*** war and social upheaval: World War II Allied bombing campaign 1942

World War II Air Campaign: Allied Bombing Campaign, 1942

Figure 1.--The RAF Bomber Command's attempts to take the war to Germany were a dismal failure in the first 3 years of the War. Two major changes occurred in 1942 that would convert the Strategic Bombing Campaign in effect into the Second Front and and a vital element in the Allied victory. First was the arrival of the Americans who the Japanese and Hitler had essentially invited to join the war. The Americans brought with them the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator. (At the time Willow Run was still under construction.) Here we see the B-17. These two bombers and the Arsenal of Democracy that built them in profigious numbers led to the creation of the Mighty Eighth. Second was the arrival of RAF Bomber Command's Avro Lancaster. Neither plane would immediately change the war situation,immediately there were far too few in 1942, but the destuction of the NAZI war machine had begun and the war had cime hime to the German people.

Once America joined the War in December 1941, a massive bombing campaign against Germany from England became feasible. America's indistrial potential gave the Allies to mount a strategic bombing campaign orders of magnitude above the Luftwaffe's capability. The air campaign became a major aspect of Allied strategy. While American began building in facilities in 1942, the British debated how to begin the strategic bombing campaign in 1942. Some wanted to target key German industrial sites, especially German synthetic fuel plants. Had they done so at this time might have changed the course of the War. Hiting precission targets, however, over heavily defended, often cloud-covered German cities was no easy matter with 1942 bombing technology. [Speer, p. 287.] In addition the British had been bloodied by the Blitz and the much easier to execute strategy of area bombing was appealing. The strategy of area or terror bombing of civilians won out. RAF planner Charles Portal was the leading abvocate of area bombing. Air Marshall Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command, introduced area bombing as the RAF's principal strategy in the bombing campaign. Harris phrased it susinctly, "The Germans sewed the wind, now they will reap the whirllwind." The RAF began its area bombing strategy on March 28, 1942 with a massive night time raid on L�beck, virtually destroying the historic city. Hitler transferred two bomber groups of about 100 planes each from Sicly which conducted Baedaker targeting historic treasures of British cities. The ballance of forces, however, had turned decidedly against the Germans. The RAF responded on May 30 with its first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne. The results were devestating.

American Entry into the War (December 1941)

President Roosevelt undersood by the end of 1941 that Ameruca had to enter the War. He understood, however, as Churchill did not that America was a deeply divided marion. And there were huge dangers in bringing an unpepared and divided narion into a war in which huge casualtiues were likely. The Japanese solved his dilemma--the Pearl Harbor attck instantly duisolved the powerful Isolationist Movement (December 7). This did not mean war with Germany. Roosevelt was unsure how to explain war with Germany because of a Japanese attack. Hitler, genius that he was, soved Roosevelt's problem. He declarded war on America (December 11). Only 6 months earlier, Hitler wa the master of Europe with only Britain challenging the huge forces the NAZIs had amssed. Within 6 months, Hitler nn longer faced aeakened Britain, but the combined forces of Britain, its Empire, the Soviet Union, and the United States. It was an epic shift in the ballanbce of powerand almost all of Hitler's own doing. Once America joined the War, a massive bombing campaign against Germany from England became feasible. Britain had s aubsdtahntil industrial capacity and now America's massived indistrial potential gave the Allies the capacity to mount a strategic bombing campaign orders of magnitude above the Luftwaffe's capability. America already had a modern long range 4-engine bomber--the B-19. Another the B-24 was about to begin production--in upecendented numbers. The Ford plabt at Willow Run whre many were built achieved unprecent production levels. It would be some time, however, before Britain and America could assemble the necessary force. That campaign is fair well repoted, what is not well understood, is the degree to which it forced the Germans to diveryt resources from thedeciive vampign of the war--the Ostkrieg.

Changes at RAF Bomber Command

The lull in the bombing cmpaign changed in early 1942. Air Marshl Arthur Harris was appointed to head bomber command (February 1942). This was the same time that the new long-range Lancaster heavy bombers began reaching Bomber Command. There was an immediate expansion of bombing Germany. Harris understood that Grmany's costal cities were vulnerable targets ansas they were in the ciast, much easier to find than iland targets. Lubeck was destroyed (March 1942). Rostock followed (April 1942). Until these raids, RAF bombing had been both ineffective to the Germans ans costly to Brirish air crews. Now whole cities were being destroyed by the British RAF. . Hitler was inncensed. Harris was absolitely correct when he stated, "The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everybody else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put that rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now, they are going to reap the whirlwind." The German resonse was the Kammhuber Line. As the British bombed by night and were not yet joined by the Americans, a relatively small number of night fighters, mostly the not very successful ME-110, prived suitable for the task. The Germans rapidly improved their night fighter capability.

