Allied strategic bombing - An overlooked success?

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

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Kitsune
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Post by Kitsune » Sun May 22, 2005 9:20 am

Hop wrote:
Not possible. Despite the often quoted "40% of British war effort went on Bomber Command", the truth is very different. Between 7 and 9% of British war effort went on Bomber Command, remove it entirely and you aren't going to anywhere near double the size of the army in Europe.
I am not so sure that this is true. In any case, I have read that the Bombing used up 20% to 30% of the ressources, not 40%. The 7% to 9% seem to be too low. Do you have a source for this?

And even in the case it would be true (I doubt it, for now), I am not sticking to the 1.5 million groundtroops number. Although, compared to bombers ground troops are quite cheap and it should be possible for a nation like Britain to train and equip that number of men (if one is in a total war condition that is, in which Britain was more or less since Summer 1940) and I am as yet not convinced that this number is completely off the mark. Otherwise it should be possible to concentrate more on military targets fro bombings, instead of wasting bombs against civilians. Weren't the British claiming they were the good ones?



Hop wrote:
Of course the US were biased. They were biased against Bomber Command, not towards it. They sought to prove that the methods used by the US forces were superior.
Hehe. Ok. :wink:
But which source is preferable? A British one? A German one? All rivalries between Americans and British aside, the US forces participated in the bombing war. And they did similiar things in Japan. So, they are hardly biased completely AGAINST it. I would say, from the reports and surveys available, it's the most believable one. Which may be a relative statement, but its the best we may have.
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Post by Hop » Sun May 22, 2005 7:25 pm

A crime? Why, which law was broken? Well, that is easy to answer. Its a crime against humanity. (I am using a term the Allies invented themselves, if you don't mind.
It wasn't invented by the allies. It comes from the preamble to the 1907 Hague convention ("laws of humanity")
Remember the "prparation of offensive war"? Nazis were hung for it, but since when had it been forbidden to start a war? By which law?
By treaty, namely the Kellog - Briand treaty of 1928, signed by Britain, Germany, the US, Poland, France, amongst others. (And the 2 most important parties to remember are Germany and Poland)
ARTICLE I

The High Contracting Parties solemly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.

ARTICLE II

The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.
That's Germany, in 1928, promising not to go to war, and to use only peacefull means to resolve conflicts.
If you are seeing things in the strict legalist sense, we have the problem that the highest order of organisation that existed back then (and, despite the existence of the UN, exists today) is the national level. From that point of view, even the Holocaust is no crime. It was perfectly legal, since ordered by the "Führer".
No, it was illegal under international law.

Nations are bound by the international treaties they sign up to. Germany signed up to the Hague conventions of 1907, and the Geneva conventions of 1928.

Article 23 of the Hague convention:
The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.
Note that bit about respecting laws in force in an occupied country.

The laws of Poland and France and Holland 9as examples) did not allow Jews to be rounded up, taken away by force, and murdered.

Article 46
Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected.

Private property cannot be confiscated.
Did the Nazis respect family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and public property? Of course not. They ordered large scale murder in the territories they had occupied.

There might not have been a "higher power" than national governments, but national governments can, and do, freely bind themselves by agreeing to treaties, which then have the force of law for those that have signed up to them.
Same goes of course for the Stalinist meat-grinding GULAG. Perfectly legal.
Possibly. Purely internal matters are not usually covered by international law, because whilst countries might agree treaties between them, they typically don't like limiting their own internal power.
And if we are talking about international treaties, the Genevan convention forbids the deliberate killing of civilians.
Not the 1928 and 1929 conventions, I believe, although the post war 1949 one does. (The 1928 protocol bans the use of gas in war, the 1929 convention regards treatment of prisoners of war)
And if we are talking about international treaties, the Genevan convention forbids the deliberate killing of civilians.
About the closest applicable treaty limitng bombardment would be the 1907 Hague convention on bombardment by naval forces. That again bans the bombardment of "undefended" towns, which of course does not apply to defended towns. (And even undefended towns can be bombarded in some circumstances)
civilian deaths are not an essential byproduct anymore, they are becoming a prime obejctive. That is what the British did and "pioneered"
Hardly. The British pioneered nothing in the bombing war, apart from technical aids. The tactics, and targets, followed the German lead.

