During the early period, when bomber units of the Eighth were finding themselves and tempering their quality in the heat of combat, success or failure hung upon the human factor that had to sustain the greatest strain of all -- the morale of the combat crews. The cutoff in the promised flow of additional units in the buildup of the bomber force and the absence of replacements for groups already at war, caused by the diversion of heavy bombers to the Mediterranean Theater, placed an almost intolerable strain on the morale of the crews. The morning after each mission saw the number at the breakfast table dwindle. By March 1943 the crews of the initial groups were at less than half strength. Each mission was costing between five and six percent in combat casualties, and missions were running at the rate of five per month. Because the force was so small, each mission was a "maximum effort."
Execution and Evaluation
At coffee tables and in mess halls and reading rooms, the crews developed a new and morbid game. Graphs were plotted, replotted, discussed, and examined. The graphs were of two kinds. The less sophisticated type of curve was plotted with the ordinate as percentage of strength remaining, and the abscissa as an expression of time in months. When the straight line crossed the abscissa, in about three months, everyone would be gone. It did little good for the mathematicians among the crews to spot the fallacy in this simple forecast and to
BOMB LOADING AT AN 8TH AIR FORCE BASE IN
ENGLAND-1943. (Courtesy USAF Art Collection)
show the line was really a curve, and there would actually be twenty percent left after three more months, instead of none. Like most mathematical approaches, this icy logic was of more interest to academicians than to aircraft combat crews, and at best it was of little comfort. The "combat tour" of twenty-five missions was held out as an element of hope, but the chances of completing a combat tour if the combat units still did not get replacements were about one in five (about twenty percent), and this was not encouraging.
The importance of promptly replacing combat losses is clearly illustrated in these survival expectations. If replacements had been promptly made, the chance of survival of each crew would have been forty-four percent at the end of four months instead of twenty-seven, and the chances of surviving a full twenty-five missions would have been nearly two in five. Fortunately, the forces did begin to increase and the replacements to flow about the middle of the year.
Toward the end of June 1943, Brig. Gen. Frederick L. Anderson, who had been a member of the planning team for the Combined Bomber Offensive, moved up from 4th Bombardment Wing Commander to command the VIII Bomber Command. He and Eaker at once went to work preparing for the first assault upon the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt and the Me-109 assembly plant at Regensburg. The plan for the Combined Bomber Offensive had called for the deep penetration of Germany to reach Schweinfurt as soon as it would be possible to launch a force of 300 bombers. The ball-bearing factories were so vital to Germany's prosecution of the war and so concentrated as a target that it was resolved to attack them as early as possible, even before long-range fighters were available, lest the Germans sense their vulnerability and disperse the factories. The story of the two missions against Schweinfurt has been ably told. One of the best descriptions is that by Thomas M. Coffey in Decision Over Schweinfurt. The mission was daring and innovative. The objective was sound, as attested by Albert Speer, German Minister of Munitions, who said: "In those days, we anxiously asked ourselves how
soon the enemy would realize that he could paralyze the production of thousands of armaments plants merely by destroying five or six relatively small (ball-bearing factories) targets." He was asked after the war what would have happened if there had been concerted and continuous attacks on the ball-bearing industry. He replied: "Armaments production would have been critically weakened after two months and after four months would have been brought completely to a standstill."
This strategic objective was obviously well chosen. The stakes were very high and the cost was heavy. Weather destroyed the coordination of the attacks, and German fighters took their toll. Two targets in close proximity were chosen: the 1st Bombardment Wing attacked the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt; the 3d Wing attacked the Me-109 factory at Regensburg and then flew on to bases in North Africa. Of the 230 bombers of the 1st Bombardment Wing that took off for Schweinfurt on August 17, 1943, led by Brig. Gen. Robert B. Williams, 34 did not return -- a loss rate of 15 percent. The 3d Wing, led by Col. Curtis E. LeMay, suffered even more. Of the 146 bombers that had taken off for Regensburg, only 122 reached the landing bases in North Africa, a loss rate of 16½ percent. The bombing had been good but the bombs used against Schweinfurt had not been heavy enough. Though the buildings were destroyed, the heavy machinery survived. Restoration of these factories became the No. 1 priority of Albert Speer's ministry. In the next 2 months, just as the available supply of bearings was approaching exhaustion, the factories commenced to recover production. The attacks on Schweinfurt were repeated on October 14, with 291 Flying Fortresses dispatched on the mission. Sixty did not return, a loss rate of 20½ percent. While the bombing was good and the destruction extensive, no air force could continue attacks with such loss ratios. The ballbearing factories were again rebuilt, but it was a close call for the Germans. To keep producing, single factories were sending individual motorcycle messengers to Schweinfurt to bring back dispatch cases of bearings.
These events are well known. Who can speculate on the anxiety and anguish of Eaker and Anderson which were pitted against their
BOMBING RESULTS of the Third Bombardment Division's
mission over Schweinfurt, Germany, October 14, 1943.
BRIG. GEN. HANSELL, Commanding General, 1st Bomb
Wing, (left) greets Col. Curtis E. LeMay, Commander of the
Wing's 305th Bomb Group, beside a Boeing B-17.
A SEVERED JU-88 AT BRUNSWICK, GERMANY, testifies
to the AAF's determination to break the back of the German Air Force.
EIGHTH AIR FORCE BOMBERS strike a ball-bearing factory
THREE AMERICAN OBSERVERS examine the twisted ruins
of the Kugelfischer ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt, bombed
repeatedly by Allied forces.
B-17 FLYING FORTRESSES OVER SCHWEINFURT.
AT THE WAR'S END, SCHWEINFURT LAY RAVAGED BY CONTINUOUS AIR ATTACKS.
determination to perform these vital missions? If the first mission called for courage, the second added iron will. Only the prospect of assuring victory, shortening the war, and saving thousands -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- of lives bolstered the will of the commanders, at a cost which would have overwhelmed men of lesser caliber than Eaker and Anderson.
The Schweinfurt missions had indeed been costly, too costly to pursue at that rate of combat losses. The escort fighters, whose assistance had been predicted, were sorely needed. Penetration of German air space had to be limited until long-range fighters could be provided. The solution came in the form of droppable auxiliary tanks. Why no one had thought of this earlier defies explanation. The Germans had used this device to extend the range of the Me-109 in the Spanish civil war. But the technical solution was not as simple as would first appear. The tanks had to be pressurized to force the gasoline up to the engine carburetor. And the logistic problem of providing tanks in adequate quantity at the last minute was formidable also. A thousand fighters using two tanks each and operating five missions a month would expend ten thousand tanks monthly. It really was not possible to provide such quantities from English resources, and that many tanks took up a lot of transatlantic shipping space. But by the end of September 1943, P-47 fighters with drop tanks escorted bombers all the way from bases in Britain to a target in Germany -- Emden. By October they were reaching Munster. By November the record of the Thunderbolts stood at 273 for a loss of 73. The toll of American bombers lost dropped correspondingly. The range of escort improved with the arrival of P-51s in October, and by March 1944 it extended to a radius of 850 miles from base. The bomber offensive was revitalized.
Reorganizing U.S. Strategic Air Force for the Combined Bomber Offensive
General Arnold, in a discussion with Air Chief Marshal Portal during the Quadrant Conference at Quebec in August 1943, questioned the feasibility of getting maximum operational use out of
bombers stationed in England, in view of the winter weather. Air Marshal Portal agreed and pointed out the desirability of operating from Italy, especially in view of the proximity of two great German fighter factories near Vienna. Together these plants were estimated to be assembling about sixty percent of German fighter production and could be reached from Italian bases. Portal expressed again his deep concern over the mounting strength of the German fighter force. This decision to base major strategic air forces in Italy was made after the decision to invade Italy, and was not one of the reasons for making the invasion.
