Chapter 18: Autumn Assault on Germany
IF THE period extending from early September 1944 to the end of Ithat year had brought disappointment not untouched by tragedy to the cause of the western Allies, these months also witnessed notable progress. The valuable port of Antwerp fell into Allied hands and Aachen, in the Reich itself, was taken. Hitler’s seizure of the initiative as he sent his forces plunging through the Ardennes in December brought dismay to the Allied world and set back the timetable for projected operations by at least six weeks1 but this desperate gamble would end with the Allies having managed to drain the reserves of genuine vitality from what remained of Hitler’s western forces. And finally, the strategic air forces during the last quarter of 1944 achieved their long-sought objective of undermining the sources of Germany’s war power. In the grim aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge not even the air commanders themselves realized how much they had accomplished, but it soon would be apparent that their strategic offensives had been much more successful than in January 1945 they seemed to have been. The bottom was about to drop out of Germany’s war effort. That air commanders, at the very moment of their triumph, shared the general disillusionment is easily explained, for in common with other Allied leaders they had known high hopes for a victory in 1944. During the summer rush across France, the Allies had dared to hope that Germany might dissolve as a fighting power by the beginning of autumn. When that expectation failed to materialize, they tried to get their armies across the lower Rhine in late September. That operation failing, they undertook to defeat the German armies west of the Rhine and to penetrate the Ruhr basin. Plans were then drafted to secure Germany’s
surrender in advance of January 1945 by joining renewed pressure on the ground with unprecedented air attacks, and when that prospect faded, the Allied command early in December made ready for a push to the Rhine only to have Hitler steal the initiative in the Ardennes. Air force leaders do not seem to have been among those who recorded prophesies that later appeared too sanguine2 but they undoubtedly had shared the general optimism of late summer.
As the effort to cross the Rhine in September ended in a failure that meant the loss of any real chance to end the war before the Germans rallied from their disasters of the summer, AAF opinion in general held that the gamble had been worth while. The failure of the operation was attributed to excessive optimism regarding German weakness and to a lack of balance in the ground forces which tried to rescue and bolster the stranded airborne units.3 Arnold, late in September, frankly confided to Spaatz his disappointment that the ground campaigns in western Europe had not gone ahead more rapidly. Spaatz replied with an explanation that becomes all the more significant because of postwar controversies over the strategy pursued.4
Of that strategy Spaatz had no general criticism. He thought that the armies had been too slow in forcing their way out of the Normandy bridgehead, and the heartening advance across France later in the summer he attributed mainly to Patton’s aggressive tactics. Patton had been stopped, however, not by the enemy or because of misdirection on the part of SHAEF but simply because his lines of supply could not support further advances. Strenuous efforts by B-24’s to remedy the supply emergency had been only moderately successful because of a shortage of necessary airfields, but this drain on the strategic air effort Spaatz regarded as entirely justified, even if some of his subordinates begrudged it.5 The French railway system had been too badly shattered by Allied bombing to be of much assistance,* and Cherbourg was the only major western port of entry that could be used at the time. Thus it was apparent to Spaatz, as it was to Doolittle,6 that the ground forces had no choice but to halt in order to consolidate their logistical position. Now, in early October, Spaatz felt that another massive breakthrough might yet bring the Allies to the Rhine within a short time. “If that proves sticky as a barrier,” he concluded with a note of caution that proved to be only too soundly based, “it may still be possible to beat up the insides of Germany enough by air action to cause her to collapse
* For Spaatz’s prediction of this result in the preceding spring, see above, p. 78.
next spring, particularly if the Russians continue pressure against the eastern area.”
Proposals for Special Air Action
In General Spaatz’s mind, “beating up the insides of Germany” meant no more than the intensification of a well-conceived program of strategic bombardment, but there was no shortage of proposals from other sources for special employment of the overwhelming air power at the disposal of the Allied command. Some of the proposals were British in origin and some were American, and some of them tended to become an issue between the AAF and the RAF. Especially was this true of proposals to bomb Germany so terrifyingly that it would sue for peace, somewhat as the Japanese were to do after the atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is not surprising that proposals for all-out attacks on Berlin, the Ruhr, or other critical areas of Germany always seemed to come from the British, who had undergone the German air raids of 1940–41 and were now enduring the punishment of V-1’s and V-2’s. All proposals frankly aimed at breaking the morale of the German people met the consistent opposition of General Spaatz, who repeatedly raised the moral issue involved, and AAF Headquarters in Washington strongly supported him on the ground that such operations were contrary to air force policy and national ideals. On more than one occasion Eisenhower backed Spaatz’s insistence that his own forces be sent only against what he considered legitimate military targets. At times, SHAEF yielded to other pressures.
The first serious question arose from a project, appropriately called HELLHOUND, to wipe out Hitler’s sanctuary at Berchtesgaden. In June 1944 the AAF had succeeded in sidetracking this plan on the ground that it would prove too costly and would probably increase rather than diminish German support of the Führer, who would surely survive it.7 At about the same time, AAF circles experienced relief over the abandonment of a proposed joint mission against Berlin,* but on 5 July SHAEF approved a project suggested by the British chiefs of staff to break German civilian morale through epochal bombardments. While USSTAF drafted its part of the plan, Spaatz secured directly from Eisenhower an indorsement of the AAF policy that the Americans should not be deflected from precision bombing.8 A month
* See above, pp. 284-85.
later SHAEF again issued instructions to prepare a plan to wipe out as much of Berlin as was possible in a huge AAF-RAF mission. Operation THUNDERCLAP, as it was called, brought strong objections from Spaatz and Maj. Gen. Laurence S. Kuter, General Arnold’s chief planning officer, and Spaatz again took the matter to Eisenhower. Nevertheless, orders came down on 9 September 1944 to have the Eighth Air Force prepared at a moment’s notice to carry out THUNDERCLAP as an area bombardment. Doolittle and Harris planned the operation as a joint daylight assault to be conducted by all available American and British heavy bombers. The uneasy moment passed. Harris was not able after all to send his bombers on the mission because it became clear that fighter escorts, absorbed in the Battle of France, would not be available in sufficient number.9 Also, the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF denounced THUNDERCLAP as terroristic, and in a JCS meeting both Arnold and Adm. William D. Leahy expressed opposition to morale bombing in general.10
Perhaps, Arnold seems to have reasoned at this juncture, there were other ways to impress the German people vividly with the might of the Allied air forces and without the risks entailed in morale bombing. In mid-September, he proposed that every available British and American airplane be used on some clear day to swarm all over the Reich, attacking military objectives in towns that had hitherto been unmolested by the air forces.11 This type of operation, he felt, would afford the enemy population an opportunity to witness at firsthand the might of the Allies and to reflect on their own helplessness. But clear days that opened up the entire expanse of Germany to such a venture were rarities, especially during the autumn, and not until February 1945 was this plan, by then called CLARION, given a try.*
The British counterproposal to General Arnold’s scheme was to concentrate the power of all the Allied air forces, strategic and tactical, over the Ruhr in accordance with a plan coded HURRICANE I. While this project had much in common with Arnold’s proposal, there were some aspects of it that the Americans feared. RAF Bomber Command was going to burn out what remained of several key German cities in the Ruhr while the Americans would fly in from Italy, England, and France to smash objectives they regarded as legitimate in two days of furious operations. The project was scheduled to begin on 15 October 1944. As the hour approached, however, the Fifteenth Air
* See below, pp. 732-35.
Force, which could scarcely reach the Ruhr even under the most favorable conditions, had to call off its mission because of the weather, and at the last minute the RAF concluded that conditions were too unpropitious and scrubbed its mission too. With evident relief, so did the Eighth Air Force.12
With HURRICANE canceled and the ground effort reduced after the failure of MARKET, it became possible during October 1944 for the Eighth Air Force to devote almost all of its energies to strategic operations. The Fifteenth Air Force was called upon on 12 October to help prepare the way for a push to Bologna, and thereafter it continued to operate against railroads, bridges, and airfields in the Balkans. Churchill had spoken hopefully at the recent Quebec conference of running the Germans out of Italy and driving for Vienna,13 but General Ealter had been a better prophet in predicting no such impressive results.14 And as the Italian and Balkan campaigns came to a stalemate during the fall,* the Fifteenth Air Force also found itself free to devote most of its effort to the strategic offensive against Germany, which it did with great skill and heartening success.
After the strategic air forces reverted to CCS direction in September 1944,† directives governing the operations of USSTAF and RAF Bomber Command were drafted by Spaatz and Air Marshal N. H. Bottomley, delegates for Arnold and Portal, respectively. Their first directive, dated 23 September 1944, had named oil as first priority and had placed ordnance depots, armored fighting-vehicle assembly plants, and motor-vehicle assembly plants in a composite second priority. German transportation was listed as a special priority which might rise or fall as conditions dictated. The GAF was to be policed when necessary, or to be more precise, whenever its supporting establishments could be located.15 The directive reflected the widespread hope in Allied circles that the enemy could be prevented from refitting his armored units withdrawn from France. But it spoke even more noticeably of General Spaatz’s persistent belief that oil should stand first on the list, a position it was destined to hold throughout the fall.
