Was Air Power A Success?

By Curtis Fuller
Assistant Managing Editor of Flying

Evidence suggests that bombs were decisive in Europe only because Germans did not have time to build up their underground jet plane factories.

In the May-June issue of Army Ordnance, Maj Gen J F C Fuller, the British military analyst, bluntly charged: "… air attack on the enemy industrial centers and on his civil population, as advocated by Douhet and others, proved the greatest military fiasco of the war."

The defeated German generals, on the other hand, have called Allied airpower the decisive factor in our victory, and the claims of some of our own top air commanders are short of that only through modesty. The joint statement of the US Strategic Air Forces in Europe and the British Air Ministry asserts that "strategic bombing prepared the way for the ground forces." General Eisenhower sent a message to General Marshall last September, declaring that "the air has done everything we asked."

Allied airpower was far from being a fiasco. It is the contention of this article that history, like the defeated German generals, will judge it as decisive in winning the European war — but with some qualifications. It was decisive only because of serious mistakes made by the German air and production strategists, and only within the limits of the time of the invasion and comparative technical advance of the contending powers. A year later, because of developments discussed here, and the Germans might well have regained control of the air over Germany.

But because General Fuller's charges are typical of those we are likely to hear during the post-war years — just as we heard a similar controversy about airpower between the two great wars — they should be investigated now as far as our information permits us to do so. General Fuller asserts:

"Not that immense damage was not done [by airpower], for it was — damage, human and cultural, which puts to blush the destruction wrought by Goth, Vandal, Lombard and Hun. But instead of annihilating the enemy's industries, it scattered them, and instead of forcing his civil population to revolt, it stimulated their will to fight. To have proved effective, air attack should have been directed against the sources of industrial power and not against the industries themselves. Had the German coal fields and synthetic oil plants been kept under constant bombardment, in time all the German heavy industries would have had to close down."

What are General Fuller's charges in detail? Let us number them in the order he makes them:

  1. We did not annihilate the enemy's industries.
  2. We scattered the enemy's industries instead.
  3. We did not force the enemy's civil population to revolt.
  4. We stimulated the enemy's civil population's will to fight.
  5. We did not bomb the sources of industrial power — the coal fields and synthetic oil plants.
  6. If we had bombed these sources of industrial power, the enemy's industries would have had to close.

These charges will be examined in detail, but by way of a preface it should be stated that the strategic aim of the US Army Air Forces, at least in recent years, was not, as General Fuller implies, the total aim of Douhet who believed the enemy could be defeated by airpower alone. It was a decidedly more limited objective — to make victory easier by destroying the enemy's industrial means to make war. As such, we aimed at the enemy's strategic industry and — a point not mentioned by General Fuller — at his strategic land and sea communications.

A non-partisan commission of experts soon will appraise the results of our strategic bombing of Germany. When their report is made, presumably, we shall have the facts. Meanwhile it is possible to make some appraisal of the effects of this bombing and, more important, evaluate it in terms of the entire war. But we should remember always that much cannot be told because it might be useful to the Japanese and that the available data is, quite naturally, weighted in favor of the air forces which compiled and released most of it.

The biggest criticism of our information, however, is that it is qualitative and not quantitative. We have excellent eyewitness accounts but we have precious few statistics. Our eye-witness accounts are enormously impressive — but they also reflect both the enthusiasms of the reporters and the inclinations of the censors.

The first of General Fuller's charges is that we did not annihilate the enemy's industries. That is certainly true, but, equally true, we did them grave damage. Here is a bird's-eye view of some of that damage.

Aachen is a roofless ruin. In Dueren, once a city of 100,000, only a few fragments of walls remain. From there all the way to Cologne is but a repetition of the same destruction. Cologne itself is 80 to 90 per cent destroyed — "a ruined, silent city" — with eight or nine out of every 10 buildings uninhabitable or unusable and an estimated 2,000 out of its 3,300 built-up acres wiped out. In Bonn, the ancient university city, more than half of the buildings were destroyed.

Frankfort was one of the grandest cities of the Reich. Today you can stand at one intersection in the center of the city and cannot see a building in any direction. The shopping district is a burned-out mass of concrete and stone.

