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"The Prime Minister said that we hoped to shatter twenty German cities as we had shattered Cologne, Lubeck, Dusseldorf, and so on. More and more aeroplanes and bigger and bigger bombs. M. Stalin had heard of 2-ton bombs. We had now begun to use 4-ton bombs, and this would be continued throughout the winter. If need be, as the war went on, we hoped to shatter almost every dwelling in almost every German city. " (Official transcript of the meeting at the Kremlin between Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin on Wednesday, August 12, 1942, at 7 P.M.)
"The destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized community life throughout Germany [is the goal]. ... It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives; the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale; and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories." -- "Air Marshal Arthur Harris, Commander in Chief, Bomber Commander, British Royal Air Force, October 25, 1943 quoted in Tami Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 220.
Is the deliberate mass murder of civilians on a huge scale ever justified? This article does not have an answer for this question. However, it is important to note that this was a very specific goal of England and America in World War II as the quotes above show. Germany and Japan also bombed civilians but the scale of what they did was a tiny fraction of their opponents. More people died in the bombing of Hamburg alone that in the entire German bombing campaign against England. Was the Anglo-American bombing necessary or moral? Many serious military experts feel it was a poor choice in terms of military priorities. What follows is documentation from both sides.
GIULIO DOUHET: THE THEORETICAL FOUNDATION
Born in Italy in 1869, Lieutenant Colonel Giulio Douhet was among one of the most influential military theorists of his age. As a result of his experiences in the First World War, Douhet became convinced that strategically applied air power would be the key to winning wars in the future. Like his fellow veterans of the Great War, Douhet understood that well armed ground troops occupying defensive positions held an infinitely superior advantage over attacking troops. However, air power, when applied on the battlefield, could be used to break the deadlock of trench warfare.
While the tactical conclusions Douhet drew from the experience of bloody trench warfare were not particularly unique, his strategic vision concerning the use of aerial bombardment proved to be a much more lasting, deadly, and, ultimately, morally ambiguous contribution. In his landmark book The Command of the Air (1921), Douhet pioneered the idea of using area bombing as an offensive weapon against civilian populations. The emphasis on destroying civilian centers behind the lines put Douhet firmly within the camp of new "total war" theorists. These theorists argued that the industrial production of a belligerent nation, as well as the will to fight of its population, constituted essential elements of that nation's capacity to wage war. There was, in essence, no difference between the military importance of the battlefront and rear-support areas. As Douhet himself wrote,
Within this context therefore it was perfectly legitimate to use whatever means necessary in order to break the enemy's will to fight. To again quote Douhet,
The kind of aerial bombardment Douhet suggested was remarkably brutal, not only in its application but also in the kinds of bombs that should be dropped on civilians. Douhet called for a combination of bombs to be dropped in waves, starting with high explosives. These were to be followed by incendiary bombs to burn structures (even ruins) to the ground and then gas bombs to kill those who had survived the explosives and following conflagration. Once the will to fight had been broken by these continuous waves of aerial bombardment, the combatant would achieve what Douhet called a "morale victory", meaning the disheartened enemy population would force their government to sue for peace. The irony is that in proposing the massive bombardment of civilians, Douhet was actually attempting to limit the overall casualties of war. He firmly believed that the loss of morale of enemy civilians subjected to relentless air attacks would shorten conflicts and therefore save lives.
Many of the basic tenets of Douhet's philosophy on the offensive use of air power came to be adopted by the Allied air forces during the Second World War. Certain elements of Douhet's think were also adopted by the Fascist powers, which also regularly used air power to target civilian centers like London, Warsaw, Manila, Shanghai, Addis Ababa, and many, many other places. It was the Western Allies, though, and the British in particular, who would adopt the concept of using massive bomber formations offensively to deliberately target German civilians and cities. The immediate effect of this doctrine would be to cause an appalling loss of life.
Reflections on Douhet: The Classic Approach
The History of British Air Power Doctrine
The concept of "area bombing" was loosely based on the original theories of Giulio Douhet. According to Douhet, target cities would be subjected to successive waves of bombers carrying different kinds of bombs. The first wave was to carry high explosives for destroying structures, infrastructure, roads and rail lines. This would be followed by a wave of bombers dropping incendiary bombs. Incendiaries were intended to burn out remaining usable structures and to destroy any semblance of shelter for the civilian population. Finally, Douhet called for a third wave of bombers to drop gas on cities in order to kill as many people as possible. The combined effect of such bombing, Douhet reasoned, would so terrorize the enemy that either a) their morale would be broken and they would surrender or b) the civilian population would rise up and demand their government cease hostilities. Douhet never denied that his bombing doctrine would result in a tremendous loss of life. War meant killing, after all.
The Allied Practice
In practice, the Allies carried pursued two types of bombing campaigns against Germany. These were precision bombing and area bombing.
Precision or Pinpoint Bombing: Never as precise as claimed, the primary objective was to destroy a specific military or industrial target using aerial bombardment. Civilians were often killed in these kinds of operations. However, their deaths were considered an unfortunate result of the inaccuracy of precision bombing, the intent was not to target and kill civilians wholesale. By and large, the British pursued this kind of bombing in 1940 and 1941. It was abandoned by the RAF in favor of city-killing, area bombing in February 1942. The US followed suit in December 1943, after the disastrous second Schweinfurt raid, but continued to pursue both area and precision bombing until the end of the war in Europe. In operations over Japan, the USAAF overwhelmingly conducted area bombing.
Area Bombing (also called Strategic Bombing): In contrast to precision bombing, area bombing targeted entire cities, consisting of many square miles, and not specific military or industrial targets. During area bombing runs wave after wave of bombers, including as many as 1,000 airplanes, would sweep over a wide expanse and drop hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tons of bombs on the target city.
The concept of area bombing held that cities, as vital centers of economic production, were in themselves legitimate targets. Following this reasoning, it ran that if an entire urban area was destroyed it would dislocate the industrial labor force, thereby making it more difficult for the enemy to produce the war materiel necessary to keep up the fight. Similarly, the logic of area bombing also ran that the enemy's industrial workforce was in itself a legitimate target. Kill enough of the enemy's laborers and industry would grind to a halt. In connection with this there was the question of shattering the morale of the belligerent population. Killing as many civilians as possible and rendering as many homeless as possible was thought to have a dramatically negative effect on the morale of the civilian population. Once morale had been undermined it was assumed (hoped) that the enemy would capitulate (see Douhet's Concept above).
Area bombing could consist of dropping purely high-explosive bomb loads. More often, however, it entailed using a bombing method called "firebombing" in which high-explosives and incendiary bombs were dropped during the same air raid. Firebombing was employed simply to achieve the maximum amount of destruction possible. The objective was to send as many bombers as possible over the target in as rapid a succession as possible in order to create a self-fueling firestorm. First dropped would be the high-explosives, in order to blow apart buildings, destroy water mains, and wreck roads. Incendiary bombs filled with phosphorus (later napalm) would then be dropped in order to cause huge fires. A third wave of bombers would drop fragmentation or time-delay bombs in order to kill firefighters arriving on the scene and thus keep the fires burning. This firestorm would grow so hot that it would create its own wind tunnel effect and burn absolutely everything, including steel. Firestorms caused by bombing could burn for days, until all of its fuel had been exhausted.
