Section 1: From POINTBLANK to OVERLORD
Chapter 1: Winter Bombing
By the opening weeks of 1944 all phases of the American war effort had come to be dominated by plans for an invasion of northwestern Europe. Since the beginning of hostilities the War Department had held steadfastly to the belief that such an invasion would prove decisive in the defeat of Germany, but this strategic concept did not govern to an equal degree the minds of Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt, and influential U.S. Navy and British officers. Consequently, a firm decision to mount the cross-Channel operation had not been reached until the latter half of 1943.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff at Casablanca, in January 1943, had elected to follow up an anticipated victory in North Africa with the invasion of Sicily, and they further indicated their inclination to postpone a direct assault on western Europe by scheduling a preliminary bombing offensive against Germany that would not reach its climax until early in the following year.* In consonance with the assumptions which gave shape to the Casablanca decisions, the CCS in April 1943 assigned to Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick E. Morgan, as chief of staff to the supreme Allied commander (COSSAC), the task of preparing an outline plan for a trans-Channel operation to be staged early in 1944.† The British and American chiefs committed themselves to that date at their Washington conference in May 1943, and three months later at Quebec they approved Morgan’s plan for OVERLORD, as the operation had been coded, on the understanding that it would be launched during the spring of 1944.1 Even so, the U.S. chiefs experienced some uneasiness regarding Britain’s attitude toward OVERLORD in the interval
* See Vol. II, 300-306.
† See Vol. II, 631-34.
between the Quebec meeting and the reassembling of the Combined Chiefs at Cairo in November 1943.2
At that time the Prime Minister undertook to remove any fear that the British “had weakened, cooled, or were trying to get out of OVERLORD,” but he insisted that the operation should not become a tyrant dictating all strategy nor a pivot so firm that every opportunity in the Mediterranean would have to be ruled out.3 The British chiefs of staff, while showing some reluctance to fix a specific date for the invasion, were inclined to favor projects in the eastern Mediterranean which might impose a delay in western Europe.4 Thus plans for OVERLORD still lacked the firmness the Americans would have preferred as the conferees moved to Iran for consultation with Marshal Stalin and the Russian staff. At Tehran the Russians pressed vigorously for a final commitment to OVERLORD and suggested that Mediterranean forces be thrown into direct support of that operation by invasion of southern France.5 This last suggestion was already under consideration by Allied planners,* and in the end it was agreed that Anglo-American forces would invade France from two sides (in addition to OVERLORD there would be an invasion of southern France, coded ANVIL) and that the Russians would simultaneously undertake a large-scale offensive on the eastern front.6 OVERLORD, with a target date for May 1944, had become a firm commitment.
At Cairo, following the Tehran conference, the identity of the supreme commander for OVERLORD also had been determined. For months the question had been a subject of speculation, with inner military circles and the public alike expecting Gen. George C. Marshall to receive the post. In fact, Churchill had come forward at Quebec with an offer to accept Marshall as soon as it became clear that President Roosevelt would insist upon naming an American.7 There was no haste to make the appointment, however, for the status of the supreme command itself was in doubt for some months and General Marshall’s colleagues were reluctant to see him leave Washington. At Tehran, Marshal Stalin demanded that the invasion leader be named within a week at most,8 and after much reflection President Roosevelt seems to have reached the conclusion that Marshall was truly indispensable as Chief of Staff.9 Thus the choice fell on General Eisenhower, to the surprise of the appointee, who heard the news from the President at
* See below, p. 409.
Tunis.10 After a visit to the United States, Eisenhower reached London in mid-January 1944 to assume command of what soon became known as the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces and more commonly simply as SHAEF.
Already, significant progress had been made toward developing the air organization upon which the supreme commander would depend during the invasion. At Quebec in the preceding August, Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, former head of RAF Fighter Command and chief air planner with COSSAC, had been designated air commander in chief of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF). Leigh-Mallory activated his headquarters on 25 November 1943 and established it a short time later at Stanmore, Middlesex, a pleasant suburb of London and formerly seat of RAF Fighter Command. His deputy, Maj. Gen. William O. Butler, headed the American contingent of the new headquarters. Under AEAF came the RAF Second Tactical Air Force and, after 15 December, the rapidly growing U.S. Ninth Air Force, commanded by Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton.*
The question of the extent of Leigh-Mallory’s responsibility had proved from the first to be a troublesome one. Was he merely to coordinate the operations of the Ninth Air Force and of British tactical units? Or was AEAF to become a highly centralized command exercising wide operational and administrative powers over its component parts? With this second view the new air commander in chief was in full accord. More than that, he implied an ambition as well to control the heavy bomber forces when he contended that both strategic and tactical air forces should come under one air commander, but he weakened such prospect as he had of gaining that control by his often-expressed opinion that it would not be necessary to achieve complete air supremacy before launching the invasion.11 All AAF thinking rested upon the assumption that the full resources of the Eighth Air Force must be concentrated on the successful completion of the Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany’s war potential and particularly against the German Air Force as an indispensable preliminary to the invasion. Consequently, American air officers both in Washington and in England undertook to delimit the powers of the AEAF. General Butler tried in vain to secure capable AAF officers of sufficiently high rank to make of AEAF a genuine Anglo-American organization.
Leigh-Mallory’s command early received and never quite lost its reputation of being a British-dominated organization, a factor which diminished its effectiveness and later caused it to be by-passed in many important matters.
Partly to offset AEAF, the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF) had been established as of 1 January 1944 with administrative control over both the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces.* While thus serving to preserve administrative controls on a national basis, USSTAF also provided the means for coordinating the heavy bomber operations of the Eighth Air Force in the United Kingdom with those of the recently established Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean. The American leaders had hoped for more than this-for an inclusive organizational structure incorporating under one commander all operations from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean against the Axis and combining in one air command all British and American strategic bomber forces.12 The British chiefs, however, were unwilling to subordinate RAF’s Bomber Command to such a unified control, which threatened also to interfere with contemplated projects in the Mediterranean. Indeed, it proved impossible to gain consent even for the proposal that some arrangement should be made for the more effective coordination of the operations of Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force, for the British resisted any attempt to disturb the virtually independent position of Bomber Command.† Sir Charles Portal, chief of air staff, RAF, would continue to serve, as he had before, as the coordinating agent of the Combined Chiefs of Staff for strategic bomber operations against Germany, but the strategic air forces remained outside the OVERLORD command chain with a relationship undefined until well into the spring of 1944.
