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WWII Air Warfare: The Allied Strategic Bombing & Fighter Strategy

WWII

WWII Air Warfare: The Allied Strategic Bombing & Fighter Strategy

The Allied air warfare strategic bombing and fighter strategy did not come up with a winning formula in Europe for a long time.

The Allies and their air warfare strategic bombing and fighter strategy did not come up with a winning formula in Europe for a long time.

by Eric Hammel

Even now, it is not clear what the original architects of the Allied air warfare strategic bombing and fighter strategy against Germany really thought they might accomplish. The so-called “strategic” aerial offensive that was launched from bases in England in mid-1942 was, at the time, something new and untried, something theoretical. Was it to be aimed at terrorizing German civilians—a shock tactic the Germans had invented—or was it to be aimed at bringing German industry inexorably to its knees? Moral posturing aside, no one really knew what the end results of a successful strategic-bombing campaign might be; no one had ever thought through the goals of a sustained strategic-bombing offensive.
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As events unfolded, the early architects of the strategic-bombing offensive against Germany found themselves being drawn into a kind of warfare none had ever actually anticipated. Over time, due to the way the bombing offensive played out in the air over Occupied Europe, the actual focus of the campaign became the destruction of the German fighter force. At first, through most of 1943, the idea was to destroy German fighters that were arrayed along the bomber routes—simply an end result of defending the bombers.

The Emergence of “Operation Pointblank”

But the bombing targets themselves quickly became the components of the German aircraft industry—airframe and air-engine factories, fighter assembly plants, ball-bearings works, and so forth. Although the strategic planners had not originally foreseen a program anything like this, Operation Pointblank evolved into a brilliant and elegant double-sided strategy.

By attacking the heart of the German aircraft industry, the strategic-bombing offensive killed German fighters two ways: First, and obviously, it killed German fighters while they were being built. But of greater importance was the way it made the Germans concentrate more and more of their raw materials, skilled workmen, and industrial capacity in order to make good the losses inflicted by the bombs. This shift in German industrial priorities had far-reaching effects. It kept vital and limited supplies from other programs—building tanks, for example, or developing more-effective new fighters.

Bombers Became Unintended but Welcome Attritional Traps

It destroyed valuable machine tools, or kept them occupied on aircraft production. It kept men from the fighting fronts, for the skilled workers involved in constantly rebuilding lost machine tools and aircraft components had to remain in industry rather than be inducted into the military services. In the end, it didn’t actually matter that German fighter production rose steadily as the Allied bombing offensives gained momentum, because the increased fighter production was entirely at the expense of other things the Germans needed to win the war. At some point, on a day unremarked by History, this maelstrom became the whirlwind.

The vast fleets of bombers that attracted the bulk of the increased German fighter output became attritional traps.

Ultimately, an increase in German fighter production itself played into the evolving Allied strategy. More German fighters in the air meant more German fighters and pilots to be shot down and killed. For that was the unanticipated but logically inexorable second goal of the Allied bombing offensive. The vast fleets of bombers that attracted the bulk of the increased German fighter output became attritional traps.

Relentless Pressure on Germany

As the Germans concentrated more and more of their fighters against the bomber streams, more and more of those fighters and their pilots were destroyed by the vastly and increasingly superior American strategic fighter force. The only thing that might stop the bombers from destroying the German fighter industry was the German fighter force. But the German fighter force was inexorably chewed to bits by the superior American fighter force as it rose to challenge the American day bombers.

By the end of 1943, the defeat of the German fighter force, the destruction of the German aircraft industry, and the emergence of Allied air supremacy over northern Europe were all but foreordained. But achieving any of those goals, or all of them, required that relentless pressure be maintained upon all parts of the German aircraft industry and the German fighter force.

Victory for the Combined Bomber Offensive

Although ultimately the Allies could not lose the air war over Europe—America’s unassailed, burgeoning industrial strength was too vast for that to ever happen—the day of victory could be put off, at terrible human costs, if the strategic-bombing offensive faltered or rested. The pressure on the German fighter force and the German aircraft industry had to remain constant or increase.

As 1943 gave way to 1944, the American generals heading the daylight component of the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive were all sanguinary men who favored increasing the tempo, ratcheting up the violence, hastening Nazi Germany’s Armageddon. And so it would be.

Add Your Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ja
    Posted May 2, 2019 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    this does not HELP

  2. James S
    Posted May 14, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Too many people write off the strategic bombing of Germany. All those fighters, pilots, and AA guns and crews that had to be deployed to defend against the U.K.-U.S. bombing campaign were desperately needed on the eastern front. And while some point to production increasing as evidence of failure, those same people fail to grasp if left unmolested how much more that industrial capacity may have increased.

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