There has been much criticism lately of Russian bombing in pursuance of military objectives in Syria. The bombing has been purely of a military character to support the boots on the ground wresting territory from the enemy. It does not have the objective of obliterating the civilian population in pursuit of their destruction of their morale or physically.
However, those doing the criticising in Britain and calling for demonstrations outside embassies should know better. Britain, after all originated the saturation bombing of civilians as a distinct and superior form of warfare. And they wrote the book about the subject, so to speak.
It was Winston Churchill, rather than Adolf Hitler, who was the first to authorise civilian bombing in Britain’s Second World War on Germany. When Churchill had been Minister of Munitions in the Lloyd George Government in 1918 he had planned a thousand-bomber attack on Berlin for 1919. In 1925 he noted that “The campaign of 1919 was never fought; but its ideas go moving along.” He was clear what such a campaign would entail, with air warfare making it possible that “death and terror could be carried far behind the lines of the actual armies, to women, children, the aged, the sick, who in earlier struggles would perforce have been left untouched.” (Thoughts and Adventures, pp.174-6)
This was the next World War Britain decided to fight, rather than the static attrition it had got itself involved in on the Western Front from 1914.
J.M Spaight, CB, CBE., Principal Secretary to the British Air Ministry notes in his 1944 book Bombing Vindicated, that:
“Hitler only undertook the bombing of British civilian targets reluctantly three months after the RAF had commenced bombing German civilian targets. Hitler would have been willing at any time to stop the slaughter. Hitler was genuinely anxious to reach with Britain an agreement confining the action of aircraft to battle zones.
“The first ‘area’ air attack of the war, was carried out by 134 British bombers on the German city of Mannheim, on the 16th, December, 1940. The object of this attack, as Air Chief Marshall Peirse later explained, was, ‘to concentrate the maximum amount of damage in the centre of the town’.” (p.47)
Spaight also noted:
“Because we were doubtful about the psychological effect of propagandist distortion of the truth that it was we who started the strategic bombing offensive, we have shrunk from giving our great decision of May 11th 1940, the publicity it deserves.”
Spaight’s book was originally published in 1944 when the Allied bombing offensive was being escalated, but before knowledge of the great destruction of German towns and their occupants started getting out. It seems to have been written to counter the anticipated disquiet among some in Britain at the effects of saturation bombing of German cities. It reflected official policy, stating clearly that the idea of saturation bombing of civilians was initiated by Britain and that Hitler opposed this new form of warfare, refusing to retaliate in kind while German cities were bombed, in the hope that Winston Churchill would “come to his senses”.
Chapter 1 of Spaight’s book I s called ‘The Bomber Saves Civilisation’ and it says on the first page:
“Civilisation, I believe firmly, would have been destroyed if there had been no bombing in this war. It was the bomber aircraft which, more than any other instrument of war, prevented the forces of evil from prevailing… And the greatest contribution of the bomber both to the winning of the war and the cause of peace is still to come.” (p.1)
Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki?
Bombing Vindicated reveals that the view “the bomber will always get through” which held back the development of a more sizeable bomber force from the RAF to saturate bomb German cities from the beginning of the War was never believed to be true. The Appeasers may have been deterred in unleashing bombing warfare for fear of what it might to do to their own cities. However, Bomber Command made it clear that all Britain needed to do was to prevent the German bomber getting through whilst making sure its greater number of long-range aircraft and the single-minded will to use them was there.
Spaight justified the saturation bombing of civilians on the basis that it saved the lives of British soldiers and made the Second World War on Germany much less costly than the First one:
“in the first four years of war we in Britain have not seen a generation slaughtered and mutilated on the appalling scale to which we became accustomed in 1914-18. There has been in the west, at least, no such shedding of blood as there was then… We have escaped at least the holocausts of 1915-17. We have come without having to endure them to a stage in the conflict corresponding to that which we reached in the summer of 1918. By our air raids and our blockade we have hurt Germany at least as much as we had then. We have done so at a cost in British lives almost negligible in comparison with that which we had to pay before we entered on the final round in 1918.” (p.7)
This confirms the view of Carroll Quigley that there was an intimate connection between the British policy of Appeasement and the adoption of anti-civilian bombing as the primary means of destroying the enemy. In December 1936 Chamberlain, as Chancellor, decided to put all financial resources into the RAF and its bombers and the Cabinet side-stepped the question of sending an army to the continent.
It also shows that, contrary to British mythology, the ascension of Churchill to the head of Britain’s Government in 1940 did not mark a break with Appeasement. In fact, the primary use of bombing reveals that Appeasement was weakness only in the way in which it represented a reluctance to fight Germany military to military, man to man. It was a form of cowardice that involved minimising one’s own military losses and maximising the enemy’s civilian casualties. When Churchill supposedly had done with the Appeasers he retained their primary mode of warfare, ratcheting it up when time had given England the possibility of practising it with relative impunity.
The Diaries of Edmund Ironside, appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff at the British Declaration of War, describe the British War plan for defeating Germany:
“In spite of the pre-war work of the Committee of Imperial Defence… and in spite of the efforts of the War Cabinet, there was little co-ordination or co-operation between the fighting services. The Air thought they could win the war by bombing Germany, and built many large bombers which could only work well at night. Co-operation with the Army was regarded with little favour and suitable machines were scarce. The Navy thought of blockading Germany, and the Government hoped that victory could be won by bombing and blockade.” (The Ironside Diaries 1937-40, p.100)
Only General Ironside maintained that Britain would have to fight and defeat the Germany army to win the World War it had declared. In his diary entry for September 19 1939 he made it clear that the Air Ministry’s’s policy of bombing, and its refusal to put any effort into developing aircraft that would support the British Army in actually fighting the German Army, would be fatal:
“The Air Ministry is now working on a programme of big bombers costing 26,000 pounds a piece and God knows how many man-hours to build. They are not able to work with the Army and are used for this long-distance bombing against industry. The R.A.F. think they will win by themselves. I try to tell them that the Germans will use their army with their bombers to destroy the French Army, and if that goes the whole edifice of our defence goes too.” (p.140)
On October 1939, when RAF attacks on the Ruhr were discussed, Ironside recorded that the RAF’s bomber fleet was not really meant for the targeting of factories but had a wider objective against German civilians. It was being saved from military action for this later purpose:
“The Air Ministry is hypnotised by action against morale and will hear of nothing else. Their big bombers have been built for this purpose and will be wasted if used against smaller targets. They are afraid to use them against an advancing German Army for fear of all the A.A. defence they may meet…” (p.144)
The reason why the RAF did not bomb the Ruhr in 1939 was because the War Cabinet “did not want to be the first to take the gloves off” according to the Ironside Diaries (p. 146). The RAF were willing and able but the Government were unwilling at that moment to provoke the Germans into reprisal activity.
In 1939 the French Army was three-quarters the size of the German and Britain only needed to make up the deficiency through its massive resources of Empire. What was required was an Allied Army to hold off Germany’s main instrument of warfare and Hitler would be done. But the resources put into the construction of a Bomber fleet meant the British contribution to the military contest was limited and it was determined to fight a long war, with the bombers held back from action to save them for the later war of attrition. As Ironside noted: “The British Air had been developed at the expense of the British Army.” (p.122)
Ironside found the French stuck in defensive mode. Badly affected by the losses of the last War they could conceive of nothing but defence of France. At the same time they reasoned that Hitler could not wait forever on the frontier. But they had no thought of offence in them and passed the initiative to Hitler. Only Britain could disrupt the Germans with improvised offensive action to disperse their forces. But its strategy was inaction and the long war waged by the bomber.
