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 2)
Lieutenant General Adolf Galland
German Air Force, WW II (Ret.)
Translated and edited by Lieutenant Colonel William Geffen.
An analysis of the Allied Bomber Offensive against Germany is undoubtedly a useful endeavor, one which does not require any justification. However, Dr. Frankland's fine paper does raise some doubts in my mind, particularly with respect to his method of analysis. First, the conceptual framework of Frankland's inquiry appears to contribute little toward a better understanding of the strategic development and execution of the Allied Bombing Offensive and therefore also little toward the use of the experiences gained by it. Secondly, it is my belief that an isolated investigation of the event—isolated from the rest of the war and from the counteractions of the opponent—can only insufficiently illuminate the nature of the air war and cannot possibly enable an observer to derive valid rules from it. For this reason, I would like to begin my comments by using the comparatively more simple scheme of pure military analysis and then make an attempt to fit Frankland's concepts into such an investigation in order to ascertain their validity (Ordnungsgehalt).
Any military analysis (within certain modifications) must ask itself three questions: (1) What is the nature of the specific military task to be investigated within the context of the total overall military mission; (2) How could the specific mission best be accomplished within the limits of the means available; (3) What means and opportunities did the opponent possess to thwart one's own intentions?
It is assumed that while the total military mission of the Allies, i.e., to bring about the unconditional surrender of Germany, was sufficiently articulated, the specific task for the conduct of the air war was not clearly spelled out. In principle, three possible solutions were available for the execution of the latter task:
1. To conduct operations against the enemy air force with the goal of achieving air supremacy in order thus to open the road to total victory for the ground forces.
2. To weaken the opponent by destruction of his "nerve" system and his production centers. This would paralyze his resistance and create a situation whereby he would be unable to resist a follow-on occupation by the ground forces.
3. To defeat the enemy forces in closest cooperation with the ground forces, to pursue them into the homeland and annihilate them there.
Since at the beginning of the Bombing Offensive the employment of ground forces in Western Europe was neither possible nor contemplated, the third possible solution suggested above could be disregarded by Allied strategists at that time, but held in abeyance for later use.
That no decision was reached in regard to either (1) or (2) above and that the adoption, as an alternative, of the not too clearly conceived concept of "round-the-clock bombing" was possible only because of the almost inexhaustible power potential and reserves which the Allies possessed, coupled with the concurrent and continuous decrease in German power potential. Thus, it was actually possible for the Allies to pursue simultaneously solutions (1) and (2), in accordance with this rather vague concept ("round-the-clock bombing" ), leaving the option open which of the two solutions would finally be adopted as the primary method, insofar as such a decision was still required.
Since the specific mission was vague in nature, its execution could not be anything else but vague too. For the mission of "round-the-clock bombing" was in reality not the result of a concept, but rather a result of the difference in equipment and training of the two Allied air forces. The question of how the specific air war mission could best be carried out with the means available had already been answered beforehand. Mission execution was made to fit the quality of the existing means, rather than to employ these means toward the achievement of a specifically defined strategic goal.
The weakness of the Allied method did not at all lie in its division of operational activity between day and night, for it was exactly this division of labor which forced the German air defense to engage in a "round-the-clock" state of readiness. Even more importantly, it forced Germany into the extremely difficult and expensive step of maintaining two defense systems, which at this time at least were still in many respects entirely different systems. On the contrary, the weakness of the Allied method was, as I see it, due rather to the lack of coordination concerning the strategic goal to be achieved. That this did not result in greater disadvantages for the Allies was primarily a result of the continuously changing military capabilities between the opposing air forces, which became more and more disadvantageous to the German side. In addition, a number of mistaken decisions on the part of the German leadership, some of catastrophic dimensions, added to it.
The only option available to the German side to defend themselves against the Allied air attacks, particularly when one considers that Germany was engaged in a war on many fronts which she could neither stop nor disengage herself from and which required the allocation of diminishing resources, was a concentration of all available strength for air defense. To arrive at this decision would have been very easy for Germany, particularly since wartime experiences and lessons reamed in this respect were available from the Battle of Britain.
I believe that this point requires some further consideration. The German Air Force attained its reputation as a strategic air force in the quick wars of 1939 and 1940, particularly those against Poland and France. In reality this was a false reputation, for in all those instances where the Luftwaffe achieved unquestionable success it was used as a tactical weapon. It achieved its reputation of invincibility, of being the best air force, as paradoxically as this may sound, because of the army, for the Luftwaffe was really never required in those early wars to annihilate completely the opposing air force. It was sufficient if the enemy air force was temporarily paralyzed, sometimes only for a few days. The ground organization and logistic system of the enemy air forces, which although damaged but nevertheless repairable, was then overrun by the German armor columns and finally occupied by the pursuing infantry. Conversely the Luftwaffe played its part in the successes which the rapid movement of the army achieved, since it enabled the fast armor columns to drive forward under air force protection without worrying about enemy flank penetrations or the need to wait for contact with the much slower infantry, which followed in its path.
