The Bombers Blazed a Short Cut to Victory
L. S. B. SHAPIRO
IN GERMANY (By Cable) — The complete collapse of a great nation is a desolate thing to behold. Even though it has been your hated enemy for five years, even though its leaders and the great majority of its people have been objects of your loathing for 12 years, even though your nerves have been chilled by the barbarities of its concentration camps, and you have retched when you looked upon the evidence of fiendish tortures and pornographic humiliation visited upon its victims, the collapse of a nation of 80 millions, once considered civilized, is still a desolate experience.
Ï am writing this by the window of a rural school building on the Hamburg road. For five hours Germany, broken and panicky, has been passing in review before my eyes.* Generals; admirals, and rank-and-file soldiers and sailors are shuffling along the road and asking each passing British vehicle where they can surrender. Thousands of old men, women and children are wandering in search of rest, food and shelter. Their eyes have a glazed look of utter hopelessness. Their lives have been shattered and their futures are dark as the clouds out of which a cold pelting rain is adding nature’s ironic garland to their idiotic adventure. Behind them lie the fantastic ruins of what was once the most orderly country in Europe; ahead of them lie tears and toil, humiliation and just punishment. They lent themselves to the most skilful abracadabra in all history; now their magician is dead and his tricks have died with him, leaving only emptiness.
There is no pity in my heart for these people. I have seen too many of our graves that line the long weary road from Africa to the Eibe; I have felt too much of the colossal tragedy for which they, individually and collectively, are responsible. When I see a 70-year-old woman and two 10-year-old children dragging a cart through the rain 1 remind myself of the broken bodies of 52 British school children we dragged from the rubble of a German bombardment a year ago. When I
see a grey-haired German naval captain sitting in the ditch and crying like a baby I am not sorry; I think of the thousands tossed into the death furnaces of Maidenek and Lublin. When I look upon these thousands of German civilians wandering in the hollow halls of their great disillusion I picture these same people in the summer of 1940, laughing at the plight of the world and “hoching” and “heiling” with intense jubilation. And my heart will not open itself to their sorrow.
Yet one feels a great desolation within himself—not because Germany is ruined but because this whole pitiful episode constitutes such a blot upon our alleged civilization. Humanity in our time must have been sadly lacking in fundamental qualities that a nation of 80 millions in the heart of Europe must be virtually destroyed in order to cleanse the Western World.
This epilogue to the war is too ugly for our troops to be exhilarated. There is no tossing of caps in the air. The feeling of grim tragedy which pervades this climax is not confined to the Germans. We don’t hold a gay party at an execution, no matter how just or necessary it was.
But these are continuing considerations for the future. Of more immediate moment is the miracle of our military victory. Continued on page 62
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Ground Force experts credit Harris' heavy bombing campaign with shortening the war two years and saving a million lives
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The soldier at the front, standing in triumph in the midst of Germany, wonders not a little how we managed to attain this goal. Just over two years ago we bled for weeks before a little patch of ground on Longstop Hill in far-off Tunisia; then, the hope of fighting through a series of water and land defenses to the heart of Germany seemed, to the man on the scene, almost impossible. Last July, when the Canadians fought crazily for the hamlet of Tilly-la-Campagne in Normandy, the notion of bursting across the Seine, Somme, Meuse, Rhine and Elbe was a dream which could hardly be frozen into reality. Yet everything has happened as we pictured it only in our fondest imaginations.
What are the reasons behind the utter defeat of what appeared to be an unbeatable power, secure within its fortress? Of course a dozen explanations—political, strategic and tactical —leap to the mind: Hitler’s under-
estimate of Russian fighting and organizing power, Goering’s gross mishandling of the Luftwaffe, Britain’s magnificent courage and the Commonwealth’s solidarity in face of disaster, the astounding transformation of the United States from a peace-minded nation to one of terrifying offensive power, Stalingrad, Alamein, Normandy. All these are contributory factors of importance.
The Bomb Path to Victory
But those of us who have examined dispassionately the ground of our German conquest must come to the conclusion that the weapon which more than any other military factor hastened Germany’s collapse was the patient plodding program of heavy bombing.