It was natural that Eisenhower should have brought with him to his new command many of the officers closely associated with his achievements in Africa and the Mediterranean, including Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W. Tedder who was named deputy supreme commander, Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz who assumed command of USSTAF, and Maj. Gen. James H. Doolittle who replaced Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker as commander of the Eighth Air Force. Eaker, meanwhile, had been reassigned as head of the newly established Mediterranean Allied Air
† See Vol. II, 722-28.
Forces.* General Eisenhower had expected Spaatz to manage heavy bomber operations for OVERLORD, and he was a little surprised that Tedder, who he had hoped would serve as his “chief air man,” was in a vague position as officer without portfolio in air matters while “a man named Mallory” was titular air commander in chief.13 But with veterans from an old team to help, it might be anticipated that all problems of command could be solved. Meanwhile, the approaching climax of the Combined Bomber Offensive held the focus of attention.
The CBO had been inaugurated in the spring of 1943 in accordance with a directive issued by the Combined Chiefs of Staff to accomplish “the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”14 Detailed plans had envisaged an offensive, developed in four phases of three months each, that would reach its climax by 1 April 1944. These plans did not attempt to look beyond the invasion of Europe, for it was as a preliminary to OVERLORD that the CBO found its place in Allied strategy.†
In theory at least, the bomber offensive embraced the combined efforts of the Eighth Air Force (supplemented after 1 November 1943 by those of the Fifteenth Air Force)‡ and of the RAF Bomber Command. The American bombers would attack key installations according to the AAF’s own doctrine of daylight precision bombardment, while planes of the RAF struck by night in accordance with its policy of bombing industrial areas and centers of population. AAF and RAF forces had the same general objective, which was destruction of the German ability to make war, but the target systems specified in the CBO plan had been elaborated by an American committee and were suited primarily to the operating methods of the American force. It was assumed that the “area” bombing of the RAF would be complementary to the daylight campaign, but, owing mainly to differences in tactics and operating potentialities, the two forces in fact seldom achieved more than a general coordination of effort. The CBO was thus a combined offensive but not a closely integrated one, and it is possible to treat the American daylight bombing campaign as a story separate from, though naturally closely related to, that of the RAF.
* See Vol. II, 744-51.
† See Vol. II, 348-76.
The Challenge of the GAF
On 27 December 1943, General Arnold addressed to the commanding generals of the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces the following New Year’s message:
Aircraft factories in this country are turning out large quantities of airplanes, engines and accessories.
Our training establishments are operating twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week training crews.
We are now furnishing fully all the aircraft and crews to take care of your attrition.
It is a conceded fact that OVERLORD and ANVIL will not be possible unless the German Air Force is destroyed.
Therefore, my personal message to you – this is a MUST – is to, “Destroy the Enemy Air Force wherever you find them, in the air, on the ground and in the factories.”15
Thus, in brief compass if not in perfect literary form, did the commanding general of the Army Air Forces lend emphasis to the most urgent problem confronting the U.S. heavy bomber forces at the beginning of 1944
The German Air Force, and particularly its fighter strength, had been designated in the original CBO directive as “an Intermediate objective second to none in priority”.* “Intermediate” was here used in the AAF sense of an objective to be accomplished before the critical target systems could be reached; actually the growing resistance to Eighth Air Force missions in the fall of 1943 had made it clear that the destruction of the Luftwaffe before the Normandy D-day was the AAF’s most immediate task. Indeed, the CBO in its last phase became so completely a counter-air offensive that the code name POINTBLANK came commonly, though erroneously, to mean the attack on the GAF rather than the combined offensive in its broader outline.†
The Eighth Air Force, freed of an earlier necessity to devote much of its limited strength to generally unprofitable attacks on submarine facilities and possessed of a steadily growing strength that would reach a total of twenty-five heavy bombardment groups by the end of 1943,‡ had attacked during the summer and early fall in increasing force such as high-priority targets as the ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt and aircraft
* See Vol. II, 366-67.
† Ibid., 712-30.
‡ On the build-up of AAF forces in the United Kingdom, see Ibid., 635-64.
factories at Regensburg, Marienburg, and Bremen. Many of these targets lay deep in enemy territory, and repeatedly the bombing had been both accurate and destructive. As yet, it is true, the attack had had little immediate effect on German front-line strength, for the Germans, confident of a quick victory, had not completely mobilized their industrial organization16 and still possessed in 1943 unused production capacity which served as a cushion protecting them from the full effect of the combined AAF and RAF attack. But that attack had been pressed to a point greatly reducing the remaining cushion, and the German economy, in some of its more critical aspects, would be seriously affected by additional destruction.
The difficulty, from the point of view of the AAF, lay in the fact that the German Air Force and its supporting industry had been able to absorb increasing punishment without decline in combat strength. Indeed, as the loss of 60 out of 228 bombers attacking Schweinfurt on 14 October emphasized,* the GAF gave every evidence of increasing rather than declining strength. Not until after the cessation of hostilities was the full record of enemy activity available, a record which revealed that the stimulus provided by the Allied air attack had stirred the Germans to an effort that would bring the peak in their wartime aircraft production as late as the summer of 1944.17 This in itself represented a not inconsiderable victory for the bombers, for they had forced the enemy to concentrate an increasing proportion of his war effort on the construction of airplanes now used for purely defensive purposes. But even had this fact been fully understood in the fall of 1943, it could have provided only limited comfort for the bomber crews who undertook to fight their way through a stiffening resistance in the air and from the ground.
Efforts already under way to provide long-range fighter escort for the bombers promised an answer to the problem, but for a while it seemed a question whether the supply of long-range escort could be obtained in time to keep pace with the accelerating air war. Although as early as August the radius of action of the P-47 had been extended to 340 miles, the problem of escort for deep penetrations into Germany was faced squarely only after lack of escort had seriously hampered the execution of POINTBLANK.† Hopes were pinned initially on the P-38, when on 15 October 1943 the 55th Fighter Group joined
* See Vol. II, 699-704.
