The strategic bomber: was it a total failure?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by jj, Aug 21, 2005.

  1. jj

    jj New Member

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    Was the Allied strategic bomber offensive of World War II a total failure?

    A few points to suggest that it was (focusing on the ETO):

    1. The strategic bombing offensive was a colossal drain on limited resources. In the UK alone over a million workers were tied up in bomber production / associated support industries. Over 50,000 expensively trained Bomber Command aircrew were killed, and thousands of the most costly aircraft destroyed, at a loss rate only equalled by U-boat crews and the UK merchant navy (whose sacrifices had an undoubted effect on the outcome of the war).

    2. For this staggering expenditure of lives and materiel, what did the bombing offensive achieve? 'Precision' bombing didn't reduce German war production, in fact it continued to increase until factories were overrun by invading armies. ('Precision' being an optimistic concept at the best of times: neutral Switzerland got so fed up with B-17's accidentally bombing their towns they shot several of them down).
    The limited, speedily repaired, damage that was done to the German war industry (in relation to the enormous quantities of bombs showered over Germany) was more than made up for by ramping up overall production, through taking up the slack in the German economy, which wasn't initially geared up for total war.
    As for 'area' bombing, the targeting of entire cities also had no effect on the outcome of the war. Pre-war theories about civilian morale under heavy bombing proved false: as in the Blitz, there was no collapse in morale, society didn't break down, no leaders were overthrown as a result of mass panic.

    3. Did the 1000's of heavy bombers at the Allies' disposal have any better success when they were used in direct support of ground forces? Despite optimistic predictions about their effectiveness, they missed their targets in support of the Normandy invasion, instead decorating the French countryside with thousands of craters. They killed large numbers of Allied troops, and, if anything, hampered the advance. (Eg the heavy bombing of Caen created a landscape of rubble ideal for the German defenders).

    4. Did the bombing offensive shorten the war by a single day? Despite the predictions of the bomber enthusiasts, the war didn't end until ground troops physically occupied the whole of Germany. It has been argued that the bombing offensive was effective at least in forcing Germany into a war of attrition which it could afford even less than the Allies, tying up its overstretched resources in anti-aircraft defences. But how much sooner could the war have been ended if the resources used to mount the bombing offensive had been allocated elsewhere: hundreds of thousands of personnel freed to manufacture 1,000's of extra fighter-bombers, or tanks, or for any other work that might have actually contributed to the war effort.

    5. The military legacy of the strategic bomber has been one of wild over-optimism about its potential, and massive exaggeration of its effectiveness. (This legacy continued into the Vietnam era, with tragic results for that country). But the most bitter legacy is the moral one:

    6. The large-scale slaughter of civilians (the unstated policy of RAF Bomber Command) cost the Allies the moral high ground. The extermination of German women, men and children (not to mention thousands of French civilians) from the air was one of the worst war crimes of the century. Thousands of brave aircrew who signed up to fight for their country, and pledged their lives in a just cause, instead ended up committing atrocities which were only made possible by the long distance nature of their acts.
    This genocidal policy was covered up at the time, and even today is largely consigned to the 'memory hole' of history (does anyone else feel a chill when our revered Lancaster trundles over London dropping showers of.. poppies?). How much more substantial would the Allies' claims about fighting a 'just war' be if they had refrained from copying and surpassing the efforts of the Luftwaffe in civilian slaughter.

    7. In addition to this human carnage, the use of the strategic bomber caused the unnecessary destruction of a large proportion of Europe's heritage. How many churches, historic buildings, works of art etc, were erased forever, with no practical benefit to the war effort? Did Europe need to be destroyed in order to be saved?
     
  2. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    NO

    remember JJ who was the agressor

    what cost to stop tyranny ? sure thousands were killed, on both sides........ my two cousins serving in the Luftwaffe for two but they fought unfortunately for an evil regime caught all up that they were defending their country. Yes they probably were according to relatives but they were still part of the overall sinister ideals of der Führer, too late to stop the repeated carnage to befall Deutschland

    let the flurries of comments begin
     
  3. Hop

    Hop Member

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    Bomber Command absorbed about 7 - 9% of the British war effort. Germany spent something over 9% of it's war effort countering the strategic bomber offensive.

