World War II European Air Campaign--Renewed Allied Air Campaign (September 1944-April 1945)


Figure 1.--The devestation in German cities was astonishing. Two little boys here examine the rubble in Munich. This was once a shop. I'm not sure when this photograph was taken, but I think in 1945.

After D-Day (June 1944), the Allied bombing campaign was significantly intensified. This time the campaign was much different. The bombers now had fighters now had P-38 fighters accompany them from French bases which moved closer to the German border as the Allies took Paris (August 1944). Even longer range P-51 Mustangs, arguably the best propeller fighter of the War were deployed in increasing numbers. The result was a renwed and even more intense Allied air campaign with dramatic decline in Allied air crew losses. And as the fighters engaged Luftwaffe fighters rgere was a dramatic and unsustanable loss of German pilots. The Allies established air surperiority over Germany and bombed German cities at will. Rge Allied bombing killed an estimated 0.6 million German civilians and destroyed or seriously damaged some 6 million homes. Göering is reported to have said that he realized that te War was lost when he first saw the American P-51s over Berlin. Berlin and other major cities by 1945 were wastelands. This time German war production was affected, not only because of the damage to industrial cities, but because the Allies targeted Germany's production of fuel. The Romanian Ploesti oil field were targetted as well as synthetic fuel plants in Germany. About one-third of Germany industry depended on these plants. Most of the Luftwaffe's fuel came from them. [Hillgruber, p. 420ff.] By the end of the War many German units were reduced to using horse drawn carts. The Luftwaffe which still had planes could often not maintain an effectiv training program because of fuel shortages and in many cases could even muster the fuel to fly the rapidly dwindling number of remaining planes.

Allied Bombing Campaign (1942-43)

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 Lübeck, 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. One of the worst hit cities was Hamburg. Thre were firestorms which devestated the central cities. The firestorms sucked tres, vehichles, sections of buildings, and people into the conflagerations. Those not killed by the bombs and flames were suffocated by the smoke and lack of oxygen. The American 8th Air Force with even larger number of bombers than the British began initial opeartions against the Germans in 1943. The Americans opened their full-scale daylight bombing campaign on January 27, 1943 with an attack on Wilhelmshaven. Througout 1943, German cities were exposed to "round the clock bombing" inflict serious civilian casulties. The Americans bombing by day, attempting to hit specific targets using their Nordon bomb sites. The British bombed by night and at best could hit specific cities. Large numbers of German civilians were killed, injured, or rendered homeless. The RAF on May 16-17 began targeting German industry in the Ruhr. The American and British air crews suffered very heavy casulties against German fighters and increasingly effective anti-aircraft guns. At times it was unclear if the bombing campaign could be sustained. Long range fighters were not available in 1942-43 to escort the bombers to their targets in Germany. The actual impact of the campaign was 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 artillery pieces, which could have been used against Russian tanks, had to be diverted to anti-aircraft defenses. These defenses were manned largely by the Hitler Youth.

D-Day (June 6, 1944)

The Allied air campaign against Germany in the months leading up to the Normandy invasion had to be cut back. The Allies turned increasingkly to France. Targets in France associated with the landings were given the highest priority. The strategic bombing camapign had, however, forced the Luftwaffe to esentially pull back to Germany. As a result, there was virtually no Luftwaffe operations to oppose the Allied landings on June 6. After D-Day and the subsequent operations to support the beach head (June 1944) and breakout (July 1944), the strategic bombing campaign could be resumed in full force against Germany with an ever expanding air armada. The bombers when operations were resumed had fighter escorts, long range P-51 Mustangs which significantly reduced the losses of planes and air crews.

