Section 6: Germany
Chapter 20: The Climax of Strategic Operations
The Germans in their Ardennes offensive had suffered heavy casualties and the loss of much materiel, and they had failed. But the ugly surprise which they had sprung on the Allies was not easily forgotten. Hence during January 1945 the atmosphere in the several Anglo-American headquarters was one of extreme caution and even of pessimism, in contrast to the overconfidence which had prevailed in early December. It seemed that Germany might last for most of 1945 if not longer. She controlled valuable sections of Europe, and her population gave no sign of casting off the Nazis. Her industries could still turn out substantial quantities of weapons from repaired or underground installations, a capacity which the respite from bombing during the Battle of the Bulge had done nothing to diminish. The Geman Air Force might soon employ enough jet fighters to spoil Allied air supremacy. New types of submarines might have a similar effect on the naval war. Even the German army seemed stronger in some respects, since twenty-three divisions had been added recently and a peoples’ force was being trained to defend the Reich. By means of an active and skilful defense the Germans could hope to gain time, wear out their enemies, and await deliverance in the form of miraculous new weapons or a wartime cleavage among the United Nations.1
In AAF circles hopes for an early victory had distinctly cooled. The Assistant Secretary of War for Air, Robert A. Lovett, raised the question with General Arnold whether they had been trying to do too much too soon. Germany seemed formidable in nearly every respect, he said, and the recuperative power of her industry had exceeded AAF expectations. The Germans were fighting a total war on their own borders with shortened lines of communication, they excelled in certain
types of weapons, and the fighting quality of their ground forces was still very high. Air power, the only field in which the Allies enjoyed complete superiority on the continent, faced the menace of jet aircraft and improved enemy defensive measures. The war might become a slow, costly affair. Lovett’s solution at this time was an idea which General Quesada had planted in his mind some months earlier, the employment of fighter-bombers on a large scale against the most vulnerable targets instead of the more exposed and less accurate heavy bombers, This “Jeb” Stuart plan, as Lovett labeled it in honor of the Confederate cavalry hero, might enable the air forces to injure Germany where it would hurt the most.2
Even General Arnold had doubts about how effective the air war had been. The British-American strategic air forces had blasted factories and cities from one end of the Reich to the other. Unquestionably a huge amount of structural damage had resulted. Yet it was clear that this destruction had not had the effect on the enemy’s war effort that Arnold had expected and hoped for, the effect “we all assumed would result.”3
He asked AC/AS Intelligence to re-evaluate its estimate of bomb damage, and he told his chief of air staff that “we have either been too optimistic in our ideas of what we could do with bombing attacks, or we have missed tremendously in our evaluation of the effect that the destruction which we did cause would have on the German war machine.”4
To General Spaatz the AAF commanding general wrote feelingly: “We have a superiority of at least 5 to 1 now against Germany and yet, in spite of all our hopes, anticipations, dreams and plans, we have as yet not been able to capitalize to the extent which we should. We may not be able to force capitulation of the Germans by air attacks, but on the other hand, with this tremendous striking power, it would seem to me that we should get much better and much more decisive results than we are getting now. I am not criticizing, because frankly I don’t know the answer and what I am now doing is letting my thoughts run wild with the hope that out of this you may get a glimmer, a light, a new thought, or something which will help us to bring this war to a close sooner.”5 Arnold was not as inclined as his planning officers were to sweep Lovett’s proposal aside. There might be something in it. Whatever the answer, air power must not let the war in the west become a stalemate.6
The gloom was also thick at SHAEF and USSTAF in January 1945. There was, of course, no faltering and no despair. But it seemed probable
that the war would last through the summer. At a conference of air commanders held at Versailles, Fred Anderson delivered what the minutes called a long and impassioned plea for a general replanning of the strategic air offensive on the assumption of a longer war than had been expected previously. The Ardennes battle, he pointed out, had upset not only the Allies’ plan for ground offensives but their program of aerial bombardment. The month-long devotion of Eighth Air Force and RAF Bomber Command to the tactical situation had allowed the enemy to recover significantly in oil production, V-weapon construction, and jet manufacture; even submarines and ball bearings were back in the picture. Anderson’s conclusion that the strategic air situation was “very sad” received the indorsement of General Doolittle to the degree of “100% or possibly even more.”7
General Spaatz was also pessimistic about the chances of ending the war before the last of the summer. New German submarines were about to appear, the jet danger was greater than ever, and a secret weapon might be in the offing. Clearly, it was going to be necessary to reorient the strategic bomber offensive on the basis of a longer war, which would mean embracing new target systems while catching up with the arrears on the old ones.8 Spaatz’s letter stirred up some support in AC/AS Plans in favor, once more, of concentrating all elements of air power on destruction of the enemy’s field armies9 Behind what was tactfully called the issue of quality versus quantity bombing lay an amtude, found in Eighth Air Force as well as in Headquarters AAF,10 which regarded the strategic air offensive to date as disappointing and which favored finding new methods of exploiting air power.
