Allied strategic bombing - An overlooked success?

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

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Qvist
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Post by Qvist » Tue Jun 07, 2005 2:41 am

Hi Sid
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.
That is not an IMPO an unreasonable standpoint, and may ultimately also be the appropriate overall conclusion. My point has just been that there is also a case for the opposite conclusion really.

As regards the LN resolution, I thought it important chiefly for containing what amounts to an official statement of interpretation of international law from the British (and others) side. While a LN resolution is clearly not a binding instrument of international law, any official statement of the British gvt to the effect that it considers bombing of civilians to contravene international law must reasonably have some impact on a balanced assessment of whether same bombing contravened international law or not (at least as far as I can understand, but then I am not a lawyer). International Law is never just a tool of politics, and when one invokes a particular interpretation of it, one adds a weight to that particular interpretation that cannot later be wholly removed. This is hardly something conclusive, but it isn't nothing either, yes?

cheers

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Post by John Kilmartin » Tue Jun 07, 2005 5:08 pm

Hi Sid,
If my understanding of the origin of the thread "Was strategic bombing an effective use of resources" is correct than instead of comparing it to there being no SBC compare it to the U boat war. Now dollar for dollar it was a much more productive method of warfare. But because it was limited it was ineffective in changing the outcome of the war.
It is my personal belief that if more raids into occupied territory had occurred prior to the D day or even the landings in Italy it could have been a more efficient and less costly method of diverting German forces and materiel.
' Strip war of the mantle of its glories and excitement, and it will disclose a gibbering ghost of pain , grief, dissappointment and despair'

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Post by sid guttridge » Wed Jun 08, 2005 2:59 am

Hi John,

My purpose in starting this thread was to address an mistaken contention advanced by some who oppose allied strategic bombing on other threads. The contention of some of them was that not only was Allied strategic bombing wrong and/or illegal, but to add insult to injury, it was militarily ineffective as well.

This last was definitely not the case, as my opening post, I hope, helps illustrate.

That Allied strategic bombing could have been more efficiently applied in a number of ways is undoubtedly true (as it is of virtually any weapon or strategy), but this does not mean that the methods actually used were ineffective.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by John Kilmartin » Thu Jun 09, 2005 8:07 pm

Hi Sid,
I was recently reading a book about some of the lesser known fields of research in aircraft design during the Third Reich and I can not remember one that was if not an answer to the SBC at least limited in some way by it. If the only accomplishment of the SBC was to limit the introduction of the multitude of German jet fighter designs it was worth it. Never mind developments in helicopters, transport planes, seaplanes and further advances in rocketry.
That being said I find the resources allocated to supporting the SBC to its results disproportionate. For instance here in Canada it is often overlooked that our greatest contribution to the war effort was not supporting the convoy system in the Western Approaches or the landings in Italy and France or even in Bomber Command but in our participation in the BCATP where, while we might have taken a lead role, there was also participation in the Rhodesias and Union of South Africa never mind elsewhere.
' Strip war of the mantle of its glories and excitement, and it will disclose a gibbering ghost of pain , grief, dissappointment and despair'

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Post by sid guttridge » Fri Jun 10, 2005 6:59 am

Hi J9ohn,

A god few years ago I drew up comparitive lists of Canadian and Italian production of warship tonnage, and numbers of aircraft and tanks during WWII.

Before the war Italy had some of the world's most developed air and warship production facilities and a large motor industry that had just begun to produce tanks. Canada had no significant history in any of these areas. Yet Canada went on to outproduce Italy, the second Axis power in Europe, in all three areas!

It is often suggested that the Allies devoted a disproportionate amount to their strategic bombing campaign. However, nobody ever offers any estimate as to what a "proportionate amount" might be.

America massively overproduced tanks, landing craft, aircraft carriers, et., etc., but one never sees it suggested that the investment in them was "disproportionate".

Why? Because all successful war requires the application of more resources than are minimally necessary. This level of minimum necessity is always indefinable and it therefore always requires "disproportionate" investment to be made to guarantee success.