And civilians were never the target, towns and cities were. Read again the Herschel Johnson comments I posted. Casualties were not seen as the problem, damage to the town and it's housing were.

(You can see an example in Hamburg. Less than 3% of the population were killed, absenteeism went up to over 25%, and industrial production declined by up to 50% for months after the raid. The damage to the city and it's housing were responsible, not the relatively small number of people killed)
And thats as much a warcrime as many the Germans committed. And should be treated accordingly.
The "crime" of bombing was treated exactly the same for both sides. So, incidentally, was the "crime" of shelling enemy towns, straffing civilian traffic, etc.
A parallel to the Holocaust? Where have I said this? But now that you mention it...there is indeed one. Women and Children, killed and burnt, just because they belonged to a certain ethnic group or nationality.
Sorry, that's rubbish. I do not know of German civilians killed after they fell under British occupation (and I'm talking policy here, not isolated incidents). I know of no German towns bombed after they had surrendered, no German women and children rounded up and gassed by the British, etc.

On the other hand, I can give you plenty of examples of Jews, Slavs etc rounded up and murdered by the Germans after they had surrendered, after their towns had been overrun.

The difference is Britain targetted the enemy country. Once occupied or surrendered, the people ceased to be the enemy, and ceased to be targets.

You could as well argue that shooting prisoners isn't wrong, because shooting enemy soldiers isn't. There is all the difference in the world between enemies who are fighting a war against you, and people who have been captured, who you owe a duty of care to.
Other things may be different, that is however a similiarity.
Too right they are. Things like motive (a strategy to win the war on one hand, racial hatred on the other) and method (attacking enemy cities on the one hand, rounding up captured civilians and murdering them on the other) and opportunity (bringing in a system of law and justice after occupation on one hand, deciding to exterminate entire population groups after occupation on the other)
- How does one turn bombers into land troops? One does not. One spends the available ressources to build tanks, artillery and guns to equip ground troops instead of bombers. One trains more army soldiers than aircrews.
All very well, but the numbers of men suitable to serve at the front line is only a small proportion of the overall total. The RAF was very "tail heavy", the frontline divisions "teeth heavy". Britain had a shortage of infantry, not tail units.

Remember the number of aircrew was pretty small. (assume 10 per bomber, 2 - 3,000 crews in total, less than 30,000 men)
Britain had ample time to do it, even to change its obvious inhuman and ineffective strategy: all the time from 1941 to Autumn 1944. But "successes" like the horrid slaughter of civilians were just met with glee.
No, successes like the damage done to Hamburg were met with glee.
Lack of results as far as Germanies war capabilities were concerned, only resulted in the demanding of more and more bombings, it obviously was not enough.
There are 2 assumptions here. First, that the damage done was light, second that the British knew the damage was light. Both are pretty wide of the mark.
There was time change it. (A good time seemed to be summer 1944. With the invasion underway the decision had been made to win the war WITH ground troops. So why not concentrate on indutrial facilites with the bombings? But the eradiaction of cities continued.)
Industrial facilities are usually in cities, along with gasworks, electricty transformers, waterworks, gas mains, roads, railway lines, telephone exchanges, etc, etc, etc.
One could have decided to go another way. On every single day. But it was not done.
The way the RAF, and USAAF, went was to decide on suitable targets and bomb them. On every single day.

That included cities, marshalling yards, oil plants, steel plants, truck factories, tank factories, armaments works, explosive plants, etc.