Recasting the Strategic Air War
As it turned out, revolutionary changes were not necessary, for the Germans were in much worse condition than the Allies thought they were in early 1945. There was no real basis for disillusionment about the oil campaign, although critics could argue that it had gone far beyond the point originally expected to produce collapse and that Germany had staged a dangerous counteroffensive with a war machine supposed to be starved for fuel. But the Germans had quickly run out of gasoline and lubricants, and the recuperation of their bombed refineries and synthetic plants during the Battle of the Bulge was not as serious as it seemed at the time, thanks largely to the brilliant campaign
of the Fifteenth Air Force in the last of December.* Even Bomber Command and Eighth Air Force had turned from their tactical operations at the height of the land battle to attack the chief oil producers in western Germany, and on 8 January 1945 General Eisenhower agreed to release the heavy bombers from the land campaign in order to knock out the more important oil plants which were coming back into operation following earlier bombings.11 This decision pleased the Combined Strategic Targets Committee, whose members were aware of their reputation as oil fanatics, and they planned the resumption of a full-scale offensive against five synthetic plants in central Germany and benzol plants in the Ruhr.12 They might have selected some of the identifiable underground oil plants which the Nazis were constructing according to the Geilenberg plan, but already it was becoming apparent that the German program was far behind schedule, in fact proving hopeless.13 The faith of Allied air leaders in the oil campaign would soon be vindicated, also behind schedule but overwhelmingly.
There were grounds too for sober reappraisal of transportation as a target system. After the Allied air forces had pounded German railways for almost two months, dropping several times the tonnage they aimed at oil targets,14 the enemy had undertaken a stunning offensive. The whole of this target system had proved discouragingly resilient to air attack. The Führer expressed his amazement at the effective improvisation by his people in repairing their bombed railways, and he ventured, with a trace of smugness, the observation that “other countries had been crippled in less than a week by attacks which had been child’s play in comparison.”15 Yet the pre-Ardennes rail attacks had produced economic chaos in western Germany. If they had not prevented the offensive they had crucially affected enemy troop movements. And during the Battle of the Bulge the combined weight of heavy, medium, light, and fighter-bombers had isolated sections of the battlefield in a memorable demonstration of the flexibility of air power.16 In the light of such developments the inclination in Allied circles was not to abandon the air effort against railways but to correct the weaknesses in planning and prosecution which an assessment of the autumn campaign revealed. In particular, this meant concentrating all types of aircraft on interdiction rather than spreading the air effort too thin over large areas of Germany in an attempt to deplete her railway capacity.† The so-called Interim Plan, initiated by the Combined Strategic Targets
* See above, p. 670.
† See above, p. 657.
Committee in January for this purpose, directed the strategic air forces to neutralize railways west of the Rhine, to intensify attacks in transportation centers leading into the Rub, and to assist the tactical air forces in dislocating railways in the area east of the Rhine between the bridge at Cologne and Stuttgart.17 While the new program was more scientifically devised to cripple Germany’s economy and hamper her armies, it became evident later that the original transportation plan had been considerably more effective than was believed in January 1945. German economic traffic in the west had already been choked off from the rest of the Reich to a dangerous degree.18
The German Air Force seemed more menacing than it had for a year. During the last quarter of 1944 it had grown unaccountably in number of aircraft if not in fighting quality and had delivered some deadly blows during the Ardennes offensive. By the first of 1945 the Luftwaffe’s best pilots were dead and its airplanes grounded most of the time for lack of fuel, but the airplanes existed and could be used on occasion. The fighter commanders, especially Gen. Maj. Dietrich Peltz, had the respect of General Spaatz and other Allied air leaders. And the threat of jet fighters19 was becoming more serious each week. Already the Germans had manufactured 700 Me-262’s and 100 Ar-234’s USSTAF believed.20 If the war lasted beyond June 1945 the GAF might again control the skies over the Reich. The deep uneasiness felt in Allied headquarters was reflected in the agreement of General Spaatz and General Smith of SHAEF on 9 January 1945 to elevate jet production to a first priority, coequal with oil.21 There was no opportunity for the Eighth Air Force to bomb jet plants in January, and jet engine factories, considered the most crucial objective, lay outside the range of Fifteenth Air Force planes. But by the end of the month confidence again reigned that German jets were not going to affect the air war decisively. There had been cause for the earlier concern. On the day following Spaatz’s decision, Adolf Hider referred to B-29 operations over Japan and nervously predicted a similar misfortune for Germany. Already, he said, the Allies were attacking the Reich with practically no losses, as though they were carrying out an exercise in bright sunshine. The answer must be “swarms of jets” with heavy cannon.22 But the hour was late and events would justify the renewed confidence of Allied air leaders.