The British perfected firebombing and employed it against many German cities, particularly older ones which had crowded streets and mostly wooden structures. The destruction of Hamburg and Dresden, are the best known examples of cities destroyed by bombing created firestorms, while in Japan Tokyo and other cities were incinerated by firestorms caused by the USAAF.
The following one-page memorandum written by Lord Cherwell (Professor Lindemann at the time) on March 30, 1942 was critical in reinforcing Winston Churchill's resolve to employ area bombing against German cities.
The following seems a simple method of estimating what we could do by bombing Germany. Careful analysis of the effects of raids on Birmingham, Hull and elsewhere have shown that, on the average, one ton of bombs dropped on a built-up area demolishes 20-40 dwellings and turns 100-200 people out of house and home.
We know from our experience that we can count on nearly 14 operational sorties per bomber produced. The average lift of the bombers we are going to produce over the next fifteen months will be about three tons. It follows that each of these bombers will in its lifetime drop about forty tons of bombs. If these are dropped on built-up areas they will make 4,000-8,000 people homeless.
In 1938 over 22 million Germans lived in fifty-eight towns of over 100,000 inhabitants, which, with modern equipment, should be easy to find and hit. Our forecast output of heavy bombers (including Wellingtons) between now and the middle of 1943 is about 10,000. If even half the total load of 10,000 bombers were dropped on the built-up areas of these fifty-eight German towns, the great majority of their inhabitants (about one-third of the German population) would be turned out of house and home.
Investigation seems to show that having one's house demolished is most damaging to morale. People seem to mind it more than having their friends or even relatives killed. At Hull, signs of strain were evident, though only one-tenth of the houses were demolished. On the above figures we should be able to do ten times as much harm to each of the fifty-eight principal German towns. There seems little doubt that this would break the spirit of the people.
Our calculation assumes, of course, that we really get one-half of our bombs into built-up areas. On the other hand, no account is taken of the large promised American production (6,000 heavy bombers in the period in question). Nor has regard been paid to the inevitable damage to factories, communications, etc., in these towns and the damage by fire, probably accentuated by breakdown of public services."
Source: The "Cherwell Memorandum," reproduced in Max Hastings, Bomber Command: The Myths and Realities of the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939-1945 (NY: The Dial Press, 1979), pp. 127-128.
"The Prime Minister said that we hoped to shatter twenty German cities as we had shattered Cologne, Lubeck, Dusseldorf, and so on. More and more aeroplanes and bigger and bigger bombs. M. Stalin had heard of 2-ton bombs. We had now begun to use 4-ton bombs, and this would be continued throughout the winter. If need be, as the war went on, we hoped to shatter almost every dwelling in almost every German city. " (Official transcript of the meeting at the Kremlin between Churchill and Stalin on Wednesday, August 12, 1942, at 7 P.M.)
"The destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized community life throughout Germany [is the goal]. ... It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives; the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale; and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories." -- "Air Marshal Arthur Harris to Sir Arthur Street, Under Secretary of State, Air Ministry, October 25, 1943" quoted in Tami Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 220.
"Perhaps Hitler's famous intuition gave him an inkling of the ultimate significance of what Britain was beginning to do in 1935-36. In May of the former year he expressed, his personal apprehension on the subject of long-range bombing to Mr. Edward Price Bell, the well-known press correspondent. 'War has been speeded up too much,' he said, 'and made too overwhelmingly destructive for our geographical limitations. Within an hour—in some instances within forty minutes of the outbreak of hostilities—swift bombing machines would wreak ruin upon European capitals.' There was nothing profound in that remark, but it was significant when made by a man in whose brain there was already being formed a scheme for the domination of Europe. He was afraid of the air. He showed that he was, again, when in 1935 and in 1936 he put forward proposals for the prohibition of bombing outside battle-zones. Again, there was nothing new in the idea of such prohibition. It was simply another instance of the survival of the military code of thought. It reflected the view, put forward in Germany in the last war, that the proper rôle of the air arm is that of long-range artillery." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), pp. 38-39.
"I am personally convinced that the proposal, was seriously meant, that is, that it was intended to be accepted. I can not subscribe to the view that Hitler brought it forward in 1935 and 1936 with his tongue in his cheek; not in the least because he was incapable of doing so, but simply because it was unquestionably in his interest to have such a restriction accepted. He was scared of the possible effect of a bombing offensive upon Germany's war effort and the morale of the German population. He would infinitely have preferred to fight out the war in another way, a way that was not our way but was his way. He did not want our kind of war. That is why it is right and proper that he should get our kind of war from now to the end." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 41.
"... When I look around to see how we can win the war I see that there is only one sure path. We have no Continental Army which can defeat the German military power. The blockade is broken and Hitler has Asia and probably Africa to draw from. Should he be repulsed here or not try invasion, he will recoil eastward, and we have nothing to stop him. But there is one thing that will bring him back and bring him down, and that is an absolutely devastating exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland. We must be able to overwhelm him by this means, without which I do not see a way through." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill, July 8, 1940, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 116.
Note: Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, the man responsible for implementing the RAF's area bombing policy, and also the man who has been criticized most for it, stated of this Churchill quote: "It was the origin of the idea of bombing the enemy out of the war. I should have been proud of it, but it originated with Winston." -- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol. VI: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983), p. 656.
"I am deeply concerned with the non-expansion, and indeed contraction of our bomber force which must be expected between now and April and May next, according to present policy. Surely an effort should be made to increase our bomb-dropping capacity during this period. ... It is not possible to organize a second-line bomber force which, especially in the dark of the moon, would discharge bombs from a considerable and safe height upon the nearest large built-up area of Germany, which contains military targets in abundance? The Ruhr, of course, is obviously indicated. ... I ask that a whole-hearted effort shall be made to cart a large number of bombs into Germany by a second-line organization such as I have suggested, and under conditions in which admittedly no special accuracy could be obtained." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Air Minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, October 20, 1940, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 106.
"We must bomb Germany and Italy to the greatest extent possible." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Defence Committee Memo, October 31, 1940 quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol. VI: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983), p. 881.
"I am deeply concerned at the stagnant condition of our bomber force. ... I consider the rapid expansion of the bomber force one of the greatest military objectives now before us." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Air Minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, December 30, 1940, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 117.
"We all hope that the air offensive against Germany will realize the expectations of the Air Staff. Everything is being done to create the bombing force on the largest possible scale, and there is no intention of changing this policy. ... It is the most potent method of impairing the enemy's morale we can use at the present time. ... Even if all the towns of Germany were rendered largely uninhabitable, it does not follow that the military control would be weakened, or even that war industry could not be carried on. ... The Air Staff would make a mistake to put their claim too high. ... It may well be that German morale will crack, and that our bombing will play a very important part in bringing the result about. ... The only plan is to persevere." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Air Staff Chief Sir Charles Portal, October 7, 1941, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 121.
"... I am all for the bombing of working class areas of German cities. I am Cromwellian - I believe in 'slaying in the name of the Lord', because I do not believe you will ever bring home to the civil population of Germany the horrors of war until they have been tested in this war." -- Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare, Liberal Member of Parliament for Norwich, May 1942, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 125.
"[Bombing] is not decisive, but [it is] better than doing nothing, and indeed is a formidable method of injuring the enemy." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Air Staff Chief Sir Charles Portal and Sir Archibald Sinclair, March 13, 1942, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol. VII: Road to Victory: 1941-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986), p. 75.