Pursuit of the Oil Campaign
Whether other target systems could be neutralized or not, and whether the land forces moved slowly or rapidly, AAF leaders were
* See above, p. 454.
† See above, pp. 319-22.
confident that Germany could be immobilized as a fighting power if she lost beyond recovery her ability to obtain fuel and lubricants. In this belief, the strategic air forces had pounded away at synthetic petroleum plants and crude-oil refineries throughout Axis Europe all during the summer,* and by September it was believed with good reason that the enemy’s oil situation was nothing less than desperate. The destruction and then the occupation of the Ploesti fields had cost him approximately one-fourth of his supply. For a brief period in September 1944 it seems that no German oil installations of any type were operating, and by the end of the month the evidence indicated that of the ninety-one still in German hands only three were in full production and twenty-eight in partial production.16 The Germans secured for that month less than 300,000 tons of oil from all sources, about 23 per cent of their monthly supply before the concentrated air attacks had begun.17 Their expenditures of fuel during the summer campaigns, of course, had been enormous and their supplies were down to minute proportions. The high command, in fact, had abandoned hope that it could maintain adequate gasoline and lubricants for its air forces and field armies.18
The Allies knew, however, they would have to struggle to keep their oil victory from slipping away, for they were by now aware of the farreaching program of the Speer ministry and Edmund Geilenberg to restore a minimum oil production. With 350,000 laborers devoted to this purpose, the Nazis were able to reconstruct their bombed plants and refineries at a much faster rate than Allied air commanders had considered possible. The Germans were also dispersing their entire synthetic oil industry in such a way that bombers would not be able to locate the targets, as already had happened to a large extent in the case of the aircraft industry. The enemy was displaying his usual skill in the use of smoke and camouflage, and was concentrating heavy flak guns around the chief oil installations in numbers that probably would have made Berlin’s inhabitants resentful had they known of it. Speer, moreover, could count on the approaching bad weather of the autumn and winter months to keep the bombers away, and only a few weeks of immunity might allow German oil production to rise to as much as 60 per cent of normal.19
During the last half of September, accordingly, the Eighth Air Force utilized its rare days of freedom from commitments to help the land
* See above, pp. 280 ff.
forces by bombing oil targets. In three different attacks almost 600 tons were aimed at the I. G. Farben oil-chemical complex at Ludwigshafen and more than 1,000 tons at refineries in the Bremen area. Also, the synthetic petroleum plants at Merseburg-Leuna and Magdeburg received 1,000 tons in two missions and Lützkendorf got 188 tons. The RAF continued to operate chiefly against cities in the Ruhr basin in which stood installations that produced benzol, an oil substitute made from the by-products of coke ovens. The Fifteenth Air Force sent bomber fleets of from 100 to 150 aircraft which dropped 287 tons on Blechhammer North, 272 tons on Odertal, 235 tons on Oswiecim, and 253 tons on Budapest.20 Since all of these plants had been attacked before, and since smoke and cloud conditions made assessment difficult, it was not always possible to determine how effective any one mission had been. For the most part, however, it was evident that fresh damage to buildings and machinery had resulted.21
In October the campaign went ahead with as much force as operating conditions permitted. The Eighth Air Force was able to carry out no more than four extensive oil missions. The best flying day was 7 October, when more than 550 heavy bombers attacked Pölitz, Ruhland, Böhlen, Lützkendorf, Merseburg-Leuna, and Magdeburg. Except for Pölitz, which evidently was put out of operation for about three weeks, the results of this mission from the standpoint of bombing were only moderately good. The supervising oil committee of the Combined Strategic Targets Committee deduced soon after this attack that bombs would have to be placed more concentratedly on the plants in order to achieve worth-while damage.22 A raid of 11 October on Wesseling by fifty-seven Fortresses produced significant damage. On the 15 th, a synthetic plant at Düsseldorf was bombed with 160 tons but destruction was not serious; severe hits were achieved at Monheim on that day, however, by sixty-four Liberators.23
On 25 October blind-bombing missions led by pathfinder airplanes brought 800 tons on each of two crude-oil refineries in Hamburg. The same targets received almost 200 tons each, again in blind attacks, on 30 October, when Buer-Scholven got 246 tons. RAF Bomber Command continued its campaign during October against ten Ruhr cities which contained benzol plants. These massive night attacks were generally effective, although benzol production was not cut off for a few more weeks. The Fifteenth Air Force had a good month. It hit the synthetic plant at Brüx, which had been rated as out of production for four months24 and it unloaded large tonnages
on Blechhammer South on 13 and 17 October. Blechhammer North was bombed effectively on 14 October, as was Odertal. And three major centers in Austria were attacked on the 7th, 13th, and 16th. In all, the three strategic air forces directed 12,592 tons of bombs at oil targets during October 1944, just under 10 per cent of their total effort.25
The oil experts in the Combined Strategic Targets Committee estimated that German production had risen seven points during October, or to 30 per cent of the preattack level,26 but it appeared that only two of the twenty-four known synthetic plants had been in operation during the month. It was concluded, therefore, that Germany was drawing her petroleum supplies mainly from benzol plants and from what remained of her crude-oil refineries. Although the danger that the Allied campaign against oil might fall seriously behind in October because of bad weather had not materialized, there were several recognizable flaws in the offensive which had to be removed. Heavy bombers were not proving effective in attacks on tiny storage facilities; hence the task would have to be turned over to mediums and fighter-bombers.27 The benzol plants were very difficult to hit because they were small and hidden away in complex urban centers that ran together when viewed from the air or on radar screens.28 Daylight attacks were going to be necessary to supplement the RAF’s night missions, and AAF blind bombing had not achieved the accuracy hoped for. A visual attack with 250 tons was usually more profitable than a radar mission involving 1,000 tons.29 More practice, more equipment, and new techniques were required. Also, reconnaissance could not keep up with the bombing missions; the weather, camouflage, artificial smoke, and the inadequacy of reconnaissance forces made timely assessment impossible, and reconnaissance aircraft often failed to return, probably because jets picked them off. Already in mid-October, it had become a settled policy to attack and reattack regardless of reconnaissance data.30 Finally, the Allies realized they still had much to learn about the size and type of bombs which would produce maximum damage. As General Eaker pointed out, much opinion but little factual knowledge was available to help out in arriving at the correct mixtures.31 A study of the Ploesti refineries had indicated that small bombs were probably best, but postwar surveys concluded that larger bombs and a higher percentage of incendiaries should have been used.* And a melancholy
* See below, p. 795.
situation not fully understood until after the war was that American bombing accuracy was even lower than USSTAF realized.32
November 1944 was the prime month of the war for the offensive against German oil production, with a total of 37,096 tons being dropped by the three strategic air forces.33 The Eighth, sometimes operating in weather that would have been regarded as unflyable a year earlier, carried out large missions on thirteen days against enemy oil targets. Gelsenkirchen caught nearly 700 tons on 1 November. Merseburg-Leuna received 1,400 tons on the 2nd, 477 on the 8th, 475 on the 21st ,1,390 on the 25th, and 1,015 on the 30th. Castrop and Sterkrade got more than 700 tons together on 2 November, and Sterltrade suffered again on the 6th when Liberators dropped 434 tons. New damage was inflicted on 4 November at Hannover, Hamburg, Harburg, Bottrop, and Gelsenkirchen, but the law of averages worked on the next day to make the mission against Ludwigshafen largely a failure. Two plants at Hamburg were bombed again on the 6th, as was a benzol plant at Duisburg. On the 11th Gelsenkirchen caught 236 tons and Bottrop, which recently had been plastered by the RAF, was put entirely out of action when Liberators dropped 344 tons. Hamburg-Rhenania received 476 tons on 21 November, and fair results were achieved at Gelsenkirchen on the 23rd. Misburg sustained fresh moderate damage when Fortresses dropped 710 tons and Liberators at-tacked with 152 tons on 26 November.34 A tremendous assault on 29 November by nearly 400 Fortresses dropping 1,152 tons completed the wreckage at this plant. The 30th of November was a good day for the Eighth, which dropped 166 tons on Böhlen, 320 on Zeitz, 419 on Lützkendorf, and the afore-mentioned 1,015 tons on Merseburg-Leuna.
