It is comparatively easy to explain the reasons for victory and defeat in past wars; it is extremely difficult to predict the course or outcome of a future war. Certainly the next war will be different from the last. Two factors will surely influence its course: first, improvement of existing and the introduction of new weapons; second, obligations accepted by the United States as a member of the Atlantic Pact.
In any good military library there are numerous essays and books published before 1939 predicting that certain weapons made all others obsolete, that certain arms would dominate the war and even prevent enemy mobilization. Today on adjacent shelves can be found official reports of Combined and Joint Chiefs of Staff, of the Joint Army- Navy Assessment Commission, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, official histories of American Army Air Forces, the Ground Troops and Naval Operations. In addition, captured enemy documents such as the General Quartermaster’s Department of the German Air Ministry, which furnishes accurate evidence of the loss of Nazi planes, and official Japanese records permit testimony given by high officials of Germany and Japan to be thoroughly evaluated. Without excessive labor any interested reader can check predictions made in 1939 with subsequent performance of these weapons under combat conditions. The difference between predictions of enthusiastic advocates of the new weapons and their performance in World War II will furnish a factor of safety to apply to claims being made today by contemporary advocates of new weapons.
In British and American archives there is ample evidence to determine the combat value of the weapons employed in World War II. It is only necessary to make due allowance for the improvements made in the past five years, and make an intelligent guess at the prospective progress in the next five years, to obtain a reasonably accurate forecast of the powers and limitations of the weapons of any war that occurs in the next decade.
There is also an abundant supply of information on the diplomatic side of the war that will prove equally useful in estimating the effect of American participation in a future war as a member of the Atlantic Pact. Sherwood’s Roosevelt and Hopkins, together with several other books including some by the President’s own family, Cabinet members, and accounts by authors like Professor Beard who opposed the President’s decisions, reveal how the policy of the United States before and during World War II was shaped. Investigations of Pearl Harbor throw additional light on the way President Roosevelt controlled our Foreign Relations, directed the Armed Forces, and solved diplomatic and military problems before and during the war.
Churchill’s essays and books already published supplement the American accounts of Anglo-American policy during the war. Together they illustrate many difficulties of coordinating the activities of only two nations, the United States and Great Britain, and reveal how the Prime Minister and President met various crises. Books published by Major General Deane, former Secretary of State, The Honorable James Byrnes, and General Walter B. Smith show that it was impossible to coordinate Russo-American war efforts.
In evaluating the effect of new and improved weapons on the course of the next war it should be remembered that in the beginning of hostilities, land, sea, and air forces of all nations will be compelled to fight with many of the same weapons used in World War II. In November, 1949, General Collins, Chief of the Army General Staff, stated: “If called upon to fight tomorrow, the Army would have to rely on World War II equipment.” He warned that American tanks were not as good as the Russian, although prototypes of new tanks and other weapons are being prepared and production could be commenced soon after appropriations were made. A similar condition exists in the Navy, many of whose ships have been preserved in “moth balls” ready to commission when hostilities are imminent. The Air Force and the Naval Bureau of Aeronautics have better planes on the drawing boards than in use; these can be made available when funds are provided.
All three American Services will fight the beginning and probably the early part of the next war with weapons, most of which were used in the last war. Other nations face the same conditions. With a few important exceptions the over-all influence of new and improved weapons on the next war will take effect gradually. Changes in the conduct of war will be evolutionary, not revolutionary.
During World War II some Air Officers developed a new concept of waging war. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris, its leading exponent, recommended a complete reversal of “the old principle that wars are to be won by seeking out and overcoming the enemy’s armed forces. ...” During the last war he proposed that when the British had obtained “4,000 heavy bombers to ignore alike the Germany Army and Navy, except in so far as it was necessary to defend England, and secure our (English) bases and sea communications while striking continuously at the enemy’s industrial potential.” Writing in 1947, after the war, he was still convinced that the British “could regard with equanimity the threat of any powers in the world provided we have a few atom bombs and the means to deliver them.” In employing this bombing force he proposed to attack enemy planes and air defenses only when it was impossible to evade them. He was convinced that such an air offensive would enable him to destroy an enemy’s industry in a matter of hours; he was also certain that if an enemy was given a similar opportunity with A-bombs and heavy bombers the industry of England could be extinguished with equal rapidity.
Some United States Army Air Officers shared the views of Harris, but they proposed to bomb during daylight, using precision bomb-sights which they anticipated would permit them to destroy enemy essential factories and transportation facilities. Beginning in the winter of 1940-41, British bombers had until April, 1944, to win the war by “Area or Strategic bombing.” In the spring of 1942 they were reinforced by the 8th Army Air Force. The record of the British Bomber Command is compiled by Harris in his book, Bomber Offensive. The Army Air Force in World War II, Volume II, edited by W. F. Craven and J. L. Cate, gives a detailed account of the policies, training, and operations of the 8th Air Force which, through part of 1942 and most of 1943, joined British bombers to defeat Germany by air strikes alone. These two books together furnish a complete account of Anglo-American Strategic or Area bombing, during which gallant and determined airmen made repeated efforts to knock Germany out of the war, or at least “fatally wound ’the German Air Force.”
Practically every reference in this essay to the achievements or failures of British bombers is based upon the account by Harris, while Volume II of The Army Air Force in World War II furnishes similar data for the 8th Air Force. Only testimony by Air Officers is submitted. The narrative begins with Bomber Command in 1939.
