The Combined Bomber Offensive: Classical and Revolutionary,
Combined and Divided, Planned and Fortuitous
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The Allied Combined Bomber Offensive: Two German Views (Part 1)

Field Marshall Erhard Milch
German Air Force, WW II (Ret.)

Translated and edited by Lieutenant Colonel William Geffen.

Having read Dr. Frankland's paper and the commentaries by Dr. Futrell and Professor Higham, I shall endeavor to present very briefly the German viewpoint of the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive during World War II. However, I shall not concern myself with the deeper and underlying considerations, often of a more philosophical nature, to which Dr. Frankland and some of the other commentators address themselves in their papers.

The subtitles of Dr. Frankland's paper, "classical and revolutionary, combined and divided, planned and fortuitous," seem to me to express most clearly, through the use of the small word "and," what is most necessary in order to achieve the greatest effect in any operation. It is the task of the higher military leadership always to find at the right moment and in proper dimensions the best solution among the two alternatives expressed by Dr. Frankland. This solution, however, can never be a one-sided one, that is choosing one of the alternatives over the other, for it must, more often than not, be one which is based on a mix of the two alternatives available. To make the most successful decision in each case is a task which requires military genius!

German Mistakes

In every military conflict each side must evaluate the power potential of the opponent. In the case of Germany and World War II, the following had a decisive effect on the German conduct of the war:

1. In the fall of 1939 the German Air Force was still in the process of building and expansion. It was as yet not ready to engage in large-scale military operations; this was equally true of the army and navy.

2. A comparison of German war potential with that of the Allies showed a drastic inferiority on the part of Germany, particularly in respect to such factors as population, geographical area, raw materials, industrial potential, and a trained leadership elite. For this reason, the German military leadership was unable to understand how (and why) the political leadership could and did embark on a course of military action. The most pressing handicap on the German side was the completely insufficient source of petroleum.

3. In the case of the German Air Force one must add a series of mistakes made by the military leadership, some of which occurred before the outbreak of war and some immediately thereafter, which in addition raised serious doubts as to any German hopes of victory.

The following stand out:

World War II Bombing Operations

Tactics developed prior to the war for the employment of the German bomber force had been on the basis of daylight raids with accompanying fighter escorts for protection. Until the Battle of Britain this remained the basic Luftwaffe doctrine in terms of planning, training, and actual operations. However, the short radius of action of the German fighter escorts, which could not be extended beyond the vicinity of London, as well as their numerical insufficiency for the required bomber escort operations, necessitated a change in tactics. Thus, because of the large loss rate sustained by the bomber force as a result of the above, daylight bombing operations against England were changed to night operations. Yet, no completely satisfactory tactical doctrine for night bombing operations evolved on the German side, in contrast to the later British night bombing tactics based on large numbers of aircraft attacking in continuous waves.

Thus the German bomber force during night operations could attack only area targets successfully, not pinpoint targets. For this reason, although not consciously planning to do so, night bombing operations had to turn into terror attacks, with the civilian population suffering increased losses. British night bombing operations must be judged by the same standard, while recognizing that here the effect of "terrorizing" the civilian population served not as the unwanted by-product but rather as the main purpose of such operations. (See for example Churchill's order in this respect.)

The American daylight attacks, just as the earlier German attacks prior to the Battle of Britain, cannot be criticized from a military point of view. A more concentrated and numerically larger employment of the B-17s was possible only after the introduction of the Mustang provided the required and outstanding fighter escort. The American attacks were then able to hit the majority of their assigned targets in an outstanding manner. The excellent tactical employment system of the bomber-fighter force used by the Americans contributed perhaps even more to the success. It was only natural that a certain percentage of the bombs dropped during daylight operations did fall on civilian targets and population centers, but this was only a fraction when compared with that of the night bombing operations.

The military successes of the American daylight operations were considerably more productive than those of British night flying operations, but the "combined" method of American daylight operations and British night flying operations successfully complemented each other to achieve the ultimate success. The greater volume of bombs dropped by the Lancasters and other British aircraft was compensated for by the lesser number of target hits and by the, at least 30%, decrease in finding the assigned targets during night operations. It is my opinion that British losses both in terms of pilots and aircraft during night flying operations were no less than that of the Americans.

The German fighter (interceptor) air force had been developed and trained for daylight operations only prior to and in the beginning of the war, but by the end of 1940 it was divided by the creation of a night-fighter interceptor force. The surprisingly successful results of this new force were made possible by the introduction of excellent radar equipment designed for such operations.

