In the immediate present and very near future, the Eighth Air Force has two tasks. In conjunction with the giant RAF fleets based in England, it must first continue on an ever-expanding scale the war of attrition British and American airmen, especially the former, have waged against German industry. And second, when Allied armies storm across the English Channel or North Sea to open the second front, the Eighth will be the American force called upon to provide air cover and clear the way. To the Eighth, in other words, will fall the honor and heavy duty of spearheading the operation which will win the war in Europe.
No single weapon can win a big war alone and unaided, Air power is no exception. Air power suffers from the limitation that no military force is at hand to occupy what has been destroyed and thus guarantee that the enemy can make no further use of it. In the specific case of the war with Germany it is also limited by the fact that many German industrial areas are beyond the reach of the equipment with which the RAF and Eighth must fight now. Hence, the air blitz against German industry will not by itself win the war, and the Eighth's functions as an independent striking force are not decisive as its functions as invasion spearhead. Even so, the air attacks on German factories do hurt the Nazis and bring victory that much nearer. They will be continued. Let us take up that phase of Eighth Air Force operations first.
Last November, Maj Gen George V Strong, chief of Army intelligence, prepared a candid report for Congress on the strength of the Axis. Gen Strong declared that so far British and American bombers have reduced war production in the Reich's key Ruhr area by only 30%, and in Germany as a whole, by only three per cent. Gen Strong is not an airman; he shares the Army's traditional habit of tending to overestimate the enemy; and his report was made before the heavy raids on Berlin late this fall. He is, however, an experienced intelligence chief and an expert on war production he was head of our Army War Plans Division for many years and is one of the officers responsible for the famed US Army industrial mobilization plan which we strangely failed to put into effect when war came but which the Nazis used as the model for their own efficient mobilization. So Gen. Strong's estimate is not likely to be far off the mark. It shows how much the Eighth and RAF still have to do, even in the Ruhr, only 350 miles from England as the bomber flies.
With present equipment, the maximum effective radius for heavy air attack is about 550, perhaps 600 miles. Air operations can be conducted over vastly greater distances, of course, but only at such cost as to reduce frequency of attack to a point enabling the enemy to repair essential installations. Eight of Germany's major industrial areas, however, lie well within 600 miles of Britain or southern Italy.
The most important of these eight German industrial areas, aside from the Ruhr, is perhaps, the industrial belt stretching southward from Berlin to and past Leipzig. Among the important industrial centers it contains are Dessau, Halle, Eilanburg, Bitterfeld, Wittenburg, Bernburg (to the southwest) and, of course, Leipzig itself. Many points in this area have been attacked, but none on anything like the scale of Ruhr and Rhineland cities such as Cologne. Dessau, the site of the main Junkers works, has been hit only four times, Bitterfeld, in reality five industrial towns in one, all built around giant I G Farben chemical plants (I G Farben is the German chemical trust and one of the biggest producers of munitions in the world), has been raided only three times. Still another important chemical center in this zone is Eilanburg, which has not been hit at all. Eilanburg is the site of the main plant of the German Zelluloid AG, which makes war chemicals and munitions. Another still scot-free town is Bernburg, where Solvay AG. (Europe's leading producer of sodium compounds, also vital in war) has its chief works. And finally, also in this south-of-Berlin zone is Doeberitz, the German Army's main training and maneuvering ground.
North of Berlin stretches still another crucial areas. The city of Oranienburg, which is about 50 miles north of Berlin, is the site of the principal Heinkel plant. Heinkel's Oranienburg works are several times as big as the Rostock and other Baltic coast Heinkel plants (which have been destroyed) put together. Oranienburg is also the site of the dreadful, famed Gestapo Oranienburg concentration camp. In spite of the risk of hurting our friends in that camp, the city must be attacked. So far it does not appear to have suffered.
The third area which has not yet felt a Ruhr-type blasting is the Berlin suburb district. As this is written, it appears that very nearly all of the attacks on the Nazi capital have been directed inside the Berlin city limits. Siemenstadt (literally, "Siemens City"), the huge works of Germany's "Westinghouse company," Siemens & Halske, located inside the Berlin city limits, appears to have been heavily damaged. So also the suburban area to the southwest of the city. Other suburbs, however, have so far escaped a heavy pasting, and they contain many industrial plants of the greatest importance. In Treptow, five miles east of Berlin are great I G Farben plants which have been damaged, but not knocked out. Southeast of Berlin are the aircraft-manufacturing suburbs of Johannistal, Adlershof and Reinickendorf. Another Berlin suburb is Wittenau, site of one of the largest plants of the Rheinmetall-Borsig company, a government-owned company which is Germany's biggest manufacturer of machine guns and airplane cannon. Almost anywhere one drops a bomb outside Berlin city limits, but within 50 miles of the town, one is almost sure to hit an industrial area.