On October 9, 1943, General Arnold submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff a plan for splitting U.S. air power in the Mediterranean by creating two air forces. One, the Fifteenth, would be a strategic air force, to be employed in the Combined Bomber Offensive. The other, the Twelfth, would be a tactical air force and would keep on supporting surface operations in the Mediterranean. The six groups of heavy bombers currently assigned to the Twelfth would be transferred to the Fifteenth, and would be augmented by fifteen additional groups diverted from the buildup of the Eighth.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff approved this plan on October 22, after consultation with General Eisenhower. General Spaatz was named Commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces in the Mediterranean Theater, and Maj. Gen. James H. Doolittle was named Commander of the Fifteenth Air Force. General Doolittle continued to serve as Commander in Chief of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force. Initially, the Fifteenth included two groups of B-25 and three of B-26 medium bombers.
Headquartered at Foggia in Italy, the Fifteenth was programmed to consist of twenty-one heavy bombardment groups, seven fighter groups, and one reconnaissance group by March 31, 1944. It was to remain under the control of the Mediterranean commander but would operate in furtherance of the Combined Bomber Offensive. It would be available on an emergency basis to support the surface forces in the Mediterranean.
This arrangement left much to be desired as to coordinating the participation of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Combined Bomber
Offensive. The problem was resolved at the Sextant Conference in Cairo in December 1943. After some debate, coupled with polite dissent on the part of the British, General Arnold succeeded in creating the Europe-wide U.S. strategic air command for which he had striven so long. The Fifteenth and Eighth Air Forces were linked in the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe under the command of General Spaatz. At the same time, General Eisenhower was chosen to command the Allied Expeditionary Forces for the invasion of France. He elected to take with him General Doolittle, whom he had come to trust and admire, to command the Eighth Air Force, which would support the invasion. Also, Mediterranean Allied Air Forces was formed, under the command of Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker.
General Spaatz set up Headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces on January 1, 1944, in London, exercising command jurisdiction over the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces. General Eaker assumed command of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, headquartered in Italy. Maj. Gen. Nathan F. Twining relieved General Doolittle as Fifteenth Air Force Commander. Maj. Gen. Frederick L. Anderson moved from Commanding General, VIII Bomber Command, to become Deputy Commander for Operations for General Spaatz; Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Knerr became Deputy Commander for Administration. General Eisenhower established Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) in London.
The commander of the Allied tactical air forces for the invasion had already been designated at the Quadrant Conference in Quebec. He was Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford L. Leigh-Mallory, who had commanded No. 12 Group of RAF Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain, and had succeeded Air Vice Marshal Keith R. Park as Commander of No. 11 Group after the battle. He had eventually become Air Officer Commanding in Chief, RAF Fighter Command. His previous experience had been related to Army cooperation. He was unfamiliar with broad strategic air warfare, and he had never had the benefit of service at high levels of the Air Ministry or on matters involving the various committees serving the British Chiefs of Staff Committee.
The Air Offensive against the German Air Force
With the arrival of General Spaatz, intensive preparations were undertaken for an all-out offensive against the German Air Force, including the aircraft and engine factories, in furtherance of POINTBLANK. Though weather continued to frustrate intentions, there were three successful radar bombing attacks against the I. G. Farbenindustrie chemical works at Ludwigshafen, which presented a good radarscope return. There was one fleeting opportunity for visual bombing on the German aircraft and engine factories, and the Eighth seized upon it.
On January 11, the forecast indicated a brief break in the clouds over central Germany. The Eighth sent a major force against high-priority targets of the German aircraft industry. Three divisions, comprising 663 B-17s and B-24s, were dispatched to the following targets: FW-190 fighter production at Oschersleben; JU-88 (multi-purpose aircraft) production at Halberstadt; and Me-109 fighter parts and assembly plants at Brunswick. The weather, bad at the bases, did not clear as expected en route, and two of the air divisions were given recall orders. Fighter escort was furnished but it was difficult to carry out. In the Eighth Air Force, there was just one group of P-51s that could cover at the target. Only the 1st Bombardment Division and one combat wing of the 3rd Bombardment Division went on to the targets. One hundred thirty-nine bombers attacked Oschersleben, 52 bombers attacked Halberstadt, and 47 bombers attacked the Brunswick targets.
The P-51 group put up a magnificent fight but was badly outnumbered by defending German fighters. The 1st Bombardment Division lost 34 bombers. Total losses were 60 bombers, no fighters. But the bombing had been good, considering the heavy fighting, and the results were creditable. The formations attacking Oschersleben put 51 percent of their bombs within 1,000 feet of the aiming point for an average radial error of about 1,000 feet and a circular error probable (CEP) of about 930 feet. The two groups bombing Brunswick did much better, placing 73 and 74 percent of their bombs within 1,000 feet of the aiming point, for an average CEP of 750 feet. Photo reconnaissance showed very extensive damage.
By a strange quirk of irony the Fifteenth Air Force was even more hampered by winter weather than the Eighth. It had been confidently expected that weather would be more favorable for the bomber offensive from Mediterranean bases than from English ones. In the winter of 1943-1944 the reverse was true. The Fifteenth did get off to an auspicious start. On November 2, the second day after its creation, the Fifteenth launched a successful attack against the very important Messerschmitt plants at Wiener Neustadt, near Vienna, that were turning out many Me-109 fighters. Production dropped from 218 in October to 80 in November and to 30 in December. Foul weather prevented any followup.
The opportunity to deal a crushing blow to the German Air Force required about a week of visual bombing weather. General Spaatz was especially anxious to find three days of clear weather over central Germany. But bad weather persisted, and the plan prepared for execution in January continued to be postponed. This produced an interesting aberration in logic.
The diversion of heavy bombers by the Joint Chiefs of Staff away from the Eighth Air Force had left the Eighth far short of its requirements in the CBO. The force was not large enough to strike telling blows during the periods of good weather. But those same Chiefs of Staff who had weakened the Eighth expressed dissatisfaction with its performance in the fall of 1943 on the ground that it had not achieved its "overriding intermediate objective" -- the defeat of the German Air Force.
With the passage of time, the cross-channel invasion (OVERLORD) loomed closer and closer on the horizon. OVERLORD simply could not be undertaken if the German Air Force continued to be a strong and vigorous menace. American ground planners in particular grew increasingly insistent that the German Air Force be removed as a significant threat. Many wanted to drop all the primary target systems of POINTBLANK and leave only one -- the intermediate objective. This would then call for the defeat of the German Air Force, not simply as a matter of overriding priority, but of sole priority.
Change in POINTBLANK Directive by the Combined Chiefs of Staff (February 1944)
There were more and more insistent demands for a change in the POINTBLANK directive. Eaker and Spaatz opposed this change, asserting that the German Air Force was already in top priority, but that the war would not end with a successful lodgment in Normandy. The contribution of the Combined Bomber Offensive went far beyond the defeat of the German fighter force; it included the disruption of the whole supporting structure of the German state.
The problem was temporarily resolved on February 13, 1944, when the Combined Chiefs of Staff issued a new directive for the Combined Bomber Offensive. The new objective was stated as:The progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic systems, the disruption of vital elements of lines of communication and the material reduction of German air combat strength, by the successful prosecution of the combined bomber offensive from all convenient bases.The priorities of primary target systems were revised. First priority was German single-engine and twin-engine airframe and component production, and Axis-controlled ball-bearing production. Second priority was installations supporting the German Air Force. Other target systems in their order of priority were:
- Crossbow targets (V-1 German missile installations).
- Berlin and other industrial areas, to be attacked by RAF Bomber Command and U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe (by radar), whenever weather or tactical conditions proved suitable for such activities but not for operations against the primary objectives.
- Targets in southeast Europe (cities, transportation, and other suitable objectives in the Balkans and in satellite countries). These would be attacked by the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces supported by the Fifteenth Air Force, whenever weather or tactical conditions prevented operations against POINTBLANK objectives or in support of important land operations in Italy.
The guidance stipulated for the conduct of combined operations was: "Mutually supporting attacks by the Strategic Air Forces of both
nations pursued with relentless determination against the same target areas or systems, so far as tactical conditions allow."