the seven P-47 groups already operating with VIII Fighter Command. With the addition of two 75-gallon wing tanks the Lightning could perform escort to a maximum of 520 miles from bases.18 On the Wilhelmshaven mission of 3 November the superior endurance now possessed by this group proved especially valuable during the farthest leg of the journey and made the escort virtually continuous throughout the bomber route. In the process the P-38’s, already favored among fighters in the Mediterranean and the Pacific, saw their first real combat in the ETO and enjoyed their first victory, claiming three of the enemy without losing a single one of their number. They could probably have destroyed more but remained, according to the strict orders then governing their tactics, in close support of the bombers, warding off attacks and refusing to be drawn off in independent combat.19
Again during a pathfinder mission to Bremen on 13 November the P-38’s demonstrated their ability to go the distance (the longest to date for fighter escort), tangle on more than equal terms with the enemy, and provide invaluable support for the bombers over the target area. The enemy fought tenaciously, employing all of his considerable stock of tricks to draw off the escort and reach the bombers. He seemed especially anxious to maneuver his twin-engine rocket-firing planes (mostly Ju-88’s) into a position from which they could deliver an attack unmolested by escort fighters. Rocket fire had by this time become the most deadly of the tactics used by the Germans against the bomber formations, and it was consequently a matter of the keenest concern to both sides to see how effective the new longer-range fighter escort would be in foiling these attacks as well as the more routine passes attempted by the single-engine Me-109’s and FW-190’s.20
Left alone after the P-47’s had reached the limit of their endurance the relatively small force of forty-seven P-38’s found themselves outnumbered, possibly as much as five to one. As a result they were badly mauled. Although only two of their number were known to have been shot down, five others failed to return. In addition, sixteen of those that came back were battle damaged. One pilot demonstrated the durability of the P-38 by bringing his plane back from Bremen on one engine. Technicians who examined the craft discovered more than one hundred bullet holes and five 20-mm. shell holes. The twin tails and the vertical stabilizer were badly damaged, but the pilot was unhurt. Despite the losses and damage suffered, and despite the fact that the number of enemy aircraft shot down was not impressive, the P-38’s
were responsible again for holding bomber losses in the target area to a supportable level; and it could reasonably be hoped that a larger force could do the job still more effectively and with relatively less cost to the escort itself.21
The P-38 was clearly a most effective fighter, and the Germans honored it with an increasing share of attention.22 But it was also the easiest of the Allied fighters for the enemy to identify and therefore attack. It was becoming evident that the P-51 could be developed into a more maneuverable fighter and, even more important, into one of longer range. During the fall and winter months, therefore, many observers tended to look increasingly to the Mustang (hitherto considered primarily an attack fighter) as the answer to the problem of the “long reach.”
In September 1943 General Arnold urged the RAF to put as many of its Mustang-equipped squadrons as possible at the disposal of the Eighth Air Force for long-range escort. Air Chief Marshal Portal agreed to devote four such units to the daylight bombing project in January of 1944. On October 30 General Arnold decided to stop any allocation of long-range P-51’s or P-38’s from going to tactical reconnaissance units or to any theater other than the United Kingdom for the remainder of 1943 – this despite urgent requirements for those types in other quarters.23 For the rest of the year the P-51 remained linked in American air plans with the P-38 as essential to the long-range escort problem.24 By the end of the year Maj. Gen. William E. Kepner, of VIII Fighter Command, referred to the P-51’s as “distinctly the best fighter that we can get over here,” adding that, in view of “pending developments in Germany,” they are “going to be the only satisfactory answer.”25 Meanwhile, however, all P-51 units destined for the ETO were being assigned to the Ninth Air Force, which was being groomed for the tactical support of OVERLORD. This situation, which General Kepner deplored, had for practical purposes been remedied by an agreement made late in October establishing the support and protection of the heavy bombers engaged in POINTBLANK as the primary tactical role of all U.S. fighter units in the United Kingdom until further notice.26 Accordingly, the one P-51 group (the 354th) operating in the theater prior to 1944 flew almost exclusively in support of the daylight bombing campaign and under VIII Fighter Command control, although assigned to IX Fighter Command.
The P-51’s of the 354th Group for the first time flew escort in a
strategic mission on 5 December when two wings of heavy bombers struck targets in the Paris area. Two squadrons of P-51’s escorted the B-17’s from the French coast to Poix, southwest of Amiens, where P-47’s relieved the P-51’s for the remainder of the mission.27 On 13 December P-51’s helped take a large force of bombers to Kiel. It was an all-out effort, involving no less than 710 bombers – the largest force dispatched to that date. Three of the twelve combat wings sent out by VIII Bomber Command attacked Bremen under escort provided chiefly by P-47 groups. The larger force, comprising the remaining nine wings, attacked Kiel with support in the target area from the two long-range units of P-38’s and P-51’s. This was the first time the P-51’s had flown to what was then the limit of their escort range. Enemy reaction proved exceptionally weak, however, and the Mustangs saw only light action, claiming one Me-110 probably destroyed and losing one of their number, cause unknown.28 On 20 December in the course of another of the bombing trips to Bremen the P-51’s and P-38’s were engaged more briskly. The P-47’s provided support for the bombers to and from the target, leaving to the longer-range units the task of protecting the bombers over the target area. This time the enemy reacted with considerable intensity, trying as usual to place his rocket-firing twin-engine fighters in position to attack under the protection of the single engine planes. This the forty-four P-51’s and thirty-five P-38’s were able effectively to prevent. The former accounted for three enemy aircraft destroyed and one probably destroyed at a cost of three of their own pilots and planes.29 Again on a large pathfinder mission to Ludwigshafen on 30 December both the P-51’s and the P-38’s performed creditably at what was then considered extreme fighter range.30 By January 1944 the value of the P-51 as a long-range escort plane had become so apparent that the principles on which allocations had been made in the theater between the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces were completely revised. On 24 January British and American commanders came to an agreement which placed most of the P-51 units in the Eighth Air Force.31 Eventually, the Eighth would be equipped almost exclusively with P-51’s, the P-47’s and the P-38’s being transferred to the Ninth Air Force.32
To the amazement of many seasoned observers (not the least of whom was Hermann Goering), the American fighters flew with the bombers to Berlin and even beyond by March 1944. But this triumph came only at the end of a winter during which much uncertainty had
continued to hang over the CBO. It had been recognized in November 1943 that the growing power of the GAF demanded an all-out attack on the German aircraft industry by the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces.33 The plan for such a coordinated attack, drafted at that time and coded ARGUMENT,34 was based on a realistic appreciation of the high cost that would have to be paid in the absence of effective escort. To speak in the unavoidably impersonal calculus of strategic bombardment, it was assumed that only a high profit could justify the anticipated cost, and so the plan called for approximately a full week of clear weather over most of central Europe with good enough weather in the base areas of southern Italy and eastern England to permit the bombers to take off and land. That stretch of favorable weather did not come until well into February, when the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces launched the series of coordinated attacks later christened the “Big Week.”*
Meanwhile the Eighth Air Force had plunged into an intensive experiment in radar bombing in an effort to reduce as far as possible the limitations imposed by the fall and winter weather. Although it was hoped that radar equipment could in time be made reasonably accurate, it was not considered a substitute for visual bombing but rather a supplement which would allow the daylight bombing force to maintain the pressure of strategic bombardment on German morale and on the German economy as a whole. Admittedly a campaign of radar bombing would involve some compromise with the doctrine of “precision” bombing and with the POINTBLANK priorities, strictly interpreted.35 In its early stages at any rate, radar missions would be restricted to targets which would show up clearly on the radar screen – for the most part city areas located on coast lines or on estuaries, since the distinction between water and land was easy to recognize and this greatly facilitated target identification. Moreover, although any large industrial area could be located without too much difficulty, it was not possible to identify specific factories unless they happened to be unusually isolated and unusually extensive.36 But it seemed better to bomb low-priority targets frequently, even with less than precision accuracy, than not to bomb at all. Accordingly, from mid-October 1943 to
* See below, pp. 31 ff.
