World War II: European Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign--Allied Air Superiority


Figure 1.--Here the young German soldiers in a troop convoy are seeking cover in the midst of an Allied air strike. This photograph was taken May 24, 1944 only days before D-Day. German units trying to mive forward during the day were devestated by Allied air power. German soldiers found themselves fighting with virtually no air cover and support. I am not sure where this photograph was taken. Click on the image for Wehrmact identification information.

The Luftwaffe dominated the skies over Europe during the early years of the War. The superority of German planes and the Luftwaffe's tactical doctrine was a key factor in the stunning German victories, especially the defeat of France (1940). This changed in 1943 and by 1944 German civilians as well as the Wehrmacht were paying a terrible price. Superficial assessments of the Allied strategic bombing campaigns often point to the fact that German production of armaments increased in 1943 and in many areas even in 1944. Of course this is not a valid assessment as the historian has to assess what the Germans could have produced without the bombing. Contrary to popular opinion, the German war economy was not efficently run in the early years of the War and Speer in fact achieved substantial results when he was put in charge of war production. Another critical impact of the strategic bombing campaign was the impact on the Luftwaffe. Although the Allies paid a heavy loss in air crews, large numbers of Luftwaffe planes and the irreplaceable pilots were destroyed in the skies over Germany. In addition the Luftwaffe had to pull back to defend German cities. The arrival of high performance Allied fighters in large numbers was one factor in achieving air superority over the battlefields, but another key factor was that the Luftwaffe had to be withdrawn back to Germany. This meant that much of the German air strength was not available to support the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. It also meant that the Allied air forces had a free hand to attack Hitler's vaunted Atlantic Wall. When the invasion finally came, the Luftwaffe could offer only token resistance. The Allies achieved the air superiority in 1944 that the Luftwaffe attempted to achieve and failed over Britain in 1940. And it was this air superority that made the D-Day Normandy landings possible.

Luftwaffe's Importance

Hitler used his new Luftwaffe to cow the British and French at Munich and force the Czechs to comply. The Luftwaffe dominated the skies over Europe during the early years of the War. The superority of German planes and the Luftwaffe's tactical doctrine was a key factor in the stunning German victories, especially the defeat of France (1940). The Luftwaffe served as highly mobile artillery as was a key factor in the success of the Wehrmacht's Blitzkrieg doctine. The Germans also used their aerial domance to bomb whole cities. This first occurred in Poland at the beginning of the War. The German aerial dominance was such that the Hitlerand the NAZIs assumed that only countries that resisted them would have their cities bombed. Göring assured Hitler and the German people that their cities would never be bombed.

Weaknesses

Although it was not clear a the beginning of the War, there were weaknesss in the German air strategy. The Germans hd a powerful airforce because they launched a massive rearmament program that the British and French did not match quickly enough. Even by the time of the Battle of Britain, the British were already building more planes than the Germans. Even more ominously for the Germans was that President Roosevelt even before the War began had laid the foundation or a 50,000 plane American air force. These were numbers the Germans could not begin to match. And they do not even include Soviet aircraft production. In addition, because of the limited industrial capacity, Germany only built a tactical airforce. The Allies, both the British and Americans, began building a long-range strategic bomber force. As Air Marshal Harris explained, The Germans began the war with the naive assumtion that they would bomb other countries, but their cities would not be bombed. "They have sown the wind, and so they shall reap the whirlwind." Not only did the Germans have a more limited industrial capacity, but Luftwaffe planners did not efficently use the capacity they had. As a result, although there were plans to build innovative new fighters, the Germans were still using the ME-109 that they began with, at the end of the War. They added the FW-109, but the innovative jets were never available in the numbers needed. There were also serious weaknesses in the Luftwaffe's pilot training program.

