The new relation of airpower to strategy presents one of the distinguishing contrasts between this war and the last. Airpower in the last war was in its infancy. The new role of three-dimensional warfare was even then foreseen by a few farsighted men, but planes were insufficient in quality and quantity to permit much more than occasional brilliant assistance to the ground forces.
Airpower in the European phase of this war reached a stage of full adolescence, a stage marked by rapid development in planes, armament, equipment, tactics, and concepts of strategic employment, and by an extraordinary increase in the effort allocated to it by all the major contestants. England devoted 40 to 50 percent of her war production to her air forces, Germany 40%, and the United States 35%.
Nevertheless, at the end of hostilities in Europe, weapons, tactics, and strategy were still in a state of rapid development. Airpower had not yet reached maturity, hence all conclusions drawn from experience in the European Theater must be considered subject to change. No one should assume that, because certain things were effective or not effective, the same would be true under other circumstances and other conditions.
In the European War, Allied airpower was called upon to play many roles
In the attack by Allied airpower, almost 2,700,000 tons of bombs were dropped, more than 1,440,000 bomber and 2,680,000 fighter sorties were flown. The number of combat planes reached a peak of some 28,000 and at the maximum 1,300,000 men were in combat commands. The number of men lost in air action was 79,265 Americans and 79,281 British*. More than 18,000 American and 22,000 British planes were lost or damaged beyond repair. In the wake of these attacks are great paths of destruction. In Germany, 3,600,000 dwelling units, approximately 20 percent of the total, were destroyed or heavily damaged. Survey estimates show some 300,000 civilians killed and 780,000 wounded. The number made homeless aggregates 7,500,000. The principal German cities have been largely reduced to hollow walls and piles of rubble. German industry is bruised and temporarily paralyzed. These are the scars across the face of the enemy, the preface to the victory that followed. The use of airpower cannot properly be considered, however, except in conjunction with the broad plans and strategy under which the war was conducted.
Interrogation of Hitler's surviving confidants and General Staff and Field Generals of the Wehrmacht confirms the view that prior to the winter of 1941 Hitler hoped to realize Germany's ascendancy over Europe, and possibly the world, largely by skillful strategy. Time and timing were the secret weapons in the German war plan that took shape after 1933. Hitler hoped to build Germany's strength more quickly than that of any potential opponent. By rapid mobilization of a powerful striking force, by exploiting the political and ideological strains that he conceived to exist in the rest of the world, and by overwhelming separately in lightning campaigns such of his enemies as chose to resist, he hoped to secure for Germany an invulnerable position in Europe and in the world.
What Germany lacked in numbers of divisions, in raw materials and basic industrial strength, it planned to compensate with highly trained ground units of great striking power. These were to be equipped and ready to march while Germany's enemies were merely preparing. Essential in this strategy was a technically well-developed air force in being. Emphasis was not placed on development of an air force that would destroy the sustaining resources of the enemy's economy. In the German plan it was anticipated that an enemy's entire country would be so quickly overrun that little concern need be had for industrial and war production that was merely potential. The air force was, primarily, an arm of the blitzkrieg.
The success of Hitler's strategy, until the battle of Britain, was complete; his more cautious advisers and generals still confess to their astonishment. And by common report of the surviving Nazi leaders even the setback over Britain was considered of minor importance. The attack on Russia was next on the calendar the decision to make this attack was taken in the autumn of 1940 and this, according to plan, was to be a brief four-months' adventure. There would be time thereafter, if necessary, to deal with Britain. By Sept, 1941, Hitler was so confident that he had succeeded in Russia that he ordered large scale cut-backs in war production.
In both the RAF and the US Army Air Forces there were some who believed that airpower could deliver the knockout blow against Germany, and force capitulation. This view, however, was not controlling in the over-all Allied strategic plan. The dominant element in that plan was invasion of the Continent, to occur in the spring of 1944. Plans called for establishing air superiority prior to the date of the invasion and the exploitation of such superiority in weakening the enemy's will and capacity to resist.
Deployment of the air forces opposing Germany was heavily influenced by the fact that victory was planned to come through invasion and land occupation. Early in the war, to be sure, the RAF had the independent mission of striking at German industrial centers in an effort to weaken the German people. However, the weight of the RAF effort, compared with tonnages later employed, was very small 16,000 tons in 1940 and 46,000 tons in 1941, compared with 676,000 tons in 1944.
Soon after the United States entered the air war in 1942, replacements for the new (and still small) 8th Air Force were diverted to support the North African invasion. During 1943, target selection for the 8th Air Force and the 15th (based on the Mediterranean) reckoned always with the fact that maximum contribution must be made to the invasion in the coming year. And the 9th Air Force in Western Europe and the 12th in the Mediterranean were developed with the primary mission of securing the sky and clearing the way for ground operations.
