Allied strategic bombing - An overlooked success?

The Allies 1939-1945, and those fighting against Germany.

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Post by Michate » Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:58 am

I might add that the British - as all participants of the war - remembered all too well World War 1 and the final breakdown of German morale in a critical situation which had brought that war to an end. Something that is easily forgotten today when we tend to judge WW2 by its final results.

In 1943, after Stalingrad certainly some parallels to 1918 could be drawn ("1918" appeared on house walls in Germany and Austria) and I have read about some statements from British command staffs that the year might see defection of Germany's allies and either a breakdown of the fighting spirit of the common German soldier or a plot by the German army against the Nazi party.

As to economical results of the bombing campaigns, I remember some figures for production losses October - December 1943, roughly 20% of weapons production and enough to equip some firts-rate Panzer divisions.

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Post by Qvist » Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:58 am

Essentially, a good point. But to play the devil's advocate a little, one could argue that the war in the Far East was won by the combination of strategic bombing with the obvious likelihood of an immiment amphibious invasion as aresult of the island hopping campaign, and the impending collapse of the Japanese position on the Asian mainland after the Soviet entry into the war. And also that it can perhaps not be taken for granted that nazi Germany would have capitulated even in the event of one or two nuclear strikes. Also, that the proponents of strategic bombing did not presuppose a nuclear capability to justify their strategic claims.

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Post by sid guttridge » Mon Apr 04, 2005 7:06 am

Hi Qvist,

I think that the military and most others of the time tended to see the A-bomb as a massive enhancement of their conventional armoury (i.e. talking of A-bombs in terms of equivalent tons of TNT) rather than as something fundamentally new. As it was, the two A-bombs took less lives than the Tokyo fire raid and weren't an order of magnitude more immediately fatal to human life than the likes of the conventional Hamburg or Dresden raids.

We today are aware of the fundamentally different nature of the danger to life posed by nuclear weapons and are faced now by the possibility of not merely annihilating a couple of enemy cities but the entire human race. However, this was probably not the perspective of anyone in political or military authority in August 1945. I would suggest that in 1945 A-bombs were basically viewed as a welcome leap in the destructiveness of the conventional armoury that would allow strategic bombing to continue but without the very heavy losses in air crew that had previously to be endured.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by PaulJ » Mon Apr 04, 2005 5:10 pm

sid guttridge wrote:I think that the military and most others of the time tended to see the A-bomb as a massive enhancement of their conventional armoury ... rather than as something fundamentally new. ...
We today are aware of the fundamentally different nature of the danger to life posed by nuclear weapons ...
Well Sid, for my money you have hit upon a key point that is under appreciated today. The modern firebreak between conventional and nuclear weapons was not apparent in 1945. Indeed, I would argue that (in 1945) it did not exist. The atomic bombs of 1945 followed seemlessly from the strategic bombing campaigns of the preceding five years.

I published a short piece on this (http://pauldjohnston.tripod.com/atomic.html), in which I asked the rhetorical question:
What is the essential distinction between using hundreds of bombers to destroy a city by fire-storm, and using one bomber to destroy a city by atomic blast?
In my opinion, there is no distinction. Which is the point I was trying to make in my article. A great deal of ink has been spilt on the question of why the American leadership "decided" to use the atomic bombs. I would argue that there was no real decision to make - it was already well established policy to smash Japan's cities by strategic bombardment from the air. That being the case, what difference do the technicalities of the bombs' design make?
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Post by Qvist » Mon Apr 04, 2005 11:15 pm

Hello both

That seems reasonable enough to me - but I don't quite get the connect to anything I argued in my post? But perhaps there isn't one?

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Post by sid guttridge » Tue Apr 05, 2005 2:46 am

Hi Qvist,

Just making conversation following on from your last point that "the proponents of strategic bombing did not presuppose a nuclear capability to justify their strategic claims." With that I agree.

