To Slip the Surly Bonds is now available on audiobook here!
To Slip the Surly Bonds is now available on audiobook here!
It is my intent to do a 2019 Year In Review blog post at some point before the end of the month.
Until then, feel free to read some in-depth analysis of the Prince of Wales‘ loss. Much like reading an autopsy report will tell you quite a bit about how the human body fails, this account makes it easy to understand how the PoW basically became a wreck after a single, unlucky torpedo hit.
To Slip the Surly Bonds has gone live on Amazon.
This was a long time coming, but all the hard work has paid off. There’s an exclusive Taylor Anderson short story in here, a whole bunch of award-winning authors, a story from your humble narrator involving P-38s on Guadalcanal…yeah, it’s worth the price of admission.
Sometimes old videos make a person look at things in different ways:
While I haven’t gotten there yet, this video does make me think differently about jet combat in the Usurper’s War universe. Without giving away spoilers, there will be a pseudo-Cold War in the aftermath of the in universe World War II. Technology and how it works will play a key part in what characters live and die.
This is a continuation of
As bad as the pilot differential was, Adolf Galland might have still been able to cobble together a defense even with tired airframes and exhausted pilots. That is, Galland might have been able to do it if Germany’s numerous strategic miscues hadn’t come home to roost with a vengeance. coming home to roost with a vengeance. This manifested first in First, as can be imagined by the discussion about 10,000 biplanes, the Nazi leadership had been completely unable to fathom just how utterly pissed off the American people were in 1941 when Japan decided “Sunday Morning Banzai” was the best way to tag Uncle Sam into the conflict. Perhaps because he’d seen Nazi Germany’s Byzantine, back-stabbing, barnyard fornication of an excuse for war production, Adolf Hitler had no idea what a shrewdly prepared industrial machine looked like. If he had, the Fuhrer may not have considered President Roosevelt’s goal of 10,000 airplanes a month laugh-worthy propaganda.
Unfortunately for Adolf Galland in particular and Germany in general, President Roosevelt had been anything but joking when he’d demanded that number of his advisors. While U.S. War Production in World War II would require a book (or two) in and of itself, let’s just say there are advantages to being able to literally turn on the lights and run things 24-7-365. Things like straight up turning a car manufacturer into an airframe manufacturer that could churn out some of the most complicated machines of the period. (This would be like Chrysler churning out B-1s now.) Nor was Ford the only automotive concern that suddenly got into the airplane business, as General Motors also began turning out aircraft (albeit mostly naval airframes). Backed by the United States’ populace’s willingness to sacrifice as well as America’s decision to replace drafted male workers with women, this intense focus on producing aircraft finally began to pay dividends in late 1943.
The above is not to suggest the above process was seamless. The U.S. never quite sustained the “10,000 aircraft a month” goal with regards to combat airframes. However, a simple statistic will tell the tale of just how utterly screwed the Germans were. In 1943, the Germans produced a grand total of 10,898 fighters. They would produce another 26,326 in 1944, with the majority of these being in the back half of the year once Albert Speer got some people’s minds right. In contrast, the United States alone produced 23,988 and 38,873 fighters, then added an additional 29,355 and 35,003 bombers respectively. Yes, not all those aircraft went to Europe (*cue video montage of Japanese pilot being tossed through the metaphorical frame with two black eyes and a bleeding nose* ). However, there’s also that little matter of over 100,000 British and Soviet aircraft that aren’t in this discussion either yet were, like a bully’s associates, also keeping the pressure on the Jagdwaffe. Overall, America was cooking on all industrial cylinders.
Almost as important as its ability to produce entire aircraft was America’s ability to produce ancillary equipment (drop tanks, oxygen tanks, machine guns, etc.) in huge numbers. 8th Air Force squadrons had plenty of spare parts up to and including entire end items. Groups that returned with damaged aircraft usually had replacements on hand within 24-48 hours, with the original aircraft being sent to the depot for repair. Tired airframes were either replaced by planes of the same type or, increasingly, newer models (e.g., P-47Ds with P-47D-25s). Said newer models increasingly had improvements (e.g., illuminated gunsights, water injection, better propellers, power-boosted controls, etc.) that gave them marked advantages.
Given all these factors, it should be unsurprising that American squadrons, unlike their German counterparts, actually matched their paper strength. As for the numbers of these squadrons, the 8th Air Force alone began fielding 2-3 times the squadrons of Jagdwaffe Gruppen stationed in the West. Said German fighters also were forced to contend with, as mentioned above, the RAF and, beginning in May 1944, the 9th Air Force.
The second part of the airframe equation, and where this section gets its name from, was that German leadership could not conceive of the speed or breadth of Allied technical advances. Allegedly, when told that the Americans were about to field a fighter that just might have the range to penetrate all the way to Berlin, famed aircraft designer Willi Messerschmitt allegedly replied, “That’s utter nonsense. Such an aircraft would have to be big as a barn door.” The legend goes on to say that Messerschmitt and Adolf Galland were at a test facility just west of Berlin in spring 1944. Upon having a flight of P-51 Mustangs show up over a test field and proceed to shoot up the place, both men took shelter in a slit trench. After a particular close strafing run, Adolf Galland allegedly turned to Willi and sarcastically remarked, “Those are some particular fine barn doors over our heads.”
Whether or not this happened, the fact remains that the P-51 Mustang, while not the end all be all of piston fighters that it’s often portrayed as, was a prime example of Allied ingenuity. Continuing on a theme, the Mustang is a book (or 20) in and of itself. As this is a blog, I’ll just hit the highlights. The P-51 started off as a British contract that became an American attack aircraft. Destined for the dustbin of mediocrity, some North American Aircraft engineer basically said, “Hey, let’s put a Merlin engine in that thing.” A ridiculously short amount of testing later, the Army Air Force realized if it put a pair of massive drop tanks on the airframe, the resultant fighter had extremely long range. As in, enough range to escort B-17s to Berlin, fight German interceptors to a standstill, then return to England.
The Luftwaffe was suddenly in deep trouble. Although both of its main fighters had little difficulty with the P-38 at altitude and could simply wait for the P-47 to run out of gas, the Mustang was an altogether different monster. It was faster than most models of the Fw 190 and Me-109 at high altitude. When one factored in the difference in industrial quality by this stage in the war (this discussion of engine manifold pressure tolerances is instructive) as well as the number of hours on German airframes, the differences became even more marked. Its battery of 4 (later six) .50-caliber machine guns was lethal enough to see off both of its likely opponents. While the Mustang‘s in-line engine was vulnerable to battle damage due to its glycol coolant, its airframe was strong enough to absorb a great deal of battle damage.
Rushing the P-51B into production, then to the 8th Air Force, the USAAF prepared itself to visit great violence upon the Luftwaffe in its lair. The first encounters with P-51s in early 1944 were just a harbinger of things to come for the German fighter arm.
It’s been awhile. Sorry about that, there was a little matter of a dissertation, a book, and an anthology. For those who are new to the blog, I regularly talk about air warfare as a category, starting with 1914 and moving up through World War II so far. Last time I talked about daylight bombing, the US Army Air Force had just had its head stove in over Schweinfurt, Adolf Galland was enjoying an apocryphal stogie and actress, and things were looking bleak for the concept of daylight bombing raids in January 1944.
Spoiler alert, the Americans turned things around. Within six months, the Jagdwaffe would be trapped in a corner getting the living crap pummelled out of it, the Allies would launch an invasion of Continental Europe that saw the Germans able to put less than ten (some sources say only two) sorties over the six beaches, and Wehrmacht soldiers would make up bitter jokes about the Luftwaffe’s camouflage (“If it’s green, it’s British. If it’s silver, it’s American. If it’s invisible, it’s one of ours.”) How did this happen? Well, that’s pretty simple…it’s a story of Biplanes, Barndoors, and Badasses. Except, in order to avoid giving people concussions, I’m going to do this as a three-part series of posts.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, didn’t you start the World War II series off by making fun of the British for still flying biplanes? How the hell are we almost 4.5 years into World War II and suddenly this is a plus?” Okay, fine, maybe you’re not thinking that because it’s been like forever since I made that post, but it’d be a good question. The answer is that biplanes, specifically over 10,000 Stearman 75s, were the primary trainers for United States’ armed forces. Know what you can do with over 10,000 biplanes? Start the process that would lead to just shy of 200,000 pilots being trained between January 1941 to August 1945. While not all of these would fly for the 8th and 9th Air Force, enough of them did that by January 1944 the USAAF’s pilot strength in the UK had actually almost doubled compared to January 1943.
Even worse for Galland specifically and Germany in general was that these pilots were not random rubes that had been dragged off the street and thrown in a cockpit after a few hours (but enough about Japan’s training). America’s training program was rigorous, with pilots going through multiple stages of navigation, blind flying training, aerial gunnery and, especially with fighter pilots, tactics training. By January 1944, the first generation of American fighter had already started transitioning back to the States to impart their hard won knowledge to the next generation of fledglings expected to do battle with the Axis. These trainees, in turn, were taken under the wing of experienced hands like Gabby Gabreski, Robert S. Johnson, Don Blakeslee, and various other aces who had taken their licks in 1943 and were ready to return the favor to the Jagdwaffe once the notoriously bad European winter weather cleared. With over 300 hours of flight training before his initial combat mission, an American ETO pilot was highly-trained, highly-motivated, and very proficient in the general operations of his aircraft.
By contrast, the Jagdwaffe, despite its victories, was like a sharpened blade being ground down by constant abuse. By virtue of the constant pressure being applied on the Eastern Front, Mediterranean, and RAF tactical forces in Northwestern Europe, the Germans were never really able to rotate any aces back to provide instruction. Even worse, fuel shortages curtailed the German flight program to almost half the number of hours it had been prior to 1943, which was in turn half of the new American pilots’ 300 hours. New Jagdflieger were expected to receive their blind navigation training mostly with their gaining units, a process largely akin to teaching someone to drive a at the Daytona 500. While being shot at by random crowd members.
Unsurprisingly, this ended poorly in the first half of 1944. Losses due to “operational” (i.e., non-combat) crashes began to steadily climb as the calendar flipped from January to February. Already at depleted numbers thanks to the sheer odds involved in charging heavy bombers spewing thousands of rounds of ball ammo, squadrons began to struggle to keep their formations at 100% due to Hans the Neophyte pranging his Fw 190 or Me-109 during basic operations. The fighters themselves, due to the wear and tear of extended use, were also starting to perform like tired race horses. Although new models were being introduced, they were still mostly modifications of the same airframes rather than new designs. The inability to field fighters of the next generation, coupled with poor pilot quality, would come back to haunt the Jagdwaffe, as American technological advancement was not standing still.
So when last we mentioned the British, they were busy creating the world’s first man made firestorm over Hamburg. Now, if I left it at that, you’d have the impression the British had broken the code, enjoyed success, and basically wondered why the Americans were being stubborn. Well, in the name of Monica, Nuremberg, and Window, I’ll explain why Hamburg was pretty much a one off that did more harm than good. Sure, Operation Gomorrah killed a lot of Germans and hindered U-boat production for a bit, but did not appreciably shorten the war in and of itself. Even worse, like a gambler who makes a big score at a table then does not immediately leave, Sir Arthur Harris did not realize the uniqueness of the situation. Subsequently, Bomber Command burned through a lot of its crewmen between August 1943 and March 1944.
First, one needs to do a little reading on firestorms. Understand that these phenomena are largely dependent on ignition sources, fuel, and atmospheric conditions. In other words, it’s not coincidence that both Peshtigo and the Great Chicago Fire occurred on the same night, nor that the Great Kanto Earthquake was followed by a firestorm. Get the right band of weather, have a whole bunch of fires start at once, and add a good steady breeze? Well, there will be large helpings of “long pork” and psychologically scarred citizenry regardless of whether it was “all natural” or involved “artificially enhanced airborne deliveries.”
