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The Signficance of Allied Strategic Bombing During WW2

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Allied strategic bombing played an undeniably significant role in the defeat of Germany in WW2, however did not fully achieve its aims until towards the end of the war in 1944. Although immoral, allied strategic bombing terrorised civilian populations, achieving its aim of damaging morale. Strategic bombing also helped to repair relations between the British and USSR, which had been damaged after British failure to help them at the start of the Battle of Stalingrad, giving the Soviet enthusiasm to carry fighting persistently, resulting in a decisive victory. Although there was a huge personal cost to the Allies, including 57,000 deaths and 10% of the entire cost of the war, by 1945 Strategic bombing managed to strike the core of German industrial production, ending in the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany.

In terms of morale, bombing directly terrorised the German population, wearing down enemy livelihoods and towards the end of the war in particular it had an immense effect on the Allied success. Bombers dropping millions of tons of explosives on industrial units and cities damaged the enemy’s ability to make war meaning that historians such as Richard Overy believe “the air offensive was one of the decisive elements in Allied victory”. On 27th July 1943, a catastrophic attack on Hamburg, caused an estimated 30,000 deaths of German civilians. A victim stated that the roads were unusable because the “asphalt had melted” and people were lying alive but stuck in the asphalt. A hot summer and the proximity of buildings such as St Nicholas Church added to the apocalyptic aftermath of the firestorm. Its impact was shocking across Europe and even German leaders such as Albert Speer had to concede, admitting that “Six more Hamburg’s and the war is over”.

While the strategic bombing of Germany was undeniably significant in the short term, in the long term murdering innocent German civilians was unjustifiable and immoral. With more fatalities in the bombing of Hamburg than the entire German campaign of England, it has remained contentious since embodied in ‘Bomber’ Harris who had planned for the “destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives” upon his appointment in 1942, not shying away from the significance of Strategic bombing. Equally as chilling was the directive from Churchill in February 1945, commanding the destruction of Dresden. 1249 Bombers dropped 4,000 tonnes of explosives, destroying the culture centre of Germany killing around 30,000 people. Although Dresden exceeded the Allies expectations the British knew that strategic bombing was indiscriminate, dreadful and unethical. Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister exaggerated the death toll, claiming there were 200,000 deaths in Dresden, casted her as an innocent victim of the Allies causing some German civilians to feel anger against the Allies. This was significant because it countered the Allies aims of damaging morale and instead strengthened it as German civilians united around leaders ready to protect them, such as Hitler. Furthermore, bombing did not damage morale to the extent that civilians rebelled against their government until 1944 when German officer von Stauffenberg believed Hitler was disgracing Germany, which we can speculate led to the July Bomb plot, failing to kill the Führer. There were 635,000 German fatalities due to the bombing campaigns causing long term controversy as although Allied aims of tearing down “morale both at home and at the battle front” were achieved, it was immoral to turn Germany’s cities into burning ruins, killing vast amounts of innocent civilians.

Strategic bombing was a way of assuring Stalin of Allied support by diverting Nazi troops away from the USSR, rebuilding relations with the Soviet Republic. The British failed to help the Soviet during “her hour of greatest need”, failing to divert Nazi troops from the Eastern front during the Battle of Stalingrad in August 1942. During the Moscow Conference from 12-15 August 1942, Stalin provoked Churchill, arguing the idea of western cowardice to the point of insult, forcing Churchill to offer the bombing of Germany. This was significant as it reassured the Soviet of Allied support, diverting German resources away from Russia, leading them to a decisive victory at Stalingrad. This ended Germany’s advance into the Eastern front, marking the first defeat of Germany throughout WW2. Surprisingly even Hitler wanted to ‘hide this news from the German people’ fearing it would damage the German efforts to go to war. German resources had been considerably drained and reduced in the 5 months the battle lasted, substantially weakening Germany’s ability to continue the war, while also providing a new motive for the Allies to persist with Strategic bombing.

Due to the new motive, more attention was given to bombing, kick-starting production of new technologies which ultimately helped the Allies win the war. 4-engine Lancaster planes replaced the twin-engine bombers, allowing larger bomb loads to travel further and fire larger amounts of ammunition into industrial areas. Planes started carrying specially-trained bombers, relieving burdens off the navigators. Although 1942 could be referred to as an experiment year, for the first time since 1939, the bombing campaign was prioritised. The US brought added enthusiasm along with heavily armed planes such as the B-17 “Flying fortress”, allowing the Allies to commit to daylight bombing along with night-time campaigns. Although the Allies still suffered losses at Berlin and Nuremberg, Roosevelt and Churchill rethought their strategy, due to the necessity to support the Soviet and changed their approach. There was urgency to destroy the German Luftwaffe. Disposable fuel tanks were created, increasing the range the planes could travel by 1500 miles. Production of P-51 Mustang planes which flew further than “any fighter had flown” escalated quickly, quadrupling the strength of the US 8thforce within 8 months. In November 1943, 21% of the Luftwaffe had been lost and by December this figure rose to 23%, destroying the German air force, and killing a quarter of the pilots each month, forcing Germany to fight in a ratio of 1:7. German economy had finally been exposed, as the Allies destroyed railways, oil supplies and chemical production. This was significant as much of the resources used for the German war effort were lost in the destruction of the air-force, which was arguably a primary cause for Allied victory.

