Strategic Air Victory In Europe

Our Strategic Bombing Broke Germany

These pages are reprinted from a special edition of Impact, the hitherto classified AAF publication. They are devoted solely to describing the coordinated strategic bombing effort over Europe of the US 8th and 15th Air Forces and the RAF Bomber Command.

How did our strategic air forces win the air war over Europe? In this historic 16-page document, Flying brings you an official account of the theory, methods and results of the RAF and AAF.

In past wars it has always been necessary to dispose of an enemy army before being able to destroy, occupy or dictate terms to the enemy nation, which, in the last analysis, is the real foe. The recent European war was unlike all others in that this time the enemy nation was destroyed almost ahead of the army which was supposed to defend it. This reprint from Impact attempts to show how such an extraordinary paradox was brought about.

For the second time in a generation Germany has been defeated by a coalition of Allied powers. For the second time her armies have met their opponents in a series of huge and bloody engagements on two fronts, have won notable victories, but in the end have been vanquished. In these respects the two wars were similar. Fundamentally, however, they were utterly different. In the first none of the fighting was done on German soil. German civilians, except for suffering hunger and deprivation as the result of blockade, were untouched by war.

Their cities and factories emerged unscathed. Their armies marched home with bands playing and flags flying, and were able to launch the illusion that they had not been really defeated, an illusion which was to be of inestimable value in preparing the people for the next adventure. But this time they had no such luck. They were faced with a weapon which could leap over battle lines and frontiers and smash at the ultimate enemy (the German workman who fed and equipped the German soldier) in his own home. The home front felt the shock of bombs soon after Britain entered the war. These shocks multiplied in intensity thereafter, continuing almost daily for five and a half years, at the end of which time Germany had literally ceased to exist as an organized industrial community.

The concept behind this campaign of destruction was born a long time ago. It existed in very crude form in the last war. In fact, so crude was bombing then that the idea of developing it to play a leading part in the military planning of nations was largely discarded in the nineteen twenties. This does not mean that nations were not air minded. Far from it. The major powers, Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States, all had air forces. As technical advances were made, these air forces became larger and more versatile, Generally speaking, however, they continued to remain mere adjuncts to the ground and naval forces, and the design and employment of aircraft were such that those air forces could only supplement ground and naval operations. In other words, they were primarily tactical, not strategic, weapons.

There were two notable exceptions to this. The British, sensing the potentialities of air, created an independent air force. But being more concerned with defensive than with offensive plans, they concentrated mainly on fighters. It was only in the United States that the germ of strategic bombing was kept alive. It is hard to realize today how feebly the flame of life flickered in that germ. The American Army was small and lacking in influence, considering the size and importance of its mother country. Within that tiny army was an even tinier Air Corps to which nobody paid much attention. Finally, within the Air Corps itself was a handful of "fanatics" who were not as interested in being hot pilots (in those days you were a hot pilot or nothing) as they were in the problems of constructing aerial freight cars which would carry a load of bombs to a target and drop them on that target. Even less attention was paid to them.

But they stuck to their knitting. They procured a bomb sight which satisfied their requirements for accuracy. They wangled an appropriation for a four-engined bomber, the Fortress. When it was built they went on good-will flights to see how it stood up on long missions under trying conditions. And all the time they applied their growing experience to the evolution of a wild and woolly theory which, if it proved valid, would revolutionize warfare. That theory bluntly stated that sooner or later it would be possible to build a fleet of bombers which by themselves could reduce the vital industries of an enemy country to ashes.

And that is just what they did, launching their attacks from England in the north and Italy in the south. Germany today presents a spectacle which defies description, Her bridges are down, her canals ruptured, her harbors clogged, her rail yards pitted, many of her factories blasted and silent, her cities gutted. Wherever Germans gathered to build things or even to live together in large numbers may now be found scenes of desolation like those on the face of the moon. It is safe to say that at no time since the locust-like days of the Tartars has the physical property of a nation been ground into such small and useless fragments.

Germany declared war on us on December 11, 1941. At that time the whole of Europe had either been conquered by her or was dependent on her economically. An efficient but savage program of exploiting the manpower and resources of this vast area was strengthening her daily, and it was clear that she could beat off conventional ground attacks indefinitely from the west, even assuming that it were possible to launch such attacks. It was in this difficult and unpromising atmosphere that American and British leaders met to formulate a program for defeating Germany.

The location of England provided the key. England lay within flying distance of enemy country. It had lived through one invasion threat during the Battle of Britain and could probably resist others. It was planned to convert it into a vast air base, and to launch streams of bombers from it against German industry until they had so weakened the enemy's ability to equip and maintain her armies that a direct ground invasion would have some chance of success.

It sounds easy now, but this decision was reached at a time when the German failure to bomb England out of the war had convinced many military minds that bombing could never be conclusive. The British themselves did not believe that daylight bombing could be carried out without prohibitive losses, and as a result the planes of the RAF Bomber Command were modified to fly at night. Inasmuch as it is very difficult to pick up pinpoint targets at night with conventional visual sighting equipment, they evolved a doctrine calling for saturation attacks against large cities, which can be located in darkness by various methods. By attacking such areas they hoped, through the laws of chance, to damage or destroy many of the industrial installations which are crowded into all large cities. Further, they hoped so to interfere with the normal life of the German workman that his value as a producer of war equipment would go way down. This was expected to occur when houses and local transportation systems were destroyed, when cooking and food distribution ran into snags, when lighting, water and sewage facilities were crippled, when sleep was interfered with night after night and, finally, when part of the labor force was itself killed by bombing.

