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World War II
Discuss WWII and the era directly before and after the war from 1935-1949.
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REVIEW
The Bombers & The Bombed
Merlin
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Posted: Sunday, August 03, 2014 - 04:43 AM UTC
Bill Cross reviews the controversial new book "The Bombers & The Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945."

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If you have comments or questions please post them here.

Thanks!
stonar
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Posted: Monday, August 04, 2014 - 01:21 AM UTC
Anyone thinking of buying Overy's work should read this review by Adam Tooze who is well qualified to judge.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303650204579375020496184520

Steve
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Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2014 - 04:36 AM UTC
Steve, that review requires a subscription to the Wall Street Journal.

I respect Prof. Tooze's demurral with Prof. Overy, but both are qualified (IMO) to make their thesis. I was able to read the review in its entirety, and I simply disagree with it, primarily because Prof. Tooze is writing about what Prof. Overy didn't do, and trying to paint him as overly concerned with the morality of bombing. I did not find this to be the case when reading the book, and it's quite obvious to any disinterested reader that Prof. Tooze is a bit too intent on defending the honor of the RAF ("if they'd had more & better planes, if they'd had better fighter escorts").

I should point out that the Nazis do not agree with Tooze's theory that the RAF's bombing campaign was going to cripple war production. They are already in 1943 dispersing their industrial base to targets outside the cities. IIRC what Speer was concerned about was more "terror raids" like Operation Gomorrah (the fire raids on Hamburg) that might lead to civil unrest, saying "if we have a few more like that, we're finished.

That didn't happen; the Nazi terror apparatus was too powerful and pervasive. No one dared resist.

Yet even with Hamburg, Overy points out that war production there returned to pre-Gommorah levels very quickly. The kind of fire raid that destroyed the central parts of the city could not be duplicated again there, and was possible in other cities only during certain conditions (hot, dry, windy nights where the weather fanned the flames of the incendiaries).

Finally, though, Tooze's position is that the RAF should have continued bombing the Ruhr industrial areas and not switched to Berlin (a target of limited military value, aside from its political prominence). Overy is not speculating on what the RAF might have done, but what it did do. He concludes area city bombing was ineffective in shortening the conflict. Further, the switch to bombing Germany's oil production facilities was forced on Harris & Bomber Command. He wanted to continue the terror raids, and had no faith attacking the means of production would work. I can only suspect that a deep personal animus against the Germans fueled Harris's actions, but that's my own analysis.

There is even an argument that city bombing perhaps even hardened the German will to resist and fight on. Goebbels asked average people to accept the notion of ausharren or "to endure hardship," and after the war, the Nazis said that it was the US "precision" daylight bombing that did the most to harm their ability to fight, not the RAF nighttime bombing.

Sadly I see the same nationalistic justifications in some of what Prof. Tooze writes that prevent these discussions from getting to the bottom of things.
Merlin
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Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2014 - 07:07 AM UTC
Hi Bill and Steven

This is really a subject for the History Club forum, as it's a debate that is unlikely ever to be resolved - there are simply so many conflicting contemporary quotes that can be used by the proponents of both sides to back up their arguments.

The irony of the whole "daylight vs. night, area vs. precision" debate was summed up for me in an observation in book attributed to an American officer at a conference at the end of the war to review the effectiveness of the Allied bombing campaign against Germany; at the risk of misquoting him (this is purely from memory after a good many years), he noted that, by the end of the war, the RAF was conducting precision area raids, while the USAAF chose area precision raids.

Whatever, I'm sure any irony (if indeed intended) was lost on the poor souls underneath both bomber forces...

All the best

Rowan
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Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2014 - 08:25 AM UTC
Hi, Rowan,

I'm glad that we're having the discussion.

The US especially continues to talk about "strategic" bombing, and of course, the whole ICBM concept is city bombing on atomic steroids. I think it's vital that historians reevaluate the numbers and the sources, since they often disagree: at a point when German factory production was falling (because of the bombing and the disruption in the supply chain, as well as a lack of skilled labor thanks to conscription), fighter production was rising (in part because of a very good job of dispersing airplane manufacturing outside of the major cities).

Overall, I find Overy's argument more measured and dispassionate than Tooze's (also don't ignore the fact that The Wall Street Journal is an American version of the UK's Telegraph: respected for its reporting, but editorially to the Right of Attila the Hun.

In any case, when we model the instruments of war, we should not lose sight of their uses and those who may suffer from that usage.
stooge
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Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2014 - 09:50 PM UTC
Bill, very interesting comments and I have enjoyed reading them and thinking about it all.

Reading Speer and a broad range of books on the German side of WWII it is very clear the disruption by bombing and daylight attacks (transport in particular)to oil, specialist production such as the ball bearings and then the aircraft and other factories combined with attacks on the transport network created an environment where production was very expensive in resources. In particular manpower. And this directly impacted on training and provision of skilled soldiers and airmen at the front line.

Sure production output was very high in 44 & 45 despite the bombing, but at what opportunity cost to the Germans?

And oil was always in short supply after 1939 and this impacted training and transport and missions from then onwards.
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Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2014 - 02:28 AM UTC

Quoted Text

Bill, very interesting comments and I have enjoyed reading them and thinking about it all.


