British bombing of population targets- strategic question

The Japanese response to the atomic bombings was dealt with as a separate issue to the Red Army invasion of Manchuria. Foreign Minister Togo (not Tojo) urged (8th of August) the Japanese declare themselves the victims of inhumane war fighting by the US (which would have come as something of a surprise to the Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, etc. etc.) and sue for peace (with negotiations implied.) The Cabinet would have none of it. Even the Emperor would not go along, he wanted better terms up front.

The Army was unmoved, even by the Manchurian invasion - being unwilling to admit their “best units” were being beaten into the ground. The primary effect was that the Japanese realized that their hopes of back-channel negotiations were gone. The military was generally unwilling to consider any kind of surrender that didn’t entail the preservation of the Japanese state as-is.

All the Japanese still thought they could bloody the Americans’ noses and get surrender conditions that would still preserve the “Emperor’s Perogatives” – that is, the preservation of the Emperor’s position as living god, with a military and bureaucracy beholden to him only. That this exact hope had motivated everything the Japanese had been doing since Pearl Harbor, and been proved wrong, wrong, wrong, and also wrong did not seem to have the slightest effect.

Even when the surrender was decided on, a coup was attempted to “protect” the Emperor and destroy the recordings his surrender speech early on the 15th. Their stated purpose was to continue the war to the bitter end.

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Surely the whole bombing thing was just an attempt to prove the theories of Douhet and Mitchell? Harris and Spaatz were well aware of the failure of the Blitz, but believed that the Germans failed because they did not bomb enough.
As an aside - “Tooey” Spaatz. I’ve never seen a reason for his nickname, but always wonder if it’s because of the two "a"s in his surname.

I don’t think anybody was trying to “prove” Douhet and Mitchell. They did tend to wave their writings around as a justification, though.

The Germans had never done serious bombing during the Battle of Britain. He-111’s and Ju-88’s were medium bombers at best, and had bomb sights that were pretty close to looks-good-to-me. They were built for ground unit support, not strategic bombing. The Western Allies had good reason to discount the German experience (afterward.).

The Germans dropped about 30,000 tons of bombs on Britain during the war (source: the daily mail). The Allies dropped over 60 times as much on Germany. The USAAF and Bomber Command dropped more than 30,000 tons (about twice more) on Berlin alone. Bomber Command and USAAF dropped 2,700 tons of bombs on Dresden in 4 days.

As for heavy bombers the Brits just wanted to do something to the Germans during 1942-3, when good news was hard to come by, and they had all these bombers lying around. Once they started night bombing (entirely because day bombing was suicidal), they made up reasons why it was a good idea in the first place.

The US came into the war with what they thought was a better strategy than using entire cities as “aiming points”, and that their bombers had enough defensive machine guns (B17-F 9 guns, B-17G 10) that they could defend themselves. To their credit, they persevered and put development of long range escorts on a priority. They did have one long ranger, but the P-38 had serious issues with their superchargers at high altitude. It wasn’t until the P-51D with the Rolls Royce designed engine (but built in North America) became available that the 8th AF began ranging the skies to bomb anything they pleased.

But both Bomber Command and the 8th AF were intent on proving their own ‘theories’, which boiled down to: “If it’s on fire, bomb it. If it’s not on fire, bomb it.”

According to a couple of web sites, it’s because at West Point he closely resembled another cadet - T.J. Toohey.

Hope this helps!


They didn’t, which is interesting. Everyone’s made valid points of “at least its hitting back” and “not accurate enough so area bombing” but they had neither the planes nor crews for this. Planes were taken from coastal command (which desperately needed them) and basically untrained crews were put up for the big ones.

From the British experience of the BoB, it was rational to consequently pursue a strategy of bombing. I don’t know the politics, I haven’t read on the specifics, but it seems to me the whole idea got a bit out of hand. Especially with the casualties piling up, it seems that a reasonable strategy became an irrational conviction. There must have been some significant political backers.

