*** war and social upheaval: World War II air campaigns geographic operations

War and Social Upheaval: World War II Air Campaigns--Geographic Operations

World War II bombing victims
Figure 1.--The Luftwaffe commanders set about to methodically destroy RAF Fighter Command to prepare for the Sea Lion invasion. The RAF thanks in part to the Chain Home Network proved a touhr nut to crack that they had anticipated. Hitler growing inpatient and believing he was a milutary mastermind decided he knew how to slove the problem--bomb London and major cities into submission. The British after the Fall of France had begun to evacuate the children from the cities again, but at the time Hitler launched the Blitz there were still mamy children with their parents in London and other cities. Here some London children separated from their parents and tired after long nights of bombing are sleeping after arriving at the home of Lady Brooke Popham, near Brackley near Oxford. While Fighter Command regrouped the resources of the Luftwaffe were essentially used to dehouse British civilians atvthis critical point, an undertaking of no real military value.

World War II was the first truly world war. Military action took place on all continents except Antartica. And in the mpre remote areas, especially the Pacific, air power was especilly important. There were two key arenas of the War in which the military outcome was decided, Europe and the Pacific. Cmpaigns were also fought in Africa, Artic regions, and Asia. These were side show, relatd to the central campaigns in Europe and the Paciic. From the ouset of the War, both in Asia and Europe, air power was decisive and expanded as the war evolved and grew in area and intensity. And one important development was the rapid extension of the range and capacity of aircraft. After the victory in France, Hitler thought the Reich was secure from air attack. And the Japanese from the beginning believe hey were secure behind the vastness of the Pacfic. The fortunes of War and the advance of aviation technology meant that most assumtions were ill founded. The War was essentially decded in Europe, ecpeically the East. This was arguably the area in which airpower was least important. The Luftwafe was not a lrge enough force to alter the battlefieldoutcome as it had done in the mor limited commbat environments in the West. The subsequent Allied air campaign over northern Europe certainly aided the Soviets, but was not the decisive factor. It was key in making the D-Day nvasion possible and spearheading the drive into the Reich. Air power was undenible critical inthe vast Pacific. Almost all of the major American offensives involved invading islands to secure air bases. And the War was ultimately concluded with the atomic bombs forced the Japanese to surrender.

European Campaign

It was the Germans who began bombing civilian populations rather than military targets as a terror tactic calculated to destroy civilian morale. Visionary German military planners in the 1930s built the world's most advanced air force at the time--the Luftwaffe. Germany was the first World War II combatant to use bombers to terrorize urban populations. This began even before World War II during the Spanish Civil War. The British Government even before war was declared on Germany in September 1939 sought to safeguard the civilain population, especially children, from aerial bombardment. The Government on August 31, 1939 ordered the evacuations to begin. Within a few weeks, 3 million Britains, mostly children had been evacuated from the cities. The German initiated their long awaited western campaign in May 1940. Paris fell June 14 and France capitulated June 22. The Luftwaffe quickly established bases in France and by July 10 launched preliminary strikes in what has come to be called the Battle of Britain. The Luftwaffe while better trained and outnumbering the RAF was ill prepared for the campaign. They did not appreciate the critical importance of the British home chain radar network. The initial British bombing raids in 1939 dropped leaflets. The British were reluctant to actually bomb German cities, in part fearing reprisal raids from the Luftwaffe. The German airassualt on Britain changed this. The whole thrust of the War was changed with Operation Barbarossa--he NAZI assault on the Soviet Union. the Luftwaffe was a key aspect of the invasion, but it hadbeen weakened in the Battle of Britain. Adolf Hitler on December 11, 1941, declared war on the United States. This conviently solved FDR's dilema of how to enter the war against the NAZIs when America had been attacked by the Japanese. Curiously, America was the only country on which Hitler ever declared war. The entry of America into the War changed all calculations of strategic ballance. The output of American industry made possible the construction of amassive air armada to assault Hitler's Germany. 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. Much less known than the British World War II evacuation of children from urban areas is the German evacuation program evacuating children. The program was called the Kinder Land Verschickung (KLV) which operated during World War II. The Allied air campaign against Germany in the months leading up to the Normandy invasion has to be cut back. Targets in France associated with the landings were given the highest priority. Contrary to popular conceptions, the German economy was not effectively harnessed for war. Civilian consumption was not drastuically curtailed as was the case in Britain. Women were not mobilized for war work. Industrial prodiction was not totally directed at the War effort. Only when Albert Speer was appointed Armaments Minister in 1942 did German industry begin to take needed steps to maximize production and reach some of its potential. [Speer] The Germans, as a result, despite the bombing were able to expand war production. Some have used this to charge that the Allied bombing cmpaign was ineffective and a misallocation of resources. Hitler by late 1944 no longer spoke to the German people in sharp contrast to earlier years when he ws a constant presence on German radio. His deteriorating physical condition, relentlessly depressing reports from the fronts, and the destruction of German cities by Allied bombing were all factors. Hitler's mouth piece Josef Goebbels became his spokesman. Goebbels raged about vengenance and secrt weapons. There were indeed secret weapons. The most criticised Allied air raid occurred at Dresden near the end if the War. The Allies conducted incendiary raids on Dreden February 13-14, creating a firestorm killing thousands of civilian. After Dresden, Prime Minister Churchill ordered Air Marsahll Harris to end to area bombing. Churchill explained: "It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land." 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.