The object in war is not to win by the skin of one's teeth, but to win by as wide a margin as possible. Disproportionate resources were one of the Allies' major advantages. It would have been folish not to use them.

Cheers.

Sid.

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Post by Vagabond » Sun Jun 12, 2005 3:00 am

Hi Sid,

Your posting is a reply to John, but you address some points that I in turn wish to reply to:
sid guttridge wrote:Before the war Italy had some of the world's most developed air and warship production facilities and a large motor industry that had just begun to produce tanks. Canada had no significant history in any of these areas. Yet Canada went on to outproduce Italy, the second Axis power in Europe, in all three areas!
Apart from Italy being subject to strategic bombing to a limited degree (most Allied bombing in Italy was interdiction or more direct support for land forces IIRC) and Canada not, what does this tell us about the usefulness of the SBC? Canada had a comparatively small but well-educated population, as well as a desire to contribute to the Allied war effort in a way that she could control - i.e. the Canadians decided that they would rather build trucks and corvettes than have her small manpower pool bleed in Europe as they had done in WWI.

Contrast that to India's large contribution of manpower to the war. India's productive contribution cannot have been very large in the WWII era; even basics such as food had to be imported on occasion.

In comparison Italy had a vulnerable economy that was very dependent on imports of eg. British coal. Oil was in such short supply throughout the war that building more tanks would have been pointless, for there would have been no fuel for them. Also Italy's manpower pool, while larger, was much more heterogenous than Canada's - you could no doubt find very skilled workers and expert artisans from Piedmonte and Lombardy, but there were also peasant soldiers from southern Italy who literally did not know left from right.
...America massively overproduced tanks, landing craft, aircraft carriers, et., etc., but one never sees it suggested that the investment in them was "disproportionate".
It's a quibble, but the American production of landing craft was disproportionally low at least until D-Day. Landing operations particularly in the Mediterranean were cut back or called off due to an at least alleged shortage of landing craft - maybe because these very useful vessels were produced for the US Navy whose main headache was in the Pacific, regardless of any 'Germany First' policies.
Why? Because all successful war requires the application of more resources than are minimally necessary. This level of minimum necessity is always indefinable and it therefore always requires "disproportionate" investment to be made to guarantee success.
Well, in as much as this thread singles out the Allied strategic bombing campaign against Germany as an important part of the Allied war effort, I think it is fair to discuss whether the dividend was worth the investment. It's true that the Allies overall had more resources available than the Axis powers, but that does not justify squandering those resources in ways that will not win the war.

Incidentally I don't think the SBC can be called 'overlooked' in any way. The massive USBC study attests that interest in causes and effects of the SBC have been examined intensely. Rather, one could get the impression that the SBC (&c) is almost desperately searching for ways to quantify the SBC as a success that was well worth the investment.
The object in war is not to win by the skin of one's teeth, but to win by as wide a margin as possible. Disproportionate resources were one of the Allies' major advantages. It would have been folish not to use them.
The object is simply to win; in the case of WWII you might add that the object was to win at any cost, but applying eventually overwhelming force to a particular part of your war effort - in casu the SBC - might be said to contradict the old dictum of economy of effort, central to particularly British war doctrine.

Best regards,

Jon

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Post by sid guttridge » Sun Jun 12, 2005 7:09 am

Hi Vagabond

I mentioned Canada in reply to John's post. It has no particular relevance to the strategic bombing issue. It was more of an aside.

It is perfectly reasonable to question whether resources were squandered on the strategic bomber effort. However, some people have suggested in the past that the Allied strategic bomber effort was not merely wasteful, but actually counter productive. They cite supposed strengthened German civilian will to resist and higher German military production figures for 1944. My opening post was to counter such a mistaken propositon.

The Strategic Bomber Offensive contributed greatly to Allied victory, particularly in the West, and most certainly did not detract from it, as some have previously contended in an overstated and counter-productive effort to discredit it.

It was not the Strategic Bomber Offensive that I was suggesting was overloked, but its success.