It was not simply a policy of just bombing cities, about a third of RAF bombs in 1944 and 1945 went on German cities, the rest went on other targets (I don't have the breakdown of US bombs, but don't for one moment think they weren't are bombing German cities as well)
- Effective and efficient? It's nice to see that you have started to think about these terms. It was about time. An efficient strategy is one that wins about an enemy as fast as possible, with as less costs as possible, without many losses, without needless slaughter and destruction. The classic example how NOT to do it: the British bombing campaign.
As I pointed out earlier, every strategic bombing campaign in WW2 turned into an area bombing campaign against cities. And "area bombing" became post war doctrine with the adoption of MAD.
I am not so sure that this is true. In any case, I have read that the Bombing used up 20% to 30% of the ressources, not 40%. The 7% to 9% seem to be too low. Do you have a source for this?
A couple. Marshall of the RAF Sir John Slessor (Into the Blue, iirc) and prof Richard Overy (Why the Allies Won, again iirc) (not 100% on either title, but I am 100% on the authors and the 7-9%)

You can do a sanity check on the figure as well. The RAF in total had something under 1 million men, the RN about the same, the army over 4 million, making RAF manpower about 17% of total British forces. (and BC was only a portion of the RAF, with ADGB, 2nd TAF, Coastal, Training, Transport, Middle East, Far East etc taking up a very number)

So manpower wise, BC probably didn't reach more than 7%, probably less.

Equipment wise, the British built over 130,000 aircraft, about 30,000 of them heavy bombers and Wellingtons. So heavy bombers accounted for only a small proportion of aircraft production. Granted by weight and cost bombers cost more, but it would still be less than half of aircraft production. (If you assume 50% of aircraft production, you have to assume aircraft production was 40 - 60% of British output to get BC equalling 20 - 30% of British output)
And even in the case it would be true (I doubt it, for now), I am not sticking to the 1.5 million groundtroops number. Although, compared to bombers ground troops are quite cheap and it should be possible for a nation like Britain to train and equip that number of men (if one is in a total war condition that is, in which Britain was more or less since Summer 1940) and I am as yet not convinced that this number is completely off the mark.
Consider that by scrapping the RAF worldwide, you free up less than a million men, of whom only a portion are going to be front line troops.
Otherwise it should be possible to concentrate more on military targets fro bombings, instead of wasting bombs against civilians. Weren't the British claiming they were the good ones?
To quote Harris (I think) "The most immoral thing we could do would be to allow ourselves to lose"

Bear in mind that less than 1% of the total casualties in WW2 were German civilians killed by British bombing (and way over 10% were Jews killed by the Germans) and you should realise that the bombing campaign, for all the publicity it's got, was not one of the major killers of the war. Certainly more civilians died in the siege of Leningrad than by all the bombs dropped on Germany.
But which source is preferable? A British one? A German one?
An impartial one? ie not one carried out by one or other of the militaries involved immediately after the conflict, or by some anti war group, neo nazi group, political pressure group, etc.

I tend to credit historians more than anyone with an agenda.
All rivalries between Americans and British aside, the US forces participated in the bombing war.
The Americans were eager to claim, both during the war and after it, that they had carried out only "precision" attacks in Germany. In fact they carried out their share of area bombing.

From "American Bombardment Policy Against Europe", by Richard G Davis:
On
July 21, a date on which six separate groups of the
Eighth’s bombers attacked cities visually as targets
of opportunity, Anderson issued a new policy
memo. He pointed to Spaatz’s oft reiterated and
continuing intention to direct bombing toward
precision targets and categorically denied any
intention to area-bomb. But having denied the
intention, he proceeded to authorize the practice:
‘we will conduct bombing attacks through the
overcast where it is impossible to get precision targets.
Such attacks will include German marshalling
yards whether or not they are located in
German cities.’