Bombing also had a huge personal cost to the Allies, causing long term controversy on whether the resources used for bombing could have been better used. Considering the campaign started in 1939, it took 5 years before the campaign proved useful. Allied forces caused fear but not to the extent that German industry was completely damaged. Hitler saw this and brought in anti-aircraft guns, or Flak, which proved their worth in Hamburg where they damaged 78 Allied aircraft. Strategic bombing put a weighty, unaffordable financial burden on Britain, resulting in post war impoverishment. The attacks throughout the war cost £2.78 billion equating to £2911.00 for every operational plane flown by the Bomber Command and £5914.00 for every German civilian killed by the offensives. Arguably this was a waste of money which could have been used to combat other methods of war such as mechanized warfare. Instead the Allies put resources into producing 488 Light bombers which could hardly reach the Ruhr from British bases, with bomb loads too small to do significant damage. These bombers were smaller than 250pounds due to bases being unable to handle large aircraft. After the attacks on Rotterdam in May 1940, 96 twin engine bombers were deployed to destroy oil and power installations in the Ruhr, only 24 of the crew found the target areas and 6 failed to return. This was significant as strategic bombing made up around 10% of the cost of the entire war, and with an overall 46% death rate and with 60% of airmen being wounded, killed or taken prisoner, it seems that the personal cost to the Allies was vast and unsustainable. Out of 125,000 aircrew, 57,205 were killed, 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war. Allied forces were unable to complete daylight raids after attacks constantly threatened the loss of entire forces and night-time bombing could only happen if the skies were clear and moonlit as there was difficulty locating targets meaning there were only short periods of times where bombing could take place sustainably. US Major Alexander Seversky stated that “haphazard destruction of cities, sheer blows at morale, are costly and wasteful in relation to the tactical results achieved.” Successful Allied attacks came at a price, shocking the world into believing the British were bloodthirsty and did not mind killing innocent German civilians. Ultimately, it took the Allies 5 years of experimentation to successfully execute a series of attacks on Germany, and to finally expose the core of German economy, factories and infrastructure, yet it remains debatable whether the resources could have been better spent and if the wounding or killing of 76,000 bombers was worth it.

Strategic bombing devastated the German economy, obliterating infrastructure, demolishing the Nazis ability to continue persevering in war. Whereas in 1939 Germany was becoming an economic superpower, with unemployment falling from 6million in 1933 to 300,000 in 1939 along with industrial production rates higher than Weimar Germany before the depression, by 1945, strategic bombing destroyed German economy, finally preventing the Germans ability to carry on fighting. Although bombing undermined German resistance, it did not reverse Germany’s production until 1944. Before 1944 only 17% of Germany’s production had been lost, however, after numerous losses and creation of new technology, by the last year of the war the Allies were able to attack water, gas and electrical industries, reducing the quantity of Nazis equipment and destroying factories. In 1943, only 268,000 German houses had been destroyed compared to 3.6 million by the end of the war, causing 7.5 million Germans to be made homeless. This was significant because it resulted in workforce absenteeism rates rising sharply, which we can speculate was due to trauma caused by bombing. Annihilating German coal reserves, such as Gelsenberg-Benzin-AG plant in the Ruhr prevented German oil production and the Allies purchased enough of neutral countries export demands, averting trade with Germany. In Portugal competition between the Allies and Axis for her production, drove “up prices 775 percent over pre-war rates by 1943”, successfully managing to sustain Germany’s war efforts. Furthermore, Bombers destroyed the Dortmund-Ems Canal and Mittelland Canal, immediately effecting coal deliveries, upon which Germany’s economy depended. Clearly the Allies had torn down the heavy industry and armaments, also tearing down the centre of Germany’s economy. Industrial output had gone down by a third by 1944, along with 20% of housing stock demolished. Instead of relying on the already scarce food supply which had been halved, civilians were dependant on stock. Tank, aircraft and naval vessel productions were restricted as factory workers were unable to work, and many factories were destroyed such as a Blohm and Voss shipyard. Allied attacks hit railway lines, damaging accessibility and stopping production from moving across the country. Economically, this was a disaster as Germany had dedicated its entire economy to military production from mid-1943, despite intense and threatening Allied air campaigns. Though some production was moved underground to put it out of reach of Bombers, Allies were still destroying German cities and factories at an extraordinary pace after 1944, leading to the collapse of Nazi war economy by 1945. In turn this meant that Germany were not equipped to defend themselves at D-Day landings which started a series of German defeats resulting in the end of the war and the Allies success.

It is obvious that Allied Strategic bombing was irrefutably significant especially towards the end of the war. Although it can be argued that it was a waste of resources and time at the start of the war, by 1945, it destroyed the German economy, while also weakening civilian morale to the extent that Hitler had to hide defeats from the German public. In addition to this, strategic bombing was successful in rebuilding relations with the Soviet and ultimately in winning the war. 

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