The likelihood of a retarded V-day in Europe brought back into prominence a composite target system which had been left largely undisturbed
for two months: tank, truck, armored vehicle, and ordnance production. Bombardment of this category had been terminated abruptly on1 November 1944 in order to begin the transportation attacks.* It now seemed important to interfere with German refitting of regular forces and equipping of a peoples’ army. While there was little expectation of blocking German armament, damage of any type to the main production centers, such as those in Berlin, Ulm, Kassel, Magdeburg, Vienna, and Nürnberg, might have important effects. SHAEF was particularly insistent on renewing the campaign, and General Doolittle was a strong advocate among the air force leaders.23
A marginal, almost forgotten, target system which also loomed in January 1945 was German submarine construction. The unhappy results of previous bombing campaigns against U-boat pens and yards had left little inclination in air circles to waste bombs and effort in a new offensive.† It was only too clear, however, that the German submarine fleet was again formidable by the beginning of 1945. Furthermore, new types of U-boats – large, fast, radar-proof, and able to fire upon convoys without visual sighting and to remain under water for lengthy periods because of the schnorkel apparatus – were causing much damage to Allied shipping in the Channel.24 These new submarines posed some danger of bringing back 1942 conditions in the Atlantic, as Churchill later judged.25 As early as September 1944 the Air Ministry had requested USSTAF to participate in attacks on pens at Bergen and Trondheim, Norway, which were believed to be temporarily vulnerable.26 The Americans rejected this assignment on the grounds that Bomber Command could be spared for such an effort more readily than the Eighth Air Force and that it was undesirable to bomb such dubious targets in a friendly occupied country.27 In the following month the U.S. Navy advised the AAF’ that perhaps 300 of the new U-boats might soon be operating.28 Spaatz still refused to bomb Norwegian pens,29 but on 9 December he gave the Eighth Air Force permission to devote marginal effort to U-boat objectives in Germany proper.30 No American attacks followed, however, and soon after the Ardennes battle the Joint Intelligence Committee issued an alarming study dealing with the new submarine menace.31 For the strategic air forces to bomb U-boat yards and pens would be costly in effort, and there was no assurance that it would be worth while. But Spaatz decided to give this system a low priority which, to the amazement
† See Vol. II, pp. 251–54.
and great relief of his deputy for operations,32 satisfied both the US. Navy and the British. Also, the President and the Prime Minister agreed that the time had not yet come to take drastic measures in the U-boat war at the expense of other operations, although it might become necessary to do so.33
The deliberations on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the strategic bombing program in the light of early 1945 conditions led General Spaatz and Air Marshal Bottomley to draft a new directive governing the operations of USSTAF and Bomber Command. This Directive No. 3 they issued on 12 January 1945.* The over-all mission of the strategic air forces remained the same: the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic systems and the direct support of land and naval forces. Oil continued as first priority officially, although Spaatz had just sent out instructions for the American heavies to regard jet production as a parallel obligation, In second place came the German lines of communication, with emphasis on railways leading into the Ruhr. The third priority was meant for the RAF: raids on industrial areas in blind attacks whenever weather or tactical conditions prevented operations against higher priority objectives. This listing permitted attacks on tank factories, however, which the Americans intended to make. In fourth priority came counter-air force action, a misleading category in view of the temporary first priority for jets, which in turn was misleading because no attacks were made on jets until still another directive came out. Support of land and naval operations was a continuing commitment of the strategic air forces. Listed in this directive in fifth place, such support would become the foremost concern of the air forces upon a request from Eisenhower. Finally, as sixth priority, came attacks on the enemy’s submarine yards.34
These directives, as has been seen, were often little more than fornial memoranda for the record. The CCS could order the strategic air forces to attack any objective or target system it chose. Theater commands were authorized to call upon the heavy bombers for assistance whenever they needed it. Air force commanders actually enjoyed great latitude in waging the air war and sometimes paid scant attention to the official priority lists drafted with such care in higher echelons.35 And the weather was final arbiter in any case. Insofar as the Directive No. 3 possessed significance, General Spaatz regarded it with some satisfaction
as fulfilling his ideas concerning a postponed victory in Europe.36 AAF Headquarters felt it was too vague and that USSTAF had conceded too much to the RAF.37 Portal, on the other hand, accepted the new directive with some reluctance, since he believed the war might be won by May 1945, in which event the effort expended on jets and the marginal target systems might drain some of the force from a decisive campaign against oil and transportation.38 The RAF chief of air staff insisted upon securing specific CCS confirmation of the new priorities, a circumstance which resulted in a major alteration of Directive No. 3 toward the end of January.*
While in no month after the Normandy invasion had it been possible for the heavy bombers to concentrate on a “pure” strategic offensive, January 1945 was a period of unusual absorption with the land battle. Approximately three-fourths of USSTAF effort went on tactical targets,39 and RAF Bomber Command was similarly taxed. Eighth Air Force mission reports for most of January show enormous numbers of heavy bombers, sometimes as many as 1,500, going out day after day to bomb targets whose neutralization would benefit Allied ground forces but would not directly accelerate the dislocation of Germany’s industries. The preponderant weight of such air effort went on what was officially a secondary objective, enemy communications. Some 147 rail and road targets – rail centers, marshalling yards, repair shops, junctions, bridges, and traffic bottlenecks – received USSTAF raids during the month. It was seldom possible to evaluate the damage inflicted because of the confusion of battle and the overstrained condition of photographic reconnaissance units.40 The Germans continued to repair their bombed railways and bridges expeditiously,41 but the delays were sometimes determining factors in winning a tactical advantage, and the cumulative effect on German transportation was slowly mounting to the point of disaster. Thus, transportation bombings in behalf of the ground forces helped wreck Germany and were by no means wasted even from the most extreme strategic air point of view. Meanwhile, the Fifteenth Air Force was prosecuting its long campaign against railways in Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary, and Italy.
