European Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign: Turning the Tide (1944)

Table 1.--Luftrwaffe aircraft losses. Single-engine fighters reported destroyed or damaged (more than 10 percent) by front-line units (1940-44)






--3rd Quarter*




--4th Quarter





--1st Quarter




--2nd Quarter




--3rd Quarter**




--4th Quarter





--1st Quater




--2nd Quarter




--3rd Quarter




--4th Quarter





--1st Quater***




--2nd Quarter




--3rd Quarter




--4th Quarter





--1st Quater****




--2nd Quarter




--3rd Quarter




--4th Quarter




* Battle of Britain

** Operation Barbarossa

*** Anglo-American Round the Clock Bombing Campaign begins

**** Deployment of American P-51 escorts

Note: This tables deals with the number of planes lost. Thanks largely to Speer, however, German was producing more planes. Even more important was the loss of experienced pilots who could not so easily be replaced, especially because most wer lost in a relativelky short time frame, especially in 1944. Germany did not have enough fuel for front line operations, let alone to effctively train new pilots. This was the same problem the British had in 1940.

Sources: U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, European War, Volume 2A, Statistical Appendix to Overall Report and is collated from OKL documents

The air war changed dramatically in 1944. The Luftwaffe had bled Blomber Command and the 8th Air Force in 1943. Neither force had achieved the results expected by Round-the-Clock bombing. Considerable damage had been done but the Luftwaffe had not been broken and the German war effort had not been severely impaired. In fact German war production was increasing. A series of devlopments in lte 1943 radically changed the situation in the skies over Germmany. First and most importantly, the Allies had solved the fighter escort problem. P-51s by December 1943 were beginning to reach the 8th Air Force in numbers. Second, the Allies had invaded southern Italy (September 1943). The new 15th Air Force was established at Foggia. This brought outhern Germany within in range, complicating the Luftwaffe's problems in defending the Reich. Third was the scale of the Allied build up in England. The 8th Air Force was beginning to reach parity with Bomber Command. The 8th Air Firce by the end of the year had the capability of staging raids composed of over 700 bombers on a sustained basis. The Luftwaffe could in most cases potentiuallhy carefully consider engagements, striking at places and times where they could achieve the most favoravle results. Waves of American and British bombers, however, forced the issue, presentuing the Luftwaffe a stark choice. The Germans had either to resist the American bombers or allow them to pulverize their cities. The bombers essentially forced the Luftwaff to give battle to protect German cities. And when the Luftwaffe fighters came up, the bombers and especially the escorts took a heavy toll on the Lufwaffe. Thus in the skies over Germany the 8th Air Force essentially destroyed the Luftwaffe. The actual impact of the campaign was, hiswver, somewhat disappointing. German civilian morale did not crack under the British area bombing and the Americans found it much more difficult to hit specific industrial targets than anticipated. Even so, the air campaign forced the Luftwaffe to deploy major assetts defending German cities rather than on the critically important Eastern Front. And as they did come up they were destroyed in lasrge nimbers. The Luftwaffe after Spruing 1944 was no longer a potent fiorce. Large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters weere ddestroyed, but much more importantly trained pilots were being shot down in large numbers. And they unlike the aircrsft weee irreplceable. . In addition huge numbers of artillery pieces, which could have been used against Russian tanks, had to be diverted to anti-aircraft defenses. The full extent of the change was not completely apparent in 1944 because the Allies shifted priorities from Germany to France in preparation for the cross-Channel invasion. Gen. Eisenhower was give operrational control of the bombers (March 1944). This was the begginning of the Transportation Plan. Srrikes int the Reich duid not end, but were restricted. Here the Luftwaffe was so devestated that they were becoming a non-factor abd were basically a No Show on D-Day. But also imoportantly, the Allied bombers got off the Atlantic Wall and Germasn firces in France from supply abd replascements, destriying bridges and the rail net wirk between Gerrmany abnd france. Once the invasion had succeeded and the liberation of France in Progress, the Allied renewed the strategic bombing campaign with a unimaginable ferocity.

Round-the-Clock Bombing (1943)

The combined Allied air assault on Germany was planned and coordinated by Air Marshall Harris and the American commanders General Hap Arnold and Ira Eaker. The British would continue to bomb at night and the Americans would begin daylight raids. This would put aditional stress on the Germans defenses, forcing them to defend 24 hours a day. The fires from the American bombs could be used as navigational guides by thge British at night. The American 8th Air Force began initial opearions against the Germans in 1943. The Americans opened their full-scale daylight bombing campaign on January 27, 1943 with an attack on Wilhelmshaven. Througout 1943, German cities were exposed to "round the clock bombing" inflict serious civilian casulties. The Americans bombing by day, attempting to hit specific targets using their Nordon bomb sites. The British bombed by night and at best could hit specific cities. There was agreement on the major targets: 1) the Ruhr in western Germany, 2) major cities in the interior of Germany, and finally 3) Berlin. Actual results in terms of impairing German war production was limited. The Ruhr was heavily hit, but producton increased. Allied bombers attempting deepenetration raids were savaged. Althoughcloser targets like Hamburg were devestated. Attacks on Berlin were largely unsuccessful and cstyly. Large numbers of German civilians were killed, injured, or rendered homeless. While the main objectives of the campaign were not being achieved. The Luftwaffe was being driven out f its forward bases along the Channel and back to Germant. In addition, it was being strenched to an extent that it could not provided needed support to the Wehrmacht on the titantic battles on the Eastern Front. The American and British air crews suffered very heavy casulties against German fighters and increasingly effective anti -aircraft guns. At times it was unclear if the bombing campaign could be sustained. Long range fighters were not available in 1942-43 to escort the bombers to their targets in Germany, but the United States by the end of the year had begun to introdyce the long-range P-51 Mustang which had the capavility to accompasny the bombers all the wat, even on deep-penetration raids. G�ring had assured the F�hrer that this was not possible.