"His Majesty's Government will treat any use of this weapon of poison gas against Russia exactly as if it was directed against ourselves. ... and we shall not hesitate to use these over all suitable objectives in Western Germany from the moment that your armies and people are assaulted in this way." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Josef Stalin, March 18, 1942, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol. VII: Road to Victory: 1941-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986), p. 76.
"We are bombing Germany, city by city, and ever more terribly, in order to make it impossible for you to go on with the war. That is our object. We shall pursue it remorselessly. City by city; Lubeck, Rostock, Cologne, Emden, Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Duisburg, Hamburg - and the list will grow longer and longer. Let the Nazis drag you down to disaster with them if you will. That is for you to decide. We are coming by day and by night. No part of the Reich is safe. People who work in [factories] live close to them. Therefore we hit your houses, and you." -- Pamphlet dropped in Germany by the RAF, Summer 1942, quoted in A.C. Grayling, Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WW II Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan (Walker & Company, 2006), p. 50.
"In the days when we were fighting alone we answered the question 'How are you going to win the war?' by stating 'We will shatter Germany by bombing.' Since then the enormous injuries inflicted on the German army by the Russians, and the accession of the manpower and munitions of the United States, have rendered other possibilities open. ... We look forward to the mass invasion of the Continent by liberating armies, and the general revolt of the populations against the Hitler tyranny. All the same it would be a mistake to cast aside our original thought - which, it may be mentioned, is also strong in American minds, namely, that the severe, ruthless bombing of Germany on an ever-increasing scale will not only cripple her war effort, including U-boat and aircraft production, but will also create conditions intolerable to the mass of German population. ... We must regard the bomber offensive against Germany at least as a feature in breaking her war-will second only to the largest military operations which can be conducted on the Continent until that war-will is broken." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Air Minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, late 1942, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 117.
"Every blow delivered by your air force to the vital German centres evoke[s] a most lively echo in the hearts of many millions throughout the width and breadth of our country" -- Josef Stalin to Winston Churchill, April 7, 1943, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol. VII: Road to Victory: 1941-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986), p. 379.
"Tonight at Chequers in the course of a film showing the bombing of German towns from the air very well and dramatically done, WSC (i.e. Churchill) suddenly sat bolt upright and said to me, 'Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?'" -- Excerpt from the diary of Lord Richard Casey, June 27, 1943, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol. VII: Road to Victory: 1941-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986), p. 437.
"The destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised community life throughout Germany [is the goal]. ... It should be emphasised that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives; the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale; and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories." -- "Air Marshal Arthur Harris to Sir Arthur Street, Under Secretary of State, Air Ministry, October 25, 1943" quoted in Tami Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 220.
"I do not myself believe that the Germans will use gas on the beaches [of Normandy], although this is the most potent way in which gas could be used. The reason is that we could retaliate tenfold or more through the greater power of our air forces to deliver upon their cities. ... It is however worth while considering whether a warning should not be uttered by me and the President such as those we have previously given about the Russians repeating our assurance that we have no intention of using gas but also giving warning that if any form of gas or toxic substances is used upon us or any of our Allies, we shall immediately use the full delivery power of our Strategic Air Forces to drench the German cities and towns where any war industry exists." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Major General Hastings Ismay, May 21, 1944, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol. VII: Road to Victory: 1941-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986), p. 777.
"It was for consideration whether we should not publish a list of, say, 100 of the smaller towns in Germany, where defences were likely to be weak, and announce our intention of destroying them one by one by bombing attack. It would, of course, be necessary to take account of the extent to which a policy of this kind would divert our air power from the support of our Allies in France and from targets, such as oil installations, factories, depots, flying bomb sites, attacks on which directly crippled the enemy's general war effort or his power to launch flying bomb attacks." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill, War Cabinet meeting suggestion, July 3, 1944, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Vol. VII: Road to Victory: 1941-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986), p. 839.
"It is surely obvious that children, invalids and old people who are economically unproductive but must nevertheless consume food and other necessaries are a handicap to the German war effort and it would therefore be sheer waste of effort to attack them. This however does not imply … that no German civilians are proper objects for bombing. The German economic system, which I am instructed by my objective to destroy, includes workers, houses, and public utilities, and it is therefore meaningless to claim that the wiping out of German cities is 'not an end in itself but the inevitable accompaniment of an all out attack on the enemy's means and capacity to wage war'." -- Air Marshal Arthur Harris quoted in Tami Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 220.
"The destruction of factories, which was nevertheless on an enormous scale, could be regarded as a bonus. The aiming-points were usually right in the center of the town." -- Arthur Harris, Bomber Offensive (London: HarperCollins, 1947), p. 147.
"I could ... see only one possible way of bringing pressure to bear on the Boche, and certainly only one way of defeating him; that was by air bombardment. It consequently looked as if it was going to be a straight fight between our own and the enemy's production of heavy bombers. ... If we could keep ahead of the Germans, I was convinced, having watched the bombing of London, that a bomber offensive of adequate weight and the right kind of bombs would, if continued for long enough, be something that no country in the world could endure." -- Arthur Harris, Bomber Offensive (London: HarperCollins, 1947), p. 15.
"While area bombing, if it could have been continued long enough and in sufficient weight, might in the end have forced the enemy to capitulate, his counter-measures would have prevented us from maintaining such a policy to the decisive point." -- Sir Arthur Harris to Air Staff Chief Sir Charles Portal, January 8, 1945 quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 332.
"We should never allow ourselves to apologize for what we did to Germany." -- Winston Churchill to John Lawrence, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 107.
"Winston is pinning all his faith to the bombing offensive now. The devastation it causes suits his temperament, and he would be disappointed at a less destructive ending to the war." -- General Sir Frederick Pile to Basil Liddell Hart, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 176.
"... In the past eighteen months, Bomber Command has virtually destroyed forty-five out of the leading sixty German cities. In spite of invasion diversions (i.e. D-Day) we have so far managed to keep up and even to exceed our average of two and a half cities devastated a month. ... There are not many industrial centres of population now left intact. Are we going to abandon this vast task, which the Germans themselves have long admitted to be their worst headache, just as it nears completion?" -- Sir Arthur Harris to Air Staff Chief Sir Charles Portal, November 1, 1944 quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 331.
"You refer to a plan for the destruction of the sixty leading German cities, and to your efforts to keep up with, and even to exceed, your average of two and a half such cities devastated each month; I know that you have long felt such a plan to be the most effective way of bringing about the collapse of Germany. Knowing this, I have, I must confess, at times wondered whether the magnetism of the remaining German cities has not in the past tended as much to deflect our bombers from their primary objectives as the tactical and weather difficulties which you described so fully in your letter of 1 November. I would like you to reassure me that this is not so. If I knew you to be as wholehearted in the attack on oil as in the past you have been in the matter of attacking cities, I would have little to worry about." -- Air Staff Chief Sir Charles Portal to Sir Arthur Harris, November 12, 1944, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 331.
PREDICTIONS OF SUCCESS: AREA BOMBING ALONE CAN WIN THE WAR
"We made up the damage-assessment techniques as we went along, because there was no precedent for what we were doing" -- The Target Intelligence Department of RAF Bomber Command, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 252.