Second, Hamburg was a case of the RAF catching the Germans “on the wrong foot” in their scientific chess match. The German system for night fighter defense, as discussed previously, relied heavily on ground-based radars. To grossly simplify things, the majority of these radars operated on Frequency X. The British figured out, through a mixture of study and coincidence, that if you cut reflective materials to a certain length for a given frequency, they would produce a false echo. Throw hundreds of these packets out the bomb bay, it tended to make ground radars useless due to excessive “snow” on the screen. No ground radars, and all but your most capable night fighter pilots would be left trying to catch fleeting targets in pitch blackness.
The date on this discovery is given as 1941 and 1942 by differing sources, with the honors being about even. The British, in typical nondescript code word fashion, called the foil “Window.” (The modern variant is called chaff.) If you’re thinking, “Uh, what the hell were they doing for a year plus?!”, remember that the Luftwaffe was still paying regular visits to British locales at night. Indeed,not only were they bombing cities, they were also pulling tricks like following Lancasters back to their bases, shooting up a couple bombers in the pattern, then dropping a couple bombs on their way out for good measure. Fighter Command was understandably not keen on getting their own radars blinded when the Germans reverse engineered Window, gave it some badass Teutonic nickname, and proceeded to wreak havoc across Southern England.
By July 1943, however, everyone could agree the Germans were pretty tapped out on the offensive operations front. Something about “More Russians than we ever imagined” and “Whoa, the British seem to be as good at flying night fighters as we are!” (Oh Hans, you have no idea. Wait, sorry, getting ahead of myself.) Moreover, the British realized their radars were a different frequency and would be largely unaffected by Window. So, with a nervous wince and crossed fingers, Fighter Command blessed off on opening a “Window” for Sir Arthur Harris “Pyres and Pyros” service (“Now delivering to all of Germany…)
The third factor for Hamburg was both technological and geographical. Sometimes what your realtor tells you about location, location, and location is true. In this case, being a port city with an easily identifiable harbor and distinct coastline just as your opponent is perfecting night radar means your location sucks. In a “Honey, are the neighbors opening an unregulated graphite reactor underneath their crack house?”-way.
Exacerbating this was the issue of Bomber Command’s Pathfinder Force, after some major growing pains, starting to come into its own. Bomber Command, in its usual way, only belatedly decided to give the blokes who marked the targets the best aircraft possible in the Mosquito and Lancaster. The former was so fast it was difficult to catch in the marking area. The latter could carry more marking materials and loiter in the area longer. The marking materials themselves includes improved flares and pyrotechnics with greater visibility and duration. Finally, the Pathfinders figured out that having a “Master Bomber” remain over a target and direct traffic greatly aided navigation for later bombers in the stream. As previously discussed, this all came together over Hamburg…then never really did so again for the rest of the war.
“Well why did they never pull this off again, James?”
One, the weather never cooperated. While, yes, Dresden was a thing, it was far from the shock effect and carnage delivered at Hamburg. Once one gets past Dresden, it’s arguable whether there was another significant fire storm in Germany for the rest of the war. Second, even when the conditions were right, the Germans took extensive passive measures to reduce the aftereffects of British bombs. No, there was no real economic way to reinforce and reconstruct German cities so that the bombs did less damage. However, there were numerous ways to prevent said damage from feeding the fire beast. Perversely, conducting minimal repairs to housing and other non-essential buildings created impromptu firebreaks that prevented the rapid spread of flame necessary to generate a true firestorm.
Finally, the Germans greatly strengthened their night defenses post-Hamburg. Production and conversion of the Ju-88 night fighter variants increased to cope with the higher performing Lancaster. The Germans also introduced the He-219 Uhu, a dedicated night fighter that possessed heavy armament and decent speed. Additional flak defenses, searchlights, and means of coordinating fighter attacks on the bomber streams all contributed to preventing Bomber Command from bringing together the necessary components to bomb the Reich out of the war.
That’s not to say Bomber Harris tried. Indeed, Harris tried mightily. Like a powerful brawler who believes he has his opponent lined up for a final flurry, Harris repeatedly flung Bomber Command at Berlin from November 1943-March 1944. Despite landing several steady blows, Bomber Command itself was increasingly bloodied by the German defenses. Even as the German night fighter force was ground down by simple attrition, Bomber Command’s losses approached 6 percent, or a full 3 percent higher than either the RAF or USAAF considered sustainable.
The crowning folly of Harris’ persistence was the Nuremberg Raid on the night of 30/31 March 1944. Due to poor meteorological analysis, a rigid command structure, a long flight, and recent changes to German tactics, things started out bad then got worse for Bomber Command. With the bright moonlight and highly visible contrails providing a “Here they are!” arrow to the RAF bomber stream, the Nachtjagdflieger gathered like sharks chasing a pod of bleeding dolphins. When all was said and done, over 100 of 700 RAF bombers dispatched were lost. Without the use of RAF intruders (Fighter Command Mosquitos and Beaufighters operating over German bases) to harry the Luftwaffe’s night fighter force, things likely would have been far worse.
With more crew casualties than the Battle of Britain in a single night, the RAF was simply incapable of sustaining these loss rates in either the short or long term. Fortunately for Bomber Command’s crews, even Sir Arthur Harris had bosses. With Operation Overlord looming, Bomber Command was ordered to concentrate on transportation targets in France and the Low Countries. Rather than landing the subsequent knock out blow he had so desperately sought, Harris found his own forces stunned and bleeding in its respective corner pondering what had gone wrong. Fortunately, events in the daylight strategic campaign would serve to mitigate the German defenses by the time the RAF resumed its strategic offensive.
(Featured image is “Nuremburg Nightmare” from Piotr Forkasiewicz. Please go check his amazing work out.)
So remember when I said I had reading list? Well, I can do even better than that–I have an entire historiographical paper about the Allied Bombing Campaign in World War II. It’s a bit dated (I wrote it back in 2006), but the end notes and bibliography have more than enough things to get a person started.
Warning: This is a paper. So if you’re planning on reading it in one go, the little counter on the bottom tells me this thing is over 11,000 words long. Plan accordingly.
Destruction From The Heavens:
A Historiographical Examination of the United States Army Air Force’s Bombing Campaign Against Nazi Germany
20 April, 2006
Noted military analysts James F. Dunnigan and Albert Nofi, in their book Dirty Little Secrets of World War II, justifiably dubbed their subject conflict “the most enormous human drama in history.” Taking place in or around all six of the world’s inhabitable continents, involving naval battles on all of its oceans, and with military and political consequences that continue to the present day, this conflict has had a direct or indirect influence on every human being alive since 1939. Begun with a madman’s aggression, containing the epitome of man’s inhumanity to man, and concluded with the sun’s power let loose with the atomic pyres of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Second World War saw numerous examples of humanity’s bravery, cowardice, and cruelty to his fellow man. Many of these instances took place within controversial campaigns conducted both by the Allied and Axis Powers, as both sides conducted their mortal struggle for victory.
Prominent amongst these campaigns is the Combined Bomber Offensive against Nazi Germany, Great Britain and America’s attempt to render Nazi Germany prostrate via airpower. The breadth and depth of the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) effort has led to an extensive and diverse historiography. Unfortunately, this historiography is divided on the start date of the RAF’s dedicated attacks, making it difficult to conduct a truly effective study. In addition, the RAF’s actions, unrepentant emphasis on “area bombing,” and lack of documentation comparable to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) make any attempt to provide even a partial historiographical survey a labor on par with a full doctoral thesis or mass-market book project. Taking place at night, with targets that were both morally and physically ambiguous, Bomber Command’s efforts remain emotionally charged to the present day, with names such as Dresden and Hamburg mentioned nearly as often as Auschwitz and Dachau in the detailing of World War II’s horrors.
In contrast, the United States Army Air Force’s (USAAF’s) campaign is relatively tidy and clearly defined, if only slightly less controversial. Conceived in the Interwar Period (1919-1939), American air doctrine was a mix of European (e.g., Douhet and Trenchard) and domestic (e.g., Billy Mitchell) theorists combined with American technological prowess (e.g., Norden bombsight) and self-confidence. Taught primarily at the Air Corps Tactical School located at Maxwell Field in Montgomery Alabama, USAAF doctrine emphasized the superiority of the four-engined bomber over likely opposition. Bombers, it was believed, flew too fast for contemporary interceptors to catch and too high for anti-aircraft artillery (AAA, or “flak”) to hit. These machines’ crews, all but invincible from enemy interference, were expected to place their bombs on critical enemy nodes such as transportation centers, bridges and, most importantly, the industry that supplied and maintained ground forces. Rather than facing the horrors of an attritional ground war, 1930’s USAAF leadership taught that America’s aircraft would knock any likely opponents out of a major conflict with a few well-placed salvoes of high-explosive delivered in mass daylight raids.
America’s entry into World War II brought an opportunity for this doctrine to be executed against Nazi Germany. Utilizing Great Britain as its primary base, the USAAF organized the 8th Air Force to place doctrine into practice. Despite the cautionary warnings of their RAF counterparts, themselves roughly handled in a little over two years of offensive daylight operations, the USAAF believed its pair of four-engined bombers, the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator, were equipped with sufficient firepower to look after themselves. This view had some merit, as the most common British four-engined bombers, the Stirling, Halifax, and Lancaster were lightly armored and carried eight or nine rifle caliber machine guns in order to maximize their bomb load. In contrast, both the Flying Fortress and Liberator carried ten to thirteen heavy machine guns, heavy armor, and flew higher and faster than their British counterparts. Although both American aircraft carried a much smaller bombload than the RAF aircraft, USAAF leaders believed that this was offset by their increased accuracy by operating in daylight conditions and by using the Norden bombsight.
As this survey will show, this campaign’s numerous issues remain contentious. However, there are many facts that are not in dispute and these will be recounted here. The United States Army Air Corps began carrying out daylight raids beginning with the August 17, 1943 attack on Rouen, France. This raid, carried out in daylight, was the beginning of twenty-two months of unremitting aerial combat, culminating with an April 25, 1945 raid on Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. During this period, in accordance with USAAF doctrine, technological development, and moral considerations the 8th and 15th Air Forces conducted numerous raids against Nazi Germany’s critical infrastructure. From the dozen aircraft that penetrated Occupied France to Rouen, the American raids grew in strength to great thousand bomber hammer blows falling the length of Germany by 1945. Combined, the two units flew hundreds of missions, dropped over 1.5 million tons of bombs and, combined with their RAF compatriots, thoroughly wrecked Nazi Germany’s major cities and industrial infrastructure.
In the course of delivering this wholesale destruction, the 8th “lost 26,000 men, representing a loss rate of 12.4 percent…the highest casualty rate of any of the US armed forces in the Second World War.” Combined with the 15th Air Force’s roughly 16,000 losses, the more than 42,000 dead and missing represented over 10% of the United States’ military losses in World War II. In monetary terms, the USAAF’s bombing campaign cost America over six billion 1945 dollars in airframe costs and expenditures alone, with infrastructure, personnel, and other costs adding much more to this total. As if such loss expressed in raw numbers were not terrible enough, there remains the additional human costs incurred whenever a nation loses a large number of men whose intelligence, drive, and idealism were the primary reason they found themselves first in the USAAF, then in the skies over Nazi Germany, and finally falling to earth in blazing, shattered aircraft. In order to bring war to Nazi Germany and her populace, America paid an extensive price in blood and treasure both before and after the first U.S. Army ground soldier set foot in occupied Europe. Such a massive investment, even without the moral ramifications of dropping ordnance on nominal non-combatants, was almost certain to generate a large degree of study and examination. This began almost immediately after World War II with the USSBS and continues via general publications to the present day. These works fall into four broad areas of focus: effectiveness of the campaign as a whole; effects of American bombing on cities and civilians; German defensive countermeasures and their efficacy; and historical studies of specific units (e.g., the 8th Air Force) and aircraft (e.g., the B-17 bomber).