    Given that the difficulty for both Britain and the US was in bringing their forces to bear against Germany in 1944/45 (lack of port facilities, mainly), then the opening up of another front over Germany was certainly worthwhile.

    Note these costs do not include the damage done by the bombers.

    The second part of your last sentence is not proof of the first.

    Just because production increased does not mean production was not harmed by bombing. In fact, German production had been very low early in the war, was on a rapidly rising trend as they recruited more slave workers and expanded plant, and in 1944 and 1945 was performing well below expectations.

    Production most certainly was much lower in 1944 and 1945 because of bombing than it would otherwise have been.

    But still lowered overall production. Did the Germans produce more in 1944 than they had in 1943? Yes. Did they produce less in 1944 because of bombing than they had expected to? Yes.

    No, but production was severly affected.

    As an example, the raid on Hamburg. Blohm und Voss shipyards had 9,400 workers just before the raids. The morning after the heaviest, 300 showed up for work. A month after the raids, about half the workforce was back in work. Three months after, about 7,500 were back in work. About 2000 never went back to work at all.

    After 3 months, industrial production in Hamburg was at 80% of it's pre raid level, and it never reached 100% during the rest of the war.

    They also did much good work in support of the allied armies. Not forgetting, of course, the transport plan that saw the air forces isolate Normandy from the rest of France and Germany, and which prevented speedy reinforcement of the German troops and supplies.

    Thousands of extra tanks using the petrol that the allies couldn't get to the front fast enough for the tanks they already had?

    Thousands of extra fighter bombers flying from the forward airfields that were already overcrowded, using fuel that the allies couldn't get to them fast enough, carrying bombs the allies couldn't get to the forward airfields fast enough?

    It wasn't a lack of equipment that held the western allies up in 1944, it was a lack of ports, and more fighter bombers or tanks or artillery are going to make that worse, not better.

    And of course, no heavy bombers for the allies means many thousands more anti tank guns for the Germans to defend with.

    So, in an alternative time line where there weren't the heavy bombers, the allies would have more tanks and fighter bombers stacked up in Britain awaiting shipping to the continent, and the Germans would have more anti tank guns and fighters actually on the front lines.

    That's true. The power of bombing was overestimated until at least the end of WW2.

    Excuse me? The killing of German civilians in attacks on Germany was no more a war crime than the killing of British civilians in attacks by Germany.

    In fact, less, as the Germans, being agressors, had no right to be attacking their neighbours anyway, something several of their leaders were reminded of in 1945.

    Bombing of German cities was not genocide.

    Genocide: The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group

    Bombing did not fit that definition. Germans were never bombed after surrender, in fact the Germans were treated rather better post war by the British than the US or France or Russia.

    To be genocide, the British would have had to have gone around killing Germans whilst they could, and I'm not aware of British Einsatzgruppen following the British arm into Germany in 1945. I'm not aware of the RAF bombing German towns after they'd been captured either, which would surely have been a more efficient method of genocide, as there wouldn't be any AA to contend with.

    Hardly. The British had experienced German bombing, they knew precisely what was meant by announcements like "1000 bombers bombed Cologne last night"

    Have you seen the damage done to a city by house to house fighting? And that's what Germany would have suffered if their armies hadn't been collapsing in 1945 due to lack of supplies, oil, weapons and mobility thanks to the bomber offensive.

    Bear in mind that more civilians died in the siege of Leningrad than in the whole of Germany due to allied bombing. Bear in mind that about 1% of all the people who died in WW2 were killed by allied bombing of Germany.

    As a means of fighting the war, it was effective and proportionate.
     
  4. DaveB.inVa

    DaveB.inVa Member

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    I dont believe it was a total failure at all. What are you going to do anyway? Spend time building up an invasion army while the enemy conquers more countries and builds up a force to repel your invasion?
     
  5. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    The destruction of the oil industry was a complete success and forced the collapse of the economy.

    When it came to the destruction of the transportation system, it wasn't so much the temporary shutdown of the rail yards, but the continual damage done to the steam engines and rolling stock. The shortages of this lead to a lot of inefficiencies in the economy.