Liberation of France (August 1944)

The American capture of Cherbourg placed the first important French port in Allied control (June 27). While the Germans held in Normandy, a huge logistical enterprise was building up a huge army with emense capabilities. The Allies in the first 100 days after D-Day landed an incredible 2.2 million men, 450,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies. This was a force that the Germans could not begin to match and their situation was rendered untenable by the virtual complete lack of air support. The Allied offensive broke the badly streachedGermans in July. British and Canadian troops under Montgomery finally captured Caen (July 9). The major break through came further south. Patton's Third Army after a concentrated bombing pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts near St. Lô and rapidly fanned out behind German lines. While American Sherman tanks were inferior to the German tanks, they were fastr and more numerous. Allied air power made it impossible for the Germans to contain the American offensive. German units were foirced to abandon their tanks and flee east. Efforts to surround an entire German army failed when SS units held an escape rour open at Falaise, allowing a substantial part of the Germany forces to escape. American airpower, however, wreked havoc on the retreating Germans. I The Americans landed another force on the French Mediterranean coast between Marseilles and Nice (August 15). The German hold on France was broken. The Paris Ressistance rose up against the German occupation forces as Allied armour divisions raced toward the capital and crossed the Seine. French Forces of the Interior (FFI)attacked Germans retreating through the city. Hitler ordered the city to be destroyed. The German commander refused to carry out the orders. Allied forces entred the city (August 25). The Allies pressed north into Belgium and liberated Brussels (September 2).

Resumption (September 1944)

After the Liberation of France (August 1944), the Allied bombing campaign was significantly intensified. The Allies renewed the bombing campaign with a unimaginable ferrocity. Eisenhower in prearation for the D-Day Landings and to support the beach head had authority over both RAF Bomber Command and the American 8th Air Force. Neither Harris or Spaatz appreciated their limitations on their operations. They wanted to as soon as possible resume the strategic aifr campaign against Germany which they both were convinced was the quickest way to end the War. German cities enjoyed a respite as the Allies prepared for D-Dayt and then the battle for France raged. After the liberation of France and with Allied armies moving through Belgium and approaching the bondary of the Reich, the fortified Western Wall, Eisenhower released them (September 14). The Allies renewed the strategic bombing campaign with a unimaginable ferrocity. More than half of the bombs that fell on Germany would fall in the next 6 months. German cities would be devestated and the goals of the stratstegic bombing campaign woukld be realized--the German capacity to make war would be destroyed. More than half of the bombs that fell on Germany would fall in the next 6 months. German cities would be devestated and the goals of the stratstegic bombing campaign woukld be realized--the German capacity to make war would be destroyed.

Allied Bomber Forces

The 8th Air Force by September 1944 now had twice the strength of Bomber Command, but both commanders possed massive air armadas, more than 5,000 bombers. Air operations had earlier been limited by the number of available aircraft and then by Eisenhower's control to support the D-Day landings and resulting beachead. By the time operational control was given back to the air commanders Harris and Spaatz had the most powerful air armadas in the history of warfare. This vast force gave them the ability to conduct the campaign that they had desired from the beginning. Both Harris and Spaatz had dispatched 1,000 plane raids, but only a few and they were streached to do so. Now both could commonly send 1,000 bomber forces against Germany.

Fighter Cover

When the air campaign against Germany was resumed, the situation over Germany was very different. The bombers now had fighters now had P-38 fighters accompany them from French bases which moved closer to the German border as the Allies took Paris (August 1944). Even longer range P-51 Mustangs, arguably the best propeller fighter of the War were deployed in increasing numbers. The depleted Luftwaffe was unable to effectively contest the skies over German cities, even Berlins with the Allied escorts. The result was a renwed and even more intense Allied air campaign with dramatic decline in Allied air crew losses.

Luftwaffe Defenses

After the liberation of France and the resumtion of strategic bombing, the Luftwaffe defenses began to crumble. One of the objectives of the strategic bombing campaign was the destruction of the Luftwaffe. And as the fighter escorts engaged Luftwaffe fighters there was a dramatic and unsustanable loss of German pilots. The Allies established air surperiority over Germany and bombed German cities at will. The Luftwaffe which still had planes could often not maintain an effective training program because of fuel shortages and in many cases could even muster the fuel to fly the rapidly dwindling number of remaining planes. The Luftwaffe was so desperate for pilots by the end of the War that Hitler Youth boys were being used. Most were boys fron the Flieger HJ. Some Flieger HJ boys flew the Komet ME-163, in part because it was so dangerous that it was wasteful using trained Luftwaffe pilots who were in increasingly short supply. The Luftwaffe's defensive capability was also eroded as Allied ground armies overun Luftwaffe airfields and early warning radar sites. This included fields from whic Luftwaffe night fighters had been wreking havoc on Bomber Command formations. This meant that the Allied bombers would reach the Reich with little warning and accompaied by esorts that could overpower dwindling Luftwaffe fighter forces. This left German cities virtually undefended, except by flak batteries.