A few representative works should help the reader understand the general parameters of these fields. An example of a book that addresses the American bombing campaign specifically is Stewart Halsey Ross’s Strategic Bombing by the United States in World War II, while a work that addresses it within the larger framework of World War II aerial warfare is Walter J. Boyne’s Clash of Wings. Herman Knell’s To Destroy A City and A.C. Grayling’s Among the Dead Cities are two examples of works that focus on the campaign’s effects on German urban centers. The German fighter force, the Jagdwaffe, has inspired several works that cover its various personalities and equipment, with Michael Spick’s The Luftwaffe Fighter Aces and Trevor J. Constable & Colonel Raymond F. Toliver’s Horrido! comprising some of this subject’s best works. As for the ground complement of the Reich’s defenses, Edward B. Westermann’s Flak: German Anti-Aircraft Defenses, 1914-1945 is the only English language volume that focuses primarily on this topic. Finally, there remains a large number of books that focus on specific units, with the 8th Air Force as a whole being represented the most heavily. For the Allies, the venerable B-17 has the most aircraft-specific texts devoted to it, while the ubiquitous Me-109 has received the most interest amongst those airframes piloted by the Jagdflieger.
Overall, all four types of texts share several critical flaws. First, they utilize different metrics to define success or failure when discussing the USAAF daylight offensive. At best, these manipulations of German and American data are a brilliant example of Mark Twain’s famous commentary on statistics and untruths. At worst, they are extremely poor instances of authors allowing their personal bias to overcome their scholarly responsibilities. This bias, either for or against the American bombing campaign specifically or Allied bombing as a whole, is the second major defect in the current historiography. Advocates of bombing usually fall prey to the third failing, an overemphasis on the American bombing campaign’s effect on the Jagdwaffe in particular and the Luftwaffe as a whole from January 1944 to May 1945. More importantly, both sides share the fourth major defect of these works, that of stating an unequivocal moral position without adequately addressing or disproving the ethical arguments of the opposing side.
The USAAF’s Campaign In General Histories
Texts which address the USAAF’s campaign against Germany as part of a larger history of World War II prominently display all four of these flaws. This larger group, in turn, can be divided into two sub-groups. The first of these, published prior to 1976, were prepared without knowledge of the Allies’ cryptographical success against the German’s Enigma codes, commonly known as Ultra. As such, they usually give American leadership a relatively easy time for costly missions such as Ploesti, Regensburg, and Schweinfurt. An example of this phenomenon can be found in Edward Jablonski’s Tragic Victories, one of many works produced by this author. In the introduction, Jablonski states “[g]reat plans were devised, carried out with incredible valor, and then…discovered [not to have] quite worked out as planned.” Jablonski’s further discussion of the great travails of 1943 then proceeds to emphasize the tremendous virtues of the Allied aircrews with nary a mention of their leaders’ cold-blooded decision to send them into growing fighter defenses even with full knowledge of the Germans’ strength.
Despite the fact that the 8th Air Force’s aircrews understood that theirs was a dangerous business, it is unlikely that many of them would have regarded their superiors’ callousness in the same sanguine manner of Jablonski. Utilizing aggressive, stirring prose, Jablonski portrays these costly and bloody raids as partial successes, in each case pointing out that the countermeasures required of the Germans were “almost equally effective” to direct hits. In reality, as ULTRA made painfully aware to the American and British leaders, the effect of all the 1943 raids was far from that commonly accepted at the time or before the full ULTRA intercepts were made available. Jablonski and his contemporaries, through no fault of their own, were making historically inaccurate assumption based upon faulty Allied data. Unfortunately, this makes use of their works far from optimal for most historians.
Making these works still less suitable for current use is their overwhelming bias in favor of the Allied bombing campaign as a whole. In his first Airwar volume, Terror From the Sky, Jablonski begins to lay the groundwork for his relentless drumbeat of justification for the ensuing mayhem that would descend on Germany courtesy of the USAAF and RAF. First, on page 17, Jablonski outlines a list of names that would come “to stand for…fiery desolation from the air” that ends with London. Making allowances for Jablonski’s knowledge that he was planning on producing three more works on the Second World War’s aerial combat, the fact remains that his ending with London, especially at the end of a section on the Luftwaffe’s destruction of Guernica, clearly indicates a pro-Allied bias in his work. This is made more manifest by the amount of time devoted to discussing the human impacts of the German raids on England during the Battle of Britain and subsequent Blitz versus the near-celebratory tone given to the detailing of German and Japanese catastrophes such as Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo. Jablonski, by virtue of his decision-making, seems to indicate the death of a young bride at a British hat factory was far more important than the extermination of over 50,000 Germans within the Hamburg firestorm. Jablonski is unapologetic in his bias, going so far as to entitle one of his chapters “Reap the Whirlwind,” a reference to an earlier alliteration to the Germans having “sewn the wind” with their attacks on Great Britain. Arguments such as these, in addition to being poorly constructed, do little to advance scholarly discussion of the American and British campaigns.
Works written after 1976 that address the campaign as part of the larger war effort correct many of the mistakes made by Jablonski and his contemporaries, however. The post-ULTRA authors, for the most part, acknowledge the grave errors made by the 8th Air Force’s commanders from 1943 to 1944. Richard Overy gives these mistakes the fairest treatment, stating that the American aerial commanders had “ignored Clausewitz at their own peril” in determining to strike at German industry without first making a concerted effort to reduce the defending forces, specifically the Jagdwaffe. Stephen Budiansky expounds on this error in his work Air Power, pointing out that American commanders such as General Carl Spaatz “inhabit[ed] a fantasyland” with regards to their beliefs on 8th Air Force crews effectiveness in the face of enemy fire and acceptance of “outlandish claims by B-17 gunners” with regards to destruction of Jagdwaffe fighters. Having delivered this rather forceful broadside, Budiansky then proceeds to outline the numerous errors committed by the USAAF hierarchy, such as delaying drop tanks for escort fighters, as well as the necessity of changing both doctrine and leaders in order to make the 8th Air Force much more effective.
The assessment of this increased effectiveness, however, still lacks a single working metric. Budiansky discusses the increased accuracy of the 8th Air Force towards the end of 1944 and into 1945 (with accompanying chart) as well as the effect of the oil shortage on the Wermacht as a whole and the likely effects if such an oil offensive had been begun earlier.  Overy similarly addresses the oil but also discusses the effects of the campaign on Axis morale, German industrial output, and the Combined Bombing Offensive’s general effect on the conduct of the war. Boyne also discusses the impact of the American (later joined by the RAF) emphasis on oil production, yet does not conclude this argument in the same forceful manner of Overy and Budiansky. All three men discuss a myriad of percentages, numbers, and tonnages, but the reader must often make the extrapolatory leap to understand that this was perhaps a vindication of the pre-war emphasis on precision bombing.
Even with the marked improvement on the pre-ULTRA works, post-ULTRA books still demonstrate a clear bias towards American (and by extension, Allied) efforts. This becomes apparent through their clinical treatment of the German populace as well as their overemphasis on the USAAF’s daylight fighters’ effectiveness. Boyne and Budiansky dehumanize the tremendous suffering that the Combined Bombing Offensive wrought upon the average German civilian, with Budiansky’s inadvertent comparison of killing sheep and civilians particularly unfortunate. Overy is far more humane, pointing out the grinding morale degradation caused by Allied bombing as a whole, with the unremitting pressure placed upon the German populace by the RAF and USAAF combined being almost palpable in his description. Unfortunately, the preponderance of general histories, both on World War II as a whole or aerial combat therein, lean more towards Boyne and Budiansky than Overy. Perrett’s Winged Victory makes few mentions of German civilians, while works such as James L. Stokesbury’s A Short History of World War II presents these dead as faceless numbers with the exception of Hamburg and Dresden’s unfortunate denizens. It would appear, in most general histories, that a German citizen had to be caught in the howling maw of a firestorm in order to be worthy of close examination.
Under the Tonnage: The German Populace’s Experience
This error is more than compensated for in those works that focus on the plight of German civilians. Bridging the gap between the mainly technological focus of those books already examined and those which concentrate almost wholly on the German populace are the aforementioned work by Stewart Ross and Conrad Crane’s Bombs, Cities, and Civilians: American Airpower Strategy In World War II. Both works, while ostensibly focused on the American bombing campaign, spend as much time discussing the effect American bombing had on civilians, both German and Japanese, as in discussing the technical means by which such bombing was delivered.
Of the two, Crane’s book is far more objective, as he carefully details the development of American doctrine, the attitude of the USAAF’s leaders and their military and civilian leadership, the American populace, and American airmen. Crane follows this with a discussion of the hardware of the American campaign, concentrating first on bombing aids then on the bombs themselves. Throughout he displays the gradual erosion of USAAF concerns with regards to civilian casualties, culminating with the easy acceptance of blind-bombing via radar through cloud cover in Europe and subsequent area bombings in Japan. The reader is left with the sense that the USAAF came into World War II full of idealism and a general desire to carve out Germany’s industrial heart with a minimum of what later leaders would euphemistically call “collateral damage.” Unfortunately, as Crane shows, this idealism was quickly fatally compromised. First, through their tacit acceptance of British area attacks, to the point where USAAF leadership “continually discouraged any public criticism of British obliteration raids,” America’s military leaders fully condoned the actions of their rather more ruthless ally. Second, by making a distinction between raids on German-occupied countries and Germany itself in several directives, the USAAF implied that it was not overly concerned with those German civilians that ended up under bombs which missed their target. Lastly, as Crane neatly summarizes, the “attitudes of American leaders towards the bombing of urban areas were affected to varying degrees by concerns for ethics, efficiency, and public relations.” American bomber commanders, confronted by the growing lists of casualties and under pressure to end the war, likely did not overly concern themselves with dead citizens of the Reich be they factory worker, woman, elderly, or even child.
They did not, however, seek to murder these individuals wholesale, either. It is on this very important point that historian Stewart Halsey Ross’s work immediately founders. Strategic Bombing by the United States in World War II: The Myths and the Facts casts the USAAF leadership as a gathered band of homicidal men bent on establishing a separate air force on the bones of Germany and Japan’s civilians. In contrast, Ross casts Adolf Hitler and, by extension, Nazi Germany as a nation that regularly abided by the treaties it signed. Strategic Bombing notes that “Hitler proposed in 1935 and again a year later a universal agreement that aerial bombardment should be restricted to a zone of military operations,” then follows this with an observation that the RAF refused as such an agreement would conflict with its nascent bomber doctrine. Ross also ensures the reader is aware that the reader is aware that Adolf Hitler was the first leader to respond to President Franklin Roosevelt’s call for a public declaration against the bombing of civilian targets in 1939. Finally, he portrays Great Britain as the builder of “the most aggressive fleet of big bombers in Europe” while simultaneously emphasizing Germany’s “tactical” bombers, thus implying that Britain’s air marshals, like their USAAF counterparts, sacrificed the possibility of a clean, sanitary air war on the altar of decisive aerial bombardment.
Ross culls these facts from official documents, unit histories, and previous completed works. As with the remaining statistics, quotations, and excerpts that compose his argument, they seem quite sound in isolation and build a credible case if taken alone. Unfortunately, the untidy remainder of World War II serves to completely undermine this carefully constructed argument. Hitler’s subsequent conduct at Munich in 1938 and the ultimate outcome of the Maximov-Ribbentrop treaty are but two of the myriad examples of the Nazis’ duplicity, thus making any 1935 diplomatic overture highly suspect. With regards to civilian targets, even if one discounted the Condor Legion’s assault on the Spanish town of Guernica in 1936, the fact remains that German Stukas were likely strafing fleeing Polish refugees even as the Fuhrer was positively responding to Roosevelt’s request. While these actions could be attributed to a few overzealous Luftwaffe pilots, the subsequent bombings of Warsaw, Rotterdam, and London clearly indicates that such actions were not an anomaly. Finally, the Battle of Britain shows that the Luftwaffe’s bombes, while “tactical” in conception, were readily applied to strategic tasks at a whim. These facts are readily available to the casual student of World War II history, and their omission indicates that Ross may have sacrificed accuracy in the interest of bolstering his argument.