In the spring and early summer of 1944, all air forces based on England were used to prepare the way for the invasion. It was not intended that air attacks against Germany proper and the German economy would be a subordinate operation, but rather a part of a larger strategic plan one that contemplated that the decision would come through the advance of ground armies rather than through airpower alone.
The pioneer in the air war against Germany was the RAF, which experimented briefly in 1940 with daylight attacks on industrial targets in Germany but abandoned the effort when losses proved unbearably heavy. Thereafter, it attempted to find and attack such targets as oil, aluminum, and aircraft plants at night. This effort too was abandoned; with available techniques it was not possible to locate the targets often enough. Then the RAF began its famous raids on German urban and industrial centers. On the night of May 30, 1942, it mounted its first thousand-plane raid against Cologne and two nights later struck Essen with almost equal force. On three nights in late July and early Aug, 1943, it struck Hamburg in perhaps the most devastating single-city attack of the European War about one third of the houses of the city were destroyed and German estimates show 60,000 to 100,000 people killed.
No city raid shook Germany as did that on Hamburg; documents show that German officials were thoroughly alarmed and there is some indication that Hitler himself thought further attacks of similar weight might force Germany out of the war, The RAF proceeded to destroy one major urban center after another. Except in the extreme eastern part of the Reich, there is no major city that does not bear the mark of these attacks. However, no subsequent attack had the shock effect of the Hamburg raid.
In the latter half of 1944, aided by new avigational techniques, the RAF returned with part of its force to attack industrial targets. These attacks were notably successful, but it is with the attacks on urban areas that the RAF is most prominently identified.
City attacks of the RAF prior to autumn, 1944, did not substantially affect the course of German war production as a whole it continued to increase. This in itself is not conclusive, but the Survey has made detailed analysis of the course of production and trade in ten German cities attacked during this period and has made more general analyses in others. These show that while production received a moderate setback after a raid, it recovered substantially within a relatively few weeks. As a rule industrial plants were located around the perimeter of German cities and characteristically were relatively undamaged.
Commencing in the autumn of 1944, the tonnage dropped on city areas, plus spill-overs from attacks on transportation and other specific targets, mounted greatly. In the course of these raids, Germany's steel industry was knocked out, its electric power industry was substantially impaired, and industry generally in the areas attacked was disorganized. There were so many forces making for collapse of production during this period, however, that it is not possible separately to assess the effect of these later area raids on war production. There is no doubt, however, that they were significant.
The Survey has made extensive studies of the reaction of the German people to the air attack and especially to city raids. These studies were carefully designed to cover a complete cross section of the people in western and southern Germany and to reflect with a minimum of bias their attitude and behavior during the raids. These studies show that morale of the German people deteriorated under aerial attack. Night raids were feared far more than daylight raids. The people lost faith in the prospect of victory, in their leaders, and in the promises and propaganda to which they were subjected. Most of all, they wanted the war to end. They resorted increasingly to "black radio" listening, to circulation of both rumor and fact in opposition to the Regime; and there was some increase in active political dissidence in 1944 one German in every thousand was arrested for a political offense.
The city area raids have left their mark on the German people as well as on their cities. Far more than any other military action that preceded the actual occupation of Germany itself, these attacks left the German people with a solid lesson in the disadvantages of war. It was a terrible lesson; conceivably that lesson, both in Germany and abroad, could be the most lasting single effect of the air war.
The USAAF entered the European war with the firm view that specific industries and services were the most promising targets in the enemy economy, believing that if these targets were to be hit accurately, attacks had to be made in daylight. A word needs to be said on the problem of accuracy in attack. Before the war, the AAF had advanced bombing techniques to their highest level of development and had trained a limited number of crews to a high degree of precision in bombing under target range conditions, thus leading to the expressions "pin point" and "pickle barrel" bombing.
However, it was not possible to approach such standards of accuracy under battle conditions imposed over Europe. Many limiting factors intervened:
The air forces designated as "the target area" a circle having a radius of 1,000 ft around the aiming point of attack. While accuracy improved during the war, Survey studies show that only about 20 percent of the bombs aimed at precision targets fell within this target area. A peak accuracy of 70 percent was reached for the month of Feb, 1945. These are important facts to keep in mind, especially when considering the tonnages of bombs delivered. Of necessity a far larger tonnage was carried than hit German installations.
Although the 8th Air Force began operations Aug 17, 1942, bombing marshaling yards at Rouen and Sotteville, no operations during 1942 or the first half of 1943 had significant effect. The force was small and its range limited. Much time in this period was devoted to training and testing the force under combat conditions.
In Nov and Dec, 1942, the U-boat attack on Allied shipping was in its most successful phase, hence submarine bases and pens and later construction yards became the chief target and remained so until June 1943. These attacks accomplished little. The submarine pens were well protected; bombs did not penetrate the 12-ft concrete roofs. The attack on the construction yards and slipways was not heavy enough to be more than troublesome.