mid-February 1944 the story of daylight strategic bombing from the United Kingdom is essentially the story of an experiment in radar bombing.
The decision to use radar was, of course, no sudden development in the fall of 1943.* In the previous winter, during the early months of its operations in the ETO, the Eighth Air Force had discovered that the weather was one of the chief obstacles to be overcome. Tricky enough throughout the year, weather over England and western Europe presented peculiar difficulties in the fall and winter months, when severe storms could be expected between London and Berlin on the average of every three days and when cloud cover over Germany was persistent and thick.37 General Spaatz and General Eaker accordingly laid plans late in 1942 to develop a pathfinder unit, radar-equipped and trained for the task of leading bomber formations to their target during conditions of poor visibility. Plans prior to the summer of 1943 were based largely on the experience of the RAF, and such radar installations as were attempted were made with British equipment. Best suited to the requirements of the Eighth’s long-range missions was H2S, a device in which a beam of transmitted energy scanned the ground below the plane, the reflected signals presenting a map-like picture on the indicator screen, characterized by dark areas for water, light areas for ground, and bright areas for broad reflecting surfaces of towns and cities.38 Use had been made of this equipment by planes of the 482nd Bombardment Group (H) as early as 27 September 1943, but the British were hard pressed to meet their own needs, and in October the Americans were still experiencing difficulty in using H2S at high altitudes.39
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T. had undertaken to develop an improved version of the H2S type. Using a new and shorter microwave length than had ever been used before, scientists there built a radar set which would give a sharper and more faithful picture of the ground. The new device, called H2X, was being put into production in the summer of 1943, but time was too precious to squander waiting for the arrival of factory models; so the Radiation Laboratory agreed to build twenty sets, enough to equip a dozen B-17’s and provide the necessary spares. These twelve planes, manned by crews already partially trained in handling H2X, arrived in England early in October to join the 482nd Group. With them came scientists of the Radiation Laboratory, who set up a branch of that
* See Vol. II, 689-94.
organization in the United Kingdom for the purpose of coordinating the work of the laboratory with that of the Eighth Air Force. The H2X crews spent the remainder of October in further training and would have preferred to do still more in the way of simulated bombing missions over the English countryside. The bad bombing weather was already at hand, however, and they were ordered to complete their training over Germany itself, each crew with a combat wing of sixty bombers behind it.40
The first of these “practice” missions took place on 3 November when eleven pathfinder planes (nine of the new H2X planes were supported by two carrying H2S)41 led a force of 539 bombers in an attack on the port area of Wilhelmshaven. Earlier in the year Wilhelmshaven had been a high-priority objective for the American bombers because of the submarine building being done there. It had been the scene of the first Eighth Air Force mission over German soil,* and it had been attacked on several other occasions prior to the middle of 1943. But by that time submarine installations had lost much of their importance as an objective for strategic bombing, although they retained a high place in the as yet unrevised CBO directive. Destruction of the ship-building activities at Wilhelmshaven doubtless would increase the total strain on German industry, but it would certainly not contribute to the pressing, short-term results being sought before D-day. Like many other target selections in the fall and winter of 1943, the decision to strike Wilhelmshaven reflected the needs of the radar bombing experiment rather than those of the POINTBLANK campaign. That city, situated on the coast line near the estuary of the Weser River, could be easily identified on the radar screen which registered with peculiar clarity the contrast between water and land. By routing the attacking force over the North Sea it was possible to reach the port with a minimum of hazardous time spent flying over heavily defended enemy territory. Moreover, it was now possible to provide fighter protection throughout the entire route. All of the above considerations made Wilhelmshaven an ideal objective for a force led by inexperienced pathfinder crews. A heavy attack promised, withal, an impressive degree of general, area destruction.
It was a significant mission. In the first place it was the largest yet sent out by the Eighth Air Force. The 1st and 3rd Bombardment Divisions (commanded respectively by Brig. Gens. Robert B. Williams
* See Vol. II, 323-24.
and Curtis E. LeMay) each dispatched a task force of over two hundred B-17’s, and the 2nd Bombardment Division, under the command of Brig. Gen. James P. Hodges, sent out a task force of 117 B-24’s. Despite conditions of poor visibility the large force of 566 bombers assembled without difficulty; and of this number, only 27 failed to reach the objective and bomb.42 Of greater significance was the fact that the attackers, entirely dependent on radar, dropped a record bomb load of more than 1,400 tons through a solid layer of cloud with enough accuracy to hit and damage the aiming point. The eleven available pathfinders had been distributed among the seven combat wings into which the B-17’s of the 1st and 3rd Divisions had been divided. That left the B-24’s of the 2nd Division without pathfinders but with instructions to release their bombs on parachute marker flares dropped by the preceding formations, a procedure which left considerable room for error, since the interval between combat wings gave time for the flares to drift and since the bombardiers sometimes found it hard to distinguish them from antiaircraft bursts. Compared to that of a well-executed visual mission, the bomb pattern for the day’s operations was widely spread, but there was enough of a concentration of hits within the port area to damage many of the ship-building installations.43
Stated in terms of strategic results, the record becomes less impressive. A British Ministry of Home Security report, dated 21 January 1944, estimated that, although the bombing of 3 November had caused “moderate” damage to workshops in the port area, those shops had not been used to their capacity and it was therefore unlikely that the damage caused more than a week’s delay in the output of submarines. No damage to the hulls being built at the time of the attack had been discerned.44 But in the context of the radar-bombing experiment these facts were of less importance than that the yard was hit at all through 10/10 cloud and by inexperienced pathfinder crews.