Harris reported, “In the earliest stages of the war we were not allowed to bomb anything on land.” The British Government, determined not to be the first to bomb civilians from the air, ordered this restriction. Harris complained that this decision deprived the airmen of all targets except “warships.” These he “could only attack by day,” because the planes could not find them at night. During the day-attacks on enemy men-of-war Harris soon found that “losses from enemy fighters and flak were prohibitive.” He abandoned these attacks. Next he used bombers to drop propaganda “pamphlets” over Europe. Their losses were small but so was the effect on neutral opinion. Again the bombers were given another impossible task of “attacking German minelaying aircraft.” After the Germans bombed Scapa Flow, British bombers were permitted to make a retaliatory attack on the seabase on the island of Sylt. No worth-while damage was inflicted. Up to this time, according to Harris, the only successful air operation was mine-laying done beyond range of shore batteries and beyond sight of aircraft, which compelled the Germans to organize minesweeping squadrons.
During the invasion of Norway in the spring of 1940 some daylight operations were undertaken. Harris reported that “only the southernmost part of Norway was within range.” “The Hampden (bomber) was cold meat for any determined enemy fighter in daylight. ...” After taking “one or two pretty serious knocks,!’ the bombers again abandoned their attacks. During the invasion of France, Harris reported, “the influence actual or potential of our bombers” on the battles was much exaggerated. The mission assigned was to “push down houses in French towns ... so as to block the important cross-roads.” But the British bombers had “no conceivable means of identifying a pinpoint target like a cross-roads.” At other times the Air Staff had “to refuse to attack targets chosen by the French Command because we knew that the attack would have caused us heavy casualties without having any influence on the course of the battle.”
September 15, 1940, is memorable in the annals of the Royal Air Force. During the day the Fighter Command shot 'down roundly 185 enemy planes. During the ensuing moonlight night, bombers struck an equally heavy blow at the invasion barges. The distance from the bomber bases was short, the flyers were experienced, the attacks well planned. Bombers flew low enough to identify the tanks, guns, and invasion craft piled upon the barges, sinking many barges and blowing up others. British attacks on the barges were systematically continued during the remainder of the month. The bombers themselves made excellent targets; losses were heavy, but the attacks were pressed for they “would have to win” while the barges were moored. By this time both the Luftwaffe and RAF had learned by experience that high altitude bombing of ships underway was not a profitable military operation. The only successes claimed by Harris, up to this time, were mine-laying and the night-attacks on German invasion barges in the Channel ports.
Air Marshal Goering, directing the Luftwaffe, did not, like Harris, announce a new concept of war based on strategic bombing. But he did attempt to evade the defending fighter planes in order to strike directly at ships, industries, facilities, naval bases, and finally civilians ashore. Aided by the earliest radar direction-finders, the British fighters inflicted such heavy loss on Nazi bombers on September 15 that Goering was forced to change his tactics. Goering then concentrated air attacks on fighter planes and their airfields in south and east England in a determined effort to defeat British fighters. His planes shot down many defending fighters and put many of their landing fields and air facilities out of commission. But the technique of defense was continually improving, and plane production was slowly increasing. By strenuous efforts new fighter planes were supplied and facilities and fields were reconditioned. When fighter planes were shot down, many English pilots succeeded in bailing out of their planes, thus reducing the number of personnel replacements who otherwise would have been required.
While British air defenses were winning this last phase of the air battle over England and the Channel, the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine, despite attacks of U-boats and Luftwaffe, maintained a steady flow of food, raw materials, and munitions, including new planes and aviation gasoline, into the British Isles. Before the Nazis abandoned their assaults on British merchantmen, they had combined horizontal and dive-bombing attacks which destroyed more ships than separate attacks, but cost a greater proportionate loss of planes. Early in October Hitler realized the hopelessness of invading England and issued a directive to prepare to invade Russia. Before the end of the month the British War Cabinet realized that the Nazis had abandoned their attempts at invasion.
The Royal Air Force, with the approval of the Committee of Imperial Defense, had designed long range heavy bombers in 1935 when British professional opinion accepted General Giulio Douhet’s theory that massive air attacks could not be repulsed. In the winter 1940-41 when Britain was no longer threatened by invasion, Bomber Command employed these planes to attack transportation bottlenecks such as the Hamm freight yards, the Dortmend-Emms canal, and factories producing aluminum, synthetic oil, and airplanes. Bomber pilots discovered that they could not find targets at night and could not attack them in the day without suffering insupportable losses. They abandoned this mission.
In March, 1941, the Bomber Command sent their Blenheims to make low-level attacks against enemy coastal shipping that maintained sea-communications between Hitler’s occupied Europe from Scandinavia to Biscay Bay. Harris reported, “These attacks were hazardous in the extreme; the enemy’s anti-aircraft fire was deadly and our losses very heavy—the determination [of the crews] never wavered—but many of the men felt they were being sent to certain death.” This attempted offensive was abandoned. During the remainder of 1941 the bomber offensive was equally futile. Harris wrote, “throughout 1941 both air crews and ground staff [of Bomber Command] had been getting more and more depressed by the obvious failure of their attacks and they, as well as the country at large, needed the stimulus of some definite achievement” and for this reason the first attack made by bombers in 1942 was on occupied France. The next two were on Lubeck (March 28) and Rostock on the Baltic, small, easily identified, and not heavily defended cities; 13 of 234 planes were lost at Lubeck, 5 to 6%. This loss-ratio would have prevented expansion of the Command if maintained, for current aircraft production did not exceed 200 per month. An average of 250 Nazi fighters were maintained in western Europe during 1941 and 1942. It seems remarkable that they could inflict such heavy losses on British bombers.