In this restatement of the objectives of the Combined Bomber Offensive, reference was made again to destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic system. But the original primary targets were not listed. Undermining of morale and the fatal weakening of German willingness and ability to fight had been dropped. Defeat of the German Air Force had been emphasized. Although reference to specified industrial target systems as primary targets had been deleted, those primary targets had not been specifically canceled. An invitation had been offered to use POINTBLANK forces for attacks against cities and transportation and other suitable targets in the Balkans, or for the support of ground operations in the Mediterranean Theater. A new element of significance had been added: "disruption of vital lines of communication." Vital to what? The German industrial and economic system? Or to the movement of German forces and supplies? Was this concept introduced at the request of General Eisenhower who embraced the transportation plan with such single-minded determination?
What had happened to oil, synthetic rubber and tires, and motor transport vehicles? Presumably the submarine yards and bases had intentionally been dropped. The submarine building yards were no longer a principal concern. The submarines had been defeated or their menace reduced. Their omission was not surprising. The position may well be taken that the reference to "other targets" should be construed as new or additional targets and not an indication that the previously prescribed primary targets were not still in high priority. It seems inconceivable anyone would have suggested deletion of oil and rubber.
Actually, this was apparently the interpretation placed on the new directives by the operating heads, Spaatz and Harris. Both U.S. Strategic Air Forces and Bomber Command kept oil in high priority. Transportation (communications) appeared with increasing frequency in the operations that followed. Neither Spaatz nor Eaker nor Harris objected to putting German fighters at the top of the list. As a matter of fact, they had been there all along. This change in directive almost surely stemmed from the Joint Staff -- coming up from the Joint War
Plans Team for Europe through the Joint Plans Committee and the Combined Plans Committee to the Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff. It was certainly a departure in tone from the concepts put forward in the earlier plans stemming from the War Plans Division of the Air Staff.
In the last week of February 1944 the long-awaited opportunity to strike a lethal blow at the German Air Force finally arrived. The forecast pointed to a week of visual bombing weather over Germany. On the 20th of February, the Fifteenth Air Force found itself committed to local operations in support of the ground forces in the Mediterranean, from which General Spaatz could not extricate it. So the Eighth, assisted by fighters of the Ninth, launched the attack.
The mounting of this mission, ushering in Big Week and culminating in a mortal blow to the German Air Force, involved one of the crucial command decisions of the war. The plans had been prepared and the orders issued earlier. Envisioned was an all-out assault of 3 successive days on the German fighter factories. The forces and their commanders anxiously awaited the predicted break in the weather. February weather, often bad, was at its notorious worst in 1944. The night before the proposed assault found the skies solid and the icing conditions severe. Throughout the night, weather aircraft ascended and returned, bearing reports of the cloud and icing conditions: ceiling 500 feet, tops of clouds 12,000 feet, heavy icing. It would be necessary to start takeoffs before dawn because the hours of daylight were so short at this time and latitude.
As the crucial hour approached, weather planes reported the tops of clouds at 8,000 feet with heavy icing conditions on the way up. It was still dark on the ground, with limited visibility. The heavily loaded bombers would have to take off, go on instruments for the climb through clouds with heavy icing conditions, and assemble into combat boxes, combat wings, and air divisions in the dark. The fighters would be especially taxed. They were heavily laden with fuel drop tanks, and they were not as well instrumented as the bombers. Furthermore,
there was no assurance that the weather at the bases would clear for landing. It is one thing to take off over a thousand heavy bombers and nearly a thousand fighters on instruments. It is quite a different thing to try to land them in instrument weather with no instrument landing equipment. It was quite possible the entire Eighth Air Force and a large part of the Ninth might be lost on a single mission. Maj. Gen. Frederick L. Anderson, Deputy Commander for Operations for General Spaatz and one of the finest bomber commanders of the war, was deeply concerned but strongly favored the attack. For hours he had been urging Spaatz to make a firm decision to go. Finally, when the last moment for action had arrived, Spaatz told Anderson to issue the order to go. The risks were so great and the conditions so unfavorable that none of the subordinate commanders was willing to take responsibility for the launch without a direct order from General Spaatz personally. Spaatz quietly and firmly issued the order to go. It was a momentous, dangerous, and highly successful command decision.1 It was another crucial decision in the course of the war. The back of the German fighter force was broken in bitter fighting in the last week in February. The opportunity did not occur again in the next two months. The weather did not make it possible. If General Spaatz had not taken that bold command decision, the air forces could not have guaranteed air superiority over the beaches of Normandy in June, and almost certainly there would have been no invasion at that time.
In the best tradition of cooperation, RAF Bomber Command the night before had struck Leipzig, in the area of the U.S. penetration. On February 20, 16 combat wings of the 3 air divisions of the Eighth Air force, numbering over 1,000 heavy bombers, took off in heavy weather, supported by 17 groups of escort fighters from the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. In addition the RAF furnished 16 fighter squadrons. Twelve German aircraft factories were the targets, 2 being
as far away as Posen in Poland. Bombing was good and losses were slight. That night RAF Bomber Command struck with 600 bombers at Stuttgart, a city vital to the aircraft industry. The Fifteenth was grounded by weather on the 21st, but the Eighth again took off in force. Broken cloud cover at the targets reduced the accuracy of bombing.
On the 22d the Fifteenth participated by attacking the large aircraft plant at Regensburg, and the Eighth put forth another maximum effort. However, adverse weather again plagued the Eighth. Two divisions, though airborne, had to abandon their primary targets, and the other found its targets partially obscured. German fighter opposition was vigorous on the 22d, and the Eighth lost 41 bombers out of 430 sorties. The Fifteenth lost 14 bombers of the 183 dispatched. The escort fighters claimed 60 German fighters for a loss of 11.
On the 23d the English weather was so poor that no missions were scheduled by the Eighth. The Fifteenth, however, sent 102 bombers against a ball-bearing plant in Austria. On the 24th the weather over Germany opened up again and another maximum effort was launched. This time the target list included Schweinfurt again, the target that had cost 60 bombers out of 291 on October 14. The B-24s of the 2nd Air Division of the Eighth lost heavily to German fighter attacks: 33 planes out of 239. The Schweinfurt force lost 11 of the 238 B-17s dispatched. The Fifteenth attacked an aircraft component plant at Steyr, Austria. The Fifteenth lost 17 bombers on this strike. The intensity of the air battles is reflected in the claims. The bombers claimed 108 German fighters destroyed, the escort fighters 37.
In an unprecedented string of luck, the weather was again favorable on the 25th. Both the Fifteenth and Eighth attacked German aircraft factories in southern Germany. The Fifteenth launched 400 bombers, of which 176 attacked the main target at Regensburg. The rest, having insufficient range, were dispatched against other targets. Bearing the brunt of the German fighter assaults, the Fifteenth lost 33 bombers on the Regensburg mission. The Eighth lost 31 out of 738. All forces bombed their primary targets with generally good accuracy.
In this week of maximum effort to paralyze the German aircraft
industry and defeat the German Air Force before the fast-approaching deadline for the Normandy invasion, the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces launched 3,800 bomber sorties against Combined Bomber Offensive targets (3,300 by the Eighth, 500 by the Fifteenth). Tonnage of bombs dropped roughly equaled the total tonnage dropped by the Eighth in the first year of its operations. The Eighth lost 137 heavy bombers, the Fifteenth 89, an overall average of about 6 percent per mission. Escort fighter sorties totaled 2,548 for the Eighth, 712 for the Ninth, and 413 for the Fifteenth. Total escort fighter losses were 28. Even with escorts, the bomber losses per sortie were nearly 5 times as great as those of the escorting fighters. The RAF in this combined effort made night attacks against 5 cities associated with the industries and areas of the daylight effort, using 2,351 sorties, with a loss rate of 6.6 percent.