This is not the most economical way to expend a given quantity of bombs, but under the limitations mentioned above, it was the only way the British could hit back at their enemies. It was not long before they had become wondrously efficient at blotting out large targets. To supplement this work, the Americans undertook to fly against Germany by day. Their bombers would be heavily armed and armored to defend themselves against the Luftwaffe, their range would be greater, and as a result they would not be able to carry as heavy loads as the planes of the RAF. But the Americans were confident that they could compensate for this by aiming every bomb at a selected industrial pinpoint. The real virtue of the American method was that if the proper targets were chosen it might be possible to cripple German industrial and military power through the destruction of only one or two key industries (such as oil or transportation) without which the military economy as a whole would be unable to operate. It was seriously doubted in many quarters that the Americans could fulfill their half of the commitment.

Nevertheless, the Combined Bomber Offensive was laid on.

In concept it was something more than mere day and night operations. Each air force was expected to do something that the other could not do as well. American heavies would destroy the major industries on the fringes of a city, and the RAF would destroy the city itself, together with a substantial number of smaller factories situated in it. As the two bomber forces grew in size, this is exactly what happened. The combined effort resulted in the virtual elimination of place after place as producing centers, At Magdeburg, for example, the 8th Air Force went after the top-priority synthetic gasoline plant at Rothensee, the Junker aircraft engine plant, the Krupp armament works at Buckau, and an ordnance depot at Friedrichstadt where the weapons produced at Buckau were collected for distribution to the 6th Panzer Army and other combat units on both the Western and Eastern fronts. The RAF followed this up by destruction of the urban core. This final phase not only destroyed the houses of the factory workmen and snarled up transport, but, more important still, leveled a very large part of the remaining factories in this highly developed industrial center. In an armament city of this kind, most of the industries are interdependent, one upon the other, using common sources of power, raw materials and transport, with many smaller plants making parts for final assembly of weapons in the larger ones. It takes a joint pinpoint-saturation technique to knock out such a place.

It is interesting to observe that these two great air forces, which started out with such entirely different ideas as to how they should operate, became more and more alike as each began to recognize its own shortcomings and the virtues of the other's methods. By the use of flares dropped by a master bombardier, special sighting equipment, and individual bomb release, the RAF gradually developed a bombing technique which no longer could correctly be called area bombing. Many rail centers, canals, and the shattered hearts of city after city bear eloquent testimony to this. In fact, after the threat of the Luftwaffe had been eliminated, permitting the lightly armed Lancasters and Halifaxes to operate in safety during daylight, the RAF flew some enormously damaging pinpoint missions against the German synthetic oil plants. Its practice of having each plane fly separately and bomb separately multiplied the problems of enemy antiaircraft gunners.

As a result, losses from flak were very low, considering the rugged defenses around oil targets. On the other hand, in the days when the Luftwaffe was still strong. Bomber Command losses to enemy aircraft ran higher than ours, even though they were flying at night expressly for the purpose of avoiding such losses. This merely proves the old rule that in all wars weapons automatically breed their antidotes — in this case the night fighter. Germany's night fighter organization was at one time so potent that there was grave concern in the RAF as to whether night operations could continue. They had become more dangerous than the daylight attacks which, at the start of the war, were regarded as suicidal.

But, to get back to the story, the island air base mentioned above had geographical disadvantages as well as advantages. Every bomb we proposed to use there, every soldier, every drop of gas, every replacement part, everything but the bombers themselves, which could be flown, had to be shipped over 3,000 miles of ocean from the United States. As a result, the first task of the infant 8th Air Force was to bomb German U-boat yards, for the submarine was then such a menace to shipping in the Atlantic that, unless it could be controlled, it would take us forever to build up a bomber force large enough to be effective. Accordingly, the 8th got its first real taste of warfare during attacks at Lorient, St Nazaire and Brest, coordinating its blows with missions by the RAF to Kiel, Wilhelmshaven and Bremen. These in themselves were not conclusive. Germany had great numbers of submarines, Her construction and repair were done largely in huge concrete pens which were almost impervious to the type of bomb which the Allies were then using. All together, the campaign cost Germany something under 15 per cent in submarine construction, plus a general lowering of the number of subs operational at any given time, by lengthening the time necessary for reconditioning and refitting, The real payoff, also by air, came from the provision of an umbrella of protective planes over the convoys themselves, which, together with the blows at construction and the activities of the RAF Coastal Command, enabled our ground and air forces in England to grow. However, it was not until the summer of 1943 that the 8th was large enough to set out on missions against critical targets deep in Germany itself. By November, 1943, a growing 15th Air Force was based in southern Italy.

The first target system of fundamental importance which was assigned to the 8th and 15th was the German aircraft industry. The enemy, belatedly realizing the disaster awaiting him if our bomber forces could carry out their proposed program, had begun to expand his production of fighter aircraft in an effort to knock us out of the sky. If we were to proceed with the dismantling of her industry, the Luftwaffe would have to be disposed of first. This called for pinpoint bombing of the highest order, because most aircraft plants were located in the suburbs of large cities. or else out in the country, and were not seriously affected by the saturation attacks of the RAF. The ensuing struggle for the mastery of the air went on for about a year. For details, see accompanying photographs. We absorbed some fearful pastings and for a time were consuming our entire 8th Air Force in battle at the rate of two and a half times a year. By the spring of 1944, however, just in time for the Normandy invasion. the Luftwaffe was done for. It never seriously interfered with our ground operations in Europe. Our plane losses due to enemy air action dwindled to insignificant proportions.