Ferocious Air Battles

Ferrocious air battles continued in the New Year. American escort squadrons increasingly accomanied the bombers, but the Luftwaffe for several months continued to come up in force. Thus for several months the bombers crew still had to fight off German fighters. Gradually the P-51 escorts chewsed up the German fighters, but the first months of 1944 were still rough. Only increasingly the statistics changed and with the declining losses, air crews now had a goof change of survibung the War. The ordeal of one American B-17 tailgunner, Lowell 'Slats' Slayton, is an example of the bitter conflict fought out in the skies over the Reich. A tail gunner in 1943 had a 1 in 4 chances of surviving. The escorts in 1944 were improving those changes. His B-17 on hisc13th mision had suffered serious hits by an attacking FW-190 squadron. "[Slats] had let go of his guns and they were hanging down. This, along with the gaping hole that mist have been quite vussible, probably convinced the pilot of another fighter that the tail gunner was dead and he could safely ease in close hehindthe bomber and finish it off. But Slats, though wounded, was angier than he could ever remeember being, and when the FW-190 got somewhere between a hundred and two hundred yards, Slats raised the guns, put the ring and pole sight on the bottom of the cowling, and sent two cursts into it." [Smallwood] Slats' B-17 was mortally wounded. Slats managed to bail out and was taken prisoner (February 22, 1944). He managed to survive deteriorating conditions in two POW camps and a 300-mile trek as the Germans moved him from Poland to western Germany during bitter inter wether. He and comrad managed to escape and were rescued by advancing British troops.

Fighter Escorts

It became clear in 1943 that raids on targets in the Reich were unsustainable without fighter esort. The American bombers were acompanied to the borders of the Reich where they had to turn back because of limited range. The principal American fighter in 1942 was the P-47 Thunderboldt. The pilots reported seeing the Luftwaffe fighters forming up to attack the bombers just as they had to turn back. Some German cities, especially Hamburg suffered devestating attcks, but the Luftwaffe in 1943 proved that American bombers could not sustain unescoted attacks deep into Germany and by the end of the year was also taking terriblr toles on British bombers during night raids. G�ring assured Hitler that the Allied fighters did not have the range to escort the bombers. That was the case in 1943, but it was also what the Allies were were working hard to rectify. Hitler's failure to give priority to the Luftwaffe and the Allied emphasis on air power was to radically change the course of the War in 1944. The air war changed dramatically in 1944. A series of developments in late 1943 radically changed the situation in the skies over Germmany. First and most importantly, the Allies had solved the fighter escort problem. The Allies deceloped improved techniques for extending the ranges of exusting fighters, the P-38s and P-47s. Especially important were the P-47s which constittuted the bulk of the American fighter force at the beginning of 1944. At first a belly tank under the fuselage was added. Eventually wing tanks were found to be more effective. Even more important, P-51s by December 1943 were beginning to reach the 8th Air Force in numbers.


The British Royles Royce Merlin engine was the heart of the P-51 Mustang and the Lancaster bomber. Like so much of the War, the strategic bombing campaign was an Anglo-American operation. By 1944 the strategic bombing campaign had become increasingly an American effort, but it was the British Merlin that powered the P-51s that destroyed the Luftwaffe. We still have to do some research here on the fuel usage of the Merlins in comparison to other similar horsepower engines. The P-51 did have an extra interior fuel tank right behind the pilot and the Lanc's big wings and gas tanks were only part of the reason that those planes had the range and or lift abilities to take the War to the far reaches of the Reich. The B-24 had a longer range then the B-17 even though the B-24 had smaller wings which means smaller fuel tanks but the smaller wings took away some of it's lift ability and had a smaller bomb load. But the Lancaster with the Merlins was able to surmount those problems so the Merlin was just as important on the Lanc as it was in the Mustang. The mating of the Merlin and Mustang had a greater effect on the war for two reasons. First with out the P-51s the bombing campaign would have been a whole lot different and more deadly for the crews perhaps unsustainble. Second, it completed a key role od the strategic bombing campaign--the destruction of the Luftwaffe, The German ME-109 ahd FW-190 fighters came up to protect their cities and were shot down in massive numbers by the P-51s. The performance of the Merlin engines were a key factor here. The German losses were so great that when Eisenhower suspended the strateguic bombing campaihn to concentrate on France (in preparations for D-Day), the Luftwaffe was no longer a major part of the Wehrmacht. It was left a shadow of its former self.

15th Air Force

The Allies invaded Italy (September 1943). The Italians surrendered and the German seized control of most of the country. One of the early prizes was the developed Italian air base at at Foggia in the South. The United States used the Italian bases. Allied air forces were reorganized. The two major commands were the 12th and 15th Air Forces. Jimmy Doolittle temporarily commanded the new 15th Air Force before going to England to command the 8th Air Force. The 12th Air Force transferred all of its heavy bomb groups and its B-26 Marauder medium bomb groups to the 15th Air Force and the 12th became strictly a tactical air force and the 15th became a strategic air force (November 1, 1943). Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, the previous Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF), 12th Air Force, and 8th Air Force commander, took over the new United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) consisting of Doolittle's 8th Air Force and Twining's 15th Air Force. Cities in southern Germany also now came within the range of Allied bombers. This opened a new front in the strategic bombing campaign. Spaatz often used the the 15th in Italy for long-range strategic bombing of European targets when inclement weather in England prevented the 8th Air Force from flying missions against the Reich. Heavy bombers took off from Italy, bombed German targets, and landed in England. Similarly, some flew the opposite route. A few overnight stops in Russia were also made by some of the long-range bombers of the 8th and 15th Air Forces. Targets in the Reich were not the only target. The highest priority target was the the Romanian oil fields (Germany's primary source of petroleum). This complicated the Luftwaffe's problems in defending the Reich ajnd defending Ploesti became impossible. Attacks on the vital Ploesti oil fields would be much shorter range attacks that tghe 9th Air Force operating from North Africa had been forced to conduct. Ira Eaker who had commanded the 8th Air Force was given command of the new 15th Air Force.

