* war and social upheaval: Second World War II Allied strategic bombing campaign -- Allied combined bombing campaign 1942-45








World War II: European Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign (1942-45)


Figure 1.-- Nuremberg was where the NAZIs staged their annual Party extatavanganzas. This is a view of Nuremberg inn 45n after the Allies had finished with it. (It is not like may cities in the East after the Germans were done with them.) You can see the twin-spired Lorenz Church. On the right and surrounded with rubble is a statue of Kaiser William I. Clock on the image for an enlargement of the civilians, mostly getting water. One of the gratest problems civilians had in a bombed out city was obtaining water. Source: National Archives and Records Administration -- NAID 540139.

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. 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. 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 in 1943 joined the British in round-the-clock bombing. One of the worst hit cities was Hambug. There were firestorms which destetated 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 opearions 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 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 specific industrial targetys 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.

Intelligence

An important aspect of the strategic bombing campaign was intelligence. Information was needed on targets, defensive obstacles, and impact assessments. There were various ways of obstaining this information, including signals intelligence, espionage, photo reconnaissance, downed aircraft, debreiefing air crews, and interogating captured airmen. The Germans had some successes during their Blizkrieg operations, but failed miserably during their one attempt at strategic bombing--the Battle of Britain. The Allies did much better. Espionage help dtect and target the German V-weapons. Gaining control of thge air helped blind German photo reconnaissance and make possible detaile Allied reconnaissance. It also left the Germans no way of assessing and directing the V-weapons attacks. The basic problem with the Allied strategic bombing campaign was not finding targets, but the inaccuracy of World War II bombing. The Germans did manage to desguise some of their synthetic fuel plants.

Signals intelligence


Espionage


Photo reconnaissance

The Brutish began using photo reconnaissance almost as soon as photography was invented. This was possible vecause of hot air baloons which were used in the Crimean War (1850s). It was not until World War I, however, that photo reconnaissance became a major operation. There are two aspects to photo reconnaissance. First flying to take the photographs. Second analysing the photographs to understand what can be seen. The expert British World War II photo interpreter was Babington Smith. She was a WAAF officer who was in charge of L section at photography intelligence at RAF Medmemham, a country estate called Danesfield House. The RAF aerial flying squadran was based at Heston Airfield. This was near what is now Heathrow. The operation was run by a gifted aerial photographer named Sidney Cotton. He was not in the RAF Aerial Intelligence unit but in a department separate from them but with RAF personnel to help in aerial photography development. Cotton was a difficult man who knew his own mind and worked best outside military protocol. In the last months of peace between 1938-39 he had been recruted by British Intelligence to fly over Germany on surepticious photo intelligence operations. He managed to capture ariel views of placrs in whicch British Intelligence was interested. By the time the War began, Cotton had established a specialiat team of 20 aerial photographers. These included Maurice Longbottom, Bob Niven, Walley Walton and Wing Commander Geoffrey Tuttle. [Dowing] The germans had a sinilar operation.

Downed air craft


Debriefing aircrews


Interogating captured aircrews


American Entry into the War: Air Component (December 1941)

Hitler probably out of frustration with events in the East and prodding by President Roosevelt, 4 days after Pearl Harbor declared war on the United States (December 11, 1941). The German generals including the Lufwaffee were left to sort out how to wage war against Britain, a still undefeated Soviet Union, and now the United States. Luftwaffe planners took seriouslt President Roosevelt's announcements to build 50,000 aircraft. They had no way of knowing that this would be an understatement. Luftwaffe planners began plans to significantly expand German aircraft production by investments in large factories which could mass produce aircraft like American factories. It would be some time, however, before aircraft would begin coming off the assembly lines. [Tootze, p. 440.] Once America joined the War in December 1941, a massive bombing campaign against Germany from England became feasible. RAF Bomber Command was already preparing a massive strategic bombing campaign. Much of their war economy was directed toward it. And the neans for it, the Avro Lancaster, would come on line in 1942 America's industrial potential gave the Allies to mount a strategic bombing campaign orders of magnitude above the Luftwaffe's capability. America already had a modern long-ange 4-engine bomber--the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Another long range bomber, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, was about to begin production. It would be some time, however, before America could assemble the necessary force to join with British in tking the war to the heart of the Reich. Hitler by declaring war accelerated the process, but it would still take a full year.

1942: British Area Bombing/American Buildup

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. Hitting 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.

1943: Round the Clock Bombing

The combined Allied air assault on Germany was planned and coordinated by Air Marshall Harris and the American commanders General Hap Arnold and Ira Eaker. The British would continue to bomb at night and the Americans would begin daylight raids. This would put aditional stress on the Germans defenses, forcing them to defend 24 hours a day. The fires from the American bombs could be used as navigational guides by thge British at night. The American 8th Air Force with even larger number of bombers than the British began initial opearions 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.

Fighter Escorts

It soon became clear that raids on targets in the Reich were unsustainable without fighter esort. The American bombers were acompanied to the borders of the Reich where they had to turn back because of limited range. The principal American fighter in 1942 was the P-47 Thunderboldt. The pilots reported seeing the Luftwaffe fighters forming up to attack the bombers just as they had to turn back. Some German cities, especially Hamburg suffered devestating attcks, but the Luftwaffe in 1943 proved that American bombers could not sustain unescoted attacks deep into Germany and by the end of the year was also taking terriblr toles on British bombers during night raids. G�ring assured Hitler that the Allied fighters did not have the range to escort the bombers. That was the case in 1943, but it was also what the Allies were were working hard to rectify. Hitler's failure to give priority to the Luftwaffe and the Allied emphasis on air power was to radically change the course of the War in 1944.