Three other easily accessible German industrial areas are the much-scarred, but as Gen Strong's report shows, not yet knocked out, Ruhr; the belt of industrial towns between Berlin and Magdeburg and even farther west, running into the Ruhr; and the area Frankfurt-Augsburg-Munich-Nuremberg. All of the cities mentioned have been heavily punished. Nevertheless there are still a surprising number of untouched or only lightly-touched targets. To name a few: plants of the Dynamite Nobel company (a unit of I G Farben; it, of course, manufactures explosives) at Zawellingen (near the French border), Neunkirchen and Lauenburg (none of these bombed at all, so far as I can ascertain); Alz in Upper Bavaria, location of a big I G Farben plant for turning out calcium carbide and related vital chemicals; Heilbronn on the Neckar River, another I G location, this time of an electrochemical plant; Ruesselsheim, site of one of the main Opel plants (Opel builds autos in ordinary times); and the Hoechst (near Frankfurt; bombed several times but not yet destroyed), Griesheim (bombed not at all) and Gerstheim (near Augsburg, also not bombed at all) works of I G Farben. (Incidentally, I G Farben is mentioned so many times because it is a truly fabulous industrial octopus stretching its tentacles into every major field of war production; there is no US outfit that compares with it in relative size.)
A seventh German industrial area is the North Sea and Baltic coast. Bremen and Hamburg have probably been worse punished than any other points in the Reich except possibly Cologne. But even these areas need occasional repasting. Reliable reports indicate that the Nazis have succeeded in getting some bombed plants in Hamburg back into working order again. Finally, within the same 600-mile radius of Allied bases is the Vienna-Graz-Linz industrial region of Austria, where the Nazis have established literally scores of war plants. As our armies advance in Italy, these will be brought under progressively heavier attack, although by African- and Italian-based squadrons rather than the Eighth Air Force itself.
Before the war, these areas contained (in terms of output) over three-fourths of German industry. Since 1939, their relative importance has been reduced considerably by German conquests and economic policy. The Nazis are not only drawing on the industries of occupied countries, but have also built up several important new industrial areas. Thus, the Nazis are not only making use of the extremely up- to-date Skoda plants and other Czech factories which fell into their hands, but have established a giant metallurgical and chemical center in the parts of Silesia taken from Poland and Czechoslovakia (one part of Silesia belonged to Germany before the war). The Nazis have not, as has often been reported, evacuated industries from western Germany. They have continued them (no one ever shuts down a factory in wartime unless the enemy is about to take physical possession of it; one continues to use it as long as possible). But new units have all been built in such areas as Polish and Czech Silesia, approximately 800 miles from the nearest Allied bases (in Italy). Thus, we cannot expect to knock out all of German industry at any time in the near future by air power alone. However, the plants that are in reach of the Eighth Air Force are still of the greatest importance and warrant great attention.
Among the most decisive targets the Eighth Air Force can attack are German railroads. As the time draws near for the Allied invasion across the Channel or North Sea, railroad bombardment will become even more essential, and when the Allied armada actually sets sail, the Eighth's heavies may well concentrate upon the bridges across the Rhine and other rail bottlenecks of northwestern Germany almost to the exclusion of other targets. For during the invasion itself most of the Eighth's targets will be of a kind best attacked by smaller craft from Marauders, Bostons and Mitchells down to single-seaters armed for strafing, like the Mustang A-36.
An air force pacing an invasion has many functions. First, it may be called upon to provide part of the transport, by bringing troops over in planes meant to be landed on enemy fields or troops who are to parachute to earth behind enemy lines. That is not, however, likely to be the Eighth's main invasion task. A greater task will be blocking the efforts of German bombers attacking Allied ships, troops and guns.
Beyond such interception and protection tasks, the Eighth Air Force and companion RAF squadrons will have the mission of disrupting German beach defenses and interdicting Nazi troop and supply movements and air bases immediately behind the beachhead zone thus making it possible for Allied armies to crack open the road to Berlin. Such duties may very well prove the most difficult of all, for the Eighth has had less experience along such "army cooperation" lines than any other major American air unit. But just as it has met the tests circumstances have imposed upon it in the past so also will it meet this most crucial test.
This article was originally published in the February, 1944, "8th Air Force" issue of Air News magazine, vol 6, no 1, pp 52-54.
The original article includes a bombing map, "Scored Hits Future Runs," and two drawings, one diagrammatic.
Map credited to American Map Co; drawings credited to International.