1942 War Effort

The principal struggle in 1942 was in the Soviet Union where the most emense struggle in the history of warfare was being played out on the Russian plains. The Red Army had stopped the Panzers both in front of Lenningrad and Moscow. Now in his summer offensive, Hitler was heading for Stalingrad and the oil of the Caucusses. Stalin demanded the Allies open a second front to releave his hard-pressed Red Army. The air campaign became a major aspect of Allied strategy. Neither Britain or America were able to challenge the Wehrmacht with a cross-channel invasion in 1942. Rommel's relatively small Africa Corps would be attacked in 1942, but this was a very small part of the German Wehrmacht. For much of 1942 the major aspect of the Allied War effort was the air campaign and in 1942 still foght by the British. While the British nightime bombing in 1942 had only a minor impact on German war production, in did cause the Luftwaffe to commit important resources to air defense. This meant fighter squadrons and anti aircraft guns. These would have otherwise been deployed on the Eastern Front against the Russians. The primary German anti-aircraft gun was the 88-mm cannon. This was the same weapon used as an anti-tank gun. Incredibly after failing to support Rommel, Hitler rushed men and munitions to Tunisia in late 1942 and early 43 after the North Africa campaign had been essentially decided. This required the use of a huge Luftwaffe air transport effort because of Allied command of the Mediterranean. (The loss of cargo vessells to supply Rommel had been dissatrous, in part because of Ultra intercepts of German and Italian Enigma traffic.) This occurred at the same time that men and equioment and especially Liftwafffe transportsere badly needed to re;eave the 6th army in the Stalingrad pocket.

German Air Defenses

G�ring assured Hitler and the German people that the Luftwaffe would provide an impreganable Air Barrier in the west. He assured Germans that, "If English bombs ever fall on Germany, then you can call me Meyer!" Meyer was an obviously Jewish name. In fact the Allies at first refrained from launching an air war. Here France because her cities were vulnerable resisted British suggestions. The German Western offensive (May-June 1940) was so successful, that German cities were largely out of range from the planes available to RAF Bomber Command. Only in 1942 did Bomber Command get effective long-range planes like the Lancaster that brought German cities in range. By this time the Germans had constructed a forbiddening degensive line beginning with the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northerm France. They had also begun to develop effective night fighters. The Americans joined the British stategic bombing campaign, bombing by day while the British bombed by night, hoping to overstress the German defenses. The Americans found that only contrary to expectations that the havily armed bombers could not fight through the German defenses without havy losses. German defenses took a terrible toll on Allied bomber formations until 1944 when long-range fighter escorts became available. The Luftwaffe could in most cases carefully consider engagements. Here it was rise to resist the American bombers are allow them to pulverize their cities. The bombers essentially forced the Luftwaff to give battle to protect German cities. The bombers and especially the escorts also took a heavy toll on the Lufwaffe. Here in the skies over Germany the 8th Air Force essentially destoyed the Luftwaffe, G�ring's Assurances

Creation of the 8th Air Force

America began building in facilities in early 1942. American and British Chiefs of Staff on January 13, 1942 order the movement of US air forces to the United Kingdom to support the existing British air campaign against Germany. The first American airmen (1,400 men) sail for Northern Ireland on January 18. Major General Ira Eaker is appointed Commanding General, Bomber Command, US Army Forces in British Isles (USAFBI) and on January 31, 1942 ordered to the United Kingdom. The War Department officially states on April 7, 1942 that the 8th Air Force will be established in the UK. Lieutenant General Henry "Hap" Arnold on April 12 completes air plans for Operation BOLERO, the buildup of US armed forces in the UK for an attack on Europe. The advanced echelon of HQ 8th Air Force and bomber, interceptor and base commands, along with 15th Bombardment Squadron (Light), 2nd Air Depot Group, and a weather detachment totalling about 1,800 men, on April 27 sailed from Boston, Massachusetts for the UK. The 8th Air Force was to become the largest air unit ever committed to battle. It would play a fundamental role in taking the war to Hitler's 1,000 year Reich.