    I think I saw a figure that said that basically all of the German aircraft production from 1943 untill the end, was all fighters. Not bombers, but fighters that had to be deployed to stop the bombers.

    For the tactical role, it was the the total destruction of German forces on the front lines on Normandy for a few precious hours that allowed Operation Cobra to begin.

    And who cares if the German people suffered under the onslaught? There are millions of jews that could care less. Funny how the German people declare that the bombing of Dresden was immoral, yet only a 100 miles away, the SS was still busy exterminating people in Auschwitz.

    Id say the strategic bombing campaign was a success. It was not the sole reason Germany collapsed, but it sure hastened its end.
     
  6. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    I wouldn't call the strategic bombing campaign a complete failure nor a complete success. There were parts of it that were not well done, but the destruction of the oil industry brought the war machines to a halt, as syscom3 points out. Rail centers were also important communications centers and even a temporary interruption there can lead to a big battlefield advantage.

    Alot of civilians were killed by bombing raids by all sides. I have seen studies that 60% of all the dead from WWII were civilians. It was all out war and unfortunately, sometimes innocents get killed. That is the nature of warfare and it will never change as long as human beings continue to wage war on each other.
     
  7. Parmigiano

    Parmigiano Member

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    IMHO the strategig bombing achieved the goal to reduce/jeopardize the industrial production, failed (like all bombing/terrorism on civilian population) the goal to undermine the morale of the enemy.

    Dresden was simply a criminal act, not supported by any military purpose, and those who ordered it should have been judged as war criminals.

    And about our Jewish mates: guys, two wrongs don't make a right.

    It is right to remember the Holocaust, it is right to work so things like that won't happen again.
    It is wrong to continuously live with hatred and desire of revenge, and to pass over this hatred to the new generations, it won't help anybody.
    The hundred of thousands refugees who burned alive in Dresden were not guilty of what Hitler was doing to the Jews.
    And Stalin was not tender with the Russian Jews, he killed millions of them: should we say that the civilian population of Leningrad and Moscow had what they deserved?

    If your approach is right, what all the other populations who suffered similar wrongs should do? Just some (provocatory) example : the Indians (or Native Americans) should slaughter all North Americans and close them in reserves, the descendant of Incas should slit the throat of all the Spaniards, the North Africans should destroy Rome remembering what the Romans did to Cartagine and so on, just read any history book and you'll find plenty of examples of ethnic clean-up and attempts to destroy an 'inferior' or 'demonized' race.

    Unfortunately the history shows that things conceptually like the Holocaust always happened, and the only thing we can do is to learn from history and act better in future.

    War is always horrible, and all population always did heroic and criminal things in all wars, WW2 is not an exception.
     
  8. Hop

    Hop Member

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    Nobody was tried for bombing cities after the war, as it was not a war crime to bomb a defended city. Why should the people who ordered the bombing of Dresden be treated differently?

    Hundreds of thousands of people did not burn to death in Dresden. The estimates for the death toll in Dresden are in the 25 - 35,000 range amongst reputable historians, with the lower figure the most common amongst modern historians. Higher figures have mostly been bandied about by those with an agenda, like the Nazi apologist David Irving.

    The Dresden and Berlin police reports in March and April 1945, months after the raid, put the expected total death toll at around 25,000. A modern commission, appointed by the city of Dresden to investigate the matter, gives the figure of 25,000 in their interim report, the final report is not out yet.

    But the point of Dresden is that it wasn't carried out as revenge, it was carried out to stop the movement of troops to the eastern front, to disrupt German communications, and to disrupt German industry.
     
  9. mosquitoman

    mosquitoman Active Member

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    The Allied bombing campaign was neither a total success or a total failure.

    In 1940, all the British could do on the offensive side of things was to bomb at night because there was no proper night-fighter system set up. Bombing in daylight had been proved fatally flawed as there was no escort fighter with the range to get to Berlin and back.

    As the bombers got bigger and better, the bombing aidsgot better so they could find cities so naturally it was these that were bombed most heavily as individual factories couldn't be picked out. By the time of Oboe, this could be done but the head of Bomber Command, Arthur Harris believed that the war could be won by bombing alone so hecontinued on with his own agenda. This culminated in Stalin asking if Dresden could be wiped out because several divisions were being moved by train from Italy to the Eastern Front.
     