Churchill in a Memo to his Minister of Aircraft Production, on 8 July 1940 wrote:
“When I look around to see how we can win the war I see that there is only one sure path. We have no Continental army which can defeat the German military power.. Should [Hitler].. not try invasion.. there is one thing that will bring him back and bring him down, and that is an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland. We must be able to overwhelm them by this means, without which I do not see a way through. We cannot accept any aim lower than air mastery. When can it be obtained?” (W. Churchill The Second World War, Volume 2 Their Finest Hour, Appendix A)
The US, when it entered the War, wanted to fight toe to toe with the Nazis. The Americans wished to open up a second front as soon as possible after they entered the war in 1941. It was possible in the summer of 1942 to land a sizable force in France and open a second front. The British army had recuperated from 1940 and been reinforced by men and material from its Empire and the US. Large numbers of American and Canadian troops had joined them on the British Island and were ready for action. The Germans had a relatively small force defending thousands of miles of Atlantic coast, of considerably inferior quality to their forces on the Eastern Front.
There was a vital moment developing in the East in 1942. The Soviet ally was fighting for its life and the U.S. wished to aid her ally to the greatest extent through an attack on the continent to divert German forces. But Britain objected to making such a sacrifice on behalf of the Soviets. Churchill did not believe the Soviet Union would be capable of turning the tide and was in no hurry to help her. The Russians role was to bleed the Germans dry and be bled dry in the process so that the Western Allies, and in particular Britain, could pick up the pieces in victory. (This is made very clear in R.W. Thompson’s 1959 book ‘The Price of Victory’)
As Thompson noted Arthur Harris and Bomber Command “believed simply that Overlord (an Allied landing on the continent) was unnecessary… Strategically, they declared, the bomber is winning the war. To divert the bomber from its strategic mission was old-fashioned and short-sighted. The German armies in the field, immensely powerful as they were, were nevertheless powerless to prevent the utter destruction of the homeland and people it was their role and purpose to defend” (The Price of Victory, pp. 124-5)
Churchill organised a suicide raid in which a large number of Canadians were sacrificed at Dieppe, to demonstrate the strength of the German defences. It helped deter the US and diverted them to the long way round to Berlin, via Italy. Another year was gained for the war of attrition waged on the German populace by Bomber Command and for the Russians and Germans to be bled dry in the exterminating battles in the East.
Spaight is keen to set out the differences between Germany and the Allies with respect to bombing. He stresses the fact that Britain had always seen its bombing fleet, organised separately as Bomber Command, as an independent entity with the objective of bombing Germany in a future war, whereas Germany had viewed the Luftwaffe as primarily a supporting force to be employed with its armies in land war. Spaight saw the German view of an airforce as both naïve and outdated, and he took this as being related to the natural conservatism of the Germans. The Germans could only view the aircraft as an adjunct of traditional forms of warfare. The idea of air power as a rival or as an equal of land or sea power was beyond the comprehension of Prussians steeped in the philosophy of war:
“In Germany the emphasis was placed on land-air power. In Britain it was placed on air power, with sea-air power as runner-up, land-air power being a rather straggling
competitor. The difference was reflected in the composition of the respective air forces, in the organisation of the higher commands, and, above all, in the attitude of the Governments to the master-strategics which the scientific study of air warfare presented.
“The German air force was an instrument admirably fitted for the execution of the air
policy which the German military authorities had adopted. It was an almost ideal arm for co-operation with ground forces. It contained a high proportion of dive-bombers (Junkers 87’s) and of transport aircraft (Junkers 52’s). Our own air force was weak in these two categories but was superior to the German in the quality (though not the quantity of its long-range bombers and its single-seat fighters. Our Wellington was a better heavy bomber than anything which Germany had, and we were definitely ahead of her in the fighter class… In other words, in the two categories which are of prime importance in the waging of air warfare, considered per se, we had the advantage, while Germany had it in those categories which are essential in air operations ancillary to those of ground forces.
“In Germany, as in Britain, the air force is a separate Service, but it has never been able to free itself from the army’s influence to the same extent. Our own air force cut adrift from the army more than twenty-one years before the present war began. The date when it came into being, 1 April, 1918, is an epochal one in the calendar which records the conflict between British air power and German militarist ambition. The other red-letter dates in that calendar are 11 May, 1940, when we opened our strategic air offensive against the Reich, and 27 September, 1940, when Fighter Command won the last of its great victories over the Luftwaffe in the battle of Britain. Perhaps some other dates should be added to this list, those, for instance, in 1935-36 when we conceived the… big four-engined bomber. None of them had the same importance, however, as the first of all, the date on which the Air Force was formed. Its creation was an act of faith. Those who worked for a separate Service — and General Smuts was first and foremost in that prescient band — looked far ahead… They grasped the truth that man’s mastery of the air has not only made warfare three-dimensional — that is a truism today — but entitles the arm whose path is the third element to claim the place of a co-equal with the historic arms of war.” (pp.23-4)
The German Army, much reduced by the dictation of Versailles, remained at its core something with the traditional military philosophy of fighting a military enemy. The only innovation that Hitler had introduced was a determination to fight the military enemy as far from Berlin as possible with his army, the shield of the Reich. But the British strategic bombing policy meant that Germany would be fought in Germany, not by British soldiers, and it would be its women and children who would be the target. And the Reich’s shield “would be powerless to avert” the “death and destruction which rained from the skies while German armies stood massively on guard far beyond the frontiers of the Reich. Such catastrophes were the price which Germany had to pay for pinning her faith to military doctrines which were already obsolete.” (p.22)
In Britain the airforce had been intent to remain independent of the military and the ambition of replacing the senior service, the Navy. England was more radical and “progressive” than Germany and had planned for a modern war in which battlefield front lines were no longer important and war would be waged across the total area of belligerent countries, without respect of distinction between combatant and civilian. As such bombing would be a similar thing to naval blockade.
Spaight revealed that was why Britain, from an early day, built heavy four-engined bombers, while Germany constructed mainly light twin-engined and single-engine dive bombers to be used tactically with its ground forces. The light German bombers allowed for precise targeting of specific military targets. The heavy British bombers were designed for saturation bombing of large areas. In a section called The Birth of the Giant Bomber Spaight revealed that it was Britain and the RAF which was the originator of the strategy of pulverising civilians in their homes:
“The result of the re-organisation of 1918 was that the air was assured of its merited place in the scheme of national defence. It became the concern of a department and a Service which could concentrate all thought and energy on this one subject… It enabled ‘thinking ahead’ to be systematised in the sphere of air defence. That is really why today giant four-engined bombers are tearing the heart out of industrial Germany.