The first major success of the bombers was the attack of 1,000 planes launched against Cologne on May 30, 1942; 900 planes reached the target area dropping 1,455 tons of bombs, two-thirds incendiaries. Casualty rate of planes was reduced to 3.3% while the damage to the area increased out of all proportion to the increased number of planes. By June, 1943, German fighters had risen to 520, including night fighters. Harris attributes this increase to German apprehensions aroused by the successful attack on Cologne. Whatever the reason, as Allied attacks increased throughout 1942 and 1943, the air defenses of Germany were correspondingly strengthened.
When Harris took command of the Bombers on February 23, 1942, his force consisted of about 380 serviceable planes with crews; 50 were light, 260 medium, and 70 heavy bombers; at the end of 1942 the total number of serviceable planes had not increased, but the planes were larger and their performance had improved. For example, in January an average of 50 heavies, in December an average of 261 heavies was available. There was a 44% increase in the weight of bombs that could be dropped, but efficient target-finding equipment had not been produced. Harris commented, “There was not much difference in results between the load of a medium bomber, which misses the target, and the load of a heavy bomber which also misses.”
This continued failure of heavy bombers to hit the target caused the British War Cabinet to substitute “area targets” for specific factories. Harris characterized this decision as the “counsel of despair.” But he himself admits that except for dropping propaganda pamphlets and laying mines in waters beyond the range of enemy antiaircraft guns, and successful attacks on invasion barges, the Bomber Command had nothing but a succession of failures and heavy losses to show for the first two and one-half years of the war. So, Harris was somewhat chastened when he began in February, 1942, to build an air force that, acting against the enemy’s air forces, would, it was hoped, gain “air predominance and then work in close cooperation with the Army.” At that time he realized that for successful cooperation with ground troops special training exercises would be required. During the whole of 1942“ Harris struggled to solve an almost insoluble problem. If he devoted too many planes to attack, he would not have sufficient training crews to enlarge his Bomber Command; if the attacks were not sustained, the Germans, with their labor surplus and efficient management, could easily repair any damage. For this reason Harris was compelled to “re-destroy” Cologne in 1943.
Harris justly complained that his offensive in 1942 against Germany, which he admits inflicted comparatively little damage, was constantly interrupted by diversions of his limited forces to other theaters. Losses inflicted by U-boats compelled the transfer of planes to the Coastal Command. The problem was more complicated. As early as the winter of 1940-41 Harris considered it necessary for the bombers to “test and probe” the enemy air defenses, although Lord Tedder admitted, “We could not operate bombers by day unescorted over the German coast in any conditions of light and weather which would allow of accurate bombing.” Should not the major effort of the RAF in 1941 and 1942 have been employed in assisting the Royal Navy and garrisons in Gibraltar, Malta, Crete, and Alexandria to maintain control of the North Atlantic and Mediterranean, instead of making pin-pricking attacks on German industry and formulating hazy plans for assisting a British Army, not yet recruited, to re-conquer Europe? Control of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Suez Canal was essential to the existence of the British Empire; yet the number of planes assigned by RAF to assist the Royal Navy in protecting these sea lanes was ridiculously inadequate. The losses of ships, cargoes, and 30,000 British seamen, with the heaviest occurring on the Murmansk route, forced the abandonment of the shortest road to Russia. Lack of shipping became the most serious British shortage and continued so almost to the end of the war.
In spite of the English experience the basic plan of Anglo-American bombing in 1942 sought to attain continuity of the air attacks by complementing British night-area bombing with American day-precision bombing.* The efforts of the two Air Forces were coordinated by an agreement that American bombers would in general bomb specific industrial objectives by day; the RAF would ordinarily attack by night the cities associated with industries attacked by Americans. The timing of the attacks would depend upon the tactical situation. Subsequent policies were worked out by General Spaatz and the Chief of Staff of the Royal Air Force.
The mission of American bombers was “the destruction and damage of precise targets vital to the Axis war effort.” The 8th Air Force was developed and trained gradually, for Generals Spaatz and Eaker had resolved to limit the force at first to attacks that “lay within easy fighter range and required at most only shallow penetration of enemy-occupied territory.” Not until the end of January, 1943, were attacks launched “against the Reich.” General Eaker wrote General Stratemeyer, “... The way we are doing it we are going to draw conclusions . .. which will be entirely favorable to the power of bombardment.” At first the 8th Air Force was dependent upon British fighters for escort planes. Their first six missions were carried out with little enemy opposition, under comparatively heavy air escort and with only slight penetration of enemy-occupied territory. Bombs were dropped from 22,000 to 26,000 feet in generally excellent visibility. Bombing accuracy was considered good for inexperienced crews, and late in August General Eaker predicted that in the future “40% of bombs might be expected to fall within a radius of 500 yards from the aiming point.” But results even then indicated that fairly accurate bombing might not produce corresponding damage. Thus 48 bombs plotted, within 500 yards of the aiming point at Le Trait, did no material damage to the ship: yard installations; also, in the attack on Potez aircraft factory 10 bombs, which paralleled closely the target, landed harmlessly in an open field.
The obvious overestimates by bomber crews of the number of enemy fighters destroyed caused the Commanders, in January, 1943, to scale down all reports of enemy casualties 60%. In the opinion of Craven and Cate the figures “were still too high.” They concluded, “the evaluations, especially in the early days, reflected a natural desire—from the Combat Crews to AAF Headquarters to prove the case for daylight bombing.” Inflated reports, - widely published, sometimes had to be corrected, thus embarrassing the AAF. In spite of efforts to reduce errors at Headquarters, “claims continued to run excessively high”; as was shown “by subsequent accounts of the great air-battles of 1943-44.”