Anti-Aircraft Batteries

The Luftwaffe installed massive batteries of anti-aircraft batteries called Fliegerabwehrkanone. The Allies began calling the resulting shells and shell fragments tearing through their planes flak. The Germans produced a range of these artillery pieces, including light, medium, and heavy artillery pieces. The artillery ranged in size from 12.7-128 mm flak guns. The light and medium guns were used to protect German field armies as well as facilities like important bridges, ports, and dams fim low-level attck. The heavy batterie were used to target the high-altitude strategic bombers. The Germans by 1942 had installed . over 15,000 88 mm flak guns in cannons Flak belts stretching across the route into the Reich's industrial heartland. They streached grom the Netherlands through Belgium and western Germany. At some points they were 20 km thick. The Flak batteries were an important part of the Kammhuber Line. The Germans had radar directed batteries and searchlights to direct the fire. There were also Flak batteries installed around major German cities and high priority tasrgets like Ploesti and U-Boat facilities. Some Luftwaffe analysts were dubious about the huge effort involved. It was very difficult to shoot diwn a bomber. One Luftwaffe study estimated it took over 3,300 88 mm shells to sucessfully shoot down a bomber. The principal German anti-aircraft weapon was the 88 mm artilery piece. These weapons were in great demand as early in the war it was discovered to be a very effective against tanks. Thus these weapons were needed on the Eastern Front to stop the steadily increasing Red rmy armor driving the Wehrmact east. The Germans also begn deploying 128 mm guns which were even more effective. The Luftwaffe deployed rectactular formations of 40 AA pieces in Grossbatterien able to deal out box bax barrages. These defenses were manned by the diverse personnel, but included many Hitler Youth boys. The HJ also had a major Flakhelfer program of anti-aircraft helpers which made a major contribution to the German war effort. German anti-aircraf batteries by late-1944 with the defeat of the Luftwaffe were the primary German air defendes.

German Cities

German cities ere devestated by the resumed campaign following D-Day. The industrial cities of Germany were virtually leveled. RAF night bombing meant that specific targets could not be targetted, but only cities. The American bombers tried to target specific targets, but limitations in bombing technology meant that most bombs fell on areas of cities that were not targetted. Many cities were virtually leveled. This was especially true of Berlin which as the capital of the NAZI Reich was especially targeted by both the British and Americans. All important industrial cities were heavily attacked. Factories in the days before workers could afford cars were normally located in city centers. Nurmburg was also destroyed, presumably as a kind of symbolic symbol of NAZI Germany. It was here that the annual NAZI Party Congress was held, with parades by the Hitler Youth and other NAZI organizations. These were the cermonies vividly recorded in "Triumph of the Will". A GI tells us, "What I really remember is the utter destruction of the German cities. I remember driving through Nuremberg with my Jeep and it was one lane only and it wasn't straight." [Bill]

Transportation Network

One of the priority targets when the strategic bombing campaign was resumed was Germany'sefficient transportation network, especially the railrosds and to alesser extent barge and highway traffic. Destroying the transportation system meant that war plants could not obtain raw materials or ship finished products. It also meant that the Wehrmacht could not move soldiers and equipment to the front. Often when cities were bombed, the targer was railroad centers and marsaling fields. The attack on the transportation network did not just involve the bombers. The fighters flying escort were releasrd for low-level ground attack. Often they went after airfields hoping to catch the new German ME-262 fighters on the ground and tearing up whatever airbase facilities were still in tack. The fighters also went after what ever they saw moving, especially trais. River barges and highway traffic was also hit. By the end of the War the Wehrmacht was largely on foot and Germany no longer had a railway system.


Graph 1.--German overall World War II and aircraft production, 1941-45. Source: Wagenführ. pp. 178-180.