The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) reported after the war that those operations against the aircraft industrial system damaged seventy-five percent of the buildings producing ninety percent of German aircraft. While the German aircraft industry showed an amazing ability to recuperate, and German aircraft were soon coming off the production line, the effect upon German air power was catastrophic. Whether from the bombing of aircraft industries or from the vicious air battle, or both, the German Air Force never rose again to its past performance.
The back of the German Air Force was broken in February 1944. The Allied strategic air forces, assisted by fighters of the Ninth (Tactical) Air Force, had defeated the German Air Force and attained the neutralization of the Luftwaffe, the "intermediate" objective. They were now ready to turn in force to the primary target systems. But it was late in the day. The plans had called for six months of maximum-scale operations with the forces at full maturity to produce the "fatal weakening" preliminary to invasion. Only three months remained before D-day, and much of the power of the air offensive would be diverted from the primary objectives of the CBO and absorbed instead in operations intended to soften up the German ground forces and delay movements directly threatening the Normandy beaches. This diversion of strategic air forces to short-term, ground-operation goals
was insisted upon by General Eisenhower over the vigorous protest of General Spaatz.
Big Week, for a variety of reasons, had achieved its basic purpose. The resistance of Luftwaffe Fighter Command was broken, but it was still capable of vicious spasms of fighting. Even so, the strategic air forces with their heavy bombers and long-range escorts could choose their targets almost anywhere in Germany and penetrate the defenses to reach them without incurring intolerable losses.
Controversy over Employment of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces
It was the supreme irony that the U.S. Strategic Air Forces, having won their crucial battle at such cost in blood and guts, having attained the "overriding intermediate objective" that had stood in the way of the primary strategic objectives, then faced an even more formidable obstacle to the prosecution of the strategic air war. This was the determination of high authorities and commanders to divert the power of the strategic air forces away from those primary objectives and apply it in a support role for the furtherance of the ground forces objective. The conflict was not simply between air and surface strategists. There were important air commanders who led the fight to use the strategic air forces for ground support. But the responsible strategic air commanders stood together in opposing such diversion.
At the end of March, the U.S. Strategic Air Forces arrayed against Axis Europe were:
Groups U.S. Eighth Air Force, heavy bombers 39 U.S. Fifteenth Air Force, heavy bombers 21 Total 60 (About 2,800 aircraft in operational units) U.S. Eighth and Ninth Air Forces, fighters 32 U.S. Fifteenth Air Force, fighters 12 Total 44 (About 3,600 fighters)
This force compares with AWPD-1 and AWPD-42 in the following manner:
Groups AWPD-1, heavy bombers 44 AWPD-42, heavy bombers (including North Africa and Middle East) 49 AWPD-1, pursuit 21 AWPD-42, pursuit (including North Africa and Middle East) 39
Until Big Week in the war on the German Air Force, the U.S. Strategic Air Forces had been in a period of growth and adolescence, perhaps "stunted growth" would be more accurate. The theories and doctrines of the Air Corps Tactical School had been pursued with an inspiring faith in spite of disappointments and the shocking effect of air battles of unprecedented dimensions. But the real test, in terms of results compared with plans and expectations, lay still ahead. The first year of combat had sorely tried the basic concept that the bombers could get through. When Kenneth N. Walker was a first lieutenant and the bombardment instructor at Maxwell Field, he had stoutly professed that "a properly planned and organized air attack, once launched, cannot be stopped." The realities of air combat had led to modifications in equipment and tactics, but the spirit behind that doctrine had not wilted in the heat of fire. But now, when the real opportunity to apply strategic air power was here, other influences rose to frustrate its achievement.
As the date for the invasion came closer, General Eisenhower was concerned only with results that would be felt in time to assist troops in establishing their beachhead. The factor which, second only to the German Air Force, had been the greatest source of worry to the ground commanders and planners responsible for the Normandy invasion was the rate of buildup of Allied and German divisions in the critical invasion area. Could the Allies transfer divisions and supplies over the channel and across the open beaches faster than the Germans could shift divisions by land to meet them? If the answer was "no,"
then the great adventure was doomed to failure, with international effects difficult to visualize. One solution was to delay enemy movements by air attacks, especially against the railroads.
Air Plans in Preparation for OVERLORD
When General Eisenhower arrived in England in January 1944, bringing his Mediterranean Team with him, he also brought strong convictions about the employment of strategic air forces which were not in step with the convictions of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces Commander. The SHAEF Team in the controversy consisted of RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W. Tedder, RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford L. Leigh-Mallory, and Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, Commander of the U.S. Army Ninth Air Force. They advocated a concentrated air offensive against rail communications in France, involving some 75 to 110 rail bridges, marshaling yards, and maintenance facilities-to make northern France a `railroad desert" and hamper German movements to the Normandy beaches. All Allied air forces, strategic as well as tactical, would be exclusively devoted to this purpose. In the process it was hoped the remaining fighters of the Luftwaffe would arise to the challenge, affording an opportunity to reduce German air fighter forces by combat attrition. The campaign was to begin as soon as possible after Big Week.
The strategic air war team in the controversy comprised General Spaatz, U.S. Strategic Air Forces Commander, supported by General Eaker and the Commanders of the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris, commanding RAF Bomber Command. They proposed an intensive air offensive against Germany until mid-May, then an interdiction campaign against railroads in northern France. General Spaatz wished to focus on German oil resources and production to dry up the gasoline resources of German air and motorized units. The German fighter forces had been crippled but not eliminated. Spaatz hoped by attacking oil to reduce German air fighter forces through combat attrition. Spaatz contended that the German fighter units were currently concentrated in central Germany and the German fighters would have to remain
there and fight for their fuel sources if we continued the strategic air offensive. They were not consolidated in France, and they would not defend French railroads, even if we did assault them. In strategic air attacks against oil, they could be pinned down in central Germany and hence would not be used in Normandy. Spaatz asked for fifteen days of visual bombing by the Eighth Air Force and ten by the Fifteenth Air Force to pursue this strategy. About three weeks before D-day all air forces would then turn to interdiction of communications in France. Air Chief Marshal Harris decried the value of selective precision bombing against the synthetic plants themselves, and preferred area bombing against German cities. However, at first he supported Spaatz and suggested that RAF Bomber Command cooperate with U.S. Strategic Air Forces in attacking cities in central Germany.
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Charles F. A. Portal ultimately swung to the exclusive transportation plan (in France only) proposed by Tedder and Leigh-Mallory, after the controversy had become a major issue and Eisenhower had taken such a strong stand for transportation. Spaatz appealed to General Arnold, but Arnold refused to be drawn into the controversy, saying it was Eisenhower's right to decide. General Eaker came up from the Mediterranean Theater and supported General Spaatz. On March 26, General Eisenhower decided in favor of Tedder and Leigh-Mallory, endorsing the transportation plan for air interdiction of France.
The German fighter forces were still formidable, and it was essential they be kept away from the invasion area. For the defense of the Normandy beaches the Germans had these aircraft:
On D-day 160 (80 operational) Reinforcements in the ensuing month
totaled Luftflotte III-facing
invasion--had by the end of June
By the end of July 244
By the end of August 324
single-engine, day By the end of September 296 single-engine, night
Luftflotte Reich -- in central Germany and charged with the air defense of vital installations of the interior -- had:
Night In June 287 103 322 In July 311 257 102 In August 273 418 In September 420 665
Obviously it was important to keep these forces pinned down in central Germany.
The control and direction of the strategic air forces passed to General Eisenhower at the end of March (although the formal transfer did not take place until midnight of April 13/14) and stayed there until September 14, 1944. The problem associated with command was as controversial as the plan for employment. Eisenhower was determined that his control of strategic air forces should be absolute and untrammeled. Because he had been fearful of opposition in this regard he was more adamant in his demands. Arnold had assured Eisenhower personally just after his appointment as Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, that he fully endorsed this demand.
