Throughout World War Two, Germany was heavily bombed though for many people the blanket bombing of Germany could be forgiven after the traumas of Dunkirk and the tribulations of the Battle of Britain. Simple public satisfaction and a feeling of revenge were enough of a rationale to explain away the bombing of Germany during World War Two.
Even today, the bombing of German cities remains a controversial issue and the unveiling of a new statue of‘Bomber’ Harris in 1992 by a church near Trafalgar Square, London, caused problems and it was covered with red paint within 24 hours of its unveiling.
Many British cities were bombed, as were many German cities. Civilians paid a terrible toll – the attitude of “Britain can take it” (as the government of the time would have us believe) was not true and stories of the “Trekkers” (people who lived in the cities who left their homes each night and went to the nearest safe woodland etc.) were heavily censored. Why were civilians targeted? The belief of the time was that their morale would crack and they would make the government surrender.
“In 1938 over 22 million Germans lived in 58 towns of over 100,000 inhabitants. If even half our bombs were dropped on…….these 58 towns the great majority of these inhabitants (about one third of the German population) would be turned out of house and home. Investigation seems to show that having one’s home demolished is most damaging to morale…….there seems little doubt that this would break the spirit of the people.”
Advice given to the British government in 1942 by Lord Cherwell, a senior scientific adviser.
Bombing raids could be so bad that firestorms could be created whereby the flames ‘ate’ up all the oxygen where the fire was and sucked in oxygen from the surrounding areas at such speeds that hurricanes were made which sucked in to them all living beings. Hamburg was one such place that suffered a firestorm in1943 as did Dresden in February 1945.
“People jumped into the canals and waterways and remained swimming or standing up to their necks for hours until the heat died down. Even these suffered burns to the head. The firestorm swept over the water with its showers of sparks so that even thick wooden posts burned down to the level of the water. Children were torn away from their parents’ hands by the force of the hurricane and whirled into the fire.”
Written by Hamburg’s police chief in 1943.
“In spite of all that happened at Hamburg, bombing proved a comparatively humane method. For one thing, it saved the youth of this country and of our allies from being mown down by the military as it was in the war of 1914-1918.”
‘Bomber’ Harris writing in his memoirs in 1947.
The main issue was whether we targeted the correct targets. In 1944 Britain dropped thousands of tons of bombs on Germany – the highest annual figure of the war. Yet in that year Germany was producing more industrial and war goods than ever before. It was only in 1944 that Britain changed targets and bombed strategic targets such as railway lines, bridges, motorways etc. and Germany’s ability to make industrial goods was smashed. Even a report set up by the British in 1945 to assess the impact of bombing admitted that the impact of the bombing campaign on Germany’s war production had been “remarkably small”.
The nose cone of a Lancaster bomber
61 German cities were attacked by Bomber Command between 1939 and 1945 containing a combined population of 25 million inhabitants;
3.6 million homes were destroyed (20% of the total)
7.5 million people were made homeless
300,000 Germans are thought to have been killed as a result of the raids, and 800,000 were wounded.
Berlin was 70% destroyed by bombing; Dresden 75% destroyed.
BUT – were the wrong targets chosen?
From 1939 to 1943, German cities were targeted and attacked. The more America and Great Britain bombed German cities during these dates, the more weapons Germany produced in their factories.
In early 1944, strategic targets were attacked (rail heads, rail lines, bridges etc.) The destruction of such targets effectively paralysed Germany. In 1945, Germany had mined much coal but had no way of moving it from the mines to where it was needed. When the war ended, the Allies found several hundred King Tigertanks at a Munich rail yard ready to be taken to the war front – but the Germans had no way of getting them there.
Did Bomber Command get a good return for the investment in men and planes during the bombing of Germany? There is no doubt that the casualty statistics for Bomber Command were very high. On some bombing missions over Germany, air crews might have a one in twenty chance of returning alive. The stress of flying a mission was such that recent research has found that many of those who survived bombing missions, became victims after the war ended. Failed marriages and alcoholism were not unusual for veterans of Bomber Command.
Added to this remains the controversy that the input Bomber Command had in the Second World War was never fully recognised by the government. The government’s lack of recognition of the part played by‘Bomber’ Harris during the war, angered many Bomber Command veterans. Harris retired to South Africa after the war. Bomber Command was the only unit of the British war machine from 1939 to 1945 that did not receive a campaign medal.