Shift in Air Ballance

The Luftwaffe failed in the Battle of Britain (1940), but was still dominant on the continent as it demonstrated in Balkans campaign against the British (April 1941). The turning point for the Luftwaffe was Hitler's decession to invade the Soviet Union. The Luftwaffe after conducting punishing raids on Britain in early 194q1 graduyally began shiting its forces east. The Luftwaffe virtually destroyed the Red Air Force on the first few days after Hitler launched Barbarossa (June 22, 1941). The Soviets were caught on the ground in many instances. Stalin had ordered the Red Air Force not to oppose Luftwaffe reconisance flights so as to ensure Hitler would have no ecuses for an attack. The Soviets also had many obsolete models that could not compete with the modern Luftwaffe aircraft. The Luftwaffe played an important role in the early German successes in Barbarossa. Barbarossa, however was fought over a huge ara, a much wider battlefield than the battles in the West. Thus the Luftwaffe could not dominate the battles as it had done in the West. Even more significantlyy, the Soviet Union did not collapse after a short few weeks campaign. The result was that the Luftwaffe was put under great strain. And without strastegic bombers, the Luftwaffe could not attack the Soviet air craft factories moved east of the Urals. Luftwaffe pilots racked impressive tallies of Soviet aircraft shot down, but the Luftwaffe pilot training perogram could not keep up with the steady attrition. And Luftwaffe aces were not brought home to train new pilots, rather they countinued flying missions until thy were shot down, losing their considerable expertise. As the Luftwaffe was gradually being worn down in the East, Americand Britain were deploying both tactical and strategic air forces with high quality planes in much larger numbers than the Germans could match.

Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign

Arguably the most contoversial aspect of World War II was the Allied strategic bombing campaign. There are two elements of the campaign that remain controversial. First is the effectiveness of the campaign. Second is the morality of the campaign. With the NAZIs in command of the Continent, the only way that Britain could stike at Germany was by air. Germamn air defenses meant that the RAF could only bomb at night and restricted British strategy to areavbombing. This significantly inhibited the effectiveness of British operations. The entry of America into the War meant that the air offensive could be significantly expanded. Both Curchill and Roosevely were committed to strategic bombing. The hope was that strategic bombing would force the NAIs to capitulate. The Allies at Casablanca demanded unconditional suurendetr (January 1943). The American buildup of air forces in Bitain continued throughout 1942 and by the beginning og 1943the 8th Air firce was ready to join the British in an around the clock bombing campaign against Germany. American and British planners agreed on four priority targets: 1) U-boat building facilities, 2) aircraft production plants, 3) ballbearing plants, and 4) oil refineries. Although not at the time, the Allied strategic boming campaign has become the most controversial aspect of World War II. German civilians as well as the Wehrmacht were paying a terrible price. Superficial assessments of the Allied strategic bombing campaigns often point to the fact that German production of armaments increased in 1943 and in many areas even in 1944. Of course this is not a valid assessment as the historian has to assess what the Germans could have produced without the bombing. Contrary to popular opinion, the German war economy was not efficently run in the early years of the War and Speer in fact achieved substantial results when he was put in charge of war production. Another critical impact of the strategic bombing campaign was the impact on the Luftwaffe. Although the Allies paid a heavy loss in air crews, large numbers of Luftwaffe planes and the irreplaceable pilots were destroyed in the skies over Germany. In addition the Luftwaffe had to pull back to defend German cities. The arrival of high performance Allied fighters in large numbers was one factor in achieving air superority over the battlefields, but another key factor was that the Luftwaffe had to be withdrawn back to Germany. This meant that much of the German air strength was not available to support the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front.

North Africa and Italy

The Luftwaffe was a factor in North Africa, but the Luftwaffe could not match the forces deployed by the British and the situalion was worsened when the Americans and British invaded North frica (November 1942). The Luftwaffe was used to rush Germasn units to Tunisia, but could not adewqutely supply them once they had been inserted. The Luftwaffe's problem in North Africa was mot just numbers, but difficulties supplying the squadronds that were deployed. With the invasion of Sicily (July 1943) and Italy (September 1943), the Luftwaffe did not have the strength to contest Allied air power.