At Casablanca the objective of the strategic air forces was established as the "destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic system and the undermining of the morale of the German people to the point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened." Specific target systems were named.
In the spring of 1943, Allied naval and airpower scored a definite victory over German submarines. Surface craft, teamed with long-range radar-equipped patrol bombers, raised German submarine losses to catastrophic levels. Interrogation of the German Navy High Command, including Adm Doenitz, has confirmed the scope of this victory. When the Combined Bomber Offensive Plan was issued in June, 1943, to implement the Casablanca directive, submarines were dropped from first priority and the German aircraft industry was substituted. The ball-bearing industry, the supplier of an important component, was selected as a complementary target.
The German anti-friction bearing industry was heavily concentrated. When the attack began, approximately half the output came from plants in the vicinity of Schweinfurt. An adequate supply of bearings was correctly assumed to be indispensable for German war production.
In a series of raids beginning Aug 17, 1943, about 12,000 tons of bombs were dropped on this target about 0.5 percent of the total tonnage delivered in the air war. In an attack Aug 17 by 200 Boeing B-17s on Schweinfurt, the plants were severely damaged. Records of the industry taken by the Survey (and supplemented and checked by interrogation) show that production of bearings at this center was reduced sharply September production was only 35% of the pre-raid level.
In this attack 36 of the 200 attacking planes were lost, In the famous and much-discussed second attack on Oct 14, 1943, when the plants were again severely damaged, one of the decisive air battles of the war took place. The 228 bombers participating were strongly attacked by German fighters when beyond the range of their fighter escort. Losses to fighters and to flak cost the United States forces 62 planes with another 138 damaged in varying degree, some beyond repair. Repeated losses of this magnitude could not be sustained; deep penetrations without escort, of which this was among the earliest, were suspended, and attacks on Schweinfurt were not renewed for four months.
The Germans made good use of the breathing spell. A czar was appointed with unlimited priority for requisitioning men and materials. Energetic steps were taken to disperse the industry. Restoration was aided by the circumstance which Survey investigations show to have been fairly common to all such raids that machines and machine tools were damaged far less severely than factory structures. German equipment was redesigned to substitute other types of bearings wherever possible. And the Germans drew on the substantial stocks that were on hand.
Although there were further attacks, production by autumn of 1944 was back to pre-raid levels. From examination of both the records and personalities in the ball-bearing industry, plus the user industries, and the testimony of war production officials, there is no evidence that attacks on the ball-bearing industry had any measurable effect on essential war production.
Heavy losses over Schweinfurt caused an important revision in the tactics of daylight bombing. Until then it had been believed that unescorted bombers, heavily gunned and flying in well designed formations, could penetrate this deeply over the Reich. At least, so far as a small force was concerned, this was proven wrong. For the remainder of 1943 daylight penetrations beyond fighter escort were sharply circumscribed. Meanwhile the US heavy bomber force increased substantially in strength.
In Dec, 1943, the North American P-51 Mustang long range fighter first became available and in the early months of 1944 the numbers increased. With this plane, in some respects the most important addition to Allied air power during the European war, augmenting the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt escorts which in the meantime had materially increased their range, daylight operations in depth were again launched.
The attack on the German aircraft industry primarily on airframe plants was opened in the summer of 1943. The German aircraft industry had been well distributed over the Reich with a view to the possibility of air attack. Isolated raids early in 1941 and 1942 had caused some further shift in production to eastern territory, but only limited steps had been taken to disperse individual plant units to reduce their vulnerability. The industry was found to have had substantial excess capacity. The efficiency of the industry was low. Unlike other armaments, procurement was not under the direction of the Speer Ministry, but under the Luftwaffe.
Production early in the war was small, primarily because Luftwaffe requirements were modest in 1941 according to captured minutes of German staff conferences, Gen Jeschonneck, then chief of the air staff, opposed a suggested increase in fighter plane production with the remark that he wouldn't know what to do with a monthly production of more than 360 fighters. However, in the autumn of 1943 plans then current called for a steadily increasing output of fighters.
In the 1943 attacks, 50,092 tons were dropped on 14 plants, primarily airframe plants. Records show that acceptances of the Me-109 dropped from 725 in July to 536 in September and to a low of 357 in December. Acceptances of Focke-Wulf 190s dropped from 325 in July to 203 in December. As a result of the attacks the Germans began a more vigorous program of subdividing and dispersing aircraft plants, and this caused part of the reduction in production. A further but undetermined part was the result of poor weather which cut down acceptance flights; it is probable that some planes produced but not accepted during these months were added to acceptance figures in the months following. As a result of these attacks, the Nazis decided to place increased emphasis on production of fighter planes.