In March, 1944, aircraft production ceased to be No 1 priority, further attacks being largely of a policing nature. Its place was taken by transportation. In addition to clogging the movement of enemy troops to parry our invasion thrust, the blows at rail centers had the benefit of being indirect blows at all industry. This is because, in a highly industrialized nation like Germany, coal, steel, heavy chemicals, petroleum and many other products must be shipped to the manufacturing centers before any production of finished goods can be achieved. The effects of the transportation campaign were slow in making themselves felt due to the fact that the rail network in northwest Europe was the most highly developed in the world, It took many months of slogging through excess capacity, both in trackage and rolling stock, before the Germans began to experience serious difficulties in moving goods from one place to another. However, the statements of captured military and industrial leaders testify to the over-all effectiveness of a campaign which for a long time appeared to be wasted effort. Germany kept her rail system in operation until the end of the war, but only through the most superhuman effort, all of which meant the withdrawal from the army and other industry of an enormous amount of thought, manpower and material, at a time when all of these could least be spared. And, despite these sacrifices, Germany fought the last six months of the war with a rail system wholly inadequate to her needs.

In May, 1944, transportation fell to second priority for the American Air Forces, its place being taken by oil. As a matter of actual fact, this meant only a slight reduction of the effort expended on rail yards, The reason for this is that these targets are easy to find, easy to hit and hard to defend. As a result, on many days, rail yards were hit as secondary targets by formations which had been weathered out of their primary targets. And all through this period the RAF continued to deal out tremendous blows of its own against rails.

The oil campaign proved to be the most immediately catastrophic of all to German hopes. It immobilized the remnants of the Luftwaffe. It stalled the Wehrmacht. It forced the home front, already clogged by the rail campaign, to rely on charcoal-burning and horse-drawn vehicles. It was the most fiercely protected of all German industrial systems. Refineries were ringed with dense concentrations of flak, and the dying GAF seldom rose to oppose our missions unless when they were directed at oil targets. In view of the immense success of this campaign, it is reasonable to ask why we didn't go after oil earlier. The answer is that it was necessary to heat down the Luftwaffe before we could strike at other targets. If we had not done so, our battle attrition might well have been so high that the assembling of a large enough bomber force for decisive daily blows might have been deferred indefinitely. Therefore, oil could not be considered for first priority until the spring of 1944. It might then have been put ahead of transportation, but the demands of the ground forces for a rail campaign to implement the looming Normandy invasion deferred it for another two months. Rail attacks could be expected to have immediate tactical results, whereas destruction of refineries and synthetic plants would be effective only when several months' stocks of already produced fuel were exhausted.

As a sort of somber undertone to this symphony of aircraft-rail-oil destruction, the Allies conducted a continuing campaign against German manufacturing in general. The Ruhr, which was one expanse of heavy industry and heavier flak, became known as "Happy Valley" to the RAF, whose bombers visited it several hundred times in the course of the war. In addition they sapped the energies of factories and machine shops of all kinds in the cities they were methodically erasing. The 8th and 15th went after the rest. Ball bearing production at Schweinfurt was attacked. So were tank and truck plants, rubber plants, ordnance plants, storage depots, locomotive works. But many industries were scarcely touched, in accordance with American strategic doctrine. It was thought to be, and it proved, unnecessary to launch continued attacks against aluminum production, electric power, chemicals, machine tools and other industrial systems. The dry rot in the bombed systems was affecting the entire tree. German production began to take sudden and terrifying downward swoops. By the fall of 1944 the economy as a whole was badly shattered. It absorbed even more grievous blows during the winter, by which time the German armies were suffering from so many shortages that they were to offer only disorganized resistance, once their final effort in the Ardennes had been defeated. The country at their backs had become an industrial graveyard. Reeling under the hammer blows of Allied ground and tactical air forces, they retreated across the Rhine, falling back through one ghost city after another. They were out of food, out of gas, out of ammunition, out of transport. They surrendered in droves — a wrecked army in a wrecked nation.

Nobody who was not there can grasp the scope of the destruction which was meted out to the Germans. Of their 50 largest cities, all were from 30 to 80 per cent destroyed. Dazed citizens wandered through crooked little paths which they had cleared between the mountains of rubbish. Looting was widespread until the Allied military took over, emphasizing the universal shortages of food, fuel and clothing. The factories, the patched and repatched factories were silent, their twisted metal guts slowly rusting in the sun. Children played on the tracks of the otherwise motionless rail yards. Sheep gazed on the airfields. Of the complex and wonderful edifice on which countless Germans had labored for generations, little remained but the bare bones.

Aircraft Industry

With the plain precept in mind that first things come first, the Combined Chiefs of Staff early in 1943 ordered the first intensive bombing campaign against strategic targets to be aimed at the German aircraft industry. Opposition from the Luftwaffe had grown increasingly fierce. In our earliest attacks — many of them against German sub pens — eight to ten per cent of our heavy bombers were being shot down on every mission. At the rate of 10 missions a month, an entire bomber force could be knocked out in 30 days. The young 8th Air Force was fighting for survival. With the limited number of planes we had on hand something had to be done, done quickly and where it would hurt most.

It was clear, too, that the success of future strategic campaigns and invasion of the continent depended on eliminating the Luftwaffe. The aircraft industry was then centered in a few big complexes. By hitting assembly plants, the number of planes the Luftwaffe could put in the air would be reduced in a matter of weeks. And time was of the essence.

