The Climax of Area Bombing and the
Defeat of Bomber Command,
January 1943-March 1944
Bomber Command continued blasting German cities until the spring of 1944. Harris was sure, and others hoped, that he could smash Germany before the invasion of France. He was largely allowed to ignore inter-Allied directives dealing with the strategic bombing campaign; he stuck to a policy of general area attack and only occasionally, and evidently reluctantly, tried precision attacks. Until February 1944 he evaded attempts to cooperate with the Americans by selective attacks on cities connected with the production of planes and ball bearings, although these were strongly favored by Bottomley and Air Commodore Bufton. Bomber Command had smashed much of Germany's cities to rubble, and damaged the enemy war effort. But it had not even come close to wrecking the German economy or morale. Instead, the attempt to evade German defenses under cover of darkness ended in failure. The very development of electronic devices that enabled the bombers to find their targets let the Germans find the bombers and inflict prohibitive losses.
During the winter of 1942-1943 Bomber Command perfected the equipment and tactics that allowed regular, effective area bombing. During 1942 its numerical strength had not risen greatly; in January 1943 it numbered only 515 operational planes, only about a hundred more than a year earlier. But it was now largely a force of four-engine bombers. It now had 178 Lancasters and 58 Mosquitos.
During the winter it stopped operating on moonlit nights; moonlight was too helpful to the growing enemy night fighter force. Henceforth only a few precision missions against very important targets took place when the moon was close to full. To confuse and overwhelm the German defenses, the bomber stream was even more compressed, and the bombers flew at varying heights.