Unfortunately for students of the Allied Bomber Offensive, such bias appears to be the norm for works concentrating on German civilians’ fate during World War II. Amateur historian Herman Knell, author of To Destroy A City, examines the American and British offensive from an altogether different perspective than the other authors studied—that of a “dehoused” survivor. This experience, as well as Wurzburg Germany’s relative anonymity in other books dealing with the American and British offensives, appear to be the main impetus behind the completion of To Destroy a City. In the introduction, Knell recounts that Wurzburg is one of the “three most ravished cities in Europe” at the end of World War II. This lists exclusion of non-German cities makes it somewhat suspect, but Knell supports this controversial statement with the observation that “U.S. and British bombing surveys prepared after World War II tell us that…Wurzburg [was]…89 percent destroyed.” Having provided this evidence, however, Knell does not subsequently discuss what these percentages truly entails, leaving scholars with the task of finding his source or using contextual clues to determine just what exactly this statement means.
Such contextual aids are few and far between in Knell’s work. Instead, To Destroy A City clearly suffers from the haphazard research that went into its construction. Knell, a fair writer, is a poor organizer. His first one hundred seventeen pages discuss the historiography of the World War II bombing campaigns in general, an autobiographical introduction of the author’s situation in May 1945 and subsequent decision to investigate the Allied Bombing Campaign against both Germany and Japan, Wurzburg’s general worth as a military target, the raids upon that city, the development of aerial bombing strategy from before World War I through the end of World War II, and short biographical sketches of key bombing leaders up until 1945. In and of themselves, most of these subjects have required complete books for proper, objective treatment, and Knell’s book suffers from attempting to simplistically cover them in the allotted space, especially when he does so in a manner guaranteed to cause chronological disorientation. The recounting of these subjects do not support Knell’s contention, recounted on pages 11-13, that he is attempting to correct or avoid previous historical biases. It is somewhat dishonest to state that it is “far more important to understand why [bombing] happened than to point a finger and pillorize people and events” then use words such as “executioner” to describe Allied aerial commanders and “mass executions” to describe bombing raids on German cities. Even though he subsequently softens this language to the more euphemistic “practitioners”, Knell clearly indicates his disgust with the entire campaign by stating “nobody should ever call [Allied commanders] heroes.”
Although such a way of thinking is understandable from a person who suffered first hand from Allied bombardment, like Ross’s work it ignores critical facts. The American and British commanders fully believed that their actions would, if not lead to victory outright, greatly shorten the war. With the experience of World War I within their living memory, most of these men sought to avoid the bloodshed and generational decimation of ground warfare. In addition, these men had watched the Luftwaffe pummel several civilian targets, to include numerous English cities, without remorse or mercy. Although, unlike Ross, Knell does not excuse or exclude his countrymen’s aerial actions, he does not adequately address the effect these raids had on the Allied leadership’s feelings towards the German populace. This omission is only partially balanced by Knell’s acknowledgment of the difficulties experienced by American and British aircrews in flying through German defenses to deliver their loads, and is one of the work’s critical failings.
Similarly significant is Knell’s incorrect appraisal of the state of aerial technology during World War II. On pages 220-221, the author attempts to build a case that Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris willfully chose to ignore the capabilities of the Mosquito bomber in order to continue delivering large quantities of inaccurately aimed high-explosive. That these raids did indeed cause “heinous losses of innocent civilians” is indisputable, yet similarly irrefutable is the fact that the Mosquito capabilities described by Knell applied to the unarmed reconnaissance version flying at high altitude. In addition, the examples cited within To Destroy A City required a level of training, bravery, and luck that was all but unsustainable in large numbers, especially by an almost exhausted RAF. Those strikes which were made required a “long spell of working up” and, while spectacular, were arguably not cost effective. Finally, Knell also ignores the lethality of German defenses. In each of the cases cited by Knell, the targets struck with such precision were poorly defended, with relatively few automatic cannons or the dreaded ’88.’ In contrast, most of German industry lay within dense flak belts, the depth of which would have to be transitioned during ingress and egress. More importantly, the Mosquito’s survivability lay in both its high speed and the time required for German fighters to climb to altitude. At low level, the Fw-190 and late-model Bf-109s were quite capable of overtaking a clean Mosquito, much less one carrying a significant warload. As with his over concentration on the strafing exploits of American fighter-bombers, Knell’s decision to utilize a few ill-chosen examples in an attempt to bolster a particular argument is a rather large flaw in an otherwise creditable work. Although non-fatal, such a mistake serves to make the remainder of the work unfortunately suspect and of only broad, general use in scholarly study.
In contrast, British philosopher A.C. Grayling’s work Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WW II Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, is of only general use for historians. Despite its subtitle, it quickly becomes evident that Grayling’s work is oriented more towards a philosophical examination of the American and British campaigns rather than a general history. Among the Dead Cities postulates that the Combined Bomber Offensive’s implications were justifiably “obscured by the fact that a much larger and more important moral matter occupied the mental horizon of the post-war world, and quite rightly so—the Holocaust.” Grayling then proceeds to lay out three pressing reasons why these issues must be immediately addressed. First, “the descendants of the bombed have begun to raise their voices and ask questions about the experience of their parents and grandparents,” that is, contemporary German and Japanese citizens are starting to question the necessity of their forebears’ travails. Second, “history has got to be got right before it distorts into legend and diminishes into over-simplification, which is always what happens when events slip into a too distant past.” Lastly, Grayling believes an examination of Allied area bombing can lead to a “proper understanding…of how peoples and states can and should behave in time of conflict.”
These reasons are all sound and solid reasons for a frank, open discussion of American and British efforts to utilize airpower to knock Germany out of the war. Grayling seems adequately spurred by them to present his central thesis that, yes, the Allied Combined Offensive was indeed a war crime. Immediately aware of the his opponents’ primary arguments, Grayling utilizes the bulk of his introduction to disproving the theory that Nazi Germany’s evil fully justified any and all means used to destroy it. This frontal assault begins on page six with the following passage:
Nothing in this book should be taken as any form of revisionist apology for Nazism and its frightful atrocities, or Japanese militarism and its aggressions, even if the conclusion is that German and Japanese civilians suffered wrongs. A mature [emphasis mine] perspective on the Second World War should by now enable us to distinguish between these two quite different points.
Grayling follows this initial barrage with several examples that further illuminate his line of thought, followed by a seemingly obligatory statement in which he makes it “emphatically clear” that he is not attacking the wartime service of the RAF and USAAF bomber crews, only merely stating that they may have been involved “in the commission of wrongs.” Grayling attempts to dispel the almost certain bitter feelings his statements are sure to cause with a bit of autobiographical frivolity that seems to mitigate veterans’ ire by recounting his love for their aircraft and service. Finally, Grayling lays out the component of his central question and gives a rough outline, the overall effect of which is to make the reader receptive to both his historical question and central argument.
The crux of Grayling’s argument is that, yes indeed, American and British bombing raids were full-fledged war crimes and thus, by extension and derivative from his own presented examples, Allied aircrew were war criminals. It is upon this moralistic rock that Grayling’s work, founders rapidly. For four chapters, Among the Dead Cities concisely outlines the American and British bombing offensives, provides a vivid recounting of German experiences underneath American and British bombs, and conducts a brilliant expose on the mindset of leaders both for and against wholesale bombing. Having laid his historical and technological groundwork, Grayling then builds his moral superstructure by clarifying exactly the “‘wrong’ at stake” utilizing just war theory.
Rather than relying on this, however, Grayling makes his first major mistake in stating that the Allies’ behavior postwar, both in the persecution of Axis leaders and the wording of the Geneva Convention of 1949, served as a “retrospective indictment of the practices” carried out during World War II. Having leaped onto this metaphorically thin ice, Grayling proceeds to stomp on its surface by stating “[t]he moral culpability of area bombing was so well recognised during and immediately after the war that when at last an effort was made to arrive at a firm and binding statement of the laws of war, it was explicitly outlawed by them.” Grayling then launches a whirlwind assault that encompasses fellow historians (Robin Neilland’s Bomber War is particularly roughly handled), Allied wartime decisions and, most importantly, the morality of the leaders who decided upon the implementations of their superiors. In the final chapter, aptly entitled “Judgment,” Grayling wraps up his argument by equating American and British bombing attacks with various terrorist actions, culminating with a reference to Hamburg and Hiroshima being equivalent to the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Like Knell, Grayling’s argument begins to unravel in the face the technological limitations of World War II. First, Grayling attempts to split a moralistic hair, stating that that “precision-bombing efforts against industry, transport, power and military targets” would have sufficed to prevent Germany’s full industrial capacity from reaching the Wermacht in the field. This statement, echoing Knell’s reliance on a massive number of Mosquito bombers ranging across Germany, likewise ignores the state of aerial ordnance delivery available in World War II. As Budiansky illustrated in Air Power, cited above, the USAAF was only able to begin placing a large percentage of their bombs within 2,000 feet of a target in the latter part of 1944. In turn, even this rather limited accuracy was dependent on two conditions. The first was USAAF air superiority, a condition not truly met until a combination of long-ranged escort fighters, rapidly declining German pilot skill, and a lack of fuel eviscerated the German Jagdwaffe (a process to be examined in more detail below). The second condition, seldom seen thanks to capricious Central European weather and German passive defense measures, was good visibility. In short, Grayling’s hypothetical campaign would have required the ideal sought by air power enthusiasts during the interwar period: an supine enemy and cooperative Mother Nature.
It is at this point that Grayling’s attempt to shave a fine distinction falls apart. Grayling states unequivocally that bombing directed in daylight against industry is decisive and, not being specifically designated as ‘area bombing,’ morally acceptable. However, even if the ideal conditions had existed with far more regularity than actually occurred, 70% of ordnance landing within 2,000 feet of a target still leaves 30% landing outside this circle. Thus, a 1,000 aircraft raid carrying a common load of six 500-lb. bombs apiece would drop 1800 pieces of ordnance at random throughout occupied Europe and the Third Reich. The ultimate destinations of this “outside group” cannot be fully known, as the statistics treat weapons jettisoned by aborting bombers over the English Channel and those which landed at 2,500 feet from the aiming point equally. What is known, however, is that aerial ordnance was quite efficient in killing exposed personnel both at the point of impact and at relatively long distances through fragmentary and secondary effects. Grayling, in adapting this particular aspect of the argument, appears to state that German civilian deaths were appropriate as long as the “good intentions” of precision aiming were there. This approach is simplistic at best, as a German civilian killed on accident or through the misfortune of having his farmhouse located within “danger close” range of a German arms factory is just as dead as one whose housing block was the proposed aiming point.
Grayling does not attempt to address this flaw in his argument, instead moving immediately into a detailed examination of the February 1945 attack on Dresden. As with most historians that utilize this German city as an example of the Allies’ utter immorality in their bombing offensive, Grayling manages to establish several critical points. First, he adroitly points out Dresden’s cultural importance, contrasting its inclusion on the approved target list with Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s decision to exclude Kyoto, Japan from the list of suitable atomic bomb targets. Second, he emphasizes Bomber Command’s desire to inflict pain on the German populace and intimidate the Russians, stating that “calculation involved in using civilian lives and the precipitates of history to make a gesture in a game of diplomatic politics is breathtaking.” This charge is made in conjunction with the oft-repeated statement “that one of the main motives for the atom-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to demonstrate to the Russians the superiority in weaponry that the United States had attained,” thus implicitly equating Dresden’s attack to the two ill-fated Japanese cities. Lastly, Grayling points out that the city was “known to be full of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the approach of Soviet troops,” thus completing the common litany of “reasons not to bomb [Dresden].”
