The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.
Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris (See also this.)
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Yor link to Strategy Page: they fail to note that night bombing only became useful when the Americans developed radar and the Germans had little ability to take out night-flying planes. Bobming runs during daylight no longer a necessity and that saved many planes from being easy targets.
I’ve always been bemused by the revisionist take on “the west” at war. The ulterior political motives are so blatant, for one thing, and the double standard so transparent.
The basic premise of the criticism is similar to a boxing match where one side is required to follow the Marquis of Queensbury rules, while the other is allowed to kick, gouge, bite, and pull a knife if it’s needed to finish the job.
If the western side kicks back, it is immediately criticized for debasing itself by sinking to its opponents’ level, as if the entire exercize was some kind of kids’ game of marbles, and we were cheating by using a steelie.
As an aside, I happen to think these moral debates are a tremendous source of strength, and the caution with which we approach these ethical dilemnas is admirable.
However, being “civilized” does not mean that one’s own morality requires suicide in the face of an unprincipled and lethal assault.
Fortunately, there are those amongst us who are not afraid to get their hands dirty doing what needs to be done, while their “betters” battle the vapors at the thought of all the ishy nastiness being perpetrated on their behalf, allowing them to engage in endless debates based on the premise that they are more sensitive and ethical than those crude enough to actually, you know, fight to save their bacon.
I guess, finally, it’s the monumental ingratitude that turns me off, and effete ingratitude, at that.
“…the Germans had little ability to take out night-flying planes…”
An odd assertion.
For any given 100 aircrew in Bomber Command, 1939-1945,
the statistical breakdown was:
Killed on operations 51
Killed in crashes in England 9
Seriously injured 3
Prisoner of War 12
Evaded capture 1
Survived unharmed 24
8,325 aircraft lost in action.
The great majority of these air operations were at night. The Germans were very capable of downing aircraft operating at night.
The West has virtually disarmed itself. The New Left of the 1960s really did a job on Western self-confidence. Everything from the asymmetry with which the Pope’s comments and the Muslim response are taken, to the debate about profiling, to multi-culti to PC to anti-colonialism to the asymmetric standards for our performance in Iraq are part of an inability to state in a forthright manner that the Anglosphere has been the greatest cultural and economic force for good in the history of mankind. The Anglosphere’s sins are not unusual by the standards of the world. Its virtues and accomplishments are unparalleled.
Yet an internal division in the West has successfully fostered fear and self-doubt and guilt to the point where every Western success is diminished in advanced and every non-Western abuse or failure is couched in an automatic excuse.
The most absurd anti-Western statements are excused as free speech, while the most forthright pro-Western comments are subject to endless abuse and semi-sensorship.
Great comment, ghost.
There are questions about the effectiveness of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany. It was very expensive in resources and in the lives of aircrews: I have seen the phrase “a Verdun of the air.” It may well be that resources used for area bombing would have been better applied for tactical air support and for more emphasis on specific targets such as fuel and rail facilities (bearing in mind that with the techniques of the time, even these targets would have resulted in plenty of civilian casualties, though many fewer than area bombing) and for tactical air support.
I have to wonder, though: if Germany’s defeat had not involved the destruction of cities, but had been accomplished by means less visible to the civilian population, would Naziism have been so utterly crushed? Or would there have been another “stab in the back” legend as in 1918?
Also: would British civilian morale have been sustainable without direct retaliation for what they had suffered (and continued to suffer with the V-1 and V-2 attacks)?
David, there is much second-guessing that necessarily goes on after vast and calamitous events like World War II. The effectiveness of the air campaign fell short of what its proponents hoped for: Victory itself through airpower. However, within the limits of the means available, the Allies’ combined bomber offensive did massive damage to Germany’s war effort. Albert Speer was very clear about this. German war production increased throughout the war, but at nothing like the rate it might have. The Allied bomber offensive diverted massive numbers of men and cannon and fighter aircraft to air defense, that were not available in Russia as a result. Would thousands of 88mm guns have made a material difference to the Red Army’s armored spearheads? The question answers itself. The bomber offensive sucked in and destroyed Germany’s fighter arm, providing the allies on all fronts with air superiority, which was decisive in the tactical battles on all fronts.
The bomber offensive has been undervalued by many commentators, largely out of an ideological stance which was shaped by the Cold War and “anti-war” thinking during the Post WWII era.
Richard Overy has the best discussion I have read about the bomber offensive, in his superb book Why the Allies Won. He is very clear in his conclusion that the bomber offensive was a major cause of Germany’s defeat. Overy’s excellent The Air War, 1939-1945 is also excellent on this topic, as well as the entire aerial dimension of the war.
I agree entirely with your other points.
Lex…the critique of the bomber offensive wasn’t all second-guessing, it was criticized by some at the time. For example, Sir Henry Tizard, who had been a leading factor in the decision to aggressively pursue radar, disagreed with the estimates of bombing effectiveness produced by Churchill’s science advisor, Lindeman, believing these estimates to be much too high. Apparently, Tizard was much closer to accuracy than Lindeman, though they were both way off.
I’ve also read that Allied Generals often had difficulty obtaining direct air support because of the emphasis on strategic bombing at both RAF and US Air Corps.
David, you are quite right. The proponents of “strategic air power” then, as now, claim far more than they can deliver on. Also, then as now, the air commanders recoil from close air support missions, which are of proven value, in pursuit of a (so far) mythical Jovian bolt from on high that will decide the contest without attrition or a ground war at all. This kind of intra-service bureaucratic puffery is one thing, and it certainly went on and still does.
The other questions, whether the bomber offensive was, (1) worth it, and (2) morally justified are I think both answered in the affirmative. The first is still a contentious question, though I think we are into post-revisionism now — initially the bomber offensive was taken to have been effective, then there was a wave of revisionism, and I think we are now seeing a more balanced view that comes out concluding that the bomber offensive was very destructive to the Germans and all in all “worth it.” The moral question I will leave for another time.
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