In 1941 Air Chief-Marshal Sir Arthur Harris told the world: “Bombing can win the war.” No one accepted his statement at face value; it was pointed out that only, infantry can win and hold territory. This, of course, is true. We didn’t attain victory until our ground forces smashed the German Armies into surrender. But now that we can travel over Germany and see the terrifying results of three years of intensive bombing, we must admit that Harris was very nearly right. If
bombing did not win the war it was certainly the outstanding factor in the victories of American, British, Canadian—yes, and Russian Armies on the ground.
There’s no intention here to remove credit from General Eisenhower’s magnificent organizational leadership, from the vast accomplishments of the Russian Armies or from Marshal Montgomery’s letter-perfect handling of great battles in the west. These things stand as spectacular milestones on the road to victory; they are obvious to the eye. The part played by strategic bombing in these accomplishments is not so obvious, yet in retrospect it contributed more to total victory than any single army or group of armies.
Indeed, the strategic air battle over Germany and German - occupied Europe was by far the greatest and grimmest battle of the war. One hundred and eighty thousand Allied airmen were casualties. Over Germany alone British and Canadian bomber forces lost 8,000 aircraft and the United States about 4,500. This does not count fighter losses while escorting bombers or while operating as part of the strategic plan for crippling Germany.
This battle stretched over a period of three years and under circumstances which rather wearied the public. After the first sensation of the 1,000-bomber raid on Cologne in the spring of 1942, bombers could do little of a concrete nature to attract vast enthusiasm. Each story and communique read more or less like the preceding one; reconnaissance photos of burned-out factories became a bore to the eye, and movie films of night fires raging in Essen looked exactly like those of night fires raging in Hamburg. Only the ground forces, with their territorial gains and prisoners, could hold public imagination. To those at home the bombing program meant casualty lists and some satisfaction that the Germans were being made uncomfortable. They could not know the climax toward which Harris and his American associates were working with supreme patience.
Perhaps the best way of assessing the contribution of the bombers to victory is to give estimates based on the expert opinions of ground strategists as to what might have happened in the European war without Harris’ comprehensive bomber campaign. Their estimate is that we would most likely not have beaten Germany until the summer of
1947, and that the cost to British, American and Canadian Armies alone would have been at least one million more dead than we suffered. Harris and Generals Doolittle and Eaker can therefore be credited with saving about 800,000 Allied lives and two years of war costs.
In order to understand the part played by the bombers it is essential that one point be kept in mind. Bombing was not a separate campaign. It was closely integrated with land strategy. Our land forces followed up the bomber campaign like an infantry wave follows up an artillery barrage. It is part of the pattern of total war we perfected.
Harris’ schedule for defeating Germany by bombing fell into three phases—first, destruction of the Reich’s industrial potential; second, of her oil supply; third, of her communications. In retrospect we can now see clearly how each phase was integrated with our land campaign and how the cumulative effect of each phase set Germany snowballing downhill to defeat between August, 1944, and May, 1945. For it should be obvious that without the magnificently insidious bombing campaign Germany would have been stronger with every mile of our approach to her main European fortress; instead she became successively weaker. The easiest battles were the last battles. Germany was a hollow shell and bombing made her so.
In 1942, when the bomber campaign can be said to have properly started, Germany was at the zenith of her territorial spread. It was patently impossible to attack effectively her communications, covering all of Europe and most of North Africa. Therefore Harris painstakingly began to hit her industrial potential. His task was to cut down her production of tanks, guns and planes. This campaign did not noticeably affect the battles of Alamein and Stalingrad. These victories rather were tributes to the quality of the British and Russian Armies and to the speed of American war production.
It was not until the middle of 1943 that the bomber campaign against German industry began to have a serious effect on the battlefields. In Sicily and the early Italian campaigns it was seen that the Germans suffered serious shortages in tanks, guns and fighter planes. In the battles of Etna and Salerno German troops fought magnificently but their supporting weapons were consistently outnumbered by ours and their tactical fighter
strength was already being removed to interior Germany to try and fend off the mounting bomber fleets that were rapidly smashing the factories that produced these supporting weapons.