  10. Parmigiano

    Parmigiano Member

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    About Dresden, I don't even want to hear neo-fascist-revisionist historians like D. Irving, but certain facts are proved:

    the raid took place on February 13/14 1945 when
    -Russian Army was only 50 Km from Berlin
    -The City was virtually undefended, almost all AA guns were removed
    -Dresden was full with refugees from East, running away from Red Army, there was no concentration of troops there.
    - All this was very well known in Allied HQ, the photo recon were perfect.

    The number of casualties ranges from 1650 (first German assessment) to 135.000, but since the city was full of refugees who had no home address and nobody looking for them it is simply impossible to come to the right number. I said 100.000, but it could be 50.000 or 70.000, surely the 'official' assessment of those who had all interest to minimize and justify the fact can not be taken by granted.

    The attack was deliberately aimed to produce a firestorm in the centre of the City, all tactical targets (railroad, barracks) were far outside that area, moreover military targets were not included in the bombing plan (like the railroad bridge) this is a quote from the British Historian A. Mc Kee

    'Targets of genuine military significance were not hit, and had not even been included on the official list of targets. Among the neglected military targets was the railway bridge spanning the Elbe River, the destruction of which could have halted rail traffic for months. The railway marshalling yards in Dresden were also outside the RAF target area. The important autobahn bridge to the west of the city was not attacked. Rubble from damaged buildings did interrupt the flow of traffic within the city, "but in terms of the Eastern Front communications network, road transport was virtually unimpaired." '

    The official argument the the city was flattened 'to avoid the concentration of 500.000 soldiers coming from Italy' is against any common sense: even assuming that this army was existing in combat conditions, how in Feb 45 could the Germans had organized such a massive transfer, in the operative environment? And if you want to block troops movements, why focus the attack on the historical center of a city hunderds of miles away?
    Sorry, this makes no sense when you have total air control and you can attack directly the marching army.
     
  11. the lancaster kicks ass

    the lancaster kicks ass Active Member

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    together the allies had a collosal production power, their combined resources could not be described as limited, and the production of bombers didn't drain these resources, to drain implies these resources were being spent uslessly and that nothing was coming of their use, which is not the case, if you want to get like this then why not question battleships, they were unbelievably expensive and took years to make, in the end they were just fodder to torpedo bombers..........

    my last wish is to sound dissrespectful to these brave men, but are you seriously suggesting that none of these men would die if doing anything else??

    let's take the lancaster, with a crew of 7, that's 7 men in one plane using only 4 engines causing huge damage on the enemy, so these 7 men are insted trained as fighter pilots, now you need 7 fighters, using 7 engines and not really doing any real damage to the enemy, which costs more, 1 bomber or 7 fighters??

    this's already been said, but how much more would that production have increased if not for the bombing?? not only did the bombing destroy factories, but it destryed factories that were producing only fighters as they couldn't produce bombers, the fighters were needed for home defence...........

    get a clue, entire cities were not targeted, individual, legitiamte military targets, were targeted, no, these were often not hit, but they were the target, not the city........

    and what about all the troops that couldn't be moved to normandy because their transport routes had been obliterated???

    of course it did, if there was no bombing germany would be free to keep going of the offensive, if you are claiming that the bombing did not shorten the war even by a single day, you're more dence than a black hole.........

    thank you for stating the obvious, nobody thought it would be any different, but ask yourself, how much harder would it be for those troops to occupy germany if not for the bombing?

    and what about the planes, AA guns and the 1 million men that were bought back from the front to defend against the bombers, i can think of healthier prospects for the troops on both fronts than those guns being used against them.......

    a fighter bomber can destry a small target within a few hundred miles of it's base, and a small target can and would be easily replaced if bombers were not destroying not only the factories that would make the replacement but the means by which it would be delivered..........

    that's taking an argument too far, the RAF never set out to "slaughter" civilians, the RAF never even set out to kill civilians, if they wanted to kill civilians why didn't they, as has been argued already, bomb the cities once they were occupied and undefended?? Civilians die in wars, i challenge you to find a mainstream war in which civilians were not killed?? i'd bet everything i own that you can't, it's called Co-lateral damage, it is a fact of war, trying to prevent it is like trying to stop the earth from spinning...........