The relatively small number of missions directed at strategic targets during January 1945 were very successful in keeping oil production
* See below, p. 725.
low and in hampering tank manufacture. On 1 January a force of 109 B-17’s of the Eighth Air Force bombed an oil refinery at Dollbergen with signal effectiveness.42 For about two weeks thereafter Germany’s oil producers received no visits from the heavies. In the middle of January, Bomber Command delivered several heavy blows in mass area raids at night upon the major synthetic oil plants in central Germany which were coming back into production: Pölitz, Brüx, Zeitz, and Leuna.43 There was unaccustomed air activity over Germany on 14 January, when 10 Eighth Air Force groups ran into 350 GAF conventional-type fighters, half of which the Americans claimed to have shot down to their own loss of 5 fighters and 9 bombers.44 Bombing results that day were reasonably good. A crude-oil refinery at Hemmingstedt was knocked out of operation, several oil depots were struck, and fair success was achieved against a benzol plant in the Ruhr and a synthetic oil plant at Magdeburg.45 Magdeburg required another attack, which it received on 16 January along with Ruhland and tank plants at Bitterfeld and Buckau. The Eighth struck at oil refineries in Hamburg and Harburg on the 17th to some effect46 and bombed the Blohm and Voss U-boat yard in Hamburg with less success.
Weather conditions during the last of January greatly restricted the air war. Because of difficult icing conditions over the Alps the Fifteenth Air Force was able to fly on only eight days in the entire month, and Bomber Command had to cancel missions because of treacherous flying weather. Even when parts of Germany were open to bombing, Eighth Air Force aircraft were often hampered by late-morning fog at their bases or by heavy clouds in the early evening.47 The air forces had made much progress in the past year toward overcoming their worst opponent, the weather, but radar-bombing methods continued to prove disappointing. The Eighth Air Force had an average circular probable error of about two miles on its blind missions,48 which meant that many of its attacks depended for effectiveness upon drenching an area with bombs. With identical equipment the Fifteenth Air Force was doing twice as well – or half as poorly – as the Eighth, possibly because of a more thorough training program in preparing lead crews for winter bombing.49 The only answer seemed to be to provide more radar operators and equipment and to build up experience. AAF Headquarters determined that one-fourth of each heavy bombardment group should be composed of radar-equipped aircraft, an aim which was reached early in March 1945, whereupon the Eighth and Fifteenth
Air Forces requested that twice this proportion be provided.50 Although new methods of radar bombing were under development during the winter of 1945, they were not introduced into the European air war in time to improve accuracy sharply.
Good bombing conditions or not, the air forces operated during the last few days of January 1945 as well as they could. The Fifteenth managed on 20 January to place 228 tons on the large oil storage depot at Regensburg, its first oil mission for three weeks.51 On the next day it sent 189 B-17’s to bomb two oil refineries in the Vienna area while 50 P-38’s shot up a refinery near Fiume. For nine days thereafter the Fifteenth was grounded. Then, on 31 January, it delivered a heavy blow at the vast Moosbierbaum synthetic plant in Vienna with 217 Fortresses and 407 Liberators. The Eighth Air Force got 36 Fortresses through on 20 January to bomb the synthetic oil plant at Sterkrade, which was reattacked on the 22nd. A tank factory at Aschaffenburg received a blind attack from 66 Fortresses on 21 January. Toward the last of the month, on 28 and 29 January, the Eighth again undertook small strategic missions. On the 25th, 115 Liberators bombed two benzol plants in the Ruhr and on the next day 93 Fortresses inflicted fresh damage on the Henschel tank works at Kasse1.52 These January missions were very difficult to carry through and unimpressive in size. Yet, with the area raids of the RAF, they were successful in restraining German industrial output. The transportation chaos, largely brought on by the air forces, continued to aggravate the enemy’s problems.
The war situation was much improved when the CCS convened on 30 January 1945 at Malta, just prior to the Yalta conference of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. In the west the Allies had removed the Bulge and were preparing to resume the march to the Rhine. More promising was the massive Russian advance in the east. For a few days it looked as though East Prussia, Silesia, and even Berlin itself might be overrun. At that point, just when the CCS had tacitly approved the Spaatz-Bottomley Directive No. 3 for strategic air operations,53 the Malta conferees decided to throw the weight of the heavy bombers into the battle in the east. Perhaps this decision grew out of foreknowledge of a formal Russian request for such assistance which was put forward a few days later at Yalta.54 At any rate, the western Allies and the Russians were in strong agreement that the strategic air forces might prevent German reinforcement of the crumbling eastern front. Primarily, this assistance was to take the form of blocking the major
transportation centers through which the Germans might send units from west to east, such as Berlin, Lepzig, Dresden, Cottbus, Chemnitz, and others. There was also a hope that heavy air raids would increase the panic and confusion already prevalent in those cities, which were thoroughly frightened by the sudden Russian advance and full of refugees. Pandemonium in Berlin, particularly, might have a decisive effect in speeding up the disintegration of Hitler’s regime. Accordingly, the air leaders at Malta issued with the strong approval of General Marshall, and with what they took to be the concurrence of AAF Headquarters, a revised directive.55 As second priority (after synthetic oil plants) came “Berlin, Lepzig, Dresden, and associated cities where heavy attack will cause great confusion in civilian evacuation from the east and hamper reinforcements.” As a third priority the heavy bombers would direct their efforts on communications in the Ruhr–Cologne–Kassel area to keep the Germans from withdrawing forces in the west to bolster the east.56