This memo had a chilling effect on reported area
bombing. Three-quarters of such raids reported
appeared in the Eighth’s records before this memo.
However, an analysis using the profile of known
command city raids; always over 100 aircraft,
almost always carrying over 20% incendiaries, and
bombing by radar over 80% of the time, and
applying it to all Eighth Air Force raids, surfaces
82 more ‘area like’ raids. Seventy, or 85%, of those
raids occurred after Anderson’s memo.
In August
the Eighth’s area bombing of Germany dropped to
a mere 401 tons. For the first three weeks in
September American area bombing followed the
same pattern. But by the last week of September
the Germans achieved a stalemate on the Western
Front. The Eighth returned to area attacks with a
total of 4,700 tons on Frankfurt, Cologne,
Magdeburg, and Munster.

In October 1944 the Eighth’s area bombing
increased as bad weather forced attacks on secondary
targets. At the end of the month the Eighth Air
Force issued a new SOP, ‘Attack of Secondary and
Last Resort Targets.’ It increased the likelihood of
area bombing by setting the following criteria:
1. No towns or cities in Germany will be attacked
as secondary or last resort targets, targets of
opportunity, or otherwise, unless such towns contain
or have immediately adjacent to them, one (1)
or more military objectives. Military objectives
include railway lines; junctions; marshalling yards;
railway or road bridges, or other communications
networks; any industrial plant; and such obvious
military objectives as oil storage tanks, military
camps and barracks, troop concentrations, motor
transport or AFV parks, ordnance or supply
depots, ammunition depots; airfields; etc.
It has been determined that towns and cities
large enough to produce an identifiable return on
the H2X scope generally contain a large proportion
of the military objectives listed above. These centers,
therefore, may be attacked as secondary or
last resort targets through the overcast bombing
technique
The fact that so many will still claim the USAAF used "precsion" bombing in Europe is testament to how vehemently the USAAF denied area bombing, both during and after the war.
And they did similiar things in Japan. So, they are hardly biased completely AGAINST it.
There seems to have been less reluctance both to carry out area attacks against Japan, and to admit to them. I suspect that's because the Japanese were "not like us", whilst the Germans were (ie white Europeans)
I would say, from the reports and surveys available, it's the most believable one. Which may be a relative statement, but its the best we may have.
The very fact that the USSBS hardly mentions (at all?) USAAF area attacks should tell you where it's biases lie. Having said that, the bias colours it, it doesn't mean it's not a good source.

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Post by Andy H » Sun May 29, 2005 7:31 am

If one asks wether this strategy was efficient, it was not. It used up an immense ammount of ressources and hurt the war industry of Germany not overly so. If the British had used the same ressources to create 1.5 million ground troops instead their rather timid contribution of 800.000 to the invasion of Europe, the war would have been over sooner
Ok then what's the flip side then. Well for a start Germany wouldn't have 1,250,00personnel employed manning Flak guns at its peak in 1944.
Now by the beginning of 1945 the LW Flak arm possesed:-
7 Flak Corps
29 Flak Divisions
13 Flak Brigades
160 Flak Regiments.
Now I can't find the actual weapons strength but surely you can see the potential AT-TK capability and troops-support these weapons would have given the Heer. Also you could argue that with no SB, then the material used to make the Flak guns would have been used to make other pieces of military hardware etc. Also don't forget the 1.25million extra troops.

Now both your figure and my figures don't take into account that not everybody serving in either the RAF BC or the LW Flak arm was suitable for ground warfare, and so such figures have to be viewed as a guide at best.

So your rather simplistic assumption that by adding the RAF BC manpower pool to the Army would have shortened the war, obviously fails when you can see the German reaction to such a change in Allied strategy.
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Post by Qvist » Sun May 29, 2005 8:43 am

Hi Cheshire

That is a considerably higher estimate for LW Flak personnel strength than any other I've seen? Most figures I have seen for this during this period of the war has been in the ~800,000 area.

In any event, it is of course true that the strategic air war tied down large amounts of personnel on both sides, and even greater parts of their productive capacity.