"Prime Minister, Victory, speedy and complete, awaits the side which first employs air power as it should be employed. ... We are free, if we will, to employ our rapidly increasing air strength in the proper manner. In such a manner as would avail to knock Germany out of the war in a matter of months, if we decide upon the right course. ... It is imperative, if we hope to win the war, to abandon the disastrous policy of military intervention in the land campaigns of Europe, and to concentrate our air power against the enemy's weakest spots. ... It is the only course offering a quick victory; it is the only course which can bring any ponderable aid to Russia in time." -- Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to Winston Churchill, June 17, 1942, quoted in Dudley Saward, Bomber Harris: The Story of Sir Arthur Harris (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), pp. 160-162.
"The one way in which Germany can be defeated is by air attack. ... [Our efforts] prove beyond the possibility of doubt that it would be possible in the next few months to raze substantially to the ground 30 to 40 of the principal German cities, and it is suggested that the effect upon German morale and German production of doing so would be fatal to them, and decisive as encouragement and direct assistance to Russia." -- Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to Winston Churchill, September 3, 1942, quoted in Dudley Saward, Bomber Harris: The Story of Sir Arthur Harris (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), pp. 169-170.
"It is my firm belief that we are on the verge of a final showdown in the bombing war, and that the next few months will be vital. ... I am certain that given average weather and concentration on the main job, we can push Germany over by bombing this year." -- Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to Air Staff Chief Sir Charles Portal, August 12, 1943, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 257.
"It will be seen that the enemy has irretrievably lost 1,000,000 man years. This represents no less than 36 per cent of the industrial effort that would have been put out by these towns if they had remained unmolested. ... Expressing these losses in another way, 2,400,000,000 man-hours have been lost for an expenditure of 116,500 tons of bombs claimed dropped, and this amounts to an average return for every ton of bombs dropped of 20,500 lost man-hours, or rather more than one quarter of the time spent in building a Lancaster. ... This being so, a Lancaster has only to go to a German city once to wipe off its own capital cost, and the results of all subsequent sorties will be clear profit." -- Air Staff Intelligence Report, February 19, 1944, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 253.
"We can wreck Berlin from end to end if the USAAF will come in on it. It will cost between 400-500 aircraft. It will cost Germany the war." -- Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, November 3, 1943, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 257.
"We are convinced that Bomber Command's attacks are doing more towards shortening the war than any other offensive including the Russians'. The C-in-C's (i.e. Harris) letter is the letter of a man with ONE AIM, the rightness of which is his obsession. ... Our plan first to break the German air force defence and then to get on with the war does not appeal to a man who knows that it can be won by immediate offensive action long before our defensive plan has come near to completion. This is why the importance of industries in the Balkans and southern Germany does not appeal to him. Although he speaks of nine-tenths of German industry being nearer Norfolk than Lombardy, we are sure he really means that nine-tenths of the German population is nearer Norfolk, and in the light of our new morale paper which is about to be published, it is the population which is the joint in the German armour. The C-in-C's spear is in it, but it needs a jolt to drive it home to the heart. Apparently, only the Americans can provide this additional thrust, and we believe he is right to ask for it." -- Air Vice-Marshal F.F. Inglis to Air Staff Chief Sir Charles Portal, November 5, 1943, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 258.
"The British are greatly overestimating the damage done to Berlin. Naturally it is terrible, but there is no question of 25 per cent of the capital no longer existing. The English naturally want to furnish their public with a propaganda morsel. I have every reason to want them to believe this and therefore forbid any denial. The sooner London is convinced that there is nothing left of Berlin, the sooner they will stop their air offensive against the Reich capital." -- Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries (Secker and Warburg, 1978), p. 438.
"It is naturally impossible to state with arithmetical precision the acreage of German built-up area which must be destroyed to produce capitulation. However, ... it is surely impossible to believe that an increase by more than half of existing devastation within four months could be sustained by Germany without total collapse." -- Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to the Air Ministry, December 28, 1943, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 265.
Concerning Arthur Harris' unwillingness to subordinate the destruction of the German air force, the explicit Allied objective of Operation Pointblank, to his area bombing campaign in 1943-44.
"I would say at the outset that I agree with you that there have been diversions from priority objectives as laid down by the Chiefs of Staff. I had already become apprehensive about this dispersal of our effort. Last week I had a useful meeting with [General Ira] Eaker and Harris and stressed to them the urgency of concentrating the maximum effort on the defeat of the German air force." -- Air Staff Chief Sir Charles Portal to General Hap Arnold, October 1943, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 259.
"It is confirmed and emphasized that the closest co-ordination is essential to the successful prosecution of the Combined Bomber Offensive and that without it, the reduction of German fighter strength which is a prerequisite to the launching of Overlord as well as to the effective conduct of Pointblank may not be achieved in the time available. I am accordingly to request that you adhere to the spirit of the directive forwarded in the Air Ministry letter dated 10 June 1943, and that you attack, as far as practicable, those industrial centres associated with the German fighter air-frame and ball-bearing industry." -- Air Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley to Arthur Harris, January 14, 1944, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 265.
"The C-in-C (i.e. Harris) states that there can be little doubt that the enemy would be caused to capitulate by the destruction of between 40 and 50 percent of the principal German towns, and that the Lancaster force alone should be sufficient, to produce in Germany by 1 April 1944 a state of devastation in which surrender is inevitable. I am of the opinion that it would be sounder for Bomber Command to subordinate as far as may be necessary their efforts to achieve a quick victory in favour of helping the Americans to deploy their strength so that the Combined Bomber forces (and Overlord) may together achieve a certain victory." -- Director of Bomber Operations Sid Bufton, 1944, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 266.
American vs. British Concepts
Until late 1943, the official bombing policy of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in Europe was to hit German military and industrial facilities, and not to bomb entire urban "areas". The USAAF in effect pursued a targeted, precision bombing policy similar to that the RAF had employed from September 1939 until February 1942. To the Americans it was critical that air power be used to knock out Germany's capacity to make war. This meant employing aerial bombardment against what USAAF officers referred to as "key nodes" of production, or "bottlenecks" in vital German war industries and transportation lines. It was firmly believed among top American officers like Carl Spaatz, Ira Eaker, and Henry ("Hap") Arnold, that destroying segments of German industry would considerably shorten the war.
Pursuing a "tactical" or "precision" bombing doctrine was based on several things, above and beyond the basic belief that bombing urban centers was ineffective. First, American commanders believed in the superior training of their pilots, some of whom had spent their entire career in the Army Air Force perfecting precision bombing techniques. Second, the USAAF also employed the Norden Bombsight, which was far better than anything the British possessed. Confidence in the Norden gave the Americans faith in their ability to deliver pinpoint accuracy during bombing raids. Third, American officers believed that their planes, the B-17 and later the B-24 Super Fortress, were heavily armored enough and heavily armed enough to both with stand German fighter attacks and to shoot those fighters out of the sky. Fourth, the Americans argued that their flying tactics were superior to those employed by the RAF. By flying in a "box" formation, heavily armed American bomber formations were thought to be "self-defending". German fighters would be forced to fly through interlocking fields of fire, which would minimize the number of American planes shot down. American planes also had an effective operating ceiling of 33,000 feet, which was too high for German fighters to operate and out of anti-aircraft fire range.
Therefore, using superior tactics, training, and weaponry, American commanders were confident that the USAAF could launch efficient daylight attacks against German rail depots and roads, oil refineries, military installations, and factory complexes. They wholeheartedly believed that unlike the British, American air power would not have to resort to the large-scale night-time area bombing of urban centers.