The Fifteenth Air Force initiated its November oil bombings with one of the greatest efforts it had yet carried out: 1,100 tons dropped by 500 bombers on the large crude-oil refinery at Floridsdorf on the 5th and on the next day 403 tons on Moosbierbaum, both of these producers in the Vienna area. Because of forbidding flying conditions over the Alps no significant missions in the oil campaign proved possible again until 17 November, when Blechhammer South received 199 tons and Floridsdorf got 402. Then, Floridsdorf and Korneuberg caught 510 tons on the 18th. Vienna-Löbau received fresh new damage when 214 tons struck it on the 19th, and the benzol plant at Linz was a target of 104 tons that day. The last oil mission of the month, a combined visual and blind attack on 20 November, brought 314 tons down on Blechhammer
South, where the Germans were making energetic efforts at reconstruction.35
Early in November a USSTAF general had hinted to Air Marshal Bottomley that the RAF was not carrying its share of the oil offensive, even though it had enjoyed more clear nights for such missions than the Eighth Air Force had clear days.36 Before the month was out, however, Bomber Command was exceeding the American air forces in the tonnage dropped on oil targets. Gigantic night missions and occasional daylight attacks by this force brought ruin to the synthetic oil plants and benzol works of the Ruhr. Nordsteni, Scholven, Wesseling, Homberg, Wanne Eickel, Sterkrade, Castrop, Kamen, Bottrop, and Dortmund were the chief sufferers, and by the last of November all of the RAF’s synthetic oil targets were suspended because they were no longer operating.37 Whereupon Air Chief Marshal Portal demanded that the British share the losses the Eighth had been taking by assuming responsibility for two of the largest and most distant targets, Pölitz and Merseburg-Leuna.38
The crippling of Germany’s warning system in the west as a result of the Allied victory in France and the increased efficiency of blind-bombing techniques made such RAF missions possible, and they proved generally successful. Indeed, Speer subsequently reported to Hitler that the night attacks were more effective than the daylight missions, because heavier bombs were used and greater accuracy had been attained.39 On the average British operation against oil targets during the autumn, 660 tons fell as compared with 388 tons for a USSTAF mission.40
Germany’s oil production for November was estimated at 31 per cent of the monthly average in the preceding spring, with most of the supply coming from the benzol plants, which had not been regarded as worth attacking until the autumn.41 Pölitz and Merseburg-Leuna were listed as heavily damaged but in partial operation. All of the synthetic plants in western Germany, however, were reported out of action and the crude refineries around Hamburg, Bremen, and Vienna as functioning only on a small scale. In fact, the evidence indicated that only one sizable crude-oil refinery was operating anywhere in Germans.42
Since the beginning of the oil offensive the Eighth Air Force had dropped 45,000 tons, the Fifteenth Air Force 27,000 tons, and Bomber Command 22,000 tons on oil-producing targets, and the campaign had been more effective in terms of destruction than most Allied experts had ever dared to hope.43 It was clear that Speer’s ambition to
restore German production by two-thirds during the winter of 1944–45 was hopelessly behind schedule. Yet the Allies were aware that German reconstruction often surpassed their own rate of destruction. It took several missions in most cases to wreck a German plant, and it could be restored to operation in from four to six weeks.44 Before the bombers could ruin it again, the Germans would be able to squeeze out a few thousand tons of petroleum supplies.
During the first two weeks of December, however, the Eighth Air Force was either weathered in or forced to devote its major effort to preparation for the projected land offensives scheduled for the second half of the month. It was able to carry out two major oil missions, dropping 1,075 tons at Merseburg-Leuna on 6 December and on the 12th nearly another 1,000 tons upon that extremely important if stubborn target. But the German ground offensive launched four days later put the Eighth completely out of the oil campaign until the very last day of the month. Fortunately, the Fifteenth Air Force, which had sent approximately 450 heavy bombers against Blechhammer North, Blechhammer South, Odertal, and Floridsdorf on 2 December and had bombed the synthetic plant at Moosbierbaum on the 11th, Blechhammer South again on the12th, and Brüx and Linz on the 16th, was able to continue a sustained effort against its own oil targets.* Fortunately, too, the German oil position already had been rendered desperate enough to allow the Allies to break the full stride of their campaign without paying too high a price. The enemy’s Ardennes offensive had been made possible only by garnering every drop of fuel he could find over a period of weeks, and even then his supply was no more than equal to the demands of five days of continuously heavy operations.45 His last great gamble, in other words, depended for its ultimate success upon the capture of Allied stores.
Ordnance and Motor Vehicles
From August to November 1944 the strategic air forces waged a rather inconclusive offensive against German ordnance depots, tank assembly plants, and motor vehicle factories in the hope that the German armies could be denied heavy equipment as they reorganized behind the Siegfried Line. It would clearly be impossible to keep the enemy from obtaining guns and ammunition, since the German armament industry was both huge and efficient, but a systematic bombardment
* See below, p. 670.
of key factories and depots might deprive him of such critically important items as tanks, self-propelled guns, and trucks. Heretofore German manufacture of these items had suffered only haphazardly from RAF area bombings and perhaps to some degree from the ball-bearing campaign of the AAF. An order in August from General Spaatz to the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces calling for the bombing whenever possible of twelve ordnance depots, eight tank assembly plants, and seven truck works gave notice of a new interest, and under the directive of 23 September this target system rose to second priority.46
Since the beginning of the European war the German army had made extensive and successful use of armored vehicles. After the debacle at Stalingrad the industry which produced the “panzer” types – tanks, tank destroyers, and self-propelled guns – underwent a tremendous expansion. It turned out almost 9,000 units during the first half of 1944 and showed promise of attaining a rate of 2,500 per month by December 1944.47 To Allied air commanders the surest way of frustrating the purpose behind this effort was to deprive the enemy of fuel and lubricants, but USSTAF also determined to obstruct the assembly of panzers by attacking with enormous tonnages eight key plants: Henschel und Sohn at Kassel, Maschinenfabrik at St. Valentin in Austria, Krupp Grusonwerke at Magdeburg, Daimler-Benz and Alkett in the vicinity of Berlin, and three assault-gun works in Brunswick and Berlin. In the automobile and truck industry of Germany, which had been widely scattered even in peacetime, USSTAF decided to attack seven plants which produced medium and heavy trucks: Ford at Cologne, Saurer at Vienna, Daimler-Benz at Gaggenau, Bussing at Brunswick, Borgward at Bremen, Adam Opel near Berlin, and Daimler-Benz at Mannheim. As for the ordnance industry, there were hundreds of small plants all over the Reich. But the largest depots were thought to offer attractive targets, such as those at Ulm, Hannover, Vienna, Berlin, Magdeburg, Kassel, Ingolstadt, Munich, Breslau, Bielefeld, and still others if the campaign went well.48 At this stage, as later, Allied intelligence could offer only an uncertain and sometimes contradictory picture of the new target system.49 Yet hopes were fairly high that significant results would be obtained.
It was difficult to fit the campaign into the rare good bombing days at a time when tactical commitments were heavy and the oil offensive
held first priority. In August the Eighth Air Force was able to attack only four targets of this type: the Adam Opel works near Berlin on the 6th, where highly encouraging structural damage was wrought, Mannheim on the 14th, and Brunswick and Hannover on the 24th. More attacks were possible in September, when 4,406 tons fell on tank assembly plants alone50 and it seemed as though the offensive might be a striking success.51 The Eighth bombed Berlin and Brunswick again, and the Fifteenth hit St. Valentin. Tank engine production seemed in a very bad way after RAF missions against Berlin and Friedrichshafen. Various tank component works at Berlin, Kiel, Ulni, Brüx, Linz, Düsseldorf, and Brunswick showed evidence of notable damage. The great Henschel complex at Kassel suffered very heavy destruction from Eighth Air Force bombings of 22, 27, and 28 September, all of which were blind missions involving more than 600 bombers and 1,600 tons,52 and Daimler-Benz at Gaggenau had to stop production after two precision raids.53 By the end of September the Eighth Air Force apparently had inflicted notable damage, the Fifteenth was just beginning to participate heavily, and Bomber Command was busily burning out cities in which targets of this system were located. At USSTAF headquarters the hope prevailed that a concentrated assault on ordnance depots might finish off the campaign and prevent the Germans from re-equipping their forces.54
Consequently, the effort was stepped up in October. Eleven major strategic air force missions brought 2,165 tons on ordnance depots, 3,931 tons on tank plants, and 3,548 tons on truck works.55 In two attacks of 2 and 7 October the Eighth Air Force finished off Kassel, a success so signal that Albert Speer later praised it;56 but, unfortunately, this was about the only one worthy of his memory or anyone else’s. The Eighth produced what seemed to be good damage to plants and depots around Berlin on 6 October, and after several missions had aborted, the Ford works at Cologne caught 232 tons on 18 October. Nürnberg, Gaggenau, Mannheim, Brunswick, Hannover, and Bielefeld all received large tonnages during the month. Even the Schweinfurt ball-bearing works was included on 9 October, when 329 Fortresses dropped 820 tons, the largest amount yet to fall on that sturdy target, but, as had happened before, enormous structural damage did not interfere seriously with production.57
The Fifteenth Air Force bombed St. Valentin and Steyr on 16 October, and the Skoda works at Pilsen on the 23rd. Small forces of this organization also attacked the
sprawling ordnance depot in Vienna four times and damaged factories at Graz, Linz, and Milan during the month.