For German Flak, I would think a more likely effect on an absent air campaign would rather have been that far fewer FLAK guns were produced. FLAK represented a huge percentage of German artillery production, which would hardly have been the case under such circumstances.

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Post by Qvist » Sun May 29, 2005 9:00 am

Hi Sid

-------
As I have said repeatedly, there is a perfectly arguable case against area bombing on moral grounds, but not on legal grounds. It might reasonably be described as barbaric, but not as criminal.
---------

As I recall, the Geneva convention as it existed at the time did ban the conscious targeting of enemy civilian populations? One of the explicit and primary objectives of the air campaign was "de-housing" of the work force and terrorisation of the civilian population. Liddell-Hart quotes a directive of Feb 14 1942 to Bomber Command which states that the air offensive is to be "focused on the morale of enemy civil population and in particular, of the industrial workers." Given that this strategy was given practical expression in indiscriminate area bombing that wreaked wholesale destruction in densely populated urban areas and predictably led to the death of tens of thousands of civilians - not as unfortunate collateral damage but as a main aim in itself - it does not seem altogether impossible to me make a legal case against it. While I would not follow f.e Hoffmann in his blunt denunciation of the bombing campaign as criminal, I do not see how it can ever escape at the very least ambiguity on this point. However, I agree with you that there is a tendency to look at its results in a way that does not capture fully the very substantial constribution it made to the allied victory.

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Post by sid guttridge » Wed Jun 01, 2005 1:10 am

Hi Qvist,

I think Hop answers your points rather better than I can in his tour-de-force above. I am going to print it off for future reference.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by Qvist » Wed Jun 01, 2005 2:14 am

Hi Sid

Certainly Hop makes a number of good points. But AFAICS, he only briefly refers to this specific issue in this comment:
And civilians were never the target, towns and cities were. Read again the Herschel Johnson comments I posted. Casualties were not seen as the problem, damage to the town and it's housing were.
To which I think there are two obvious comments. Firstly, that it is hardly beyond dispute that the distinction between "cities" and "civilians" is really essential in this respect. Secondly, that it does not consider the objective of breaking the morale of the enemy population, which clearly goes beyond the concern with damaging infrastructure that the above passage implies (and which of course was real).

Certainly one can make a case for "de-housing" and "breaking enemy civilian morale" as something that is essentially distinguishable from targeting civilian populations with the intention of killing them. But one can just as easily, and with as much justification AFAICS, argue (considering that both were attempted achieved by eradicating whole areas of cities) the opposite.

One might say that the problem is where the war effort sphere ends and the civilian begins? Ultimately, in total war, there is essentially no field of society or group of people that is irrelevant to the war effort. Nevertheless, the legal framework for warfare presupposed such a distinction, and clearly a line has to be drawn somewhere. It is not obvious where that line should be drawn. Hence my opinion that the bombing offensive cannot escape ambiguity on this point.

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Post by Hop » Wed Jun 01, 2005 4:47 am

Certainly one can make a case for "de-housing" and "breaking enemy civilian morale" as something that is essentially distinguishable from targeting civilian populations with the intention of killing them.
I would.

I would say targeting a city is no more targeting the civilians who live there than targeting a factory is targeting the workers who work there.
But one can just as easily, and with as much justification AFAICS, argue (considering that both were attempted achieved by eradicating whole areas of cities) the opposite.
Only if you accept that bombing a factory was an attempt to kill the workforce, who were of course civilians.

I don't accept that premise.
To which I think there are two obvious comments. Firstly, that it is hardly beyond dispute that the distinction between "cities" and "civilians" is really essential in this respect.
There is of course a clear distinction, just as between workers and factories.
Secondly, that it does not consider the objective of breaking the morale of the enemy population, which clearly goes beyond the concern with damaging infrastructure that the above passage implies (and which of course was real).
No, damage to morale does not need to go beyond damage to infrastructure.

