World War 2

Bomber Command (1943 - 1945)

In January 1943, after the RAF had already engaged in a number of spectacular 'demonstration' raids involving up to a thousand bombers, both forms of strategic bombing were given a place in Allied strategy at the Casablanca summit and subsequently in the form of a green light for a combined (in reality separate) Bomber offensive. Though more traditional strategies would be pursued, the bomber barons would be given a chance to prove their case that bombing could win the war.

The results in 1943 and early 1944 were disappointing. Daylight raids by American bomber formations, mounted deep into German territory, suffered very high losses. The daylight raids mounted against ball bearing facilities at Schweinfurf and Regensburg in August and October 1943 saw over 20 per cent of the bombing force destroyed, and such deep raids had to be suspended. The limited damage done to German production plant, meanwhile, was quickly repaired. As for the night bombing efforts of the RAF, while aircraft losses were generally lower and the destruction on the ground much greater, the overall effect on German morale and efficiency was not as devastating as was hoped.

Under the right weather conditions and with enough aircraft, Bomber Command proved it could wreak enormous havoc in a particular city, as the great firestorm raised in Hamburg one night in July 1943 (40,000 killed) demonstrated. Yet though much damage was not all German cities proved so vulnerable, as indicated by the high losses (over 5 per cent nightly) and relatively poor effect of the campaign mounted against Berlin in the winter months of 1943-44.

Moreover, successful raids such as Hamburg were matched by disasters such as the attack on Nuremberg in March 1944 in which over 500 Aircrew were lost as against 129 Germans. Overall the key problem was that, despite great destruction and the loss of hundreds of thousands of German lives, claims that Germany was not he verge of collapse proved false. Air raid precautions combined with the tight grip exercised by the Nazi state meant that even after the worst raids civilian morale did not crack to the point of paralysis.

The spring of 1944 did, however, see an improvement in the fortunes of the USAAF. The bombers of the 8th Air Force in Britain were now joined by the bombers of the 15th Air Force in Italy. More importantly, the use of drop tanks meant that American fighters, principally the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt, could escort four-engined B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers all the way to and from targets in Germany. Though bomber losses were still significant, attrition began to take a serious toll on the fighter arm of the Luftwaffe.

Against the will of the bomber barons the focus of the Anglo-American heavy bomber attacks was partly switched in the spring and summer of 1944 to targets in France, Principally railway yards as well as the occasional tactical target. Though rather imprecise, heavy bombers played a significant part in reducing the German capacity to repel the Allied invasion of France in June 1944. Moreover, battles with escort fighters as well as bombers over Germany meant that by this time the Luftwaffe had very few fighters to spare to defend airspace over France.

The early summer of 1944 also witnessed the start of the last and most significant German attempt at a retaliatory strategic bombing campaign through the use of missiles. More Allied success in strategic bombing was achieved over the autumn and winter of 1944-45, as USAAF attacks on the oil industry continued to generate serious shortages of fuel (especially high-grade aviation fuel). Sheer weight of numbers brought on by the Allied superiority in production and training capacity, coupled with advances in navigation and radar jamming techniques, meant that air defences over the Reich at last began to disintegrate. Bomber Command, benefiting from decreased night fighter activity, continued to strike at cities and achieved great success in the Ruhr valley where steel production slumped precipitously in the latter part of 1944. Whether the RAF's destruction of Dresden one night in February 1945, or equally indiscriminate American bombing of Berlin and other cities by day through cloud, materially hastened the end of the war.

The strategic bombing was more cost effective, heavy bombers like the Lancaster or B-17 Flying Fortress were very sophisticated and thus comparatively expensive weapons requiring a significant of high-end Allied resources, both material and human, to produce and maintain bomber forces of well over a thousand aircraft.

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