At the moment when this concept was abandoned, as for example during the Battle of Britain, the weakness of the Luftwaffe became apparent. This weakness was not only a result of the lack of range in the German fighter arm, but rather the comparative numbers and capabilities of both the RAF and the Luftwaffe. Numerically this has often been expressed in a ratio of one to four or even one to five in favor of the Luftwaffe. This, however, is based on an erroneous calculation. For the determining ratio is that of fighter to fighter, and this was hardly ever much better than one to one for the German side. A one-to-one ratio, however, is insufficient in view of the much higher attrition rate sustained by the attacker, a lesson which was to be validated later during the Allied Bombing Offensive. Herein lies the chance for' the defender, a chance not to be overlooked.
In spite of the continuous "round-the-clock" efforts of the Allied Bombing Offensive, the German armament industry was able to produce until the end of the war approximately 1,400 Me-262 jet aircraft. Notwithstanding the concentrated Allied attacks against both oil refineries and the transportation network, Germany was able during the late summer and autumn of 1944 to provide 3,700 fighter aircraft for a large air defense effort, a number which the Luftwaffe had not been able to have in operation at any time before this. If, and I hope I may be permitted to make a hypothesis at this point, all of these existing capabilities had continually been used for the task of air defense instead of misusing them in the rather senseless air attacks against enemy targets, the Allied Bombing Offensive would undoubtedly have come to a different end, although this probably would not have changed the final result of the war. If such large numbers of aircraft had been made available for air defense, it would have been impossible even for the United States Air Force to maintain a ratio of fighter aircraft of a least two to one, particularly when one considers the qualitative superiority of the Me-262. In this respect the complete victory of the Allied Bombing Offensive was indeed "fortuitous," that is to say based on a mistake by the German leadership which certainly was not and could not have been "planned."
Viewed in this light, the attrition of the RAF in the air battle over Berlin becomes even less understandable, since the first jet aircraft had already become operational during the late autumn months of 1943. If the Allies had given proper consideration to the "means and opportunities the opponent possessed to thwart one's own intentions," they would immediately have concentrated their attacks on the German aircraft industry, engine and aluminum factories, and oil refineries. This decision should have been an easy one to make, since the questionable effect of terror raids, i.e., city bombing, had already been recognized on both sides by this time. Moreover, Berlin did no longer play the central role within the German "nerve system" which London still occupied within the British "nerve system."
*The first flight of a Me-262 took place on 18 July 1942 from 0840 to 0852 hours at Leipheim Air Force Base (near Ulm, Germany). [Ed. note]
After these comments, based on a German view of the Allied Bombing Offensive, I would like to concern myself with Dr. Frankland's conceptual framework and to investigate its content.
Classical and Revolutionary
The weakness of this pairing seems to me to rest upon the fact that it does not contain any real alternative. Thus, its use is primarily a matter of taste. For example, was the appearance of the first tank revolutionary? Hardly so, since the opponent soon learned how to cope with it with conventional means. Was the appearance of the aircraft as a military weapon revolutionary? Not at all, although it considerably expanded the possibilities of long range reconnaissance. The chivalrous air battles in which the fighter pilots on both sides engaged in the First World War contributed as little toward the military decision of the war as did the rather small interdiction efforts of the air arm in the ground battle. At the start of the Second World War both weapon categories, the airplane and the tank, were already considered classical weapons. Nevertheless, the concept of the air-supported armored breakthrough was revolutionary since it brought about a change in strategy by replacing the attrition strategy (Ermattungs- und Abnutzungsstrategie) of the First World War with a lightning strategy of mobility. At the same time this new strategy almost completely invalidated a principle of warfare heretofore considered as indispensable, namely that of the far superior strength required by the offense over the defense.
Measured against this rather decisive change in strategy the revolutionary content of Douhet's theory and that of other related theories seems comparatively small, since basically it meant nothing more than a rejuvenation of the "material battle" principle of the First World War, although with the help of a new weapon medium with expanded dimension and with increased destruction capabilities. But a wrong strategic concept does not become a more correct one just because one continues it by a constant increase in the means used. This point can be recognized today in the complete strategic irrationality of the "pat" situation toward which the atomic arms race has led. Some characteristics of this situation can also be ascribed to the Allied Bombing Offensive.
