WWII Strategic Bombing
This essay will argue the success of the Allied strategic bombing campaign in World War II. In doing so this essay will argue that the initial inability of the Allied bombers, due to technical problems and a failure to dominate Germanys airspace, to deliver a bombing attack with precision on an enemies vital war making industries resulted in an initial failure of the strategic bombing tactic. Furthermore this essay will analyse the complete failure of the British strategy of area bombing as a means to destroy the moral of the German citizen. Additionally, it will be argued that as these impediments were overcome a degree of success was obtained by destroying Germanys ability to supply its air, ground and naval forces with petroleum. This essay will also state that the use of strategic bombing on the nation of Japan forced a quick and unconditional peace, therefore negating the use of ground troops in a costly mainland invasion.


World War II, (1939-1945) saw the introduction of a revolutionary type of warfare that was only present in its infancy in the First World War[1]. Aircraft had reached a stage in their evolution were the capacity to drop large amounts of high explosives on a distant enemy was now possible. Opinions from men such as Britain’s Hugh Trenchard, Italy’s Giulio Douhet and America’s William Mitchell, all strong proponents of strategic bombing as a means of winning future wars, were to govern the use of strategic bombing in the Second World War. However as Auther Harris, the Commander in Chief of the RAF Bomber Command from February 1942, and vocal supporter of strategic bombing, recognised, “of the use of aircraft in war there is, it so happens, no international law at all”[2]. Under this assumption Harris proceed to implement Britain’s strategic bombing campaign against Germany. This offensive, which lasted a total of five years, has been described as “probably the most continuous and gruelling operation of war ever carried out.”[3]. Strategic bombing focused on attacking firstly the opposing forces economic and industrial centres and secondly the moral of the opposing civilian population. The aim of this plan was to


compel the enemy army in the field to surrender without having been defeated in battle[4].


The centres of production, however, were located within vast industrial cities populated by German citizens employed in the production of necessary war materials. To bomb the factories was therefore going to cause civilian casualties. In 1917 the then Minister of Munitions Winston Churchill saw first hand the effects of “terror bombing” by the German Air Force in WWI and was dismayed by its use on civilians[5]. 23 years later and he had formed the opinion that “only the Air Force can win us the war” by strategic bombing of Germans heartland. The success of strategic bombing lies in the ability of an Air power to firstly dominate and control the enemies air space and secondly to deliver the payload with precision on specific targets of importance[6]. Before 1943 Britain was not successful in either of these prerequisites.


Germany undeniably controlled the air space of its territories in the initial stages of the war. This fact was reflected by Bomber Commands large and unstainable losses of men and aircraft in initial daylight raids on heavily defended German industries. In the Autumn of 1940, Bomber Command switch tactics from daylight raids to large scale bombing carried-out by moonlight, which hampered the Luftwaffe ability to locate and destroy the attacking bombers[7]. Causality rates decreased dramatically. However, the ability to deliver bombs on a specific target also declined. Air Force reports from pre-1942, show that 1/3 of the bombers could locate the target at night and of those 2/3 dropped their bombs outside a five-mile radius of the target[8]. The pre war strategy of Bomber Command was to navigate “using the lights of cities”[9], clearly a practice that was not successful when ‘blackouts’ of cities were employed. Navigational aids such as the H2S and Oboe were introduced[10]. However their effectiveness was hampered by poor weather conditions, which was usually the case


over the skies of Germany[11]. Their effect, although considerable, did not allow for the precise targeting of individual buildings and was therefore not applicable to a strategy of precision bombing.


The situation for Britain worsened