German War Production

German victories early in the War were in large part the result of massive arms spending Hitler launched upon being appointed Chancellor (January 1933). NAZI Rearmament/Aufrüstung put Germany in an important position because the Allies took so long to respond and did not begin to rearm with the speed and intensity needed once they realized the danger. And even then the resonse was Appeasemnt--avoiding war at virtually all cost. The result was the Fallof France (June 1940). But here the production story took an unexpected turn. Hitler believed that with the French Army destroyed that he had won the War. He ctually ordered war production curtailed because of the sreses it waplacing on the German economy. Important long-term projects were deemphazized or cancelled, mostly notavly the jet program. At thesametime the British turned to a total war footing and actually began supassing German wr production. And the United States began to rearm, not aotal war footing, but substntilly increeased defense spending. Only the dusaster in the Soviet Union forced changes in the NAZI war economy. The Red army Winter Offensuve before Moscow ((1941-42) inflicted enormous losses on the Germns. Hitler appointed Albert Speer Armanments Minister (February 1942). Speer against considerable opposition rationalized the German War economy and production increased sharply (1942-44). Without this, the Germns would have probnly been defeated in 1943. Even with the Allied stategic bombing, production increased. This only chnged in late-1944. The Americans with the arrival of the P-51 Mustang escort, decimated the Luftwaffe (Februry-March 1944). This mean that German cities with their war plnts were now only protected by Flak batteries. The Allies, however, did not imnediately turn the bmbers loose. SHARG Commnder Gen. Eisen=nhower took control of the bombers, nych to the consterntion of the ur Chiefs, and used then to pound the German Atlantic Wall and French rail system whuch supplied it to prepre for the D-Day lsndings. Ike did not hand the bombers bck o the Air Chiefs until after the Nornady breal out and kibertiin of Frabe (September 1944). It is at this point hat the strategic bombing of Germn ear industries began in earnest and German war prodyction began to fall (graph 1). Here both the bombing and shortages of rawmaterial were resoinsible.

German Secret Weapons Programs

The strategic bombing campaign played a major role in delayng and limiting the impact of the German secret weapons program. The RAF attack on Penemunde delayed the program several months and forced the transfer og the program to underground sites. Allied planes destroyed V-1 launching sites, again delaying the program and reducing the number that could be fired. Allied bombing of shipyards and transit facilities significantly impaired the German effort to build the advanced Type 21 U-boats.

Impact

There is no precise accounting of Germans killed as a result of the Allied strategic bombing campaign. Estimates vary. We have seen estimates ranging from 0.3-0.6 million Germans. While huge numbers, when you look at the destruction of German citie, one can not help but wonder why more Germans were not killed. The reason of course is the effifency of the Civil Defense program. The bombing destroyed or seriously damaged some 6 million homes. German industry which was located almost entirely in the cities, was devestated. Luftwaffee Chief Göering is reported to have said that he first realized that the War was lost when he first saw the American P-51s over Berlin. Berlin and other major cities by 1945 were wastelands of rubble. German war production was finally affected, not only because of the damage to industrial cities, but because the Allies targeted Germany's production of fuel. The Romanian Ploesti oil field were targetted as well as synthetic fuel plants in Germany itself. About one-third of Germany industry depended on these plants. Most of the Luftwaffe's fuel came from them. [Hillgruber, p. 420ff.] The transportation system, another major target, was destoyed. By the end of the War many German units were reduced to using horse drawn carts. Germany quite simply could no longer wage war. Some historians motivated by ideology more than facts claim that the strategic bombing campaign did not work. This is simply inaccurate. It did work. The cost in men and material was enormous and it took until late 1944 to mortally wound the NAZI war economy. The morality can be questiones, In the end, however, rge strategic bombing campaign did work. Germany by the end of the War was also no longer a modern industrial nation. The future of the country was now in the hands of the Soviets and Western Allies.

Sources

Corum, James S. Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, 1918-1940" (University Press of Kansas, 2000).

Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1974), 844p.

Hillgruber, Andreas. Strategie=Hitlers Strategie: Politik und Kriegführung 1940 bis 1941 (Frankfurk am Main, 1965).

Sebald, W.G. Trans by Anthea Bell. On the Natural History of Destruction (Random House), 202p.

Snyder, Louis L. Historical Guide to World War II (1982).

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich (New York, 1970).

Wagenführ, R. Die deutsche Industrie im Kriege 1939-1945 (Berlin: 1945).






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Created: June 20, 2003
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