In view of what I have said above, one must doubt whether its strategic principle was indeed revolutionary. That the modification of the concept by the employment of long-range fighters and a concentration on selected war-essential target systems shows characteristics of a classical strategy is evident. But the fact that the Allied Bombing Offensive finally achieved its goal—and in such a total manner—is not so much due to either its revolutionary or classical ingredients or a combination of both, but rather due to the lack of a revolutionary spark on the part of the opponent. The German leadership, instead of doing what the British leadership had done two years earlier (1941), namely to grasp the revolutionary concept of opposing the Allied Bombing Offensive with all available means in the air, attempted desperately, in a classical-conservative manner, to retain a piece of Douhet's pseudo-revolutionary mantle in its hands. The German leadership used up its last air reserves in senseless and scattered offensive actions, thereby giving up its only chance to force the enemy to revise his attrition strategy. Thus it seems, at least to me, quite apparent that the concepts "classical and revolutionary" are interchangeable, depending on the argumentation one uses.
Combined and Divided
It seems to me that Frankland in analysing this alternative overlooks that the task division between the British and the American air forces represented from the start an almost ideal solution for the Allies and at the same time a catastrophic one for the German air defense. The solution was ideal, not only because time was working for the Allies but also because the division made possible the most efficient use of the existing weapon systems. At the same time, it tied down a much greater portion of the German air defense capability, both active and passive, than a combined offensive would probably have been able to do. This turned out to be catastrophic for the Germans, primarily because the necessary manpower allocation and the rather noticeable decrease in army weapons production paralyzed the defensive struggle against the Soviet Union. But with a combined action the objective of the Allied Bombing Offensive, which though never clearly defined was nevertheless almost automatically apparent, namely the achievement of air supremacy and the destruction of the enemy's production centers, could not have been achieved, certainly not to the extent it did succeed. Above all, a noticeable Allied reversal which one must at least consider within the realm of possibility if an all-out concentrated German air defense effort (as suggested above) had occurred, would have placed the continuation of the Allied bombing operations much more seriously in question than did the "dispersed" German efforts which actually took place. As the Allies continued to develop both of their methods under the existing division of labor, they finally achieved, each in his own way, a high degree of perfection as well as freedom of action in the air, which made possible the completion of the strategy during the combined phase of the bombing operations.
Whether or not this strategy would have been equally successful with more limited resources and with greater time pressure, even in the face of a consequent concentration on air defense on the part of the German leadership, must remain an open question.
Planned and Fortuitous
Since, as already discussed above, it is not clear what really had been planned, it is not easy to decide what was fortuitous. It is certainly difficult to follow Frankland's thoughts and to arrive at his conclusion that the origins of the Lancaster and the Mustang were fortuitous. According to this concept almost every follow-on development of a prototype air weapon would have to be fortuitous. If those actions, which one can only reconstruct subsequently, had been planned from the beginning, then one would be forced to conclude that the (revolutionary) British intention to force the capitulation of the opponent by the sole use of the strategic air offensive did fail and probably would have failed even if the Americans had participated in it. On the other hand, the (classical) American intention to achieve air supremacy in order to pave the way for the ground forces did succeed, although the additional effect of the British participation must be included here.
Whether a more goal-oriented and common Allied planning process in the beginning of the war would have brought about a much quicker end result with decreased losses, or possibly would even have justified the British theory, must remain unanswered. Conversely, the question of whether the Allied Bombing Offensive could have achieved its successful end result had German air defense efforts been properly concentrated, is also debatable.
All discussions concerning the Allied Strategic Bombing Offensive must start from the premise that only after Germany had already lost the war did it reach its full effect. The German loss of initiative on the Eastern Front by the defeat at Stalingrad, the loss of the Mediterranean, and the Allied invasion of Italy showed the unrelenting swing of the pendulum moving toward the Allied side. In the same proportion as Allied capabilities increased, German capabilities began to decrease.
Since it still took two years until the strategic air offensive achieved its full success the following conclusions can be made with a fair degree of accuracy:
1. In contrast to the combined air-land offensive, a strategic air offensive requires a degree of material and numerical superiority which normally will not be achieved between adversaries whose power potential is nearly equivalent.
2. Air superiority is primarily attained in the battle of fighter against fighter, in which instance the aggressor will have to cope with a much higher attrition rate. In the starting phase of a strategic air offensive the superiority of the fighter arm must have first priority, while it is the mission of the bomber force, in addition to supporting the ground operations by interdiction, to force the opponent into a defensive posture.
3. The superiority of the defender against the aggressor is much greater in air than it is in ground operations. Therefore, the side which concentrates its air efforts in the beginning on defense and uses its offensive capabilities at a later point, has a better chance.
4. A strategic air offensive with conventional weapons alone cannot, without a planned and timely ground attack, achieve the decision in war.
It should be recognized that the foregoing comments have been limited to a discussion of conventional air war; no consideration has been given to the effect a missile defense system would have on the war in the air. Despite some experiences gained in Vietnam, the theorist still faces a largely undiscovered area in this respect. Lastly, it is highly doubtful, at least in my opinion, that the new weapons of destruction can be placed within a framework of a rational strategy, despite the existence of relevant theories which attempt to do so.