The object of war is not "simply to win". It is to win with as many of your own people still standing as possible, or, as I put it last time, by the widest margin possible. It would profit the "victor" little, if his margin of victory is to have the last man standing - alone!

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by Kutscher » Sun Jun 12, 2005 8:19 am

sid guttridge wrote: The object of war is not "simply to win". It is to win with as many of your own people still standing as possible, or, as I put it last time, by the widest margin possible. It would profit the "victor" little, if his margin of victory is to have the last man standing - alone!

Cheers,

Sid.
Sid, exactly what did Britain "win" in WWII? You went from a first rate power before the war to a second rate power at best, lost virtually all of your empire within a few years of the war's ending, and saw Poland - the reason you ostensibly went to war in the first place - enslaved for 50 years. The only "winner" in WWII was Stalin.

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Post by sid guttridge » Sun Jun 12, 2005 1:40 pm

Hi Kutscher,

Firstly, Britain was undoubtedly on the winning side, having been the only Ally to remain in the field for virtually the entire war. During that time the only territory it lost to Germany were the minuscule Channel Islands, which were not even defended.

At the end of it, Britain was occupying a fifth of Germany and had more German POWs than any other Ally. Its total fatalities were well under half a million - cheap considering the war's duration and the losses of others.

Britain's Empire was gradually unravelling before WWII. Eire was independent in 1923. The Old Commonwealth (Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) was entirely self governing. The Government of India Act of the mid-1930s and the gradual Indianisation of the Indian Army's officer corps clearly indicated that India would follow. WWII very probably accelerated the British Empire's dissolution, but did not fundamentally alter the probable course of events. I would suggest that it was better to have dissolved the Empire after a last, victorious war, than lose it to force in defeat, or revolt.

The big winner in WWII was not Stalin, but the USA. The USSR was exhausted. America was comparitively untouched.

Yes, Britain lost out to the USA as a global power. But who better to have lost out to than another free trading, Anglo-Saxon, liberal demoracy? I see it more as the passing of the baton.

Yes, Britain at home suffered a major decline in its relative power in the three decades after WWII, but this was largely due to internal policies, not the effects of WWII.

Britain fulfilled its contractual obligations regarding Poland. Britain was obliged by treaty to help Poland against Germany, and against no other country. Britain stayed in the war until Germany was evicted from Polish soil.

Yup. Britain emerged from the war as a second rate power, but it entered the war destined to become one anyway. And are we complaining?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by hjack » Wed Jun 15, 2005 4:24 am

Hi all, new here. Just thought i would pop this essay up on this area that i wrote last year. Its not my best work by far but its ok :)
This essay will discuss the subject matter of the allied bomber campaign over Nazi Germany and examine to what extent it can be morally and strategically justified. The essay will cover the period between 1940 and 1945 but will focus mainly on the duration of Arthur Harris’s reign as head of Bomber Command. The first part of the essay will highlight the case for and against the strategic achievements of the bomber campaign and will assess its contribution to the war in Western Europe. Secondly this essay will look at the moral justification and will attempt to highlight some of the attitudes of people at the time whilst utilising several modern sources to emphasise the difference of perspectives.

Bomber Commands objective for the Second World War was to bring about the eventual defeat of the Axis armed forces, they did this through starving them of economic resources and undermining national morale. (Overy 12:1980) The issue of how much the strategic bombing contributed to the fall of Germany has been a contentious topic over the years and will no doubt continue to be for some time to come. Initially the bomber offensive had many problems, not least of which was the technological failings that were unable to match the doctrine. The Butt Report was the culmination of a study of 600 operational photos taken by photo reconnaissance aircraft and was released in August 1941, its statistical information was shocking. It showed that of 100 bombers setting out on an operation, many never found the target and of those attacking that the target, on average only one-third placed their bombs within 5 miles of the target. In the varying weather conditions over North West Europe, the number of bombers finding the target was only one in ten and on moonless nights, only one bomber in 15 found the target. (http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/ww ... eport.aspx)
However damming this report was, Bomber Command had to continue to operate as best they could because if they did not, they probably would not have existed past 1941 (Source). The war in the East was going badly for the Soviets and Stalin was continually calling on Churchill to open a second front. After the fall of Tobruk Stalin became enraged and called the British cowards and if not for Churchill offering to bomb urban centres in an attempt to relieve pressure then things may have become very dire between these ‘allies of a kind’(Overy 107:1995). Area bombing in reality was all the RAF was operationally capable of and so it gave Britain the only means of striking back and showing the rest of the world that she had not given up the fight just yet (Gooch 168:1995).