“Those bombers trace their descent to a brain-wave which came to British experts in 1936, while Germany was thinking only in terms of short-range bombers and particularly of dive-bombers for employment with her powerful mechanised army. The idea behind ‘specification B. 12/36’ was that when the next war came Britain would need a long-range weight-carrying bomber which could go farther and load a bigger cargo of high explosive in its own bomb-racks than a whole squadron could at that time. This advance was becoming possible as a result of the development of new techniques of construction… The Stirling, built by Short Brothers to Mr. Arthur Gouge’s design, was the answer to the specification; it marked an epoch in the history of heavy bombers. It was followed by the Handley Page Halifax and the Avro Lancaster. The last is the finest heavy bomber in existence, today. But the whole trio is unsurpassed. Germany has nothing approaching them. And they are not the last word in the vocabulary of Britain’s effort in the air. Mightier bombers are on the stocks already.” (pp.26-7)
Spaight noted that the Germans had to react to this innovation in warfare, which greatly disturbed them. In a section entitled The Germans Become Apprehensive Spaight wrote:
“Perhaps Hitler’s famous intuition gave him an inkling of the ultimate significance of what Britain was beginning to do in 1935-36. In May of the former year he expressed, his personal apprehension on the subject of long-range bombing to Mr. Edward Price Bell, the well-known press correspondent. ‘War has been speeded up too much,’ he said, ‘and made too overwhelmingly destructive for our geographical limitations. Within an hour — in some instances within forty minutes of the outbreak of hostilities — swift bombing machines would wreak ruin upon European capitals.’ There was nothing profound in that remark, but it was significant when made by a man in whose brain there was already being formed a scheme for the domination of Europe. He was afraid of the air. He showed that he was, again, when in 1935 and in 1936 he put forward proposals for the prohibition of bombing outside battle-zones. Again, there was nothing new in the idea of such prohibition. It was simply another instance of the survival of the military code of thought. It reflected the view, put forward in Germany in the last war, that the proper role of the air arm is that of long-range artillery.” (p.27)
Spaight records that Hitler attempted in 1935-36 to restrict bombing from civilian centres and wanted this to be enacted in international agreement. Spaight comments:
“I can not subscribe to the view that Hitler brought it forward in 1935 and 1936 with his tongue in his cheek; not in the least because he was incapable of doing so, but simply because it was unquestionably in his interest to have such a restriction accepted. He was scared of the possible effect of a bombing offensive upon Germany’s war effort and the morale of the German population. He would infinitely have preferred to fight out the war in another way, a way that was not our way but was his way. He did not want our kind of war.” (p.29)
Spaight welcomed Britain’s decision to initiate the bombing of civilian centres referring to it as “Our Great Decision.” He emphasised that Bomber Command went to war on the 11 May 1940. It had only been playing with war up until that point. That was a watershed point in the conflict with Germany because it moved the World War onto a new battlefield, one of England’s choosing, that would seal the destruction of Germany through a long attritional destruction of its society, in the way Britain liked to fight its wars.
Spaight is clear that the German bombing of Warsaw and Rotterdam were entirely a different kind of warfare than the saturation bombing Britain was intent on initiating on Germany and attempting to provoke Hitler to carry out on London:
“One thing is certain, and it is a thing which should be made clear, for it is commonly
misunderstood: the bombing of Warsaw or of Rotterdam was not in parallel with the
bombing of London… The attack upon London was not Blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg is the combination of swift mechanised onslaughts in the air and on the ground. It is a technique of attack which leaves the assailant in possession of the objective. Now, air attack alone could never have left London in the hands of the enemy. If Hitler had gone on bombing London from that time to this he would never have conquered London.
“When Warsaw and Rotterdam were bombed, German armies were at their gates. The air bombardment was an operation of the tactical offensive. It was therefore, for the Germans, ‘according to Cocker’, ‘Cocker’ here being a standard of military expediency alone… They are, aufond, stupid people on the whole. They showed their stupidity when they kept on harping, once the raids on London had begun, on the retaliatory nature of the attacks on the city. Again and again the German official reports emphasised the reprisal element in the action of the Luftwaffe. They kept screaming, in effect: We are hitting you because you hit us first. If you stop bombing us, we’ll stop bombing you. That, too, was the recurrent note in Hitler’s periodical denunciations of our air offensive. He added to his diatribes a good deal of sob-stuff about war on women and children…” (pp.30-1)
Spaight quotes a number of Hitler’s speeches to prove his point and then comments:
“I can read them in one way only, and that is that, whatever Hitler wanted or did not want, he most assuredly did not a want the mutual bombing to go on. He had not wanted it ever to begin. He wanted it, having begun, to be called off. That, I am firmly convinced, was the aim behind all his frantic bellowings and all his blather about attacks on the civil population. He knew that, in the end, our air offensive, if it did not win the war for us, would certainly prevent Germany from winning it. That that and nothing else was his motive is shown by other happenings also. One was the unanimity with which the chorus of Press and radio in Germany plugged the theme-song that long-distance bombing is useless and that the proper place for the air arm is the vicinity of the battle-zone.” (pp.33-4)
According to Spaight the “Teutonic Mind” was locked into traditional military practice and aristocratic notions of honour. Luckily “Prussianism” had not been destroyed by Britain when it won its Great War on Germany. The Prussian notions of warfare, originating with Frederick the Great, had been passed down to Hitler with the General Staff he inherited, disabling him as a ruthless warrior in the mode of Britain, which always develops the most efficient, destructive and ruthless forms of waging war.
Fritz Hesse, advisor on British affairs at Hitler’s Headquarters, confirmed this in his book Hitler and the English:
“In its original conception, aerial warfare against Great Britain was not intended to spread terror through the land by mass-bombing, to force England to give way. Hitler and the General Staff of the air force set no store by mass-bombings and the systematic destruction of cities… The original plan was that the air force should carry out a sort of blockade by destroying all the main centres of transport and communication… But it was considered wasteful and useless to drop bombs on the dwellings of the civilian population and no provision was made for such bombing in the plan… The destruction of London was neither intended nor desired… when it became known that the City, and not the docks, was burning the report was handed to Hitler, he was furious. He was, in fact, so furious over the destruction of the City, this ‘Holy Ground’ of the English, that he first thought of drastic measures to punish those responsible… The destruction of London, which had never been imagined, played a disastrous part in the imaginations of the uninformed… Whatever our propaganda may have attempted, the terrorisation of English cities was not the strategic objective of the Luftwaffe. In fact, I gathered from a conversation with experts that the means at the disposal of the Luftwaffe in those days would not have been adequate for such a purpose.” (pp.116-7)
The bombing of England and the killing of its civilians lay entirely outside the imagination of the Germans and had to be put there by Britain:
“Breaking staying power and morale by obliterating cities breathed of pure Trenchard Doctrine. The German airborne forces were not geared for such a strategy; they were a tactical force designed to support ground troops, blaze the trail for motorised armed forces, and maintain the flexibility of the ground war. They never had armed and armoured strategic bombers that could cover the entire area of the British island. Only because they took off from airfields near the English Channel were they within reach of the opposite shore, with cover from fighter planes. From the territory of the German Reich Hitler could have reached hardly a city.” (Jorg Freidrich, The Fire The Bombing of Germany 1940-1945, pp. 58-9)
It was only the Declaration of a World War on Germany by Britain and the British unwillingness/inability to fight a conventional military contest with the German Army and then the unprecedented extent of the victory of 1940 that put Hitler in the unimagined position of having to contemplate the bombing of England. And it was then the entirely unilateral and provocative decision by Churchill to bomb German cities, when very little impact of military importance could be made on them, which generated Hitler’s response.
