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Essay: Allied bombing of Germany during the Second World War

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  • Allied bombing of Germany during the Second World War
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Overall, the Allied strategic bombing of Germany during WWII was very significant to the Allied victory in that it disrupted the German war effort and helped facilitate the success of D-Day and The Eastern Front. The Allied strategic bombing had a number of areas of impact, namely on the economy; the other theatres of the war; international relations and German morale. Whilst not equally significant across each of these areas and holding changing levels of significance over time, all in all by the end of the war it could be seen that the Allied bombing of Germany had over time had an overall negative impact on the Germans and provided help to the Allies in their victory in the war.

The destruction of industry and military equipment in order to have a negative effect on the German economy was one of the main Allied strategic bombing goals, and by the end of the war, the Allied bombing campaign had had a significant impact on the German economy. At the beginning of the war, however, from the years 1939 to 1941 and before the appointment of Bomber Harris, the Allied bombing of Germany had very little impact and therefore held little significance to the eventual Allied victory. In September 1939, Bomber Command was very limited in its effectiveness, with only 488 light bombers in its arsenal with a range that was too poor to reach the Ruhr, the industrial hub of Germany. In May of 1940, however, when Churchill came to power, he ordered long range offensives on German industry and military in the Ruhr. The Germans, however, were well prepared for an attack, building the Kammhuber Line, an anti-aircraft defence line that stretched from Paris to the Danish coast. Bomber Command could not sustain the losses suffered in this early stage of the war, with 492 bombers lost in 1940 and 1034 lost in 1941. In this period of the war, therefore, the Allied bombing of Germany had very little economic significance. In February 1942, Arthur Harris was appointed Commander-In-Chief of Bomber Command. In this period from Harris’ appointment to the end of 1943, Bomber Command saw huge technological advances but failed still to have a significant impact due to Germany maintaining the upper hand. Harris set a clear aim to the bombing campaign: to attack Germany’s economy via the area bombing of industrial areas, transport, services and workers’ housing. 1942 and 1943 also saw huge technological improvements that dealt with previous navigation problems, such as Pathfinder Jets, Oboe, H2S and the vitally important Window system, dropping strips of aluminium foil from bombers to jam German radar, as well as the introduction of the US 8th Air Force to the Allied bombing effort. The efforts still had limited success, for example in the attempted US attack on Schweinfurt in October 1943 to harm the ball bearing output, the US 8th Air Force did manage to reduce ball bearing output 67%, but their loss of 19% of the bomber force was far too big to justify this. Therefore whilst there was a clear rise in the significance of the Allied bombing on the German economy, it was still being far less significant than it could. In the last two years of the war, bombing finally began to have a significant impact on the German economy. The Allied bombing campaign turned its efforts to defeating the German air force, which in turn had a huge effect on the effectiveness of the bombing to target the economy. Because the Luftwaffe had been attacked and air production itself had been attacked, the Germans were experiencing difficulty defending themselves and their economy. There also started to be an indirect impact on the economy as the bombing was forcing diversion of resources to cope. In 1944 1/3 of all German artillery production was anti-aircraft guns and production took up 2 million Germans. This was diverting resources and manpower from German industry. Whilst it took until the closing stages of the war to come to fruition, there was clearly a huge economic impact by the end of the war, with defences fatally damaged to the extent that day raids were doable, the oil supply critically reduced and Germany split up into regions due to the destroyed railway by the winter of 1944-5. Overall, whilst the opening years of the war saw little significant impact to the economy of German by the Allied bombing, by the end of the war it had had highly significant, crippling effects, directly and indirectly, to the German economy.

The field where bombing’s impact was most significant is the other theatres of war. Whilst the Allied bombing of Germany had no direct impact on D-Day or the Eastern Front, and no impact at all until the end of 1943 onwards, indirectly by these fatal moments of the war for Germany it diverted vital resources from the Eastern Front and facilitated D-Day. Prior to the final year of the war, bombing was having little significance on production or the economy. However, by the last years of the war, Allied bombing was able to blow huge holes in the economy and the Luftwaffe. In November of 1943, thanks to the long-range P-51 Mustang, the Luftwaffe lost 21% of its fighter force and a further 23% in December. This unequal combat that the Luftwaffe was forced into facilitated the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, as there was little German Luftwaffe left to try and defend the coast. As well as this, the bombers’ targeting of roads, railways and bridges hindered any efforts to rebuild the anti-invasion front. Due to the aforementioned diversion of artillery production to anti-aircraft guns, the production of tanks and planes suffered by 35% and 31% respectively. The bombing campaign also weakened German resistance to the USSR as it forced them to place much of the air strength away from the Eastern Front. The extent of this can be seen as over three times as many German fighter jets were involved in defending against the Allied bombing than the Eastern Front in 1944 (1650 in Home Defence and 425 on the Eastern Front.) The impact of bombing was hugely significant to these other theatres of war as it alleviated pressure and created holes in German defence that facilitated exploitation, in turn winning the war for the Allies. The impact of Allied bombing on the economy also had an effect on the impact on these other theatres of war, as the destruction of armament production and industry caused a large diversion of German manpower to keep the war effort going. This can be seen as bombers fell from accounting for over 50% of aircraft production in 1942 to just 18% in 1944. D-Day and the collapse of the Eastern Front can be seen as major turning points in the war to the Allies’ benefit, and so the fact that bombing had a helpful impact on these theatres means that it was hugely significant to the overall Allied victory.

