Bombardment

by Lieut Col Harold L George
Recently named to War Plans staff of the Air Forces. Lieutenant Colonel George is a veteran whose experience dates to 1917. Born in Massachusetts in 1893. he is a command pilot and corps observer.

The bomber is the backbone of the air force. US Army Air Forces bombers now are standardized in three classifications: heavy, medium and light.

Less than 35 years ago the great newspapers and magazines of the world were ridiculing the efforts of a small group of unknown men who were devoting their entire effort to make flying in heavier-than-air machines an accomplished fact. Joining in this ridicule were men holding important and distinguished positions in Government and Industry.

In spite of this studied effort to discredit them before the eyes of the world, this "small group of unknown men" continued to concentrate their lives to the realization of their dream. They knew, deep down in their inner souls, that man would conquer the air as he had conquered steam, electricity, sanitation and all other problems which had created obstacles in the advance of civilization. The disbelievers were myriad. The Doubting Thomases, because of their enviable positions in the world, made the task of these pioneers in aviation difficult beyond all imagination. Mankind is inclined to accept those inventions and developments, which he sees in his daily life, without realizing the penalties which the original men of vision had been called upon to pay in order that the world might be torn from its static state.

Finally, as it became evident that man could fly in a machine heavier-than-air, we find the same Doubting Thomases maintaining that flying would never be of any consequence insofar as its effects upon civilization were concerned, because of its manifests limitations. Military and Naval men claimed that it would be of no value in warfare!

Today, less than 38 years since the Wright brothers made their first two-minute flight at Kitty Hawk, we find air power vitally changing the entire method of waging war. We see a great empire struggling for its very existence because of the ability of its enemy to strike at its very vitals through the medium of the air. We find armies and navies, as such, unable to cast their mantle of protection, as was possible before the development of air power, between their peoples and the forces of world gangsterism.

Air power is today threatening great nations because of its ability to strike directly at the means by which those nations are able to prosecute war. Our modern civilization is made possible because of an intricate system of industry and communications, without which we would revert to the colonial era. This system has created an involved and sensitive industrial and economic structure which, while making us strong in one sense, has made us weak in another. This apparent anomaly exists because industrial development has made necessary the creating of vast centers of population which are absolutely dependent upon other areas, far removed, for their daily existence. Vast quantities of foodstuffs and raw materials must be continually moving from the world's farm-lands and mining centers to feed the industrial machines and the workers who operate those great machines. The fabricated materials must daily move away from those centers to those places in the world where they, in turn, pass into the blood stream of industry and commerce which are the veins and arteries of our modern civilization.

If these vulnerable and sensitive sinews are destroyed, or suffer serious injury, the entire industrial, social and economic fabric is affected. The degree of injury determines the extent of damage to the structure. An individual becomes weak and ill as his red corpuscles are destroyed and the white corpuscles assume control. The red corpuscles of modern industrial nations are made up of its industry, its communications and its national morale. When these are seriously injured the white corpuscles come into the ascendancy and the nation becomes economically ill and weak. Its ability to wage war successfully becomes endangered.

Before the advent of air power, as we are witnessing it today, it was possible for powerful armies and navies to protect their countries' economic and social structure by meeting hostile forces beyond its frontiers or its shores. Today air power, by means of its bombardment aviation, makes it possible for a nation to reach far out over the seas and threaten the sea lanes of communication; it reaches hundreds of miles into the interior of nations and strikes at the vulnerable and vital industrial life; it employs its power against the homes of non-combatants in its attempt to disintegrate the will to resist of the people; by striking at the port facilities of great cities it threatens a nation's communications.

While the employment of air power has, admittedly, wrought a tremendous change in the conduct of this war over the past conflicts, and while it has made possible victory after victory to the side possessing air superiority, many people are asking why the German Luftwaffe has not been successful in inflicting a decisive blow against the concentrated industrial and economic structure of the British Isles. Surely say many, if there ever existed an ideal objective for air power, the British industrial machine is it. However, it is still functioning even after the passage of nearly a year of German air operations against it.