Also encouraging to the Eighth Air Force was the relatively slight loss suffered. Only 7 of the 539 attacking bombers were lost and, of these, probably only 3 were shot down by enemy aircraft. The German fighters, faced with the problem of rising to the attack through the overcast, did not react in as large numbers as on some earlier occasions. But the principal reason for the defensive success of the mission lay in the superior fighter support afforded by eight groups from VIII Fighter Command. To the effectiveness of this support the statements made after the mission by crew members whose experience had included
the tough air fighting of early October gave eloquent and unanimous testimony: “This was my 25th mission, and for me it turned out to be the milk-run of all milk-runs.” “Not a fighter could be seen up there today except our own.” “We’ll have a milk bottle instead of a bomb pasted on our ship for this mission. Enemy fighters came up, took a look at us, and went home.”45
This first H2X mission encouraged the believers in radar bombing and converted the doubtful, perhaps too readily, for the results gained that day were to a large extent beginner’s luck, as in time became apparent. The Wilhelmshaven mission gave an unfounded hope of potential accuracy; and it may therefore have contributed to an unfortunate tendency to treat H2X as a rival of visual bombing rather than a supplement to it. It may also have helped to make the Eighth too easily satisfied with the greatly accelerated rate of operations it was able to achieve during the remainder of the winter through the use of the new equipment. However limited may have been the strategic results achieved, this acceleration did serve to meet the insistent demand front Headquarters, AAF that the Eighth go all out.*
Certainly the rate of operations in November was remarkable. At no date during the month would the weather forecast have warranted a visual attack against objectives in Germany, yet German targets were attacked nine times. On two other occasions visual attacks were made on objectives in Norway.46 During December, with the weather map equally discouraging for visual bombing, the Eighth dropped more bombs than ever before in any one month (13,142 tons)47 and for the first time exceeded the tonnage dropped by RAF Bomber Command.48 Occasionally, of course, it was possible to bomb visually by making use of chance breaks in the undercast; but on the few occasions when such a shift was accomplished, the weather forecast would not have warranted dispatching a force of bombers on a purely visual mission.49
Most of the radar-bombing missions conducted during the remainder of 1943 were led by H2X planes, often supported by the few equipped with H2S. Occasionally ground radar of the OBOE type† was used when targets in the near-by Ruhr area were selected for attack. On 5 November, for example, a heavy force of bombers was dispatched to Gelsenkirchen and Münster, both within operating radius of the
* See Vol. II, 715-21.
† OBOE, unlike H2S, depended on beams transmitted by ground stations and thus could be used only for short-range missions into Germany. See Ibid., 690-91.
OBOE equipment, and the force was accordingly led by OBOE pathfinder aircraft. Two days later OBOE again was used. Although theoretically more accurate within its range than the self-contained H2X, OBOE presented so many technical difficulties that the Eighth Air Force commanders became reluctant to use it.50 On 10 December, General Eaker urgently recommended an intensive program of H2X production, one which would give that equipment priority over all other radar aids destined for the Eighth. Tests conducted during the previous six weeks had, he claimed, proved conclusively that H2X was the most promising equipment for winter campaign. As a planning objective he suggested six H2X-equipped planes per heavy bombardment group.51
The H2X equipment was, however, discouragingly slow in coming. Manufacture on a production basis took time; and there were other competing claims on the product.52 The situation had not improved in mid-January 1944. General Spaatz wrote to General Arnold as follows: “The most critical need of the Strategic Air Forces is for more Pathfinder aircraft. A few H2X planes now will profit our cause more than several hundred in six months.”53 Not until February of that year did production models of H2X begin to reach the United Kingdom.54 Meanwhile the same dozen B-17’s, equipped with the same hand-made H2X models and manned by the same overworked crews, continued to lead increasingly heavy forces to German industrial cities.
The size of the missions mounted by the Eighth Air Force during the latter part of 1943, together with their unprecedented frequency, was certainly their most outstanding characteristic. Operating strength of the Eighth increased from 200 heavy bomber groups in October to 254 groups at the end of December; and the ability of the groups to maintain a high rate of operations increased even more rapidly. The record set on 3 November of 566 bombers dispatched was broken on 26 November when VIII Bomber Command sent out 633. On 13 December a total of 710 bombers took off on a combat mission. On Christmas Eve the record was again raised, this time to 722, of which 670 were able to complete the mission.55
This spectacular acceleration in the daylight bombing offensive, made possible by radar bombing, tended to shift attention from strategic results. At a time of year when precision visual attacks were almost out of the question, it could reasonably be assumed that damage inflicted on areas important to the enemy war effort was helpful, regardless of the value, measured in terms of POINTBLANK, the damaged
property might possess. There had, indeed, been a tendency on the part of American air planners in the theater during early fall to look upon the forthcoming radar-bombing campaign as a highly desirable, if temporary, shift from pinpoint bombing of specific factories to the British technique of area devastation in districts of industrial concentration. Like the work done by RAF Bomber Command, such a project would supplement the precision objectives of the POINTBLANK plan. Not only would property, and much of it of immediate value to the war machine, be destroyed but the constant clearance and reconstruction would have to be done by manpower taken directly or indirectly from the war effort. Aside from its effect on civilian morale, such bombing would constitute a direct attack on manpower, which was naturally (though exaggeratedly) considered a critical factor in the German war economy.56
It is in this light that the late 1943 campaign must be estimated. Few of the high-priority POINTBLANK targets were selected for attack. By far the greatest weight of bombs fell on the ship-building and port areas of Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, and Kiel. These objectives, chosen frankly for their suitability as targets for a force still inexperienced in the techniques of radar bombing,57 suffered severely. Bremen in particular was attacked six times between 13 November and 20 December, the last three attacks within an eight-day period and involving a total of almost 1,200 heavy bombers.58 It was impossible to determine the exact results of these attacks at the time. Bombing through overcast obviously precluded strike photos in most instances, and destruction revealed by subsequent photo reconnaissance was hard to distinguish from that accomplished by the many previous raids made by both British and American bombing forces against the same areas. It is not much easier now that enemy records are available. Little more can be said with assurance than that, as area bombing went, these missions seem to have been effective.59