It seemed clear by the end of October that the offensive was not affecting decisively the re-equipment of the German armies, a conclusion that recieved ample support from evidence available after the war. The fact was that these air attacks had not blocked production seriously, even though they had often destroyed or damaged buildings in the target area. The German output of tanks actually rose in Deceniber to a total of 1,958. Speer had planned, it is true, on a production of 2,500, but the discrepancy is attributable more to transportation difficulties than to direct bombings. Except for Kassel, tank plants bombed were soon repaired.58 The 5,600 tons dropped on ordnance depots did not hamper the Germans to any serious degree, although loss of stocks from time to time magnified local problems.59 As for motor vehicle production, it began to decline in August, more because of transportation troubles than because of the bombings just then beginning.60 Even so, German leaders on their surrender a few months later were not unflattering in their estimate of this part of the Allied air offensive, and there is some reason to believe that the attack, if begun sooner and executed on a fuller scale, might have produced the results expected of it.61
The virtual abandonment of the effort after October is only partly explained by the declining faith in its effectiveness. During that month, General Marshall on a visit to the European theater had taken the initiative in formulating plans to bring about the defeat of Germany by 1 January 1945.62 The chief of staff in discussions with air leaders made it clear that he was not satisfied that full pressure had been put in the right places, and he suggested that long-range objectives of strategic bombardment be abandoned for an all-out effort to force an early victory.63
And if the German army was to be forced into surrender within two months, it mattered little how many tanks might be produced for its equipment during the interim. Tanks, trucks, and ordnance depots received little attention in November and were the object of U.S. attack only once in December and once in January.
As top headquarters in Versailles, London, and Washington gave thought to a reshaping of the general effort, several points of view had to be reconciled. Eisenhower continued to plan on concentrating
his forces against the Ruhr and on a drive from there deep into Germany, but the question of how best the strategic air forces might contribute to the attainment of this objective became a subject of debate. The British Air Ministry inclined toward wrecking the vast railway and water transportation system of western Germany, as did Eisenhower’s deputy, Air Chief Marshal Tedder, who had always been a railway advocate.* General Spaatz, on the other hand, repeatedly insisted that the oil campaign remain in first priority, for it was manifestly successful and it would be risky to give it up. Aside from this, he was willing to place his bombers at Eisenhower’s disposal for anything that might prove decisive.64 In Washington, Arnold’s advisers developed little enthusiasm for the transportation plan and recommended instead that all forces be placed under Eisenhower for an epic airground dash to Berlin, with many of the heavy bombers serving as troop and supply carriers.65
The debate found its focus in the question of whether to undertake in Germany another transportation program. The railway network of the Reich proper had received a heavy weight of Allied bombs long before Eisenhower’s armies had reached its borders. But the bombings had been sporadic and unsystematic, usually the incidental results of spillage from other targets or attacks made as a last resort. The hesitation of the Allies to make this transportation system a major target is readily understandable, for the German complex was possibly the finest in the world – modern, a model of efficiency, and with more than four times the track mileage for the area than the average in the United States.66 furthermore, the Germans had an abundance of rolling stock, rails, and locomotives which amounted to a comfortable excess, The wear and tear on their system during several years of war had been more than offset by the plunder of conquered neighbors, and in the autumn of 1944 Germany’s transportation establishment was still functioning exceedingly well.
In planning a systematic assault the Allied air forces could draw upon a wide experience in Italy, France, and Belgium. It had been demonstrated that an enemy’s transportation system could be wrecked through bombardment campaigns both of the attrition type, which meant destroying rail centers and repair facilities, and of the interdiction type, which involved line-cutting and bridge-breaking. This experience, however, did not lend itself to undisputed interpretation,
* See above, p. 77.
since in all three cases there remained considerable disagreement as to whether attrition or interdiction had been decisive. The only conclusion on which everybody, including the Germans, agreed was that air power had magnified the transportation problem to the point of disaster for the defense, and it remained to determine how such a result could best be produced in the Reich proper. Though following no clear-cut plan, the air forces had begun attacks on marshalling yards in Germany as the Allied land forces moved toward its borders in the late summer of 1944. In particular, those marshalling yards which supported the retreating German armies, such as Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Mainz, and Frankfurt, had received heavy tonnages. Subsequently, as the Allies were attempting to cross the lower Rhine at Arnhem in September, they bombed repeatedly some twenty-five German rail centers and sent fighter-bombers to cut railway lines in five hundred places. Yet the military results seemed inconsequential for all the effort that had been expended. The Germans effected quick repairs on their through lines, and their retreat did not become a rout.67
With the coming of October 1944, the air forces had intensified their efforts against Germany’s railways and waterways, but still with no grand plan. The strategic air forces during the month dropped 19,000 tons on marshalling yards, damaging very severely those at Cologne, Münster, Mainz, Saarbrücken, Munich, Vienna, and Essen.68 The tactical air forces, now based in eastern France and Belgium, cut lines in the Reich at 1,300 points and destroyed a thousand locomotives. RAF Romber Command undertook to break the canal embankments along Germany’s highly important waterways; it was to prove a long and discouraging campaign, though eventually a successful one, for the Germans again proved themselves efficient at making repairs. The Fifteenth Air Force not only bombed Vienna and Munich but also rail centers in Italy and the Balkans, thus reducing the over-all capacity and flexibility of the German system, and it cut tracks along sixty miles of the line through the Brenner Pass connecting Germany and Italy.69 Despite the variety and frequency of all these attacks, however, the German war effort did not suffer seriously. The enemy repaired his vital lines or rerouted his traffic. Sometimes he resorted to bus transportation until rail lines were restored, and essential trains continued to go through, as the Allies well knew.70
Discussion of plans to repeat in Germany the great railway attrition program which had produced good if controversial results in France,
Belgium, and Italy revealed definite opposition in the Eighth Air Force, USSTAF, SHAEF, and Headquarters AAF.71 But the plans of late October 1944 for speeding up the war necessarily directed attention to the chance of wrecking German transportation, and Tedder vigorously pressed the issue. In a paper of 25 October 1944 “on air policy to be followed with a view to rapid defeat of Germany, “72 he complained that current air attacks on Germany constituted a “rather patchwork” effort and argued that the one factor common to the entire German war effort was the country’s rail and water communications system. If the Allies directed the entire weight of their air power against this target in the western Reich, they would have a good chance to produce the collapse of the Nazis within a matter of weeks.
A group of railway experts and intelligence officers who met in London to consider the question of transportation attacks regarded Tedder’s plan as too optimistic. All of them agreed that Germany’s rail facilities in the west were greatly in excess of her military requirements, so much so that no appreciable effect “could possibly be achieved within the envisaged time period.”73 Even E. D. Brant, who had promoted the pre-OVERLORD air campaign against rail centers earlier in the year, expressed the opinion that SHAEF did not realize how few trains the Germans really needed for essential military purposes.74
The Joint Planning Staff in Washington doubted that railway traffic in the Ruhr-Rhineland region could be decisively restricted by air effort.75 When the top commanders met at SHAEF on 28 October 1944, however, the Tedder proposal became second priority, thus dislodging tanks, trucks, and ordnance depots.
