Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign: Impact

World War II Allied strategic bombing campaign
Figure 1.--This was Berlin at the end of the War. This photograph was taken by a Canadian soldier somewhere in Berlin during Summer 1945. The damafe in Berlin was caused primarily by the Allied bombardment, but apocalyptic Battle of Berlin also caused a great deal of damage.

Military historians still debate the effectiveness of the strategic bombing campaign. Here the debates concerns the earlier phases of the campaign. There is little doubt that in the later phases of the campaign that German industrial production was affected and the mobility and effectiveness of the German war machine shattered. Any assessment of the Allied bombing campaign has to ask the question of how much more the Germans could have expanded production had it not been for the bombing. The bombing significantly clearly disrupted the economy and the ability of the NAZIs to persue their development of new weapons. There is no doubt that German civilians paid a heavy price for Hitler's war. The cost to civilians was very extrodinarily high. Over 130 German cities were literally flatened. There is no exact accounting. Estimates range from 0.3-0.6 million killed. Countless others were injured and 7.5 million people were left homeless. Even these losses, however, were a fraction of the approximately 12 million people who the NAZIs muredered in concentration camps and death camps and even a smaller proportion of those the NAZIs had slated for death or a life of slave labor. Luftwaffee Chief Göring is reported to have said that he first realized that the War was lost when he first saw the American P-51s over Berlin. The strategic bombing campaign was a major force in the destruction of the Luftwaffee. 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 and the transportation system. 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, the 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.

Phases of the Battle

It order to asesses the effectiveness of the stratehic bombing campaign, one has to understand the phases of the battle. There was no heavy bombing of German cities for the first 2 years of the War. The British did not hace the planes with range of reach the Reich in any numbers. Only when Bomber Command began reciving the heavy Avro Lancaster bomber did the bombng command begin in earnest (1942). The British only bombed at might because of German air defenses. The American 8th Air Force joined them with daylight raids (1943). But evem with the aroind-the clock British and American bombing results were disappointing. The numner of bombers were still limited and were not escorted. This meant bombing operations were affected and the bombers surred terrible losses. The final phase of the strategic bombing campaign began with the arrival of the P-51 Mustang escorts (December 1943). The Lugtwaffe fighters coming up to attack the bombers were shot out of the skies (early 1944). In only a few months the Luftwaffe was esentiall y destrouyed. Before the weight of the increasing number of American and British could be brought bear on German war industries, Ge. Eisenhower ordered the Bomber Boys to redirect their efforts to the Transportation Plan, currung tge Atlantic Wall forces off from the cwar undustries of the Reichin preparation for D-Day. They vwere not fully relaeased until (September). Nut even before this imcreasingly heavy raid began to tear the heart out of Geraman war industry and to destoy the German transpotation system. and German arms production plummeted.

Early Phase (1939-41)

We now know a great deal about the capabilities and limits of air power. This is not information that was available to Axis and Allied air planners. World War II was the first major conflict in which strategic air forces made a significant contribution. Thus the many mistakes were made by commanders in how to employ air assetts. Also informtion on NAZI Germany was not easy to come by. The fog of war and the desire to seek revenge were factors that clouded judgement. The innaccuracy of World War II bombing is another complicating factor. Thus many of the criticisms of the strategic bombing campaign can find plenty to criticize. It should be stressed, however, that the ineffectiveness of the early bombing campaign does not prove that the overall campaign was not effective. The French did not permit the British to bomb German targets during the Phony War (Septembr 1939-April 1940). After the fall of France (June 1940), Bomber Command did not have aircraft capable pf reaching Germany in any numbers.

Second Phase (1942-43)

Only when Bomber Command began reciving the heavy Avro Lancaster bomber did the bombng command begin in earnest (1942). The British only bombed at might because of German air defenses. The American 8th Air Force joined them with daylight raids (1943). But evem with the aroind-the clock British and American bombing results were disappointing. The numner of bombers were still limited and were not escorted. This meant bombing operations were affected and the bombers surred terrible losses.

Final Phase

The final phase of the strategic bombing campaign began with the arrival of the P-51 Mustang escorts (December 1943). The Lugtwaffe fighters coming up to attack the bombers were shot out of the skies (early 1944). In only a few months the Luftwaffe was esentiall y destrouyed. Before the weight of the increasing number of American and British could be brought bear on German war industries, Ge. Eisenhower ordered the Bomber Boys to redirect their efforts to the Transportation Plan, currung tge Atlantic Wall forces off from the cwar undustries of the Reichin preparation for D-Day. They vwere not fully relaeased until (September). Nut even before this imcreasingly heavy raid began to tear the heart out of Geraman war industry and to destoy the German transpotation system. German ar production plummeted. There is little doubt that in the later phases of the campaign that the strategic bombing campaign was ultimately very effective. The campaign shattered German industrial production, destroyed the German petroleum industry. This affected and the mobility and effectiveness of the German war machine. These achievements came late in the War. The most important and the first major achievement of the strategic air campaign destroyed the Luftwaffe. This accomplishment made D-Day possible. Without it D-Day could not have succeeded.