In preparing the history of the Air Force, Craven and Cate did not at first have the files of the General Quartermaster’s Department of the German Air Ministry so were unable to check all AAF reports against the record of daily losses compiled by the Luftwaffe. But before publishing Volume II, The Army Air Force in World War II, they were able to sample many Nazi reports and compare them with American estimates. As a result of this comparison in numerous, but not all, cases, the editors concluded, “the 8th Air Force claims were more exaggerated than their severest critics had assumed.” In contrast the editors found that they could depend upon the statistics gathered by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey that assessed the damage inflicted upon enemy industry and installations.
American and British bombers found during 1942 that the Germans were strengthening their air defenses. Not until 1943 was Harris ready to carry out his assigned task of attacking the Ruhr, which proved invulnerable throughout 1942. Even in January, 1943, two British attacks on Berlin were repulsed. Planes attacking the Nazi capital had to fly 200 miles over territory where night fighters were ready to intercept. After losing 22 heavy bombers on the second attack, Harris admitted that with the force then available Berlin was too big a job.
Later in the month bombers were sent to L’Orient and St. Nazaire to attack U-boat pens. But the pens were protected by roofs covered with many feet of concrete and the bombs were ineffective; German repair crews and their equipment were too securely protected. Harris reported that These repeated bombardments uselessly devastated two French towns.
By March Harris could depend upon an average of 400 heavy bombers for a major mission. On March 5-6 he launched 442, including 140 of his favorite Lancasters, to attack Essen. Only 14 planes were lost. By July Essen and Krupps had been gone over six times, 3,260 planes had participated, 138 had been lost. The aiming point was the center of the city; the objective was to reduce production by damage to housing, utilities, and morale of workers as well as to damage the factories themselves. This was the British contribution to the air war of 1943, and in the first six months Harris reported that a succession of catastrophes overtook the Ruhr and northwest Germany. While the British attacked by night, the Americans attacked by day; yet the combined Anglo- American bomber attacks in 1943 only cost Germany 10% of total production and 5% of war production. The enemy night fighters made Harris’ attacks increasingly expensive.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, air member of the British Chiefs of Staff, who was somewhat detached from the daily air operations, found it necessary to call attention to the growing strength of German Air Force fighters and air defenses. He insisted that the primary objective of Anglo-American air attacks should be the destruction of the German fighter force which, with every week’s delay, was getting stronger, and making the task of defeating Germany more difficult no matter where the principal effort was applied. Portal’s conviction that German Air fighters should be the primary objective of Anglo-American bombers was the complete opposite of Harris’ new theory of war.
In May combat strength of the 8th Air Force was increased from 6 to 10 heavy groups; by December it reached 21 ¾ heavy groups; from May to December combat aircraft, especially designed for bombardment, increased from 1,260 to 4,232, giving assurance that AAF could maintain its strength during 1944. Every plane proved to be needed, for in June German Air Force fighters demonstrated that daylight bombing of targets in the Reich beyond the range of escort fighters was both difficult and costly. On June 13, 60 B-17s attacked Kiel, 22 were lost. Enemy fighters hit them as they neared the coast, “only a broken and scattered remnant landed in England.” Hailed by British and American Air Commands as a victory, in retrospect it can only be considered so in terms of bravery and determination. Statistically it was a “sobering defeat.”
July was a big month for the Combined Bomber Attack, but losses in daylight attacks of northwest Germany, Hamburg, and Bremen, and Oschersleben, 90 miles southwest from Berlin, were heavy both from concentrated flak and coordinated fighter attacks. P-47’s intervened on the return trips to protect crippled B-17s from being picked off by enemy .fighters in hot pursuit. Late in 1942 and early in 1943 some AAF officers professed to believe that their heavy bombers could fight their way through German fighters; by June it had become evident that some kind of escort would be required if day bombing were to be conducted successfully. YB fighters proved inadequate; it was then suggested that B-26 medium bombers be converted into fighters. They were needed for diversionary attacks on airdromes and air fields. Nothing then remained but to increase the range of P-47s, although this meant “developing the fighter force primarily for the purpose of protecting bombers, even if that meant limiting it as an offensive arm operating independently against the Luftwaffe.” This sacrifice of the fighters’ offensive power had to be made because in six operations in the last week of July, the 8th Air Force lost 88 heavy bombers, 8.5%. This loss ratio, while not necessarily prohibitive, would certainly prevent the growth of this Force. Air Commanders insisted that this loss proved the necessity of increasing the size of the Force. It certainly indicated the increasing resistance of the German fighters, already noted with concern by Air Marshal Portal.
Fine bombing weather prevailed in the first week of August, but both American and British heavy bombers were exhausted by their July operations. Not until 12 August did the 8th Air Force make a major strike on targets in the Ruhr; 330 planes participated, 243 attacked, 25 were lost. On 15 and 16 August targets in France and Holland were attacked under fighter escort with negligible losses. But on 17 August the 8th Air Force made its most disastrous attack, until that time, on Regensburg and Schweinfurt; 376 planes participated, 315 attacked, 60 were lost. For three weeks thereafter the 8th Air Force bombed only France, Belgium, and Holland, and then required fighter escort. Reverses of the 8th Air Force led some RAF officers to suggest that the 8th Air Force abandon its daylight attacks and join them in night attacks. But the American planes would have required extensive modification to fit them for night attack. Moreover, American Air Commanders were still convinced that they could do pinpoint bombing in daylight over the Reich with bearable losses. Not until 6 September did the 8th Air Force mount a major attack. Then 407 bombers struck in Germany and France; 262 attacked, 45 were lost; on the next day 290 were despatched to attack Belgium, Holland, and France and, thanks to excellent fighter support, not a casualty ensued. These two attacks re-emphasized the necessity of providing long range fighters to escort bombers.