It was the RAF command who wanted a Blitz on London and Hitler who would rather not have obliged. But Hitler grew angrier and angrier after RAF bombs fell on Germany and responded with all sorts of threats of ausradieren against English towns. It was all just propaganda for Hitler, who thought he could affect the British psychologically through propaganda. When Goering pleaded with him for reinforcements from the airforce stationed in Poland Hitler refused because he needed it for the Russian campaign. As Hesse noted: “Goering, so Hitler said, did not even now, understand that he wanted to keep the British down but not to lay them flat.” (p.118)
Why? Hesse explains:
“While Hitler frittered away whatever small chances there might have been of coming to terms with England, he also threw away the military chances of forcing a peace upon her. He was dominated by two assumptions: that we must not defeat her and that we must save up all we had for the Russian campaign.
“British propaganda twisted the fact that Hitler failed to invade England into proof of England’s invincibility. The truth, however, was as I can testify, that Hitler never went ahead with his plan for the invasion but regarded it as dubious from a technical point of view and politically undesirable… But in my opinion the reasons which decided Hitler against the invasion were political rather than military.
“For the reader to understand this, I must repeat that Hitler, according to my own observations, was inspired by a strange love-hatred of England. He admired the British Empire and repeatedly pronounced it the greatest wonder-work ever wrought by God.” (pp.112-13)
And, of course, Churchill knew the thrust of Hitler’s intentions through the enigma machine.
In a Chapter entitled Our Great Decision Spaight says some very interesting things about how the British Government in 1939-40, during the period of the “phoney war” against Germany, had an air of complacency toward the World War they had declared that prevented them from fighting it with the utmost ruthlessness. The guarantee to Poland had been forgotten, without one bullet fired in its defence, because the World War was on and Germany would be easily crushed by the British Empire at minimal cost to itself:
“Never since hostilities began have we in Britain been so foolishly complacent as we were during the first winter of the war. We were terribly pleased with ourselves then.
Everything was going well. We were having a nice, comfortable war. The change-over
from the pace of peace had been a far easier one on the whole than we had feared it
would be; the gears had hardly jarred at all. Now we could just jog along — still on first
speed, though we did not know it then — and not worry. We had time on our side. All we had to do was to keep on keeping our morale up, and Germany was doomed. She could not hope to stand up indefinitely to our blockade. The economic pressure which we were subjecting her to and remorselessly intensifying was bound to crush her in time, as it did in 1918. It would not necessarily be a short war, but of its outcome there was no doubt whatever… The Nazis would see before long that it was hopeless to go on, their leaders would scuttle themselves, a satisfactory peace would follow a satisfactory war, and all would be well again with the world.
“At the close of 1939 a booklet entitled ‘Assurance of Victory’ was issued under official
auspices. It was a heartening publication. It set forth the overwhelming advantages which we possessed in comparison with Germany. The first was man-power. Citizens of the British Empire alone outnumbered the population of enemy territory by more than four to one. We had complete mastery of the sea, and it was being used to the full and from the very start. Our blockade was more effective than in the last war. ‘This time we have begun where we left off in 1918.’ We had the measure of the U-boats. We were sinking between two and four every week. Our shipping losses were less than one per cent of our tonnage afloat. We had greater reserves of labour than Germany. Her railways were strained almost to breaking point. We do not need to defeat the Nazis on land, but only to prevent them from defeating us. If we can succeed in doing that, we can rely on our strength in other directions to bring them to their knees.’ ‘The Nazis cannot hope to win the war on sea or on land.’ What of the air?… They could not build aircraft on a scale sufficient to keep a huge air force in the field. They would be short, too, of oil. Two-thirds of Germany’s oil had to be imported in peace. She would need more in war, and she could not obtain it. She imported two-thirds, also, of the iron ore which she needed, and here again she would be in difficulties. She would be short of fats also. Her gold reserves were low. The morale of the workers was a doubtful factor. ‘This war will expose the fatal weaknesses of the Nazi structure. . . . The immense staying-power of democracy is the final guarantee of Allied triumph.'” (pp. 38-9)
So Germany would be forced further eastwards to fight the World War Britain had declared on them by their need of the resources the Royal Navy was denying them and then, presumably, they would meet the Soviet Union and they would bleed each other dry. Happy Days for Britain (not worrying about the civilians, including the Jews, who could be sacrificed for this cost-effective Great War II)!
“Like thousands of other people in this country, I read that booklet and it made me feel good. I felt that the war was going well for us.” (p.39)
It was not perhaps surprising that the Germans would be forced to attempt to break this encircling stranglehold upon them, despite Hitler’s reluctance to wage war on Britain, due to his admiration for her Empire and desire to make a pact with it to join its “civilising mission” in the world as an equal partner. A Douche of Cold Water therefore came with Guderian and Manstein’s breakthrough in May 1940.
The Air Ministry was appalled at the Government’s failure to use its developing bomber fleet after a War had been declared. Spaight saw this as Hitler’s Psychological Victory:
“The German abstention both from strategic bombing and from the use of gas should not really have surprised us if we had appreciated truly the pattern of the air warfare which the mere predominance of the military school of thought in Germany had already outlined. It should have been apparent that tactical and not strategic bombing was Hitler’s arcanum vincendi, or at least one of his arcana. There was ample evidence that he did not want the latter kind of bombing to become the practice. He had done his best to have it banned by international agreement. It seemed during the first eight and a half months of the war that the object which he had failed to achieve by way of express agreement he was attaining by a kind of tacit consent. We in Britain had organised a Bomber Command. The whole raison d’etre of that Command was to bomb Germany if she should be our enemy. We were not bombing her. We were most carefully abstaining from bombing her. What, then, was the use of Bomber Command? Its position was almost a ridiculous one. It seemed to be keeping clear of the war, keeping neutral, acting as if it had made a separate peace. Had it — horrible thought — been bitten by a bug from Eire?
“What was the explanation? It certainly looked as if the policy of Munich, of appeasement, were still being continued in this particular sphere of warlike activity, or inactivity. Hitler must have been a happy man, happier far than he is now, during that first winter. In effect he had won a great psychological victory, or he seemed to have won it; perhaps here, again, fate smiled on him only to betray. The Lancasters, Stirrings and Halifaxes were being built all the time. At least the lull in the air meant that the construction of our big bombers could go on without interruption.