The Effect of the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive on Germany

Despite the fact that the Allies possessed excellent crews, aircraft, and tactics, an outside observer had difficulty in understanding why the effects of their day and night operations had not achieved the decisive (and desired) result, the capitulation of Germany by 1944. In respect to the British night bombing operations one aspect, probably not considered by the Allies in their planning, played an important role, namely the more than heroic resistance of the German people. This was strengthened rather than diminished by the night "terror" bombing attacks. It represented primarily an expression of faith and trust on the part of the German people in their leadership, particularly in Hitler himself. (However. in future wars it would be unwise to count on these same higher influences prevailing and operating again.)

The Americans also made what I consider a cardinal error in their assessment of the effects of daylight bombing operations on Germany, for until the middle of 1944 they continued to attack such targets which according to established doctrine had been considered as decisive, but which in practice were not so at all. American attacks against aircraft factories, aircraft engine factories, tank factories, etc., did not result in a noticeable or continuing decrease in production. To cite just one example. During the winter of 1943, on a day when the temperature was a freezing eight degrees Centigrade, a large scale American bombing raid was carried out against a Junkers aircraft factory in central Germany which had been producing fifty Ju-88s per month. All buildings, including the factory heating installation, were totally destroyed. The aircraft, although in part totally destroyed, were to a large extent still repairable, but most of the factory equipment was inoperative. When I landed at the factory approximately 30 minutes after the attack had taken place, I found one third of the work force engaged in extinguishing the fires, one third engaged in removing the debris, and the last third repairing the damaged aircraft. The entire sight was catastrophic and I asked the assembled workers how long, in their estimation, it would take until all the damage had been repaired. Their answer was: at the latest within a month! Actually on the tenth day of the following month the factory delivered the 50 aircraft scheduled for delivery during the previous month (when the attack had occurred); the 50 aircraft scheduled for delivery during the current month were also delivered before the end of that month.

The Allies had hoped that their attacks on the ball-bearing factories (such as Schweinfurt) would have a decisive effect on the duration of the war. However, despite the heavy destruction caused by these attacks, their effect on air force production was almost nil, because, first of all, large reserves of ball-bearings had been stored elsewhere, and secondly, the need to use ball-bearings was not in each case of vital necessity and could be (in fact, was) compensated for by changes in model construction and by using substitutes. Only in 1944 were long-standing German fears turned into reality, when the Allies began their systematic destruction of the oil and petroleum product refineries. As soon as the repair of a damaged refinery seemed to near completion, the Allies launched a new attack on the installation, destroying it again. These Allied successes were mainly due to daylight operations. They, in fact, delivered the real, decisive, death blow to Germany. Naturally, attacks against other targets, particularly those concentrating on the transportation system, did their part in destroying the German military potential, but were only of secondary importance. Destruction of these targets only became a catastrophe for Germany when the Allied armies of both West and East began their advances toward Germany proper, where they finally met in the center of Germany. These advances made by Allied ground forces were a direct result of the constant lack of available petroleum products as well as the diminishing fighting capability of the air force, which again is directly related to the lack of petroleum products in its effect on pilot training.

In conclusion I would like to state that the Allies would have been able to end the war sooner had they started their attacks against the German petroleum refineries earlier; in fact they would have shortened the war by the exact number of months (or weeks) it would have taken (and took) to carry out these attacks effectively. I fully realize that my brief remarks have dealt rather summarily with the most complex subject, but it has been my intention to accentuate the decisive elements of the Combined Bomber Offensive and its effect on Germany, as I saw it during World War II. From my remarks it is evident that I for one believe that the course of events could have taken a different turn, if . . . ! But it is always this "if" in life that makes the difference; a poor excuse as it is! However, we on the German side, at least in my opinion, made—unfortunately I may add—the greater and more important mistakes, as I tried to point out above.

How a strategic bombing war will be conducted in the future depends on many more imponderables than those which made World War II operations so difficult. Theoretically one can exterminate whole nations by conducting a nuclear war. The atomic bomb was used against Japan, but in Vietnam neither side has dared to use it yet, probably because of the fear of reciprocity. That one always can count on such fear of reciprocity in the future seems doubtful. What happens if the Soviets launch an attack against NATO? What happens under such circumstances to the European nations immediately concerned, regardless of whether the attack is launched with or without the use of nuclear weapons? Although it is the task of the political leadership to make the decision as to whether to use or not to use nuclear weapons, I believe that the soldiers should prepare such decisions much more thoroughly from a military point of view than seems to have been the case to date.

One can only congratulate the United States Air Force Academy for having concerned itself so intimately with the questions and problems of the strategic bombing war, even though this type of war in the future will be able to achieve the same results through the employment of missiles rather than masses of aircraft.

World War II was only a scheme! Every new war will create new schemes! However, one must master the historical experiences, if one intends to apply them (with whatever necessary modifications) in the future.