During September targets in Germany were obscured by 6/10 to 8/10 cloud. From the beginning weather had been recognized as “the most serious limitation on day bombing,” but delay in providing radar instruments had limited the supply available to the 8th Air Force. Not until 27 September was Eaker able to provide his pathfinder pilots with a self contained radar device that furnished a picture of the terrain beneath the cloud. Emden was the first target chosen for bombing through overcast. It was near enough for fighters to accompany the bombers; its location on the coast made it easy to find and to identify; 244 of 305 bombers attacked the objective or alternative “targets of opportunity.” Only 7 bombers and 2 fighters were lost; enemy losses were estimated at 21. On 2 October a repeat attack was launched, only two bombers were lost, but the average error on the second attack was five miles. Obviously bombing through overcast reduced losses by making it more difficult for fighters to attack; however, the accuracy of bombers fell off in even greater proportion.
Radar instruments served the defending fighters as well as bombers, perhaps better. They gave early warning of approaching planes and permitted gun crews to aim antiaircraft guns at planes with as much accuracy as crews would with their bomb-sights. Some form of radar was essential, for the bravest and most skillful crews could not bomb an unseen target.
Indefatigable scientists in Great Britain, Germany, and United States, with full support of their governments and industries, were seeking to improve radar, and all other weapons of offense and defense. Anglo- American bombers were increasing in number and improving their methods of attack. In July the 8th Air Force dropped 50% more bombs than in June. Simultaneously German defense measures were becoming more effective. Opposing air forces, like ground and sea forces, were engaged in the classic struggle of offense versus defense.
Losses in the 8th Air Force, suffered during five attacks in the first two weeks of October, became, temporarily at least, unbearable. On 4 October 361 planes participated, 282 attacked, 16 were lost; on the 8th, 399 participated, 357 attacked, 30 were lost; on the 9th, 378 participated, 352 attacked, 28 were lost; on the 10th, 313 participated, 236 attacked, 30 were lost. Then on 14 October came the second attack on Schweinfurt, 320 participated, 229 attacked, 60 were lost; 17 suffered irreparable damage, and 121 reparable damage.
In the October air fights German fighters delivered systematic and coordinated attacks during the bombers’ approach to the target, while they were over the target, and then pursued the withdrawing planes until Allied fighters joined, usually close to the coast. During the approach of the bombers, defending fighters concentrated on one leading group after another. In the attack on Munster, 10 October, the 100th Bombardment group led. It was jumped by Nazi fighters “who flew parallel—out of range, in groups of 20 to 40, stacked in echelon down. They then peeled off, singly or in pairs, in quick succession to attack the lowest elements of the bomber formation.” In two minutes the formation of the 100th Group was broken, in seven the entire group had been destroyed or dispersed. None of this group returned; and 29 of 119 of the Third Division were lost.
During the Schweinfurt attack, the bombers were assaulted as soon as their fighter escort turned back near Aachen. The fighters, using more and more rockets, attacked the bombers in wave after wave all the way to the target. A badly mauled force reached Schweinfurt, and with admirable determination delivered a very damaging attack, while being harassed by flak and more and more fighters. During their withdrawal the bombers were hotly pursued all the way to the Channel. The expected fighter escort did not appear. Their already heavy losses were increased. This Nazi attack was “unprecedented in its magnitude, in the cleverness with which it was planned and in the severity with which it was executed.” AAF estimated 186 enemy shot down; actually 38 were destroyed, 20 damaged. Economic Warfare Analysts recommended another attack. The heavy losses which practically immobilized the 8th Air Force for over four months prevented another attempt.
General Arnold told Washington reporters, “Now we have got Schweinfurt.” He was overly optimistic. Repairs to the factories were speedily effected, helped by the Swedish SKF experts from Stockholm. The inability of the 8th Air Force to continue its attacks over the Reich enabled Speer to reorganize and disperse the ball-bearing industry. Subsequently it was invulnerable to attack until ground troops had entered Germany.
The attack on Schweinfurt was the culmination of a week of costly air battles. The 8th Air Force had lost 148 bomber crews mostly in “four attempts to break through fighter defense unescorted”; it had lost “air superiority over Germany,” and evidently control “could not be regained until sufficient long range escort fighters became available.” Distant missions were abandoned for lack of long range fighters and “the need for recuperating the bomber force after its losses of October 14th.” Not until March, 1944, were P-5 Is, hastily equipped with extra fuel tanks, able to accompany bombers on deep penetrations. By mid-October “cost of the daylight bombing . . . had risen alarmingly while its successes remained problematical.”
British Bomber Command also was being badly mauled. Night fighters made their moonlight attacks on the Ruhr very costly. Harris reported that his bomber losses continued to increase until February, 1944, when they reached 7.1% in two successive attacks which compelled him to make “a complete revision of” his ever changing tactics. Most discouraging was the steadily increasing production of German fighters in spite of combined Allied efforts to destroy factories producing them. German fighter production for the first six months of 1943, the year of the all-out attack, was 751 per month, which rose to 851 during the last six months.
A relatively small number of Nazi night fighters, slightly more than 500, in the summer of 1943 was making it impossible for Harris “to maintain the offensive over the Ruhr.” Berlin was quite beyond effective attack. In October, 1943, at the peak of the fighting, Goering only had 56% of his fighters on the western front. The others were being used with the Wehrmacht operating against Russian Armies.
The Anglo-American bombers had been given over a year to win the war by direct attacks on the Reich, as many of their enthusiasts claimed could be done. All that had been asked of them by the Combined Chiefs of Staff was to prepare for the projected invasion of western Europe by fatally weakening the German Air Force. As previously stated, they had reduced the total production of Germany by 10%, the war production by 5%. But the exhaustion of both Bomber Forces gave the Nazis a respite that enabled Speer to make a new industrial spurt that reached another peak in 1944, while Harris changed his tactics and Eaker recuperated his daylight bombers.