Whilst in the short term bombing improved the Allies’ international relations, by the end of the war the Allied bombing had had very little impact on international relations. In 1942 Allied bombing was significant in that it appeased Stalin, hence strengthening Britain and the USA’s slowly deteriorating relationship with the USSR. Throughout the first years of the war, Stalin thought that the West was not doing enough to help the USSR against the Germans, and demanded they open a Western Front on occupied Europe. The Allies recognised that they were not ready for a ground offensive, so agreed to intensify the bombing campaign, partly in order to appease Stalin. This manifested itself at the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, where Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to give the Combined Bombing Offensive a priority, and delay the opening of a 2nd Front until 1944. These strong relations with the USSR continued until the end of the war. The impact of this intensified Allied bombing had a huge impact on facilitating the success of D-Day, as well as the destruction of the economy that also helped the success of D-Day. This lead to the real opening of the 2nd Front after D-Day until the end of the war. Therefore, the Allied bombing continued to help secure good relations with the USSR until the end of the war. After the war, however, in the long term, the relationship between the Allies and the USSR showed itself to be superficial and completely deteriorated. Once their common enemy had gone and nuclear power started to be developed by both powers, the Allies and the USSR returned to their pre-war hostile relationship. The extent of this can be seen in the nuclear arms race that began in the wake of World War 2, and the hostility of the Cold War period between the USSR and the USA and their respective Allies. In conclusion, whilst the Allied bombing campaign was significant to international relations in that it helped maintain the relationship between the Allies and the USSR throughout the war, it proved insignificant in the long term as it did nothing to stop the relationship deteriorating post-war.

The field where bombing held the least significance was in its impact on German morale. Bombing did not achieve its aim in terms of morale: to harm it enough to cause the Germans to revolt against the government. The fatal damaging of German morale was a large part of the pre-war expectation of bombing, in the hope that a low morale would undermine the German’s continued war effort. The effect on German morale had no significance when the Luftwaffe had the upper hand, or when the bombers were not targeting civilians. One of the first significant impacts on the German moral was the bombing of Hamburg in 24-5th of July 1943. In the period before this, the technology of bombing was not strong enough to inflict major damage. However, with the Window radar-jamming system used highly successfully, the bombing of Hamburg had a devastating impact on the city, and therefore the German morale. The attack destroyed ¾ of the city, causing 40,000 deaths and leaving 1 million people homeless. This shocked Germany and its leadership, with the Minister of Armaments and War Production for Nazi Germany Albert Speer saying “If you would repeat this success on four or five other German towns, then we would collapse.” This success was never repeated, however. The German morale survived through the war enough that a revolution against the government never took place. Despite the German morale being damaged as a result of having many civilians killed or affected by bombing, as well as hearing of the Allied successes on the Eastern Front and with D-Day, and with the downfall of their economy, they never held a revolution. Therefore, whilst bombing caused moments such as the Bombing of Hamburg where the German morale was affected, it did not achieve its aims and was therefore held little significance to the German morale.

In conclusion, whilst the Allied bombing of Germany during the Second World War held very little significance in the fields of International relations and German morale, the effect it had on the German economy and the facilitation of the other theatres of war meant that the Allied bombing had an overall highly significant impact on the Allied success. Despite bombing failing to achieve its aim to fatally impact German morale into revolution, and also failing to solidify Allied relations with the USSR beyond the war, it was still significant as it played a role in facilitating two of the largest causes of Allied victory in the D-Day landings and the Allied success on the Eastern Front, as well as fatally damaging the German economy by the closing stages of the war. To this extent, the Allied strategic bombing of Germany was significant for the part it played in the areas that were instrumental to the Allied victory in the Second World War.

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