Overriding priority of Allies in World War Two was to keep the Soviets fighting on our side since they killed over 80% of German soldiers who were killed in WW2. Further 80% of the land battles in WW Two were fought on Soviet territory. Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of this many times and demanded we do something.
Allied military commanders along with President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the elected civilian leaders who controlled the Allied militaries, well understood that we had to keep the Soviets in the war. What did the Allies do? Two things:
1) undertake massive bombing of Nazi Germany. 2) ship astonishing amounts of critical supplies to the Soviets through some of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world both in terms of weather and German attacks. This article takes as its subject the bombing campaign.
It took several years to both train the crews and manufacture the planes to create the huge air forces required to mount a sustained and overwhelming strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany. These forces included RAF Bomber Command, the US 8th Air Force “the Mighty Eighth” stationed in Great Britain and the US 15th Air Force stationed in Southern Italy.
Contrary to popular opinion of poorly informed people today, the Anglo-American bombing offensive against Germany was a brilliant success. Unfortunately, I hear many people, especially younger people, suggesting we should not have bombed Nazi Germany and its satellite countries as severely as we did.
Did we kill enemy civilians even though we didn’t want to? Yes, we did. How many? Writing in his history of the conflict, The Second World War, published in 1989, the late and very distinguished British military historian John Keegan says 593,000 German civilians lost their lives to Anglo-American bombing.
Did we reduce almost every city and even large towns in Germany to rubble? Yes, we did. Did we firebomb Hamburg, Dresden and other German cities and inflict terrifying deaths on innocent people and destroy beautiful cities. Yes, we did.
First and foremost, the Allied bombing offensive against Germany and Germany occupied Europe was the Second Front. D-Day was really the Third Front.
The Allied bombing offensive forced the Germans to withdraw almost all of their air units from the Eastern Front to defend German cities thus surrendering air superiority to the Soviets. Second, the deadly German artillery piece, the famous German .88 was critical to German defense against Soviet tank attacks. The Soviets would often attack the Germans with up to a hundred tanks. An .88 could range on the Soviet tanks long before they got within range of the .88 and an .88 crews could take out most Russian tanks before they got to German lines. That’s how superior the .88 was.
But the German .88 artillery piece was also the best anti-aircraft weapon the Germans had so they pulled a huge number of .88’s from the Eastern Front to bolster the anti-aircraft defenses of their cities, leaving German troops exposed to Soviet tank attacks without an effective defense, something the Soviets took advantage of. We sent Stalin a weekly binder of photographs taken of German cities bombed the week prior so he could see we really were doing something.
And as the Anglo-American bombing offensive continued to build, the Soviets noticed the weakening of German defenses. Additionally, the bombing offensive forced a massive re-allocation of ammunition. By mid-1943, the Germans were firing one-third of their ammunition production into the sky. And finally the bombing offensive was designed to force the Luftwaffe to come up and fight so we could destroy their air force before D-Day. And they did and we did.
As to the economic achievements of the bombing offensive, it is critical to note that the growth in German output occurred as the Allied bombing offensive ramped up and this is often given as a reason the bombing offensive wasn’t effective.
But those two facts have nothing to do with each other except they occurred at the same time. Yes, German war production increased dramatically as the bombing offensive began to take hold but for the following reasons: after the Stalingrad debacle in mid-January 1943, Hitler declared “total Krieg” and Goebbels made his famous “Total War” speech at the Berlin Sportspalast on 18 February 1943 – said to be his greatest speech. The power of Goebbels’ speech, the sense of desperation, and the mass hysteria of the audience reach across the decades and is disturbing in that regard.
Beginning in late Jan/Feb 1943 Speer was given plenipotentiary authority over all German industry which he brilliantly organized into a series of self-governing industry groups. Second, Hitler gave his permission for the closure of almost every business not critically necessary to the war effort. Such things as typewriters, draperies, hair curlers, perfume, most clothing, and really any consumer goods at all except for food and medical supplies.
This freed up a huge amount of productive capacity as well as a huge number of people who could either go into war production or into the armed forces. One of the other goals of the bombing offensive was to put a cap on German war production. We knew what they were capable of and while their war production increased substantially, it reached a plateau.
Yes, we did literally bomb the German national railway almost out of existence. While relatively easy to repair, Speer estimated that by mid-1944 he needed a million railway workers just to repair the damage but only had 300,000.
It’s an interesting debate. Great Britain achieved the highest rate of economic mobilization of all the Western countries, mobilizing almost 55% of her population and economy for the war effort. The Soviets probably got to 80% mobilization since you only received rations if you worked or fought. But it is a mistake to think the Anglo-American bombing offensive didn’t succeed. It succeeded brilliantly because it kept the Soviets in the war and the Soviets lost between 27 million and 35 million men, women, and children in World War Two — at least 1/8 of their population. Military deaths alone were almost 15 million killed vs. 350,000 for the United States. Those figures alone will show you why the bombing offensive was so successful.