American Opinions and Criticism of Area Bombing
Until the end of 1943, most officers in the USAAF did not accept area bombing as a viable alternative to precision bombing. American doubts were based on the belief that area bombing was a costly waste of effort and munitions that in the end achieved none of its intended goals. Early in the war, at least, American officers were also very wary of the ethical problems that resulted from indiscriminately bombing civilians. This would change by 1944. The following quotes reflect American attitudes toward and criticism of area bombing as it was practiced by the RAF.
"The effectiveness of aviation to break the will of a well-organized nation is claimed by some; but this has never been demonstrated and is not accepted by members of the armed services of our nation." -- "'Doctrines of the Army Air Corps' with covering note from the War Plans Division of the War Department General Staff, December 21, 1934 cited in Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality, p. 128.
"Another vital lesson - one that has taken even air specialists by surprise - relates to the behaviour of civilian populations under air punishment. It had generally been assumed that aerial bombardment would quickly shatter popular morale, causing deep civilian reactions. ... The progress of this war has tended to indicate that this expectation was unfounded. ... These facts are significant beyond their psychological interest. They mean that haphazard destruction of cities - sheer blows at morale - are costly and wasteful in relation to the tactical results achieved. Attacks will increasingly be concentrated on military rather than on random human targets. Unplanned vandalism from the air must give way, more and more, to planned, predetermined destruction. More than ever the principal objectives will be critical aggregates of electric power, aviation industries, dock facilities, essential public utilities and the like." -- Major Alexander Seversky, US Army Air Force, Victory Through Air Power (NY, 1942).
The Casablanca Compromise
The American policy of precision bombing caused conflicts with the British, who considered it a waste of airmen's lives, resources, and time. However, despite sometimes heated disagreement between American and British bomber commands, both sides did their best to present a unified front in support of the war effort. In particular, American generals Carl Spaatz and Henry "Hap" Arnold made every effort to cooperate with their British counterparts, regardless of their doctrinal differences.
This determination to present a united front on the subject of bombing was evident in a compromise statement released after the Casablanca Conference in early 1943. In his book Bomber Command, Max Hastings explains that because Churchill was able to get the invasion of Europe postponed until 1944, he felt obliged to drop his complaints about the American practice of precision bombing, which he believed diluted the effectiveness of the Allied bombing campaign against Germany.
Bombing remained the only offensive weapon by which to carry the fight to the Germans. Therefore, from January 1943 onward, the RAF and the USAAF would carry out a "Combined Bomber Offensive" (CBO) combining American daylight precision bombing with British night-time area bombing. The statement released at Casablanca affirmed that "the primary object [of the CBO] will be the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened."
In the weeks after the Casablanca Conference, General Ira Eaker, commander of the USAAF Eighth Air Force set out to turn this general statement into concrete bombing policy. Eaker's plan for winning the war using precision bombing required that the bombing force available to him be built up to 2,702 aircraft by April of 1944. Were this done, Eaker promised to reduce German sub construction by 89%, fighter construction by 43%, bomber construction by 65%, ball-bearing production by 76%, and synthetic rubber production by 50%
The American doctrine of precision bombing thus would be intact throughout 1943 and 1944, while the British simultaneously would pursue their area bombing campaign.
THE SCHWEINFURT RAIDS
Into the late summer and fall of 1943, American confidence in the ultimate effectiveness of precision bombing was as strong as ever. Unfortunately, however, American belief in the viability of precision bombing was deeply shaken after the two costly raids on the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt. After the second Schweinfurt Raid in October 1943 the USAAF joined the RAF in the area bombing of German cities. Precision bombing raids on key sectors of German industry would continue, but these would now be carried out simultaneously with area bombing raids. This change of direction drained considerable resources from the precision bombing campaign, which was unfortunate given evidence that suggests continued attacks on vital industries, particularly oil and ball-bearing production, could have ended the war in 1943 or 1944.
The First Schweinfurt Raid
Of all Germany's war-critical industries, ball-bearing production was the most centralized, and also one of the most critical to the German war effort. Without an adequate supply of ball-bearings significant portions of German armaments production would grind to a halt. Allied intelligence had determined that the factories at Schweinfurt produced roughly half of all the ball-bearings used by the German army. The first raid on Schweinfurt took place on August 17, 1943. During the raid 60 bombers were shot down out of 376 of the bombers sent on the mission. Losses on this scale shocked the Americans, but the results had been extremely promising as damage to the factories had reduced ball-bearing production by 38%.
The Second Schweinfurt Raid
Although the Americans had been stunned by their losses in the first raid on Schweinfurt, the results had demonstrated that the damage to German war capacity was too consider able to ignore. A second raid therefore took place on October 14, 1943. This time the production of ball-bearings at Schweinfurt fell by 67% due to damage caused by the American bombing. However, of the 291 planes sent to Germany 60 were shot down and another 17 were severely damaged. These losses were too much for the Eighth Air Force to tolerate and the Americans concluded that without long-range fighter defense, Allied bombers could not operate during the day because of German fighters.
Adding insult to injury was the fact that Arthur Harris contributed directly to the "defeat" of American precision bombing doctrine at Schweinfurt. Harris had been ordered to support the American daylight attacks with night-time raids by the RAF. Schweinfurt certainly would have been easy to locate due to the fires caused by the earlier American bombing, These raids could have effectively wiped out remaining ball-bearing production at the Schweinfurt complex. Instead, Harris, who detested precision bombing, refused to send his bombers to Schweinfurt, which allowed the Germans to recover and disperse ball-bearing production. RAF bombers would not attack Schweinfurt until February 1944, by which time they were far too late to have any effect.
Within weeks after the Schweinfurt raid, opinion within the Eighth Air Force had shifted in favor of adding nighttime area bombing to the American air offensive. General Ira Eaker, until this point a stout defender of the policy of targeted bombing wrote to Hap Arnold "I am concerned that you will not appreciate the tremendous damage that is being done to the German morale by these attacks through the overcast, since we cannot show you appreciable damage by photographs. … The German people cannot take that kind of terror much longer."
Other changes soon followed. Individual planes were no longer allowed to drop their bombs upon sighting the target. Now, all of the bombers in a formation would drop simultaneously following the signal of a lead plane. This was not precision bombing any longer, it was pattern bombing of a large area. Bombardiers were also allowed to drop their bombs through overcast skies and no specific sighting of the target was necessary. American officers would participate fully in the British campaign against German cities, a campaign that many of them had dismissed only months earlier.
After the war, the German Minister for Armaments Production, Albert Speer, professed shock that "vast but pointless area bombing" was being continued in favor of highly effective precision bombing. According to Speer, the failure to continue regularly attacking Schweinfurt allowed the Reich to escape a "further catastrophic blow" because "armaments production would have been crucially weakened after two months and after four months would have been brought completely to a standstill." "What really saved us," Speer continued, "was the fact that from this time on the enemy to our astonishment once again ceased his attacks on the ball-bearing industry."
On April 14, 1944, after a long battle, the combined bomber forces of the USAAF Eighth Air Force and RAF Bomber Command were finally subordinated to General Dwight Eisenhower in preparation for the D-Day landings in Normandy, France. Bomber Command C-in-C Arthur Harris, and others within the British bombing establishment had energetically resisted any attempt to subordinate their offensive area bombing campaign to tactical necessities. However, by spring of 1944 Harris' continued claims that he could end the war via area bombing had not panned out. In fact, as Max Hastings notes, the five-month campaign to bomb Germany into capitulation by repeatedly striking Berlin, had been a complete failure.