The answer is not too difficult to understand. Modern air power is relatively a new agency of warfare. In its present status it has been created in an extremely short period of time; actually not over a half a dozen years. It is not surprising that vital errors crept into the plans of those who were its principal exponents. Fortunately, for the world, those errors affected German air power more than Allied air power. Let me explain. The offensive component of air power is bombardment aviation. It is this class of aviation which carries the deadly demolition bomb. It is the bomb, properly placed, that destroys the vital targets in a nation's economic structure whether that target be an electrical power plant, a critical unit in a vast industrial system, an important railroad bridge or an essential oil refinery. While the demolition bomb has the capacity to destroy any important economic target, if it hits that target, it accomplishes little more than minor damage, including the making of a "big noise," if it secures a miss. Bombs released simply over an area have small chance indeed of accomplishing serious damage. For instance, as concentrated as is London, we find that there is eight times more ground not covered by buildings than there is covered by buildings. Therefore, the chances of even hitting a building, simply by releasing a bomb over London, is one in eight. Also, the chance of hitting a particular structure, that is of great military or economic importance, is many times less than one to eight, We see, therefore, that accuracy in dropping bombs is of paramount importance if the full effect of air power is to be realized. Since seeing the target is essential for a bombardier to get maximum efficiency out of his bomb sight, it is obvious that the effectiveness of air bombardment is dependent upon daylight, instead of night, operations. It is here that We see where the first serious error in the development of bombardment aviation occurred. Those men responsible for the building of the German bombing airplane assumed that, with its high speed, it would be able to avoid combat with the hostile fighter or pursuit airplane. As the result of this assumption the bomber was not equipped with sufficient machine guns to protect itself from attack by the fighter airplane. As mentioned above, the world can be thankful that this vital error occurred in the Luftwaffe high command. That that error did occur was evidence in the skies above London last September when the German air force attempted to reduce to rubble the economic structure of the British Isles. When the RAF fighter planes and the German bomber met thousands of feet above the soil of England, it was found that the bomber was not fast enough to avoid combat. During that combat it was proven conclusively that the two machine guns in the German bomber were no match for the eight guns in the Spitfire of the Hurricane. In the face of the resultant losses, the German bombers could not release their bombs with accuracy and the vital and sensitive economic structure of Great Britain — without which England could not continue to wage war — was saved from destruction.

However, we must not forget that what saved England in her critical hour of need was British air power operating through the medium of her fighter command. That there can be no question concerning the correctness of that fact we have only to remember the glorious tribute from the lips of Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

"Never before in the history of warfare have so many owed so much to so few, as the people of England owe to the Royal Air Force."

German air power had threatened the continued existence of England and British air power had saved it. The RAF had saved England in that eventful September of 1940, as surely as had Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805. As a result of that victory of the RAF over the Luftwaffe, daylight operations, in strength, ceased over England and night attacks took their place. That such operations must, of necessity, be less effective than day operations is obvious. The inability to identify a particular target prevents accurate bombing. While great destruction over wide areas is possible, the probability of destroying the key points in the economic structure is greatly minimized.

However, it must be remembered that the history of warfare teaches one lesson over and over again — for every offense there has always been developed an effective defense. Air power still is in its infancy. The bombers we see today will no more compare with the bomber of "tomorrow" than the frigate of the sailing navies compare with the super-dreadnaught of today. The designers of aircraft, and the great aircraft factories, may well be depended upon to produce the bombardment airplane with adequate armor and gun fire to protect itself from the fighter airplane. To assume that it is not possible is to refuse to recognize the lessons which warfare have written the blazing words across the pages of history.

It is air power, the fear of the terrific destructive power of the bombardment airplane, which makes it impossible for British naval units to plug up the points of sortie of the German submarines. Without air power it would be possible to conduct mining operations and small naval patrols close to German occupied ports, and in the North Sea, thereby minimizing the effectiveness of the submarine. Without air power, the merchant marine of the world carrying supplies into the British Isles could operate with minimum risk. Had it not been for air power, Norway would not today be occupied by the German army.

Indeed, air power has left its impress upon the entire conduct of the present war. If its results have not been conclusive there exists no doubt in the minds of all military men that ultimate victory will go only to that side which possesses superior power in the air.

Air power has surely taken its place as a vital and important agency for the waging of war. It will not be outmoded tomorrow. The world has learned that it cannot spring into being overnight. It cannot be created by following in the footsteps of others, by duplicating the accomplishments of potential enemies. Vision and far-sightedness must bring into being the airplanes and aerial equipment superior to those of the enemy. The fortunes of war will follow the nation that has superior power in the air as certain as day follows the night.

For democracies to continue to live they must be stronger in the air than the forces that seek to destroy them.

This article was originally published in the September, 1941, special US Army Air Forces issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 29, no 3, pp 47-52.
The original article includes a thumbnail portrait of the author, 19 photos of USAAC bombers, and a chart showing the increasing range of Army airplanes 1909-1942.
Photos are not credited.