The shape of German grand strategy changed during the summer of 1943 from offensive to defensive warfare. This change was primarily due to the bomber offensive on armament factories. We could not credit it then because we had no definite proof that Germany’s armament production was being ruined. We have that proof now. It may be seen in the mountain of rubble that is the Krupp works in the Ruhr and in the complete destruction of industrial sections of Hamburg, Nuremburg, Berlin, Leipzig and other factory cities. The underground factories, which we thought might be maintaining the flow of arms, have proved to be negligible in number for a war effort of size required by Germany’s forces.
With the approach of the Second Front the bomber campaign switched emphasis from industry to oil production. The plan now was to destroy the German Army’s mobility. To this end Allied fighter planes were assigned to locomotive destruction, while bombers went after synthetic oil factories and reserve dumps. This campaign was intensified when the Russians overran the oil fields of southeastern Europe, and it was upon the assumption that Marshal von Rundstedt would lack mobility that Montgomery made his master plan for fighting the Battle of Normandy.
Mobility Won Normandy
The success of the oil phase of the bomber campaign was attested by the brilliant and decisive nature of our Normandy victory. Germany already lacked tanks and guns, thanks to the first phase of Bomber Harris’ schedule. The armament she had stored in reserve for the Second Front was still adequate to the task of fighting us to a standstill, all other things being equal. But all other things were not equal. Germany lacked oil and therefore she lacked mobility. We had both, and Montgomery wielded this advantage to the greatest effect. The Battle of Normandy was a battle of movement. We won it because we could move twice as fast as the Germans. At no time could the enemy bring to bear on battle the advantage of his interior lines and his superiority in available manpower. Thus the bomber campaign began to grow in significance and in immediate battle effect. Germany was rolling downgrade fast. Continued on page 64
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Once the Battle of Normandy was won and the stage set for the Battle of Germany, the bomber campaign once more switched emphasis. Now Harris and Doolittle made an all-out effort to destroy Germany’s magnificent communications system. Oil became a secondary target and industry required only incidental attention. Whatever armament, oil and men Germany had prepared for the last battle had already been dispersed, so that effective destruction was impossible. The task of the bombers was now to destroy road and rail means by which these last assets could be transferred to active battlefields.
With the territory under attack confined to Germany instead of the face of Europe and with fighters now able to join in the strategic program, our air forces tackled this assignment with immense zest. Bridges, viaducts, railways and autobahns were cut and smashed day and night all through winter and early spring. Cities like Essen, Hanover and Magdeburg, already ruined industrially, were further attacked in order to create choke points for traffic. Marshalling yards were lacerated beyond repair. And when the plan was made to cross the Rhine in strength on March 24, the strategic air forces were able to inform Eisenhower that the German communications system was completely disrupted. The great and still powerful body of Germany was paralyzed; it could move its fingers and toes but its arms and legs were shattered and helpless.
The truth of this assurance is written in the magnificent story of the last few weeks. While Hitler tried frantically to hold the soul of Germany firm, the body was shattered. Further resistance was useless. The climax came quickly, death.
Thus did Harris make good his prediction of the dark days, that
bombing can win the war. It did win the war by its close application to the necessities of the land campaigns. Nor should it be forgotten that the whole program of the strategic air war in all its phases had almost as much effect on Russian victories as on ours. The Russians, too, benefited by Germany’s industrial collapse, by her oil shortage and by her communications snarl. When Harris, Doolittle and Eaker set out to help win the war they meant the whole European war and not only the western European war.
What is happening here before my window is happening wherever there are Germans. Hundreds of thousands of enemy troops are giving up to single divisions of our own. They see around them desolation such as has never before been visited on a defeated country. They know it will take them five years to clear the rubble; 20 years to make their cities habitable again.
The effect of such desolation on postwar Germany will be an immense problem for many generations. It is the best guarantee that the soul of the Reich has been purged of warlike intentions. The bomber campaign’s contribution to future security of Europe may well be as great as its contribution to military victory. Harris and Doolittle have shattered the Reich beyond recognition. Only small towns and villages remain unscathed and in these the German people must huddle for years before emerging into the world of affairs. The proud Reich has been turned into a nation of overcrowded villages and refugee camps.
Harris is the man who dreamed of this while Britain was still being stricken by German bomber waves. With the aid of the United States and Canada he has attained his dreams. Now he may put aside his terrible weapon and devote himself to his garden. He has completed the ugliest and most necessary work of our time.