Berlin no longer is the proud capital of Germany. It has been wiped from the map. Joseph W Grigg, United Press correspondent representing the combined Allied press, described it as "a hideous, nightmarish labyrinth of ruins beyond all hope of repair or rebuilding. Only on its outskirts does it even remotely resemble a city where human beings can live." No water mains are working. Russian Army vehicles churn the dust of the streets into swirling clouds that blot out visibility like miniature Sahara dust storms.

But not all of Germany was as damaged as were the Ruhr, Rhineland and Saar areas. Comparatively few scars were found in inner Germany. Heidelberg was little damaged, spared even by artillery. Westphalian towns were unbombed and prosperous. Our half-tracks drove past castles of unmarred beauty and the fat cattle grazed peacefully in the green fields.

A first tour among the ruins of the industrial cities often left the impression that Germany had nothing left when she surrendered. But our occupation forces soon uncovered many hidden factories. Even along the Rhine, dozens of smaller plants could be seen during a casual drive up and down the river. The big Ford plant near Cologne escaped heavy damage. A 30-acre factory near Grevenbroich specialized in aluminum alloy parts for plane engines. It had never been bombed, and operated until our troops arrived.

The Allied bombing campaigns against German ball bearing factories are already well known. So are the fateful five days of February, 1944, when the Allied Air Forces struck the fighter plane factories at Brunswick, Oschersleben, Bernberg, Leipzig, Regensburg, Augsburg, Furth and Stuttgart with heavy blows from which the Luftwaffe never recovered. Certainly the strategic air blows were decisive against the German fighter plane industry and assured Allied control of the air during the invasion and subsequent critical ground actions. In this respect, and at least within this limited objective, General Fuller is wrong in criticizing air power's destruction of enemy industry.

He is also wrong in saying that we scattered the enemy's industries. But his error is only a detail. Instead of scattering, Germany's industries went underground. If the war had lasted long enough, enough of them would have gone underground to have made our strategic bombing futile, and perhaps impossible.

Raymond Daniell of the New York Times reports "it becomes apparent that one thing was wrong with the calculation of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T Harris and others, who believed that Germany could be knocked out of the war by air attacks on 60 key cities. They underestimated German industry's ability to go underground." The same could be said of our own air strategists who knew it couldn't be done.

In an afternoon's drive, Daniell counted 23 large slave labor camps holding 1,000 or more. At Igling, a tiny farming community near Landsberg, was a fabulous industrial city in a forest of tall cedars. Invisible from the air or from the road were 150 large factory buildings with flat roofs from which sprouted grass and trees planted in 1½ feet of topsoil. Aerial photographs after the plant was discovered gave no hint of what was beneath, although a network of 15 to 20 miles of concrete roads and railroad spurs showed up mysteriously here and there in the forest.

Alongside this hidden center the Germans had just been completing a huge underground factory for the manufacture of jet-propelled planes, It was a semicircular reinforced concrete structure perhaps a half-mile long and wide enough for a double-tracked railway to run down the center. The factory machinery was at either side. The structure was more than 105 feet high and the engineers obviously had intended to cover it with earth and foliage to resemble a small hill.

Work on this enormous layout began in 1939, was suspended in 1942, and resumed in 1944 when slave laborers began to pour in from the occupied countries. It was just coming into production when captured.

Last December, a Germany broadcast in Hungarian reported a recent visit to an underground factory. "Somewhere in Germany," the reporter entered a fast elevator inside a shed lined with iron plates. He descended for almost a minute and at the bottom of the shaft entered a narrow-gauge railway which took him to the office of the works manager after a journey of about five minutes. The factory was built in an ore mine, and "the hall had a glass roof through which artificial sunlight was shining." While this description does not conform with pictures of another underground plant published in a German weekly magazine, a number of Allied accounts point to the vastness of German underground operations.

Pravda Correspondent Boris Polevoy visited two huge underground arsenals, presumably in Silesia. He descended a deep shaft and walked through endless corridors stacked with bombs, shells and land mines. In another underground arsenal he found an aircraft factory, including a test flying field, power stations, water works and steam heat. The arsenal installations were set in what showed on the map as a virgin pine forest. The Russians found other underground factories beneath the forts of Poznan in western Poland.