Read again the Hershcel Johnson letter I quoted. Damage to infrastructure and housing was seen as the most damaging to morale, far more so than the civilian casulaties.

Hardly suprising, as the number killed in most raids was small, whereas the numbers of houses destroyed was frequently a sizeable percentage of the total (not to mention the number damagd, the people who lost power and water, etc).
One might say that the problem is where the war effort sphere ends and the civilian begins? Ultimately, in total war, there is essentially no field of society or group of people that is irrelevant to the war effort. Nevertheless, the legal framework for warfare presupposed such a distinction, and clearly a line has to be drawn somewhere.
Where?

The British started the war with the intention of drawing the line at anything other than strictly military targets, which included not bombing warships in port in case dockyard workers were killed, and not bombing any targets in Germany at all in case bombs went astray and killed civilians.

That policy was gradually relaxed following German escalations.

So the question of where to draw the line has to take into account that the enemy had already defined the line to their satisfaction, as including any target that could damage the British.
It is not obvious where that line should be drawn. Hence my opinion that the bombing offensive cannot escape ambiguity on this point.
War can't escape ambiguity. Any extensive military operation in the proximity of civilians is going to result in civilian casualties.

Did the Germans lay siege to Leningrad to kill it's civilians? Was that the purpose? It was certainly the result. And the purpose, like the bomber offensive, also included damage to the enemy morale.

So, when drawing the line, do you draw it at attacking enemy cities by land as well as air? What if the enemy are already using the same methods? Do you then say you will not attack enemy cities even if they are attacking yours?

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Post by Qvist » Wed Jun 01, 2005 7:09 am

Hello Hop
I would.

I would say targeting a city is no more targeting the civilians who live there than targeting a factory is targeting the workers who work there.
As said, such a case can certainly be made. But I would question the validity of that analogy, with reference to the need to make some sort of delineation between civilian and military spheres. AFAICS, it is perfectly valid to argue that bombing a tank factory is on the right side of that line while erasing a whole city isn't. Not that I argue that this is the case, I merely refuse to accept that it is indisputable that it isn't.
Only if you accept that bombing a factory was an attempt to kill the workforce, who were of course civilians.

I don't accept that premise.
See above.
No, damage to morale does not need to go beyond damage to infrastructure.

Read again the Hershcel Johnson letter I quoted. Damage to infrastructure and housing was seen as the most damaging to morale, far more so than the civilian casulaties.

Hardly suprising, as the number killed in most raids was small, whereas the numbers of houses destroyed was frequently a sizeable percentage of the total (not to mention the number damagd, the people who lost power and water, etc).
As far as I can see, the HJ letter (apart from hardly being the only source on which to judge an allied aerial strategy that was still at an early stage when it was written) identifies the effect on public morale with the general effects of large scale bombing attacks, noting that their effect surpassed their actual damage to industrial plant alone. Where does it state that this wasn't due to the people killed and the risk of further death, but rather to public despondency over lost housing? What would depress you more, to have your house burnt down, or have your family or neighbours or relatives incinerated? To me it seems rather superficial, and ultimately a bit of a euphemistic pretense, to proceed from a premise that the campaign sought to break civilian morale by just removing their houses, as if it hadn't struck anyone that mass death just might contribute a little in that regard too.
Where?

The British started the war with the intention of drawing the line at anything other than strictly military targets, which included not bombing warships in port in case dockyard workers were killed, and not bombing any targets in Germany at all in case bombs went astray and killed civilians.

That policy was gradually relaxed following German escalations.