    no, it would be one of the worst crimes of the century, if not for one simple fact, THERE WAS A WAR GOING ON! again it's co-lateral damage, they went for the factories, civilians were killed, this is regretable but it happens, it would be impossible to prevent.......

    as it happens, yes, i do, beause it fills me with pride and passion, it reminds me of the sacdrifice made by everyone during the war, this feeling is felt by people who do not even know the name of the plane.........

    there is no such thing as a just war, and if you believe a just war would be fought by just ground troops, would the needless murder of hundreds of thousands more of these men be just justified just so we could say "we fought a just war", no, in a war you do whatever it takes to win........

    it is by no means a large portion, and the EU are passing new regulations about bridges, hundreds of bridges, some very old, will have to be knocked down, does this mean we should try the EU for war crimes? House/urban warfare when fought on the ground causes huge ammounts of damage to buildings, you seem to be a very hard man to please, as thinking that buildings wont be destryed in war is rediculous..........

    and, before you meantion dresden, if you have the balls to come back here that is, dresden was a defended city, that makes it a perfectly legitimate military target..........

    in reply to your original question, no, strateigic bombing was not a total failure, don't get me wrong i know it wasn't a total sucess, but no, it was not a failure...........
     
  12. chris1966

    chris1966 New Member

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    Hello all. New to the site.

    Let me say that I agree with everyone who said that strategic bombing was neither a success of a failure. What it did do early in the war, at least, was give the population a lift in morale in the fact that they were at least striking back at the enemy, successfully or not. As I recall, early Bomber Command missions were more about dropping leaflets than bombs, and the people were not happy about this. One needs the support of the people to successfully wage a war.

    I know that we are not talking about the PTO, but when Doolittle bombed Japan in April of '42, the Americans celebrated like that had won the war. It was nothing more that we finally did something back to them.
     
  13. jj

    jj New Member

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    Thanks for the comments in this thread so far, I've learned a lot from all the postings in this forum.

    According to Max Hastings (Bomber Command: The Myths and Reality of the Strategic Bombing Offensive 1939-45):
    "It has been estimated that one-third of Britain's industrial capacity was committed to Bomber Command, along with the best of their high technology. Because of the vast resources consumed by Bomber Command, the British had to import vast quantities of war material (such as tanks, trucks, landing craft, etc.} from the United States."

    The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national group seems to be an accurate description of Arthur Harris' bombing campaign: to liquidate as many German civilians as possible, city by city, focusing on those targets which would result in the most civilian deaths, regardless of military value.

    the lancaster kicks (civilian) ass:

    Yup, like the heavy bomber, another good example of outdated/flawed military doctrine resulting in a colossal waste of lives resources.

    No, but their lives might have been given doing something more productive for the war effort than showering bombs over the German countryside urban population. Coastal Command and airforces in other theatres of the war were crying out for the resources that were thrown away on Harris' bombing offensive.

    Please tell me you don't believe this.. Arthur Harris' explicit aim was to kill as many civilians as possible. Even he didn't have time for the fiction that Bomber Command was merely targeting German industry, with civilian casualties an unfortunate by-product.

    Max Hastings again:
    "On 14 February 1942, the Air Ministry issued a directive authorizing unrestricted area bombing. Churchill's repulsive scientific adviser, Lord Cherwell, provided the final rationalization for the campaign, by claiming that the "dehousing" of the German workers and their families would doubtlessly "break the spirit of the people." The Chief of Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, reminded his Deputy on 15 February, "Ref. the new bombing directive: I suppose it is clear that the aiming-points are to be built-up areas, not, for instance, the dockyards or aircraft factories ... This must be made quite clear if it is not already understood." Sir Arthur Harris, a fanatical proponent of area bombing, was appointed the new head of Bomber Command.
    The first target of the new phase was the old North German town of Lübeck. It was not a place of any military or industrial importance to the Germans and so was lightly defended. But Harris had been "searching for an area target that they could find, strike, and utterly destroy." Lübeck was thus chosen because "above all it was an old, closely-packed medieval town that would burn far better than the spacious avenues of any modern metropolis ...
    Lübeck, then, did not attract attention because it was important, but became important because it could be burned."
     