Near Vienna, the Soviets captured another huge underground factory — this one designed to make rocket bombs. Beneath Berlin they discovered extensive living accommodations for key families. Goebbels' family had moved to a home 70 feet underground. In the village of Zossen, just south of Berlin, the Russians located the "real headquarters" of the German General Staff, with elaborate telegraph apparatus and living accommodations in a fortress far underground.

At Egeln, Germany, Pfc James Prenger, Jefferson, MO, and W/O Joseph Crocker, Cleveland, OH, came upon a mine shaft and descended 950 feet in a small elevator. There they found a huge Heinkel-operated aircraft factory winding for miles through underground corridors. This factory was scheduled to produce 700 jet fighters a month within a few months. The corridors were paved with concrete. There were motor-driven carts for key employees and inspectors. The plant was excellently stocked with tools and machinery.

The Germans considered their underground jet plane and robot bomb factories invulnerable. The Nazi manager of the Heinkel factory told Prenger and Crocker: "If Germany had won enough time — about a year — these jets could decisively have changed the air war. All the Allied planes couldn't have bombed us out."

This view is supported by the British disclosures on V-3. Vergeltungswaffedrei consisted of batteries of long-range guns capable of hurling rocket shells 100 miles to rain down on London at the rate of 600 per hour. At Mimoyeeques, near Calais, 50 smooth-bore guns, each 400 feet long and sunk 350 feet into the hills at an angle of 55° were found. The guns had been arranged in two batteries of 25 each trained on London 95 miles away.

The whole installation was protected with 18-foot concrete armor which, if completed, would have been invulnerable to any bomb known, according to the British. This was only one of several large scale sites, though it is known that Allied air activity hampered construction of the rest.

With the evidence we now have, it seems likely that our strategic air concepts would have failed if the Germans had had sufficient time to dig in.

General Fuller also charges that our air strategy did not force the enemy's civil population to revolt. Few air strategists, however, believed that it would — especially after watching the British backs stiffen following the Battle of Britain.

General Fuller also implies that our airpower only stimulated the German civil population to fight harder. This is quite possible, yet sufficient evidence is lacking to us to be certain of it, especially in regard to those German civilians who endured far heavier and more protracted bombings than the British were called upon to bear. Probably the facts are already known to Army intelligence.

The British general contends that we should have bombed the sources of industrial power — the coal fields and synthetic oil plants. In view of the known difficulty of bombing underground installations it is hard to see how our bombs could much have affected Germany's deep coal mines, and her open pit mines were little more subject to bombing damage than gravel pits. Some detailed statistical information on petroleum refinery and synthetic oil plant bombing has been made available, however, to make it plain that these were major objectives of the Allied strategic bombing plan.

The Allies set up a detailed and comprehensive program to destroy Germany's sources of gasoline. It had been projected originally to take six months, but German reconstruction was a prodigy of effort. Altogether, the Allies made a total of 450 attacks on 81 major oil targets — 23 synthetic plants and 58 natural oil refineries. The continuous reconstruction effort faltered only when the Germans began to run out of tools and equipment to rebuild these plants.

A captured telegram from Dr Albert Speer, German production minister, to Martin Bormann, Hitler's deputy, stated that the successful prosecution of the war depended upon the reconstruction of synthetic oil plants and natural oil refineries. The Germans gave this job priority even over submarine and aircraft construction.

General Arnold's report to the Secretary of War for 1944 states that "We know that because of the 8th Air Force's six great bombing operations from May 12 to September 12, the bombing and loss of Ploesti, and RAF attacks on oil plants in Germany, the production of German oil was reduced 75 per cent for September."

On February 15, 1945, every one of Germany's crude oil refineries was at that moment inoperative and only four of her synthetic oil plants were in production. By April 18, 1945, the Reich's gasoline production was only four per cent of normal.

Yet how much of all this was accomplished by airpower? In September, the Russians were in possession of Ploesti. On February 15, Germany retained possession of only 45 of her 81 major refineries and oil plants. On April 18, she still possessed only five per cent of her crude oil and 25 per cent of her synthetic refineries. This emphasizes again the great need for the most detailed statistical evidence to evaluate the claims of airpower. But at any rate the evidence pretty well refutes General Fuller's charges.