So the question of where to draw the line has to take into account that the enemy had already defined the line to their satisfaction, as including any target that could damage the British.
Well, this illustrates the point I made - that reasonably the line must be somewhere, but it is inherently debatable exactly where. Hence my view that the policy cannot escape legal ambiguity. The discussion also relates to whether it is possible to claim that the bombing offensive violated international law, not whether it was justified - that is a different discussion. And with regard to this, it does not essentially affect the matter where the germans had drawn the line, it is entirely conceivable that both sides actions could be considered unlawful in this regard.
War can't escape ambiguity. Any extensive military operation in the proximity of civilians is going to result in civilian casualties.
Yes, but the point was that there is (IMO) ambiguity regarding the legal aspects of the bombing offensive. And it appears as somewhat euphemistic to me to describe a protracted air campaign aimed explicitly against enemy population centers as such as "a military operation in the proximity of civilians".
Did the Germans lay siege to Leningrad to kill it's civilians? Was that the purpose? It was certainly the result. And the purpose, like the bomber offensive, also included damage to the enemy morale.
Yes, in the sense that any large military victory damages enemy morale. And yes, the Germans DID in fact intend to wipe Leningrad off the face of the earth and to kill its civilians. Apart from that, I do not really see a point here?
So, when drawing the line, do you draw it at attacking enemy cities by land as well as air? What if the enemy are already using the same methods? Do you then say you will not attack enemy cities even if they are attacking yours?
You could for instance draw it between attacking industrial and military targets and attacking population centers as such, or you could draw it between capturing cities and destroying them. What's under discussion here is legality, which enemy methods does not (and should not) adjust. Nor does whatever answer one gives to the last question.

But above all, yes, it's tricky isn't it? But then I don't pretend to have a clear answer, I just reserve myself against the view that there is no grounds for claiming that the bomber offensive breached international law. As far as I can see there is, though whether a final balanced conclusion would also be in that direction is a different matter.

EDIT re-reading one's own posts theday after is often useful, and this time it struck that perhaps I ought to clarify one thing. I had taken it as understood that relative to the issue of legality, it is inescapable to make a distinction between the war-related and the civilian sphere. The reason for this is that the relevant international law makes such a distinction.

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Post by Qvist » Thu Jun 02, 2005 5:08 am

Well, when will I learn to leave the law to the lawyers....having browsed around more thoroughly, it seems that contrary to my belief, international treatises had not established clear rules for the protection of civilian the population in general at the time, and that most of the international legal framework in convention form was only created post-war. Thus, the legal picture as it relates to aerial bombardment is less clear than I had thought.

That is not however to say that it is clear that there were no legal obstacles to area bombing 1939-45. The Hague and Geneva instruments both contain some provisions which may be applicable (and which were in fact used to indict the Germans for bombing Salonika during WWI). Also, the Nuremberg declaration established breaches of the "customary rules of war" as prosecutable in addition to treaty law breaches. This may be particularly relevant in the case of aerial warfare, as none of the existing treaties dealt specifically with this issue. It is of course disputable just what the customs of war were in this area. But one thing to consider is the following unanimous declaration by the League of Nations in 1938, which at least must be said to express what its member states considered to be the appropriate way of assessing the issue. That declaration states:
Considering that on numerous occasions public opinion has expressed through the most authoritative channels its horror of the bombing of civilian populations;

Considering that this practice, for which there is no military necessity and which, as experience shows, only causes needless suffering, is condemned under the recognised principles of international law;
My emphasis.

The whole text, as well as a number of other pertinent ones, may be viewed here:

http://www.dannen.com/decision/int-law.html#D

cheers

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Post by Vagabond » Thu Jun 02, 2005 6:24 am

Hi Qvist,

I think it is rather easy to shoot down (sorry) the text you quote as legally binding in any way. It is really only a declaration of intent on what any future regulations on the law of warfare should encompass:

"The Assembly(...)Recognizes the following principles as a necessary basis for any subsequent regulations:

1) The intentional bombing of civilian populations is illegal;

2) Objectives aimed at from the air must be legitimate military objectives and must be identifiable;

3) Any attack on legitimate military objectives must be carried out in such a way that civilian populations in the neighbourhood are not bombed through negligence..."