It is certain at any rate that our failure to carry the war into Germany was the subject of a good deal of criticism in this country…
“The Air Force, it was complained, was not being used for the purpose for which, so far as it was an offensive force, it had been created. Only when the German advance into the Low Countries and France began in May, 1940, was our striking force of the air allowed to fulfil its function; and then, in the opinion of some authorities, an opportunity had already been missed of the kind that does not recur — the opportunity to strike at the German concentration which preceded the great attack in the west.” (pp.44-5)
Lord Trenchard made some pointed criticism of the Government in Parliament. The British Government revealed it had given assurances to the President of the US that it would not attack civilian targets from the air but reserved the right to do so if any German bombs fell on towns in Europe:
“Action followed swiftly on the warning, and it was action from our side. We began to
bomb objectives on the German mainland before the Germans began to bomb objectives on the British mainland. That is a historical fact which has been publicly admitted. The way in which the bombing began was explained by Captain Harold Balfour, the Under-Secretary of State for Air, in reply to a question in the House of Commons on 28 January, 1942…
“In an article contributed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Air Officer
Commanding-in-Chief Bomber Command, to the American periodical Flying (‘Special
Royal Air Force Issue’) for September, 1942, he wrote: ‘The first British bombs fell on
the soil of the German mainland on the night of 11 May 1940, when a force of 18
Whitley bombers attacked railway communications behind the lines of the German
advance across Flanders and the Low Countries…’
“Bomber Command went to war on 11 May, 1940. It had only been fooling with war until then. That is the great date in its war diary: not because of anything spectacular achieved immediately, but because of what was to follow in the fullness of time. In that decision of May, 1940, there was implicit the doom of Germany, though we little guessed it then.” (pp.51-3)
Britain carried out numerous raids on German towns from May 1940 but up until the raid on Hanover on 1 August, the Nazi press remained silent. Following that raid, German newspapers declared that “Britain loses her honour” and denounced the raid as “an appalling crime.” Britain was less sensitive to the effects of warfare than the Nazis it seems.
On the night of August 24 a few bombs were jettisoned by a handful of German planes over the London docks, against the express orders of Hitler. There were a small number of civilian casualties in what was obviously an unintended consequence. However, this gave Churchill the cover needed to launch a 100 bomber raid on Berlin. This also had minimal effect militarily but it had the desired consequence. Hitler began diverting the Luftwaffe from the bombing of RAF facilities, that was eroding its ability to contest the skies, to retaliatory bombing of London. This was a turning point in the Battle of Britain.
Hitler explained in a speech in Munich on 9 November 1940 why he had retaliated against British bombing of German cities by bombing London, saying his decision had been taken because “Mr. Churchill had bombs dropped on the German civil population. I waited in patience, thinking ‘The man is mad; for such action could only lead to Britain’s destruction,’ and I made my plan for peace. Now I am resolved to fight it out to the last.”
Addressing the National Socialist Party on 31 December 1940 Hitler said that the British bombed German cities for over three months before any reprisal action was taken and he now promised for every bomb dropped by the British, the Germans would drop 10 or if necessary even a hundred upon British cities.
Philip Knightley in his famous book, The First Casualty, suggests that Churchill’s reasoning for waging this type of war was to sacrifice British civilians in the hope that America would come into the war and save Britain:
“Churchill was obsessed with getting America into the war. He tried to frighten Roosevelt with the prospect of an early German victory. He searched for an outrage, such as the sinking of the Lusitania in the First World War, that would arouse American public opinion. German bombing of British civilians might well achieve this. But for weeks it looked as if the Germans had no intention of being so obliging.”
The RAF raid on Berlin on the night of May 11th 1940, although itself trivial, was a deliberate breach of the fundamental rule of civilised warfare in Europe that hostilities should only be waged against the enemy combatant forces. Its aim was to anger Hitler and divert him from attacking military targets in England so that he would be provoked into blitzing London. Hitler obliged.
According to the booklet, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany published by H.M Stationery Office, London in 1961:
The Fight at Odds is a book issued by HM Stationary Office, and described by its author, Dennis Richards, as “officially commissioned and based throughout on official documents which had been read and approved by the Air Ministry Historical Branch.” Richards revealed that the British introduced anti-civilian bombing to goad Hitler into bombing cities and raise the stakes in the war:
“If the Royal Air Force raided the Ruhr, destroying oil plants with its most accurately placed bombs and urban property with those that went astray, the outcry for retaliation against Britain might prove too strong for the German generals to resist. Indeed, Hitler himself would probably lead the clamour. The attack on the Ruhr was therefore an informal invitation to the Luftwaffe to bomb London. The primary purpose of these raids was to goad the Germans into undertaking reprisal raids of a similar character on Britain. Such raids would arouse intense indignation in Britain against Germany and so create a war psychosis without which it would be impossible to carry on a modern war.” (p.122)
Spaight was honest in saying that without the RAF’s desire to bomb civilians the War might have proceeded without the destruction of cities from the air. But it was worth it, even if London was offered as a sacrifice to German reprisal:
“I have given my reasons for thinking that the Germans did not want to start
strategic bombing and that they would gladly have called it off when it did start; and what I have recorded… is further evidence to support my argument.
“Suppose that it had not been started; suppose that the view of the French General Staff had prevailed in the counsels of the Anglo-French alliance, which, let us again suppose, had continued to exist until now; and suppose that, in consequence, the air arms of all the main belligerents had been reserved for tactical employment: what would have been our position now in that event? Certainly our cities would have escaped the grievous scars which they now bear, honourably and proudly. Thousands of innocent persons who are dead or maimed would be alive and vigorous today. We should have been saved much suffering and loss; but should we not have lost something, too?
“I am not thinking here of loss of military advantage, of the difference it would have made to our and our Allies’ prospects of victory if we had not weakened Germany by our hammer-blows in the air, of the worsening of our outlook if we had still held our bombers on the leash. I am thinking of something more intangible and imponderable but not less real and important: our national honour. Today we can hold our heads high. Could we have done so if we had continued the policy which we adopted in September, 1939, and maintained until May, 1940? It was a selfish policy after all, an ungenerous one, an unworthy one… As it was, we chose the better, because the harder, way. We refused to purchase immunity — immunity for a time at least — for our cities… We offered London as a sacrifice in the cause of freedom and civilisation.
“Retaliation was certain if we carried the war into Germany. There was no certainty, but there was a reasonable probability, that our capital and our industrial centres would not have been attacked if we had continued to refrain from attacking those of Germany. No doubt some readers will say that I am making too big an assumption here and that Germany would have raided London and our provincial towns in any event. Perhaps so; I can only put on record my own belief that she probably would not have done so, partly because it would not have suited her military book, partly because she was afraid of the long-term consequences. She would have called a truce if she could from the cross-raiding by British and German bombers when it did begin; she did call one, in effect, whenever she saw a ghost of a chance. It simply did not pay her, this kind of air warfare. Humanitarian considerations had nothing whatever to do with the matter.
“Yet, because we were doubtful about the psychological effect of propagandist distortion of the truth that it was we who started the strategic offensive, we have shrunk from giving our great decision of May, 1940, the publicity which it deserved. That, surely, was a mistake. It was a splendid decision. It was as heroic, as self-sacrificing… We should have shouted it from the house-tops instead of keeping silence about it.” (pp.55-6)
Churchill, in the summer of 1940, before Hitler had been successfully turned eastwards to Russia, explained to his Minister for War Production, Lord Beaverbrook, that Britain had no intention of fighting on the continent and there was no military power that England could enlist to do its fighting for it. Even when Hitler went east it was unlikely the Soviets would halt him, thought Churchill:
“But there is one thing that will bring him back and bring him down, and that is an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country on the Nazi homeland.” (John Terraine, The Right of the Line, p.259)
The British bombing between 1940 and 1941 was completely ineffective. It had to be done at night to reduce aircraft losses which meant targets could not be accurately located. The bombers simply dropped bombs where they saw lights, which more often than not, were from civilian housing. In Germany, unlike in England, the munitions and industrial units were localised and spread out and so very difficult to find. Places like the entirely residential centres of Mannheim and Hamburg were targeted to be razed, whilst it was pretended that the intention was to destroy war production.