“From the British experience of the BoB, it was rational to consequently pursue a strategy of bombing.”

This experience, the understanding of the Germans almost winning through bombing, was based on a misunderstanding of Luftwaffe numbers. The experience was wrong, the Germans were never close to winning the BoB, which is clear in hindsight, just like the bombing of population centres.

Bomber Command started the war with 280 aircraft (RAF Bomber Command During The Second World War | Imperial War Museums) out of a total of about 2,000 front-line RAF aircraft (Royal Air Force | Facts, History, & Aircraft | Britannica)

Near as I can tell, it was Coastal Command that needed aircraft, and got them from Fighter and Bomber Command, not the other way around.

(RAF Coastal Command during World War II - Wikipedia)

Oh, didn’t it ever! Give a man a hammer and the world looks like nails. Give Arthur Harris bombers and he will see anything in Germany (and France) as something to destroy.

Churchill, in particular, was entirely in favor of killing Germans in any way possible. And nobody in the hierarchy was willing to be “soft” on Germans after the Germans bombed Britain. That the British were going to be able to bomb Germany far more successfully and with far more civilian casualties didn’t really matter. You bombed us, so we bomb you. (And besides, the Germans would occasionally bomb England all through their time in France.)

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Yes I think we agree on the most part but not on specifically that bit. This part of the National Archives hasn’t been digitised but I have found:

Duncan Redford, ‘Inter- and Intra-Service Rivalries in the Battle of the Atlantic’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 32.6 (17 Dec 2009)

This has some illustrative extracts and concludes that the push for strategic bombing was rational from Bomber Command’s perspective.

It is an unsound narrative that claims that the bomber front had negligible effects on German war production. The effects of bombing were concealed by the improvements in German methods of production; the effective end of all civilian production; and the influx of slave labour. Your argument ignores the opportunity costs of needing to construct underground factories. It ignores the huge proportion of the military budget that was absorbed by air defence. And yes, Germany produced lots of finished units, but this ignores the chronic spare part problems experienced in the field; the distribution problems; and the chronic fuel shortages.
And the decision makes in the air forces did not have the benefits of decades of scholarly analysis of the effects that hindsight provides.
Strategic bombing did not live up to the hype of the visionaries; but it was effective in weakening the enemy.


Certainly the Germans thought it did. They put more and more effort into anti-aircraft guns, radars, and interceptors - because they knew it was suicidal to ignore it. The Japanese thought it did, but were incapable of stopping it. By the time the B-29 campaign got into high gear, a Japanese city a day was being burned to the ground.

The “Strategic Bombing Survey” was remarkably short-sighted (and was thereby accepted without question in academia). Declaring “production went up, therefor bombing was ineffective” is just ignoring pretty much everything for one line on a graph.

Declaring “resources should have been put elsewhere” is just ignoring the idiosyncrasies of the war(s). The Japanese could only really be attacked from the air, until mid-1945, and to do so would have been at the cost of millions of lives on both sides since invasion was the only possible strategy to end the war.

The Germans, for 4 years, would only be reachable by air from the West. Waiting 4 years to do anything against Germany would probably have had significant effects in the East. Stalin could well have decided that his alliance with the West was valueless. Germany knowing it had a free hand with airpower deployment would mean more aircraft on all fronts. The German military’s morale would have been unaffected by letters from home about cities on fire. Germany’s economy, without having to worry about defending cities, could have put vastly more production into things like tanks.

I quite agree. The effect of not having a strategic bombing campaign are literally incalculable. The war(s) would have been changed in ways that cannot be known in any way, even in hindsight. (Well, they can be guessed at :slight_smile:

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I think you are misunderstanding my question about where the resources should go- I’m very much not saying do not bomb Germany or Japan.

What I’m questioning is why are they bombing so many civilian targets when they know it’s not nearly as effective as they say it is.

If the issue is not being able to target factories within a kilometer, then perhaps change tactics and/or use different planes.