The editors of The Army Air Force in World War II concluded: “The daylight bombing campaign of 1943 must be considered light and ineffective.” Air Chief Marshal Portal was more blunt. On December 3, 1943, he reported to the Combined Chiefs of Staff that Pointblank (Combined Bomber Offensive) was three months behind schedule. The invasion of Normandy could not be delayed indefinitely to give the Allied Air Force a longer time to “fatally weaken the German Air Force,” as its leaders had optimistically anticipated. Furthermore, by January, 1944, Allied intelligence knew that German Fighter Forces were not only increasing but the tactical performance of fighter units was steadily improving despite limited training schedules resulting from shortage of aviation fuel, thus confirming the apprehensions of Air Marshal Portal.
Time for the bombers to win the war alone was running out. During 1943 the President had been insisting that the invasion take place in early spring of 1944. Churchill was still reluctant. Nevertheless, May, 1944, was tentatively selected as the month of landing, and while the bombers recuperated, the Tactical-Air Force to support the landing was arriving in Britain. The failure of the bombers had deprived the Prime Minister of his last argument against the invasion, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Roosevelt’s choice, was named Supreme Commander.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff directed Eisenhower “…to undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her Armed Forces.” He proposed to employ Allied Air Forces to isolate the invasion area by destroying key bridges, freight yards, and main railway arteries of France leading to the theater of operations. With his experience at Salerno freshly in mind, the General insisted that all the air forces in the United Kingdom, except the Coastal Command that operated with the Navy, be placed under his direct control, during the preparatory stages of the land operation and until he had established his forces so firmly in Europe that danger of defeat was eliminated. The Prime Minister and his Joint Chiefs of Staff at first objected. Arguing, in spite of the defeat of the bombers during 1943, that “these great bomber units, with their ability to strike at any point in western Europe, should never be confined, even temporarily, to a role wherein their principal task was to assist in a single ground operation.” Although voiced by Churchill, this argument was the theme song of the Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force.
The Supreme Commander replied that Anglo-American leaders had placed “their hopes, expectations and assets” in one combined effort to establish a theater of operations in Europe. Failure would involve catastrophic consequences; it might compel a re-deployment of American Forces in the United Kingdom to other theaters; it might cause Russia to lose faith in her Allies, and even to consider a separate peace. When he announced “that he would accept no other solution,” Churchill yielded. Thereafter, except for offering sundry gloomy predictions the Prime Minister gave Eisenhower hearty support.
On a lower echelon the Bomber Commanders, Sir Arthur Harris and General Doolittle, who had succeeded General Eaker in command of the 8th Air Force, still objected to serving under Eisenhower’s Tactical Air Commander, Sir Trafford Leigh- Mallory. It was not Eisenhower’s intention to use the Strategic Air Force as an adjunct of the Tactical Air Force. But neither did he propose to let Harris or Doolittle run a separate campaign, nor to be dependent on their willingness to subordinate strategic bombing to his plan of operations; however, he permitted the Bomber Commanders to report directly to him instead of to the Tactical Air Commander.
Lord Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander, directed the air offensive. The railway repair facilities were destroyed, and some 79 railway centers wrecked. In contrasting the failure of the bombers with Tedder’s success, it should be remembered that tactical targets were in easy range of Anglo-American fighters. The railway centers in France were protected by few guns. Bombers always had fighter escort available and met little resistance compared with that encountered over Germany. Harris himself was surprised to find how easily his bombers could work with ground troops; Tedder had learned this lesson while operating under Field Marshal Montgomery in North Africa, when they welded British air and ground troops into one fighting unit.
By the end of May the railway repair facilities had been demolished so thoroughly that Tedder was able to begin attacks on rolling stock and railways leading directly into Normandy, with the assurance that once destroyed they could not be rehabilitated. Enemy resistance increased; night fighters were brought from Germany as it became more evident that a major operation was beginning. As bombers had to repeat their attacks in the same neighborhood, their losses increased; later it was learned that Nazi radar equipment had been improved. Nevertheless, on D day 10 coastal batteries were air-bombarded and many put out of commission, along with troop depots, and radio and radar stations.
The best testimony to the splendid work done by the Tactical Air Force and Bomber Commands in support of the invasion comes from the Nazis. There were 59 divisions in the theater of operations, 32 coast defense or training divisions, 27 field divisions, 10 of them armored. The elaborate preparations gave the German Command ample warning of the coming attack. They had organized a conventional but effective “elastic defense”; had provided ample troops in position to resist at the beaches, with supports and reserves in easy forwarding distances. But a very well executed feint by Eisenhower’s invasion force caused Hitler and Field Marshal von Rundstedt, commanding the defense forces, to think the landing in Normandy would be followed by a larger one near Calais. For a week troops were held in that area. Furthermore, in the first few days after landing, according to von Rundstedt, the Air Force had “paralyzed all movement” by day and made it very difficult at night. Destruction of bridges over the Seine kept the Corps Artillery out of the battle for the beach-heads, and forced its formations to undertake long southerly detours during which they were bombed and thoroughly disorganized. Subsequently Rundstedt stated to Liddell Hart that after “the first few days he had no hopes of defeating the invasion at any stage.” The armored divisions had to be dribbled into battle piecemeal; they could not mount a divisional counter-attack. Obviously the only Nazi remedy was a long retreat and reorganization. But Hitler ordered his commanders to stand and fight and thus completed the disaster.