Unfortunately for Grayling, this emphasis on Dresden and effort to intertwine it with the final assault on Japan exposes his central thesis to pointed, valid counterarguments. By presenting no primary source for his allegation regarding the reasoning behind the dropping of two atomic bombs, Grayling allows it to be readily discarded even without recourse to contrary evidence. Furthermore, the mentioning of two cities’ whose fate in large part was due to the fanatical, unreasoning resistance of a tyrannical leadership leaves open the possibility that the political and conditions leading to Dresden’s immolation were similar if not identical. In his emphasis on the refugees fleeing Soviet troops, Bomber Command’s aiming point, and the horrific outcome of the raid makes several critical omissions which address these geopolitical factors all the more glaring. Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dresden was a major city within one of history’s most oppressive, notorious regimes. To portray it as an innocent, defenseless victim of a savage Allied assault is to ignore the defensive plans of Army Group Center, the offensive plans of the Red Army, or the simple fact that World War II bombing art did not allow for the pinpoint ordnance delivery common to modern aerial warfare. Finally, and most importantly, the extension of this line of reasoning places most of the onus for Dresden’s agony on the Allies rather than its proper place on the Nazi leadership that began a war of aggression than refused to surrender when clearly beaten.
This tendency to understate the Axis leaderships crimes is best exemplified by Grayling’s dismissive statement that “even if all the arguments of the defenders of area bombing are correct…[a]rea bombing was neither necessary nor proportional, and it was neither of these things by quite a long way.” While strong in delivery, this passage and its companions are relatively weak in factual support. It is quite easy, sixty years on, to state that the Allies handled Germany (and Japan), a bit roughly and with disproportionate force. However, this ignores several well-known historical facts. Whereas Grayling is quick to point out that the Allies heaviest blows fell once the Axis tide was clearly receding, he neglects to point out that this was also the period of the heaviest losses among both USAAF and RAF bomber crews. In addition, as illustrated in the works previously surveyed, the Jagdwaffe and flak units were still inflicting casualties up to the final day of the war. On the ground, the Wermacht continued to strenuously resist British and American advances to the Elbe, while the fanatical resistance offered in defense of Berlin has been well documented by able historians such as Cornelius Ryan, Max Hastings, and Antony Beevor. It is a bit idealistic to expect the Allies to cease launching bombing missions, much less large-scale ones, in the face of determined aerial and ground opposition.
Most importantly, however, to state that the Allies’ efforts were disproportional, and not by a small margin, is to utterly ignore German conduct throughout the war. Japanese excesses against Prisoners of War (POWs) has often led Western sources to speak highly of the Wermacht’s treatment of the same. Unfortunately, this ignores the excesses conducted against the Red Army in the East. More importantly, Nazi ideological beliefs turned the Eastern Front into a “racial conflict of the most savage kind in which any methods, criminal or otherwise, were sanctioned.” Given carte blanche, the German soldier raped, pillaged, and burned in a campaign that resulted in the death of over 12 million Soviet civilians. On the German Home Front, the Nazis implemented the Final Solution, and proceeded to utilize the methods of industrialization to gas, shoot, or work to death millions of Slavs, gypsies, Jews, and other humans considered “sub-human.” That this process, despite the precious resources its implementation consumed, continued literally until advancing Allied forces pushed open the camp gates indicates the depths of the Third Reich’s depravity.
It is unlikely that the Nazis’ victims, not to mention the USAAF airmen who became casualties during these final raids, would agree with Grayling’s glib assessment that the Allies hands were only less dirty than those of the Nazis by a matter of degrees. In just war theory, proportionality is the belief that wars’ ultimate goals and aims must be proportional to the costs involved. The objective of the USAAF Bombing Campaign, and the Combined Bomber Offensive of which it was an integral part, was the destruction of a homicidal, racist, and tyrannical regime that had plunged the entire world into a conflict that killed over 78 million people. Together, the USAAF and RAF are believed to have killed 593,000 German civilians, that is .76% of this total. While this may not fit into Grayling’s opinion of what is proportional, it clearly fits into just war’s theory of this concept and thus renders his central argument unsupportable.
The German Defenses
Less morally ambiguous than discussions of the relative worth of German civilians’ lives versus those of the Third Reich’s victims, however, is the examination of Nazi Germany’s defense and the soldiers that manned them. These works, especially those produced during the Cold War, tend to avoid taking moralistic positions, focusing narrowly on how the Luftwaffe conducted its defense of the greater Reich. Westermann’s Flak is the only English language text that attempts to portray the men and women who manned the Reich’s anti-aircraft batteries as anything but anonymous secondary actors ineffectively attempting to stem the ever growing tide of American and British bombers. Its uniqueness precludes its use in the examination of trends, and thus it will not be further discussed herein.
In contrast to their flak comrades, German fighter pilots (Jagdflieger) have individually and collectively been the subject of dozens English-language texts. Most of these books treat the Jagdflieger with great respect, with noted aviation historian Michael Spick’s sentiment that “[a]lthough the cause for which they had fought was tarnished, their honor was redeemed by the luster of their deeds” being representative of general sentiment. The USAAF’s daylight offensive, directly engaging a Jagdwaffe already overcommitted in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, is widely acknowledged as the instrument which destroyed the German fighter arm. Used to engaging much smaller single and twin-engined aircraft at low and medium altitude, the arrival of the much larger Liberators and Fortresses was a sharp shock. Spick, once again, provides the most concise elucidation of this phenomenon, pointing out the effect the bombers’ size and defensive fire had on the pilots who conducted these initial interceptions. General Adolf Galland, the Luftwaffe’s chief of fighters, reinforces this point in his autobiography, The First and the Last. On page 151, Galland equates the Jagdflieger’s initial encounters with these aircraft to an infantryman’s first encounter with enemy tanks, with his pilots having to overcome their “shyness of the [bombers]” in order to discover their “vulnerable points.” As noted by Spick, Galland, and several other authors, this process was fraught with dangers due to the American bombers’ dense formations and heavy armament. Moreover, this process was left to tactical units rather than being driven by a centralized Jagdwaffe process of experimentation utilizing captured airframes. While ultimately successful, with aces (Experten) from Jagdeschwader (JG) 2 devising the successful head-on assault, this methodology exposed a critical operational failing on the part of Galland and his subordinate staff.
Such operational failings were fairly common and, when coupled with the strategic errors made by the Third Reich all but guaranteed the Jagdwaffe’s eventual destruction. The historiography, much like that of the Wermacht as a whole, places most of the blame for these errors on Hitler and Hermann Goring, chief of the Luftwaffe. First, by engaging on multiple fronts, the Nazi hierarchy ensured that what strength it did have would be divided into several parts. Second, by stubbornly insisting on the continued development and production of offensive weapons despite the Third Reich’s clearly declining fortunes, Hitler ensured that the Jagdwaffe fought at a constant numerical disadvantage from mid-1943 on. Finally, and most importantly, the aerial equivalent of Hitler’s “not one step backward” philosophy is consistently cited in the historiography as an unmitigated disaster for the Reich’s fighter pilots.
This last point is so central to the historiographical trend that it requires detailed examination. According to surviving senior Jagdwaffe officers, in 1942 Hitler and Goring decreed that all American bombers would be subject to continuous attack from ingress into the airspace of occupied Europe. This was directly contrary to Galland’s suggestion, which was a more prudent strategy of concentrated Luftwaffe fighter attacks for a single large interception near the borders of Germany. The initial effect of the Fuhrer’s directive was the frittering away of the Jagdwaffe’s strength in a series of attritional battles through late 1943. It is true that the relentless attacks inflicted painful losses on the USAAF’s bomber units, and the historiography is quite clear that from January to October 1943 the Jagdwaffe won “a series of substantial tactical victories,” forcing the Eighth Air Force to temporarily halt deep penetrations into Germany. However, American production and manpower meant that these losses were replaceable. In contrast, the steady toll taken by bomber gunners, accidents, and occasional clash with escorting fighters initiated a slow, steady seeping away of the German fighter arm’s effectiveness. The cost in both Experten (aces) and neophytes was quite high, and it made those victories achieved both transitory and Pyrrhic. From January to April 1944, the introduction of larger drop-tanks, longer-ranged fighters, and far more aggressive American tactics transformed the constant hemorrhaging of 1943 into full-scale arterial bleeding that proved ultimately fatal. Despite the introduction of advanced jet fighters, themselves arguably delayed by Hitler’s intransigence, those works focusing on the Jagdwaffe are clear that the battles of 1944 ensured the German fighter arm was a spent force.
This focus on the interference of the Nazi High Command, differences in production outcomes, and sheer numbers of Allied fighters results in several critical gaps. First, there is an overemphasis on the potential impact of the Me-262 at the expense of other, more viable aircraft. Galland is the first to propagate this myth, as the last portion of his autobiography concentrates heavily on the “lost opportunities” this fighter provided as well as his own experiences operating it. Although Galland’s thoughts are heartfelt, they are also disproved rather readily. Spick provides the most concise detailing of the Me-262’s many flaws, namely that it required a long runway, accelerated poorly, had extremely poor fuel economy, and was critically vulnerable on takeoff and landing. In addition to these tactical concerns, the Me-262’s airframe itself required an excessive amount of strategic materials, the powerplant was unreliable, and it required a level of skill that was quite beyond that being turned out by the German flight schools by 1944. Combined, these factors would likely have prevented the Me-262 from being the war winner Galland and others have proclaimed it would have been.
This overemphasis obscures the fact that the Jagdwaffe had many alternatives at hand that, with a more forceful effort by Galland, may have actually had reasonable impact during the critical period of the American Bombing Campaign. The Focke-Wulf 190, an excellent successor to the Bf-109, was never given priority of production over that “much older and less attractive design [that had] many shortcomings.” Although its initial variants were not well-suited for combat over 24,000 feet, later models were quite capable of holding their own against even the most modern Allied aircraft. In addition, various other airframes that would have been better suited to indifferently trained neophytes reached the prototype stage yet were never produced in favor of continuously updating the 109. Even given the 109’s sterling combat record, it is a clear indicator of Galland’s and Goring’s misunderstanding of technological progress that they believed an airframe first flown in 1935 was still a viable contender in 1943. The latter is rightfully pilloried for his hand in this travesty—the former is not.
Galland is similarly excused in the historiography for failing to vigorously examine his likely need for more pilots prior to the crisis of 1944. In this he is not alone, as the historiography is generally unclear on what individual or individuals was largely responsible for the development of a fighter pilot training program. Also left unexplained is the reasoning for the non-inclusion of combat veterans in such a program. Throughout World War II, the RAF, USAAF, and Red Air Force each had a rotational policy that gave their pilots a rest after a certain operational period. These policies paid great dividends in allowing the passage of lessons learned from combat veterans to trainees during their advanced flight courses, ensuring that these individuals then arrived at their commands with at least a theory of how aerial combat should unfold.
The Jagdwaffe’s rotational policy, on the other hand, was virtually non-existent. Almost invariably, Experten flew until seriously injured, imprisoned, or killed in combat. Generally, the historiography gives a pass to Galland on this issue, noting that Germany’s strategic situation precluded the rotation of trained leaders to training commands. Such statements, given the greater efficiency numerous veterans’ imparted to Allied training programs, are only tenuously supportable. Although it is true that Germany was hard-pressed by December 1943, this does not sufficiently explain what the Luftwaffe’s fighter command was doing from September 1939 until that date. The historiography gives little indication that Galland, upon assuming command of the Jagdwaffe in November 1941, did little to correct the errors of his predecessors in this regard. It is apparent that Galland was an extremely brave man placed in a rather untenable position by Hitler and Goring. Unfortunately, the works on the Jagdwaffe make clear that Galland’s focus on the day-to-day operation of his fighter groups, their tactics, and his pilots’ well-being prevented him from engaging long-term concerns with the same vigor he applied to attacking his aerial opponents.
A large part of Galland’s inaction may be attributed to combat fatigue, the final gap in the historiography of the Jagdwaffe. There are limited references to demoralization and fatigue among the German defenders in secondary sources, and the overwhelming strain of the Allied assault is even more prevalent in the available primary sources.  The high concentration and technical skills required for World War II aerial combat are extensively recognized, as are the effects of extended psychological stress on the mental, physical functions which are necessary to efficiently execute these tasks. Yet, despite the two factors, no readily-available English language psychological study has been made of Jagdwaffe (and flak) personnel to date, an inexplicable gap. With the high casualties suffered by the Jagdflieger as well as the passing of many World War II veterans in the intervening years since the end of that conflict, it may be impossible to ever completely fill this gap, but unit and oral histories may provide a necessary foundation for an attempt to be made.