The meeting, which had been called to determine a way to finish the war before 1945, ended with a decision to continue oil in the first priority. With German transportation elevated to the second place, all other target systems would recede into the background and the strategic air forces could anticipate heavy calls from ground for carpet bombings of the St.-Lô type.76 Spaatz was not displeased. Not only had he saved the priority for oil, but he was cautiously optimistic about the new program, believing that it would bring about maximum coordination of the tactical and strategic air forces and that it would fit in with the capabilities of the Fifteenth Air Force. It might work as well as Tedder said it would.77 The CCS having ratified the decision on the same day, Spaatz and Bottomley promptly issued the appropriate directive.78
The Combined Strategic Targets Committee, some of whose members regarded the transportation plan simply as an act of faith.79 early in November established a special group to formulate and supervise the new program. Germany was divided into nine zones ranking in this order: northeastern approaches to the Ruhr, Frankfurt–Mannheim, Cologne–Coblenz, Kassel, Karlsruhe–Stuttgart, Magdeburg–Leipzig, Upper Silesia, Vienna, and Bavaria. In those areas the three strategic air forces would attack marshalling yards, using both visual and blind bombing techniques and re-attacking sufficiently to keep them in disorder. Medium and fighter-bombers would participate in the program, as they had in previous campaigns of this type, by polishing off small objectives within the main rail centers when the heavies had failed to demolish them. Repair installations and power centers for the electrified lines would also be prime objectives for these forces, and fighter-bombers would continue to cut lines and shoot up rail traffic whenever opportunities presented themselves. RAF Bomber Command was to prosecute its campaign against German waterways with full vigor, and the Italy-based air forces were to continue to mine the Danube.80
The Eighth Air Force hurriedly assembled target information on the German rail centers, and during the first two weeks of November its bombers struck marshalling yards and repair facilities at Bielefeld, Cologne, Coblenz, Frankfurt, Hamm, Hamburg, Ludwigshafen, Minden, Neunkirchen, Oberlahnstein, Rheine, and Saarbrücken. Such missions had to be sandwiched between oil attacks, carpet bombings, and five unflyable days, but as bombing operations they seemed generally effective. In the same period the Fifteenth Air Force made its way through difficult flying conditions over the Alps to bomb marshalling yards in Austria, only one of which sustained severe damage.81 RAF Bomber Command operated in great force at night on Rhineland rail targets, and the tactical air forces carried their share of the burden. In the second half of November the Eighth put heavier efforts into the campaign, attacking Bielefeld, Bingen, Duisburg, Hamm, Münster, Neunkirchen, Offenburg, Osnabrück, and several viaducts on main lines that led to the front. The Fifteenth Air Force bombed Munich four times but concentrated on cutting lines between Germany and Italy and Hungary. Bomber Command attacked five important rail centers in the west and inflicted further damage on the Dortmund-Ems canal. Over a two-week period, the tonnages of the strategic air forces on transportation targets exceeded to a considerable degree those directed
at the more vital oil targets. The tactical air forces continued their regular operations against moving traffic and supplemented the campaign of the heavies by attacking surviving targets within marshalling yards.82 A SHAEF study at the end of November indicated that the German railway system was suffering from exhaustion of locomotive reserves, strain of servicing and repair facilities, and lack of trained and loyal personnel, and that these problems had been immensely aggravated by the air attacks. But the familiar conclusion still mocked the Allies: the Germans were able to move their vital military traffic over the rails.83
In view of the discouragingly small progress of the Allied land armies in November, various proposals were now brought forward for the use of drastic measures, one of them being a scheme to seal off the German armies west of the Rhine by destroying nine rail and twelve road bridges over that stream. That such a proposal might be insisted upon had caused alarm among air commanders during October.84
The bridges were highly formidable, both as to structure and defenses. Because of their size and heavy concentration of flak, it would be almost impossible for the tactical air forces to knock them out, and if heavies attempted it, most of their bombs would be wasted because of the high bombing altitude necessary. Days for visual bombing were all too rare even for targets of proved value, and General Doolittle estimated that this undertaking would preclude visual bombing of oil and other objectives for one or two months. Other Eighth Air Force estimates put the time length at four months, and Tedder, who calculated it at three months, warned that possibly 14,000 heavy bomber sorties would be required.85 Even then, the chance of demolishing the Rhine bridges, air commanders believed, would be very slight. At the end of November, SHAEF G-2 judged that the attempt was worth making, however extravagant its costs,86 but the air leaders pressed their objections and gained their point. After the war Albert Speer expressed amazement that such targets had been passed up, and a study edited by General Bradley suggests regret that the operation was not carried out.87
November had been on the whole a month of disappointment on the ground, and with Washington still pressing for victory by January, the chief leaders in Europe convened again at SHAEF on 5 December to deliberate upon ways to employ the strategic air forces in breaking the stalemate. The discussion brought out the general conviction that the transportation plan should be continued. Vandenberg quoted Genera1
Bradley to the effect that the plan was sound only as a long-range program and that the heavy bombers might better be employed to provide more immediate assistance for the ground forces. Eisenhower identified himself with this position at least to the extent of insisting that the heavies be prepared to pour unprecedented tonnages in front of his armies in their projected offensives to the Rhine. But Tedder favored a widespread and continuous bombing campaign against transportation in the hope of isolating German forces west of that historic river. Spaatz, as always, emphasized the importance of keeping oil inviolate as a first priority, but he was also inclined to accept the conclusion of SHAEF G-2 that rail attacks had produced encouraging results. Accordingly, he favored continuance of the program. The conference ended with the strategic air forces committed to all three programs, in the order of oil, carpet bombing, and transportation.88
This shift of transportation to a lower priority, however, had little or no effect on subsequent operations. Bombings continued through the first two weeks of December on almost the same scale, as the Eighth Air Force and the RAF attacked forty rail centers on routes leading into the Ruhr and Rhineland. The Fifteenth Air Force carried out many harassing raids on Austrian marshalling yards and substantially large missions against Germany proper in mid-December. Effects could seldom be determined because of poor visual conditions for reconnaissance and photography, but a final judgment could be inferred from the early success of the Germans in breaking through the Ardennes on 16 December. Clearly, the Allies had not wrecked Germany’s transportation system to a decisive degree, even in the west and even if von Rundstedt did later declare that his counteroffensive had been delayed by fourteen days because of resulting transportation difficulties.89
The air force remedy for the Bulge was the application of stronger doses of the medicine that had failed to prevent it in the first place. Both the Eighth Air Force and Bomber Command virtually abandoned all other efforts to concentrate on German communications. Of the 23,000 tons the Eighth dropped during the latter half of December, 22,000 were aimed at transportation targets.90 Traffic bottlenecks, bridges, railway lines, and thirty-nine marshalling yards serving the endangered area became overriding top priorities for those two weeks and, undoubtedly, the transportation attacks of the air forces were highly important in frustrating the German gamble. Albert Speer afterward said they were decicive.91 But the railway experts ruefully noted
again the fact that was becoming almost an axiom: no matter how furiously the air forces bombed railroads, the Germans were able to repair their lines and usually to move essential military traffic.92
After the reconquest of most of the Bulge in January 1945 the Combined Strategic Targets Committee carefully examined the effects of the transportation plan.93 In only one zone, Cologne–Coblenz–Trier, had German traffic been brought to a standstill. In one other zone, Coblenz–Saarbrücken–Frankfurt, the Germans had suffered a drastic and fateful curtailment of rail movements. Otherwise, necessary traffic got through, even though local complications and delays were suffered. It was apparent that the Allies had tried to do too much, that they had spread their effort too thin. In the future they would concentrate all types of aircraft over very limited areas in order to produce railway deserts of the Cologne–Coblenz–Trier type wherever the land armies needed such paralysis for their own advances.
The disappointments of November and December notwithstanding, it would soon become evident that Germany’s solid railway system had been seriously shaken. In the coming months there would be all kinds of evidence of its injuries: undelivered coal and raw materials, stranded manufactured parts, delays in troop movements, and finally, utter collapse.
The GAF Again
The German fighter force once more became a menace of serious proportions to Allied air power in the last quarter of 1944. Each week USSTAF intelligence uneasily recorded an increase in the number of hostile fighters available to contest the British and Americans flying in from the west. With their wartime estimates according almost exactly with postwar German records94 the Allies rightly marked the rise in single-engine pursuits from 1,260 in September to about 1,700in early November and then to 2,040 by the middle of the latter month. Twin-engine fighters for those periods increased from 675 to 800 and then to 855. Now that Germany had lost so many bases in France, Belgium, and the Balkans, she concentrated her fighters in the Reich; perhaps 85 per cent of her single-engine types faced the western AlIies,95 and by late September the Luftwaffe had almost abandoned the Wehrmacht to devote such fighting power as it had left to the Allied bomber fleets.96 Practically all pretense at maintaining a bomber force was gone, and bomber pilots now flew fighters. Deployed from west to east for
hundreds of miles, Luftwaffe fighters could engage the Allies for almost the whole width of the Reich whenever their commanders chose to consume their scanty gasoline supplies in this fashion97 as sometimes they did.