After praising the work of the Air Forces Rundstedt said to Liddell Hart, “The fire of your battleships was a main factor in hampering our counter-stroke. This was a big surprise both in range and effect.” General Blumentritt confirmed Rundstedt, saying, “[Allied] Army officers who interrogated him after the war did not realize what a serious effect this naval bombardment had.” For this assistance Eisenhower was indebted primarily to the Royal Navy and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey and to the United States Naval Squadron under Admiral Alan Kirk, composed mainly of battleships. The navies constructed and towed the materials for artificial harbors across the Channel, they helped to land the stores and equipment and in cooperation with planes from Coastal Command kept U-boats from attacking.
After the air and naval forces are given all credit due them, it should never be forgotten that American and British ground troops, led by company and regimental officers and commanded by General Eisenhower, actually seized and Then enlarged the Normandy beach-heads. It was Bradley who broke through at Falaise to unloose Patton, while Montgomery at Caen withstood all attacks that Rundstedt could hurl at him.
Another striking example of Tactical Air Power was given by the Air Force that protected the southern flank of Patton when he swung wide around Paris to head for Metz. Again at Bastogne the strength of aviation in good weather, and its impotence in bad weather, was startlingly revealed. No greater contrast can be shown than its helplessness during the days of zero visibility, selected by the Nazis for their last gamble, and its extraordinary power when the skies cleared. In the liberation of France there was plenty of glory for all. The invincibility of skillfully organized, well equipped, wisely led and determined Triphibious Forces was demonstrated. Eisenhower, who planned and executed this operation, had to depend first on his naval and air contingents to get his ground troops ashore, and then to protect his sea-communications while his air and ground troops hammered their way into the heart of Germany in order to destroy her armed forces.
Before this campaign the Germans had conquered Europe with land and air forces; Japanese had overrun the western Pacific with land, sea, and air force. Between 1942 and 1944, Nimitz, Mac Arthur, Halsey, Spruance, Mitscher, Harmon, Vandergrift, Krueger, and Kinkaid rolled back the Japanese thrust with a more powerful and skillful triphibious force. The greatest lesson of World War II can be summed up as follows. Every attempt to gain the decision by air strength alone failed; but when air superiority was integrated with ships or ground troops, or ships and ground troops, victory was always attained.
Ground and sea forces have accepted the fact that air superiority in their theaters of operation are necessary to success. But the Strategic Air enthusiasts have not only claimed that they can operate independently but can win a war unassisted, although events in World War II have demonstrated the contrary. Not until ground troops supported by naval forces captured air fields in Italy could Allied bombers strike effectively at oil wells and plants in southeast Europe. Not until the army of Eisenhower had freed France and Belgium, and deprived Nazis of warning stations, air fields and air defenses, and simultaneously acquired advanced bases for Allied bombers, could the airmen strike effective blows at the Reich. Not until late in 1944 was it possible to damage Berlin seriously. The air triumph over the Reich in 1944-45 was made possible by the continuous advance of foot-soldiers from the west and the east. Similarly in the Pacific, before the heavy bombers based on the Mariannas could strike continuously at Japan, it was necessary for the Marines to take Iwo Jima. Possession of this small harborless island enabled crews to increase bomb tonnage per plane and reduced by half the dangerous return trip. Within three months $52 Super- Fortresses, which otherwise might have gone down in the ocean, made safe emergency landings on this islet.
Developments in the next war remain to be seen. The record of World War II is available to any reader. It shows that every attempt to gain a major victory by air power alone failed, and when superior air forces were integrated with superior fleets or armies or better still with superior fleets and armies, victories were invariably achieved.
The failure of air power acting independently was so evident in 1944 and 1945 that its most extreme advocates were busily explaining why it had failed, usually blaming the ground or sea forces or the high command. Production of the A-bomb revived the new concept of war that had been so speedily disproved in actual combat. It is necessary now to examine what strength, if any, A-bombs add to the claims of Strategic Bombers. Testimony by Admiral Blandy, who conducted the A-bomb experiments and subsequently became Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, and of Dr. Vannevar Bush, who from 1940 to 1945 directed the development of the bombs dropped on Japan, is available.
Before the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, Blandy testified that strategic bombing in World War II was not “lightning war” but a slow war of attrition. He then estimated the possibilities of strategic bombing with A-bombs. He pointed out that less accuracy was necessary in dropping A-bombs due to their greater range of destruction. But he then asked how could planes drop a bomb within 2,000 feet of the aiming point “in a deep penetration of enemy territory, without fighter escort, and bombing at 40,000 feet sometimes by radar instruments through heavy clouds or darkness.” He concluded that “strategic bombing” of properly selected targets, under conditions permitting adequate accuracy “can make a substantial contribution to the enemy’s defeat.” He was equally convinced that strategic bombing “with the A- bomb cannot win a war alone against a powerful and determined enemy—naval power, spearheaded by naval air power” will be vitally needed “to support our forces overseas, our allies and our own national economy.”
It is vital to naval air power that carrier- based planes be equal in performance to land-based planes, first to protect their own ships, next to gain air superiority in a theater of amphibious landings or evacuations, and eventually to attack strategic targets within range of Carrier Task Forces or provide fighter escort for heavy bombers. All planes are steadily increasing in size and performance. Carrier planes must increase in size to cope with shore-based planes, not only to assist in amphibious war, or to evacuate ground troops, but for their elemental task of controlling the seas against any opposition, including submarines and planes. Well aware of these requirements the Admiral was reluctant to believe “that the cancellation of construction of U.S.S. United Stales meant the end of new aircraft carriers,” for larger Navy planes demand new and larger carriers.