Unit, Airframe and Oral Histories
Such histories form a large part of fourth part of the historiography, that of subject-specific histories. On the Allied side, such histories tend to be myopic, sacrificing a greater understanding of the war’s strategic context in favor of a narrow examination of a particular organization’s experience in the air war. The majority of these histories focus on the Eighth Air Force, with the two most common examples being the nearly identically-titled The Mighty Eighth: Units, Men, and Machines (A History of the US 8th Army Air Force) by British aviation author Roger A. Freeman and military historian Gerald Astor’s The Mighty Eighth: The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It. Although most of the World War II press and subsequent histories seem to support the subtitle of Astor’s work, the 15th Air Force was decisively engaged in attacking the southern portion of the Reich from November 1943. Despite the importance of their attacks, especially those against Nazi Germany’s oil supply, there are no commonly available histories solely devoted to the 15th’s exploits. Nor is this lack of representation unique to the 15th, as it occurs for most of the Eighth’s subordinate commands. There are few widely published bomber group unit histories, reducing the men and machines that constituted the Eighth’s primary reason for being to relatively anonymity. In contrast, the 56th, 4th, and 364th Fighter Groups alone are each the subject of at least one book, while the 8th’s myriad aces are the subject of numerous autobiographies and composite works.
This overrepresentation of fighter pilots skews their relative importance to the overall conduct of the American Bombing Campaign. Similarly skewed is the importance of the B-17 Flying Fortress, as it is the airframe that is most commonly represented in print and pictures that discuss the 8th Air Force. Martin Caidin’s Flying Forts, Jablonski’s Flying Fortress, and Freeman’s B-17 Fortress at War are but a small sample of the large number of books devoted to the Boeing bomber. The B-24 Liberator, on the other hand, has had few books written on it, with Stephen Ambrose’s The Wild Blue being the most recent. A similar situation, however, does not exist with regards to the American fighters, however, as each of the primary escort fighters (P-38, P-47, and P-51) each have a similar number of works devoted to their operational use.
The number of Jagdwaffe general histories is relatively small. To date, there is only one comprehensive, English language history in existence, the rarity of which makes its acquisition fiscally prohibitive for libraries and private individuals alike. Likewise, there are few in-depth unit histories that cover the entire operational life of a single Jagdwaffe unit from the beginning to the end of the Second World War. Aviation author Donald L. Caldwell’s JG 26 is the best example of all these, being both extensively researched and well written, and the dearth of Luftwaffe war records and rapidly declining number of veterans makes it unlikely to be equaled. However, the Jagdwaffe’s chaotic personnel policies make this less of a historical gap than it would first appear. Experten were regularly transferred between units due to their own injuries or to fill command positions left vacant by a fellow pilot’s relief, disablement, or death. Units, in turn, were often detached for service on another front, resulting in some Jagdeschwader having subordinate Gruppen simultaneously located on all three major German war fronts. Consequently, books on the Jagdwaffe, unlike the overwhelming majority of those on their Allied counterparts, are often forced to explain the larger strategic picture in order to avoid confusing readers.
Unfortunately, concentration on the Experten has led to the lionization of their primary mount, the Bf-109, at the expense of the Fw-190 and its pilots. The majority of these books also fail to mention the Bf-109’s creeping obsolescence. In addition, there remains little information on the various anonymous pilots that composed the bulk of the Jagdwaffe. Although large numbers of these pilots did not survive their first missions, there is likely a significant number of them whose scores would have made them quite famous had they been born in one of the Allied nations. Lastly, there are few sources which detail the training methodology, pilot equipment, or daily operations of the Jagdwaffe as a whole. The early success, decline, and ultimate failure of the Luftwaffe in its entirety is clearly connected to the fate of its fighter arm, and it is a subject that deserves further study.
Such further study is outside the scope of this paper, which has focused on the available rather than potential historiography and its gaps. As the examination has shown, the USAAF campaign can be defined in many ways. Those works sympathetic to its conduct portray it as a limited success whose achievements far outweigh the collateral damage it caused. Its opponents decry it as a clear violation of just war theory that was brought about by various base desires for revenge, an independent Air Force, and/or cold-blooded indifference to the civilians it fell upon or the young men forced to carry it out. Such a debate will fruitlessly continue until one or more of the faults currently inherent in the historiography is addressed. Historians from both sides must agree on a common degree of metrics, as a discussion of the relative merits inherent in oranges’ and apples’ can only be resolved on personal bias. Although the complete elimination of such bias is, of course, impossible, by relying on these established measurements much of the current moral reproach and polemic speech would be removed from what should be dispassionate analysis. In addition, such statistics would allow the examination of both defenders and attackers and allow for an all-encompassing examination of the campaign’s effect on the Wermacht’s conduct of the war, with emphasis on the Luftwaffe in general and Jagdwaffe in particular. Finally, all of these steps would allow professional historians from both sides to actually hear and digest opposing viewpoints, thus allowing for a greater understanding of the Allied Bombing Campaign and Second World War as a whole. With active participants disappearing at prodigious rates, the importance of accomplishing this has never been greater even as the time to do so grows ever shorter.
(Books in Bold were not used in text preparation but are included for information purposes.)
Ambrose, Stephen E.. The Wild Blue. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
Astor, Gerald. The Mighty Eighth: The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It. New York: Dell Books, 1997.
Biddle, Tami Davis. Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.
Boyne, Walter J. Clash of Wings: Air Power in World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
Budiansky, Stephen. Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionized War, From Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II. New York: Viking Books, 2004.
Caidin, Martin. Flying Forts: The B-17 in World War II. New York: Ballantine Books, 1969.
________. Me-109: Willy Messerschmitt’s Peerless Fighter. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968.
Caldwell, Donald L.. JG26. New York: Orion Books, 1991.
Christopher, Paul. The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction to Legal and Moral Issues. Englewood, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994.
Constable, Trevor J. and Raymond F. Toliver, Colonel, USAF (ret.). Horrido!: Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968.
Crane, Conrad C. Bombs, Cities, and Civilians: American Airpower Strategy in World War II.Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1993.
Dunnigan, James and Albert A. Nofi. Dirty Little Secrets of World War II: Military Information No One Told You About the Greatest, Most Terrible War In History. New York: Quill, 1994.
Ethell, Jeffrey and Dr. Alfred Price. Target Berlin: Mission 250, 6 March, 1944. London: Jane’s, 1981. Reprint, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002.
Freeman, Roger A. The Mighty Eighth: Units, Men, and Machines (A History of the US 8th Army Air Force. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1970.
________. B-17 Fortress At War. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977.
Galland, Adolf. The First and the Last. Bantam War Book Ed., 3rd Printing. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.
Grayling, A.C. Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan. (Advance Reading Copy) New York: Walker & Company, 2006.
Gunston, Bill and Tony Wood. Hitler’s Luftwaffe: A Pictorial History and Technical Encyclopedia of Hitler’s Air Power in World War II. London: Salamander Books, 1977. Reprint, New York: Crescent Books, 1979.
Hammel, Eric. Aces Against Germany. New York: Pocket Books, 1993.
Hinchliffe, Peter. The Other Battle: Luftwaffe Night Fighter Aces Versus Bomber Command. Edison, N.J.: Castle Books, 2001.
Isby, David C., ed.. Fighting the Bombers: The Luftwaffe’s Struggle Against the Allied Bomber Offensive. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.
Jablonski, Edward. Airwar: Tragic Victories. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971.
________. Airwar: Terror From the Sky. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971.
________. Airwar: Wings of Fire. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971.
________. Flying Fortress. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1965.
Jacobs, W.A.. “Operation Overlord.” In Case Studies in the Achievement of Air Superiority, Benjamin Franklin Cooling, 270-322. Washington, D.C.: Center For Air Force History, 1994.
Johnson, Robert S., with Martin Caidin. Thunderbolt!. New York: Ballantine Books, 1958.
Knell, Herman. To Destroy a City: Strategic Bombing and Its Human Consequences in World War II. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books Group, 2003.
Macksey, Kenneth. Military Errors of World War II. London: Arms and Armour, 1987. Reprint, Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2003.
McFarland, Stephen L. and Wesley Phillips Newton. “The American Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany in World War Two.” In Case Studies in Strategic Bombardment, ed. R. Cargill Hill, 183-252. Washington, D.C.: Center For Air Force History, 1998.
Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to British Aircraft of World War II. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1982.
________. American Aircraft of World War II. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, Reprint, London: Chancellor Press, 1996.
Musciano, Walter A. Messerschmitt Aces. New York: Arco Publishing, Inc., 1982.
Nalty, Bernard C., John F. Shiner, and George M. Watson. With Courage: The U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Air Force History & Museums Program, 1994.
Neilland, Robert. The Bomber War: The Allied Air Offensive Against Nazi Germany. New York: The Overlook Press, 2001.
Overy, Richard J. Why the Allies Won. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995.
Perrett, Geoffrey. Winged Victory: The Army Air Forces in World War II. New York: Random House, 1993.
Richard, Denis. The Hardest Victory: RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War. London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
Ross, Stewart Halsey. Strategic Bombing by the United States in World War II: The Myths and the Facts. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003.
Sims, Edward H.. American Aces. New York: Ballantine Books, 1958.
________. The Greatest Aces. New York: Ballantine Books, 1967.
Spick, Michael. The Luftwaffe Fighter Aces: The Jagdflieger and Their Combat Tactics and Techniques. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.
________. The Ace Factor. New York: Avon Books, 1988.
________. Allied Fighter Aces of World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997.
Steinhoff, Johanne. Messerschmitts Over Sicily. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004.
Stokesbury, James L.. A Short History of World War II. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1980.
Taylor, Frederick. Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
United States Army. “Strategic Air Victory in Europe Special Issue (July 1945).” In Impact: The Army Air Force’s “Confidential” Picture History of World War II in Eight Books, Vol. 7. Harrisburg, PA: Historical Times, Inc., 1980.
Westermann, Edward B.. Flak: German Anti-Aircraft Defenses, 1914-1945. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2001.
Williamson, Murray. Strategy For Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933-1945. Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1983.
 There are several excellent single-volume works that discuss the RAF’s campaign, such as Denis Richards’s The Hardest Victory: RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994) and Peter Hinchliffe’s The Other Battle: Luftwaffe Night Aces Versus Bomber Command (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2001).
 Impact: The Army Air Force’s “Confidential” Picture History of World War II In Eight Books, vol. 7, “Strategic Air Victory In Europe Special Issue”, July 1945 (Harrisburg, PA: Historical Times, Inc., 1980), 57 and 60.
 Stewart Halsey Ross, Strategic Bombing by the United States in World War II: The Myths and the Facts (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003) and Walter J. Boyne Clash of Wings: Air Power in World War II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994).
 Herman Knell, To Destroy a City: Strategic Bombing and Its Human Consequences in World War II (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books Group, 2003) and A.C. Grayling, Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, Advance Reading Copy (New York: Walker & Company, 2006).
 Michael Spick, The Luftwaffe Fighter Aces: The Jagdflieger and Their Combat Tactics and Techniques (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996) and Trevor J. Constable and Raymond F. Toliver, Colonel, USAF (ret.) Horrido! (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968).
 Paul Christopher, The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction to Legal and Moral Issues (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994), 89. This version of the work is that used for Military Philosophy at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY.
 Generalmajor Hans-Detlef Herhuth von Rohden, “Reich Air Defense in World War II: A Strategic-Tactical Survey,” Fighting the Bombers: The Luftwaffe’s Struggle Against the Allied Bomber Offensive, David C. Isby, ed., (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003), 26-27.
 Stephen L. McFarland and Wesley Phillips Newton, “The American Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany in World War Two,” Case Studies in Strategic Bombardment, R. Cargill Hill, ed., (Washington, D.C.: Center for Air Force History, 1998), 209-215.
 Bill Gunston and Tony Wood, Hitler’s Luftwaffe: A Pictorial History and Technical Encyclopedia of Hitler’s Air Power in World War II (London: Salamander Books, 1977; reprint, New York: Crescent Books, 1979), 166.