General Spaatz was completely agreeable to this arrangement for OVERLORD, that is to say, for the time needed to ensure success of the
invasion. OVERLORD was the campaign to establish a secure lodgment on the Continent; it was not the campaign for the subsequent defeat of Germany. Spaatz believed the maximum contribution of the strategic air forces toward victory would be to destroy the war-supporting structure of interior Germany. He wanted to resume the strategic air war as soon as the success of the invasion was assured.
The British were reluctant to place Bomber Command and Coastal Command under Eisenhower. They were willing for Fighter Command to go with its Commander, Leigh-Mallory, into the Allied Expeditionary Air Force for OVERLORD. This did not mean, however, that Leigh-Mallory would be at liberty to transfer large blocks of Fighter Command to the Continent. Fighter Command would return to Air Ministry control once the Allied expeditionary forces were on the Continent. Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory considered that his title as Air Commander in Chief, Allied Expeditionary Air Force, should give him command of all air forces engaged in OVERLORD.
Air Chief Marshal Harris and General Spaatz were content to come under the direction and control of General Eisenhower. Nevertheless, the two were determined not to accept subordination to Leigh-Mallory, whose knowledge of and attitude toward the use of strategic air forces were held suspect by both. In this they were supported by Generals Arnold and Marshall and by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Charles Portal. The issue was finally resolved by placing the strategic air forces directly under General Eisenhower, with Air Chief Marshal Tedder directing their operations in the transportation plan (France) for Eisenhower and coordinating their efforts with Leigh-Mallory.
There was lively dissent as to the most profitable way to disrupt rail traffic: by attacking marshaling yards and railroad shop facilities, or by destroying bridges. Both methods were tried, the latter proving better on later examination. The overall result was satisfactory. The U.S. and British strategic air forces and the medium bombers and fighter-bombers of the U.S. Ninth Air Force devoted almost all of May to assaulting rail transportation in France. The interdiction of German rail movement to the Normandy area was effective. In the
THE 91ST BOMB GROUP strikes enemy installations at
Oschersleben, Germany, on February 20, 1944.
Above: LT. GEN. JOSEPH T. MCNARNEY, Army Deputy Chief of Staff, (left) and Gen. Carl Spaatz visit the 381st Bomb Group, Ridgewell, England, on April 19, 1944.
Below: ETO COMMANDER LT. GEN. JACOB L. DEVERS, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and Maj. Gen. Ira C. Eaker review bombing documents at Thurleigh, England, July 13, 1943.
words of General Spaatz, the attack on German transportation "opened the door for invasion."
To provide additional assurance against interference by the German Air Force, intensive strikes were made on its nearby airfields. By D-day the airfields in the area closest to Normandy had received 6,717 tons of bombs, 3,197 of which were delivered by the Ninth Air Force, 2,638 by the Eighth, and the remaining 882 by the RAF. Actually this was a normal and proper operation for the tactical air forces, rather than the strategic air forces.
On the first day of the invasion, June 6, 1944, the Allied air forces combined their strategic, tactical, and air defense components in direct support of the landings. They launched 13,000 sorties that day. The Luftwaffe was able to reply with about 300 sorties, producing literally no effect whatever. Not a single daylight attack was made by the Luftwaffe. One of the primary purposes prescribed in all the strategic air plans (AWPD-1, AWPD-42, and the Combined Bomber Offensive) had been accomplished. The Luftwaffe had been rendered powerless to effectively oppose either the land invasion or the continued air offensive.
After the lodgment in Normandy had been secured and the breakthrough achieved at Saint-Lo, the Ninth U.S. Army Air Force and the RAF Second Tactical Air Force, under general supervision of Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, should have taken over the tactical support function, leaving the strategic air forces free to resume their mission of air warfare. After all, Eisenhower had in the Ninth Air Force alone more combat aircraft than the Germans could muster in the entire Luftwaffe. And in addition he had the Second Tactical Air Force, RAF. Furthermore, the Luftwaffe had been defeated and contained by the strategic air forces. However, shortly after D-day the problem was complicated by the initiation of the German V-1 missile attacks. Air defense of England fell upon RAF Fighter Command, and naturally this responsibility was picked up by Leigh-Mallory. As the assaults intensified, an alarmed British Government insisted that all available means should be employed to alleviate them. Leigh-Mallory concluded that the strategic bomber forces were best suited for this purpose.
General Arnold had long since discovered that heavy bombers were not the optimum weapon for destroying the very heavy structures from which some of the missiles were launched. He had been at some pains to find out the best method of attacking these structures. Intensive photographic reconnaissance coupled with a commando raid that had seized a set of construction drawings made it possible for Arnold to construct a typical V-weapon site in Florida. Many attacks were made upon the structures, using various size bombs and different types of delivery. It was concluded that very-low-altitude assaults by single fighter-bombers with 2,000-pound bombs were the most destructive. Brig. Gen. Grandison Gardner -- who had done so much for the bombing probability methods at the Tactical School -- supervised the tests. He was sent to England to convey his results.
For some reason Leigh-Mallory was not impressed with these experiments, asserting that the heavy bombers were the only salvation. General Arnold's restrained prodding did not move him. It was weeks before he tried the low-altitude, fighter-bomber method, and then he chose to use smaller bombs. Nonetheless the demonstration was persuasive.
As a result of these controversies the Combined Bomber Offensive suffered another serious setback. The primary targets of the CBO slipped to third priority. It was a long time before most of the strategic air forces were rescued from these diversions and redirected toward their principal goals. As is always the case-the ground commander was reluctant to release control after he had obtained it. And even after direction of the strategic air forces had been returned to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, General Eisenhower constantly demanded their use.
Fortunately, General Eisenhower did respond in part to the persistent arguments of General Spaatz and permitted the occasional return of the strategic air forces to their primary objectives when he felt that the immediate needs of the ground forces were not paramount. But the chief strategic targets in Germany were left relatively free of the major power of the strategic air forces for slightly over three months after the invasion-a total of about six and a half months after Big Week. The strategic air forces were called upon frequently to
render close support in specific ground operations. This function they performed with a promptness that confirmed both the virtue and the weakness of flexibility in air forces.
At last on September 14, 1944, the U.S. Strategic Air Forces and the RAF Bomber Command were permitted to resume the air offensive described in the Combined Bomber Offensive, which the Combined Chiefs of Staff had approved. But even after that, the strategic air forces continued to be diverted to the support of the ground campaigns, and just three-fifths of their might was directed against the strategic targets in the interior of Germany.
With the beginning of the Combined Bomber Offensive, the basic planning phase-that seemingly unexciting, largely unrecognized but absolutely essential prelude to effective combat-was over. What remained to be seen was whether the strategy so ardently and carefully propounded would really be followed with unrelenting perseverance, whether the forces called for would be provided or dissipated and dispersed to other demands, and whether the effects of the bombing offensive would bear out the contentions and expectations described in AWPD-l.
It is far beyond my ability to adequately describe the frustrations, disappointments, fragile hopes, determination, and soaring zeal that were mixed in the cauldron to make AWPD-1 and the plans modifying it. The frantic efforts to meet deadlines, the disagreements, the uphill fight against entrenched and hostile opinion, the dedicated crusade for the new role of air power, the slumbering dread that we might be wrong-that we might persuade our leaders to take a path that would lead to disaster-put a heavy burden on all of us, and initially upon Lt. Col. Harold L. George (Air War Plans Division Chief) in particular. We were, in truth, probing the future, seeking to apply a doctrine conceived in theory and wanting the years of experience that could point the path to follow. It was similar to our attempts today to begin a space doctrine, before the risks are known, before the technology needed if space became a battle area is a reality, and before likely offensive measures and countermeasures can really be described.