American Air Commanders

General Spaatz was the initial commander of the 8th Air Force. When he was transferred to the NMeditrerranean, Ira Eaker took command of the 8th Air Force (December 1942). President chose General Dwight D. Eisenhower to lead the long-awaited cross-Channel invasion from England. Eisenhower arrived in England (January 1944). He had overseen the invasion of North Africa--Operation Torch (November 1942), the invasion of Sicily (July 1943), and finlly the invasion of Italy (September 1943). He was designated Supreme Commander if the Allied Expeitionary Force (SCAEF). His air commander for Torch had been ho was the original commander of the 8th Air Force. Eisenhower wanted Spaatz in his command for the invasion. Spaatz chose to relace Eaker with Lieut. General James H. Doolittle as the new commander for the 8th Air Force. Doolitte was of course the commander of the strike force that bombed Japan from carriers (April 1942). Doolittle had commanded the 12th Air Force in the Mediterranean. Eaker had been criticized for the heavy casualties taken by American air crews in day-light raids over the Reich. This changed with the arrival of Doolittle, but it was not because of changing tactics. The major difference was the arrival of the P51 Mustang which was capable of escorting the bombers all the way into the Reich.

8th Air Force

One of the key reasons for the shift in the air war over Germany was the massive scale of the Allied build up in England. Doolittle inherited a massively expanded and growing force. American aviation plants were turning out bombers, incluing the heavy B-17s and 24s, in incredible numbers. The 8th Air Force was beginning to reach parity with Bomber Command. The 8th Air Force by the end of the year had the capability of staging raids composed of over 700 bombers on a sustained basis, depending of course on losses suffered during the raids.


Air warfare at the onset of World War II was still in its inefficency. There had neverbeen a strategic bombing campaign before. Some air commanders believed that dropping bombs on major cities would force a country to capitulate. Other theries emerge as the war progressed. The British having to bomb at night turned to area bombing. The Americans were committed to pin-point attacks, althogh giventhe accuracy of the bombers, the resilts were aoften essentially the same as area bombing. Gradually a similar debate over whether the bombers should hammer a country and do limited damage on a broad range of targets or focus on a few targets. From an early point, oil was seen as a priority, but heavily defended sites deep in the Reich and Romania proved very costly to attack. The earliest priority objective of the stategic bombing campaign was U-boat facililities. Not only was the camapign in the North Atlantic critcal, but U-boat facilities being along the cpast in northem German were easier to find and target. Gradually the priority targets shifted to German aircraft production--especially fighter aircraft. When the campaign against the U-boats begn to turn the tide in the North Atlantic (Mid-1943), increasing emphasis was given on strikes at the Luftwaffe. This at first meant the industrial plants associated with aircraft production. This proved much more difficult than hitting U-boat targets. For one the British were bombing at night and two they were no located in a small area like the northern coat as was the case for U-boat facilities. And as Allied bombing increased, Speer made increasing efforts to move facilities underground and to disperse aircrft production favilities. This had been spelled out in the Pointblank Directive (June 1943). American Air Commander as the P-51 Mustang squadrons began to become operational conceived of a new target, what the Germans had hit on from the onset of the War, the enemy fighter force. The americans would go after the Luftwaffe itself and not just aircaft production plants. Hap Arnold issued a directive to his commanders for 1944, "This is a must. Destroy the Enemy Air Force whereever you find them, in the air, on the ground and in the factories." (December 1943) The objective in 1943 was directed at a general goal of destroying the German ability to wage war. Air commanders in 1944 began to think about a more specific goal, supporting the cross-Channel invasion. Of course this required achieving air superority. The Wehrmacht had powerfl, mobile Panzer divisions in France. The Panzers could fall upon the realitively weak forces landed on the first few days of invasion. Only air power could prevent this. Thus air superority over the invasion beaches and rear areas was essential for the success of the invasion. Thus the campaign against the Luftwaffe took on a level of urgency. The initial projection was May 1, 1944 and given the Winter weather conditions over northern Europe, there was not a great deal of time for the Allied air forces to achieve this objective.

Fighter Plants near Berlin (January 11, 1944)

The 8th Air Force after the costly raids on Schweinfurt and other heavily defended German targets and shifted to targets in France and the Lowlands which were less heavily defended and could be escorted with fighters. The first major targets in Germany were towns west of Berlin with aircraft plants. A factory at Oscherleben produced most of the Luftwaffe's FW-190s. A factory at Halberstadt built wings for Ju-88s. Three plants in the Brunswick area made parts for Me-110s and assembled them. This time there was a huge difference. It was the first 8th Air Force deep-penetration raid with fighter escorts. There were limitations to the escorts on this an other early 1944 raids. There were 14 escort groups. All but 1 of these groups were made up of P-38s and P-47s. They covered the bombers most, but not all of the way. the one group of P-51 Mustangs went all of the way. The attacking force was made up of 663 B-17s and 24s. The bad weather forced most the force to turn back. The bombers that had gone to far to turn around scored impressive hits on the FW-190 plant at Oschersleben and on one of te plants nears Brunswick. The cost was highm 60 bombers lost, comparable to the Scheeinfurt losses in October. Even so the performance of the P-51s was astonishing. The single P-51 escort group made up of 49 planes shot down about 15 Luftwaffe fighters without suffering a single loss. The appearance of the P-51s deep in Germany was a shock to the Luftwaffe. And more P-51s were on the way so that more escort groups could be formed.