 An example of the former can be found on pg. 99 of Jeffrey Ethell and Dr. Alfred Price’s Target Berlin: Mission 250, 6 March 1944 (London: Jane’s, 1981; reprint, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002), while a good primary source for the latter phenomenon is Johannes Steinhoff’s Messerschmitts Over Sicily (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004).
 Gerald Astor, The Mighty Eighth: The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It (New York: Dell Books, 1997) and Roger A. Freeman, The Mighty Eighth: Units, Men, and Machines (A History of the US 8th Army Air Force) (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1970).
 Martin Caidin, Flying Forts: The B-17 in World War II (New York: Ballantine Books, 1969), Roger A. Freeman, B-17 Fortress At War (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977), and Edward Jablonski, Flying Fortress (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1965).
Having covered the Western Campaign, the Battle of Britain, and the first phase of RAF Bomber Command‘s assault on the Third Reich, it’s time to start the United States’ portion of the Strategic Bombing Campaign. Again, in the interest of brevity, I’m going to do a little background then make liberal use of the fast forward button so we can actually discuss punches getting thrown.
In World War II, just as in World War I, the United States had a little bit to get the lay of the land before joining hostilities. Unlike Great Britain, the United States did not have an independent air force in the years leading up to World War II. Indeed, the United States’ main air prophet, Billy Mitchell, got so uppity about airpower the Army court-martialed him. Still, even without someone going full Trenchard, the United States Army Air Corps was able to hoodwink Congress into buying the B-17 and B-24 ostensibly to attack ships at sea from high altitude. Neither bomber performed this task very well throughout World War II, but at least having the designs on hand meant strategic bombing was on the table.
Note I said possible, not prudent. A prudent person looking at the Battle of Britain and ongoing events over Western Europe might have said, “Mmm, maybe we should figure out this fighter escort thing.” But remember, this is the same Army organization that didn’t listen to Claire Chennault about the Zero (we’ll get to that for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about) and also didn’t relieve the guy who got his bombers all caught on the ground nine hours after Pearl Harbor. In short, if you had to list antonyms for dynamic, forward thinking organization that reacted quickly to military realities, the US Army Air Force circa January 1943 probably cracks the World War II Top Ten. (Number one is the Imperial Japanese Navy’s General Staff, for those wondering.) The USAAF was convinced that the reason the British and Axis had been smacking each others’ bombers around was that no one in Europe knew how to properly mount defensive armament or organize a bombing campaign. Good ol’ American ingenuity, as well as an eye wateringly massive industrial bases was expected to put the Old World right pretty quickly.
This fantasy was reinforced by the initial raids into Europe. By the time the Casablanca Conference rolled around, the Americans were truly ready to test their luck. Slight problem: Most of the RAF thought their plan was crazy. As in, I imagine the conversation between 8th Air Force Commander Ira Eaker and the British generals going something like this:
“So old boy, when shall we begin night training for your chaps?”
“Your heavy bombers? I mean, once this North Africa sideshow is over, certainly you’ll have dozens if not scores of bombers available to join ol’ Butch’s boys at night?”
“Um, did you read the doctrine I sent you? We’re going in daylight.”
*polite chuckle followed by look of sheer horror British Air Staff realizes Eaker’s serious*
Most of the RAF and Royal Navy, being unable to wrest bombers away from Sir Arthur Harris, thought the American Flying Fortresses and Liberators would make awesome anti-submarine aircraft. Or, failing that, the Americans would make great additions to tactical/operational raids into France. Harris, of course, figured the B-17s would make great additions to the night bombing campaign once they lost their armor and excessive machine guns. In any case, everyone but the USAAF thought going to bomb Germany in daylight sounded truly idiotic.
So great was British apprehension that Winston Churchill left for the Casablanca Conference planning to get Franklin Roosevelt to overrule his crazy generals. Unfortunately, Ira Eaker preached like a zealot and sold like a snake oil salesman. American bombers had the Norden bombsight. They were also hardier than their RAF counterparts and more heavily armed. Finally, appealing to Churchill’s sense of vengeance, Eaker dropped the money quote:
“If the RAF continues night bombing and we bomb by day, we shall bomb them round the clock and the devil shall get no rest.”
Churchill, always happy to inflict pain on Nazi Germany, thought that sounded splendid. Franklin Roosevelt did as well. Between them, they ensured the Combined Chiefs of Staff issued the necessary orders to make strategic bombing a priority task.
Was the USAAF that crazy, or just overly optimistic? Well, at the time, the Norden was a marvel of technology when first fielded. Put into production in the 1930s, it allegedly gave American heavy bombers an accuracy far superior to the Axis or Allied contemporary sights. Although apocryphal tales of it allowing bombardiers to drop their loads “into a pickle barrel” during testing were widely circulated, in actuality circular errors of probability (CEPs) of 500 feet were not uncommon during testing. Given the average size of 1940s manufacturing plants, American air zealots were certain that enough B-17s would start blowing German industry back to Renaissance.
Defensively, the bomber barons expected “Ma Deuce” to see them through. For those who are unfamiliar with American military slang, “Ma Deuce” is the nickname for, quite simply, possibly the best American machine gun ever fielded. I present the Browning M-2 .50 caliber machine gun:
I could go on for days about the M2. It’s been killing the Republic’s enemies since right after World War I, and it has made no distinction between Nazis, Kamikazes, Chinese Communists, Vietcong, terrorists…wait, sorry, got lost in the moment there. The reason for it longevity is that the M2 is not necessarily the best in any particular category, but is the epitome of “good enough to see you through.” For aerial warfare purposes, this weapon was basically the standard machine gun used by US forces throughout World War 2. Fighters mounted them in groups of 4, 6, or 8…but the B-17 / B-24 carried 10-16 (yes, 16!) depending on the model.
Thus, it wasn’t the excellence of the individual machine guns and expected accuracy of the young kids wielding them that gave the USAAF confidence. No it was the fact that when you start talking about an entire squadron full of machine guns, things get interesting. First, allow me to present 2 diagrams of what a B-17’s firing sectors looked like:
Now, mind you, this is after chin turrets were added, but you get the idea that attacking a single B-17 was like deciding to play “.50-caliber lotto.” I mean, a few months after Casablanca, a solo B-17 fought off hordes of (albeit lighter) Japanese fighters while inflicting massive casualties. So, given the experiences over France and the war to date, it was not utterly insane to think the B-17 was a tough out.
As if each B-17 was not bad enough, then Colonel Curtis Lemay helped refine a formation that made them even deadlier: the combat box.
Imagine, if you will, it’s January 1943, and you’re a German ace. You’re a bad mofo with over 100 kills to your credit. Spitfires have blazed under your guns. You’ve dusted Lightnings in North Africa. The Russians speak your names in hushed whispers while hoping their bladders don’t betray them. You’re familiar with American twin-engine bombers because, hey, Lend Lease (“Neutral my schnitzel!”). So you get scrambled to go attack some bogeys heading to northern Germany and you see that rolling ball of pain coming at you. What do you do?
Well, initially you open fire at too far a range because the B-17’s size makes it look closer than it is, get the living shit shot out of you and your wingman, and generally come back to base needing a change of underwear. From any one direction, you’re looking at ~40 machine guns wielded by angry American draftees. A large percentage of these men are used to hunting birds for literal survival, and 100% of them are pissed off they’re over Germany. Collectively they’re not super accurate, and fire discipline sometimes gets out of hand, but quantity of fire has a quality all of its own. By about the tenth penetration of German airspace, Adolf Galland is apoplectic in telling the boys at R&D they better figure something out.
Germans being Germans–they figured something out. The first steps were simple things like “Hey, maybe we should put more armor on our interceptors? It’s not like we gotta worry about escort fighters, so who cares if they’re clumsier?!” The second was to increase the number of cannons carried by both the 109 and the 190. While the closure rate was such that there wasn’t a huge range advantage of cannons over M2s (and most folks couldn’t hit at long range anyway) and the gun pods made the fighters clumsy as hell, the more damage done in a pass the better. Finally, the Luftwaffe resorted to improvised rockets. As in, “Hey, Wehrmacht buddies! We know you’re neck deep in Russians right now, but could we borrow some of your ordnance so your uncle doesn’t get whacked at the factory? Thanks! We promise we’re making our own rockets!”
As the saying goes, by July-1943 “shit got real” on both sides. For the Germans, both experienced and neophyte pilots alike were getting attrited by Farmboy Neds rolling a “100” on their to hit roll. Escort P-47s, despite their limited range, were still managing to take their own toll. Worse, even when they weren’t killing pilots, American bomber formations were causing so much damage to fighters that the Jagdwaffe‘s operational readiness rate was drifting into the 50-60% range. When squadrons were starting a week with 16 available birds then ending it with only 5 despite receiving 7 replacements, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize something had to give.
Oh, and by the, remember how we talked about the British? Yeah, Sir Arthur Harris’ boys were more than keeping up their end of the “bomb them around the clock.” In addition to their usual mayhem, they burned a huge hunk of Hamburg to the ground in July 1943. This was a rather significant emotional event for the Germans, it being the first manmade firestorm and all.
This incident gave the entire Nazi leadership the vapors for about two weeks. Given the American bombers just tooling around in daylight and the British playing “Come On Baby Light My Fire” in the key of Lancaster, Galland was forced to strip fighters from the Eastern and Mediterranean fronts. To say this was the last thing the German ground forces needed would be an understatement, but Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, et. al. gave him no choice. Having come to to power spouting the (erroneous) “stab in the back“-theory, the Nazis wanted to give the German civilian populace no reason to give up. (“Um, you are aware there’s this Soviet bird of prey called the Sturmovik, right?”–German Panzer crewmen from August 1943 on.)
Sounds grim, doesn’t it? Well, the only people having it worse than the German Jagdflieger were American bomber crews. The German fighters were causing damage and getting kills. Complementing these slashing attacks, German flak was doing things like this:
Except, in most cases, the crews were not making it back to take commemorative pictures. All too often, the last time someone would see a flak damaged B-17 was in its death spiral, with friends and comrades trying to see how many, if any, chutes got out.
The German defenses were so strong that by August 1943 it was statistically impossible for an Eighth Air Force bomber crew to survive their 26 mission tour. As in, “The reason everyone remembers the Memphis Belle is the logic on why lotteries announce their jackpot winners: the powers that be want to maintain false hope.” From the American perspective, it seemed that the Germans improved their ordnance, their flak, and their skill at head on passes every mission. Each B-17 and B-24 that fell took 10-12 men with it. That started to add up in the KIA/POW/MIA columns in an alarming rate, affecting morale. Exacerbating this, like their German counterparts in the Battle of Britain, damaged bombers also brought back wounded crew members with them. Scenes akin to these these started becoming all too common across eastern England:
Two battles pretty much put the exclamation mark on the “Hey stupid, stop that!”-phase of the USAAF’s offensive: Schweinfurt-Regensburg and the Army’s return trip to the Schweinfurt ball bearing plants. Long story short, the USAAF’s targeting folks decided that ball bearings were the critical material for the Nazi war machine, and Schweinfurt was believed to be the “one shot, one kill” node of air power fantasies. So, the first time, the USAAF tried to be cute and launch a double penetration to split the German defenses on August 17, 1943–the one year anniversary of their first raid with B-17s against occupied France. The double mission went…poorly. Over 60 bombers were lost, and the 8th Air Force took almost a month to fully recover. Even worse, while the aircraft factory at Regensburg was devastated, the ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt were hardly touched.
For those of you who have seen Rocky IV, this point in the air campaign is analagous to where Apollo Creed’s manager was screaming “Throw the towel! Throw the damn towel!” The purpose of strategic bombing, the logic went, was to avoid bloodletting in large doses, not reenact the Battle of the Somme in the sky. Speaking of the British, the RAF was watching all this in sheer terror openly stating “We told you bloody colonials what would happen but noooooo.” Seriously, go read Harris’ and several other senior British leaders memoirs. Claire Chennault and other fighter generals, having tried for years to get the USAAF to focus on long-range fighter development, soundly cursed Hap Arnold’s mule-headed behavior and Ira Eaker’s poor choice of escort tactics. George C. Marshall wondered if the Allies would actually gain air superiority in order to allow a cross-Channel invasion.