However, they did presuppose more and bigger bombs with ever greater destructive power unleashed from the air in order to achieve their strategic aims and the two atomic bombs used conformed with this intended trend. They may not have presupposed atomic weapons per se, but they definitely did envisage equivalent conventional destructive power and even measured atomic bombs in terms of their equivalent in conventional explosives.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by Qvist » Tue Apr 05, 2005 3:50 am

Got you. I just wondered if there was some misunderstanding.

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Post by greenhorn » Wed Apr 06, 2005 1:36 pm

The US were compelled to use A bombs on Japan.

They had to force the Japanese to surrender as it would have been politically impossible to take the additional casualties required by assaulting the home islands.......

By the time the US had achieved a bridgehead on Kyushu/Honshu, the Russians would have rolled up the Korean Peninsula and probably all over Japan! Not having an electorate to worry about.
Banzai!

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Post by sid guttridge » Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:58 am

Hi Greenhorn,

I don't think the US had to use the atom bomb. However, it was certainly massively to its advantage to do so.

I think that your perspective on low-US casualty tolerance is coloured by internal US reaction to later, far less important conlicts against opponents not threatening to its national existence, such as Korea and particularly Vietnam.

I think that the US was nowhere near as casualty-shy in WWII against a foe that had attacked its national territory as it was in later more minor wars.

I also think that the US was probably psyched up for heavy losses during a conventional invasion of Japan - something the USSR was probably incapable of mounting independently. Indeed, the US was prepared to mount such an invasion with little more than token British Commonwealth ground support.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by Andy H » Thu Apr 07, 2005 1:29 pm

Indeed, the US was prepared to mount such an invasion with little more than token British Commonwealth ground support.


Agreed, but that was absed on Political and Logistical grounds, rather than purely military
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Post by Vagabond » Thu May 12, 2005 9:47 am

PaulJ wrote:... The modern firebreak between conventional and nuclear weapons was not apparent in 1945.
I think you are right that there was no 'firebreak' between nuclear weapons and area bombings of civilian targets in 1945, but I would add that mass bombing of cities was seen in much the same light at least until 1940 as we saw full scale nuclear war during the Cold War, i.e. as decisive in itself.

Once the genie of area bombing of enemy cities was out of the bottle after Rotterdam, there were no moral constraints left, though one wonders why the RAF persevered with their comparatively ineffective bombing for as long as they did. After all, the Butt Report established that accuracy was appalling, which ruled out precision bombing of key targets such as eg. the synthfuel industry. That left only area bombing conducted at night, and the Brits would have known full well that such bombing did not break the population's morale - after all, they had first hand experience from The Blitz.

I think the British population's desire for revenge is a factor that should not be underestimated. Churchill's parliamentary basis was elected, after all, and for a very long while strategic bombing was the only means by which the UK could hit Germany directly.

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Post by sid guttridge » Fri May 13, 2005 5:05 am

Hi Vagabond,

A couple of points. There were moral (and legal) constraints left after Rotterdam. For example, Allied area bombing did not continue to the end of the war. It stopped in March 1945.

Furthermore, there always existed the legal device of the "Open City", under which a city was immune to attack if it stopped all contribution to the war effort and this was both declared to the enemy and adhered to. Germany never declared any of its cities "open" and prevented the Hungarians declaring Budapest "open" in March 1944, but they did apparently declare Rome "open" when they finally left it in June 1944. The only person condemned to death for bombing civilian areas was apparently the German who led the bombing of Belgrade after it had been declared "open" in April 1941.

The British did not know full well that bombing couldn't break civilian morale, because they had seen how shakey British civilian morale sometimes got during the Blitz. (See Angus Calder's "The Peoples' War"). Their conclusion was that more and heavier bombing was more likely to be effective. Goebbels, who was in charge of maintaining German morale, was agreed. His diaries have many references to his fears in this direction.

It is a moot point as to whether Allied bombing eventually broke German civilian morale or not. There certainly was little popular resistance to the Western Allies in the last months of the war, and none afterwards. In the Saarland the civilian population even tried to stop the German armed forces from fighting for the area.