British Children and the 8th Air Force

American airfields were located all over Britain. Many British children literatlly had a fighter or bomber base in their back yards. English children before 1942 knew little about Americans. They had seen American films. Cowboy anf gangster films were special favorites. But few had ever met an An American. This changed after Pearl Harbor when America entered the War and several million American servicemen descended on Britain. This friendlu invasion was the greatest invasion of Britain since William the Conqueror in 1066 and had profound social consequences. There was a lot of interaction between the Servicemen and British civilians. Many GIs were billited in English homes. The American servicemen showed a special affection toward the English children and best of all they had candy and chewing gum. This was a great treat as sugar was severely rationed in Britain during the War. "Any gum, chum?" became a popular refrain. There was security around all Allied military baces and adults without passes could not enter. Somehow the English children were all over the American bases. Many children knew GIs by name and were often even allowed to get inside the planes.

American War Production

American military spending until Hitler and the Japanese began to prepare for war was very limited. Budgets were tight and military coomanders had to plead on Capital Hill for even small allocations. The American aviation industry was based primarily on commercial aircraft. This begun to change as Hitler began to show off his new Luftwaffe. One of the major projects in the 1930s was the B-17 Flying Fortress. Generally Republican opposition to spending limited appropriations. After Munich (October 1938), orders poured in from Britain and France and Congress increased appropriations. The Fall of France (June 1940) was a turning point. When Hap Arnold, the new Commander of the Army Air Corps went to Capital Hill for appropriations the atmosphere had changed entirely. The leading Republican Senator, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. who had fought Wilson's League of Nations and American commitments abroad told Arnold, "All you have to do is ask for it." He meant it and Arnold asked. Eventually about 25 percent of American war spending woulf be directed at air power. It became a question of what and how fast American industry could produce. Here industry responded with an output that astonished both Allies as well as the Germans and Japanese. When war broke out in Europe, the Army Air Corps consisted of a mere 26,000 men with 8,000 modern combat planes. Some progress had been made by the time of Pearl Harbor (December 1941) there were 354,000 men and about 2,800 planes. And that was just the beginning. The Ford Motor plasnt at Willow Run was the oincle of Amerrica industrual engineering. It got off to a slow start largely becsuse the USAF kept making design chnges. Once thatstopped, the prodigious output begn. The reorganized Army Air Forces by early 1945 consisted of 2.4 million men with 80,000 planes.

Cherwell Report (February 1942)

British tactics in the strategic bombing campaign were significantly affected by the Bliz. In effect the Luftwaffe taught Bomber Command how to destroy German cities. RAF planners concluded that Luftwaffe terror attacks during the Battle of Britain, especially incenderary attacks, had a greater impact on war production than attacks attempting to target specufic factories. The displacement of workers and city services like transportation and water were particularly disruptive. Thus support for employing similat tactics over Germany grew. The impact of Luftwaffe raids on the targetted cities were surveyed. Lord Cherwell, one of Churchill's most trusted scientific advisers, was given the job of analyzing hte results. His conclusions were: 1) the greatest impact on civilian morale was the loss of one's home and 2) this finding should be employed in strastegic bombing campaign. Cherwell produced staistics to support his conclusion. He estimated that every ton of Luftwaffe bombs had dehoused 100-200 British people. Cherwell then projected this ratio on Bomber Command operations. He concluded that a British bomber making 14 sorties could debouse 4,000-8,000 Germans. He also ponted out that 22 million Germans lived in 58 cities. He estimated that a bombing campaign targetting these cities would dehouse one-third of the German population in 18 months, thus breaking "the spirit of the people". This tactic was called area bombing, but was essentially the same tactic as NAZI terror bombing. Churchill was impressed.

War Cabinent Endorses Air Offensive (February 14)

The British War Cabinent decuded to launch an expanded offensive against Germany (February 14). It was to be conducted for 6 months as a preliminary campaign. The decession was based on the findings of the Cherwell Report. The Report along with instructions from the War Cabinent was delivered to the new commander of Bomber Command--Air Marshal Arthur Harris (March 1942). British strategic bombing is often attributed to Harris. This is not the case, it was a decision by the War Cabinet strong supported by Churchill. Harris only carried out the instructions. At about the same time Harris arrived so did the instrument of Britih ir power--the Avro Lncaster. The British would call their approach "area bombing" it entailed attacking German industrial cities without any effort to hit specific military or industrial targets. The idea was to criple German war production by dehousing German workers and damaging factories by the resulting fires. The attacks would be conducted at night from extremely high alditudes. High alditudes were safrer for the bombers, but made it difficult to hit any target but a city. This would become the standard British bombing approach.