It's doubtful if anything legally binding was decided, and even if something firm had been enacted by the League's assembly, Germany was not a member of the League of Nations in 1938, and thus not obliged to follow any rulings, nor subject to the protection of civilians from aerial bombardment that the quoted text stipulates. That applies to the US too, by the way, so to only possible legal adherent to any international law or treaty addressing bombardment of enemy cities would have been Britain of the players were discussing here.

A great number of morally reprehensible acts weren't criminal in a legal sense prior to 1945. The hostage shootings widely used by the Germans in anti-partisan warfare was not illegal under the Hague and Geneva conventions for example, nor was aerial bombardment of enemy towns and cities illegal, with a few exceptions pertaining to open cities and naval bombardment of civilian targets.

Personally I am more interested in addressing the usefulness (in a war-winning sense) of strategic bombing of enemy cities, rather than the legal and moral angle. I think it is too easy to reject the strategic bombing campaign as it was waged by the RAF and USAAF as immoral simply because it yielded no really tangible results with regard to breaking the enemy's civilian morale.

But as you say yourself...
...which at least must be said to express what its member states considered to be the appropriate way of assessing the issue.
...bombing of enemy cities was viewed with great horror prior to the outbreak of war in 1939, and even for some time after the outbreak of war too, as the text you quote and the Roosevelt appeal from Sept. 1939 that follows it illustrate very well.

I would equate the prevailing pre-war conception of air bombardment of cities with how full scale nuclear war was viewed during the Cold War, as I also mentioned in my first post on this thread; Douhet, Mitchell, Trenchard et al. had all put forth convincing theories that aerial bombardment of the enemy's cities would be the shape of war to come.

Best regards,

Jon

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Post by Qvist » Thu Jun 02, 2005 7:09 am

Hi Jon

----------
I think it is rather easy to shoot down (sorry) the text you quote as legally binding in any way. It is really only a declaration of intent on what any future regulations on the law of warfare should encompass:
---------

Yes, I agree that a LN resolution is not in itself a legally binding document. However, I think some weight could be attached to it in this context nonetheless, as the Nuremberg provisions establishes customary rules of warfare (beyond what is given expression in treaties) as legally binding, and this resolution is a rather clear expression of the British interpretation of these as per 1938. Since the British gvt (among others) clearly considered that bombing of civilians "is condemned under recognised principles of international Law" in 1938, it is at least not clear that such bombing can be considered as clearly within the customary rules of warfare in 1944?

cheers [/i][/quote]

devalois
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Post by devalois » Fri Jun 03, 2005 2:28 pm

Mr Sid,
Please give your full cv, any university at all?
Kind regards,
G. von Salza

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Post by Qvist » Sun Jun 05, 2005 2:31 pm

Devalois -

The point being? I think you'll find it a thankless task to try and discredit Mr. Guttridge's credentials. While I seem to disagree with him on several issues, the reason certainly is not that he is not worth taking seriously, nor that he doesn't know what he is talking about.

cheers

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Post by sid guttridge » Tue Jun 07, 2005 2:10 am

Hi Qvist,

Are you referring to the proposal put by Britain and France to the League of Nations after Munich to specifically outlaw bombing of civilians?

I think this was an attempt to make explicit what was previously implicit to the their opponents, Germany, Italy and Japan, all of whom were already engaged in this activity to their advantage in Spain and China. However, at least two of the Axis powers had already withdrawn from the League of Nations and pragmatcally they all refused to be drawn on the issue, which would have restricted them in an area where they then had a clear advantage. It might also be reasonably argued that the Anglo-French initiative on this issue was pragmatically designed to neutralise one of their opponents' apparent military advantages in 1938.

Thus, I would argue, all sides entered the war with the pragmatic attitude "That which is not explicitly illegal is legal" and when it was to their personal advantage bombed civilian areas through a gap in the cloud cover of then international law.

There are undoubtedly severe questions to asked about the morality of this, but I, personally, don't think it was then a war crime under law.

Cheers,

Sid.

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