If you read the first posting on this thread you will also see a good number of reasons why Allied strategic bombing should be regarded as widely successful, even though it never lived up to the extravagant hopes of those who thought the war might be won from the air alone.

While it is true that a widespread public desire for revenge created a moral climate at home in which the RAF could operate area bombing, it should also be recalled that it was also public and parliamentary pressure that helped end it weeks before the end of the war. There was no technical reason why area bombing had to be stopped, the only real question is at what point the moral case against it became overwhelming.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by Vagabond » Fri May 13, 2005 11:18 am

Hi Sid,
sid guttridge wrote:Hi Vagabond,

A couple of points. There were moral (and legal) constraints left after Rotterdam. For example, Allied area bombing did not continue to the end of the war. It stopped in March 1945.
Perhaps over Europe, but certainly not over Japan - and concentrating solely on the ETO would in turn also remove the nuclear bomb as the next logical step in area bombing.
...Furthermore, there always existed the legal device of the "Open City"...The only person condemned to death for bombing civilian areas was apparently the German who led the bombing of Belgrade after it had been declared "open" in April 1941.
Yes, Martin Fiebig was executed as a war criminal in 1946. Bombing cities can also have a more narrow tactical application. They usually serve as mobilisation centres, which in turn might explain why the Luftwaffe bombed Warsaw but not for example Paris in the early parts of the war.
The British did not know full well that bombing couldn't break civilian morale, because they had seen how shakey British civilian morale sometimes got during the Blitz. (See Angus Calder's "The Peoples' War").
True, there were disagreeable parts of the Blitz. There seems to have been a real collective effort to gloss over the adverse effects some bombings on occasion had on civilian morale - all the same, the whole 'Britain can take it' attitude, Churchill and the royal family visiting bombed-out Londoners, even Soviet press visiting and writing favourably about the heroic AA gunners in Hyde Park was clearly a point for the PR people. I think it is fair to say that Britain came out of the Blitz strengthened, a point that should not have gone missed on the RAF bomber barons.
Their conclusion was that more and heavier bombing was more likely to be effective.
I think you are wrong here. Their conclusion was that the RAF did not possess the means to hit anything smaller than a city center with any degree of accuracy, cf. the Butt Report. Area bombing was chosen because it was the only option left.
Goebbels, who was in charge of maintaining German morale, was agreed. His diaries have many references to his fears in this direction.
The Nazis may themselves have been victims of the myth that the German home front collapsed in 1918. I think that is a strong reason why Germany never got a full war economy (and that in turn can explain the growing German production numbers throughout the war), and why eg. German rations remained comparatively lavish. Goebbels expressing fears to his diary that civilian morale might sap does not in itself mean that this was the case.
It is a moot point as to whether Allied bombing eventually broke German civilian morale or not.
I don't think it is moot when it comes to determining whether Harris was successful in seeing his original strategy through to a successful conclusion.
There certainly was little popular resistance to the Western Allies in the last months of the war, and none afterwards. In the Saarland the civilian population even tried to stop the German armed forces from fighting for the area.
Well okay. But I can think of other reasons why German morale in the West might have been on the decline during the closing months of the war :wink:
If you read the first posting on this thread you will also see a good number of reasons why Allied strategic bombing should be regarded as widely successful, even though it never lived up to the extravagant hopes of those who thought the war might be won from the air alone.
I do not dispute that the Allied strategic bombing campaign was widely successful in tying down very considerable German resources in men, AA guns and particularly fighter aircraft, but this drain should be put in proportion to the considerable drain on Allied resources that the bombing campaign itself was. Would the RAF have carried on bombing German targets after the Butt Report's disheartening conclusions if their resources had been scarcer?
While it is true that a widespread public desire for revenge created a moral climate at home in which the RAF could operate area bombing, it should also be recalled that it was also public and parliamentary pressure that helped end it weeks before the end of the war...


Absolutely. While public pressure facilitated the strategic bombing campaign initially, the same public mood could of course also be a factor in stopping strategic bombing again.