Back at the Air Corps Tactical School before the day of radar, the
theory of overflying an enemy's armed force and striking the vital element of his homeland seemed as simple as it was attractive. But how to accomplish this feat against a great power, riding the crest of victory and equipped with the latest creations of munitions technology, was a practical problem of immense dimensions. Even if we penetrated to the selected targets without unacceptable losses and destroyed those targets, how could we predict with assurance the effect upon the viability of the German nation? We could but use the best intelligence available, and make the most careful estimates. This we did with AWPD-1 and the follow-on plans. That the plans turned out as well as they did was, in part, due to good fortune. But it was also due in large measure to the years of debate at the Air Corps Tactical School and, in no less degree, to men like Harold George who had the vision to see the potential of air power and the courage to risk their careers for what they felt was right. Such vision is rare. Moral courage is rarer still, and the combination is truly priceless.
After the war, Harold George remarked to General Arnold that AWPD-1, which had forecast the number of U.S. combat groups within two percent and missed the final total of officers and men by only five and a half percent, showed some pretty accurate forecasting. "Quit slapping yourself on the back," General Arnold said wryly. "You're not such a smart forecaster. We just followed your plan in building the Army Air Forces. No wonder the results look the same."
The force structure prescribed in AWPD-1 was mostly within the power and control of General Arnold, once AWPD-1 had been approved as a guide for production. But the strategic deployment and employment of those forces as laid down in AWPD-1 were chiefly outside his control. They were influenced by joint and combined commands and alliances and subject to the vicissitudes and surprises of the climate of war. These aspects of the plan fared well, but still they bore the imprint of AWPD-1. Combat experience dictated changes in tactics, but the basic strategic concepts and doctrines stood up astonishingly well. Examination and analysis of the effects of the strategic air offensive against Nazi Germany proved to be the "proof of the pudding."
Change of Command
In December 1943 Maj. Gen. Ira C. Eaker suffered a traumatic disappointment that would have broken a man of lesser fiber. When General Eisenhower was selected to lead the invasion across the English Channel and was designated Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, at the Sextant Conference in Cairo in December 1943, he demanded the right to bring with him his principal team members from the Mediterranean Theater. Among them were Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz and Maj. Gen. James H. Doolittle. This meant that Eaker would be displaced as Commanding General, Eighth Air Force.
It was a staggering blow to Eaker, who had literally created the Eighth Air Force, nursed it through an adolescence fraught with ills of every sort, and brought it to full stature as a proud and effective fighting machine. Now he was to leave it just as it was set to wage decisive strategic air warfare. He protested in vain. On January 8, 1944, after a testimonial dinner by the RAF, he departed for the Mediterranean Theater to become Commander in Chief, Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. It was a position of responsibility and prestige, but nothing could really compensate for the loss of the Eighth.
If the Eighth Air Force had to lose a gallant commander, it could not have hoped for a better replacement. General Doolittle was a charismatic leader and a superb tactician. One of his first and most successful decisions came after Big Week. His forces, together with the Fifteenth Air Force and the fighters of the Ninth Air Force in England, broke the back of the German fighter force. He issued orders for the release of the escort fighters to seek out and destroy the enemy in the air wherever they were found. Under Doolittle's command, the Eighth showed what can be done with a fine instrument of air power. The reports of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey bear eloquent testimony. In early 1944 General Doolittle ordered fighter commanders to pursue until the German fighters were destroyed. Commanders could exercise judgment in leaving the bombers to search for the enemy, under the doctrine that such action accelerated destruction of the German Air Force.
Fighters grew more numerous, and while going to and returning
from rendezvous they engaged and destroyed any enemy they could find. Thus a virtual stream of fighters moved along the path of the bombers from base to rendezvous to target and back to base. Increased range made this possible. By March 1944, P-38s had a potential radius of 585 miles; P-51Bs 650 miles with two 75-gallon tanks. This was extended to 850 miles with 108-gallon tanks for P-51s. On May 29, 1944, P-5 Is furnished target support at Posen, Poland (over 700 miles from base) and returned accompanying the bombers. In June, P-51s flew escort all the way to Poltava in the Ukraine, (1,700 miles from base) where bombers and fighters landed.
Beginning in August 1944, the combat boxes of the bombers became smaller and columns longer. Fighter groups were split into two 24-aircraft units, each having its own air commander. This afforded flexibility of escort, allowing a combination of close support and sweeping tactics that could be carried on simultaneously. This was too much for the weakened Luftwaffe to fight against. Consequently, it confined its attacks to bombers that were lost, though on occasion exposed bomber groups were heavily assaulted, with severe losses. By December 1944 the whole VIII Fighter Command was operating P-51s, except for the 56th Fighter Group which retained P-47s. This range extension was the final phase in the transformation of a fighter force, having chiefly a protective escort function, into a much more versatile one possessing offensive and harassing capabilities as well.
Evaluating the Strategic Bombing Campaign in Europe
The strategic bombing campaign has long been a subject of intense controversy and may well remain so for years to come. Certainly the moral issue will be debated as long as morality itself lacks a confirmed definition. What actually happened to the war-supporting structure of Germany as a result of strategic warfare? How far did actual operations depart from the strategic plans?
Although the evidence is still interpreted in various ways, the question as to what actually happened to the war-supporting structure is well documented. Before the end of the war, Maj. Gen. Muir S. Fairchild initiated and General Arnold carried out a bold and
statesman-like proposal. General Arnold requested that a special high-level civilian committee make an immediate and thorough investigation of the effects of bombing in Germany. He asked that it be headed by a citizen of unusually high repute who was untainted by philosophical leanings toward any type of warfare, in order that the report might be as objective as possible. The committee should be commissioned by the President himself and should report directly to him. It should be dominated by civilians throughout and should use military men solely to the extent it found their professional experience to be necessary and helpful. Arnold persuaded Adm. Ernest J. King that the Navy should be represented in the survey. Finally, General Arnold specifically requested that the committee's findings not be divulged to him or to the senior commanders and staff of the Army Air Forces until the report had been completed and submitted to the President.
As a result, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey was established by the Honorable Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, on November 3, 1944, pursuant to a directive from the President. The Bombing Survey was headed by Franklin D'Olier as Chairman and Henry C. Alexander as Vice Chairman. Directors included: George W. Ball, Henry L. Bowman, John K. Galbraith, Rensis Likert, Frank A. McNamee, Paul H. Nitze, Robert P. Russell, Fred Searls, Jr., and Theodore P. Wright. Charles C. Cabot acted as Secretary.
These men, all with well-established reputations, set up an organization calling for 300 civilians, 350 officers, and 500 enlisted men. Headquarters were established in London, and teams operated literally on the heels of advancing Allied armies. Several hundred German plants, cities, and industrial areas were examined. Hundreds of Germans were interrogated, among them the top German government officials and the managers of the German industrial plants and systems. Documents and reports were studied and analyzed. War records were relentlessly ferreted out. Some 200 detailed reports were made. It was a stupendous undertaking and a superb accomplishment.
First the bombing efforts were measured against the plans and objectives. In 1941 the enemy's armed forces appeared to be far too powerful to be defeated by the Allies unless the state supporting them could be fatally weakened by strategic air attack. The aim of our
strategic air plans, AWPD-1 and AWPD-42, was to destroy the industrial fabric buttressing the military power and social order of Germany. The purpose was to defeat the Third Reich by destruction or paralysis of the vital organs of the state body, without invasion if possible, or with it if need be. The original plans called for six months of uninterrupted air attack to fatally weaken the Nazi state. This was to take place before the final decision on whether to invade. The full effect should be achieved before the invasion. Then, if necessary, two months of preparatory air attack would follow in direct preparation for it.
The Casablanca Directive, approved by the President and the Prime Minister in January 1943, expressed the purpose of the air assault, as a part of Allied grand strategy: "To bring about the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened."
The air plans called for providing and operating air forces that could defeat the German fighter forces as an intermediate (counter-force) objective, and then achieve their principal purpose by destroying and dislocating the countervalue system. The system encompassed transportation, electric power (later dropped from the primary target list by actions of the Committee of Operations Analysts), as well as petroleum, ball-bearing, and various munitions factories (including tank, rubber and chemical plants), and certain vital bases).