Thanks, Carl, nothing makes a reviewer's day quite like an appreciative reader.

Quoted Text

... it is very clear the disruption by bombing and daylight attacks (transport in particular)to oil, specialist production such as the ball bearings and then the aircraft and other factories combined with attacks on the transport network created an environment where production was very expensive in resources. In particular manpower.


One of the unintended results of this was a greater input of slave labor in the factories. The Allies could not have known that, but it did impact the lives of the wretches the Nazis were torturing in camps.

Quoted Text

Sure production output was very high in 44 & 45 despite the bombing, but at what opportunity cost to the Germans?

And oil was always in short supply after 1939 and this impacted training and transport and missions from then onwards.


All true. Overy doesn't dispute that the bombing extracted a price of the Nazis, but he holds accountable the proponents of strategic bombing in general and area bombing in particular. His results would indicate that both wildly overstated their successes while brushing the human cost (on both sides) under the carpet. We must keep in mind all the air crews lost by both the RAF and USAAF when calculating the risk/reward analysis of strategic bombing.

And Overy is not the only historian to question the value of strategic bombing. Donald Miller attacks the dogma of the Allied air commanders and their belief that bombing would avoid the need to invade Europe in his superb book Masters of the Air (soon to come to the small screen on HBO as the third installment of their "Band of Brothers"/"The Pacific" series).
stooge
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Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2014 - 09:22 PM UTC

Quoted Text

One of the unintended results of this was a greater input of slave labour in the factories



Very clearly this was an outcome.


Quoted Text

would indicate that both wildly overstated their successes while brushing the human cost (on both sides) under the carpet.



Absolutely this was the case. And also the case for across the board during the conflict. The review of proved result for action was very poorly done (for example victory claims fro fighter pilots) or deliberately avoided for most aspects of the conflict. Even tho this was a well recognised tool/process certainly within British and USA circles.
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Posted: Thursday, August 07, 2014 - 04:25 AM UTC
My personal answers to those questions:

To todays standards (and mine as far as relevant) it is immoral
It did help a little bit to end the war a bit sooner at a very high cost

The answer on the effectiveness of the bombing campaign may not be available in discussions on what happened in world war two, but in what happened afterwards.

In every main conflict there is growing emphasis on precision bombing eliminating key war infrastructure, and direct hits on enemy military personnel and equipment.

This may have something to do with raising moral standards (although doubtfully) but it is more likely that someone figured out that hitting a soldier, or his equipment, is more effective than angering him by killing his mother.
stonar
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Posted: Saturday, August 09, 2014 - 11:41 PM UTC
Hi Bill,

I don't entirely agree with either of their views, I don't suppose many would. I only posted the link to show that there are other ways and measures we can use to look at this controversial subject and inevitably the conclusions drawn may differ.
I confess to not being one of Overy's biggest fans, for reasons that have no place here, but I certainly respect his views. I'm in the middle of reading 'Bombing States and Peoples in Western Europe' to which he has made a significant and worthwhile contribution. It's not easy reading, Hastings or Beevor it is not, but worth the effort
Cheers
Steve
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Posted: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 04:57 AM UTC
Thanks, Steve. I don't expect the controversies to be settled, at least not this close to the events. We're still arguing about the Great War a century later (was the British General Staff totally incompetent or not?).

Now that the US is bombing the ISIS fighters in Iraq (and before that, was thinking about bombing Syria), we need to ask these tough questions. Cruise missiles and drones have minimized the loss of life when projecting air power over hostile environments, but at some point US pilots will be KIA or captured.

And as the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza prove, killing civilians remains highly inflammatory (I don't even want to touch the moral questions as too complex for this space). So strategically it can be asked: is Israel achieving its goals through air strikes?
bill_c
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Posted: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 03:20 AM UTC
In connection with this discussion, someone on another forum posted this hour-long YouTube film of Bomber Command getting ready for a nighttime raid.
CMOT
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Posted: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 03:44 AM UTC
I had full access to a member of bomber command in the form of my wife’s uncle. He was a navigator and flight engineer on Stirling’s and Lancaster’s during the war. I can tell you that he had no regrets at all about his part in bombing cities and industrial areas. His opinion was simple in that Germany was the enemy and the more Germans their efforts killed the less there were to continue the fight.

On my part I feel it is lunacy to compare what was done during WW2 with the current day and the politically correct opinions we are supposed to have.
bill_c
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Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 05:58 AM UTC
Darren, I agree that we can't compare the morality of our own day with that of WW2, but we definitely need to examine the "learnings" that came out of that war. As Overy points out in his introduction, we are still relying on bombing to effect tactical and strategic military & geopolitical goals.

It's not surprising that historians don't agree about the events or results of that or any war, as our access to information changes over time. With the dying off of the WW2 vets, we're seeing a flood of memoirs, letters and photos coming to light that were kept private for 70+ years. And governments are slowly declassifying documents and statistics they have kept under lock & key for generations (your government is particularly fond of state secrets, but most bureaucracies by nature try to insulate themselves from criticism and scandal).