Allied Air Superiority (1943-44)

The Luftwaffe cdominated 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. This changed in 1943 and by 1944 German civilians as well as the Wehrmacy were paying a terrible price. Supperficial 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 Speerv 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 nimbers 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. Thee arrival of high performance Allied fighters in large numbers was one factor in achieving air suoperority 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 the 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.

1944: Turning the Tide

The air war changed dramatically in 1944. The Luftwaffe had bled Bomber Command and the 8th airforce in 1943. Neither fotced had achieved the results expected by Round-the-Clock bombing. Considerable damage had been done but the Luftwaffe had not been broken and the German war effort had not been severely impaired. In fact German war production was inccreasing. A series of devlopments in late-1943 radically changed the situation in the skies over Germmany. First and most importantly, the Allies had solved the fighter escort proble, P-51s with Merlin engines by December 1943 were beginning to reach the Americans in numbers and the 9th air Force activated. Second, the Allies had invaded southern Italy (September 1943). The new 15th Air Force was established at Foggia. This brought outhern Germany within in range, complicating the Luftwaffe's problems in defending the Reich. Third was the scale of the Allied build up in England. The 8th Air Force was beginning to reach parity with Bomber Command. The 8th Air Firce by the end of the year had the capability of staging raids composed of over 700 bombers on a sustained basis.

D-Day Air Campaign (March September 1944)

The full extent of the change was not completely apparent because the Allies shifted priorities from Germany to France in preparation for the cross-Channel invasion--Overlord. Eisenhower as the time for the invasion demanded personal control over both Brish and American air forces. Here the British objected, but when Ike threatened to resign, Churchill capitulted. Eisenhower also was confronted with resistanbce down the chain of command. Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force had taken a terrible drubbing from the Luftwaffe in 1942 and 43. Npw that they were gettng the upper hand, they wanted to persue athe attack over Germany. Harris and Spaatz both argued that they could best contribute to Overlord by continuing th strtegic bombing campaign over Germany. Spaatz in particular wanted to focus on the German petrolum industry. Not only would reducig petroleum production restruct the Wehrmact, bur the Luftwaffe would have to give battle affording the Allied fighter escorts to destroy the remaining fighter force. The Allied air commanders were opposed by a British civilian, a scirntist on the air plnning staff--Silly Zuckerman. He devised the Transportation Plan which sought to essentially destroy the French transpotation system leading to the invasion beaches. The idea was to target 80 railway marshelling and repair centers located in Belgium and northern France. (The targets included the transport system leading to the Pas de Calais as well as Normondy so as not to tip off the Germans as to the location of the invasion.) The Germans could not heavily defend the whole coast. Their ability to defeat the invasion would rest on their ability to rush powerful forces forward and gain control of the invasion beaches before the Allies could land sufficienr forces to exploit their manpower and resource superiority. Zuckerman had the support on one air commander--Air Marshal Tedder. Eisehower decided on the Transportation Plan and backed it even when Churchill expressed concern over possible French civilian casualties. In persuing the Trnsportation Plan the Allied bombers proved much more uccessful at hitting ground targets than one believed possible. Here the Allies improved their target marking techniques. The supression of Luftwaffe as another factor. Raids on Germany were not entirely ceased. The Luftwaffe by June was so devestated that they were a non-factor.

Renewed Strategic Bombing Campaign (September 1944-April 1945)

Once the invasion had succeeded and the liberation of France in Progress, the Allied renewed the strategic 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 wsanted 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 8th Air Force now had twice the strength of Bomber Command, but both commanders possed massive air armadas, more than 5,000 bombers. In addition, the Luftwaffe defenses had been devestated. Harris and Spaatz had different strategies to persue. 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 wpild be destroyed.

Impact

The actual impact of the campaign seemed to many as disappointing. The Air Force 208 volume Strategic Bombing Survey found that the campaign did not do as much damage as Air Force planners had anticipated. This has led some to conclude that the campaign was a failure. 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. Some authors seem to have allowed thir political judgement to cloud their assessment. [Galbraith] While the Strategic Bombing Campaign did not by itself win the War, it seems clear now that it made a very significant contribution. 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. The Luftwaffe was largely defeated over the skies of the Reich. The defeat of the Luftwaffe made D-Day impossible. While the Germand managed to maintain war profuction well into 1944, production began to plumet in late 1944, largely because of the Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign. In particulat the destruction of the German petroleum industry largely groybded the Luftwaffe and imonilized the Wehrmacht. [Miller] A major factor in degeating the Wehrmact in the Battle of the Bulge was the German fuel shortage.

Sources

Downing, Taylor. Spies in the Sky.

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

Galbraith, John Kenneth. Galbraith did an independent assessment after the War and found that the Strategic Bombing Campaign did significantly aid the war effort. As a Vietnam War critic years later he seems to have adopted a different opinion, perhaps influenced by his objection to the bombing campaign in Vietnam.

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

Miller, Donald. Masters of the War.

Tooze, Adam. The Wages if Destruction: The Making and Breaking of th Nai Economy (Penguin Group: New York, 2007), 800p.







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Created: 6:11 AM 9/15/2004
Last updated: 2:52 PM 7/23/2020