At the start, numerical inferiority and the lack of long-range fighter escort put the 8th Air Force behind the eight ball. But there was no question that our planes and crews were more than equal to the task. The history of US air power will always honor the bloody summer of 1943.

At Warnemunde on July 29, for example, the fighter aircraft and assembly factory, making mostly Focke-Wulf Fw-190s, was attacked by 54 Fortresses. Eighteen of 27 buildings were destroyed. We lost only two Forts. One day earlier at Oschersleben, on the deepest penetration into Germany up to that date, 28 Forts found an important fighter plant which turned out 50 Fw-190's a month — 21.7 per cent of. the total output. We destroyed 48 enemy fighters in combat. We lost 15 Forts. Fifteen out of 28!

But the feel and flavor of those first battles are best summed up in a transcript of an extemporaneous interview given at AAFSAT by Lieut Col Beirne Lay, Jr, who was a co-pilot and special observer on the Regensburg mission of August 17. (The Messerschmitt Me-109 assembly shops at Regensburg accounted for 30 per cent of German fighter production.) This doubleheader mission made history because it was the largest force sent out by the 8th Air Force to date, and because it was the first big shuttle mission. The larger part of the force hit the ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt, then returned to its base. The other task force (147 Fortresses) hit Regensburg, then wound up in Algeria.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

"We were to operate with three groups in the first combat wing, two groups in the second and third combat wings. I was in the low group in the third wing, We were told we'd have Thunderbolt escort picking us up at Eupen and carrying us through the fighter belt. The Thunderbolts were not yet carrying 300-gallon belly tanks — they had just started using belly tanks and were carrying only 100 gallons — so that meant we wouldn't have support at the target.

"We assembled on time …. As soon as we got up to base altitude (17,000 feet for the third wing), we were well within the German RDF screen, which has a range of about 150 miles at that altitude. So the whole German defense machinery was beginning to warm up in front of us.

"To counteract our diversionary feints the Germans had set up a fluid defense. By the time we crossed the enemy coast, they were reporting us once every minute, and could get a pretty good idea where we were headed; furthermore, they knew we had to follow a rather direct course coming home, because of our fuel limitations. So they could pull fighters from as far north as Denmark and from down around Paris, Poix and Lille, and send them after us.

"We encountered the first fighter opposition at Eupen, just inside Germany, which was where our fighter cover was supposed to be. We didn't see any fighter cover; it must have been awfully high. Our column was about 15 miles long and the fighters may have been giving protection up around the first two combat wings. They certainly weren't helping us any in the trailing wing.

"Shortly after we were supposed to have made a rendezvous with the Thunderbolts, the attacks started. Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts came in from every direction, making coordinated attacks. Therefore there could be very little evasive action within the group, I believe those attacks were more intense than any we had met up to then. There were more than 200 fighter attacks from there to the target.

"They used 20-mm time-fused cannon shells. They made the first fairly large-scale use of rockets. And there was some air-to-air bombing. Flak was negligible. By the time we got close to the IP (initial point) we had lost 17 planes, nine of them shot out of my group, which took more than half the loss of the whole force, giving some indication of where those fighters were making their attacks.

"Weather at the IP was perfect …. The fighter opposition died off just before we got to the target. I don't know why, unless they just ran out of fighters. The bombing was excellent. I saw only one bomb wasted.

"The boys of the 1st Division (bombing Schweinfurt) took a terrific shellacking. They lost 35 bombers from their nine groups. The Regensburg boys lost 25, making a total of 60.

"The things that went right with the mission were that we did hit the target, air discipline was good (I don't believe that many of us would have got through that fighter opposition if it wasn't good) and navigation was perfect.

"I think the conclusion which can be drawn from that mission is that without fighter escort all the way to the target and all the way back, heavy bombardment can't operate in daylight against that type of opposition without excessive losses. Look what happened a month or so later, when they sent a second force to Schweinfurt. They lost 60 bombers again, which, added to the 35 they lost on the first mission without destroying the target, makes a total of 95.

"The other conclusion is that heavy bombers cannot be stopped from getting to a target and destroying it. I don't believe we will ever run into greater opposition than we did on the Regensburg mission. Our success there showed that we are training the best damn crews in the world."

Such were the problems, and such was the fighting spirit that prevailed in 1943. Early in 1944 as the 8th Air Force grew stronger, more battle-wise, and as the Luftwaffe itself grew weaker, the picture changed. The lesson at Regensburg had been well learned, particularly in regard to fighter escort. First the Thunderbolts were equipped with larger tanks, then came the Lightnings, and then the Mustangs. By January 11, 1944, a 200-mile string of 720 heavy bombers flew over heavily defended territory — 300 of them revisited Oschersleben — and fighter escort was provided all the way.

The winter offensive hit its peak in the Big Week of February 19-26. Combined USSTAF-RAF Bomber Command figures for this week are:

Bombers dispatched8,148
Fighters dispatched4,454
Tons of bombs dropped19,177
Bombers lost400
Fighters lost39
Enemy fighters lost (in air only)642

During this same week the 8th Air Force, joined by the 15th, paid a return call on Regensburg. Since the August attack strenuous repair work had been done and a nearby glider factory at Ober Traubling was converted to Me-109 manufacture. Hit by 613 heavies, both factories were practically wiped out — one of them for the second time.

By now the aircraft complexes were being hammered out of existence, Disperse or die was the order of the day, and disperse they did. The campaign continued until September, 1944 . Thereafter it tapered off, with only a few policing missions and a recrudescence of attacks on jet factories in the winter and spring of 1945.