France (1942-44)

The Luftwaffe still dominated the skies over France in 1942 as it demonstrated at Dieppe (April 1942). Hitler's declaration of war on America (December 1941) resulted in a buildup of the 8th Air Force in Britain. The first confrontation with the Luftwaffe was ovr France. From the beginning of the War, American military planners saw the invasion of France and the drive into Germany as the central campaign of the War. The British had begun raids on France and they were joned by the 8th Air Force (1943). The Luftwaffe depleted from the Eastern Front found itself unable to protect French sites. They exacted terrible losses on raids into the Reich, but Bfitish and American raids on German targets in France were increasingly effective as Allied air forces steadily grew and usually with light loses. The deployment of P-51 Mustangs (December 1943) changed the ballance in the air war over Germany. Not only were targets being hit deep in Germany, but increasing numbers of Luftwaffe pilots were being shot down.

D-Day Air Campaign (March-June 1944)

The success of the Allied stratehic bombing campaign meant that the Luftwaffe had to concentrate ints dwindling resources on protecting German cities, especially industrial citied manufactuaring armd and the synthetic petroleum plants. also meant that the Allied air forces had a free hand to attack Hitler's vaunted Atlantic Wall. As a result by early 1944, the Allies controlled the skies over France, a necessary prerequisite for an invasion. General Eisenhower took over operational control of Allied air firces (March 1944). The strategic bombing campaign was temporarily suspended and raids focused on beavh defenses and the transportation system. The goal was to weaken the Atlantic Wall and to ensure that the Germans could not rapidly rush mobile formations forwad to prevent the Allies from establishing their beachead. This was critical. The Germans had substanytial firces in France, including pwerful Panzer Divisions that the Allied soldiers could not match until they had their armor and artillery ashore in force. When the invasion finally came, the Luftwaffe could offer only token resistance. The Allies achieved the air superiority in 1944 that the Luftwaffe attempted to achieve and failed over Britain in 1940. And it was this air superority that made the D-Day Normandy landings possible. The German Panzerdivisions were effective inly if they were mobile and the Allied air superority essentially imbolizied these powerful units. These Allies were also aided by their disinformation campaign that kept German Panzers in the Pas de Calais whwre even after D-Day the Germans expected another invasion.

Liberation of France (August 1944)

Eisenhower kept operational control of Allied air forces during the fidhting in France. Allied air power prevented the Panzers Divisions from attacking the Allied beachhead in France. German tanls were much more powerful than the American Sherman, but Allied air power precentging the Panzers from attacking in strength. American air strikes opened the German lines that allowed the break out from the Normandy beachhead. Massive carpet bombing raids tore a whole in the German lines near St. Lo through which Patton's Third Army poured in tanks and men (July 1944). Much of the German 7th Army was captured or destroyed. From that point on the Wehrmacht was in full retreat back to the Reich. Paris was liberated (August 1944) and the Allies reached Belgium (September 1944).

Renewed Bombing Campaign: Germany (September 1944-April 1945)

Eisenhower released the Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force (September 1944). Although the failure of Market Garden (October 1944) abnd supply problems stalled the Allied ground offensive, the Allied strategic bombing campaign intensified. What followed was one of the greatest orgies of destruction in the history of warfare. Great damage had been done to German industry and cities before D-Day. What followed was much worse. The bombers were able to strike anywher in the Reich with only light opposition. Ever major German city was hit, in most cases repeteadly. Berlin became a major target as did the synthetic petroleum factories. German cities were turned into piles of rubble. The transportation network was also targetted so that ir became to move not only troops but arms and raw materials. The factories that were not destroyed ran out of raw materials. Now war production did plumit. And it was not only the bombers involved. The fighters that esorted the bom,bers were released for low level arttacks, often striking Luftwaffe air fields as well as railroads and barges. By the time the Allies crossed the Rhine, Germany ceased to esist as an industrial nation and the Luftwaffe did not exist as a an effictive fighting force.






HBC









Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main World War II air campaign war essay page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]



Created: 6:11 AM 9/15/2004
Last updated: 12:55 AM 12/20/2005