The Eighth Air Force was braced for several days awaiting an opportunity to blast Berlin, which had gone for two months without a major bombardment. Always a prime target because of its industries and government offices, the capital was especially important now because of its transportation. Accordingly, marshalling yards and railway stations throughout the vast urban center were the chief objectives.57 Underlining the urgency of bombing Berlin at this time was the belief that the Sixth Panzer Army was moving through the city on its way to the Russian front and the feeling that a good attack on the eve of the Yalta conference might help convince the Soviet Union of American willingness to assist it. Another consideration was the possibility of demoralizing the Nazi government with a smashing bombardment. Accordingly, the Eighth Air Force planned to put its full B-17 force on Berlin, attacking transportation and governmental targets heavily in what would probably be radar, and therefore inaccurate, bombing. It was recognized that the Germans on the receiving end might regard it as a terror raid, but the Americans made careful preparations to conduct as precise an attack as possible.58
The mission took place on 3 February 1945. Nearly 1,000 Fortresses flew to Berlin while 400 Liberators simultaneously attacked railway and oil targets around Magdeburg. The B-17’s reached the capital without interference and found most of it exposed to visual bombing. Hence accuracy was fairly high, although the bombers unloaded their
tonnages from 24,000 to 27,000 feet and had to take evasive action to avoid murderous German flak, which brought down 21 heavy bombers. P-51 escorts were entirely effective in keeping the German Air Force from troubling the bombers, and they shot up locomotives and strafed railway cars with spectacular success while the bombers inflicted severe damage on marshalling yards and railway stations throughout the Berlin area. Furthermore, the bomb pattern was heavy in the government district. The Reichschancellery, Air Ministry, Foreign Office, Ministry of Propaganda, and Gestapo headquarters all sustained many hits. Before long, German officials and state documents began to flow to other cities and Berlin lost many of its functions as a capital. Finally, civilian casualties were exceedingly high, the number of fatalities reaching perhaps 25,00059 and Swedish newspaper accounts were full of lurid details about the horror in Berlin.
This Berlin raid and the scheduled attacks on other population centers turned attention briefly again to the question of terror bombing, about which the Nazi propaganda machine was having much to say. The leaders of the AAF had long been on record in opposition to indiscriminate attacks on civilians.* If bombardiers were sometimes less circumspect in this matter, or if Germans found it hard to differentiate between spillage and terror bombing, it nevertheless seemed important during those pre-Hiroshima months not to deviate from the stated policy of attacking legitimate military objectives. But were the current and planned bombardments of German cities which served the eastern front deviations from that policy? General Kuter, who was representing General Arnold at the Yalta conference during Arnold’s convalescence from a recent illness, asked Spaatz whether the revised directive of 31 January 1945 authorized indiscriminate attacks on cities.60 From Washington, Lt. Gen. Barney M. Giles cabled his support to Kuter’s query,61 a question which must have seemed inappropriate to direct at Spaatz, who had steadfastly upheld the principle of precision bombing in the face of much pressure. He replied that USSTAF was really observing Directive No. 3 and not the revision of 31 January: what had occurred was not a change in priority but a shift of emphasis. The Americans were not bombing cities indiscriminately, but attacking transportation facilities inside cities in missions which the Russians had requested and seemed to appreciate.62
While this exchange was taking place, the RAF and Eighth Air
Force were carrying out extensive and shattering attacks against railway junctions in Dresden, Cottbus, Magdeburg, and Chemnitz which resulted in widespread ruin to surrounding areas and tragedy to thousands of German civilians. At the height of this campaign a news story widely printed in the United States proclaimed that the senior American air commanders had determined to terrorize the German people into submission. This account, which cleared SHAEF but not USSTAF, grew out of a SHAEF press conference in which an RAF officer described how the air forces planned to bomb large population centers and then attempt to prevent relief supplies from reaching and refugees from leaving them – all part of a general program to bring about the collapse of German economy.63 In any event, the news story exaggerated the burden of the press talk and grossly misrepresented the purposes of the AAF. General Arnold was disconcerted about the publicity and by this time was confused in his own mind as to which directive USSTAF was observing. He cabled Spaatz to resolve the matter, implying that he would like to know whether there was any significant distinction between morale bombing and radar attacks on transportation targets in urban areas. Spaatz hastened to reply that he had not departed from the historic American policy in Europe, even in the case of Berlin, and Arnold expressed himself as entirely satisfied with the explanation.64 Asthe discussion died down, Spaatz straightened out his public relations outlets, Eisenhower heard all about the issue, and AAF Headquarters, aware of the damaging impression the recent publicity had made, took steps to prevent another break.65
That opposition in the AAF to area bombardment had actually weakened, the exchange of communications on the question in February 1945 notwithstanding, is indicated not only by the almost simultaneous launching of sustained B-29 attacks on Japanese cities but by proposals for the use of robot-controlled B-17’s in Europe. A program to make use of “war-weary” B-17’s, stripped of armor and armament and loaded with 20,000 pounds of explosive, had occupied considerable attention both in the European theater and in the AAF Proving Ground Command. Undoubtedly, the project was technically feasible.66 Pilots would get the drone bomber off the ground and bail out, leaving it to be guided toward a German target by means of radio control emanating from a “mother” bomber. Before the first of 1945 six different missions involving eleven robot B-17’s had been carried out, mainly against Helgoland, Heide, and Oldenburg. None of them was
successful in hitting specific targets, and there was some danger that the equipment had been compromised.67