But what had actually happened to aircraft production inside Germany? A few statistics will point up the story. In the second half of 1943 only 400 tons were dropped monthly by USSTAF on German plants, while in 1944 an average of 6,500 tons a month was dropped. In 1943 58 aircraft plants were damaged as against 146 in 1944. Single-engine fighter aircraft bore the brunt of our attacks. it is estimated that by September 30, 1944, the GAF was deprived of 10,000 new planes which would have been produced.

When we started the campaign in July, 1943, German production of operational types had jumped to about 1,740 monthly, including 910 single-engined fighters. And the GAF planned to produce 3,000 a month late in 1944. But our bombs fell so thick, so fast, so unerringly that the output of combat types only amounted to 1,320 planes in March — less than half of planned production.

From March, 1943, onward, however, the GAF production rose sharply. It reached 1,950 in September, of which 1,400 were single-engined planes. This, of course, reflected the dispersal policy. Production was spread out into countless small plants, including unused textile mills. GAF airfields were used for assembly. Facilities were developed underground. Bomber plants were converted to fighter production.

But all this effort came too late. The reduced output of defensive fighter planes, due to Allied bombing, forced upon the GAF a policy of conservation simply to retain an air force in being. Lack of adequate resistance in turn made possible the successful bombing of Axis industries producing oil, bearings, and. other vital war materials. The whole interlocking structure of German industry began to topple, and one disaster seemed automatically to start another.

The loss of aircraft production at bombed factories — estimated at 10,000 planes between August 1, 1943, and September 30, 1944 — was roughly half of the somewhat more than 20,000 lost in combat during the same period. But, in one way or another, the bomber offensive accounted for a large part of these losses. Our bombers and fighters shot down hundreds. Bombing of GAF airfields and repair depots accounted for many more, and lowered serviceability. The remainder of GAF wastage resulted largely from aerial combat with tactical air forces, and strafing and capture of airfields cluttered with immobilized aircraft.

While the dispersed GAF succeeded in increasing its aircraft production despite our campaign, it did not succeed in getting these planes in the air in numbers sufficient to fend off the rapidly growing AAF. The GAF was the victim of superior numbers, better-trained pilots, and the collapse of Germany's industrial system. In its opening campaign USSTAF gave the first big push against industrial Germany's house of cards and, during the process, came of age as the most formidable weapon of modern warfare.

Bombing of Fuel

If, in waging war, you can deny to the enemy something he must have in order to maintain his effort on a scale to match your own, you've got him. It is this simple fact which focused the attention of Allied air leaders on the German liquid fuel industry. Modern nations cannot fight without oil. They cannot even fight with a little oil. They must have it in large quantities, readily available at all times. In a highly integrated war economy, oil was the chink in Germany's armor. Her fuel position was traditionally unsound. For years before the war she imported most of what she used.

Such dependence on foreign sources is naturally unacceptable to a country dedicated to expansion and self-sufficiency. For expansion leads to war, and wars make it difficult for a continental power with a small navy to insure that her imports will not be cut off, particularly since 60 per cent of the crude oil refined in Hamburg came from the United States. Germany's reaction to this situation was twofold.

First, she determined to put to use her large stores of low-grade coal. Coal and oil are closely related atomically. Both are hydrocarbons. Her admittedly superior chemical knowhow had already evolved two processes for extracting all kinds of synthetic oils from this coal. These processes (Fischer-Tropsch, and Bergius) are efficient but expensive, With world oil prices as low as they were before the war, only a controlled economy, preparing for war, could have justified their development. All together three major synthetic districts grew up in the neighborhood of three coal deposits, one in the Ruhr, one in Silesia, and one in the Leipzig area.

Germany's second effort to improve her oil position was in the political and military field. When the smoke cleared away from her European conquests, Germany had access to all the oil in Europe. Total theoretical refining capacity in the area she dominated was 27,750,000 metric tons a year. Actual production was much less, due to great excess refining capacity, to the fact that many of the refineries were old-fashioned and unable to produce high-octane fuels in quantity, and to the fact that her newly acquired assets represented somewhat of a hodgepodge. The best refineries were not always located near the richest oil fields. There was a deficiency of pipe lines and rail service in some places. In addition, Germany had to cope with sabotage and a certain number of recalcitrant local plant managers. As a result of all this, actual production in the summer of 1943 amounted to only about 16,500,000 tons a year. Seven million tons were from synthetic plants in Germany. Seven and a half million tons were from crude (nearly two-thirds of it from Ploesti). The balance, amounting to 2,000,000 tons, was made up of substitute fuels such as alcohol, coal tar, aromatics, etc. Production continued at this rate for nearly a year, permitting the Germans to increase their level of stocks from a monthly average of under 3,000,000 tons in 1943 to nearly 4,000,000 tons in April of the following year,

The over-all plan for the oil campaign, which started the following month, called for the destruction of 24 synthetic plants and 80 refineries. The great majority of these were in six districts, the three soft-coal areas mentioned above, the Hamburg-Hanover district, a concentration of refineries in the neighborhood of Vienna, and another at Ploesti. These districts were divided three and three. The 15th Air Force was assigned Silesia, Vienna and Ploesti. The 8th got Hamburg, Leipzig and the Ruhr. Work started immediately. During May, 11 targets were hit, some of them two or three times. In June, 43 attacks were launched. The effect was catastrophic. The German High Command, faced with skyrocketing consumption to combat a large-scale Russian offensive in the East and the Normandy invasion in the West, found their oil production cut almost in half in only two months of attacks. Their reserves, which had looked so generous a few months earlier, were already shrinking dangerously. But this was nothing. By August, production was down to 37 per cent. Three weeks later, Ploesti, which had been nine-tenths destroyed by the 15th Air Force, was captured by the Russians. This freed the bombers of the 15th, who redoubled their efforts against Vienna and Silesia. The RAF was beginning to turn on the heat in increasing force. Production for September shrank to 23 per cent. The enemy, now desperate, was being relentlessly squeezed between the jaws of mounting demand and dwindling supply. There was no fat to draw on. The home front had been living on starvation rations for some time. The Luftwaffe, already weakened by the aircraft campaign, was literally dying of thirst. Its training program was shaved to minuscule proportions, all gas being saved for combat operations, and even these became rarer and rarer as the weeks went by.