The air offensive by bombers and accompanying fighters attained the intermediate objective -- defeat of the German Air Force -- during Big Week in February 1944. This made possible the invasion at Normandy in June. But the strategic bomber offensive suffered critical delays that postponed the major air effort against some of the primary targets until four months after the invasion. Obviously the grand strategy had missed its timing. Instead of six months of air attack with the force at full strength before the invasion, just two months of strategic air attack were permitted before the invasion, then six months of air support for the invasion and ground campaign. Not until mid-September 1944 was the strategic air offensive resumed, and even
then forty percent of the bomb tonnage was delivered against targets in support of the ground forces in France, instead of approved strategic primary targets in Germany. The strategic air offensive, in spite of delays and diversions, completed the "fatal weakening" of Germany before a single Allied soldier had set foot on German soil. The combined strategy would have better served the Allied cause if the original plan had been followed. The effect of the bombing upon the selected industrial and economic systems was catastrophic. The strategic air forces finally returned to their primary objectives in October 1944. In the next four months, the strategic air forces completed all the remaining strategic objectives originally proposed.
Effects of the Strategic Air War against Europe
The brief digests that follow examine the effects of the Allied air strategy against Germany. They include pertinent extracts from the report of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.
The German Air Force
The long and bitter battle for control of the skies over Europe culminated in victory in the spring of 1944. There was no German air opposition to the landings in Normandy, and the strategic air forces struck targets deep in Germany at will. The defeat of the German Air Force was the consequence of many factors: destruction of manufacturing plants, combat attrition, disruption of training, and the loss of aviation gasoline from attacks on the Rumanian oil fields and the synthetic plants in Germany. (Synthetic production of aviation gasoline suffered drastically.) The intensity of the bitter fighting in the air was reflected in combat losses. Excluding the Russian front, the Germans lost more than 22,000 fighters. The U.S. losses came to over 12,000 bombers and a like number of fighters.
The target was right but the bombs were too small and the campaign was intermittent. There were two attacks in the fall of 1943. Factory buildings were demolished, but heavy machinery on the
ground floor survived. The bombs should have been heavier (2,000-pounders instead of the 1,100-pounders and 500-pounders) and the fuzes should have been set for longer delay so that the bombs would reach the ground floor. And the attacks should have been followed up more frequently to attain lasting effect.
Albert Speer, the German Minister of Armaments Production, was asked after the war what would have happened if there had been concerted and continuous attacks on the ball-bearing industry with heavier bombs. He replied: "Armaments production would have been crucially weakened after two months and after four months would have been brought completely to a standstill. In those days, we anxiously asked ourselves how soon the enemy would realize that he could paralyze the production of thousands of armaments plants merely by destroying five or six relatively small targets."
This target system received 13 percent of total bombs dropped, almost all of it in late 1944 and early 1945. However, the system was extremely sensitive. An attack on 7 plants by nearly 1,000 bombers on May 12, 1944, sent German synthetic fuel production plummeting from 380,000 metric tons a month to 80,000 metric tons in July and to 27,000 metric tons in September -- a reduction of 93 percent. Although there was a brief recovery to 80,000 tons again in November, subsequent attack brought it to nearly zero by March 1945. Total gasoline was reduced in like manner.
The oil campaign affected both the German air forces and ground forces. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, interviewed for the USSBS, commented:With the debut of the German gamble in the Ardennes, lack of oil, which the strategic bombing campaign had enforced upon the enemy, told handsomely. The withdrawal of Sixth SS Panzer Army, begun in daylight on January 22, 1945, was marked mainly by successes of US fighter-bombers against its tanks and trucks. These successes, however, took place against a background of painfully exiguous oil reserve-with supply trucks being drained to fill the tanks of fighting vehicles-and a long pull to the distant loading
stations. When the Allied breakthrough west of the Rhine followed in February, across the Rhine in March, and throughout Germany in April, lack of gasoline in countless local situations was the direct factor behind the destruction or surrender of vast quantities of tanks and trucks and of thousands upon thousands of enemy troops.
The effect spread to the Eastern Front as well; German forces restricted by lack of gasoline were unable to cope with the Russian onslaught. At the Baranov bridgehead, 1,200 German tanks, massed to hold the position, were immobilized because they had no gasoline and were overrun by the Russians. Even Marshal Joseph Stalin agreed that the strategic air offensive against the oil resources played a vital part in making possible Russian victories in the East.
Synthetic rubber production, which relied upon nitrogen from the synthetic gasoline production plants, suffered similar catastrophic decay.
Ammunition production, which also relied upon the synthetic petroleum plants for nitrogen, showed a similar precipitous decline. The Germans had a huge increase in ammunitions requirements in mid-1944, just after the Allies' successful D-day landings at Normandy and reversals in Russia. Allied bombing of oil-chemical plants brought the explosives industry to almost a complete standstill. The USSBS reported:By February 1945 German explosives production, exclusive of extenders, had been reduced drastically to 8500 tons per month. This decline came at a time when the Germans were fighting on two fronts and consumption was at a peak. Stocks which were ample in mid-1944 evaporated. Thousands of finished shell casings remained unfilled and the Germans were forced on occasion to use as high as 70 percent rock salt to stretch the small supply of explosives.
This system received thirty-two percent of the total bomb tonnage
dropped in Europe. Although the attacks came late in the war, they were decisive. The USSBS described the situation:After the September and October  attacks, it became entirely impossible for the railroad system to meet . . . transportation requirements. The evidence indicated that the supply of critical components in the hands of manufacturers was quickly exhausted, with a resulting severe impact on virtually all munitions and other finished products at roughly the same time in late November and early December.
Since the loss of transportation facilities completely disorganized the flow of basic raw materials and components, production of semi-finished materials was no longer possible. The effects of the strategic air attacks upon rail and water transportation were almost exactly as envisioned in AWPD-1 and AWPD-42. Coal could not be moved to the steel plants and power stations, and the coal shortage interfered with rail movement. Component parts could not be moved to the assembly plants, and the plants themselves could not operate. The industrial fabric of the whole German state was ripping and unraveling.
This was not caused by foreign armies occupying German soil, for in January 1945 the German frontiers were still intact. It was caused by the air offensive, and the plunge in transportation capacity was lethal and irreversible. Transportation is just as vital to the corporate life of an industrial state as the flow of blood is vital to the life of the human body. The level of coal stocks for the railroads dropped to 18 days in October 1944 and to 41h days in February 1945. Under these conditions, orderly production for civilian as well as military usage was now impossible. The steel industry, for example, dropped its output 89 percent in the first quarter of 1945 as compared with its production of 9 million tons in the first quarter of 1944. Destruction of German transportation had undermined the whole industrial and economic structure of the state. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey stated:
The attack on transportation beginning in September 1944 was the
most important single cause of Germany's ultimate economic collapse. From December 1944 onward, all sectors of the German economy were in rapid decline. Even if the final military victories that carried the allied armies across the Rhine and Oder had not taken place, armament production would have come to a vital standstill by May; the German armies, completely bereft of ammunition and motive power, would almost certainly have had to cease fighting by June or July.
John K. Galbraith, Harvard economist and a Director of the Bombing Survey, presented a totally false picture when he said the strategic air offensive against Germany was a failure and that German industry actually thrived on bombing. German industry did thrive for two and a half years before the bombing really began in force. Under the genius of Albert Speer, German production of munitions actually tripled between 1942 and mid-1944. But when the heavy bombing of Germany finally began in September 1944, the output of munitions plunged dramatically. This effect reached a climax in four months of heavy bombing. But even then about two-fifths of the bombs dropped by strategic air forces between mid-September 1944 and mid-January 1945 were diverted to targets outside Germany.
Combat munitions included aircraft, ammunition, weapons, tanks, and ships. As shown on the chart, after the bombing of German targets rose from about 40,000 tons in August to a peak of nearly 200,000 tons in February, the index of combat munitions production dropped steeply from about 315 to about 140 on its way to zero 2 months later.