This turn of affairs was unexpected. For months the Allies had been looking upon the GAF as a beaten arm, capable only of rare and ineffective retaliation. Not only was the German aircraft industry supposedly shattered beyond hope of significant recovery but the Luftwaffe had seemed almost helpless as the Allies liberated France and breached the Fatherland itself. During the late spring and summer of 1944 American bomber fleets had occasionally met interference on their daylight missions against the most vital targets, but more frequently their reports repeated the familiar line: “No enemy air opposition encountered.” To be sure, USSTAF had not ignored aircraft production during the summer of 1944. Its air forces had directed 18,500 tons at aircraft factories, particularly those which produced twin-engine fighters and jets.98
It was the standard single-engine fighter, however, which loomed as the real threat to Allied air forces in the fall of 1944. Notwithstanding the devastation of much of Germany’s aircraft industry in POINTBLANK, Speer’s ministry had worked its usual magic. Skilfully mobilizing materiel and manpower, it concentrated on the Me-109 and FW-190 types and effectively dispersed aircraft production from 27 main plants to 729 smaller ones, some of which were located in quarries, caves, mines, forests, or just in villages. In doing this, the Germans abandoned mass production methods and greatly increased their costs, but they also concealed most of their production centers from both the bombardiers and intelligence officers of their enemy. In the long run, the effort defeated itself, particularly when the transportation chaos of early 1945 paralyzed so much of the Reich, but the immediate effects were spectacular. The number of single-engine fighters accepted by the German Air Force rose from 1,016 in February 1944 at a steady rate month by month until it reached 3,013 in September, after which a slow decline set in.99 The total number of fighters of all types produced in September 1944, Germany’s peak month of the war in this respect, amounted to 4,103, which compared favorably with Speer’s schedule calling for 5,372.100 It was altogether an amazing feat of industrial planning and management, but fortunately the gasoline and pilot shortage forbade the use of fighters in any such numbers,
Not fully aware of the extent or of the exact nature of this recuperation, Allied air leaders tended to worry chiefly about jets. For some months USSTAF leaders had been nervously watching the enemy’s activities in this matter, gleaning what data they could from intelligence sources and from high-altitude photographs of jet airfields. They were in possession of only spotty information about the construction and performance of the new airplane, but it was enough to make them highly uncomfortable. They knew that the stubby Me-163 could fly about 600 miles per hour at 25,000 feet, that an Ar-234 with high-altitude twin jet engines was likely to appear soon, and that an Me-262 with twin engines could outfly any British or American airplane.101 All of these aircraft were known to be formidably armed. Not until July 1944 had the Allies made positive identification of jets in the air, and as yet the Me-163’s occasionally found around Lepzig or the Me-262’s hovering about the Munich area seldom fired at the heavy bomber formations. Though evidently attacking stragglers and reconnaissance aircraft, jet pilots ordinarily merely taunted the American flyers by showing off the superior performance of their airplanes from a safe distance.102 While the jets cavorted menacingly the strategic bombers went about their missions. Their crews took care to experiment with new gunnery and formation tactics, and ample fighter escorts were always available in case the jets chose to offer battle. Some Allied gunfire must have been effective, for German records now available show eleven jets lost through “enemy action” in November and December 1944.103
The alarm felt at SHAEF and USSTAF had led Spaatz to place jet plants in a priority second only to oil in early September.104 During the two-week period this priority was observed, several suspected jet establishments at Kiel, Leipheim, Stuttgart, and a few other localities were bombed with what seemed to be good results,105 but later evidence showed no real interference with German production.106 The industry was too well dispersed and concealed, as Spaatz soon realized. He then dropped the priority rating but determined to attack jet installations whenever and wherever they could be detected.107 It was not without reason that the Americans, who could not plan on using jet fighters of their own until about October 1945, continued to worry about German jet production. While the enemy was experiencing many difficulties resulting from shortages, transportation problems, and bureaucratic mismanagement,108 he might have attained his goal, understood
hy the Allies to be 500 planes per month by January 1945,109 but for a circumstance not fully appreciated until after the war. This was the interference of one of Mr. Churchill’s favorite strategists, “Corporal” Hitler. Against the almost solid will of his air advisers the Führer had ordered a conversion of the Me-262 from a fighter into a light bomber for support of German land forces,110 and thus delayed the effective appearance of jet aircraft in the air war until March 1945, when there was little war left for them to wage.
Ominous as seemed the threat of German jets during the last months of 1944,the very real presence of conventional fighters in growing numbers compelled immediate attention. Here too, the Germans had vacillated until September 1944 between using their fighters against Allied land forces and for interception purposes,111 but after that the day-flying heavies of the Eighth Air Force seemed to bear the brunt of the enemy’s fighters, with the Fifteenth continuing to run into nasty opposition at times over Vienna or Poland. On 27 and 28 September the Eighth encountered major fighter forces, losing sixty-four aircraft on the two days and shooting down from fifty-five to ninety Germans according to Nazi admissions and American claims, respectively. On October 6 a Fortress formation heading for Berlin lost the high squadron from its last combat wing when thirty-five German fighters dived out of the clouds and closed in from the rear before the escorts could deal with them. Air combats on the 7th cost the Eighth Air Force forty-one aircraft and the Germans at least a fourth of the eighty fighters they put up.112
Then a lull ensued. For more than three weeks the Eighth’s flyers seldom saw a German fighter and made no claims whatsoever. The Fifteenth had difficulty only once, when on 16 October its bombers ranged over Czechoslovakia and Austria and shot down sixteen (admitted) or nineteen (claimed) Germans. Having hoarded sufficient gasoline the Nazis rose on 2 November 400 strong, the largest number they had been able to get into the air at one time since early June. One combat force from the Eighth about to bomb the synthetic oil plant at Merseburg-Leuna was shielded effectively by its escorts, but another force was less fortunate. Before its protecting Mustangs could interfere, some sixty German fighters closed in to shoot into the rear bomber formations.113 But for a lucky chain of circumstances and almost perfect fighter cover, Spaatz wrote Arnold, many more bombers would have been lost than the twenty-six that fell to the Nazis.114
This experience of 2 November made a deep impression on AAF leaders. It confirmed their suspicions that the Germans were quite caapable of doing enormous damage to their bomber fleets. General Doolittle estimated that the enemy might even be able to bring down 100 American bombers on any deep penetration of the Reich. The Me-109’s and FW-190’s had new and heavier armament and were employing extremely effective explosive and incendiary projectiles. It might soon become possible for them to fire safely at American bombers from out of range of the U.S. .50-cal. guns. Doolittle found further cause for alarm in new German tactics, especially the line-abreast approach they were then using, and he complained of an Eighth Air Force shortage of fighters. The fighter-to-bomber ratio was “appallingly low,” only 1 to 2, with 1 to 1 very desirable and 2 to 1 the ideal. Doolittle also hoped for a movement as far east perhaps as Luxembourg of radar installations upon which the Eighth depended.115 While registering these opinions with Spaatz, Doolittle told his staff in mid-November that the Eighth soon might have to drop its strategic objectives in order to beat the GAF again.116
General Spaatz warned Arnold on 5 November, soon after the big combat over Merseburg-Leuna, that a real likelihood existed of a dangerous GAF resurgence in the near future.117 German fighters were obviously becoming more numerous, and the long spells of inactivity gave them an opportunity to hoard gasoline for occasional but wicked blows. Although the bomber strength of the Eighth had increased significantly since early 1944, there had been no corresponding rise in the number of fighter escorts. This had not mattered during the summer campaigns, when the Germans were preoccupied with the land battle, but now that the front was stabilized, enemy fighters might operate in almost full force against the strategic bombers. Spaatz hoped to meet the problem without upsetting prevailing bombing priorities. Probably the best measure would be to hammer away remorselessly at oil production until the Germans had no fuel to fly with at all, but he agreed with Doolittle that movement of radar installations to the continent was vitally necessary. He was prepared to reduce the size of bomber forces which operated in deep penetrations should this undesirable step be necessary in view of Luftwaffe resistance. These views brought gloomy reactions in Washington.118
While persistently holding to oil as the top priority and according the German aircraft industry no specific priority, USSTAF did not
ignore that target system entirely, The tonnages dropped on it by the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces during September, October, November, and December 1944 amounted to 2,026, 3,409, 356, and 350, respectively.119 The bombs were more or less evenly distributed between airframe and engine production. The Fifteenth operated against an Me-109 components factory at Gyor, Hungary, on 20 September and damaged engine plants at Munich on the 22nd. The Eighth Air Force sent 381 Fortresses to attack Focke-Wulf plants at Hemelingen and Hastedt on 26 September, but no fresh damage of importance ensued. On 12 October, 238 B-17’s of the Eighth achieved considerable success at Hastedt. The Eighth struck at the Junkers aeroengine factory at Magdeburg on 23 September, severely damaging this source of one-third of the Junkers engines. On 6 October large Eighth Air Force missions destroyed the Arado assembly plant at Neubrandenburg, hit all major buildings at the Bayerische Motorenwerke near Berlin, damaged the Klochner-Humboldt-Deutz engine works at Hamburg, and struck workshops and hangars at a jet airfield near Wenzendorf. On 7 October, 118 Fortresses wrecked many buildings at the Basser aircraft repair factory in Zwickau and destroyed three of five large workshops at the Henschel factory in Kassel. The Eighth dealt still another hard blow on 12 October, when 238 B-17’s bombed the Focke-Wulf components factory at Bremen. Missions of 9 and 19 October against the Gustavsburg assembly plant were less successful. Meanwhile, the Fifteenth Air Force bombed aircraft production installations at Klagenfurt five times, though with discouraging effects, and did severe damage to an engine plant at Graz on 16 October.120 Intelligence toward the last of October having revealed that the Germans were repairing their bombed plants with their customary speed and, more significantly, were dispersing others to unknown localities with great efficiency, attacks on aircraft plants tapered off to inconsequential raids for the next four months.
