The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945

By Alan J. Levine | Go to book overview

11
Conclusions

The air offensive against Germany was costly in economic resources and in manpower. At their peak strength, the Royal Air Force and the Army Air Force in Europe deployed 1,335,000 men and 28,000 combat planes. Together they lost just under 160,000 men, and 40,000 planes were destroyed or damaged. While the strategic air campaign was responsible for only part of the losses in the air, Bomber Command alone, which bore the brunt of the loss of life, had 55,000 dead or missing, 9,838 taken prisoner, and 8,403 wounded on planes that returned. The Eighth Air Force lost 43,742 killed or missing. The efforts of the tactical and strategic air forces cannot be neatly separated. Up to D-Day the tactical forces played an important role in gaining air superiority, and in the final phase of the transportation campaign their efforts fused with those of USSTAF and Bomber Command. The heavy bombers and their escorts expended much of their efforts in support of the invasion and advance of the land armies. It has been calculated that, counting the antisubmarine and V- weapons campaigns, no less than 46 percent of the Eighth's sorties went to supporting or defensive operations, rather than to the strategic air offensive proper. 1

The terrible losses of Bomber Command, in particular, cast a grim light on prewar hopes that strategic bombing would be a "cheap" way to wage a war, or at least far less costly in lives than the deadly land battles of World War I. While it was true that the numbers of men were but a fraction of the numbers that had been committed at the Somme and Ypres, and the total number killed was far smaller than the number of men killed on the ground in the earlier struggle, the death rate in Bomber Command was proportionately higher than that on the Western Front, and formed a substantial part of British losses in World War II. The economic costs of the offensive to the Western powers are a matter of dispute. The British official history estimated that Bomber Command consumed 7 percent of Britain's military and industrial manpower (the most

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