The Combined Bomber Offensive: Classical and Revolutionary,
Combined and Divided, Planned and Fortuitous
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Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker
I have enjoyed very much this historical review of incidents in 1942-45 with which I was intimately connected. I have talked about this more than once with General Spaatz, most recently when we learned about the historical review of the Combined Bomber Offensive which was planned here at the Air Force Academy. We both feel very strongly that the Combined Bomber Offensive was a very fortuitous operation. However, there are two or three items which have been scarcely mentioned here which I think should be brought to your attention. One of them is that there were no German aircraft opposing Eisenhower's crossing of the Channel on 6 June 1944. Most of the people who crossed the Channel that day and in subsequent days never saw a German plane. The reason for that was the Combined Bomber Offensive. Additionally, when Professor Higham says that the Combined Bomber Offensive did accomplish a result in 1944 but was futile in earlier times he is stating an incorrect premise. His thesis that we should not have bombed in 1942 and 1943 but should have waited until 1944 forgets that if we had not operated in 1942 and 1943, we would not have been effective in 1944. If we had not started in 1942 and continued in 1943, we would not have had the trained combat leaders, the trained combat crews, the communications, and tremendous logistics support, including airdrome complexes, to conduct the vast effort which he grudgingly admired in 1944.
Such statements as, "Bombing was not very effective in World War II," or "The vast resources devoted to bombing could have been employed more effectively elsewhere," are historical inaccuracies. Repeated either through ignorance or prejudice, they must not be allowed to go unchallenged since they can affect the strategy and the composition of our defense forces in the future. Indeed these misconceptions, this denigration of the effectiveness of bombing in World War II, may, in my judgment, be largely responsible for the failure of our political leaders to permit the employment of our air power with full effectiveness in Vietnam.
A fair appraisal of the roles of the Combined Bomber Offensive in World War II will accord it the principal responsibility for the destruction of the Nazi Luftwaffe, making the invasion of Europe possible and greatly reducing casualties in our sea and ground forces in the subsequent campaigns. It greatly reduced munitions production and distribution. It ultimately reduced the flow of oil to Panzer divisions and fighter squadrons well below operational requirements. When our Eighth Air Force had but 200 bombers operating out of England in 1943, there were more than a million Germans standing at the antiaircraft and fighter defenses on the West Wall to defend against them. And another million Germans were fire wardens, or engaged in bomb damage repair.
Whenever our little bomber force crossed the Channel, the air raid sirens moaned in every munitions plant in the Ruhr and the skilled workers took to the cellars and bunkers. The weapons production loss was tremendous. The same thing occurred at night when the RAF bomber raids struck the industrial centers. But for these bombers, these millions of Germans would have been turning out more tanks and planes, guns and bombs, or they would have comprised another 60 divisions for employment on the Eastern Front. Those 200 American bombers were crewed by 2,000 gallant men. Never before in the whole history of warfare have 2,000 warriors exercised such a profound and far-reaching effect on the war-making potential of an enemy.
Strangely, the critics of the Combined Bomber Offensive neglect to report what the German war leaders have said about the effectiveness of our bombing. The fact is that all of them without exception who have since written or spoken on their war experiences have ascribed to our bombing a prime reason for their defeat. After Albert Speer, who was Hitler's Minister for War Production, got out of prison last year (1967), he said, "I was surprised during the war years that the Americans and the British did not follow up on the destruction of our industry. If they had done that, the war would have been over a year earlier." What Albert Speer did not know is that we were fighting to the limit of our resources. Had we had more resources, we would have done what Speer now wonders why we did not do then.
General Spaatz asked Hermann Goering, soon after his capture, when he first realized that the Nazis were defeated. Goering replied, "When I saw your bombers over Berlin protected by your long-range fighters, I knew then that the Luftwaffe would be unable to stop your bombers. Our weapons plants would be destroyed; our defeat was inevitable."