Results

Military historians still debate the effectiveness of the strategic bombing campaign. Here the debates concerns the earlier phases of the campaign. Some critics have charged that the air war was not only costly, but largely ineffive. One analyst charges that the strategic bombing campaign was "the clumsiest, most brutal and most wastefull of all forms of warfare". [Falls] Other authors agree. One author with the perspective of time agrees with Falls. He focuses on the moral issues, but also claims that the strategic bombing campaign was ineffective. [Grayling] These authors reach this conclusion only by carefully selecting their facts and by a lak of understanding of the military campaigns of World War II. There is no doubt that the early phase of the strategic bombing campaign was ineffective. The accomplishments of Bomber Command and the U.S. army Air Forces in the later phase of the war is a very different matter.

Casualties

Aerial warfare was conceived in the inter-war periodas a way to fight and win a war without the terrible losses experienced n World War I trench warfare. While it is true that battefield casualties in World War II were less than those experienced in World War I, the air war was a major area of operations with very significant casualties. The RAF in World War II lost 79,000 men, more than half or 44,000 killed serving in Bomber Command. These losses were greater than experienced by the British Army in ilanding in Normandy, liberating France and the Low countries, and invasding Grmany itself. They were, however, a fraction of the carnage on the Western Front during World War I when battles like the somme and Verdun chewed up manpower at a horrifying rate. Some 150,000 Allied soldiers were killed at the Somme--jut one of the Western Front battles. Even more were Allied soldiers wer killed at Verdun. There is no precise accounting of Germans civilians killed as a result of the Allied strategic bombing campaign. Estimates vary. We have seen estimates ranging from 0.3-0.7 million Germans. While huge numbers, when you look at the horendous destruction of German cities, one can not help but wonder why more Germans were not killed. The reason of course is the eficiency of the German 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.

Destruction of the Luftwaffe

from an assessment of the Strategic Bombing Campaign is the destruction of the Luftwaffe. Until 1944 the Luftwaffe was an important force. Much of the force was withdrawn to the Reich to defend Germnan cities. And the Luftwaffe savaged Allied bombers throughout 1943 with relatively limited losses. This change in 1944 with the appearance of the P-51 to escort the bombers on raids into the Reich. The Luftwaffe had to raise to engage the bombers as German cities were being bombed into ruins. This included factories producing the Luftwaffe's planes. And the P-51 Pilots were ordered on their way home to come down to the low levels at hit Luftwaffe air filelds to destroy the planes that did not rise to do battle. As a result of battles in early 1944 (January-May 1944), the Luftwaffe was essentially destroyed as an important military force. This is why the D-Day invasion went forward without German air opposition (June 1944).

Diversion of Resources

The Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign also forced the Germans to fivert resources from the combat front. The most obvious diversion is that Luftwaffe sqadrins were withdrawn from the Eastern Front to protect German cities. A less obvious fiversion is thae huge amount of artillery and ammunition. Massive numbers of 88s and other artillery pointed up at the Allied bombers and were not on the Eastern Front stopping Soviet tanks or along the Atalantic Wall preparing tomblock the Allied invasion. And this was at a time when German war production was a fraction of the production of the Allies.

Civilians

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 about 0.3-0.7 million Germans. There are no exact numbers, in part because of the devestation of cities like Hamburg and Dresden was so horific. In addition, German social services began to come apart when the bombing reached its peak levels (1944-45). One of the nost creditable estimates was prepared by the German Goverment and estimated 370,000 Germans. [German Armed Forces Military History Research Office, p. 460.] While this is an estimate, it is unlikely to be off by more than 100,000 either way. This puts it square in the center of our 0.3-0.7 million estimate. We have seen higher numbers, but not well documented by respected historians. Most estimates used by historians fall within the 0.3-0.6 million range. While certainly huge numbers, when you look at the destruction of German cities, one can not help but wonder why more Germans were not killed. The reason of course is the eficiency of the German Civil Defense program. In addition to Germans killed in the bombing, an unknown numbers of foreign workers, including slave laborers. They were denied access to the German bomb sheters as were Jews. Readers shouild be careful when interpreting data on civilian casualties. German civilian caualties are not the same as bombing casualties. There were civilians killed in the fighting, both German civilians as well as ethnic Germans in occupied countries. In addition the NAZI Government killed large numbers of its own civilians, these included Jews, Roma, political opponents, and the handicapped killed as part of the T-4 program. The bombing destroyed or seriously damaged some 6 million homes.