But the method was promising and, with glide and Azon-controlled bombs, might furnish useful experience for the Pacific war while inflicting some injury upon Germany. The British, pointing out that the Germans had large numbers of planes that could not be used because of the shortage of fuel and trained pilots, objected that the project invited retaliation in kind, and at the Malta conference Portal firmly opposed the project.68 The Americans reluctantly gave in, but toward the end of March the AAF reopened the question with the British since by that time the Germans had already tried to send such robots into London. Churchill’s reply was nominally favorable but couched in such unmistakable terms of opposition that President Truman, who had just taken office, did not press the question further.69
A Month of Steady Blows
During February 1945 the strategic air forces destroyed any serious possibility that Germany might unduly protract the war. The heavy bombers expended their greatest efforts since June 1944. Although flying conditions in the first half of the month were the worst ever experienced and 80 per cent of the missions were blind attacks,70 the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces each carried out large-scale operations on twenty days during the month. The results were impressive in every respect. The oil campaign, into which USSTAF and Bomber Command poured 24,800 tons during the month,71 remained well under control with complete victory coming into view. The Germans failed utterly to make anything out of the Geilenberg program for underground plants, largely because of the breakdown in transportation. The Russians having reduced the number of available oil production centers by conquering large sections of Poland, Hungary, and Silesia, nothing remained to the Nazis but synthetic plants in central Germany and Austria, a few crude sources, and benzol plants in the Ruhr. The air forces would watch them and smash them as soon as repairs were completed. Attacks on storage dumps by both strategic and tactical air forces would not only deplete oil reserves but wreck certain fuel processing activities which were being carried on in such installations.72 Also, the February operations of the heavies helped postpone for another month the serious participation of German jet fighters, dispelling the nightmare that Hitler might yet produce a miracle. More
over, in February came unanswerable justification of the long and discouraging campaign against German rail transportation. The enemy’s economy became paralyzed and his armies fatally restricted. And marginal air effort against tanks, ordnance, and submarines was generally effective, Meanwhile, the RAF, whose bombers now operated frequently in daylight, continued to pile ruin upon ruin in German cities, immobilizing millions of workers and extinguishing economic life. By the end of February Nazi Germany was no longer an industrial nation.
The Eighth Air Force opened the month’s bombings with a typical blind mission against railway targets in Mannheim and Ludwigshafen and bridges over the Wesir on 1 February, an operation involving about 700 heavy bombers. On 3 February occurred the memorable Berlin attack already considered. Weather prevented Eighth Air Force operations on the 4th and 5th, and on the 6th compelled a diversion from synthetic oil plants which needed treatment to marshalling yards at Chemnitz, Magdeburg, and a number of targets of opportunity in central Germany.73 The bombings at Chemnitz and Magdeburg, undertaken in compliance with Russian wishes, brought approximately 800 tons on each city. The ruins at Magdeburg included not only the chief transportation and industrial area but structures of cultural and historic importance as well.74 On both 7 and 8 February heavy bomber forces left for Germany but had to be recalled while in flight because of rapidly worsening weather conditions. Then, on the 9th, six forces totaling 1,296 heavies attempted again to strike at high-priority targets in central Germany but, except for Lützkendorf and three viaducts, only secondaries and targets of opportunity could be reached. The wreckage at Lützkendorf, however, was sufficient to place that objective on the inactive list.75 And damage to an oil storage depot at Dülmen and an ordnance plant at Weimar seemed substantial. For the first time in many weeks the dreaded Me-262’s attacked Eighth Air Force bombers on this mission of 9 February. Exploiting their superior speed the twin-jet aircraft made wide S’s around the bomber formations, eluding the bursts fired by the gunners but also spoiling their own aim. P-51 pilots believed they destroyed two of the nine or more attacking jets, and only one bomber came down.76 Only minor operations were possible on 10 and 11 February, the sole important target being the Dülmen oil depot, which caught 750 tons in two attacks. Weather closed in altogether on the Eighth on the 12th and 13th, preventing missions in behalf of the Red army or the oil offensive.
With the Fifteenth Air Force, as with the Eighth, obligations to assist the Anglo-American and Russian land forces involved much attention to the German transportation system. In particular, marshalling yards in Vienna, around which the Russians were beginning to close, and railway installations in Hungary, Italy, and Yugoslavia required heavy tonnages. Heavy base fog or disturbances over the Alps kept the Fifteenth out of Germany for the first four days of February. On the 5th, despite high clouds and generally poor flying conditions on the route, 589 heavies got into Germany and dumped more than 1,100 tons on the Regensburg oil storage plant, which was very severely damaged. After a day of prohibitive flying weather, the Fifteenth vaulted rhe Alps again on 7 February to bomb several crude-oil refineries around Vienna; in addition, the synthetic plant at Moosbierbaum caught 528 tons and the greatest damage.77 Follow-up bombings of 9 and 14 February were believed to have left this vast establishment half destroyed in productive capacity.78 Railway targets in Austria received moderate raids on 8 and 9 February, after which a three-day lull ensued because of unflyable conditions. On the 13th almost the full weight of the Fifteenth Air Force, 837 heavies, struck at Vienna, concentrating on the south ordnance depot, repair shops, freight yards, oil refineries, and railway depots, as well as marshalling yards in western Hungary and Austria. After a light day of bombing railways leading toward the former Austrian capital, the Fifteenth returned in full force on 15 February to reattack marshalling yards and freight stations inside the city. General havoc was wrought in Vienna stations. In parts of the city all railway lines were blocked.79 But it was the kind of damage that would not stay done.