The culminating attacks on the German aircraft industry began in the last week of Feb 1944. With the protection of long-range fighter escort, 3,636 tons of bombs were dropped on aircraft plants (again, airframe rather than engine plants) during that week. In that and succeeding weeks every known aircraft plant in Germany was hit.
Detailed production data for this period, as for others, were taken by the Survey, and German air generals, production officials, and leading manufacturers, including Messerschmitt and Tank (of Focke-Wulf) were interrogated at length. On the contrary, during the whole year of 1944 the German air force is reported to have accepted a total of 39,807 aircraft of all types compared with 8,295 in 1939, or 15,596 in 1942 before the plants suffered any attack. Although it is difficult to determine exact production for any single month, acceptances were higher in March (the month after the heaviest attack) than they were in January (the month before). They continued to rise.
Part of the explanation was the excess capacity of the airframe industry which, as noted, was considerable. Excess capacity in airframes was considerably greater than in engines. Studies of individual plants by the Survey show that although buildings were destroyed the machine tools showed remarkable durability. And the Germans showed capacity for improvising their way out.
Immediately after the attacks, responsibility for production was shifted from the Luftwaffe to the Speer Ministry. A special staff was organized for the reconstitution and dispersal of the industry. This staff (the Jaegerstab or Fighter-Staff) appears to have done an effective job of mobilizing unused capacity and undamaged machines, reorganizing inefficient managements, reducing the number of types of planes and, most important of all, in subdividing production into small units that were comparatively immune from attack. This Staff was aided by previous plans for expansion and it cut sharply into available inventories of parts. Although the testimony on the point is conflicting, the Jaegerstab may have sacrificed quality and an adequate complement of spare parts, for quantity production.
Nevertheless the attack on aircraft plants, like the attack on the ball-bearing plants, showed that to knock out a single industry with the weapons available in 1943 and early 1944 was a formidable enterprise demanding continuous attacks to effect complete results. Recovery was improvised almost as quickly as the plants were knocked out. With the shift in priority for strategic attacks first to marshaling yards and bridges in France in preparation for invasion, immediately followed by the air campaign against oil the continued attacks on the aircraft industry were suspended.
After September, German aircraft production declined gradually until December, when 3,155 planes were accepted. And in Jan 1945, because of the shortage of gasoline, production of all except jet types was virtually discontinued. The jet planes, especially the Me-262, were the most modern planes which any belligerent had in general operation at the end of the war. According to manufacturers and other competent observers, their production was delayed because of failure of the Luftwaffe to recognize in time the advantages of the type.
It was also delayed because Hitler intervened in 1944 with an ill-timed order to convert the Me-262 to a fighter-bomber. Virtually every manufacturer, production official, and air force general interrogated, including Goering himself, claimed to have been appalled by this order. By May 1945, 1,400 jets had been produced. Had these planes been available six months earlier with good quality pilots, though they might not have altered the course of the war, they would have sharply increased the losses of the attacking forces.
Allied airpower was decisive in the war in Western Europe. Hindsight inevitably suggests it might have been employed differently or better in some respects. Nevertheless, it was decisive. In the air, its victory was complete. At sea, its contribution, combined with naval power, brought an end to the enemy's greatest naval threat the U-boat; on land, it helped turn the tide overwhelmingly in favor of Allied ground forces. Its power and superiority made possible the success of the invasion.
It brought the economy which sustained the enemy's armed forces to virtual collapse, although the full effects of this collapse had not reached the enemy's front lines when they were overrun by Allied forces. It brought home to the German people the full impact of modern war with all its horror and suffering. Its imprint on the German nation will be lasting. Accordingly
The great lesson to be learned in the battered towns of England and ruined cities of Germany is that the best way to win a war is to prevent it. That must be the ultimate end to which our best efforts are devoted. It has been suggested and wisely so that this objective is well served by insuring the strength and security of the United States, which was founded, and has since lived upon, the principles of tolerance, freedom, and goodwill at home and abroad. Strength based on these principles is no threat to world peace. Prevention of war will not come from neglect of strength or lack of foresight or alertness on our part. Those who contemplate evil and aggression find encouragement in such neglect. Hitler relied heavily upon it.
Suggestions for assuring the strength and security of the United States are by no means intended as a recommendation for a race in arms with other nations. Nor do they reflect a lack of confidence in the prospect of international relationships founded upon mutual respect and goodwill which will themselves be a guarantee against future wars. The development of an intelligent and coordinated approach to American security can and should take place within the framework of the security organization of the United Nations.
This article was originally published in the December, 1945, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 44, no 12, pp 106-107, 261-262, 265-266, 268-269, 271-272, 274-275.
The PDF of this article includes an aerial photo of bomb damage to an industrial complex.
Photo not credited, but is certainly USAAF.