African Campaigns

The primary World War II campaign in Africa was fought in North Africa. The Allied forces at first included both the British and French. And along with naval forces dominated the Mediterranean and North Africa. After the fall of France (June 1940), the British were on their own. The British Desert Air Force (DAF) was created to support the 8th Army in the Western Desert. At first they onlky faced rekatively weak Itakian air forces, but thisd chnged when the Germany deployedto Libya (March 1941). The DAF was primarily a tactical oprganization and was the beginning of Allied efforts to develop the sane close-air support operations that the Germans had pioneerd before the war. After America entered the War and Britaun expanded aircraftvopeations, bomber operations were also lasunched from North Africa.

Asian Campaigns

Fighting in Asian began several years before the War in Europe. Japan invaded China proper from Manchuria which they had seized several years earlier (July 1937). Japan quickly overwealmed the small, poorly eqquipped Chinese Air Force. Foreign assistace could not make up for Japan's advanced aviation industry and well-trained, disciplined air force. Japan used its air superority to conduct terror bombing of undefended Chinese cities. Today Japan sees itself as a victim of bombing, often ignoring the extent to which the Japanese bombed civilian targes in China. America prepared to assist China with a volunteer group--the Flying Tigers. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, however, before the Flying Tigers reached Chiina. The Asian fighting involved several different campaigns. The Sino-Japanese fighting expanded into the air opperations associated with the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater. Air operations were important in the CBI, but not central. Air operations were central in the Pacific campaign. The Japanese achieved a commanding superority in naval aviation. The Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor was a stunning success. Americans were shocked with both the strength of the Japanese Navy and with the quality of Japanese aircraft. Despite the Japanese success, Pearl Harbor was also the major strategic blunder of the Axis duing World War II. The Axis as long as America was neutral, was the world's dominant military power. The attack instantly ended the American debate over foreign policy and changed the ballabce of power. Pearl Harbor also led to the mobilization of the huge American industrial potential, including the aviation industry. This was apotential the axis in general, and the Japanese in particulsr could not match. Pear Harnor led to land-based and naval air operations associated with the Pacific campaign. Both the CBI and Pacific campaigns had as a major objective to seize territory within range of Japan for bases a strategic bombing campaign. The Marianas Islands proved tp be the ideal location for the strageic bomber nases. This would lead to the dropping of the atomic bombs that would play a major role in ending the War. A short-lived campaign was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria at the end of the War. The Soviet invasion may have been even more important than the atomic bomb in ending the War.

Pacific Campaign

The air war in the Pacific began as in the European theater with mastery of the skies by the Japanese. The Chinese air force was vityually non-existant. The Japanese conducted terror bombing raid, first on Shanghai and then on other Chinese cities. Japanese aircraft, especially the Mitusubishi Zero, were so effective that they were able to achieve air superority during land and sea battles against Britain and America beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor. This continued throughout much of 1942 and only did the arrival of ne American aircraft in large numbers did the Allies begin to gain the upperhand in the sky. The seizure of the Marianas and the deployment of of the new long range B-29 bombers brought the Japanese homeland within range of strategic bombardment. The initial raids were inconclusive. General Curtis LeMay devised a trategy of fire bombing which caused massive destruction in Japanese cities crammed with highly flameable wooden structures. When Japan refused to surender after the Yalta Conference, President Truman ordered the use of tha Atomic Bomb in August 1945. The Japanese surendered in September.


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

Doubet, Giulio. Command of the Air.

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

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

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

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

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Created: 8:17 PM 3/6/2014
Last updated: 8:17 PM 3/6/2014