Between April 1944 and July 1944, the tactical bombing of German transportation lines, air bases, and military installations was stepped up in preparation for the invasion of Europe. However, certain war-critical industries, like oil, also were the target of Allied (especially American) air assault.
Carl Spaatz' "Oil Plan"
The potential of the precision bombing of German industry to be a war winning weapon was again illustrated in spring 1944 when General Carl Spaatz was finally allowed to undertake his "Oil Plan" against Germany's synthetic oil production facilities; this after fighting a lengthy battle against Arthur Harris and other area bombing advocates simply to get permission to try out his plan. On May 12, 1944, and again on May 28th and 29th, Spaatz' bomber formations hit synthetic oil plants in central and eastern Germany. As a result of these attacks, "petroleum available to Germany fell from 927,000 tons in March, to 715,000 tons in May, and 472,000 tons in June. The Luftwaffe's supplies of aviation spirit fell from 180,000 tons in April, to 50,000 tons in June, and 10,000 tons in August. ... By the late summer of 1944 the Luftwaffe lacked the fuel to fly anything like its available order of battle." In Albert Speer's estimation these attacks spelled "the end of German armaments production ... the chemical plants had proved to be extremely sensitive to bombing." More importantly for precision bombing advocates, during the second attack at the end of May "a mere four hundred bombers of the American Eighth Air Force delivered a greater blow than twice that number in the first attack."
THE RENEWAL OF MASSIVE AREA BOMBING TOWARDS THE END OF THE WAR
Despite the success of the Oil Plan, due to limitations in intelligence Spaatz could not effectively prove to his superiors that the precision bombing of Germany's synthetic oil industry was having a dramatic impact. Allied commanders therefore continued to demand that bombers be used primarily to support the advance of ground forces. Furthermore, by late summer, German forces were falling back toward the Rhine River and it appeared that the war would be over in a very short time. Ironically, the success being experienced by the Allies created the conditions for a renewed area bombing offensive against Germany. German air defenses and radar in France and the Low Countries had been occupied or destroyed following the successful invasion. Allied airfields were also now well advanced toward the German border. It was now possible for bomber formations to strike deep into Germany with fighter support and without having to fly through hundreds of kilometers of German air defenses.
It was within this context of "impending" German defeat that the advocates of area bombing among the British Chiefs of Staff began agitating for renewing the assault on German civilian morale, in order to bring about a complete collapse of the Reich: "The time might well come in the not so distant future when an all-out attack by every means at our disposal on German civilian morale might be decisive. ... The method by which such an attack would be carried out should be examined and all possible preparations made." This memo, which was produced in July 1944, set the stage for the now infamous air raid on Dresden. For his part, Bomber Command chief Arthur Harris was delighted with the change of policy. Churchill too, supported reverting to area bombing, writing to Harris, "I am all for cracking in now on to Germany all that can be spared from the battlefields." Concerning the renewal of area bombing, the Directorate of Bomber Operations focused specifically on creating civilian casualties, which was an extremely candid reversal of the earlier focus on destroying structures and housing: "If we assume that the daytime population of the area attacked is 300,000, we may expect 220,000 casualties. 50 per cent of these or 110,000 may expect to be killed. It is suggested that such an attack resulting in so many deaths, the great proportion of which will be key personnel, cannot help but have a shattering effect on political and civilian morale all over Germany."
By August 1944, Harris and Bomber Command received permission to resume area bombing attacks on twelve German cities, when his planes were not needed elsewhere. With this the area bombing assault on Germany began anew and in the last quarter of 1944 alone, Bomber Command would drop more bombs on German cities than in all of 1943. "Precision" assaults on German industry would not be stopped, but they would take a backseat to undirected area bombing. Harris had his way and area bombing continued apace. Nevertheless, Harris would continue to protest any use of British bombers for purely tactical or "precision" raids on industry. He remained focused simply on killing as many German cities as was possible:
The following memorandum quote from Winston Churchill reveals his full knowledge of the mass death and destruction wrought upon German cities by Allied bombing. It also represents Churchill's attempt to distance himself from the questionable ethical dimensions of the bombing campaign, despite Churchill's unwavering support for, indeed, demand for the area bombing of Germany. The sentences in bold print were removed from the final version of the memo.
"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, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. ... The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. ... I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives, such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive." -- Prime Minister Winston Churchill Memo to the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Chief of Air Staff, March 28, 1945, Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 344.
"There is no indiscriminate bombing. ... the bombing is of those targets which are most effective from the military point of view." -- Clement Atlee, Deputy Prime Minister, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 171.
"The objectives of our bomber offensive in Germany are to destroy the capacity of Germany to make war and to relieve the pressure of the German air force and armies on our Russian allies. No instruction has been given to destroy dwelling houses rather than armament factories, but it is impossible to distinguish in night-bombing between factories and the dwellings that surround them." -- Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State, Statement in the House of Commons, December 1, 1943, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 172.
"I can give the assurance that we are not bombing the women and children of Germany wantonly." -- Harold Balfour, March 1, 1943, quoted in Max Hastings, Bomber Command (NY: Dial Press, 1979), p. 173.
"[Allied Air Chiefs are pursuing the] deliberate terror-bombing of German population centres as a ruthless expedient of hastening Hitler's downfall." -- Statement by unidentified RAF officer during a press briefing following the bombing of Dresden. This statement appeared in U.S. newspapers, but was censored by the British government and therefore did not appear in print in the UK.
Historian Richard Overy compiled a listing of the tons of bombs dropped over Europe (inc. Germany and occupied territories) by the RAF and USAAF during the Second World War. This tonnage was dropped predominantly on cities in area bombing raids, not in tactical attacks on infrastructure or war materiel industries. Even as late as 1945, with Germany reeling and fighting almost completely within her own borders, the bombing of German cities proceeded apace. Had the war continued until 1946, the Allies were on track toward dropping a projected total of roughly 1,432,000 tons of bombs.
Source: Richard J. Overy, The Air War, 1939-1945 (NY: Stein & Day, 1980), p. 120.
The quotes below are from a short defense of Great Britain's area bombing policy written by J.M. Spaight, an official in the Air Ministry at the time, and a man well placed to understand the rationale behind the decision to bomb German cities.
"Civilisation, I believe firmly, would have been destroyed if there had been no bombing in this war. It was the bomber aircraft which, more than any other instrument of war, prevented the forces of evil from prevailing. It was supposed to be the chosen instrument of aggression. Actually, it was precisely the opposite. Aggression would have had a clearer run if there had been no bombers—on either side. And the greatest contribution of the bomber both to the winning of the war and the cause of peace is still to come." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 7.
"The tremendous difference which air warfare makes is that the long process of attrition can be carried on without any comparable waste of human life." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 10.
"What can be claimed without fear of contradiction is that air power is an absolutely essential factor in the combination which will give us victory; and at the very heart of air power there stands the strategic offensive. The matter was placed in the proper perspective by Mr. Churchill in his great speech at Ottawa on 30 December, 1941. 'While an ever-increasing bombing offensive against Germany will remain one of the principal methods of ending this war,' he said, 'it is not the only one which growing strength enables us to take into account'." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 22.