There were three things the enemy could do. He did them all to the limit of his endurance. First, he spent what little breath there was left in the Luftwaffe largely on the protection of oil targets. Second, he could, and did, protect them from the ground with what grew to be the densest concentration of flak the world has ever seen. Last, he could repair the plants. This he did, with a doggedness and resourcefulness which is little short of amazing. But, after each attack the job became harder and harder, and the time required longer and longer. Almost every heavy strike destroyed some basic piece of equipment which was impossible to replace. Some plants were reduced by this to the production of only certain types of fuel. Others could be patched up to operate on a reduced scale through bypassing the smashed unit. As time went on, strains and stresses were revealed in units which were at first considered sound after attack. These often broke down by themselves. And whenever it appeared, through photo reconnaissance, that a plant was again in operation, it was again bombed. The sense of frustration created in this way must have been enormous. Captured plant managers have refused to comment on this, but as early as September 17, 1944, it was necessary for Reichsminister of War Production Speer to circulate a sort of "pep talk" telegram which reads partly as follows:

"The idea is spreading that the reconstruction of the synthetic oil plants and refineries is purposeless since the enemy always finds a suitable moment, soon after the resumption of work, to destroy these installations again by air attack. (He then lists some of the plans for dispersing oil production, getting it underground, etc, and expresses the hope that impending bad weather will give the German oil industry a breather.) It is therefore incorrect to regard reconstruction as a fruitless task; on the contrary, from a long-term point of view, the successful prosecution of the war depends in the final analysis upon this achievement. Heil Hitler!


Bad weather did come, and the situation was somewhat eased during the fall and early winter. Nevertheless, reserves were generally exhausted and operations of the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht were controlled more and more by production and less and less by military necessity. Germany was cracking up. In February the Russians captured the synthetic plants in Silesia. Huge tonnages extinguished the Leipzig and Hamburg plants one after another. The Ruhr was captured. Production skidded to 18½ per cent in March, and to an incredible 7½ per cent in April.


Transportation targets are unlike others in that they are both tactical and strategic in nature. Our campaign against the enemy communications system was primarily tactical, but as a byproduct we derived enormous strategic gain from it. This is because only about 25 per cent of the system's capacity was employed to carry military freight, whereas at least 50 per cent was used in the war economy. This means that any reduction in capacity had twice the impact on industrial as on military operations, As a matter of fact, military freight usually carried a top priority, which had the effect of putting almost all the strain of reduced capacity directly on industry.

In addition consider the following peculiarities, all weaknesses, of any rail system: It is a fundamental industry, being essential to all components of the civilian and war economies. It cannot be moved or dispersed. It is so large that it cannot be well defended. It is almost impossible to camouflage effectively. It cannot go underground. Targets are so numerous that there is almost always some part of the system which is not cloud-obscured despite general overcast weather. They are also so varied that they can be attacked by all kinds of aircraft. Heavy attacks within a certain area can be compensated for in part by shifting to road or water transport, but lost capacity cannot be balanced by expansion somewhere else, as is the case in manufacturing. Finally, the effects of air attack are cumulative because the capital investment is exceptionally high and damage cannot be replaced at a rate comparable with the potential rate of new damage. As a result, policing costs are low and enemy recuperation is slow.

Balance these factors against the over-all size, flexibility and initial excess capacity of the enemy system and you have the problem. It was solved by the 8th, 9th and Royal Air Forces, which dropped 400,000 tons on rails in the year March, 1944 - April, 1945. The results may be read in the melancholy statements of the German engineers.

Other Industry

At various times during the combined bomber offensive strategic targets other than the Big Three (oil, transportation, aircraft) were hammered by our bombers.

Before 1944 the air forces were not large enough to go after most of the big target systems. They couldn't penetrate deep into Germany day after day and expect to maintain a bomber force, let alone develop one of any size, Therefore, while they were growing, it was necessary either to hit targets on the fringe of the Nazi empire or else pick out ones which were so concentrated that one or two well-placed blows might have a chance of knocking them out.

The best example of the latter was Schweinfurt, where nearly 60 per cent of total Axis anti-friction bearing production was concentrated in three plants. These were attacked on two epic occasions in August and October, 1943. However, serious losses, which amounted to 60 bombers during the October mission, showed that such deep penetrations could not be flown with any regularity until we had licked the escort-fighter problem and could launch them without expectation of such losses. This condition existed in January, 1944, and the really effective dismemberment of German industry by the 8th Air Force can be said to date roughly from this period. This is not to imply that the Schweinfurt attacks were not damaging. They were. So was a similar attack on the Huis rubber plant in July, 1943. They just weren't conclusive. Later, we were big enough to hit — and did hit — armament, textile, ordnance, and many other industries contributing to the German war economy.

