(WAR in EUROPE, 1941-45 – continued)
No matter how noble the cause, all big endeavors are likely to contain under-reactions and over-reactions. During World War II in the United States, under-reaction among civilians elicited the question, "Don't you know there is a war on?" The over-reactions were created by men eager to be shining successes in doing their part to win the war.
Early in the war, British strategists, Churchill included, looked to bombing by the Royal Air Force to help defeat Germany. Britain's bombing of Germany had begun during the blitz in 1940, and in that year and through 1941 these attacks helped British morale. Destroying German industry by bombing, Churchill believed, was the shortest route to victory. And it was hoped that the bombing would destroy the morale of the German people. Churchill and other strategists saw bombing as nasty business, but war itself, they reasoned, was nasty and a desperate business. And with Germany having engaged in bombing, the gloves, as the British saw it, were off.
Roosevelt, meanwhile, had put aside his call in September 1939 against bombing cities – what he then called "inhumane barbarism." In August 1941 he told his Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, that the German people had to have it "driven home to them" that they have been "engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decencies of modern civilization." His formula for this lesson was bombing towns across Germany. "The terror of Aerial bombardment," he said, would "crack" their morale. note80
In the first two years of the war, British bombing was terribly inaccurate, and it was made worse when the British bombed at night – which they did in order to reduce their loss of pilots and bombers. The result was the killing of many civilians.
In early 1942, Britain had its first success against enemy war production. This was the bombing of the Renault auto plant in Paris, which was producing trucks for the Germans. The trucks lost to the Germans was calculated at 2,272. With this bombing, 367 French civilians died, and the factory was back in production within a few weeks, sooner than the British had anticipated.
In late March 1942, 234 British planes struck with incendiaries at Lübeck, a port city in northern Germany with a lot of wooden buildings. In this attack some factories were destroyed and 312 people killed and many other buildings destroyed. British bombers could not effectively attack Germany's major industrial area, the Ruhr, in 1942 because it was too heavily defended, but they found other targets. In late May, the British sent 1,046 bombers against Germany's fourth largest city, Cologne. The British lost 41 bombers, destroyed 36 factories, damaged or destroyed 13,000 homes and killed around 500 people. But in war a few hundred dead here and there was common stuff and of little concern so long as none of them were your own people.
In 1943 the British were finally able to bomb the Ruhr, and in mid-year this was followed by a campaign against Hamburg, which had shipyards that built one-third of Germany's submarines, and it had a number of other war manufacturing plants. The British also targeted Hamburg's residential areas. During the night of July 24-25, British bombing killed 1,500 people. On July 26, during the day, US airplanes bombed the area, causing much damage to Hamburg's industries, with the American airforce suffering heavy losses. British bombers, numbering 722, returned that night. The weather was hot and dry. Many little fires united into one huge fire, creating the world's first bombing firestorm. The firestorm uprooted trees and howled through the city's street with hurricane force. And at least 40,000 Germans died.
While the British were making their less accurate nighttime air raids and hitting civilians, the US was bombing only during the day, and United States bombing policy against Germany remained strictly precision bombing against industrial and military targets. The US had the best bomb sights, and their accuracy was getting better with time, from 20 percent within 1000 feet of the target at the beginning of the bombing campaigns to a high of 40 percent later in the war. The main targets of US bombers were fighter airplane construction, submarine construction, the oil industry, transportation, electrical power and ball bearing production. The commander of the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, General Carl Spatz, believed that this would be enough to lower German morale. He was opposed to the kind of "area bombing," that the British had been using – what he described as terror bombing. And he was supported in this by the supreme commander of the Allies in Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower.
After Hamburg, the British bombed the Peenemünde area on an island in the Baltic Sea in an attempt to destroy rocketry development there. Then, on November 22, 1943, the bombing of Berlin began, the British losing 294 airmen in that bombing campaign. Four thousand Berliners died. Britain's Bomber Command had believed that destroying Berlin would knock Germany out of the war. Its leader, Air Marshal Arthur Harris, believed that the campaign would cost Britain from 400 to 500 aircraft and its crews but that the bombing would eliminate the need for the Allies to make a cross-channel landing.
General Omar Bradley and other US ground commanders had hoped that air bombardment might defeat the Germans as early as winter. From November 1943 to March 1944, sixteen raids were made on Berlin and nineteen raids on other cities, and over Germany the British in this period lost 1,047 bombers. A lot of damage was done to Berlin, but there was no firestorm, its streets being wide and acting as firebreaks, and the weather was cold.
Copyright © 2000-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.