"I believe in the people and their right to govern themselves as they wish. But you mustn't believe in killing, he told himself. You must do it as a necessity but you must not believe in it. If you believe in it the whole thing is wrong." -Ernest Hemingway, "For Whom the Bell Tolls"


The US Eighth Air Force, or "The Mighty Eighth" was the primary strategic bombing force of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) over Hitler's Europe in World War 2. 26,000 American airmen of the 8th were killed (one-tenth of all Americans killed in WWII) and 18,000 were wounded. Over 28,000 became POWs after being shot down. British Bomber Command, the counterpart to the American 8th, lost 89,000 men killed, captured, or wounded.

In 1917, during WW1 a group of German aircraft dropped 100 or so bombs on London, and killed or injured nearly 600 people. This also, having struck a railway station, reduced the cities' pace to a crawl. This was generally seen as a despicable act of terrorism, and not repeated. But many in the military who were then living out the horrors of trench warfare saw the only hope for decisive action in air power.

Throughout the 20's and 30's the proponents of air power fought the damn do gooders over the question of strategic bombardment. The bleeding hearts seemed to have the upper hand. Even in 1922(with skeletal bi-planes that did not look very likely to level whole cities) the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Arms agreed that "Aerial bombardment for the purpose of terrorizing the civilian population, destroying or damaging of priviate property not of a military character, or of injuring non-combatants is prohibited".

But once again, decency was cast aside when it was needed most.

With the German blitzkrieg through Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denamrk, Norway and France of 1939-1940, the immense value of the air force in ground support was confirmed. The Germans never did get to prove the value of Strategic Bombing. Nor is it likely they would have. The success of the blitzkrieg in eliminating the static lines of the previous blood bath, the failure of the aerial blitz of london to destroy British morale, and the subsequent German defeat in the Battle of Britain convinced the German Military that air power was innately tactical.

Following Japan's attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war against America on December 11, 1941. When President Roosevelt opted for a Europe first strategy, the question was how to bring the fight to Germany while an army able to go toe to toe with the Wehrmacht was being assembled...

Sir Arthur Harris had taken over the British Bomber Command while America was yet twiddling its thumbs. At this point he contended, that since England could not hope to invade Europe, the only options remaining were to destroy the German economy from the skies, or to sue for an acceptable peace while they still could. With British frustration at their own helplessnes growing, Churchill gave Harris the go ahead to build a massive bomber fleet.

In early 1942 the operations were mostly set against tactical targets near the French coast, but from here things quickly got out of hand. The British Bomber force was growing, and launching ever more daring raids on industies throughout occupied Europe, many of these in Germany itself. But losses to German fighters and Flak piled up, and Britain could not make good. Harris, in the true fashion of a man who has seen more maps than corpses during his career, decided to abondon precision daytime strikes on factories. He seemed to think the idea of diverting funds to the development of longer range fighter escorts was absurd... How about this for absurd...The British bombers would now, protected by darkness, simply blanket the city with the bombs of hundreds of planes, night after night, until it decided to stop existing.

It seems that Harris became rather enamoured of his power to unleash such havoc, and he received quite the boon to his cause in July, 1942. On the 7th of that month you see, British Lancaster bombers dropped 196 tons of explosives onto Hamburg, Germany. When the details got back to Harris, he was delighted to hear that 50,000 civilians were killed, 1,000,000 fled, and that the city was largely in ruins. He forecasted to Allied leadership that the Germans would likely surrender by the end of 1943, by which time he intended the Hamburg raid to be repeated on every major German city.

Harris even hoped that after such a catastrophe, the Germans would depose Hitler, or that the Nazi leadership would simply give up. He failed to realize that Hitler and his cronies were as little affected by the deaths of civilians as he. True Machiavellis, Bomber Command was sure that the ends would justify the means

By October '43, the US 8th was regularly bombing factories all over the Greater Reich, and (like the British) taking absurd casualties. The average rate of demise was 5% from late '42-late '43(until the introduction of long range fighter escorts), and considering the required number of missions for each pilot was 25-30 it didnt take a statistics wizard to see he would likely end up so much debris over Munich.