Subs, Ships, Docks

During the early part of 1943, when the floor of the Atlantic was being carpeted with Allied supply ships, German submarine construction became top priority for the 8th Air Force. Twelve German U-boat yards were damaged, also the principal bases in northern France. All together in 1943 two-fifths of our tonnage was expended on these targets. The RAF effort, while amounting to only one-fifth of its tonnage for the year, was actually much heavier than our own because of its much greater size at that time. Its area bombing of Hamburg, Emden, Kiel, Wilhelmshaven and Bremen did great damage to all kinds of ship construction and repair.

Because the anti-submarine war at sea proved relatively so much more successful than bombing of construction facilities, U-boats fell off the priority list in the summer of 1943. But the sub menace always remained, and the pens were revisited in 1944 and 1945 by both USAAF and RAF, with a sharp increase in effectiveness in the final attacks due to development of concrete-piercing bombs.

The Cities

The strategic oil campaign may have throttled the German armies, the transportation campaign may have strangled industry, but the area attacks on German cities have changed the face of the nation itself. Almost exclusively the handiwork of the RAF Bomber Command, their sheer weight (430,614 tons in four and one-half years — 64,000 of them in the first three months of 1945 alone) has so pulverized the great German population centers that most of them no longer exist except as piles of waste material. The mere job of hauling all this stuff away before reconstruction can begin is something which will occupy the Germans for months — even years.

The pictures shown here and on the following four pages record two kinds of damage. There is the damage done by heavy bombs, the crunching which chews up entire blocks, leaves a few walls standing, burying them up to the second story in debris. There is also incendiary damage, on a scale which makes the great fire raids on London look like a one-alarm job in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Almost every roof and almost every floor of almost every building has fallen into the basement. Notable exceptions are three churches, whose heavy stone vaulting remains.

This is the face of urban Germany today, crushed or gaping, usually both. In either case traffic is stilled, factories destroyed, the labor force as a result left impotent and harmless. The RAF didn't invent area bombing of cities, nor did it start it. But it certainly taught the boys who did start it that they never belonged in the big leagues.

Costs and Problems

The reader has seen pictorially how the Combined Bomber Offensive succeeded in its primary mission of destroying Germany's industry and economic system. He may now inquire what it required of the Allies to accomplish this internal devastation of an enemy nation.

The entire cost to the AAF alone of strategic bombing in Europe, based on Bureau of the Budget estimates, was 27½ billion dollars. No comparable figures are available on the British effort. To operate and maintain the 8th and 15th air forces at their peak strengths involved a combined total of 258,250 officers and enlisted men. No figures can measure the cost in lives lost or the cost in man-hours expended by heroic ground crews who time and again labored the clock around to keep the campaign rolling. Nor can any monetary evaluation be placed on the worth of inventions, notably in the field of electronics, that have been produced under stress of war.

As a starter in analyzing cost of strategic bombing, consider the following breakdown of what an ETO replacement heavy bomber cost the Government from its factory birth to its loss in combat, or its retirement from war weariness. Take a Liberator as an example. The airframe costs about $115,300. Props, $4,200. Government equipment (bomb sight, etc), $50,000. Ordnance, $3,200. Communications, $8,500. Grand total $213,700. To get it into combat, it was necessary for the Ferrying Division of ATC to fly it from the factory across the ocean to England. By the shortest route from the Willow Run Liberator plant at Detroit to Prestwick, Scotland, about 23 flying hours are required. On a fuel consumption basis of 210 gallons of 100-130 octane gasoline per hour, at 23 cents a gallon, this flight will cost $1,100. The life expectancy of an average heavy bomber in ETO was 650-700 flying hours or about 237 days. This necessitated spending another $32,602 for gas alone, not to mention oil or other lubricants. ( Statistical Control figures show that one and a quarter billion gallons of gasoline were expended by heavy bombers alone during the three and a half years of war with Germany.)

Suppose, in addition, the bomber were so badly hit in combat that it had to go to a depot for repairs. This was no infrequent occurrence: from the beginning of 1944 to April of this year, 61,294 heavies received damage of some sort over Europe. During its combat cycle a bomber averaged 6.7 days in depot repairs, 34.3 days in repair on its own station. Battle damage reports show that at one period in the air war one of every five attacking aircraft was hit by flak. Serious damage was also often caused by empty shell cases, by stray bullets from other friendly bombers, or by self-inflicted machine gun fire. Adding all this up, the estimated cost of major repairs is one quarter of the unit purchase price, or $53,400, for our Liberator. No mention has been made yet of engine changes. Under certain operating conditions, as in early dusty days in North Africa, new Fortress engines lasted only 15 hours. Even under easier operating conditions, a combat Liberator in its life cycle might easily require eight or more new or rebuilt engines, costing another $60,000.

Over-all cost of the bomber has now reached one-third of a million. Multiply this by the 15,600 heavies that were delivered to ETO and MTO combined and you get five billion-odd dollars or a fifth of the total cost of strategic bombing. To this must be added approximately 18,000 fighter escorts at $83,000 each (the average unit purchase price of a P-38, P-47 and P-51 together), plus cost of the gasoline needed to operate them.

In these computations there has been no consideration of costs of the following items: (a) training, (b) maintenance, (c) air base construction, (d) aviation research, (e) subsistence of military and civilian personnel, (f) transportation, (g) clothing and equippage, (h) medical supplies, (i) pay and allowances, (j) chemical warfare, (k) ammunition and bombs. Obviously this list can be greatly expanded.

