World War II: European Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign--German Air Defenses


Figure 1.-- The Luftwaffe could in most cases carefully consider engagements. Waves of American bombers, however, forced the Germans 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. The bombers and especially the escorts took a heavy toll on the Lufwaffe. Thus in the skies over Germany the 8th Air Force essentially destoyed the Luftwaffe.

Göring assured Hitler and the German people that the Luftwaffe would provide an impreganable Air Barrier in the west. He assured Germans that, "If English bombs ever fall on Germany, then you can call me Meyer!" Meyer was an obviously Jewish name. In fact the Allies at first refrained from launching an air war. Here France because her cities were vulnerable resisted British suggestions. The German Western offensive (May-June 1940) was so successful, that German cities were largely out of range from the planes available to RAF Bomber Command. Only in 1942 did Bomber Command get effective long-range planes like the Lancaster that brought German cities in range. By this time the Germans had constructed a forbiddening degensive line beginning with the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northerm France. They had also begun to develop effective night fighters. The Americans joined the British stategic bombing campaign, bombing by day while the British bombed by night, hoping to overstress the German defenses. The Americans found that only contrary to expectations that the havily armed bombers could not fight through the German defenses without havy losses. German defenses took a terrible toll on Allied bomber formations until 1944 when long-range fighter escorts became available. The Luftwaffe could in most cases carefully consider engagements. Here it was rise to resist the American bombers are allow them to pulverize their cities. The bombers essentially forced the Luftwaff to give battle to protect German cities. The bombers and especially the escorts also took a heavy toll on the Lufwaffe. Here in the skies over Germany the 8th Air Force essentially destoyed the Luftwaffe,

Göring's Assurances

Reich Marshal Göring assured both Hitler and the German people that the Luftwaffe would provide an impreganable Air Barrier in the west. He assured Germans that, "If English bombs ever fall on Germany, then you can call me Meyer!" Meyer was an obviously Jewish name and meaning 'mud' in German. Germany at the time had the world's most powerful airforce. It was, however, a tactical airforce without a strategic bombing force. The Luftwaffe fighters were a formidable obstacle to bombing Gernmany. The NAZIs thus begun the war under the illusion that they would bomb other countries, but German cities would be left unscathed.

Allied Constraints

At the onset of the War, German cities were in range ofBritish and French n=bombers. And thdy were largely unprotected because mosr of the Luftwaffe was deployed in the East to support the invasuin of Poland. This support was a major factor in the swift German victiry. The Allies who still did not want to fight another war refrained from launching an air war. Here France because her cities were vulnerable resisted British suggestions. The British, while undefended Polish cities burned under Luftwaffe attacks, mostly dropped leaflets appealing to the better nature of the German people.

Early Anti-aircraft Defenses

Germany did not at the onset of the War have extenive anti-aircraft defenses. The Germans were relying primarily on the Luftwaffe fighters and the temerity of the Allies. The Poles did not have a strategic bombing force. Thr Allies in the West did, but hesitated yo nue it, fearing that the Luftwaffe would bomb their cities. And the success of the Western Offenxe put German cities out of range of British bombers until a new generation of bombers coukd be brought on line and the Americans were brought into the war with their long-range bombers. German cities were at first lightly defended with anti-aircraft artillery, but there were gun in place and Germany had perhaps the finest anti-aircraft gun of the war--the famed 88mm gun. It would take some time, however, to build this artillery in large numbers and install banks of these guns around important cities. Anti-aircraft or FLAK guns were initilly manned by Luftwaffe men and became an important part oif Germn air defenses. All Luftwaffe units had anti-aircraft components. Early anti-aircraft instalations were manned by Luftwaffe men. As the War progressed, greater and greater demands were placed on the Luftwaffe, especially after the invasion of the Soviet Union and the launching of the Allied Strategic Bombing Campign. Luftwaffe men continued to man gun emplcenments around air bases. The much lrger anti-aircraft component around cities, however, was gradually taken over from the Luftwaffe by the Hitler Youth and oher group. The Luftwaffe oversaw the anti-aircraft defenses, but fewer and fewer trained Luftwaffe men manned the Flak guns. The use of less skilled Flak crews would be a factor in the declinnking kill rates, especially after 1942. [Westermann]

German Western Offensive

The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the "Phony War", France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgiym, and Luxemburg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardenes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The Luftwaffe played a key role in the German offensive. The German Western offensive was so successful, that German cities were largely out of range from the planes available to RAF Bomber Command.

British Air Offensive (1942)

Only in 1942 did Bomber Command get effective long-range planes like the Lancaster that brought German cities in range. The difficulty of hittng specific targets forced the British to adopt an area bombing strategy. At this time planners were still unsure as to just what could be achieved by a bombing campign. Hitler's declaration of war on America meant that the United States began a military buildup in Britain. One of the major aspects of that build up was the 8th Air Force with the mission of joining the British air campaign against the Germans. 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.