Probably the most successful mission of the period was that of 13 December against Kiel. Conditions were perfect for radar bombing clouds not too high to cause trouble, yet thick enough to provide an absolutely opaque carpet beneath the attacking forces and one through which the enemy fighters could make their way only with some difficulty.60 A total of 478 bombers, 12 of them pathfinders, attacked. The bombing was heavy and, for blind bombing, well concentrated. Damage was inflicted on town and dock areas. The principal submarine
building yard, Deutsche Werke, suffered several hits both by high explosive and incendiary bombs. The latter appear to have done the most damage to hard-to-replace machine tools, most of which had been well protected by concrete walls against blast damage from any of the high-explosive bombs ordinarily used. The contemporary estimate of a production loss of one month (the equivalent of one 500-ton submarine) appears to have been optimistic. Much additional damage of unassessable value was, of course, inflicted on various other plants and installations in the dock area.61
Generally speaking, however, the bomb patterns made by pathfinder-led forces in November and December were too scattered to effect more than accidental damage to any particular industrial plant or installation of importance. The aiming point became a highly theoretical term. On only two missions did bombs fall in the assigned target area. Photo interpretation indicated that only 6 of the total of 151 combat boxes depending on radar (data from 15 October to 15 December) dropped their bombs within one mile of the aiming point; 17 dropped within two miles; 30 dropped within five miles. These figures are of course only approximate, because they do not include the large number of bombs which fell in water nor do they do justice to the incendiaries, the pattern of which is more difficult than that of high explosives to trace. At Bremen, the city most heavily attacked, no high explosives fell within two miles of the aiming point, and only five combat boxes succeeded in placing their cargo within five miles. Especially discouraging were the results at Ludwigshafen on 30 December when the I. G. Farbenindustrie plant suffered little damage. Though an inland target, it should have been easily identifiable on the radar screen because of its position on the Rhine, and the radar operators had by that time the benefit of two to three months’ experience.62
By the end of the year it was becoming clear that radar aids had not worked, and were not likely to work, miracles of accuracy. They had allowed the daylight bombers to resort during prolonged bad weather to a type of area bombing which presumably kept pressure on the enemy at a time when he might have been recuperating. That, despite the optimism raised by the beginner’s luck at Wilhelmshaven on 3 November, was all most air planners originally had expected it to do, at least for some time. By the end of the year any increase in accuracy, it was evident, would depend on the acquisition of more and better equipment manned by more and still better-trained men than had hitherto been available.63
As, with the coming of January, General Spaatz assumed the primary responsibility for the Combined Bomber Offensive, the factor of time lent additional urgency to plans for coordinated and sustained attacks against the vital centers of the German aircraft industry. But the weather continued to be a faithful Nazi collaborator, and there was nothing to do but wait and, meanwhile, maintain a constant pressure on the German war economy by radar bombing. From 4 January to 15 February the heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force flew combat missions on twenty-one days. Only six of these twenty-one missions were accomplished entirely by visual bombing methods; and of these six only two were against industrial targets in Germany. Nine of the missions flown during this six-week period were in support of the CROSSBOW operations against German long-range weapons in the Pas-de-Calais,* but they were undertaken for the most part only when more meaty objectives in the Reich were out of reach; and with one exception they were not carried out with anything like full combat strength.64
The year’s operations began on 4 January with a heavy radar-bombing mission against the port installations and ship-building plants at Kiel, with Münster as a secondary target. Some 644 heavies were dispatched, of which 555 completed their bombing. The following day the Eighth again hit Kiel, along with several other objectives scattered over a thousand-mile front. The 215 bombers that reached the target at Kiel were able to drop their bombs on visual sighting and inflict severe damage to three of the buildings of Germania Werft.65
Two days later the bombers flew to Ludwigshafen under the guidance of pathfinder aircraft. Visual attack on high-priority targets in the aircraft industries was impossible owing to cloudy weather and Ludwigshafen was considered an easily recognized bombing target. The huge chemical works of the I. G. Farbenindustrie was always an important objective – even more important than the air planners then realized. It was felt that a follow-up attack on Ludwigshafen would be in order, after the mission of 30 December.66 Like the earlier missions, that of 7 January was not without effect. The Oppau works had halted production after 30 December, and had only resumed ammonia production on 5 January. After the January attack no methanol or isobutyl oil was produced for the remainder of the month. Just as production of these items was being resumed it was again halted by another Eighth Air Force radar-bombing attack on 11 February which stopped
* See below, Chapter 4.
isobutyl oil production for two weeks and methanol production for five weeks. These attacks constituted part of a series of early efforts beginning on 23 September 1943, by both British and American forces, which substantially reduced average daily production of important chemicals.67 Taken together they came close to justifying radar bombing as a method of striking a selected industry. Yet the results were still small in proportion to the total weight of attack. For example, out of a total of 279.5 tons of high explosives dropped over Ludwigshafen on 7 January, 127 bombs, totaling 36 tons, hit the I. G. Farben plant.68
On 11 January the weather over central Germany cleared for a very brief period, but long enough to allow the Eighth to dispatch a heavy force to the high-priority targets in the German aircraft industry. A force of 663 B-17’s and B-24’s was dispatched to bomb the A.G.O. Fleugzeugwerke A.G. at Oschersleben, principal center of FW-190 production remaining after the destruction of the Marienburg plant in October 1943; the Junkers Fleugzeug u. Moterenwerke at Halberstadt, believed to be making wings for the deadly rocket-firing Ju-88’s; and three separate plants in the Brunswick area operated by Muhlenbau u. Industrie A.G. These three plants were jointly engaged in manufacture of aircraft parts and assembly of the not less deadly Me-110’s. In case the weather should close in and prevent visual bombing it was planned to bomb the city of Brunswick and surrounding industrial area by radar.69
Since any such deep penetration toward vitally important targets was likely to provoke aggressive defensive action, especially when the path led in a more or less straight line to within some ninety miles of Berlin, the bombers badly needed fighter escort. Eleven groups of P-47’s and two groups of P-38’s were allocated in such a way that each of the three bomber formations would be covered from the Dutch coast to within 50 to 70 miles of the target and on the return trip from about 100 miles from the target to the Dutch coast. Six squadrons of RAF Spitfires were detailed to furnish withdrawal escort during the last stage of the route over enemy territory. Only the first of the three formations was to have support in the target area, to be supplied by the one available group of P-51’s which alone was capable of staying any appreciable time at such distance from base.