When a final cost analysis is made, it will show that the 27 billion dollar price paid by the United States for the strategic bombing campaign in Europe was only an approximate 11 per cent of our over-all war expenses up to December 31, 1944. Of all the war's varied and titanic investments, there was surely no sounder one than this, if war investments can ever be calculated on a simple dollars-and-cents basis. One fact stands out: strategic air power cost the enemy far more than it did us.

Not only did it require tremendous expenditures to mount the strategic bombardment campaign, but it was also necessary to overcome numerous operational difficulties peculiar to the European and Mediterranean theaters. One report aptly sums up the case: "As usual we can start out by stating that unsuitable weather limited air operations."

Maintenance of heavy bombers in Europe encountered the following main weather problems: mud, rain, frost, low temperatures in flight and icing. Thanks to the excellent lend-lease-constructed airdromes in England, mud did not present such a problem as it did in Italy. There, during frequent rainy spells, planes bogged down whenever they happened to leave reinforced surfaces. It likewise was impossible to prevent battle-damaged planes from over-shooting runways onto soft ground. Another disrupting factor was mud being tracked into aircraft by crew members, which sometimes worked down into cable pulleys, fairleads, guides, electrical terminals or connectors, causing failures of equipment. It was a particular nuisance in maintenance of escort fighters, where it collected in landing gear, blotted out gun cameras and in general made conditions hell to work in.

Precipitation in the form of rain or snow had slight effect on air operations themselves, but it frequently made ground crew activities well nigh impossible. Frost during winter was also troublesome, because, as any flier knows, planes are unsafe to fly until it is eliminated. This problem was satisfactorily solved by application of a special liquid which melts frost and retards further accumulation. Low flight temperatures had their greatest effect on personnel, notably waist and tail gunners who were often exposed to temperatures of 55° below over Germany in winter. Icing was a particular deterrent to operations. At one point in January of this year the 15th Air Force was grounded 10 consecutive days because of icing conditions either at base or en route to targets. Included in the figure of over 9,000 heavy bombers lost in ETO and MTO are 1,097 destroyed for reasons "other than combat." A great number of these can be attributed to adverse weather.

Difficult as were heavy bomber missions during spells of bad weather, it was even tougher for the escort fighter. In the first place, instrument flying depends largely on the airplane simulating a steady platform. The larger the plane, the less effect turbulence has on it. A pursuit not only is light, but it also has highly sensitive controls to permit greater maneuverability in combat. Rough air or slight errors in flying technique, virtually unnoticeable in a Fortress, are exaggerated in a fighter, may cause it to assume dangerous attitudes. Perfect trim, so important in good instrument flying, is also hard to achieve in a single-engined plane because of torque.

Nevertheless, frequently the "little friends'" went out on escort duty when the ceiling was only 600 feet and visibility a mile and a half. Cloud layers sometimes piled up to 28,000 feet; despite this, missions were scheduled and carried out. Instead of having a method of assembly on homing beacons, fighters formed their flights of four below the overcast and, as soon as they were assembled, the leader would start a straight-away climb up into the soup. The three wing men would nestle up close like a flock of ducks and concentrate entirely on flying tight formation while the leader did the instrument flying, Not infrequently visibility became so bad that unless they virtually overlapped wings they would lose sight of their flight commander. This one man had to take responsibility for three others but our pilots were entirely up to the job. Unfortunately, on some occasions inexperienced wing men, flying their first combat missions, would become confused after long, tiring stretches of weather flying. It wasn't difficult to think that the flight leader was turning when he really wasn't. Thus, the wing man sometimes would start to turn, find himself in a cockeyed attitude, get vertigo, lose his position and reference on his lead and finally go into a spin. Several pilots were lost in this fashion.

On some occasions planes got back to their home bases only to find them socked in by the impenetrable English ground fog. It was still possible to get them down safely by routing them to airdromes equipped with the ingenious British FIDO (Fog, Intensive, Dispersal Of) method, which employed gasoline burners along the runways. These warmed the air sufficiently to cause condensation of fog in the immediate area, rising visibility so that planes could land safely. By this device heavy bombers were able to operate against von Rundstedt's supply lines during the Battle of the Bulge.

The problem of unexpected bad weather en route to target sometimes caused missions to abort. To obviate this, a new role was designed for the already invaluable 8th Air Force escort fighter. A Scouting Force was established to act as a "seeing eye" for the heavies. The advance unit consisted of a flight of fighters manned by experienced bombardment pilots who had been retrained on single-engined planes. These men, many of whom had completed their tour of duty, preceded bomber formations, investigated weather conditions and advised wing or division commanders by VHF of the best possible courses to take. They also rendered invaluable assistance to large formations, attempting assembly during hampering cloud conditions. Here is the attitude of one 8th Air Force group CO on their value;

"Time and again the Scouting Force was able to make the necessary exploration in advance and relay the vital information needed. Many times it has suggested changes in course and altitude which brought the formation around weather obstructions or through safe channels. On some occasions information that an apparently impenetrable cloud formation was actually 'thin' enough to be safely penetrated has been promptly forwarded by Scouting Force units." By the war's end almost all operational problems had been overcome except that of German flak.

This article was originally published in the December, 1945, issue of Flying magazine, vol 37, no 6, pp 43-58.
The PDF of this article includes photos of B-17Fs at altitude, bomb damage at a Me-110 plant, German underground factories, bomb damage in the Ruhr, and a German camouflage plant. There are also graphs showing aircraft losses, bombing sorties and tonnages, distribution of tonnage, and German oil production capacity. Three maps show German industrial decentralization (1942 vs 1945) and the mission to Regensburg-Schweinfurt (annotated with locations of lost bombers.)
Photos credited to AAF.