"Leading articles in the Press reflect the informed re-action to it. 'We are thoroughly committed to the large-scale bombing of Germany as part of our war-winning strategy,' said the Daily Mail on 18 September, 1942, 'and there can be no question that so far the policy is paying good dividends by weakening the enemy's productive power and dislocating his daily life. It is doubtful whether this use of the air weapon by itself could win the war, but it is certain that we could not win without it'." -- -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), pp. 22-23.
"In a speech in the Reichstag on 26 April, 1942, Hitler said: 'Should the idea of bombing civilians increase in Great Britain, I wish to say this before the whole world: "Churchill started the air war in 1940, and then started moaning. From now on I shall return blow for blow, till I have broken this criminal and his works."'
Here I interrupt the Hitlerian flow of words to quote some which Mr. Churchill used in his speech at the County Hall, London, on 14 July, 1941, that is, nine months previously. 'We ask no favour of the enemy. We seek from them no compunction. On the contrary, if tonight the people of London were asked to cast their votes whether a convention should be entered into to stop the bombing of all cities, the overwhelming majority would cry "No, we will mete out to the Germans the measure, and more than the measure, that they have meted out to us".' This statement was greeted with cheers. There is not much moaning about it." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 45.
"We in Britain had organised a Bomber Command. The whole raison d'être of that Command was to bomb Germany if she should be our enemy. We were not bombing her. We were most carefully abstaining from bombing her. What, then, was the use of Bomber Command? Its position was almost a ridiculous one. It seemed to be keeping clear of the war, keeping neutral, acting as if it had made a separate peace. Had it—horrible thought—been bitten by a bug from Eire? What was the explanation? It certainly looked as if the policy of Munich, of appeasement, were still being continued in this particular sphere of warlike activity, or inactivity. Hitler must have been a happy man, happier far than he is now, during that first winter. In effect he had won a great psychological victory, or he seemed to have won it; perhaps here, again, fate smiled on him only to betray." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 60.
"... Our failure to carry the war into Germany was the subject of a good deal of criticism in this country. Why were we dropping leaflets and not bombs? it was asked. The Germans would have been more impressed by high explosives than even the best propagandist literature. It was a policy of 'kid gloves and confetti', said an important monthly journal.' Sometimes the reaction was bewilderment tinged with sardonic amusement. 'Lord, man, you might have hurt someone!' a squadron leader was supposed to have admonished a flying officer who had not untied the packet of 'nickels' (leaflets) before jettisoning them. Another jest was that the Navy had taken to sending down leaflets instead of depth-charges in its hunt for submarines. ... These comments were the froth on the surface of waters of doubt and perplexity which were deep and wide. There was serious criticism of our inaction. The Air Force, it was complained, was not being used for the purpose for which, so far as it was an offensive force, it had been created. Only when the German advance into the Low Countries and France began in May, 1940, was our striking force of the air allowed to fulfill its function." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 61.
"... On 27 January, 1940, another newspaper, the Daily Mail, endorsed editorially the view put forward by its contemporary. It devoted a leading article to combating the suggestion of Mr. Amery and others that we should start the bombing of Germany. We were fighting, the article said, for a moral issue and we should do nothing unworthy of our cause. It confused the issue by speaking of a choice between the deliberate bombing of women and children and not bombing at all. Actually, the choice was between bombing military objectives in Germany and not bombing them: a totally different matter." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 64.
"The change made in May was heralded by a statement issued by the Foreign Office on the 10th of that month. It began by referring to the assurance given to the President of the United States that the Air Force had received orders limiting bombing to strictly military objectives and went on to state that His Majesty's Government 'now publicly proclaim that they reserve to themselves the right to take any action which they consider, appropriate in the event of bombing by the enemy of civil populations, whether in the United Kingdom, France or in countries assisted by the United Kingdom'." -- -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), pp. 67-68.
"... We chose the better, because the harder, way. We refused to purchase immunity—immunity for a time at least—for our cities while those of our friends went up in flames. We offered London as a sacrifice in the cause of freedom and civilisation. Retaliation was certain if we carried the war into Germany. There was no certainty, but there was a reasonable probability, that our capital and our industrial centres would not have been attacked if we had continued to refrain from attacking those of Germany. No doubt some readers will say that I am making too big an assumption here and that Germany would have raided London and our provincial towns in any event. Perhaps so; I can only put on record my own belief that she probably would not have done so, partly because it would not have suited her military book, partly because she was afraid of the long-term consequences. She would have called a truce if she could from the cross-raiding by British and German bombers when it did begin; she did call one, in effect, whenever she saw a ghost of a chance. It simply did not pay her, this kind of air warfare. Humanitarian considerations had nothing whatever to do with the matter.
Yet, because we were doubtful about the psychological effect of propagandist distortion of the truth that it was we who started the strategic offensive, we have shrunk from giving our great decision of May, 1940, the publicity which it deserved. That, surely, was a mistake. It was a splendid decision. It was as heroic, as self-sacrificing, as Russia's decision, to adopt her policy of 'scorched earth'. It gave Coventry and Birmingham, Sheffield and Southampton, the right to look Kief and Kharkov, Stalingrad and Sebastopol, in the face. Our Soviet allies would have been less critical of our inactivity in 1942 if they had understood what we had done. We should have shouted it from the house-tops instead of keeping silence about it.
It could have harmed us morally only if it were equivalent to an admission that we were the first to bomb towns. It was nothing of the sort." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), pp. 73-74.
"But over and above these contacts of armies and fleets there are others which man's new power to use the air for his warlike ventures has made inevitable. It has been a consequence—the logical consequence—of that new power that areas which had hitherto been immune from the ravages of war should no longer be left in the enjoyment of their ancient peace." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), pp. 76-77.
"Today machinery dominates war. Man is a pigmy beside the robots of scientific destruction which he has created ... And it is these monstrosities, these half human half-devilish monstrosities, which get themselves born, somehow, in the battle-towns. That is the grim fact which makes those towns fit brand for the burning.
The killer-machines are made necessarily in crowded centres. They could not otherwise be made in the quantities which modern warfare demands. The Moloch consumes armaments with an appetite which only mass-production can satisfy. An enormous and sustained output of munitions is needed if the armed forces, of sizes unknown in the past, are to be kept supplied with the matériel which they use. Mass-production implies, in turn, the presence of great numbers of workers, male and female, in the neighbourhood of the plants. Naturally, especially in a prolonged war, the workers' families tend to congregate in the same areas. The great urban agglomerations are in fact the areas in which the armament factories that really mater are located." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), pp. 77-78.
" ... On 19 May, 1943, Mr. Churchill, in his speech before the United States Congress, underlined the warning which he had then addressed to the German people. 'It is the settled policy of our two staff's and war-making authorities,' he said, 'to make it impossible for Germany to carry on any form of war industry on a large or concentrated scale, either in Germany, Italy or in the enemy-occupied countries. Wherever these centres exist or are developed they will be destroyed, and the munitions population will be dispersed.' The message conveyed to the German munition workers in the two speeches, read together and colloquially paraphrased, amounted to this: 'Get out while the going is good. If you don't, we'll bomb you out'." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), pp. 95-96.