So, in the face of all this, Ira Eaker doubled down on stupid. There are accounts of men actually screaming profanities at their leaders when the briefing map was unveiled on 14 October 1943. Like Union soldiers pinning their names and hometowns on their back at the Battle of Petersburg, men wrote last letters home, boxed up their stuff, and undertook all manner of tasks that would make their friends’ lives easier when they did not return. Everyone knew that the German defenses had only gotten stronger in the intervening two months since the last trip, with the attack almost certainly suicide. As the escorting fighters turned away at the limits of their range, the pilots could see a veritable horde of German fighters lurking in the distance just waiting for the B-17s to come closer.
As military debacles go, Black Thursday was just short of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Two hundred-ninety-one B-17s were launched. Of these, roughly 10-15 aborted due to malfunctions, leaving 281. The German fighter attacks were so intense that numerous B-17s ran out of ammo before even reaching Schweinfurt. The German flak concentration at Schweinfurt was considered the most dangerous to that date in the war. Indeed, the concentration was so dense that veterans of future raids to Berlin would still swear Black Thursday was the heaviest anti-aircraft fire they ever saw. Forced to fly straight and level from their initial point to bomb release (as they did in all missions), the B-17s were sitting ducks. Turning for home, they found themselves confronted with the same German fighters they had faced that morning after the latter had refueled and rearmed.
By the end of the day, the butcher’s bill was astounding. Sixty bombers were destroyed outright. Depending on the source, roughly 20 more were written off. Another 100 were damaged. These losses were not distributed evenly, and entire bomb groups basically ceased to exist. Personnel wise, casualties were horrific. Due to the extreme range of the mission, almost every critically injured bomber crewman died of wounds before reaching England. Almost 600 men were KIA, POWs, or MIA.
Starkly, by nightfall on 14 October, the Eighth Air Force had been rendered combat ineffective. Even worse, it had been for little appreciable gain. Having been sufficiently frightened by the first raid, the German war industry had built up reserve stocks of ball bearings, plus acquired more from neutral countries like Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Portugal. In the end, German production in general and of ball bearings in particular did not even slow despite many of the works being severely damaged.
The USAAF tried to put a happy face on things, but no one above Ira Eaker was amused. Given the scale of the disaster, something had to give. General Eaker was “fired laterally,” being sent to the Mediterranean Theater to take over a then nonexistent Fifteenth Air Force. Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle, leader of the famous Tokyo Raid, was promoted into Eaker’s place. Severely chastened, the Eighth Air Force began to examine how they could resume the offensive once 1944 came. Help, ironically due to a British request for a new fighter aircraft, was on the way:
Note: Usually I do a reading list at the end of each of these. Seeing as how I have an entire Strategic Bombing bibliography somewhere on my computer, this will likely get printed as an entirely separate blog entry.
So, remember way back when I said I was going to do fighter history and bombing history separate? Yeah, I refreshed my memory on bombing during World War I.
*insert yawn here*
I mean, it happened. There were even a few times it was effective in the “we made a big mess” kind of way. But compared to fighter combat, there’s not a whole lot of there, there. So, I’m making a command decision and we’re just going to go with general air warfare from here on out.
I have no idea how many parts this is going to be. Remember the Battle of Britain? Remember us hitting the 2,000 word limit so quick I didn’t even get to talk about Czechs, Poles, and other foreign pilots?
We’re going to try to skip that this time around. Well, that’s probably going to happen again…so some things are going to get short shrift, as things don’t get really exciting until 1943.
“But wait a second! You were just talking about the Battle of Britain, now suddenly we’re in 1943? What the Hell happened in between?”
Look, I’m not saying there wasn’t important fighting. I’m just saying that most of November 1940 through, oh, January 1943 in Western Europe consisted of RAF Fighter Command creating squadron and wing commander openings via ill-considered fighter sweeps. Followed shortly by the United States, after Pearl Harbor, deciding they wanted to jump on that bandwagon with largely symbolic raids through most of 1942. We’ll get to most of that fun in the next installment.
The sum effect of this on the war? Well, it created a lot of German aces…but not nearly as many as the Luftwaffe’s attack into Russia (Eastern Front is coming later in this series). It also provided convincing evidence that maaaaaaybe the Spitfire was not all that good of an escort fighter. Oh, and that home field advantage was a real thing when you added radar (also known as, “Were you bloody idiots paying attention to what you did to the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain?!!”). Finally, it drove home that there’s not a whole lot you can bomb in France when you’re fighting Germany.
However, I’m getting ahead of myself. That little problem about German factories being in, surprisingly, Germany had the Brits good and vexed as 1940 became 1941. First off, nothing like someone wailing on your country for several months during the day then continuing to do so at night to get the Vengeance Band warming up and looking for a lead singer. Indeed, some guy named Arthur Harris, while watching London burn one night in 1941 from the roof of the Air Ministry one night, started quoting scripture about “sowing wind” and “reaping whirlwinds.” Normally a bloke from Rhodesia muttering things from the Bible isn’t remarked upon by history. (Spoiler alert: This guy becomes important to our story in about 500 words.) In any case, Harris wasn’t alone, and as a matter of fact the RAF felt they had just the thing to get retribution: Bomber Command.
Now, some of you may be saying, in your best rendition of “The Bride’s”-voice: “And what, pray tell, is Bomber Command?” Well, you can read the Wiki here, or go with the short hand explanation of Bomber Command as the manifestation of 1930s aerial warfare theory put into practical use. In the 1930s, air planners assumed several things:
The British, having formed the first independent air force, proceeded to double down by forming the first independent command designed to attack based on these theories. They then expended a great amount of research developing long-ranged, heavy bombers to equip it. Unfortunately, as you may recall, I’ve spent two blog posts detailing how the war had not gone according to Douhet up to this point for either side. The folks making the decision to bomb Germany lived through it in real time, and had practical experience from 1939-1941.
Despite this, the British still seriously tried to knock Germany out of the war via strategic bombardment once the Battle of Britain was truly over.
Operations started going poorly right from the beginning. Funny thing about bombing a strange, blacked out country at night while under threat of immediate violent death: It tends to make you miss. As in, the average British bomber crew was missing entire cities by over five miles. Nor were they doing so maliciously–I mean, Cologne probably looks like Wiesbaden when you’ve got anti-aircraft artillery fire bursting around you and some crazy guy in a night fighters is looking to impress the local Fraulein by turning your bomber into a blazing comet.
It did not help that the Germans, like the RAF, quickly started figuring out things like interceptor control and ways to mount radar on twin-engined fighters. Remember the Bf-110 squadrons and how they were sitting ducks during daylight? Well, turned out it just needed someone to turn out the lights to really shine, as the large airframe and heavy armament made it an excellent night fighter. Things started getting kind of bloody over Germany. Even worse, folks like the British Army and Coastal Command started pointing out that it was kind of wasteful digging German irrigation ditches with 500-lb. bombs when there were plenty of other things those aircraft could be doing.
Just as it seemed like Bomber Command was going to get sharply reduced, two things happened. First, in typical government agency fashion, Bomber Command decided to “rebrand” itself. Its leaders accepted that it was not going to win the war by attempting to encourage the union of a British ordnance with German machine tools in the middle of the night. No, in typical gentlemanly fashion the RAF was going to merely “dehouse” Germany’s population in a humane fashion using rather potent high explosives followed by incendiaries.
*We’ll pause while those unfamiliar with this story wait for me to explain how one blows up civilian houses without blowing up civilians only to realize that I’d just type Coventry about 10,000 times. In other words, this was all sophistry, the British sooooooo did not have any f*cks left to give*
The second thing that made this all work was that the Air Ministry put a fellow in charge of Bomber Command that they knew could get the job done. Someone who would not blanche in the face of heavy losses, would merrily bomb Germany from Konigsberg to Cologne, and yet could subvert his inner Visigoth long enough to seem semi-sane on the newsreels or sit in the pew next to Allied senior officials. A God-fearing man, the chosen flag officer also had an amazing ability to quote all the good Hellfire and Damnation parts of the Old Testament at will. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Sir Arthur “Bomber” / “Butch” Harris, the man
who replaced Peter Gabriel as singer of the Vengeance Band who took over RAF Bomber Command in February 1942:
“Wait a second, JY. This guy looks like someone’s genial grandfather. You’re making him sound like some crazed lunatic.”
You’re right, he does look like someone’s elder relative who always has the sweets, doesn’t he? But I assure you, behind that kind-looking exterior was a man who felt about Nazi Germany’s population about the way Mad Max felt about the man who murdered his family:
I mean, technically Max didn’t set the guy on fire himself, right? He was just “decarring” him.
When Harris took over, his command was equipped mainly with obsolescent twin-engine aircraft that did not carry much of a workable bomb load any appreciable distance. His crews could not navigate, tended to crash a lot, and they had few feasible electronic aids to help them see through the darkness. In short, your average bomber crew was just as dangerous to themselves as they were to the Germans. As in, “rednecks with a fridge full of tannerite” dangerous to themselves.
Three months later, Bomber Command was doing things like launching 1,000-aircraft raids. A couple months after that, it had replaced its obsolescent bombers with Handley Halifaxes, Short Stirlings and, the best of them all, Avro Lancasters. in large numbers. In order to better find targets, the RAF not only developed better radio aids, but also fielded a Pathfinder force to better mark the targets. Finally, in equipping their aircraft with ground mapping radar, Bomber Command proved serious about making sure the right Germans got bombed on any given night.
From the German perspective, the proverbial fecal matter was making sweet, sweet love to der lüfter as 1942 came to a close. While the Jagdflieger were more than holding their own in daylight, all of the above meant things were getting a little out of hand at night. Already tapped out fighting against the Soviets, dealing with the invasion of North Africa, and with the Battle of the Atlantic swinging like a pendulum, the last thing the Germans needed was to be dealing with a resurgent Bomber Command.
With this in mind, the Luftwaffe began to take things seriously after Operation Millenium and began shifting more resources to the Nachtjagdgeschwader. In addition to upgraded Bf-110s, the Germans fielded the Ju-88C, which was basically an excellent day bomber with a nose full of cannons. Realizing that the RAF had decided bombloads were more important than belly turrets, they also developed “Schräge Musik” weapons kits that allowed a Bf-110 or Ju-88 to fire upwards.
Schräge Musik, which loosely translated to “slanted music” in English, was the German slang for jazz. However, as many a Lancaster crew could tell you, there was nothing smooth or mellow about two cannon dropping high explosive and armor piercing rounds upwards into a fully loaded bomb bay or unsealed fuel tanks:
Still, despite all these innovations and the ability to occasionally inflict severe losses on Bomber Command raids, at best 1942 ended with the Reich Defense Forces and Bomber Command at a draw. Which, given all the other crazy stuff that was going on for the Reich around that time, probably made Adolf Galland, now General of Fighters, breathe a sigh of relief. Indeed, in my minds eye, I see him laying next to some beautiful actress, smoking a post-“sortie” cigar, and thinking:
Ja, things are bad. I mean, my brothers keep getting whacked, the Russians are starting to figure out how to fly and shoot at the same time, and it’d be nice if the Fuhrer would stop declaring war on industrial nation after industrial nation.
*slow puff of cigar and pat of shapely behind off screen*
But hey, it’s not like anyone else is coming to the fight, right? I mean, what kind of idiot would attempt to bomb heavily defended German targets after how bad we kicked the RAF’s ass in 1939?
*completely apocryphal, utterly non-historical camera cut to General Ira C. Eaker, commander of the United States Eighth Air Force, turning his head as if Adolf’s thoughts are projected into his mind*
“Hey Butch, hold a brother’s pint for a second.”
*theatrical rolling up of sleeves*
“I think some Nazi just inquired about the Uncle Sam Special…”
Tune In Next Time For “Around the Clock,” a.k.a., Can’t tell Sam’s boys a damn thing.”