Allied Strategy

Air Marshall Arthur "Bomber" Harris was given command of RAF Bomber Command (February 22, 1942). Brigadier General Ira Eaker hgiven command of the 8th Air Force's bombers arrived in England only a few weeks earlier. The two unlike some other Allied commanders got on well with each other. Harris provided enormous support to Eaker in setting up American bases. There was, however fundamental disagreement between British and American commanders on the conduct of the strategic bombing campaign. Harris and British commanders had come to the conclusion that area bombing was the key to succes in the air campaign. The Americans were convinced that the most effective approach was day-light precession bombing. The Americans believed that their B-19 Flying Fortresses were sufficently armored to beath off Luftwaffe fighter attacks. The British with actual experience doubted that. The Americans believe that their Norden bombsite made precession bombing possible, allowing them to drop bombs into "pickle barrels". Harris aware of the often cloudy skies of norther Europe, responded, "In order to hit a barrel from 20,000 feet, you must first see the barrel."

British 1942 Campaign

The character of the air war changed in 1942. While Bomber Command had proven largely ineffective in the first two years of the War, this changed in 1942 as the new Lancasters appeared in numbers. America entered the War at the end of 1941, but the British carroed the bulk of the air war in 1942 while the 8th Air Force was building its forces in Britain. The basic change in the air war came with the British attacks on L�beck and Rostock. The British, learming from the Luftwaffe employed incendiaries which largely destoyed both cities. Now German civilians were experencing the War and the destruction of their cities. While there were military targets in both cities, the larger purpose was essentially to completely destroy the cities. Hitler was infuriated at the British raids and ordered the so-called Baedeker Raids which while damaging the target British towns, actually adveresly affected the German war effort. The NAZIs with the Luftwaffe seversly streached on far-fling battlefields, no longer had the capability of matching the growing strength of Bomber Command. The British followed with the first 1,000 bomber raid which devestated Cologne. Bomber Command was unable to repeat the Cologne raid, but by the end of the year, the number of bombers and air crews had grown and the American 8th Air Force was ready to enter the fight.

Singleton Rport (May-June 1942)

Judge John Sinfleton headed commission of inquiry to assess mpmbing ccuracy. The resiuktung Singketon Report found that less than a quarter of the bombs that RAF Bomber Command dropped fell wihin 5 miles of the target. [Singleton] And only 30 percent fell in built-up areas. Thus duriung the first 3 years the RAF was basically bonbing cow pastures. The Singleton report confirmed much of the findings of the Cherwell Repoort. The first generation of British bombers (Wellington, Stirling, and Halifax) were simply incapable of conducting stratehic operations. Baldwin's dictim that 'the nomber will always get through' wasmde in an era that the bombers were asctually faster than the fighters. By the time of World wsar, this had cjanged and the British bomber fore woefully outdated. If the Britih had shifted their emphasis on the air war, the criticis of strategic nombing would have been proven right.

Bombing Technology

The U.S. Army Air Corps in the years leading up to America's entry in the War had worked intensively on bombing techniques and equipment. The American Nordon bomnsite was top secret and the most advanced targeting system in use at the time. The Air Corps before the War was relativly small, but trained air crews intensively. The training took place under target range conditions, largely in the crystal clear wether conditions of he American Southwest. Air Corps officers began using the terms "pin point" and "pickle barrel" bombing. After Pear Harbor, the Army Air Corps was exponetially expanded as American industry began turing out planes in unheard of numbers. The intensive training of air crews conducted before the War was no longer possible. The 8th Air Force when in reached Britain, also, soon found that the weather conditions over northern Europe were far different than the Airizona dessert. Given the weather and the German defenses, it was not remotely possible in battlefield conditions to achieve the level of accurcy that Air Corps commanders had planned. Bomber crews face a myriad of problems. Targets were often obscured by clouds. There was also fog, smoke screens and industrial haze. Given that bombing was done porimarily by visual means, these were critical factors. Then there was the Kammhuber Line. Luftwaffe fighter deffenses required defensive bombing formations to maximize the effectiness of the bombers' fire power. Althouh losses were still heavy, this did result in some relief as well as substantial Lufwaffe losses. These large formtions severely restricted the ability to maneuver over the target, making it impossible for many bombers to acquire a spefic target other than an area close to the target. Intense German antiaircraft artillery (ack-ack), often manned by Hitler Youth boys, required commanders to minimize time exposure over targets, further reducing accuracy. Another problem was German electronic counter measures. Air Corps commanders faced with these realities over Germany defined "the target area" as a circle with a radius of 1,000 feet around the aiming point. The Air Corps gradually improved during the War. Air Corps survey studies found that in average, only about 20 percent of the bombs dropped on precision targets fell within this designated target area. The Air Corps reached peak accuracy of 70 percent in February 1945, but this was only after German air defenses had been significantly denegrated, fuel supplies cut off, and the Luftwaffe largely destroyed.