As actually flown, this mission gave proof, if proof were needed, of the extremely complicated factors involved in such an operation; and it helps to explain why more frequent attacks were not made
against aircraft industry targets during the winter months. Although forecasters had reason to believe the target areas would allow visual sighting, weather in the base areas made take-off and assembly difficult. Moreover, the weather along the route so deteriorated that the second and third formations (composed respectively of the B-17’s of the 3rd Bombardment Division and the B-24’s of the 2nd Bombardment Division) were recalled. No signal was sent to the B-17’s of the 1st Bombardment Division, because, by the time the decision was made to recall, they were scheduled to be within fifty miles of Brunswick. The leading combat wing of the second formation was also far enough into enemy territory when the signal was received for its commander to decide to go on to the primary target. The remaining three combat wings of that formation, together with the entire third formation, bombed a number of targets of opportunity in western Germany on their way home. As things finally worked out, only 139 bombers attacked Oschersleben, only 52 bombed Halberstadt, and only 47 bombed one of the Brunswick targets, the M.I.A.G. plant at Waggum, some five miles from the city. In all, 238 of the 663 dispatched bombed their primary targets. It proved also a delicate task to place the fighter escort where it was needed at just the right moment. The P-51 group which was to provide target support rendezvoused ahead of schedule and was able to do little more than take the bombers to the target. This left a considerable stretch of time before the withdrawal support came in sight, and during that interval the German fighters did some of their most destructive work.
Possibly fearing that Berlin was the bombers’ destination the Luftwaffe reacted in force, and demonstrated that it had lost none of its ability to make a deep bomber penetration by daylight a costly enterprise. Its fighters gave the Eighth Air Force the stiffest battle it had had since that October day of 1943 when the Germans so seriously mauled a similar force attacking Regensburg and Schweinfurt. Indeed it appeared that they had in some respects improved their tactics. Never before had they been able to stay with the bomber formations for such extended periods. By using belly tanks the Germans were able to remain out of escort range, following the bomber formation until the escort was forced to return to base or until only a few escorting planes were left. Then, dropping their tanks, the enemy planes pressed home large and coordinated attacks on the relatively unprotected AAF formations. In instances where the bomber formation was as tight as was
required for mass protection against single-engine fighters, the German twin-engine fighters made use of the opportunity to lob rockets into it from a point beyond normal gun range, often with deadly effect. If on the other hand the formation became spread out enough to make rocket attack relatively harmless, its elements fell prey to mass attack by single-engine fighters.70
The first formation, three combat wings of which attacked Oschersleben while two attacked Halberstadt, bore the brunt of the fighting. The single P-51 group (the 354th) split its force of forty-nine planes into two sections in order to protect the bombers at both targets and was therefore able to provide only limited protection even though its pilots fought brilliantly, claiming fifteen enemy planes destroyed with no combat losses to themselves.71 As for the Germans, they seemed to both bomber crews and escort pilots to comprise the entire Luftwaffe. The force of 174 bombers from the lead formation that flew to Oschersleben lost 34 of their number, the great majority to enemy aircraft. Total losses that day ran to 60 bombers.72
But the fighter factories had been reached and seen and bombed; and that fact was enough to raise the spirits of the strategic bombing experts who were beginning to despair of getting to them before too late.73 Moreover, considering the size of the attacking forces, the results were encouraging. It does not, after all, require a very large force to do important damage to factory installations if its bombing is sufficiently accurate. One of the formations bombing Oschersleben was able to place 51 per cent of its bombs within 1,000 feet of the aiming point. Two of the groups bombing the Waggum plant near Brunswick got respectively 73 and 74 per cent of their bombs within that radius. Reconnaissance reported very extensive damage at both plants. At Oschersleben several buildings were hit directly and others sustained damage by either bomb bursts or fire. At Waggum almost every major installation received a direct hit.74
After 11 January the weather over Germany again closed in, making even radar bombing impracticable, and for more than two weeks this situation lasted. Either cloud conditions over Germany were such as to make formation flying at high altitudes impossible or else weather in the base areas made the launching of a mission to any objective whatever a dangerous operation. It was, however, possible for the Eighth to send three missions during that period against CROSSBOW installations on the French coast, and finally on 29 January it sent an
unprecedented force to Frankfurt am Main, “the Chicago of Germany,” where over 500 aircraft bombed the industrial area of the city by radar. The day following, another heavy force flew to Brunswick, again bombing through clouds. On 3 and 4 February maximum efforts were made in pathfinder attacks against Wilhelmshaven, Emden, and Frankfurt.75
The scale of these radar-bombing missions and their frequency was impressive. It was particularly encouraging to General Arnold, who had for months been eager to step up both the rate and scale of bombing.76 But the missions still constituted essentially an attack against industrial areas. However damaging they may have been to the total enemy economy, they were no substitute for the long-awaited campaign against the specific factories in the German aircraft industry. Between 5 February and 19 February the Eighth ran three relatively light pathfinder missions to Frankfurt and Brunswick, a couple of raids on airfields and bases in France, and several CROSSBOW missions. More frequent pathfinder operations into Germany were prevented in part by the weather, but also by a shortage of pathfinder aircraft. The Eighth was still employing essentially the same number of radar equipped planes and radar-trained crews as in the late weeks of 1943. Reinforcement was in sight, but for the time being the Eighth was having to cut its operations to fit the number of pathfinder planes and crews available.77
Meanwhile the Fifteenth Air Force was having even greater difficulty than the Eighth in accomplishing its share of the POINTBLANK offensive. On 2 November 1943, the day-old air force had made a dramatic debut by bombing the Messerschmitt airframe plants at Wiener Neustadt.* Indeed, it was the most devastating of the many attacks made by the American bombing forces against this very important aircraft manufacturing center. Production figures, which for the month of October showed a total output of 218 aircraft, fell to 80 for November and to 30 planes for December.78 Ironically, however, the Fifteenth Air Force, which owed its origins in no small part to the hope that operations from Mediterranean bases would be free of the more serious handicaps of the fall and winter weather, found its high priority strategic targets in southern Germany and Austria almost constantly shielded by cloud. Weather in the base area, which that fall was bad enough, was more than matched by the weather in the target
* See Vol. II, 582-83.
Area, and such were the shortages of equipment and trained personnel that a serious radar-bombing program for the Fifteenth could not be developed until the spring of 1944.79 After the Wiener Neustadt mission of 2 November 1943, the energies of the new air force were almost exclusively absorbed for the remainder of the year by the forward move from African bases to Foggia and by attacks on targets of primary concern to the Italian ground campaign.