As the bombing campaign over Germany intensified and the war pressed on, the arrival of Albert Speer heralded a revival in the German economy. Prior to the war Germany was assumed to have been operating at wartime production, however this was not the case and did not fully hit wartime production until the arrival of Speer. This of course has coloured some of the assessments of the strategic bomber campaign over Germany. Max Hastings points out that German industrial production did not reduce under the bombing campaign and in fact increased in places, however it seems Hastings’ assessment is based on that very assumption (Hastings 226:1999). It would be hard to judge what levels German production could have reached if not under the daily stress of the bomber campaign, however it would be prudent to assume it would have been considerably higher than the actual figures. There has also been debates put forward from several historians that criticise the resources dedicated to the bomber campaign, this has been followed by suggestions that the resources could have been put into other areas of development. However as John Buckley points out, only 12% of allied resources were designated as such (Buckley 166:1999), this of course suggests that the bombing campaign was actually far more efficient than some theorists give it credit.

The strategic bombing campaign became a huge drain on German resources, manpower and technology. Robin Neillands points out that Germany designated 8,876 88 mm flak guns (75% of the total 88’s produced. Overy 129:1995), 25,000 20/30mm flak cannons, 900,000 men to man those guns and a further 1 million to be used for clean up duty after bombings (Neillands 384-385:2004). This of course asks the question, what impact would those 88’s and excess men have had on the Eastern front? There is also some suggestion that Germany’s commitment to air defence severely hampered their technological improvements and technical output sapping vital resources. Statistically the air defence of Germany required 30% of total gun output, 20% of heavy ammunition production, 50% electronics technology production and 33% optical industry output (Overy 122-123:1980).

The development of the P-47 and P-51 into long-range escort fighters proved to be a revolutionary move and gave the bomber campaign the initiative in the war. The long-range fighter was an integral operational requirement for continuing the bomber offensive over Germany in 1944-1945. The bombers flying over Germany attracted the defensive fighters of the Luftwaffe who attempted to intercept them, however with the new escorts these were soon dispatched. The subsequent raids led to serious attrition rates on German pilots and aircraft. This resulted in only 300 German aircraft available to defend North West Europe on June 6th 1944, compared with the allied air force of 12,000 aircraft. The allies had achieved what Hitler had sought over Britain in 1940-1941, air superiority. This could be the most important achievement of the bombing campaign as “air superiority is a necessity…since the German attack on Poland no country has won a war in the face of enemy air superiority”(Warden 10:2000). This of course was not directly attributable to the bomber campaign it did however come as a consequence of it and as such should be included as part of the discussion, although Max Hastings does not see it as such. Hastings attributes the loss of air superiority to technical failures at home and defeat in the air, this perhaps neglects some important information (Hastings 231:1999). Firstly the long-range escort was developed because of operational requirements in the ETO and secondly German fighters would not have been tempted into the air if not for the bombers. In fact Goerring had purposely told his Luftwaffe not to engage allied fighters if they could help it (Buckley Air Power class lecture).