Big Week--Operation Argument (February 20-25, 1944)

The 8th Air Force during last week of February 1944 staged Operation Argument which has become to be called "Big Week". The primary target was Germany's aircraft industry. The 8th Air Force attacks were coordinated with 15th Air Force strikes from the south. Despite the losses in January, the Americans were determined to strike in force again. Plans were made for the 8th Air Force's massive force of 3,800 B-17 and B-24 heavy bomber, but had to be delayed by the clouds anf snowy Winter weather. When the weather broke February 19 offering clear skies over Germany. Spaatz ordered "Let 'em go." The Eighth Air Force smashed at NAZI Germany with more than 1,000 bombers on the first day of the operation (January 20). Ther were 12 major targets in Germany and western Poland, areas annxed to the Reich. More escort groups were available.The bombers were accompanied by almost equal numbers of escorts (American P-38s, P-47s, P-5a as well as British Spitfires). The P-47s this time had dual wing tanks rather than a single fuselage tanks and were more effective than with earlier attempts to extend its range. American commanders were under no illusions about the potential cost. Estimates were as high as 200 bombers for the first day. The Luftwaffe contested the raids as hotly as they had in January. Surprisingly only 21 bombers were lost on the first day. During the operation the Americans flew 3,800 sorties whuch included 500 by the 15th Air Force. There were 10,000 tons of bombs deopped which was about the same as the 8th Air Force had dropped in its entire first year of operations. The bombers destroyed or damaged about of Germany's aircradft plants. About a third of the Luftwaffe's ME-109s were built at Leipzig. Strikes there destroyed 350 planes on the ground as well as hundrededs of others still on the assembly line. Also hard hit was the ME-110 plant at Gotha. JU-88 plants at Aschersleben and Bernburg were also severely damaged. The cost was high, 226 bombers and 28 fighters. This was, however, was some American analysts thought might be lost on just the first day. The Germans were able to rebuild damaged plants and more importantly disperse production more quickly than anticipated. Even so, Big Week was the turning point of the war un the air. The Luftwaffe was severely damaged. The bombers and escorts shot down large numbers of Luftwaffe planes. One source indicated 225 pilots and aircrew killed or missing and 141 wounded. Another source reports nearly 600 Luftwaffe fighters were shot down and almost 1,000 pilots and air crew were killed or wounded. The American losses were much higher--2,600 killed, wounded, or missing aircrews. The difference was that most of the German losses were highly trained pilot, and unlike the Americans, the Germans did not have a massive program underway to rapidly train pilots. The German losses were about 10 percent of the pilot force available to the Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe was never to recover. Not only did American bomber losses decline after Big Week, but the Luftwaffe was no longer able to maintain a credible preence at its forward airbases in France. When D-Day came in June, there was virtually no Luftwaffe opposition to the invasion armada. [Goodwin, p. 488.]

Special Planning Committee (February 1944)

Spattz appointed a Special Planning Committee (February 1944). The Committe was to recommend what the 8th Air Force should target when Lufwaffe bases and construction facilities were destroyed. The Committe recomended against area bombing and suggested that if towns were bombed, the American AAF should only target industrial cites and in those cities the industrial plants. The Committe dismissed the idea of breaking civiliam morale. Here the Committe did not make a moral argument, but rather the pragmatic argument as to how to most effectively pursue the war. The posed thar question of in NAZI Germany just how does one go about breaking the will to resist? Just whose will needed to be broken? TheCommitte persued a reasoned assessment and concluded that area bombing might even stregthen the influence of the NAZI Party. The Committe postulated that the only institution in Germany capable of overt throwing the NAZIs was the Whermacht, but that it had been so penetrated by the NAZIs that this was unlikely until Wehrmacht commanders determined defeat was inevitable and threatened the destruction of the Wehrmacht itself. The Committee's conclusion was tht the AAF should maintain its focus on military and industrial focus. [Schaeffer, pp. 70-72.] An important participant on Special Planning Committee was Colonel Richard D. Hughes who oversaw the AAF Enemy Objectives Unit.

Changing Tactics

Big Week was the decisive turn in the air war. Air commanders made major changes in tactics on both sides. Luftwaffe commanders still controlled a powerful force. They concluded, however, that given the losses incurred during Big Week that they could not contest every American Day-light raid in force. Luftwaffe commanders became increasingly cautious. They began to avoid major confrontations and attempting to chose when it was most advantageous to respond. This of course exposed German cities to the Allied air attacks. And given the expanding Allied escort forces, there were fewer opportunities for the Luftwaffe to find lightly escorted bomber forces. The Americans in contrast adopted increasingly aggressive tactics. The escorts not only flew close-in esort missions, but escorts were incouraged to pursue targets of opportunity, especially when the Luftwaffe did not actively oppose the bomber groups n force. Now the Americans actually had to goad the Luftwaffe to do battle. Spaatzorked out that the fighters would come up to protect the synthetic oil plants.