The demands of that campaign in January became even heavier. Preparatory air attacks for the Anzio landing began on 2 January, and the landing itself took place on the 22nd.* On thirty-five of the days between 1 January and 21 February the Fifteenth sent out missions ranging in size from 50 to 325 bombers, but only four of these missions could be said to have struck targets related to the strategic bombing program. Except for a few relatively light attacks on industrial targets, including the ball-bearing plant at Villa Perosa and aircraft production and installations at Maribor and Klagenfurt, most of the effort was expended in support directly or indirectly of the Anzio beachhead.80 Some of this effort, by the bombing of airfields and air service installations in Italy and even southern Germany, contributed to the ultimate defeat of the Luftwaffe, which was the immediate objective of POINTBLANK, but such attrition could not be considered a substitute for an all-out attack on the sources of GAF strength.
The February Directive
As the weeks of January and early February passed without a favorable break in the weather over central Europe, AAF commanders experienced a growing impatience, for time was running out. But they awaited the final test with confidence. Indeed, General Spaatz still privately regarded POINTBLANK not merely as a prerequisite to OVERLORD but as a perfectly feasible alternative to it, and regretted the decision of the Combined Chiefs to risk a huge invasion when there existed a possibility of eventually bombing Germany out of the war.81 RAF Bomber Command for some time had been operating at effective strength, and both the Eighth and the Fifteenth Air Forces were rapidly, if somewhat belatedly, reaching the strength envisioned by the CBO planners.†82 Equally significant for AAF forces was the fact that
* See below, pp. 336 ff.
† As of 19 February the Eighth Air Force had 191 groups of operational B-17’s, 812 groups of B-24’s, 8 groups of P-47’s, 2 of P-38’s, and 2 of P-51’s. The Fifteenth had 8 groups of B-24’s, 4 of B-17’s, 3 of P-38’s, and 1 of P-47’s.
most of the experimentation in the tactics and techniques of daylight strategic bombing already had been accomplished, though there would be a continuing need for experimental effort in adapting the lessons of experience to the constantly changing circumstances of the air war.
The early weeks of 1944 brought also agreement between the Allied staffs as to CBO objectives and procedures that had been under debate since the preceding fall. At that time AAF leaders, prompted by a sense of the short time remaining before OVERLORD and by the growing challenge of the GAF, had sought revision of the basic CBO Plan to bring it more closely into accord with the realities of the current situation and had argued for the need of a new directive that would effect a closer coordination of the RAF and AAF bombing efforts.* The debate, extending through most of the winter, reveals a sharper difference between the British and the Americans over procedures than over the question of general objectives.
The British agreed that for the time being the CBO must be directed chiefly toward destruction of the Luftwaffe, but they maintained that adequate machinery already existed for revising the list of target priorities as the strategic or tactical situations might require. Similarly, machinery for coordinating day and night attacks existed in the Air Ministry. Detailed coordination, it was claimed, could rarely be achieved because of the variability of weather conditions and the lengthy preparations needed before large bomber forces could be launched on an operation. Target priority lists were kept under constant review, and the targets assigned to U.S. and British forces were those “most suitable to their tactical ability and geographical location.”83 Despite these protestations that both Allied forces were being used as fully as weather and the tactical situation would allow against the proper targets, American planners continued to express skepticism. In a CCS meeting of 21 January 1944, for example, General Marshall countered the British argument with evidence that only 20 per cent of the Allied bomb tonnage had been expended on the vitally important German fighter targets.84
The debate ended on 13 February 1944 in the issuance of a new directive,85 which defined the CBO objective as follows:
The progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic systems, the disruption of vital elements of lines of communication and the material reduction of German air combat strength, by the successful prosecution of the combined bomber offensive from all convenient bases.
* See Vol. II, 721-28.
German single and twin-fighter airframe and component production was bracketed with the Axis-controlled ball-bearing production in first priority. Second priority went to installations supporting the German fighter force. Other targets, listed in the order of their priority, were (1) CROSSBOW targets, which were to be attacked by all means available over and above those required for operations of top priority against the GAF; (2) Berlin and other industrial areas, to be attacked by RAF Bomber Command and USSTAF (the latter using blind-bombing devices when necessary) whenever weather or tactical conditions proved suitable for such activities but not for operations against the primary objective; and (3) targets in southeast Europe cities, transportation, and other suitable objectives in the Balkans and in satellite countries – to be attacked by the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces whenever weather or tactical conditions prevented operations against POINTBLANK objectives or in support of land operations in Italy. “Mutually supporting attacks” by the strategic air forces of both nations “pursued with relentless determination against the same target areas or systems, so far as tactical conditions allow” was the stated concept that should guide the combined operations. Over-all control of CBO operations remained in the hands of the chief of air staff, RAF, as agent for the CCS; and USSTAF would continue to coordinate the operations of the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces. The commander of the AEAF was ordered to devote as much of his tactical air force strength as could be spared from necessary preparations for OVERLORD to the execution of this directive.
One would hardly be justified in regarding the new directive as an unqualified victory for the American point of view. There was reason now to believe that a larger share of the RAF’s night bombing effort would be devoted to the small industrial centers intimately connected with the aircraft and ball-bearing industries, even at the risk of greater loss to enemy fighters and at the expense of the RAF’s program of bombing the large city areas.86 Little if any real change had been made in the machinery of coordination, however, and while the RAF had conceded a heavier claim against its resources for attacks on the GAF, the AAF would know some concern over the fact that CROSSBOW operations had been given so high a priority. During January and February thirteen out of twenty-nine missions undertaken by the Eighth Air Force were flown in support of CROSSBOW, and thereafter the proportion would increase.87
Claims for support of the land campaign in Italy also continued to be a subject of concern to AAF leaders. At the establishment of USSTAF in January it had been stipulated that, though POINTBLANK retained first priority for all heavy bomber operations, the theater commanders at their own discretion could use the heavies. within their respective theaters to meet a strategic or tactical emergency, provided they kept the commanding general of USSTAF informed as to their action.88 Up to the close of February this problem of “diversion” had been handled in Italy by personal arrangements between Eaker and Gen. Sir Henry M. Wilson,89 with the result that the Fifteenth Air Force devoted much of its effort to assistance of the ground campaign and yet was available for use by USSTAF in coordinated attacks on the GAF when a favorable stretch of weather finally came during the third week in February.* But on 27 February the Combined Chiefs directed that until further notice the campaign in Italy† must have priority over all operations and first call on all Allied resources in the Mediterranean – land, sea, and air.90 Arnold and Spaatz were alarmed lest this result in a permanent diversion of heavy bomber strength in support of what they felt had become a deadlocked campaign until they received assurance that Wilson would use his new prerogative only for the duration of the current emergency.91
* See below, pp. 358-60.
† Developments there are discussed below, pp. 346-61.