"The military results of the so-called high-level, precision bombing were not commensurate with the wastage of personnel and matériel involved for the attacking formations. To redress the balance it, was necessary to bring. into use projectiles of such destructive capacity that when launched from great heights on the estimated target area they could be counted upon to wreck the target as well as (unfortunately) much else besides. The justification of the method must rest on military necessity. If in no other way can a belligerent destroy his enemy's armament centres or interrupt his enemy's process of munitionment, then this way can be defended. So justified, it is not inconsistent with accepted principles of the laws of war." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 98.
"To speak of the 'bombing of civilians' without qualification is really to confuse the issue. One must define one's terms. The old clear distinction between soldiers and civilians has been obscured. That is not to say that the whole population of an enemy country is subject to attack. Indiscriminate bombing is certainly not justifiable. The point to be remembered is that there is a difference between the civilians who are engaged in definitely warlike activities and those who are not. It is the latter who have a claim to immunity, not the former. The people who make and transport war material are, to the opposing belligerent, active, dangerous enemies. He is as fully entitled to try to put them out of action as if they were commissioned or enlisted soldiers. They are in fact warriors. The fact that they wear no uniform is immaterial. They are in no proper sense of the word non-combatants.
The change which the coming of flight has brought about is that these people, these warriors, can now be attacked even though an army stands between them and the invader. Another change has come to pass also. Today the weapons of war are made by millions of workers, men and women, in thousands of factories. Total war cannot be waged unless there are huge agglomerations of warriors on the home front." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 112.
"There would in fact be no case against bombing if as great a degree of precision were possible as was thought at one time to be practicable. Conditions have changed even since Mr. Chamberlain explained in the House of Commons on 21 June, 1938, the view of the Government of the permissible limits of air attack. Deliberate attack on the civilian population was unlawful, but military targets might be bombed if they could be identified and if reasonable care were taken not to bomb civilians in their neighbourhood. It has become impossible to comply with these conditions to the full. Targets are no longer identifiable because belligerents have taken good care that they should not be identifiable. They have not only adopted the most elaborate schemes of camouflage but ... have protected all centres of war-production with very powerful defences. It would be suicide, normally, for a bomber formation to approach its target at a height at which precision of aim would be certain." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), pp. 115-116.
"... It is war—the new kind of war. It is wrong, horrible, unendurable, but it was inevitable. It was inevitable that the air offensive against an enemy's sources of armed strength should come and with it the incidental killing of non-combatants. It was hardly less inevitable that an enemy to whom such an offensive was anathema should reply by indiscriminate attack on his opponent's towns. It is an evil thing that has grown out of another evil thing. The initial evil was the intermingling of two incompatibles. The intrusion began when the ways of war were superimposed upon the ways of peace. The bomber crews only followed where the armament producers had led the way." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 146.
"The killing or maiming of non-combatants in such circumstances is a lamentable incident of war. So is the destruction caused in the purely terroristic raids—including 'Baedeker' raids—to which the enemy may resort in retaliation. The loss of precious lives in such raids is to be regarded, as is the loss of the no less precious lives of our airmen over Germany, as the human price that has to be paid for the winning of a military advantage of the first order. The advantage is the weakening of the enemy's war potential and the ultimate saving of thousands of lives in our own and our Allies' forces." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 148.
"The bomber has rehabilitated itself. It was to have been the destroyer of civilisation. Actually, it has been the saver of civilisation. But for it we in Britain would hardly have survived in this war, and most certainly our and America's task in defeating Germany and Japan would have been immensely more difficult. Bombing has served us well. To say that is not to make a fetish of it. Bombing is a horrible thing, at best. The bomb is much more the diabolus than the deus ex machinâ. It is a murderous weapon. Its only merit is that it can murder war. The bomber is the only weapon that can do that efficiently. Massed artillery could do it but only in great and bloody battles—which are the war we want to prevent. War cannot live with the bomber. It can smother and stifle war at source." -- J.M. Spaight, Bombing Vindicated (London, 1944), p. 152.
USAAF and RAF War Diaries
The majority of these web sites are in German. Scholarship about and discussion of the criminal dimensions of the Allied bombing campaign remains practically non-existent in the English-speaking world.
General Information & Discussion
Bombenkrieg über Deutschland
60 Jahre Kriegsende German
Bombenkrieg gegen Nazi-Deutschland German
Die Allierten Bombenkrieg German
Debatte um den Bombenkrieg German
Luftangriffe, 1939-1945 German
Tod im Bombenkrieg
Hagen im Zweiten Weltkrieg German
"Operation Gomorrah": Der
Feuersturm über Hamburg German
Schwerte im Bombenkrieg German
Wien im Bombenkrieg
The Battle of the Ruhr German
Kaiserslautern im Bombenkrieg German
Bomben in Göttingen German
Studies, Documentation, Literature & Debate
The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey
Summary Report (The European War)
,'"Heimatfront" und "People's War" Neue Literatur zur Geschichte des
Review Collection of
Der Brand German
Unten im Bombenkrieg German
Horst Boog, "Bombenkrieg:
Die Zerstörung Dresdens"
R.J. Rummel, "Death
by American Bombing"
R.J. Rummel, "Was
American Bombing Democide?"
Rethinking the Allied Bombing Campaign of WW II
A great deal has been written about the ethical implications of dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The reality, is, however, that by the time these bombs were dropped, massive formations of American bombers had already been routinely leveling entire Japanese cities through the combined use of high explosive and incendiary bombs. This tactic of creating a firestorm was used against Tokyo on February 23-24, 1945 when, after hours of incessant bombing, the interior of the city exploded into a self-fueling firestorm. According to reports, the flames that roared through the city became so hot that metal melted. As many as 100,000 people were killed during this raid alone, a death toll that surpasses the number killed in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The fact is that the targeting of civilians, with the intent of killing as many as possible in order to break morale and bring an end to the war, was already well within the capacity of the U.S. Army Air Force before the advent of atomic weapons.
General Information & Debate
The Great Tokyo Air Raid:
An Enormous War Crime
R.J. Rummel, "Death
by American Bombing"
R.J. Rummel, "Was
American Bombing Democide?"
Cities and Locations
The Air Raids
on Kawasaki, Yokohama, and Tokyo
1. Giulio Douhet, January 1916 in Diario criticodi guerra, 2 vols., (Rome, 1921-2), pp. 19-21.
2. Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, trans. Dino Ferrari (1942), p. 58.
3. Max Hastings, Bomber Command: The Myths and Realities of the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939-1945 (NY: The Dial Press, 1979), p. 184.
4. T.D. Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 215.
5. Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 185.
6. Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality, p. 224 and Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 228.
8. Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 228.
9. Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality, p. 215.
10. Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 228.
11. Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, Tr. Richard and Clara Winston (NY: Macmillan, 1970), p. 340.
12. Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 268. Hastings also notes that in the weeks leading up to and after the decision to place Bomber Command under Eisenhower, British area bombing fell off considerably: "In March 1944, 70 per cent of British bombs were directed against Germany. In April this proportion fell to well under half; in May to less than a quarter; in June to negligible proportions." (pp. 276-77)
13. Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 277.
14. Speer, Inside the Third Reich, p. 415.
15. Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 301.
16. A.C. Grayling, Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WW II Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan (Walker & Company, 2006), p. 69.
17. Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 301.
18. Hastings, Bomber Command, p. 330 notes that between July and September 1944 only 11 per cent of Bomber Command's sorties were directed at oil installations, with 20 per cent directed at cities. Between October and December the numbers were 14 per cent directed at oil and 58 per cent directed at cities.