If all that is left are civilian targets, well, perhaps. But given that Germany and Japan were able to bring out new tools to continue the war- that certainly didn’t happen.

“What” and “how” you bomb is the real question to use your resources.

As a “pull out of thin air” example- instead of building Lancaster bombers, build twice as many Mosquitos (engines being the big ticket item). Perhaps use more of those for low level precise targeting, which will also risk fewer crew members. Or develop a more specific high accuracy platform to bomb with.

Sure, morale is hurt by bombing civilians, but it would also be hurt if the troops ran out of arms to fight with.

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German industry was hopelessly inefficient and still geared towards civilian production when the bombing started.

Germany belatedly switching to ‘total war’ modus and Speer’s reforms of the economy and efficiency drive drove up military production making it look like the bombing was useless. The important thing is the Germans actively had to invest resources into building up air defenses, resources thus denied to the campaign in the East. This, imho, is enough to justify Anglo American investment of resources into strategic bombing.

Could it have been done more effectively? Sure. But it had an effect, and in wars of such magnitude even little bits count.

I dunno, building a bazillion Mosquitos would require Arthur Harris (who actually hated anything but ‘his’ heavy bombers) to be removed from command. Having put him there, and told him to bomb Germany to ashes, it would be difficult to replace him without appearing ‘soft on Germany’.

Mosquitos were actually fairly complex machines, requiring more hand-labor to build (building out of wood - Mosquito skins were a layer of Ecuadorian balsa wood, and two layers of three-ply birch wood - requires fairly scarce craftsmanship, building out of metal can be greatly mechanized. I’m not sure you’d get two-for-one. Running Mosquitos in to targets in daylight makes them susceptible to lighter and more numerous AA. But you’re right, the targets wouldn’t have to be everybody-near-the-factory.

High accuracy from high altitude in this time period requires daylight; I’m not sure the Brits could stand the losses like the USAAF could.

My point was more that I don’t accept the reason “we can’t hit specific targets, so let’s just carpet bomb people”. How about work harder to hit specific targets? Again, it was recognized at the time that bombing civilians wasn’t as effective as they made it out to be. So do something better.

If fewer Lancasters were made, then those resources could be used to built a smaller metal plane similar to the Mosquito. Or something better than either.

It’s been said that it impacted German troop morale- what about the British flyers who were losing their friends? This wasn’t a one sided morale problem. The only reason we think that it mattered to the Germans is that they were getting battered in the east.

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I think we’re talking past each other. There might have been a better solution as you describe, but there are limitations. Smaller plane = shorter range, fewer, smaller bombs. Germans could move factories to other, further away cities (like the Russians did.)

But anyway, I’ll agree that a fighter-bomber (which is what a Mosquito was) solution might have had a better on-target percent, but there would have been limitations on the other side (daylight fighters available for interception, not just night-fighters, for instance.)

If the Germans have more… everything, I’m not so sure they’d be losing in the East. German military morale was excellent until mid-1943, at least. And they certainly fought with bravery and effectiveness right up until the end of the war.

It would have been a different war, to be sure.

Nobody achieved high accuracy from high level in 1943. Day or night it was inaccurate. But accuracy did improve as the war progressed and techniques Luke pathfinding and technology like ground mapping radar were developed.

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Luke pathfinding
(for sand)

(it is a joke)


How dare you try to inject a little levity into this learned discussion by… uh… whoever we are.



Just use the force and hit anything, I saw :eyes: it myself in the cinema :clown_face:


Only on accident. The Hiroshima bomb was probably the most accurate ‘dumb’ bomb ever thrown from such an altitude and even that was about a 100m off the intended target. Try hitting an actual factory building or bridge with that kind of accuracy.

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As the Red Army did with Katyusha rockets. Individual rockets were very inaccurate but once you fire thousands of them at a time it doesn’t really matter.

Considering everything dropping it 100m off target was pretty much the same as actually hitting the bullseye.

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