Berlin (March 1944)

Americans thought they knew how to bring the Luftwaffe to battle. This was of course by attacking Berlin. They were, however, wrong. RAF Bomber Command had since been hammering at Berlin with night raids. German night fightrs took a heavy toll and Air Marshal Harris ended the campaign in February. Now the 8th Air Force targeted Berlin for day-ight raids. The 8th Air Force sent 502 bombers (March 4). They were recalled because of cloudy weather. A small force of 30 bombers did not receive the recall order. They dropped their bombs on a Berlin suburb rather than return with them. The one notable event was that Reich Marshal G�ring, who had assured the F�hrer that the Americans could not provide fighter escorts, saw the escorting P-51s. Later he told American interviwers after the War, "I knew the jig was up." A large attack did hit Berlin (March 6). This time there were 800 escorts, actually outnumbering the bombers. Various groups of P-38s and P-47s were employed, but again the P-51s were with the bombers over Berlin. The American losses were high--69 mombers. This was more than at Swinefuhrt. Most of the bombers were hit by Flak. American air crews claimed 82 German fighers shot down. I'm not sure of the actual number. The Americans lost 11 fighters. Rather than intensify, German fighter opposition weakened as the American attacks continued. American escorts would attack German fighter formations no matter what the disparities in numbers. A large force of 669 bombers attacked (March 22). The Luftwaffe contested the raid only weakly. There were 12 bombers shot down, but mostly by Flak. The raids on Berlin demonstrated that the Allies could now bomb any city in the Reich at will. The Luftwaffe not only could no longer prevent the raids, but would be heavily damaged if they attempted to oppose the Americans.

The East

As the Allies drove the Luftwaffe from France and hammered at it in the skies over the Reich, a revitalized Red Air Force did the same in the East. As a result, the retreating German armies not only would have no air cover, but would be sujected to Soviet air attacks as they fell back to the borders of the Reich. This was both because the over streached Luftwaffe was withdrawn to defend the Reich and because of the increasingly effective Red Air Fiorce. As the aircraft plants moved east beyond the Urals began coming on line (late-1942). American Lend Lease priovided additinal aircraft as well a aluinum to boost Soviet production. As a result, the Luftwaffe was increasingly a spent force and with the heavy losses defending German cities (early 1944), no longer a meningful presence on the battlefield.

End of the Luftwaffe

Luftwaffe commanders were presented with an impossible situation. They could hold back their formations and see the fighters destroyed in the factories before even reaching the combat units or rise to taken on the bombers and their escorts. The issue was more than a military questions as the bombers began reducing German cities to rubble. And to make matters worse, the Luftwaffe had lost most of its experienced pilots and had to fight the now experienced American pilots with poorly trained teenagers. The result was the destruction of the Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe began losing over 1,000 planes a month in the air war over the Reich. And at the sane time were losing 400 planes a month in the East. The loese losses were greater than the lossess sustanined during all of 1943. The Luftwaffe was a force of only about 4,000 aircraft. Thus losses of 1,400 could bnot possibkly be made up by German aircraft factories. The Luftwaffe lost 33 percent of its frontline fighters and 18 percent of its pilots (February 1944). The descrepany was due to the fact that the engagements took place over Germany and thus many German pilots were able to bail out as their planes went down. The following month wa even worse. The Luftwaffe lost an incrredible 56 percent of its fighters and 22 percent of its fighter pilots (March 1944). Anoy\ther disaster followed the next month. The Luftwaffe lost 43 percent of its remaining fightwrs and 20 percentbof its pilots (April 1944). And the blood letting was even worse the following months, 50 percent of the fighters and 25 percent of the pilots (May 1944). This left the Luftwaffe a spent force. Thanks to Speer's dispersal effort, German factories continued to deliver new planes. Inexperienced Luftwaffe pilots now had litte chance. The Luftwaffe essentially had to go into hiding. And there was not real air opposition to the bombers. [Craven and Cate, Vol. III, p. 664] only Flak to defend the cities. Not only could the Lufwaffe no longer defend German cities, but the destruction of the Luftwaffe meant that there would be no German air opposition to the D-Day landings (June 1944). General Eisenhower was able to guarantee the Allied soldiers preparing in England, "if you see fighting aircraft over you, they will be ours.". [McFarland and Newton, p. 239.]

Moral Concerns (March 1944)

Very little discussion of the moral dimensions of the Allied air campaign occurred during the War. Neither the British or the American public were told of the real nature of the strategic bombing campaign. The American Army Air Forces propagated the idea that they were conducting a precession bombing campaign. The British public having experienced Luftwaffe bombing were not that concerned about German civilian casualties. It was the British, however, that raised the first concerns just as the air war began to swing in the Allies favor. The concerns came from both clergymen and pacifists who questioned the morality of area bombing and the terrible toll on civilians. {Brittain] The article in a small circulation religious, pacifist journal had only limited impact, but the publication and endorsement by relgious leaders was noted in a front-page New York Times article. There was some resulting discussion im the American press and religious journals. This discussion, however, measurably impact the conduct of the air war.

Berlin (April and May)

The 8th Air Force staged five heavy raids on Berlin during April and May. While hoping to bring the Luftwaffe to battle, the American air commanders still clung to the illusion that Germany could be bombe out of the War before D-Day. Even if this failed, commanders believe that the resulting dislocation would help gto disrupt the German war effort.

Fighter Attacks on German Airfields and Transportation (April 1944)

With the Luftwaffe's failure to strongly oppose American day-light raids, even raids on Berlin, a new tactic was devised to bring the Luftwaffe to battle. If the Luftwaffe fighters would not rise to do batttle, the Americans would come down. 8th Air Force General Doolittle did not tie his fighters to the bombers. He ordered the escort pilots to "go hunting for Jerries. Flush them out in the air and beat them up on the ground on the way home." [McFarland and Newton, p. 160.] Thus even the Luftwaffe planes that did not rise to engage the American raiders were targetted. Squadrons were formed to do just this. An American force of 600 fighters were ordered to strafe airfields all over Germany. The strikes began in early April 1944. Daily tolls of Luftwaffe planes sometimes exceeded 100 a day. These raids were dangerous and exposed the fightrs to ground fire. The American fighters were also ordered to hit transportation targets. Unlike similar raids in France, they were conducted without concern for civilian casualties. [Schaeffer, p. 68.]