The second part of the directive from Bomber Command was the targeting and destruction of civilian morale, this was done in the hopes that it would decrease production and instil rebellion in the people. This more than any other part of the war was difficult to quantify success or failure. There had been some precedent that Bomber Command should have perhaps taken notice of, that of the ‘Blitz’. British morale did not break during the ‘Blitz’ and in fact the bombing brought people closer together. The reasoning that has been given for Bomber Commands reluctance to heed this warning seems to have been based on the assumption that the British were made of stronger moral fibre than the Germanic peoples. Air Vice Marshall John Slessor defended the logic behind targeting the German morale when he said “The strength of a chain is in its weakest links, Germanys’ weak link is the morale of its people”(Gooch 117:1995). Initially these morale attacks were used because operationally the RAF was capable of little else however as the war went on morale bombing did take a back seat in favour of economic targets. Morale bombing does have its weaknesses, perhaps the biggest of which is that when people no longer have anything to lose they will fight fanatically (Overy 119:1980). Statistically there has been evidence to suggest that morale bombing did have an effect on the German people, Richard Overy points out that absenteeism in the heavily bombed Ruhr area reached as high as 25% (Overy in Townsend 275:2000). Overy seems to be one of the few historians that is actually able to put some form of figure on the morale effect of bombing, some seem far too dismissive and instead just state that it did not work. Although Overy seems to be in favour of morale bombing he also points out that even though “demoralisation occurred, it was never expressed as had been predicted by air planners…apathy, fear and despair not revolution” (Overy in Townsend 275:2000). So perhaps the morale bombing did have an effect on Germany, but not in the way envisaged in the inter war period.

The most controversial part of this debate is the moral implications of bombing urban centres and the implications wrought from such as task. Whatever the implications of such actions there can be no doubt that there was sufficient provocation by the Nazi regime to warrant such a campaign, both in hindsight and when viewed at the time. The idea that bombing was morally wrong could be seen to be based around the idea that Western Democracies should “maintain their liberal decency’ in their conduct of the war (Overy 295:1995). World War Two like the war in 1914-18 was part of the ‘Total War’ theory and as such several conclusions can be drawn that are associated with that idea. John Buckley points out that the problem with ‘Total War’ is that it blurs the edges of distinction between civilians and military (Buckley 05:1999), he also goes on to point out that the civilians (as has been proven earlier) were far from undefended. This coupled with the fact that only industrial cities were targeted (Middlebrook 344:2000) perhaps puts a different perspective on things. The industrial workers were of course responsible for supplying German troops with the materials they needed to fight and as such this makes them targets in their own right. Thus by killing civilian workers they have in fact denied the German soldiers the means with which to fight and kill the enemy.
The Luftwaffe’s previous actions in the bombing of Warsaw, Rotterdam, Belgrade, Coventry, London, Liverpool and the continuing ‘vengeance’ weapon attacks on Antwerp and London gave the allies as much justification as was needed at the time. Although there was a minority that disagreed (most of the British public wanted the Germans punished) with the moral aspect of targeting civilian populations, such as George Bell the Bishop of Chichester. Some argue that the means justifies the ends and that by shortening the war by even days or weeks it actually saved more lives than it had taken. If we are to take it that bombing is morally wrong then it would not be too much of a stretch to say that war is also morally wrong, this of course provides a dilemma. If war is wrong and should not be fought then what would have happened in 1939? The reality is, war is wrong, but on occasions you must be prepared to go to war and use whatever means necessary to win the war as quickly as possible. The majority of criticism levelled at the bomber campaign and Arthur Harris in particular, seem to be written in hindsight and in this perhaps the weakness of the argument comes. If the bomber campaign is to be morally judged on the principles and ethics of modern society then it begs the question how would the Nazi regime and its ‘willing executioners’ stand up? The answer of course would be, it would not and there lies the justification.




In conclusion and with the evidence provided it is clear that it is possible to fully justify both morally and strategically the bomber campaign over Germany. The bombing campaign had its flaws and was by no means perfect, it did however serve a vital purpose especially in the early years of the war. The bombing did a lot to reaffirm the UK’s stance against the Nazi machine and also to prove her commitment to the Soviet Union. Strategically, by directly sapping valuable resources and indirectly by securing air superiority it is clear that bomber command made a valuable contribution to the success of the allied forces in Europe. The only criticism that should be levelled at the campaign is that of the moral case, however as has been shown in this essay there is more than enough evidence to support the case for urban bombing. This is perhaps the luxury that is afforded to us by the sacrifice of those who fought in WW2, that we are able to judge their actions with our Liberal-Democratic Western values that they fought to uphold. In war it is hard to pass a moral judgement over the actions of the men and women involved, particularly during the period of ‘Total War’. The lines of distinction between soldier and civilian were blurred, of this there can be no doubt. However on the scale of civilian deaths during World War Two, Germany perhaps came off far lighter than some.