Best regards,

Jon

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Post by sid guttridge » Sat May 14, 2005 3:02 am

Hi Vagabond,

Yes. Cities and even quite small towns contained mobilisation centres, barracks, depots, training schools, etc. Tessin has written three volumes on their distribution across the Reich in WWII. Every single one of Germany's soldiers passed through them. The Ersatzheer in them averaged some two million men throughout WWII. The same was true of virtually any country.

I don't see that Britain came out of the Blitz strengthened, except in the sense that it had survived it. There was enormous relief that the bombing had been far less damaging than pre-war estimates had predicted but, nevertheless, widespread death and destruction had been caused and morale had sometimes been distinctly shakey in the immediate aftermath of raids - Churchill was booed on one visit to the East End. The obvious lesson was to make sure that any counter-blitz on Germany would have to be heavier and more sustained if it was to succeed.

I agree that area bombing was adopted as the only option left (at least until better equipment became available), but in fact this official "adoption" was simply a recognition that, such was the inaccuracy of earlier raids, area bombing was always what the RAF had been conducting at night anyway.

I think you are spot on about the long overlooked impact of the British blockade on German civilian morale by 1918, which had the direst political consequences for the Second Reich. The Third Reich tried to cushion its civilian population from a repitition in WWII by maintaining as much civilian normality for as long as possible. The cost of this was a fatally late switch to a total war economy.

Goebbels was not fantasising. German civilian morale demonstrably did decline in WWII. See my original post about the much higher absenteeism amongst German workers than amongst forced labourers in 1944.

Harris's aim of winning the war from the air alone clearly did not work in Europe. However, this does not mean that his European operations were a total failure. Enormous damage was inflicted on Germany and enormous human and material resources were diverted to opposing or avoiding the bombing. This undoubtedly facilitated Allied progress elsewhere.

Furthermore, as Japan WAS knocked out of the war through air power, Harris was not necessarily on the wrong track. It may be argued that he simply lacked the necessary weight of destructive power and that Atom Bomb was his ultimate vindication.

What is your alternative to the strategic bomber offensive? The Royal Navy couldn't attack Germany. The Army was far too small to land back on the continent. The diversion of resources from building strategic bombers wasn't going to change this significantly. Air attack was the only method Britain had of striking at Germany. Why, therefore, is it a problem that enormous resources were devoted to this end? The alternative would appear to be to give up the war altogether. Is this your proposition?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by Vagabond » Sat May 14, 2005 7:53 am

Hi again Sid,
sid guttridge wrote:...I don't see that Britain came out of the Blitz strengthened, except in the sense that it had survived it. There was enormous relief that the bombing had been far less damaging than pre-war estimates had predicted but, nevertheless, widespread death and destruction had been caused
Yes, but the loss of life luckily fell very short of expectations. Some pre-scient London bureaucrat had so many death certificates printed on the eve of war in 1939 that they were still in use well into the 1970s...

I still maintain that Britain came out of the Blitz stronger, both in absolute terms (RAF strength vs. Luftwaffe strength) and in acknowledging the strategic condition that an invasion of the British isles was beyond the means of the Wehrmacht.
and morale had sometimes been distinctly shakey in the immediate aftermath of raids - Churchill was booed on one visit to the East End.
OK, but the overall picture of the Blitz's consequences for the civilian populace was one of public perseverance and an ability to keep everyday life going in the face of the enemy. That was also the image of London under the Blitz that made it abroad to the UK's future allies USA and USSR.
The obvious lesson was to make sure that any counter-blitz on Germany would have to be heavier and more sustained if it was to succeed.
Another just as obvious lesson might well have been to admit that pre-war ideas about the total dominance of the bomber were false, and consequently abandon all ideas of bombing enemy cities altogether. I think the revenge motive is key in establishing the reasons why the RAF decided to press on with a bombing campaign that for its early part in fact killed more British aircrews than it killed Germans.
I agree that area bombing was adopted as the only option left (at least until better equipment became available), but in fact this official "adoption" was simply a recognition that, such was the inaccuracy of earlier raids, area bombing was always what the RAF had been conducting at night anyway.
It was certainly what the RAF had been advocating prior to the war, though surprisingly little effort had gone into such essentials as navigation, developing heavy bombs for the (very few) bombers to deliver and escorts for bombers.
... The Third Reich tried to cushion its civilian population from a repitition in WWII by maintaining as much civilian normality for as long as possible. The cost of this was a fatally late switch to a total war economy.
...and that in turn makes it so tricky to establish just which effect the Allied bombing raids had on the German war effort. Production kept growing because there were always fresh resources to tap into.