The Butt Report to Parliament in August 1941 revealed that under ideal weather conditions only one third of British bombers were able to hit within 5 miles of their targets. The British bombers were also losing as many aircrew (8,000) as they were killing people on the ground.
In September 1941 the Chief of Air Staff Charles Portal presented a programme to Churchill which involved the simple saturation bombing of civilian centres rather than the ineffective attempts at bombing targets of military value. It was estimated that with 4000 heavy bombers and a monthly payload of 70,000 tons of bombs 43 German cities with over 100,000 inhabitants, could be obliterated. This would target 15 million German civilians and involve the specified objective of “the destruction of German life and morale.” Horst Boog, The Anglo-American Strategic Air War Over Europe and German Air Defence, p.516)
Churchill’s stated his main aim as being the destruction of German morale in the air-raid shelters. As he exclaimed earlier, in April 1941:
“There are less than seventy million malignant Huns, some of whom are curable and others killable.” (Stephen Garrett, Ethics and Airpower in World War II; The British Bombing of German Cities, p.91)
The findings of the Butt Report and the development of city target marking by the Lancaster Pathfinders made this new saturation bombing possible. All that was needed was an increase in the size of the Bomber fleet.
In February 1942 the British Air Ministry told Bomber Command that their primary mission was to destroy “the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular of the industrial workers.” (The Right of the Line, p.474) The order was given with the expectation that by mid-1943 this would be fully achieved. It was thought that the availability of more and heavier bombers could achieve this aim by increasing the tonnage of bombs dropped on German cities. Between March 1943 and March 1944 a series of campaigns were mounted against the Ruhr, Hamburg and Berlin.
In the Area Bombing Directive the Air Ministry sent to Bomber Command it was instructed to direct its efforts on the greatest concentration of densely populated working class areas:
“It has been decided that the primary objective of your operations should now be focussed on the morale of the enemy civil population and, in particular, of the industrial workers… I suppose it is clear that the aiming points are to be the built-up areas, not, for instance the dockyards or aircraft factories… This must be made quite clear if it is not already understood.” (Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, pp.323-4)
Arthur Harris was entrusted with this job as be became head of Bomber Command in February 1942. He explained in his biography that the initial objective “was to be achieved by destroying, mainly by incendiary bombs, the whole of the four largest cities in the Ruhr and thereafter fourteen industrial cities elsewhere in Germany.” (Arthur Harris, Bombing Offensive, p.76)
In May 1942 Harris organised the first 1000 bomber raid, planned on Hamburg but which took place on Cologne after weather intervened. Harris ordered a 12 bomber per minute rate over Cologne.
His Chief of Air Staff Charles Portal set Harris’s crews their targets of dropping 1.25 million tons of bombs over the following year and a half, aiming at the destruction of 6 million houses, with the following definitions of success: “Twenty-five million Germans would be rendered homeless, 900,000 would be killed, and one million seriously injured.” (Terraine, Right of the Line, pp.505-6)
The aim was for a 2000 bomber raid to be organised. But the British Bomber fleet took such high casualties of over 10% per raid that such a force could never be assembled. The desired apocalyptic strike was denied them by the German defences. The result was that the British returned to Cologne 262 times, to Essen 272, to Dusseldorf 243 and to Duisburg 299.
The famous Dambusters Raid of May 1943 was trumpeted as a precision bombing triumph. It was an exception within the British bombing strategy. In fact, it was a great failure in its military objective as the most important dam was not breached. Its actual effect was to drown 5 towns in 160 million tons of water, killing thousands of farm animals, 1000 German civilians and 700 female Ukrainian fieldworkers. Damage was mostly repaired in a month. (Jorg Friedrich, The Fire, pp.86-7)
But despite heavy casualties suffered among German civilians in the RAF Terror Bombing their morale did not crack. Furthermore, the British concentration on outright civilian bombing enabled German war production to increase its output, which bolstered the German defences and inflicted such losses on the RAF that by the Winter of 1943/44 the RAF campaign was unsustainable.
It was only the US 8th Air Force’s destruction of the Luftwaffe’s fighter arm in Spring 1944 that saved the British Bomber campaign.
Although the USAF began acting in tandem with the RAF from 1943 in attacking German cities the American philosophy was different to the British and targeted the German production system rather than civilians:
“The U.S. Eighth Air Force preferred to shut down the system with precision strikes on a key location. As of mid-1943, the German sky had been divided up between the British and the Americans. The British flew the night raids and the Americans flew during the day. U.S. aircraft flew at higher altitudes, their aerial gunners fired higher calibre’s, their squadron formation was large and awe-inspiring, and their convictions humane, so they rejected carpet bombing… The bomber force had other talents besides just razing residential districts.” (Jorg Friedrich, The Fire, p.88)
The USAF identified the ball-bearing works as the target whose destruction would block all important war production. So they targeted it. Raids proved costly due to heavy German defence. So the USAF changed tack and went after the German defence system which made their aircraft vulnerable. The German fighters, their production facilities, fuel sources, aerodromes and hangers were targeted. By late 1944 the German air defences had been substantially degraded and the skies were free to the USAF and RAF.
This is important in two ways. Firstly it shows the U.S. to have been of a different mind-set from the British, aiming to solve military problems and pursue purely military objectives. The British were aiming to exterminate civilians under the pretence of military aims in a long war of attrition against the German populace – as they did historically in their warfare to damage the enemy society as much as possible. They were the only nation in the war who wished to prolong it beyond necessity. But the U.S. (and all other combatants) were concerned with winning the war as quickly as possible.
Secondly, the success of the USAF had the unfortunate consequence of freeing the skies for the RAF to go on an extermination rampage against smaller German cities and towns of no military significance, from the start of 1945. The RAF dropped half its total tonnage of 60 months of war in the final 9 months, bombing full-time with hardly any losses. High-explosive bombs had to replace incendiaries because there was nothing left to burn in German cities.
Around half of all Britain’s war expenditure in its Second World War went on its bombing strategy. David Edgerton has recently argued that the prime British war strategy of bombing citizens was actually detrimental to any winning of its War. In Britain’s War Machine he states:
“This book suggests that Britain was strong, particularly so in the early years of the war… If Britain was as industrially, technically and militarily strong in 1940-41 as I suggest, why did it not defeat Germany on its own and indeed quickly?… There is which is perhaps harder to accept – that the British placed emphasis on modern weapons which simply did not work very well. Britain had a fleet of great bombers, which in 1940-1941 could do little or no damage to Germany… In other words, the problem was not a lack of modern weapons but over-investment in them. They came to work only late in the war, and were even then less effective than hoped.” (p.xvi)
There is an interesting parallel between the two attritional instruments of British warfare used in its two World Wars on Germany – the Blockade and the Bomber. They both took the US to enter the Wars to work effectively. Because Britain banked on them both and they failed to win the Wars for them before the US was required to bail out Britain, the US walked away from both Wars stronger at the expense of Britain.