Strategic Bombing Survey Conclusions
The Strategic Bombing Survey gave as one of its major conclusions:The attack on transportation was the decisive blow that completely disorganized the German economy. It reduced war production in all categories and made it difficult to move what was produced to the front. The attack also limited the tactical mobility
COMBAT MUNITIONS PRODUCTION IN GERMANY (USSBS)
of the German Army.2
By the beginning of 1945, before the invasion of the homeland itself, Germany was reaching a state of helplessness. Her armament production was falling irretrievably, orderliness in effort was disappearing, and total disruption and disintegration were well along. Her armies were still in the field. But with the impending collapse of the supporting economy, the indications are convincing that they would have had to cease fighting -- any effective fighting -- within a few months. Germany was mortally wounded.
Even if the final military victories that carried the Allied armies across the Rhine and the Oder had not taken place, armament production would have come to a virtual standstill by May. The indications were convincing that the German armies, completely bereft of ammunition and motive power, would have had to cease fighting-any effective fighting-within a few months. In the actual case-as in most others in the history of wars-the collapse occurred before the time when the lack of means had rendered further resistance physically impossible.
The creation of this condition was the intent of all the strategic air plans and should have been achieved before the 1944 invasion of the Continent. The diversion of the strategic air effort, with the subsequent delay in effect, was a tragic mistake.
In his report to Hitler on March 15, 1945, Albert Speer stated flatly: "The German economy is heading for an inevitable collapse within four to eight weeks." Some time later, looking back at the strategic air assault, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey also concluded: "Allied airpower was decisive in the war in western Europe." Noting that air power might have been employed more effectively at various times and places, the Bombing Survey's final report still stressed: "Its power and superiority made possible the success of the invasion. It brought the economy which sustained the enemy's armed forces to a virtual collapse [emphasis added], although the full effects of this collapse had not reached the enemy's front lines when they were overrun by Allied forces." The survey might have noted that the collapse of interior Germany led to the ensuing chaos and incipient
anarchy. This condition, which typified interior Germany in midJanuary 1945, had been brought about by strategic warfare. Germany's frontiers were still intact at that time, and the U.S. air offensive had been superbly effective while causing minimum loss of civilian lives. "The capability of the armed forces to fight," the "will to resist" of the people, and the functioning of vital systems and structures of the German state had been fatally weakened, and inevitable surrender was already assured. The tremendous power of strategic air attack against industrial systems, using conventional bombs dropped with reasonable accuracy against well-selected targets, was clearly demonstrated.
Other Potential Target Systems
Among the errors of omission which characterized our strategic air assault, two target systems stand out: grinding wheel manufacture and the German electric power system.
In an introductory essay for Impact, an official AAF photographic magazine published during the war and reprinted in 1980, Albert Speer said:Every organism has certain vital nerve fibers: sever these and complete paralysis can result. For example, one, inconspicuous item, for lack of which the entire armaments industry would have been crippled, was the production of abrasives. Only eight small plants manufactured the indispensable grinding wheels without which no gun barrel, no crankshaft, no shell could be turned out. Those eight factories were easy to find; the glow of the big carborundum smelting furnaces could be seen far into the night. Given the tedious processing involved in the making of abrasives, destruction of these factories would have halted production for a year, but after only half a year the manufacture of virtually all armaments would have come to a standstill.
The Committee of Operations Analysts had been correct in predicting precisely what Speer said. They listed grinding wheels in fourth priority, right after the German aircraft industry, ball bearings,
and petroleum. We operating people in the Eighth Air Force, who prepared the plan for the Combined Bomber Offensive, were at fault in passing over this target system. To be sure, we lacked target intelligence that would have let us make operational plans for this system. However, we could have requested the gathering of this information, which we failed to do.
As for German electric power, it was unfortunately eliminated as a target by the Committee of Operations Analysts, on the grounds that its paralysis was beyond the capability of the strategic air force. It was dropped from second priority to thirteenth.
In the same essay, Speer commented on the German electric power systems:Our production of electricity was being used to the limit, and there was no reserve capacity. Every loss meant reducing production by a corresponding amount. Possibly there would have been great difficulties in knocking out the hydro-electric plants,3 as the attacks on the Mohne Valley dam showed, but the loss of some twenty major power plants would have constituted the final catastrophe. If in addition the transformer stations, such as Braunweiler, Herbertingen and Ernsthofen, among others, had been put out of action, this worst bottleneck in our industry would have been doubly shattered, for, as we discovered to our alarm, both the steam-power plants and the transformer stations were extremely sensitive even to accidental bomb hits. And ultimately, to note a third crucial factor, it would have been possible to attack the over-land transmission lines, which stretched for thousands of miles. These could scarcely have been protected from low-flying planes. With all the other essentials, such as fuel or rubber or ball-bearings, there was always a reserve stock, not to mention what was already in the pipe line to insure smooth distribution. Thus in all such cases we could have stretched our supplies for many months, even if production were halted. Electricity alone could not be stockpiled, and we need only
remember the consequences of a blackout in New York City that lasted just a few hours!
Finally Speer had this to say on the subject:
According to the estimates of the Reich, a loss of sixty percent of the total power production would have sufficed to lead to collapse of the entire network. The destruction of the power plants would be the most radical measure, as it would at once lead to a breakdown of all industry and support of public life. Destruction of fifty-six targets would produce this effect.
Would it have been possible to paralyze the German electric power system besides accomplishing the other results that were actually attained? A postwar analysis, using actual bombing performance demonstrated by the Eighth Air Force, shows clearly that this would have been possible if the strategic air forces had been applied for two and a half months against the primary targets in Germany proposed in AWPD-1 and AWPD-42 immediately after defeat of the German Air Force, rather than applied in large measure against targets in France in preparation for the invasion and in support of the ground campaign. The subject is treated in some detail in the Appendix, but the conclusions are summarized below.
The task of knocking out the electric power system actually was much less difficult than knocking out the synthetic oil production and keeping it out. The tonnage of bombs required, to provide a 95-percent probability of knocking out 2/3 of the electric power system (65 targets), came to 35,000 tons. This was a relatively small portion of the total effort available in March, April, and May of 1944-before the invasion. During this period the U.S. strategic air forces flew over 60,000 bombing sorties and dropped 150,000 tons of bombs, of which only 6,080 tons was directed against petroleum targets. Thirty-five thousand tons would have been 23 percent of the tonnage dropped by these forces on targets predominantly in France during this period. The tonnage actually dropped, exclusive of the oil targets in Germany, between March 1 and May 15 was sufficient to have caused paralysis of the German electric power system before the
invasion, and still have left 15 days of operations in May for attack of rail transportation in France to the extent of 96,000 tons.
I believe the answer to the question "could the German electric power system have been paralyzed before the invasion?" to be "yes." In combination with the attacks on German transportation and synthetic petroleum systems, the result would have been even more catastrophic to the "will" and "capability" of Germany to continue the war. Whether the German electric power system could have been paralyzed before the invasion is questionable in view of General Eisenhower's vehement support of the air attack on rail transportation in France. But it certainly could have been accomplished immediately after the invasion. German electric power had been No. 2 priority (next after the defeat of the Luftwaffe) in AWPD-1 and No. 4 priority in AWPD-42.
The chief electrical engineer in charge of design of the system volunteered this information: "The war would have been finished two years sooner if you concentrated on the bombing of our power plants."
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1. From a conversation with General Cabell who had been at "Park House," General Spaatz's headquarters on the outskirts of London at the time. Cabell, who had commanded a combat wing of the Eighth Air Force, recalled that he was asked his opinion. He said in his judgment the mission, though marginal, was feasible. General Spaatz turned to General Anderson, who had been urging approval of the operation, and quietly made the decision to "go".
2. USSBS Summary Report: European War, Sep 30, 1945, p 12.
3. The hydroelectric plants were an unreliable and inconstant source of dependable power, since their output varied with the seasonal flow of water from the Alps. They provided only about eleven percent of power and were used to meet peak loads when they were available.