Second World War bomber boys
Patrick Bishop tells the story of the Second World War bombing of Germany and explains why the controversial campaign was a case of good men being asked to do a very ugly job
Trying to smash the German war effort
Iconoclastic history of Bomber Command
Allied strategy: winning by air power
Britain had been wedded to the notion of strategic bombing since the end of the First World War. Strategic thinkers soon created a conventional wisdom that held that the next war would be won by the country with the heaviest air power. Giant air fleets would lay waste the war industry of the enemy in its own territory, crippling its ability to fight, so the theory ran. The doctrine fitted Britain’s circumstances, as an island that could not attack its foes by land. Germany, by contrast, never invested in heavy bombers, using the Luftwaffe as an adjunct to Blitzkrieg, blasting a path from the air for its invading armies.
Technological shortcomings, particularly in navigation, meant that the ambition of devastating the factories and power sources of the Nazi war machine proved very hard to achieve. Increasingly the towns that they were housed in became the targets. By the end of the war, the 70 major German towns that had been attacked had suffered at least 45 per cent destruction of their built-up areas. The campaign only started to have a decisive effect on war industry towards the end of the conflict. Nor did it bring about the predicted collapse of civilian morale. Nonetheless Bomber Command’s efforts were a vital part of Allied grand strategy.
From 1942 intensive operations forced German High Command to concentrate on the air defence of Germany and give up hope that they could rebuild their bomber fleet and launch a new blitz on Britain. The priority given to defending the Reich meant that outside it, the Allies eventually achieved air superiority. Without that, the campaigns in Africa and Italy could not have succeeded and the D-Day landings would have been impossible. It also meant that on the Eastern Front, the German army was deprived of the air support to which it had been accustomed.