German Air Defense Line: The Kammhuber Line

By the time that the British had long-range bombers available in numbers, the Germans had constructed a forbiddening degensive line beginning with the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northerm France. They had also begun to develop effective night fighters. The initial German anti-aircraft defenses when the RAF Bomber offensive began (May 1940) was primarily anti-aircraft aryillery and searchlights for night defense organized by the Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe also created the Nightfighter Command or Nachtjagd. Initially there was initially one experimental Squadron which was equipped with ME-109s. Disatisfied with their initial perfomance, the ME-109s were replaced with twin-engine ME-110s. General Josef Kammhuber took command of Nachtjagd. Kammhuber began building a defensive line of belt of searchlights and sound-locators across Northern Germany and the Low Countries (October 1940). The first efforts did not yet use radar, the Germans still not fully understand how effective the Chain Home Network had been in the Battle of Britain. German radar production was also still limited. Kammhuber saw the initial efforts as the best that could be accomplished until more sophisticated equipment was availane. Kammhuber oversaw the construction of a new and much more deadly Himmelbett system.

Flugabwehrkanone (Flak)

The Luftwaffe installed massive batteries of anti-aircraft batteries called Fliegerabwehrkanone. The Allies began calling the resulting shells and shell fragments tearing through their planes flak. The Germans produced a range of these artillery pieces, including light, medium, and heavy artillery pieces. The artillery ranged in size from 12.7-128 mm flak guns. The light and medium guns were used to protect German field armies as well as facilities like important bridges, ports, and dams fim low-level attck. The heavy batterie were used to target the high-altitude strategic bombers. The Germans by 1942 had installed . over 15,000 88 mm flak guns in cannons Flak belts stretching across the route into the Reich's industrial heartland. They streached grom the Netherlands through Belgium and western Germany. At some points they were 20 km thick. The Flak batteries were an important part of the Kammhuber Line. The Germans had radar directed batteries and searchlights to direct the fire. There were also Flak batteries installed around major German cities and high priority tasrgets like Ploesti and U-Boat facilities. Some Luftwaffe analysts were dubious about the huge effort involved. It was very difficult to shoot diwn a bomber. One Luftwaffe study estimated it took over 3,300 88 mm shells to sucessfully shoot down a bomber. The principal German anti-aircraft weapon was the 88 mm artilery piece. These weapons were in great demand as early in the war it was discovered to be a very effective against tanks. Thus these weapons were needed on the Eastern Front to stop the steadily increasing Red rmy armor driving the Wehrmact east. The Germans also begn deploying 128 mm guns which were even more effective. The Luftwaffe deployed rectactular formations of 40 AA pieces in Grossbatterien able to deal out box bax barrages. These defenses were manned by the diverse personnel, but included many Hitler Youth boys.

Round the Clock Bombing (1943)

The Casablanca Directive instructed RAF Bomber Command and the American 8th Air Forces to begin Around-the Clock bombing of the Reich. The Americans joined the British stategic bombing campaign, bombing by day while the British bombed by night, hoping to overstress the German defenses. The Americans found that only contrary to expectations that the havily armed bombers could not fight through the German defenses without havy losses. German defenses took a terrible toll on Allied bomber formations until 1944 when long-range fighter escorts became available.

Hitler and Air Defense

Hitler would not allow the Luftwaffe to draw back from the Eastern Front to defend German cities. The Luftwaffe did adapt tactics and weaponry with the existing air defense system.Freya long-range radar was able to give ample waring to the fighters. About 300 fighters were available to oppose the American daylight raids. The Me-109s and FW-190s were armed with 30 mm cannons. Slower ME-110s stood off from the bombers and fired time-fused rockets. Fighters flying over the bombers droped bombs into the frmations. The idea was to breakup the tight American formations so the bombers could be attacked in isolation. There also were new tactics. Damaged American bombers were repaired and tested to determine their weak points. A special unit, the Reavelong Circus, went to fighter units and flew training missions with the fighters. German pilots coordinated their attacks more and often focused on the "coffin corner, the weakest point in the combat box. he Germans also worked on night tactics against the British. The number of night fighters equipped with radar and directional equipment was increased. A new group given more independence, the Wilde Sau (Wild Bohrs) was formed. To defeat Window, the Germans began holding back until the raids on the cities had actully begun. The search lights and fires would then help the fighters find the night raiders.

Civil Defense

Germany was the most heavily bombed country in Erope. The hear of virtually every major German city was level. Photographs after the War show mounds of rubble where thriving, modern cities had once stood. This could have meant millions of civilian deaths. Actual deaths will never be known with any accuracy, but historians generally estimate anout 0.3 million Germans were killed. The relatively limited casualties were the result of an effective civil defense effort. Many children were evacuated to the country side. The program was called the Kinder Land Verschickung (KLV) which operated during World War II (1939-45). The children had to go to rural areas on "holiday" but really they should be out of the cities and towns that had difficulties feeding them and were being bombed by the Allies. Both schools and the Hitler Jugend (HJ) were involved in organizing thd KLV. Air raid shelters were improvised or built.

Allied 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. Göring 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.

Destruction of the Luftwaffe

The Luftwaffe could in most cases carefully consider engagements. Waves of American bombers, however, forced the Germans 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. The bombers and especially the escorts took a heavy toll on the Lufwaffe. Thus in the skies over Germany the 8th Air Force essentially destoyed the Luftwaffe. The actual impact of the campaign was 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. Especially important large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and even more important trained pilots were being shot down by the bombers. In addition large numbers of artillery pieces, which could have been used against Russian tanks, had to be diverted to anti-aircraft defenses.

Sources

Westermann, Edward B. Flak: German Anti-Aircraft Defenses, 1914-1945 Modern War Studies. This is the definitive study of the Germn FLAK defeb=nses.







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Created: 12:38 AM 5/3/2007
Last updated: 9:41 AM 4/30/2012