The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945

By Alan J. Levine | Go to book overview

1
Origins, Prelude, Doctrine

The Allied strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany was one of the most destructive, complex, and controversial aspects of World War II. Although it started slowly, the strategic air offensive lasted for nearly the whole war ( 1940-1945) and strongly affected its course. Only the vital defensive Battle of the Atlantic lasted longer. At first little more than a series of ineffectual pinpricks against a victorious Germany, the Allied air offensive culminated in a torrent of destruction without precedent.

There have been few overall accounts of the campaign as a whole, although it formed a major part of the Allied war effort, and those few have generally been biased, emphasizing either the British or American side of the story and often giving too little attention to what happened in Germany.

The story of the campaign is an intricate one, in which many reverses precede a long-delayed success. The British and American efforts were interwoven, but the two air forces employed very different methods. The story of the strategic bombing campaign also touches on other issues and problems, some of which at first seem far removed from it, ranging from the development of aviation and electronics to the economy of Nazi Germany and the land fighting of 1944-1945. Nor did the story start in 1939. The experience of World War I and a great deal of theorizing--only occasionally backed by experiment--in the period between the wars, had much to do with it.

Strategic bombing is best defined as the use of air power to strike at the very foundation of an enemy's war effort--the production of war material, the economy as a whole, or the morale of the civilian population--rather than as a direct attack on the enemy's army or navy. A strategic air campaign almost always requires the defeat of the enemy's air force, but not as an end in itself. While tactical air power uses aircraft to aid the advance of forces on the ground or on the surface of the ocean, usually in cooperation with those forces, strategic air power usually works in relative independence of armies and navies, although its effects may

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