American 1942 Raids

The Eighth Air Force began bombing operations August 17, 1942. The initial raids were restricted to France. The first target were marshalling yards at Rouen and Sotteville in northern France. Eighth Air Force operations during 1942 and the first half of 1943 had no significant effect. The initial American force was relatively small, the crews not fully trained, and its range still limited. Commanders during this period concentrated on training and testing the force under actual combat conditions. Allied commanders were concerned in November and December 1942, with the Kriegsmarinre increasingly effective U-boat campaign in the North Atlantic which was devestaging Allied merchant shipping. One reason for the effectivness of the U-boats was that the Kriegsmarine, unlike World War I, had access to French Atlantic ports. The Germans constructed submarine bases and pens in French ports. These facilities became the priority target and remained so until June 1943 when naval countermeasure finally began destroying large numbers of U-boats at sea. The air attacks on the U-boat facilities had limited effect. The submarine pens were carefully designed and conventional bombs could not penetrate the 12-foot concrete roofs. Even a huge British tall-boy bomb did not penetrate the U-boat pens reinforced concrete roofs.

Rescuing Downed Airmen

One of the most romantisied aspect of the air war is the recue of downed Allied airmen. Unlike many Hollywood accounts of the War, this rescure did occur and it was every bit as dangerous and courageous, if not more so than portrayed by Hollywood. It was an important aspect of the War. Until D-Day, the airwar was the principal Allied effort to relieve NAZI pressure against the Soviets on the Eastern Front. British and American airmen suffered greviously. During the War the Germans succeeded in killing about 100,000 Allied airmen and held 30,000 in POW camps. Thus recuing downed airmen was very important to contine the air war. The Ressistance established a number of rescue lines: Comet, O'LeaRY, and Shelburne. About 2,000 Allied airmen shot down in the Betherlands, Belgium, and France were rescued, transported through occupied France over the Pyranees to neutral Spain and then on to Gibralter. (Spin had been a virtual NAZI ally in 1940, but in 1942 as the War began to turn against the NAZIs developed a more neutral stance.) The courageous men and women of the Ressistance paid a dreadful price in this operation at the hands of the Gestapo and collaborators. The Gestapo developed very ruse including dressing English speaking agents up as downed Allied airmen. Resistance mnembers arrested faced gruesome tortures and put theie entire family at risk. Hundres were shot or sent to horrific concentration camps. [Eisner]


The actual impact of the campaign seemed to many as disappointing. German civilian morale did not crack under the British area bombing and the Americans found it much more difficult to hit specifuic industrial targets than anticipated. Even so, the air campaign forced the Luftwaffe to deploy major assetts defending German cities rather than on the critically important Eastern Front. Especially important large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and even more important trained pilots were being shot down by the bombers. In addition large numbers of 88mm artillery pieces, which could have been used against Russian tanks, had to be diverted to anti-aircraft defenses.

Aircraft Production

While aircraft plants were a priority bombing target, Bomber Command had not serious impaired production. In fact the Germans increased production. Even so German production was now being seriouslu outpaced by the Allies. President Roosevelt reported to Congress at the end of the year that America was producing 5,500 planes monthly and that pace was increasing. The United States had produced 47,800 planes in 1942 ad that included 2,600 four-engine heavy bombers (B-17s and 24s). The Americam monthly production was now twice that of Germany. [Rumpf, p. 59.] And when the British and Soviet production is added, the extent to which the ballance of power in the skies over Europe was shifting can be seen.


Eisner, Peter. The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women who Rescued Allied Airmen from the Nazis during World War II (Morrow, 2004), 340p.

Goodwin, Dorris Kearns. No Ordinary Time. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1994), 759p.

Rumpf, Hans. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. The Bombing of Germany (Holt, Rinehart and Winston: New York, 1962), 256p.

Singlto, Hihn. "Report by Mr Jutice Singleon on the Bombing of Germany (May 20, 1942). Appendix 17. D.M. Butt, profuced an earlkier reoort fo Lord Cherwell, Churchils scientifuc adviser (summer 1941 ) which had reached similar finfdings.


Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Coombined Alied Bombing Campaign, 1942-44]
[Return to Main World War II aerial campaign page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]

Created: Novenmber 6, 2002
Last updated: 9:46 AM 6/1/2022