  14. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    as several have simply stated..........including myself, who started all of this ? Not Harris nor his RAF.

    War is hell and civilians from all sides suffered

    Dresden though in February of 45 was not defended and it's industry had moved elsewhere within the Reich due to the nature of the Soviet forces moving westward during 1944. Remember London was not a military but a civilian target and the same can be said of Dresden during the fireboming. A vengenace raid ? possibly but again Dresden was not necessarily picked out as a single taget during that week in February. Böhlen, Chemnitz and Rositz were hit during Operation Thunderclap.
     
  15. Udet

    Udet Banned

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    Great Britain´s war industry was not that of the U.S.A., at all.

    Saying Bomber Command absorbed 7-9% of the British war effort is a clear overestimation of the military industry and economic power of the UK.
     
  16. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    They allied bombing of Germany was neither a success or failure as has been said. However certain parts of the campaign where particularly effective in helping the allies for example the transportation plan which according to some figures saw axis rail transport down to 1/3 of the level it was in 1943 by D-day. Another successful part was the oil plan which left Germany with very little fuel - down to about a 1/4 of what was needed (correct me if I am wrong). As a result of these the war was shortened and the number of men who had to defend the skies against the attacks was a significant number who could have been at the front either holding back the US and UK or the USSR.

    All in all although neither a complete success or failure the bombing campaign had enough of a drain on Germany to remove vital manpower to protect the Reich as well as draining their oil and transportation capacity (greatly increased by the Russians capture of Ploesti in late 1944). In my opinion the expense was worth it for the damage done to the Germans in terms of manpower although the industrial effect was minimal thanks to Albert Speer and the ability of the Germans to quickly repair damage.
     
  17. mosquitoman

    mosquitoman Active Member

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    Just think of all the 88mm guns being used as flak batteries when they could have been knocking out T-34s on the Eastern Front
     
  18. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    I do not believe that Bomber Command took a third of our industrial capacity. We also produced vast numbers of ships and other military equipment. As for high technology I don't think so as the Navy had a lot of sophisticated equipment as did the Army.
    It could be if we are talking about the precision tooling that would be required as the tolerances in building aircraft are very fine and we were short of machine tools, but that isn't quite the same.

    Our tank production was very similar to that of the Germans, we just didn't design many decent ones. This wasn't the fault of production but design and Army requirements.

    Had we not had Bomber Command the Germans would have had vast quantities of additional equipment in the front line and the cost in lives would have been much greater.

    In the attacks on the German cities in 1943 we had little choice as we didn't have the technology to hit smaller targets and no other way of hitting back. It was important to the Morale of the people in the UK to know that we could respond. It was also important for the Germans to know that the war wasn't going one way. I am not saying that we would break their spirit but if your major cities are being hit on a regular basis you know that you are not likely to win in the long run.
    Re navigation, you will remember that the Germans had some trouble hitting London which must have been the easiest target to find being only a short distance from the French Coast and with the Thames to lead you up to the middle of it, so it isn't surprising that we had difficulty hitting the targets in the early years of the war.
    However from mid 1944 when we could be more targeted in our bombing there could have been a change in approach. Not that I am squeamish about what we did but because it would have had more of an impact on German production.

    There is only one point that I agree with you and that is the use of resources. A couple of Lancaster squadrons in the Battle of the Atlantic would have made a huge difference with little impact on the bomber effort. That however doesn't mean that I believe that we shouldn't have carried out the bombing raids.

    The Germans never hesitated to destroy totally unprotected cities, so I don't think that they are in a position to complain when we had the better planes to hit back with. I always thought the phrase, 'They sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind' to be very accurate.
     
  19. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    remember the smashing of the oil fields and reserves/plants in 1944 which primarily broke the Reichs back. Stoutly defended they were and of course rebuilt at some stages they took the brunt of US and RAF bombing. Look how many German aircraft were sitting on the fields at wars end being empty of fuels for weeks to even months at a time which had not the bombing occurred the fighters would of been up in the day/night skies
     
  20. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    Totally agree Erich
     
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