Attention was also directed to another target possibility: airfields where German warplanes lay idle most of the time for lack of fuel. As early as 22 September, Spaatz had expressed the belief that heavy bomber attacks on these airdromes might be useful as a measure to keep the GAF from flying.121 Accordingly, nine USSTAF missions took place during that month against air bases in Germany. The pace was increased in October. Small forces of heavy bombers did considerable damage to airfields at Paderborn, Stade, Nordhausen, Lippstadt, Handorf,
Speyerdorf, and Wenzendorf. Surveying the results at the end of the month, USSTAF intelligence advised that it would be useless to try to demolish the 350 or more airfields available to the Germans, even if a number of aircraft were destroyed in the raids. Rather, left-over bombing effort should be used and applied only to selected bases in the west.122
During November the strategic air forces devoted more effort to German operational bases than to aircraft production plants. The chief targets of the Eighth Air Force in this category were Nordholz, Hanau, Ostheim, Cologne, and Wiesbaden. The Fifteenth concurrently bombed bases in Greece, Austria, northern Italy, and others occasionally in southern Germany. In most cases the pilots reported damage to hangars, workshops, landing areas, and it was apparent that the raids somewhat complicated the problems of the GAF. But at best this was a halfhearted offensive, not really sustained or carried out on a large scale and nothing like the pre-OVERLORD bombings of air bases in France. Besides, it was easy enough for the Germans to repair their bombed fields or make use of alternate bases. Only on a short-term tactical basis could airfield attacks be considered worth the effort.123 The Allies guessed rightly, as is now known from German records,124 that the number of Nazi airplanes wrecked on the ground was relatively small.
No less accurate was the Spaatz report to Washington in December that the enemy possessed a very formidable fighter strength,125 for in fact the GAF was numerically larger in December 1944 than it had ever been.126 Fortunately, its effectiveness was not commensurate with its size, and Spaatz’s plan to counter chiefly by maintaining pressure on the German fuel supply showed an accurate estimate of the GAF’s chief weakness. He hoped also soon to base Eighth Air Force fighters on the continent and indicated to Washington that he would be very much pleased to receive about 500 more fighters.127
On several occasions during November and December the Luftwaffe showed that its new strength could be brought to bear against American bomber formations. Adolf Galland, the commander of the fighter arm, began to employ his forces in large, concentrated air battles instead of dissipating them in isolated efforts at interception. This measure was costly in gasoline and could therefore be attempted only rarely, but in such an operation the Germans had hopes of bringing down as many as 400 or more bombers. While he fiercely demanded such a success,
Hermann Goering seems to have done nothing toward improving morale by raging at his fighter commanders, calling them cowards and threatening to transfer them to the infantry.128 Nevertheless, the GAF staged several impressive efforts. Eighth and Fifteenth Air Force bombers would bomb the Reich at will for weeks at a time without any air opposition. Then, unpredictably, German fighters would attack them in great force and become dormant again for a long period. On 21 November, after almost three weeks of inactivity, some 400 German fighters rose to intercept Fortresses in the Lepzig area. Fortunately, the Nazis were unusually awkward in assembling their forces for the attack and Mustangs were able to protect all of the bomber formations but one, which lost five B-17’s.129 Five days later nearly a thousand Fortresses and Liberators stimulated one of the largest Lufnvaffe reactions on record. About 550 enemy fighters, some ofwhich were drawn from the tactical air forces, brought down 25 heavies near Hannover. The German attacks were unusually vicious, and the dangerous lineabreast approach proved deadly to one entire bomber squadron.130
The largest sighting of German interceptors on any one day to that point came on 27 November 1944, when perhaps as many as 750 were airborne. But luck was with the Americans. The Germans stupidly mistook a huge force of P-51’s for bombers and tangled with the Mustangs, after which it was too late to rectify their error. In the ensuing air battles the Mustangs lost only eleven aircraft and claimed ninety-eight Nazis. Meanwhile, the bombers proceeded to Bingen and Offenburg without sighting a single enemy airplane.131 There was sporadic German opposition on 30 November, when 1,200 Eighth Air Force heavies attacked oil targets in central Germany. On 2 December the Germans made their first serious effort in months to defend targets west of the Rhine, sending about 150 fighters to intercept the Liberators, eight of which they shot down.132 Three days later, when the Eighth bombed Berlin, 300 German fighters attempted to interfere. The result of this battle was four bombers shot down and claims of ninety German fighters destroyed.133 And then a lull set in. For more than two weeks the Eighth encountered no German air opposition, not even when it dispatched a record force of 1,467 bombers to the Reich on 11 December. Nor did the Fifteenth Air Force report any important conflicts with enemy fighters.
An unpleasant explanation of the Luftwaffe’s inactivity became evident soon after the Ardennes counteroffensive began. Obviously, the
Germans had been saving up their gasoline for this blow. Weather conditions prevented almost all aerial activity in the west for the first few days, a factor on which the German ground commanders were counting heavily. Fighters gave the Fifteenth Air Force some opposition over Poland on 17 December, but it was not until the 23rd that a real break in the weather came in the west. On that day 800 German fighters tried without much success to interfere with the Allied heavy bombers which were desperately smashing at railheads and transportation chokepoints. Similar opposition occurred on 24 December, when the Eighth Air Force broke all records by sending 1,900 heavy bombers into Germany to attack tactical targets in excellent flying weather.134 On Christmas Day the Germans once more offered battle.135 The experience, however, evidently convinced the enemy that he could not oppose the well-escorted daylight bomber with any hope of success.136 The Eighth Air Force lost only 13 heavy bombers in those three days to fighter attacks, and its consolidated claims of about 220 German fighters do not seem at all unreasonable when matched with German figures for losses in the west for the month.137 Goering resumed his tirades against his fighter commanders.138 Plainly, the German Air Force had failed again, and for the next five days it licked its wounds.
But again, the lull was followed by a blitz, an effective interception of Fortresses on 31 December near Hannover, which cost the Americans fourteen bombers. On the next morning, 1 January 1945, the Luftwaffe dealt a savage New Year’s Day blow at Allied air bases in the Netherlands and Belgium. Between 0800 and 1000 about 700 German aircraft (Goering later said 2,300)139 laid on a stunning attack. It was an ugly surprise for the Allies, who lost 156 airplanes, 36 of which were American.140 Spaatz paid tribute to the careful planning that lay behind the German Operation.141 Again the Luftwaffe had demonstrated its versatility and aggressiveness. Yet the Führer, who had fathered the idea,142 lost far more than he gained. While he was able to replace his losses of airplanes readily, just as the Allies could, he had expended some of his last remaining capable pilots and key squadron leaders. The evidence indicated in fact that 1 January 1945 was one of the worst single days for human and aircraft losses the Luftwaffe ever experienced, and the military effect on the Allies, save for some embarrassment, was truly negligible.143
As the Bulge was closed in January 1945, Allied leaders soberly reappraised the prospects of winning the European war. Plans for an
offensive to the Rhine had been set back for weeks, and other aspects of the situation were discouraging. General Arnold thought the Germans might have 3,000 to 4,000 single-engine fighters of the conventional type by spring, and felt it might even be necessary for the CCS to issue an overriding directive aimed at the reconquest of the Luftwaffe.144 USSTAF intelligence assessed the German fighter force as more formidable, confident, and aggressive than it had been since the Big Week of February 1944.145 And everyone knew it was entirely possible that jets could upset the balance of air power in Europe if the war lasted beyond summer. General Spaatz, unlike Arnold, regarded jet fighters as more threatening in the near future than the Me-109’s and FW-190’s. He confided to Arnold, furthermore, that he was inclined sometimes to worry about a death ray or a motor-stopping beam which the Germans had been hinting mysteriously about.146 Doolittle urged that the strategic air forces at once concentrate on rooting out jet plants, a stand which General Anderson strongly supported.147
Radar Bombing and the Weather
The strategic air forces operated against Germany during the last quarter of 1944 in almost as great strength as they had in the preceding summer. This was all the more remarkable since the weather was, of course, much worse in the autumn and winter months and may have been, as the Allied leaders repeatedly and bitterly complained, the most disagreeable known in that part of the world for a generation. That tonnages of great weight could be poured on the enemy during these months is explained chiefly by the use of radar-bombing techniques.