Lastly, the British analyst contends that if we had bombed the sources of industrial power, we should have had more success with forcing the enemy's industries to close. Here again, unfortunately, Allied Air Intelligence, the source of all our statistical information, does not differentiate between production lost through capture by Allied troops and damage done by the air forces. On April 18, the Army Air Forces released data to indicate that German iron ore output had been reduced 85 per cent, steel-producing capacity 92 per cent, hard coal 99 per cent, lignite 90 per cent and coke almost 100 per cent. But on this date Allied ground troops were occupying most of Germany's important industrial areas. How much was lost by occupation and how much by air destruction?

We must fall back on the non-statistical and unscientific device of citing eyewitness accounts. Two examples can be indicative only. Prof Eduard Houdremont, who ran the Krupp Works in Essen, describes the damage of a single bomb, dropped October 23, 1944, which cut the main water supply pipe from the river. The steel production line dropped within a matter of minutes from 42,000 tons daily to nothing. Production started again after several weeks but never thereafter rose beyond 3,000 tons daily.

Officials of the great Siemens-Schuckert works in Nuremberg reported that a bomb in March, 1943, ignited the oil tanks in their transformer factory — the largest in the world — and completely stopped production of large transformers for chemical and steel plants. Siemens-Schuckert was the sole manufacturer of such transformers and never was able to produce them again. Production of motors, dynamos and engines was able to resume after about six months, however, and continued until the latter days of the war when the plant was occupied by Allied troops.

When German Field Marshal Von Rundstedt was captured by the US 7th Army he was quoted by the Associated Press as stating that air power was the most decisive factor in the Reich's military failure.

Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering, founder of the Luftwaffe, likewise declared that "the American air force made the Allied offensive possible." His biggest surprise of the war, he said, was the American long-range fighter which made it possible to escort the heavy bombers on strategic missions.

Undoubtedly the defeated German generals are hunting for a scapegoat to blame for their own failures. But the evidence heretofore presented suggests that they are mainly right. When a completely informed and statistical appraisal of strategic bombing results is made, this writer believes that Allied strategic bombing will be called the decisive factor in bringing about the defeat of Germany in 1945.

If so, however, it will be true only for the time and place. All evidence suggests that if the invasion had been delayed another year, the Germans would have established their underground jet and rocket fighter factories. The speed of these short-range defending craft would have been far superior to that of our long-range strategic bombers and escorting fighters. Because the underground jet and rocket fighter factories would have been invulnerable to strategic bombing attacks, the Germans could have built their defensive strength up to the point where they could have regained control of the air over the Reich. They could have rebuilt both communications and factories under the protecting screen of these fighters and again become a serious aerial threat to the Allies. Certainly they would have had time to undertake aerial counter measures against Britain by means, at least, of the three V-weapons. They might, eventually, have been defeated by ground offensives but if so, air power would not have been the decisive factor.

Over Germany, therefore, aided by fortuitous timing, strategic bombing was decisive. It should also prove decisive against Japan. But the defenses against it have already appeared.

Just how significant these defenses may be if there are future wars is indicated in an interview by John MacCormac of the New York Times with top officials of Siemens-Schuckert whose transformer factory was so disastrously bombed. Siemens was also the company operating one of the underground factories described in this article. Here is a classic quotation which symbolizes the German mind and could have ominous significance for the future:

"There can't be another war. But if there were [said the Siemens officials], nothing would serve but to put our factories underground, We could do it even with such heavy equipment as we need. Dispersal, we found, is no guarantee. Put our factories underground and they can't be touched. With our aircraft factories underground, we could maintain a Luftwaffe that could protect our transport. Some such factories were begun, but it was too late. But don't talk of another war. Siemens wants to return to peacetime production."

This article was originally published in the August, 1945, issue of Flying magazine, vol 37, no 2, pp 21-23, 102, 106, 108, 110.
The PDF of this article includes photos of a B-26 above a large explosion and four photos of bomb damage in Germany.
Photos credited to AAF, Gaston & Morgan, Charles E Brown.