 USAF planes strafed targets deep behind the front line and had a perceptible impact on the progress of the ground war - but the concept of strafing was already in decline.

In 1960s, when precision-guided weapons became widespread, strafing temporarily fell out of favor as unnecessarily risky— some American fighter aircraft or attack aircraft of that time (such as the F-4 Phantom and A-6 Intruder) did not have built-in cannon or machine guns. In the Vietnam War this was found to be a deficiency, and improvised "gunships" had to be used in strafing missions. Since 2001, NATO pilots in Iraq and Afghanistan have used strafing runs to support ground forces in areas where explosive ordnance could cause unacceptable civilian casualties. The cities of Damascus and Aleppo were strafed by helicopter gunships in the Syrian civil war.[5][6]

Planes built specifically for strafing include the German World War I Junkers J.I, the World War II Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 and the modern American A-10 Thunderbolt as well as the AC-130 Gunship.

In 2004, the United States Air Force accidentally strafed one of its own country's middle schools in the strafing of the Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School incident.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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