By spring 1944, much of the Allied heirarchy was growing weary of Harris and his outrageous claims. After two years, 250,000 tons of explosives had been dropped on Hitler's empire, the majority in late '43. A monstrous portion of allied war production had been poured into building and maintaining the allied bomber forces. Yet there were still plenty of Germans on either side of the Rhine. Hmmmm.

The big question was if any of this was having an effect. Yes it was, though not what Bomber Command had hoped. in 1943 the increasing air campaign had led to a revamping and streamlining of German industry by Albert Speer. Factories were split up into many small facilities scattered about, equipment was redisigned to use less essential parts, fragile machine tools were put underground, etc etc etc. The bombing camapign was having such an effect on German industry, that their tank production went from 5,000 in 1942, to 15,000 in 1944.

While Harris dreamed of the day when he would get his hands on that dirty bastard Speer, the Yanks had built up the army they needed to invade Western Europe. The Allied bomber force was now needed in support of the Normandy invasion of June, '44.


So it seemed the Strategic Bombing doctrine had been proved a hoax. But can you really just abandon the massive armada you've constructed?... Why not use those thousands of planes to rough up the Wehrmacht somethin awful?... No... Harris insists...Harris is a hero...Out of the question. Lunatic momentum drove it on.


With Allied control of the skies, and new long range fighter escorts, bomber losses dropped rapidly. So, what did they have to lose? If they intensified the bombing of civilians, they might break German morale...Yes.... So, with the trendiest reactionary logic of the day, Bomber Command interpreted increased German productivity as a sign that they simply hadn't been bombed enough. The bomber fleet had to be used for something, if not for crippling the economy, then why not for destroying the German people and culture? Civilians? Decency? Bah...If it could hope to shorten the war, so be it. Do YOU want to tell those poor mothers that their sons wouldn't have died if YOU hadn't been so squeamish about not becoming like the enemy? Of course not...No, those poor mothers now got the satisfaction of knowing that the kraut who killed her little boy had his wife and kids back in Bremen turned to paste.

So...in 1944 900,000 tons of bombs fell on German cities. The attack on German Morale,(which included dropping envlopes of coffee on a coffeeless Germany to inspire dissent) like the one on Pruduction, failed. Goebbels finally had his proof that the Allies were cowards and terrorists who would not be satisfied until German was spoken only in hell.

Between '43 and '44, the 8th Air Force had made a number of successful raids on a number of German oil facilities. These immediatley began to have the crippling effects on the German war effort that Bomber Command had been promising. Get this... Harris was unimpressed. He was by this time a national hero, and with the end of the war so close, no one had the guts, (nor the heart) to deter the man from his game of dispensing the wrath of God upon the German populace. He could have easily been dismissed for his refusal to accept the oil bombing plan approved by the Chiefs of Staff. He wasn't.

Before the war was won, another 800,000 tons of explosives would fall, not against the German army in the field, but on cities... Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Hannover, Cologne, Munich, Nuremburg, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Leipzig, and most famously, Dresden would all be largely destroyed. Many of these were Open Cities. More than a Million Non-Combatants would be killed or crippled. French cities which still contained pockets of German troops would also be bombed, in field tests of the new wonder weapon Napalm, killing thousands of French and Germans alike.

The loss of 80,000 allied airmen, a million innocents, along with some of the worlds great cultural centers had hardly been justified. Harris' refusal to put all his resources into bombing oil facilities once it was shown to be The Third Reich's Achilles Heel...to go on targeting civilians? It was criminal and insane. Bomber Command had morally stained, without hastening, the Allied victory.

Recommended Reading: Max Hastings, Armageddon. Howard Zinn, A Peoples History of the United States. Peter Young, Atlas of the Second World War. Gerhard Weinberg, A World at Arms. William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe. Studs Terkel, "The Good War". Max Hastings, Bomber Command.