A series of experiments conducted over Oxford, England, in August and September had substantiated the belief that H2X, the main dependence of the AAF bombers, could be used with some accuracy over cities, although individual targets in built-up areas would be very difficult to isolate.148
Air officers in the theater clamored for more H2X instruments. Washington dispatched them steadily throughout 1944 but governed the flow by the availability of trained radar operators, somewhat to the exasperation of USSTAF, which wanted the sets at a faster rate and believed that the operators could be trained overseas.149 The Eighth Air Force tried to equip two bombers in each group with H2X for service as pathfinders, and by the end of the year 78 per cent of the Eighth’s heavy bombardment groups had them.150 The Fifteenth Air Force followed a different scheme, dividing its bomber groups into Red
and Blue forces. The Reds had four pathfinders per group and were assigned all fighter escorts for attacks on major targets in Germany. The Blues ordinarily bombed visually and without fighter escort objcctives closer to the Italian bases.151
Additional use was also made of Gee-H, an outgrowth of other Gee types that had not proved overly successful before 1944, which enabled an aircraft to establish its position by impulses emanating from Gee stations on the ground. Determining thus his position over Germany, the pilot could set a course toward the target and make a timed run, the bombardier releasing his bombs when a stop watch indicated the termination of the run. The Eighth Air Force had employed Gee-H extensively in its CROSSBOW operations, and when it became possible to establish Gee ground stations on the continent in September 1944 the heavies used this method in several tactical bombings and on a few strategic missions over western Germany. RAF Bomber Command found Gee-H particularly helpful in its night attacks.152 MICRO-H, a further refinement combining Gee-H and H2X, came into use in November 1944. The bomber would be guided to within about thirty-five miles of its targets by Gee, when operators through H2X picked up pulses transmitted by special stations at Namur and Verdun for assistance in setting a straight course to the target. Eventually, MICRO-H became the monopoly of the 3rd Bombardment Division, whose Liberators ordinarily attacked the targets in western Germany which were closest to the ground stations.153
Approximately 80 per cent of all Eighth Air Force and 70 per cent of Fifteenth Air Force missions during the last quarter of 1944 were characterized by some employment of blind-bombing devices.154 Without these aids, important objectives might have enjoyed weeks or even months of respite, and on several occasions major task forces still failed even with radar to reach their targets because of adverse weather.155 Constant study and assessment continued to show the not unanticipated conclusion that radar bombing was far less accurate than visual. For the last three months of 1944 the percentage of Eighth Air Force bombs that fell within 1,000 feet of the target was 38, 25, and 25, respectively; in the same months the Fifteenth Air Force score was 40, 36, and 36, and that air force continued to do much better than the Eighth in this respect.156
In mid-November, operations analysts of the Eighth estimated that slightly more than half the blind missions of that organization were near failures or worse, and Spaatz was fully aware that radar
bombing was conspicuously less effective than visual attacks.157 But radar bombing was better than no bombing. When days for visual missions might be as few as four per month, as in November 1944, radar devices were a godsend, even though their shortcomings were such as to offer a ready explanation for the determination of Spaatz and Doolittle to exploit every good flying day for all it was worth.158
Other problems demanded attention during the last of 1944. It became clear that too many heavy U.S. bombs were not exploding,159 a fact which the Germans later confirmed with some pleasure. Considerable study and experimentation went into efforts to reduce this type of waste. Air discipline relaxed somewhat during the autumn and navigational errors became overly numerous, with the result that Doolittle tightened up on the crews in December.160 USSTAF complained that the American heavy bombers were carrying more than their share of leaflets.161 Flak was much deadlier now that the Germans had withdrawn most of their guns from lands they once occupied. A great wall of antiaircraft shells greeted the Allied bombers as they crossed into western Germany, and vulnerable targets and cities had more flak than ever before. While flak thus became a greater source of concern,162 over-all losses remained much lower than they had been earlier in the year. The Eighth Air Force, for example, had lost 371 heavy bombers in April 1944 but only 117 in October, 174 in November, and 96 in December.163 Finally, the flow of airplanes and crews from the United States declined in the autumn of 1944 after the widespread optimism of the late summer regarding an early termination of the war. This reduction caused a few Eighth Air Force units to operate at less than full strength until late in the year.
Among the proposals made during the fall for outwitting the weather was one to move the Fifteenth Air Force from southern Italy into the south of France. Thus its bombers would seldom have to vault the Alps, where flying conditions were so often prohibitive.164
Spaatz and Eaker energetically opposed the plan on the ground that it would require too much time and logistical effort to create satisfactory French bases.165 It was also pointed out that the Fifteenth could not reach from France some of its most vital targets in Czechoslovakia and eastern Germany. The proposal died as a result of this opposition, although a hope lingered that a few groups of the Fifteenth might move to Russiancontrolled bases in Hungary. Similarly, General Arnold’s suggestion that Eighth Air Force bomber bases be established in northern France166
met insurmountable resistance in the theater, again because of factors of time and logistics. By the end of 1944, however, French and Belgian bases were in a state of advanced preparation for the use of Eighth Air Force fighters, which long had made emergency use of RAF and Ninth Air Force airfields in France. Finally, Arnold and Spaatz talked about using French bases for very heavy bombers (B-29’s) if the war lasted far into 1945,167 but Germany was not destined to feel the power of those aircraft.
The Germans Postpone Defeat
After the commanders conference at SHAEF on 5 December had committed the heavy bombers to extensive carpet-bombing operations,* it had been clear that USSTAF’s forces would devote much of their energies in the near future to direct support of ground. After the meeting Spaatz made a tour of army headquarters at the front in order to help arrange for the several offensives designed to bring the Allies to the Rhine. On 6 December he visited Patton and agreed to have his bombers carry out a gigantic blitz of two or three days within the next week or so. On the 7th he coordinated this plan with General Devers, and on the 8th he visited Bradley and promised to soften up the area in which the U.S. First and Ninth Armies expected to attack. Finally, he talked over the prospects of the several saturation bombings with Tedder on 9 December.168 Nearly everyone was optimistic and thought the Germans weak.169 General Arnold confidently looked for a historic victory in the tradition of Medjez-el-Bab and St.-Lô, and Doolittle thought it was going to be the greatest single air effort of all time.170
But the offensive was to be German. After German forces drove through the Ardennes in Hitler’s last bid for victory in the west the U.S. strategic air forces were to devote much more of their effort to ground support than had been anticipated. One of the Eighth’s three bombardment divisions was turned over to General Vandenberg of the Ninth Air Force as a “fire brigade.” The other two divisions were placed under Eisenhower’s immediate direction for the duration of the emergency. The heavies performed admirably, sometimes in weather that was theoretically unflyable. Almost 30,000 Eighth Air Force tons fell on communications targets such as bridges, marshalling yards, chokepoints, and road junctions.171 The heavies also bombed towns which were believed to be used by the Germans as ordnance centers or
* See above, p. 656.
transportation focal points. One such town, Malmédy, was the scene of a tragic error, for it was held by Allied troops at the time it was bombed.172 By the day after Christmas, 1944, the Allies could breathe more easily, for it was then clear that the Germans were being contained. Still, the great majority of air force bombs for several weeks thereafter went on targets requested by the ground forces. It was a slow and costly task to close the Bulge, and strategic air plans like all others had to be rescheduled.
Fortunately, Germany’s oil installations did not enjoy the respite from bombing that might have been expected during the Ardennes campaign. This was due to the Fifteenth Air Force, which covered itself with glory during this otherwise grim period. In one of the most remarkable series of sustained operations in the whole air offensive this command immobilized the chief refineries and rendered inoperative all of the synthetic petroleum plants on its list. The two Blechhammers, Odertal, Oswiecim, Brüx, and the several Austrian installations suffered heavy attacks in the days when von Rundstedt was astounding the Allies in the west. Even when the bombings were blind and the weather extremely adverse the Fifteenth’s bombers achieved excellent results. And their losses were light, although they encountered spirited resistance on several missions.173 The Eighth Air Force got in one good day’s oil attack on 31 December at Misburg and Hamburg, and Bomber Command struck the recovering synthetic oil plant at Pölitz on the 21st, Scholven on the 29th, and Bochum on the 30th. By the end of 1944 only four crude-oil refineries and possibly five or six synthetics in the entire Reich were operating, and they were doing so on a reduced scale. Air Chief Marshal Tedder likened the German fuel position at the end of December to that in September, when the enemy was down to his last reserves.174 Portal and Bottomley were likewise enthusiastic.175 And Spaatz, looking with satisfaction at the oil situation, condemned the remaining targets to a “shellacking” at the first opportunity.176
Thus the oil campaign emerged in an hour of darkness as one bright feature. This strategic offensive alone had produced spectacular results in the last months of 1944, results which were felt in almost every area and type of German activity, and the assistance the heavy bombers had rendered in the emergency gave further cause for satisfaction. But other aspects of the air situation were less pleasing to contemplate. The bombings of tank and truck plants and ordnance depots had brought
about little more than minor problems for the enemy; certainly he had been sufficiently equipped to drive alarmingly into the Ardennes when he chose. Attacks on German cities, which had killed 80,000 people and destroyed 130,000 buildings in the last four months of 1944, had not yet produced the panic or wide-scale economic disorganization so long prophesied by Air Marshal Harris and others. Radar bombing had not proved as effective as the American air leaders had expected. The Gernian Air Force was more formidable than it had been for almost a year. And the enormous tonnages dropped on German communications had not prevented the Ardennes counteroffensive, although they surely helped to thwart it.
In ways not too evident at the beginning of 1945, Germany had been vitally injured by air power and her final collapse was not far off. Still, the mood in top army and air force circles just after the dark December of 1944 was not one of satisfaction but one of searching self-criticism.