In his recent book, Modern Arms And Free Men, Dr. Vannevar Bush gives some of his views on a future war. He is convinced that the A-bomb is a “terrible weapon” but by no means “an absolute weapon—so overpowering as to make all other methods of waging war obsolete.” He reminds readers that the “Fire raids [by incendiary bombs] upon Japan” reduced a far greater area of “her frail cities to ashes—caused far greater casualties among civilians—” than A-bombs. Without the A-bomb Japan “would most certainly have collapsed into utter impotence and could have been contained by our navy without risk.”
Next, Dr. Bush points out, “atomic bombs are expensive and will remain so—raw materials for bomb manufacture are limited.” Not in the near future will there be in the world “two prospective belligerents” possessing great piles of A-bombs. Meanwhile, methods of defense are improving. He recalled the non-fulfillment of Douhet’s prophecy, that British radar and a comparatively small number of fighters turned back the Luftwaffe, and finally that while an enormous fleet of Anglo-American bombers “pounded the cities and transportation of Germany as no other cities have been pounded, still it was the great land armies that defeated -Germany.” He concluded that the “mass bombardment of enemy cities as the sole means of bringing victory over a determined enemy of equal or comparable strength was a delusion.” Remarking that enthusiasts of air power are “often not stopped—by an obstinate fact,” Bush stated that “from the facts which are on the public record it is not difficult to draw reasonable if tentative opinions” on war in the atomic era.
While today the “high altitude, high speed bomber could probably deliver bombs on the target with reasonable assurance” for the long pull “the defense certainly has a chance.” High flying planes are not immune to “guided missiles, with proximity fuses,” which operate so subtly “they can detect a plane in their vicinity by radio reflection.” Dr. Bush added, “The ram-jet is the simplest of all engines—There is no limit to the ceiling of a missile that carries its own ram-jet.” If provided with a proximity fuse, “the missile will sense a target in its path, steer the whole assembly in its direction, and crash into it or explode when in lethal distance.” This robot will make decisions within its capabilities with more accuracy than could a human operator.
Summing up, both Blandy and Bush, who know as much about A-bombs as any two people alive, agree that it is a terrible but not an absolute weapon, that the United States cannot depend upon heavy bombers and A-bombs to win a war, and that it will be several years before any other country will have a large number of bombs. In that time means of defense will have improved. Both of these gentlemen approached their subject objectively. Dr. Bush peered a little deeper into the future than the Admiral. Admitting that another war might come, he prophesied, “It would be highly technical —fast and furious.” American Armed Forces have the most proficient technicalists in their ranks, they prefer a quick hard war to a long slow war. That much of Bush’s forecast is encouraging to Americans. He continued, the next “war would leave the world shaken and broken—it would assuredly set civilization back, but it would not destroy civilization.” Those pessimists and loose thinkers who have been prophesying that another war would mean the end of the world should ponder the considered view of Dr. Bush.
In controlling the seas the Navy will be opposed by submarines, aircraft, controlled missiles, and coast artillery, as well as by surface fleets. In the Civil War it was necessary to create the largest navy in the world to blockade the South, although the Confederate Navy was negligible. In the last phase of World War II, when the Japanese surface fleet had been practically destroyed, their submarines reduced to a nuisance, their experienced fighter pilots exterminated, the attacks of a comparatively few kamikaze planes made it necessary for the largest fleet the world had ever seen to remain in easy supporting distance of American troops in Okinawa for two months before stubborn enemy ground troops could be subdued. The size of the United States Navy is dependent on the tasks it must perform. Today, at the minimum, it must control the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea and support ground forces in Europe and Japan.
In all probability it will be assisted at the beginning of a war by navies of Great Britain and France. But this probability should not reduce the size of our Navy. Alliances are notoriously unreliable. Any future Cabinet of our Allies can withdraw from the Atlantic Pact on short notice. The future policies of all our Allies are uncertain. An ultimatum from a powerful neighbor might force some of them to disavow the Pact. Certainly if any of them were over-run during hostilities, a Quisling Cabinet would be created to secure peace. Under certain unhappy circumstances we might find the navies of our Allies turned over to the enemy. Great Britain found it necessary to sink part of the French Fleet to make sure that it did not fall into the hands of Hitler.
In May, 1940, President Roosevelt feared that the British Fleet might fall into German hands. He cabled Churchill asking what plans were being made for the Home Fleet if the Nazis invaded England. Hinting gently at the possible collapse of the United Kingdom, the President expressed the hope that the Fleet would then be distributed to Newfoundland, Aden, Capetown, and Singapore, promising that the American Navy would protect the Western Hemisphere, and intimating that American and Colonial control of the sea would in the end enable those suffering “temporary reverses” to recover. Churchill replied that it was the intention of his government to fight to the end, but added “... if this country was left by the United States to its fate, no one would have the right to blame those then responsible if they made the best terms they could for the surviving inhabitants... I could not answer for my successors who, in utter despair and hopelessness, might well have to accommodate themselves to the German will.”
Great Britain was spared the ordeal of France, but Churchill was telling Roosevelt the stark truth. The ugly possibilities inseparable from coalition wars are recalled, not to question the good faith of our present Allies, simply to remind Americans that nations crushed by war, or confronted with overwhelming force, have to make terms with the enemy even if their defections jeopardize the fate of former Allies. At the conference table as well as on the battlefield, the defeated are at the mercy of the victors. The only Navy that the United States can depend upon absolutely is its own, and it must be maintained with an ample margin of strength to meet its inevitably heavy responsibilities in a future Global War.
*Data and statements concerning American Air Forces, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Army Air Force in World War II. Volume II. Edited by W. F. Craven and J. L. Cate.