With Vienna temporarily under control, the Fifteenth turned on 16 February to German jet aircraft. It was the day General Eaker had been waiting for to “crack the jets,”80 and approximately 700 heavies flew into southern Germany. Flying conditions were not helpful, however, and only one weighty attack was carried out, when 263 Liberators unloaded 559 tons on the jet airfield and adjacent Me-262 plant near Regensburg. Perhaps 23 jets were destroyed on the ground and 19 were severely damaged. Curiously enough, the Germans could not get their jets off the ground in time. It looked as though new damage was inflicted on the factory, and results of a much smaller bombing at Neuburg seemed good.81 Scattered effort on 17 February brought damage to naval objectives in Trieste and Fiume as well as to the benzol
plant and marshalling yards at Linz, Austria. The Linz benzol installation caught 417 tons on the 18th, otherwise an inconspicuous day in the air war. On the 19th, strong head winds kept the heavies from reaching Vienna, with the result that the Graz and Klagenfurt marshalling yards were attacked.82 Well over 550 Fifteenth Air Force heavies were out on 20 February, bombing oil refineries and railways in Vienna and attacking harbor areas at Trieste, Fiume, and Pola. A similar number of bombers wound up this phase of the long air offensive against Vienna on 21 February with a furious bombing of railways and stations. Vienna was almost done for. Its oil, industrial, and transportation establishments were largely demolished. The Fifteenth Air Force would visit the pathetic former capital again before the Russians fought their way through it, but for the time being Vienna was eliminated from the strategic air war.
The Eighth Air Force devoted two days’ effort beginning with 14 February to the central German railway centers which were believed to serve armies opposing the Russians in the east. Three hundred and eleven Fortresses dropped 771 tons on Dresden, 294 dropped 718 tons on Chemnitz, and 340 Liberators unloaded 811 tons on Magdeburg, while small forces struck targets of opportunity in this general area. Dresden, which the heavy bombers had left alone until 1945, had received a terrible bombing from the RAF on the previous night. Smoke was still rising to 15,000 feet by the time the Americans arrived to make their attack by instrument.83 It was this blow which helped set off the flurry about terror bombing already described. The Secretary of War had to be apprised of Dresden’s importance as a transportation center and the Russian request for its neutralization.84 Even the RAF report on the attacks went to unusual length to explain how the city had grown into a great industrial center and was therefore an important target. But if casualties were exceptionally high and damage to residential areas great, it was also evident the city’s industrial and transportation establishments had been blotted out. Results at Chemnitz were less decisive, though it too received two extremely severe RAF-AAF bombings within the space of a few hours; its railways were scarcely damaged at all.85
On 15 February over 1,100 Eighth Air Force bombers undertook to bring the oil offensive up to date by attacking reviving refineries and plants. Unusually poor visibility caused most of the bombers to unload on marshalling yards, however. Cottbus caught over 1,000 tons from
435 Fortresses and Dresden received 461 tons from 210 Fortresses, all dropped blind, and results were unassessable because of previous or subsequent raids. The only primary target to be attacked was the Magdeburg synthetic oil plant, where 900 tons achieved fair damage.86 The missions of 16 February were necessarily directed against western Germany. Benzol plants at Gelsenkirchen and Münster-am-Stein, refineries at Dortmund and Salzbergen, and marshalling yards at Hamm and Osnabruck received most of the tonnage. Of three forces dispatched on 17 February only one carried out its mission without being recalled: an attack on marshalling yards at Frankfurt and Giessen. The heavies were grounded altogether on 18 February. Shallow penetrations were possible on the 19th when targets included a tank plant and benzol installations in the Ruhr, a bridge over the Weser, and niarshalling yards at Osnabruck, Münster, and Rheine. Attention then shifted to Nürnberg, which had not been attacked for some time by the Americans and was now crammed with supply trains.87 On 20 February the Nazi shrine city received 2,000 tons and on 21 February almost 1,800 tons from the Eighth Air Force. Photographs showed widespread damage to the railways and industrial areas.88
By the middle of February the several Allied land armies were prepared to resume the offensive toward the Rhine which von Rundstedt had interrupted in December. The period just before this massive push was one of great anxiety, mainly because of German-manipulated floods in the Roer valley.89 In order to refine the extensive preparations already made, SHAEF requested the air forces to mount CLARION, a plan of long standing designed to utilize all available Anglo-American air power in a blow at German communications which would affect both economic life and the tactical situation.* CLARION called for British-American bombers and fighters to range over most of the Reich simultaneously on a clear day to attack all sorts of transportation targets: grade crossings, stations, barges, docks, signals, tracks, bridges, and marshalling yards. Most of the objectives were located in small towns that had never been bombed before. Hence they would not be well defended, and injury to hundreds of ligaments in the German economic body might, at its best, produce a stupe-fying effect on morale on the eve of the land offensive. In general, CLARION was a substitute for the “Jeb” Stuart operation championed in Washington† and as such was presented to General Marshall
* See above, p. 639.