Luftwaffe Capability

The Allied had focused the strategic bombing campaign on aircraft production. Here they had destroyed manufacturing plants and aircraft. Speer's efforts as Armaments Minister had enabled German air craft production t recover from Big Week and other attacks and actually increase. In addition by dispersing production it became much more difficult to attack. Some argue that this proves the failire of strategic bombing. We believe a simple chart of fighter production is not a valid baromter of the sucess or failure of the strategic bombing cmpaign. Note for eamample that the Germans were not building bombers. We would concede that the Allies in 1942, 43, and early 44 could have better refined their targetting priorities. What the ability to maintain fighter production proves more than anything else was how inefficently the German war economy was run in the early years of the War--a mortal failure given Germany's limited industrial capacity compared to tjhat of the allies. Allied assessments of the Luftwaffe had proven faulty after earlier air campaigns. Now internal Luftwaffe reports indicate that the Allies were finally coming to grips with the Luftwaffe. Gen. Galamd dispatched an assessment to his superiors, "The time has come when our force is within sight of collapse" (late-April 1944) The Allied success was not how they expected. Allied air commanders had focused on reducing fighter production. Here the Allies failed. In the end this was not a failure of German industry, rather the Luftwaffe ran out of competent pilots and this was the fault of the Luftwaffe itself. The Luftwaffe could not be blamed if German industry failed. Luftwaffe commandrs can, however, be faulted for an inadequate training program. Here we are taking about a relatively small group of men, Candidates in 1943 and even 44 could have been easily recruited. The Luftwaffe failed to open new fighter training schools until 1944. Instructions at these schools was poor. Fighter aces were not pulled out of active service to share their skills. Instructors were thus of relatively low quality. The pilot shortage which reached crisis levels in 1944 forced the Luftwaffe to deloy pilots with 112 hours of training--less than half that of American pilots. Especially significant is that shortages of jet fuel severely limited air time.

Transportation Plan (February-August 1944)

Eisenhower based on his Mediterraean experience as SHAEG commander insisted and eventually obtained control of the Allied air forces. In this effort he was backed by British air commandr Tedder. Both Bomber Command commander Harris and 8th Air Force Commander Spaatz were convinced that victory lay in continued bombing of the Reich and resisted Eisenhower's efforts to achieve control of theior forces. [D'Este, p. 495.] The major point of contention was the Transportation Plan which Eisenhower insisted be implemented to support preprations for the D-Day landings. This involved both the 8th Air Force and Bomber Command diverting resources from attacks on the Reich to a systematic and extended pre-invasion bombardment of the French transportation network. The strategic air chiefs resisted subordination to SHAEF, even for a short period. Eisenhower did agree to modifications to get acceotance of the Transportation Plan. As a result, the Normandy landings were preceded by a massive aerial bombardment of the German transportation and communication system. The Transportation Plan began (February 1944). Attacks into the Reich did not end, but werec reduced in intensity. This meant primarily attacking rail centers and bridges--vital to the German military supply system. Allied bombers attacked rail junctions, airfields, ports and bridges in northern France and along the English Channel coastline. Fighters were also employed, majing wide low-level sweeps over the area and attacked not only stantionary targets, but supply trains and motiorized vehicles. A huge attack was conducted (May 1). More than 1,300 Eighth Air Force heavy bombers attacked the French and Belgian rail network. This was followed by attacks all along the English Channel targetting German fortifications, bridges and marshaling areas (May 7). The Allies damaging or destroying hundreds of locomotives, thousands of motorized vehicles, and many bridges. The Allies destroyed virtually every bridge across the Seine, thus making rapid resupply and reinforcement of the forces in Normandy difficult. This included continued attacks on Luftwaffe bases to the extent the Luftwaffe essentially withdrew from France and Belgium.

Operation Frantic (June-September 1944)