German War Industries

German industry which was located almost entirely in the cities, was devestated. Luftwaffee Chief Göring is reported to have said that he first realized that the War was lost when he first saw the American P-51s over Berlin. The strategic bombing campaign was a major force in the destruction of the Luftwaffee. Berlin and other major cities by 1945 were wastelands of rubble. Often sited to prove that the stratehic bombing campaign dailed is that German war production increased in 1943 anf 194 until about November. This is true. But it increased because Germany in 1941 was still not mobilied for War ro the same extent as the Soviet Union, Britain, and America. Rmament Minister Albert Speer rationalized German war indusries and was able to increase production. The question that should be asked is to what extent could productiin be increaed without the bombing. The Germans maintained productiin by decetralilizing poductiin and moving underground, but this adversely affected both the quality and quantity of production as well as putting added strain on the transport system. Also rarely metioned is what German industry was proucing. It is imprtant to asess mot only what the Grmans were producing, but waht tgey were NOT producing. They were not turning out the very effective Wonder Weapons that German propaganda was trumpeting. These weapons did cexist, they had been developed, and they were highly effective, but the Germans just could not produce them, in large part because of the bombing. What came out of German aircraft plants, for example, were the obsolete MNe-109s nand FW-190s, not the marvelous jets, either the Me-262 jets and the cond generayion of German jets. Almost none of the new advanced U-boats ever left the shiowards. The bombing of Peenamunde set the German missle program back months. Assessments of German war production show that German industry did not begin to collapse until late 1944. And that production actuall incrased in 1943. This is because the NAZIs despite their image never fully mobilized the German economy for war. Hitler was concerned about the impact on German morale. There was a great deal of slack in the economy. Speer finally began to fully utilize the economy which is why production increased. Any assessment of the Allied bombing campaign has to ask the question of how much more the Germans could have expanded production had it not been for the bombing. The bombing significantly disrupted the economy and the ability of the NAZIs to persue their development of new weapons. Some critics say that the Strategic Bombing Campign failed because it did notabsolutely destroy German war production. While this is true, it is also true tht the Cmpign distrupted the Germn war economy nd sithout it that war roduction ould have been muh higher. [Wells]

Petroleum Industry

The greatest weakness in the German war economy was petroleum. Early in the War the Soviets delivered oil under the terms of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (1939). The Germans relied hevily on the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. The major domestic source was coal gassification plants. There is no doubt that more attention should have been directed at these plants. They were, hoever, hard, well protected targets,mostly in eastern Germany. Targeting these sites in force only beczme feasible with the intriducion of P-51 escorts. Major bombing The destruction of these plants and the resulting fuel shortage greatly impaired Luftwaffe operations and even more importantly the Wehrmact. The major fzctor in the Germn succeses early in the War was the Wehrmahct's mobility. This was an advantage lot after America entered the War in both the East and West. German war production was finally affected, not only because of the damage to industrial cities, but because the Allies targeted Germany's petroleum sources. 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.] Without fuel, the Whermacht not only lostmny of its advntages. but was essentially imobile. This was a major factor in the failue of the Bulge Offensive (December 1944). German troops were isued siohoning hoses in the hope that they could use the fuel from overun American positions and seize important fuel dumps. [Wells} Panzer units in a number of cases had to abandon their tanks when they ran out of fuel.

Transportation System

The transportation system, another major target, was destoyed. By the end of the War many German units were reduced to using horse drawn carts.

Cost

Aerial warfare was conceived in the inter-war periodas a way to fight and win a war without the terrible losses experienced n World War I trench warfare. While it is true that battefield casualties in World War I were less than those experienced in World War II, the air war was a major area of operations with very significant casualties. The RAF in World War II lost 79,000 men, more than half or 44,000 killed serving in Bomber Command. These losses were greater than experienced by the British Army in ilanding in Normandy, liberating France and the Low countries, and invasding Grmany itself. They were, however, a fraction of the carnage on the Western Front during World War I when battles like the somme and Verdun chewed up manpower at a horrifying rate. Some 150,000 Allied soldiers were killed at the Somme--jut one of the Western Front battles. Even more were Allied soldiers wer killed at Verdun.

Conclusion

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, the 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

Falls, J.F. Cyril. The Second World War 1939-45 (Duell, Sloan and Pearce: New York, 1949).

German Armed Forces Military History Research Office (an agency of the German government). Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg Bd. 9/1.

Grayling, A.C. Among the Dead Cities.

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

Wells, Mark. Lecture on the strategig bombing campaign. U.S. Air Force Academy. Brodcasted on C-Span (2015).








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Created: 7:00 PM 1/9/2008
Last updated: 5:47 AM 8/3/2019