Once the D-Day 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 wanted 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-Day 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). 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 strategic bombing campaign would be realized--destroy the German capacity to make war.
Once the D-Day 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 beachhead had authority over both RAF Bomber Command and the American 8th Air Force. Neither Harris or Spaatz appreciated their limitations on their operations. They wanted 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).
Both American and British air commanders still believed that the victory could be achieved by bombing Germany out of the War. As the Allied ground offensive after sweeping through France was begiining to bog down, Eisenhower was disposed to return opertaion control to the air commanders to see if they could accomplish this. When the Soviets and Western Allies approaching the boundaries of the Reich it was clear that Germany had lost the War. Getting the NAZIs to surrender, however, was a very different matter. The Allied air commandrs who resumed operational control were not agreed to the best strategy to employ. Throughout the War, there had been differences even within American and British air forces as to how to employ the bombers. These disagreements continued even at this late stage of the War. The two views that were decided on reflected the out look of Air Marshal Harris and General Spaatz. Harris was determined to use Bomber Command to resume area bombing to break German civilian morale. Spaarz on the other hand concluded that area bombing in addition to questions of morality was ineffective. He believed in using the 8th Air Force for precission bombing and wanted to focus on the petroleum industry. While these two approaches sound diametically different, in practice there was much less difference than might be expected. The precession targets that were to be attacked in addition to synthetic fuel plants ad othee petroleum industry sites were industry and transportation lines that were located in or near major cities, often with worker housing close by. Given the accuracy of bombing at the time, American attacks were only marginally different than British area bombing raids.
The Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff set Germany's petroleum industry as the number one target. The second was transportatuon and communications. Both were designed to not only affect the combat operations of German field armies but Germany's ability to supply and maintain those armies. The goal was also designed to disdlocate German industry. Not only could German industry not deliver war material to the military, but plants and factories could not obtain raw materials and components. Germany was ow especially vulnerable because part of Speer'ss miracle to maintain German war production was to desperse production facilities and locate especially vital plants in underground facilities. But this meant more fuel and more transportation was required. The massive air armadas now at the disposal of Allied air commanders meant that they could hit many targets beyond just the high priority ones.
Ploesti in Romania had been Germany's principal source of importedf oil. It had been devestated by the 15th Air Force operating out of Italian bases even before the Soviet Red Army over ran Romania. The Red Army also over ran smaller fields in Poland. This left Hiungary and the sole remaining source of imported oil. Refineries near Budapest were attacked by the 15th Air Force.
Germany's last source of petroleum was the more than 20 plants located in the Reich itself. The plants were heavily defended. Although Luftwaffe fighter opposition was declining. Dense emplacements of anti aircraft flak batteries defended the plants. The weather over Germany in the fall and winter of 1994 proved exceptionally clear. For this campaign Bomber Command joined the 8th Airforce. Bomber Command brought two important assetts. The British Lancasters could carry heavier loads and bigger bombs. The British also had improved GH devices which could acquire targets even through cloud-cover. Not only did Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force cooperate but the 15th Air Force attacked from the south in a systematic campaign that Germany was unable to resist. The huge Leuna plant was located 100 mikles southwest of Berlin. It was protected by the large flak batteries in the Reich. The Gemans also devised a smoke screen. The Allies hit the plany 22 times, 20 by the 8th Air Force and 2 by Bomber Command. When the Allies had finished, production had been reduced more than 90 percent.
Allied airpower by 1945 reigned supreme in the skies over norther Europe. Germany was largely defeated, but Hitler was not going to surrender. And he was capable of amassing sufficent forces to defend his capital, Berlin. The Allies could take Berlin, but there would be a heavy price. The target that many British air commanders wanted above all was Berlin. The British had begun bombing Berlin heavily in 1943, but had to end the campaign because of losses and then the shift to suppoting the D-Day enterprise. Berlin in particular was at the top of Harris' list of 60 German cities that he had drawn up in 1943. Harris' supperior, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, disagreed about the effectiveness of area bombing, but in the case of Berlin, both were in agreement. Portal proposed Oeration Thunderclap, a massive around-the-clock bombing camapign of the NAZI capital. It was noy initially approved because of the limited availabilitz of fighter escorts and Spaatz's objections. After the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945), pressued increased for increased action against Germany. Both RAF Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force pounded Berlin in strength. Berlin would not burn like Hamburg, but the scale of the raids would level large areas of the city.
The 8th Air Force hit Berlin with almost 1,000 bombers (February 3, 1945). Several hundred fighters would follow the bombers to and from the target. The target was the railroad yards and other transportation facilities. Later briefing showed that government buldings were hit and bombs had fallen indescrinarely in the city. An iluminating book follows one B-17 crew on one of the Berlin raids. [Dorr]
The most criticised Allied air raid occurred at Dresden near the end if the War. The Americans and British conducted incendiary raids on Dresden February 13-14, creating a firestorm killing thousands of civilian. At the time the city was full of refugees fleeing west from the Red Army. The raid has been criticized not only because of the casualties, but because Dresden was not a city with industries supporting the War. The number of casualties is a question still debated by historians. The raid was ordered hurriedly after a request by Stalin who believed that reenforcements were being rushed through Dresden to counter a Soviet offensive. Ironically, the Soviets used the raid as anti-American propaganda after the War. After Dresden, Prime Minister Churchill ordered Air Marsahll Harris to end area bombing. Churchill explained: "It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land." There are to today annual memorial services in Germany to remember the dead. The neo-NAZIs in recent years have made Dresden a major issue and make appearances at the annual memorial services.
The Allies in April 1945 were not sure wher Hitler was located. There was considerable concern that he might make a last stand with fanatical supporters in the Alps. NAZI propaganda had hinted at this. The British thinking he might be at Berchtesgaden sent 318 Lancasters to bomb Hitler's famous mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. Hitler of course had decided to make his last stand at Berlin.
The last major Allied raid in the stategic bombing campaign proved to be the British attack on Berchtesgaden. Allied commanders with Germany's cities now reduced to rubble and ground forces rapidly occupying major cities, ended the strategic bombing campaign (April 16). One exception was made, the 8th Air Force bombed Berlin on Hitler's birthday (April 20).
The cost of the strategic bombing campaign was very high. The Allies lost almost 160,000 airmen, almost exactly distributed among American and British flyers). The cost to Germany was much higher. More than half of the bombs that fell on Germany would fall in the next 6 month period after the strategic bombing campaign was resumed (September 1944). German cities were devestated. The number of German civilians killed is not known precisely, but most historians beliece that it was more than 300,000 people. The bombing campaign did not as some proponents of aerial warfare had hoped, force the NAZIs to make peace. Nor did it crack German civilian morale. It did, however, achieve its objectives. The German capacity to make war was destroyed. Germany's oil supplies were devestated. Not only did Germany lose access to imported oil, but its synthetic plants were devestated. The result was that the Wehrmacht was largely immobilized. Hitler's final last offensive was launched in the Ardennes (December 16, 1944). It was at first quite successful. One of the reasons it failed was that the Germans simply ran out of fuel. Units had to abandon fully functioning tanks and armored vehicles.
Dorr, Robert F. Mission to Berlin: The American Airmen Who Struck the Heart of Hitler's Reich (Zenith Press: 2011), 336p.
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