But there was one crucial difference between the First and Second World War that only became apparent to me after reading the diaries of Lord Esher. There was a thought within British ruling circles in 1918 that it might not be in Britain’s interest to allow the U.S. armies to win the Great War by capturing Berlin. This would take American power to the heart of Europe and give the U.S. the predominant position in the Peace Treaties. Such an eventuality would mean the hijacking of the Great War Britain had declared and its settlement according to U.S rather than British interests. And so an Armistice was favoured in Whitehall with the Royal Navy squeezing Germany until the pips squeaked. That put England in the driving seat at Versailles and side-lined President Wilson to such an extent Congress rejected the Treaty.
But in Britain’s Second World War the Americans were not content with supplying the tools so that Britain “could finish the job” as Churchill wished. The U.S. was determined to finish the job itself and have the predominant say in the Peace. And once the U.S. had gotten its armies onto the continent, overcoming the British reluctance and desire to finish things with its Bombers, the game of British Imperial world-dominantion was up. This striking passage from R.W. Thompson explains why D-Day was a monument in the decline of Britain and the ascent of its Anglo-Saxon cousin:
“This day, the 6th June, was Britain’s Swan song. It had been implicit after the Arcadia Conference, when the United States turned her back on George Washington and put ‘Germany first’. And steadily the ‘Bill had grown, as it was bound to do, as Britain would have known it would. The ‘destroyer’ deal hammered home the facts… Britain was not ‘side by side’ or ‘hand-in-hand’ with her great ally, but under her wing, finally her thumb. George Marshall was not a semi-tone behind Stalin in clamouring for the ‘Second Front’, in 1942, in 1943. Perfidious Albion!
“In the Mediterranean, Britain fought a rearguard action for a time, but time was not on her side. With the agreement on ‘Anvil’ her Balkan and Mediterranean strategy was in ruins; at Teheran the coup de grace, Uncle Joe and the President keeping an eye on the wily old British with their ‘Imperial’ designs, their shocking ‘Colonialism’, their ridiculous delusions that their grandeur might survive.
“There was always a chance that the Germans might reach a point of near-collapse… but ‘Unconditional Surrender’ made that unlikely, and ruined the hope that the Germans might begin to put their house in order, and deal with their own maniac themselves. But… no enemy is more ruthless than a friend and no friend more ruthless than a benevolent friend, a protector… On D Day Britain ceased to be a major power in the world, no longer to even shape her own ends. The new Europe would not be hers, or of her making. George Washington might have trembled in his grave.” (pp.257-8)
George Washington had established the U.S. to be free of the foreign entanglements that might implicate America in the vicissitudes of her politics. But now Germany would have to fight to the end and the U.S. would re-make Europe in the Peace, not Britain. There would be no repeat of 1919 when the British Balance of Power was played and another World War made inevitable.
David Edgerton suggests that Britain was not stupid, it just miscalculated the balance of forces in its Balance of Power mindset:
“… an early victory by bombing, say in 1943, would have made Britain, as it hoped to continue to be, the greatest of the great powers; if things had turned out as Churchill hoped and believed in late 1941, Britain ‘would not have become so junior a partner in the Anglo-American effort.’ For in 1942-3 the USA was still catching up with Britain in this crucial machine, and the Soviet Union was nowhere. British air power would have dominated the world. But it didn’t, not just because bombing wasn’t as decisive as had been hoped: the nature of the continental war was quite different from the theories of modern war advocated by British analysts.” (pp. 289-90)
Edgerton points out the Churchillian myth of “Britain Alone” in 1940-1. He puts forward the fact that Britain was never “alone” – it had the largest Empire and the greatest military machine in the world, in terms of both quantity and quality. Its failure to fight and defeat Germany in 1940 was entirely a matter of will and strategy. With regard to the war in the air, just as the Battle of Britain was about to begin, Edgerton points out that Britain was diverting its war expenditure toward its bombing strategy to the detriment of its other military needs:
“There was no shortage of new aircraft in Britain in 1940. Modern types had been in production for years, and just as importantly gigantic new factories were ready to increase production. In 1940 Britain out-produced Germany in aircraft, just as the propagandists stated.Even the high level of production before May 1940 was not enough. One of Churchill’s first acts on becoming Prime Minister was to create a new Ministry of Aircraft Production, under Lord Beaverbrook. Beaverbrook wanted a rapid increase in production, and issued appeals to workers and managers. More importantly he decided to give priority to five types already in quantity production… We may note that three of these types were bombers, instruments of offence… One of the main aims of the rearmament programmes was to build up a powerful air force which could bomb Germany. Big twin-engined bombers like the Wellington, Whitley and Hampden were built… Despite enormous efforts and expenditure these programmes were, as of 1940-41, failures…” (p.66)
Edgerton concludes that if Britain had concentrated its efforts on producing tanks and rifles from 1936-40 as it got ready to fight a land war against Hitler, instead of deploying its resources toward its strategy of bombing German civilians there would have been no “phoney war” or military disaster of 1940. Ultimately it led to the end of the British Empire as a world power after it was shafted by its most benevolent friend.
Edgerton’s book also emphasises the points already made:
“For all the propagandist image of the Germans destroying Warsaw and then Rotterdam from the air, the committment to the bombing of cities was a British rather than a Nazi phenomenon. British bombing of Germany was not in retaliation for the Blitz, a case of the German reaping the whirlwind they had sown. It predated not only the blitz, but also the Battle of Britain. Bomber Command launched the first general bombing offensive against cities in the war on 11 May 1940. The Luftwaffe was prohibited from bombing cities not in the front line. It was not till Hitler allowed the Luftwaffe to start British-style bombing of Britain, following the bombing of Britain.” (p.66)
The 30-ton four engine bomber was a British (and then US) phenomenon. No other airforce produced them in any more than dozens:
“Strategic bombing was without question the most important large-scale novelty in the mode of warfare conducted by Britain and the USA… The bombing of civilians and industry was central to British war-like practice from 1940, and to policy long before that.It did not offend British values in warfare; it exemplified them. It has been seen as an extension of the idea of blockade… The British killed somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 German civilians by bombing – the figures are highly uncertain -… The Germans willed many more British soldiers, sailors and airmen than British civilians… To put the issue another way, the losses of RAF Bomber Command and the merchant navy were each of the same order as those resulting from a single very heavy RAF raid on a German city, say Hamburg (1943) or Dresden (1945).” (pp.284-5)
Len Deighton in his interesting book Blood, Tears and Folly: An Objective look at World War II makes this interesting comment on Hitler’s War in the East:
“The Luftwaffe’s true failure became apparent in those early days of the assault on the Soviet Union. Such a vast country might have been fatally crippled by strategic bombing, but Goring, Milch and Udet had made sure that Germany had no long-range bombers, and no men trained in its demanding techniques.” (p.451)
In truth, despite Hitler’s admiration for Britain and his desire to emulate its example in the world he was a mere amateur in war-making, blessed with a small, but brilliant army. He had not done the thing Britain does instinctively – make meticulous plans for war over decades and then wage it with utter ruthlessness. There was no Nazi Committee of Imperial Defence and the exterminations he conducted had to be kept from the German public in the obscurity of the east. The exterminations of German civilians were done quite openly by the RAF and were defended in Parliament by all but a few humanitarian and socialist troublemakers. The British State’s church, the Church of England invoked St. Augustine and his Just War in defence of the massacres. The Archbishop of York said:
“Often in life, there is no clear choice between absolute right and wrong: frequently the choice has to be made of the lesser of two evils, and it is a lesser evil to bomb a war-loving Germany than to sacrifice the lives of our fellow-countrymen who long for peace, and to delay delivering millions now held in slavery.” (Stephen Garret, Ethics and Air Power, p.99)
The Anglican Church had given moral support to the industrial slave system Britain had constructed a couple of centuries before and it had benefitted handsomely in a financial manner through its investments in the vast trade in human beings. It supported the Bombing strategy in WWII in preference to land fighting which although it would have lead to greater numbers of British military casualties would also have shortened the war for those “millions now held in slavery” and probably saved them from the Soviet system which the Archbishop would have seen as an even worse form of slavery.