The Soviet Red Air Force played an imprtant role as a tactical force on the eastern Front. It played a negligible role in the strategic bombing campaign. The American idea of establishing air bases in the Soviet Union to bomb Axis countries began even before the United states entered the War. We are not sure when the comparable idea concerning bases in China arose. Army Air Corps staff studies began after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941) aimed at bombing Germany. The concept took on greater urgency after the Japanese launched the Pacific War by attacking Pearl Harbor (December 1941). The idea of bobing Japan from Siberia was very appealing, only the Soviet Union and Japan had a Non-Aggression Pact. As the Americans began arriving in Britain and facing the enormous task of the strategic bombardment of Germany, the issue took on new urgency. The Soviets were unrecetive to American inatives throughout 1942 and most of 1943. It is unclear why this was, but presumably involved the Soviet penchant for secrecy and mistrust of American intentions. This only changed with the Moscow Conference (October 1943). This was an important Allied war conference involving foreign ministers held in Moscow. The American delegation at the Conference raised the issue formally with Foreign Commissar Molotov. This was followed by Tehran Conference (November 1943). President Roosevelt personally proposed the use of Soviet bases by American aircraft to Marshal Stalin. The Presidet's son, Colonel Elliott Roosevelt provided some details. Stalin's views are not know with any surity. But his conspiratorial mindset and lack of resonse to earlier Ameican iniatives suggests that he was suspicious of the offer. The direct proposal from the President, however, could not be ignored given the vast quantities of Lend Lease supplies being delivered. Also given that Stalin was so vociferously complaining about the lack of Allied action in the West, it was additionally difficult to ignore the American air request. The American position papers proposed both reconnaissance and bombing operations. Stalin at Tehran agreed 'in principle' to proceed. The plan was that American bombers stationed in Britain and Italy would fly missions deep into the Reich and occupied territory. They would then land at American air bases set up in liberated Soviet territory. There they would rearm and refuel and attack other NAZI targets on their return flights. It should be understood that at the time of the Tehran Conference, the American Strategic Bombing Campaign was ot going well and the Red Army had only begun to drive the Germans out of their territory. The whole undertaking was named Operation Frantic (originally Operation Baseball). As it was finalized, three heavy bomber groups would be estanlished in Soviet territory. Only a small contingent of some 1,300 Americans was eventually installed in these bases. Frantic was not the major undertaking originally envisioned by the Americams. The collapse of German air power meant that the 8th and 9th Air Forces no longer needed Soviet bases. What took place was a series of seven shuttle bombing operations. They were carried out by American aircraft based in both Britain and Italy. They landed at three Soviet airfields in Ukraine (June-September 1944). The Americans attacked 24 targets in Germany and German-held territory. Some of them previously beyond the range of American territory. Changes on the ground reduced the potential value of Frantic. The shuttle bombing tactic created some problems for German air defenses, but by the time that Frantic operations actually began, all targets in the Reich had already come within reach od bomber groups in Britain and Italy. And Soviet vetoing of some targets prevented attacks on important bases. Frantic operationd were reduced and finally discontinued. Several factors wre involved. First, the Luftwaffe began attacking the German bases (June 1944). Second, lack of Soviet cooperation and even hostility as the Polish issue flared. Third, Soviet refusal to allow the americans to use the bases for support the Warsaw Uprising (August 1944). Frantic was impaired by the inadequate force protection provided by the Soviets. The Soviets even refused requests to bring in radar-guided artillery and night fighter support. And American aircraft were sometimes fired upon by Soviet units think they were German aircraft. Operations were reduced to a 'skeleton' force of a winter contingent at Poltava of only 300 men. The Americans remained there until flown out after VE-day.

D-Day--Overlord (June 6, 1944)

The full extent of the change was not completely apparent because the Allies shifted priorities from Germany to France in preparation for the cross-Channel invasion--Overlord. Eisenhower as the time for the invasion demanded personal control over both Brish and American air forces. Here the British objected, but when Ike threatened to resign, Churchill capitulted. Eisenhower also was confronted with resistanbce down the chain of command. Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force had taken a terrible drubbing from the Luftwaffe in 1942 and 43. Npw that they were gettng the upper hand, they wanted to persue athe attack over Germany. Harris and Spaatz both argued that they could best contribute to Overlord by continuing th strtegic bombing campaign over Germany. Spaatz in particular wanted to focus on the German petrolum industry. Not only would reducig petroleum production restruct the Wehrmact, bur the Luftwaffe would have to give battle affording the Allied fighter escorts to destroy the remaining fighter force. The Allied air commanders were opposed by a British civilian, a scirntist on the air plnning staff--Silly Zuckerman. He devised the Transportation Plan which sought to essentially destroy the French transpotation system leading to the invasion beaches. The idea was to target 80 railway marshelling and repair centers located in Belgium and northern France. (The targets included the transport system leading to the Pas de Calais as well as Normondy so as not to tip off the Germans as to the location of the invasion.) The Germans could not heavily defend the whole coast. Their ability to defeat the invasion would rest on their ability to rush powerful forces forward and gain control of the invasion beaches before the Allies could land sufficienr forces to exploit their manpower and resource superiority. Zuckerman had the support on one air commander--Air Marshal Tedder. Eisehower decided on the Transportation Plan and backed it even when Churchill expressed concern over possible French civilian casualties. In persuing the Trnsportation Plan the Allied bombers proved much more uccessful at hitting ground targets than one believed possible. Here the Allies improved their target marking techniques. The supression of Luftwaffe as another factor. Raids on Germany were not entirely ceased. The Luftwaffe by June was so devestated that they were a non-factor.

Ploesti Oil Fields (April-August 1944)

Sppatz also had control over the 15h Air Force. While a much smaller force than the 8th Air Force, it was not part of the forces preparing for Overlord. And Spaatz used the 15th Air Force to persue his new commitment to target Grmany's petroleum infrastructure. Te sprawling Ploesti oil complex in Romania continued to be Germany's principal source of ptroleum. American attacks had damaged Ploesti, but not seruiously disrupted production (August 1943). The 15th Air Force hit the refinery and rail yards (April 5). Considerable damage was done. Additional attacks followed which by August had destoyed Ploesti as a source of oil for the Germans. The 15 Air Force lost 223 planes in these attacks. A substantial cost for this reltiveky small force.