Bibliography
Barr,N.(2000) . in 100 Years of Conflict, Trew,S. & Sheffield,Gary.(eds.) Sutton Publishing, pp 236-254
Best,G.(1983) Humanity in Warfare: Methuen London
Black,J. (2003)World War Two a Military History: Routledge London
Buckley,J.(1999) Air Power in the Age of Total War: UCL Press London
Buckley,J.(2004) Air Power in WWII Lecture
Clark,L.(2000) . in 100 Years of Conflict, Trew,S. & Sheffield,Gary.(eds.) Sutton Publishing, pp 218-235
Davis-Biddle,T.(2004) Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: Princeton University Press
Dean,M Sir.(1979) The RAF & Two World Wars: Cassell London
Freedman,L.(1994)War:Oxford University Press
Gooch,J.(1995) Air Power Theory & Practice: Frank Cass & Co.Ltd., London
Hastings,M.(1999) Bomber Command: Penguin Group London
Havers,R. (xxx) The Second World War Europe 1939-1943:Osprey Publishing
Middlebrook,M.(2000) The Battle of Hamburg: Cassell London
Military History Online, [online] [cited 21/December/2004]
<http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/ww ... eport.aspx>
Neillands,R.(2004) The Bomber War: John Murray Publishers
Overy,R.J.(1980) The Air War 1939-45: Europa Publications Ltd. London
Overy,R.J.(2000) . in Oxford History of Modern War, Townsend,C.(ed.) Oxford University Press, pp 262-279
Overy,R.(1995)Why the Allies Won: Pimlico London
Pimlott,J.(1988) . in Warfare in the 20th Century, McInnes,C. & Sheffied G,D.(eds.) Unwin Hyman London, pp 113-139
Purdue,A.W.(1999)The Second World War: St Martins Press New York
Roseman,M.(2000) . in Oxford History of Modern War, Townsend,C.(ed.) Oxford University Press, pp 280-302
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<http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWarea.htm>
Warden III,J.A.(2000) The Air Campaign: toExcel Press Lincoln

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Post by Andy H » Wed Jun 15, 2005 1:31 pm

Qvist wrote: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.

cheers
Hello my friend.

The figures I used came from The Luftwaffe Data Book by Alfred Price Pg230-231. I haven't cross-checked them as my main point was to get across that there would have been a benefit/reaction to the WH that would have countered the proposed British/CW ground forces increase

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Re: Allied strategic bombing - An overlooked success?

Post by tigre » Sun Jun 05, 2016 6:11 am

Hello to all :D; an old thread, but interesting........................

Strategic bombing over the Third Reich.

Lightning symbols indicate "Operation Thunderclap Objectives".
The blue lines shows the range of Allied fighter planes.

Source: Acts of the Second World War. Tomo II. Editorial Cardon. Buenos Aires. June 1977.

Cheers. Raul M 8).
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Main objectives of Allied bombing .........................................
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Cities that were attacked (at first industrial targets) .....................................................................
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Re: Allied strategic bombing - An overlooked success?

Post by lwd » Wed Jun 08, 2016 9:00 am

The fighter lines look like they are for fighters based in Britain only. If not I would expect to see some more east-west lines for fighters based in Italy.

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Re: Allied strategic bombing - An overlooked success?

Post by tigre » Wed Jun 08, 2016 7:05 pm

Hello lwd :D; as you told.........................
The fighter lines look like they are for fighters based in Britain only
truth

Cheers. Raúl M 8).
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Re: Allied strategic bombing - An overlooked success?

Post by tigre » Sat Jun 11, 2016 8:12 pm

Hello to all :D; little more..................

Aerial Campaign over Germany 1942-1945.

Source: THE MIGHTY EIGHTH IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR By Graham Smith.

Cheers. Raúl M 8).
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