For example, you could maintain that all the AA guns and fighther defenses and so on that the Germans allocated to combat the Allied air offensive simply came into existence due to bare necessity, not due to any conscious effort on Speer's part to give the defense of the Reich priority at the expense of something else.
Goebbels was not fantasising. German civilian morale demonstrably did decline in WWII. See my original post about the much higher absenteeism amongst German workers than amongst forced labourers in 1944.
I think equating increased absenteeism with morale problems caused by the Allied bombing campaign is something of a stretch. In no particular order, absenteeism could also have been caused by a) a workforce that was older on average in 1940 than it was in 1944 due to the fronts taking all the young and strong; b) a workforce with a higher percentage of women (who have more sick days than men); c) disruption and destruction of German infrastructure; d) disruption and destruction of German industry and e) public morale declining due to other factors than the Allied bombing campaign.
Harris's aim of winning the war from the air alone clearly did not work in Europe. However, this does not mean that his European operations were a total failure. Enormous damage was inflicted on Germany and enormous human and material resources were diverted to opposing or avoiding the bombing. This undoubtedly facilitated Allied progress elsewhere.
Yes, but you should also add the very considerable resources that went into turning the RAF strategic command from a small and inefficient force into a massive arm if you want to find out if the strategic bombing campaign was really worthwhile.
Furthermore, as Japan WAS knocked out of the war through air power, Harris was not necessarily on the wrong track.
No, not necessarily on the wrong track. But don't you think it is problematic that it is in fact so difficult to establish just to which degree strategic bombing helped the Allies win the war?

As for Japan, I humbly submit that there were also other factors than strategic bombing contributing to her defeat.
It may be argued that he simply lacked the necessary weight of destructive power and that Atom Bomb was his ultimate vindication.
An earlier posting on this thread classified the nuclear bomb as a logical step-up in a strategic bombing campaign - but classifying the A-bomb as a war-winning weapon in its own right squarely equates it with how strategic bombing was viewed pre-war - namely as a weapon so powerful that it would act as a deterrent.

Posterity shows that strategic bombing was not decisively war-winning in its own right. I think even the most ardent supporters of the strategic bombing campaign would agree. Assume for a second that nuclear weapons had been available to the Allied side from 1943 onwards, and further assume that a liberal amount had been dropped on Germany causing widespread destruction but not surrender. Which consequences would that have had for the Cold War that followed WWII?
What is your alternative to the strategic bomber offensive? The Royal Navy couldn't attack Germany. The Army was far too small... The alternative would appear to be to give up the war altogether. Is this your proposition?
You'll note that I was only addressing the feasability of the strategic bombing campaign, not the wisdom of waging war on Germany altogether.

I do think a point can be made for a different and possibly wiser allocation of RAF resources, particularly in the early parts of the war. For example, Cunningham estimated that three squadrons of modern fighter planes would have been enough to hold Crete. The 1941-1942 Malayan campaign and the subsequent fall of Singapore was marked by a complete lack of modern aircraft on the British side.

Perhaps most importantly, more big multi-engined aircraft could have been given to RAF Coastal Command, thus contributing to winning the battle for the Atlantic sealanes quicker than the case was historically. Harris himself actively opposed the transferring of modern planes to Coastal Command, perhaps not realising that the success rate of planes operating over the Atlantic should not be measured in the (low) number of U-Boats sunk by aircraft, but rather in the number of convoys that made it through.

Best regards,

Jon

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