The annihilating of civilians was “the lesser of two evils” for the Anglican Church. It was not the Church of the British State for nothing.
In justifying the saturation bombing of civilian centres Spaight had coined the term “battle-towns” to make the case that civilian centres involved in the manufacture of weapons or materials in support of a country’s military were legitimate targets. But Spaight did not draw a line at armaments factories. He added transport workers, civilians engaged in civil defence, fire watchers and fire fighters, rescue parties, demolition squads and medical orderlies as legitimate targets in the new warfare. Their work was seen as essential in the German war-effort as that of the military.
The use of massive bombs by the RAF which took whole residential areas and their occupants with them was defended by Spaight in a section entitled The Bomb Splash on the basis that with German defence of their cities improving Britain had no choice but to engage in large bombing that was indiscriminate:
“It would be idle to deny that the use of 4,000 lb. and 8,000 lb. bombs has enlarged
enormously the radius within which private property is likely to be destroyed or damaged when a military target is aimed at in a built-up area. The bomb-splash is a mighty one when bombs of that size are dropped, and inevitably its effect is felt over an area far exceeding that in which it was expected before this war that incidental damage would be caused… the effect of the dropping of one 5,000 lb. bomb in Parliament Square and another on Horse Guards Parade would be to leave little of administrative London standing. Fortunately, Whitehall, though it has suffered, has not had the unpleasant experience of meeting the impact of a bomb even nearly so large as that, still less one of the colossal size which our airmen have frequently dropped on German towns. How terrible the effect of such monster projectiles can be we shall not know for certain until the Germans see fit to disclose exactly what happened to Dortmund on the night of 23 May, 1943, when an exceptionally large number of them was dropped. There is reason to believe that the effect was appalling. The photograph published in The Times and other papers on 3 June gives some idea of the devastation.
“The big bombs are the answer of the attack to the intensification of the defence. The anti-aircraft barrage had been made so powerful that bombing was becoming ineffective and indeed almost a waste of effort. The military results of the so-called high-level, precision bombing were not commensurate with the wastage of personnel and materiel involved for the attacking formations. To redress the balance it, was necessary to bring into use projectiles of such destructive capacity that when launched from great heights on the estimated target area they could be counted upon to wreck the target as well as (unfortunately) much else besides. The justification of the method must rest on military necessity. If in no other way can a belligerent destroy his enemy’s armament centres or interrupt his enemy’s process of munitionment, then this way can be defended. So justified, it is not inconsistent with accepted principles of the laws of war.” (pp.75-6)
And Spaight had one final argument to vindicate the bombers of civilians in the face of those of his countrymen who did not have the stomach for anti-civilian warfare. He simply reminded them of the last Great War against Germany when the Royal Navy Blockaded civilians into starvation as the major plank of Britain’s war effort, killing the best part of a million to win its War:
“The Toll of Blockade
Lamentable as is the killing of non-combatants proper when an industrial centre is
bombed, the tragedy must be viewed not in isolation but against the sombre background of war. Some critics of bombing policy appear to lose perspective in this matter. They discuss the question without regard to certain other incidents of war and almost as if it were one which could be decided according to the standards applicable to preventible disasters in peace. That is to misconceive the whole situation. War is war, and it is horrible. The loss of civilian life which bombing causes is almost trivial in comparison with that due to blockade. In the war of 1914-18 the excess civilian mortality, as compared with the normal, amounted in Germany to about 700,000, while the deficit in the birth-rate in the four years was about 2,900,000. These figures compared with an excess mortality of 250,000 and a decrease in births of 600,000 in Britain during the four years. The difference between the German and the British figures must be attributed in large part to the action of the blockade. History seems to be repeating itself in the present war.
“Some very significant statistics were published in Germany and summarised in The Times of 24 May, 1943.They showed that in the large towns of Germany, containing a population of 24,500,000, infant mortality per 1000 live births was 59 in 1941 and 69 in 1942; the rate for England and Wales in 1942 was 49. That difference of 20 per 1,000 births between the two countries must be attributed mainly to the strangle-hold of our blockade. The mortality for the whole population of Germany was 24 per cent higher in 1942 than in 1939.
“Deaths from tuberculosis and some other diseases rose substantially. The birthrate
showed a dramatic fall; there were 80,000 fewer births in the large towns of Germany in 1942 than in 1940. For the whole of Germany the drop in the birth-rate indicated a loss of approximately 550,000 live births in 1942 as compared with 1939-40. It is hardly too much to say that these dry statistics are the tragic sign of a nation dying in the grip of sea power. Air power could never reap such a terrible harvest. Do those critics who devote so much attention to our bombing policy ever think of this other accompaniment or consequence of war?”
Finally there was The Military Balance Sheet which overrode any issue of humanitarianism, according to Spaight:
“It is not uncommon for the critics, when baffled in their attempt to arraign strategic
bombing on the humanitarian or ethical plane, to fall back on the argument of military expediency. Bombing, they sometimes assert, is not a profitable undertaking, in view of the heavy losses suffered by the raiders and the comparatively small extent of the damage which they can inflict upon a country geared for total war. Civilians are killed and mutilated but the enemy’s war-potential is not seriously affected. That is a completely mistaken view. There is not a shadow of doubt that the strategic offensive conducted by Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force and the Bomber Command of the United States 8th Army Air Force is a militarily profitable undertaking. That being so, it is hardly reasonable to ask them as belligerents to forego the use of a mode of warfare against which the only remaining argument that can be urged is the humanitarian or ethical one. Such an argument has never been held to prevail against military interest. If the results of the employment of a weapon or a method of warfare are worth-while, belligerents will not be prepared to discard them. Only where they are not worth-while, that is, where giving up the use of them does not matter very much, has the humanitarian objection won the day.
“That was why explosive bullets were banned in the Declaration of St. Petersburg,
whereas the larger projectiles remain lawful. To expect States as powerful in the air as we and the United States now are to abandon bombing, at all events during the current war, is to expect a miracle. It simply will not happen.” (pp.95-6)
At Nuremburg when the victors brought the vanquished before a form of justice they had constructed the Luftwaffe was left immune from any charges in this area. The moral was that slaughtering people from the air was entirely acceptable within the new system of International Law that was being constructed. One wonders whether that was due to Allied precedent or intention for the future?
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