Oil Plan (May 1944)

The Allied World War II Oil Campaign was carried out by the British Royal Air Force and UNited Statesrmy Air Forces in an effort to destroy the facilities supplying the NAZI war machine with petroleum, oil, and lubrication (POL) products. It wasone part of the ioverall strtegic bombing campaign. The British identified oil as a weakpoint in the German war industry even before the War, but until the United States entered the War, had no way a getting at German production as it required daylight precession bombing. Bomber Command night-time opertiins had no way of hitting the synthetic fuel plants. The first step was hitting Ploesti and edin Germany's major accss t natural petroleum. The next step was going after the synthetic fuel plants. And with the destruction of the Luftwaffe, this was finally possible (January-March 1944). Finally the 8th Ar Force went for the German jugular--the synthetic fuel plants deep in the Reich. The 8th Air Force had sustanined substantial losses on trgets in western Germany during 1943. Many of the refineries were in eastern Germany. Long-range fighter escorts finally enabled the 8th Air Force to challenge and defeat the Luftwaffe (1944). It is at this point that the American fighter pilots destroy the Luftwaffe. One factor was the superp P-51 Mustang, a marriage of the North American air frame and the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. A factor here was that fuel shortages made it impossible for the Luftwaffe to adequately train new pilots. The American pilots thus faced a Luftwaffe fighter force now composed of many young, inexperienced pilots. The destruction of the Luftwaffe opened up Germany to an unrelenting bombing campaign by the massive American and British strategic bombing forces built up in Britain as well as additional fiorces flying from liberated Italy. One of the primary targets became the synthetic fuel plants. And while the bombers were shifted primarily to France to support the Normandy landings, attaks on the Reich continued and one of the principal targetswas tghe synthetic fuel plants as they were located. The P�litz plant was a primary target of the Allied Oil Campaign. Nearly 70 percent of the town were destroyed.[Gallien, and Stutz, p. 503] Speer describes he process. Speer writes, "... after .....the attack, Hitler received me.....I described the situation......'The enemy has struck us at one of our weakest points. If they persist at it this time, we will soon no longer have any fuel production worth mentioning'." (May 19, 1944)

R�sselsheim (August 1944)

R�sselsheim is the largest town in the Gro�-Gerau district in the Rhein-Main region of Germany, part of Hesse and is located on the Main River. It is an unrenmarkable town of no great significance. An incident occurred thare that brings to light some of the moral issues concerned with the Allied strategic bombing campaign. The American bomber 'Wham Bam, Thank You Ma'am' was hit in a raid over Germany and the crew was forced to bail out before their plane crashed (August 1944). All of the nine-man crew survived and were captured. One who was badly injured and sent to a hospital. The other eight were placed on a train. Because the train was stopped by a break in the rail line a mob at R�sselsheim got hold of them. They were marched into the town which had been earlier heavily damaged by Allied bombs. Led by Josef Hartgen (the town NAZI head), a mob of farmers, shopkeepers, railway workers, women, and children (presumably HJ boys) attacked the crew with anything they could lay their hands on--bricks, stones, and clubs. The women were a major part of inciting the mob to violence. What was left of the airmen when the mob finished was carted to the local cemetary. Miraculosly, two of the eight airmen crawled away from the pile of bodies before the towns people returned to bury the bodies. The two bloodied survivors were arrested 4 days later by a German policeman, treated, and survived the War in a Luftwaffe POW camp. Months later when the American Third Army crossed the Rhine and reached R�sselsheim, details on the massacre emerged (March 1945). Army Majors Luke Rogers and Leon Jaworski set about to put R�sselsheim on trial after the NAZI surrender. It would be the first war crimes trial in defeated Germany. The issue at the trial was just how the behavior of civilians battered by air attack can reasonably be expected to behave. One historian writes about the townspeople tried. "They were on trial for what they did to eight young American men, good men who found themselves the focal point of a city's rage against the horrors of modern warfare. These young Americans and their otherwise unremarkable German citizens came together in what would become a complicated test of morality, personal strength and respect for the law under the most horrendous conditions." [Freeman] Five men sentenced to death were executed (November 1945). Margarete Witzler had her sentence commuted to 30 years imprisonment.

Renewed Strategic Bombing Campaign (September 1944-April 1945)

Once the invasion had succeeded and the liberation of France in Progress, the Allied renewed the strategic bombing campaign with a unimaginable ferrocity. Eisenhower in prearation for the D-Day Landings and to support the beach head had authority over both RAF Bomber Command and the American 8th Air Force. Neither Harris or Spaatz appreciated their limitations on their operations. They wsanted to as soon as possible resume the strategic aifr campaign against Germany which they both were convinced was the quickest way to end the War. German cities enjoyed a respite as the Allies prepared for D-Dayt and then the battle for France raged. After the liberation of France and with Allied armies moving through Belgium and approaching the bondary of the Reich, the fortified Western Wall, Eisenhower released them (September 14). The 8th Air Force now had twice the strength of Bomber Command, but both commanders possed massive air armadas, more than 5,000 bombers. In addition, the Luftwaffe defenses had been devestated. Harris and Spaatz had different strategies to persue. More than half of the bombs that fell on Germany would fall in the next 6 months. German cities would be devestated and the goals of the stratstegic bombing campaign woukld be realized--the German capacity to make war wpuld be destroyed.


Brittain, Vera. Fellowship (March 1944).

Craven, Wesley Frank and J. L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II (1949), Five Volumes.

D'Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life.

Freeman, Gregory A. The Last Mission of the Wham Bam Boys: Courage, Tragedy and Justice in World war II (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 265p.

Goodwin, Dorris Kearns. No Ordinary Time. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1994), 759p.

McFarland, Keith D. and David L. Roll. Louis Johnson and the Arming of America: The Roosevelt and Truman Years (Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 2005), 456p.

Smallwood, William L. Valor, Guts, and Luck: A B-17 Tail Gunner's Survival Story during World war II (2014), 176p.

Stephen L. McFarland and Wesley Phillips Newton. To Command the Sky: The Battle for Air Superiority Over Germany, 1942-1944 (2006).

Schaffer, Ronald. Wings of Judgement: American Bombing in World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 272p.


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Created: 8:46 AM 6/25/2005
Last updated: 10:26 AM 10/14/2014