† See above, pp. 715-16.
at the Malta conference,90 although CLARION involved the large-scale employment of strategic bombers as well as fighters.
The direct ancestor of plan CLARION was HURRICANE, the project of the autumn of 1944 to impress the German people with a terrifying display of Allied air might. The plan had met objections based on opposition to terror bombing. On 1 January 1945, General Eaker had advised Spaatz against sending heavy bombers to attack transportation targets in small German towns, for there would be many civilian casualties and the German people might be convinced the Americans were barbarians, just as Nazi propaganda charged. Eaker concluded that “you and Bob Lovett are right and we should never allow the history of this war to convict us of throwing the strategic bomber at the man in the street.”91 There were other objections to CLARION, chiefly with regard to its probable effectiveness. Portal and Bottomley counseled against the plan as one unlikely to injure the enemy seriously and as an undesirable diversion from the oil offensive. CLARION involved a diffusion of effort over wide areas, which had been singled out by the Combined Strategic Targets Committee in January 1945 as the chief flaw of transportation attacks in the past. There was some objection to exposing heavy bombers to ground fire by sending them at low altitudes over minor targets.92 But the skeptics were outnumbered where it counted, in SHAEF, and Spaatz himself was not averse to giving CLARION a try.93
The opportunity came on 22 February, when most of Germany was expected to be vulnerable to visual-bombing attacks. The tactical air forces received assignments in western and northwestern Germany, the Fifteenth Air Force was to operate over a wide area in southern Germany, RAF Bomber Command retained its semi-monopoly over the Ruhr, and Eighth Air Force planned to bomb several dozen towns in the middle and north central part of the Reich. The Eighth Air Force had to depart from its usual operating procedures in several respects. Most important of all, the heavy bombers attacked from about 10,000 feet or even lower instead of the customary 20,000- to 25,000-foot altitudes. Also, the heavies formed small attacking units instead of organizing into the usual large formations. All the Eighth’s fighters went along, mainly for independent strafing and bombing operations. The GAF had not undertaken a serious interception since the New Year’s Day disaster, and seventy-odd German fighters which were airborne on this day caused no serious problem for the American escorts.
Bombing was good, although low clouds spoiled most of the primary targets for the 3rd Air Division of the Eighth. The 1st and 2nd Air Divisions dropped 2,408 tons from 875 heavies on 25 different targets. Only 7 of the 1,411 Eighth Air Force bombers which left England were lost, although 85 sustained battle damage from flak, which was not surprising in view of the low bombing altitudes. Meanwhile, the tactical air forces operated as planned in their area, and Bomber Command managed to attack two Ruhr oil plants in addition to its objectives. The Fifteenth Air Force also had a good day although it had to bomb a number of last-resort targets. Over 700 of its heavies and 350 fighters bombed 30 different towns in an area 300 miles long and 100 miles wide.94
CLARION seemed highly gratifying, so much so that another operation of the same nature was prescribed for 23 February. Bomber Command singled out Gelsenkirchen and Essen for daylight bombing and Berlin for a night mission. The Fifteenth Air Force sent 455 heavies to attack eight transportation targets in the south, and the tactical air forces repeated the pattern of 22 February. The Eighth Air Force planned to finish off the objectives which had escaped on the day before. It seemed incredible that GAF reaction would not be stimilated, so all fifteen fighter groups again went along, this time with more expectation of tangling with German fighters. Yet the GAF scarcely appeared at all, and when sighted, the Germans, even the jet aircraft, evaded combat. The Eighth struck twenty-six of its targets with 3,327 tons. Of its 1,193 bomber sorties only 2 heavies failed to return; one of them ditched in the North Sea and the crew of the other parachuted safely in friendly territory.95 All the news seemed good at first. ACCUracy was unexpectedly high, losses were slight, and the German people had received an unforgettable demonstration of Allied air power. Moreover, at least 150 marshalling yards were damaged, perhaps 500 railway cuts were effected, and about 300 locomotives had been destroyed.96 The enemy’s communications system had apparently suffered a staggering blow, and railway traffic was at a standstill in many parts of the Reich.
Subsequent assessment of the two CLARION operations greatly slaked the enthusiasm of the moment. It was never possible to evaluate all of the structural damage inflicted on German railways, for the reconnaissance and photographic effort was insufficient for such a survey. But there was no sign of a general breakdown, no evidence of the
Reichsbahn’s repair facilities being saturated or of German train crews deserting in significant numbers.97 Nothing in particular happened after the German people beheld Allied warplanes striking towns which usually escaped bombings. Perhaps it was a case, as a SHAEF press conference was told in a slightly different connection, of trying to injure the morale of a people who had no morale.98 The depressing refrain which followed so many Allied air efforts against German transportation again seemed sound: high-priority military traffic continued to go through, the bombings having had only local and temporary eff ects.99 The Joint Intelligence Committee concluded that CLARION had not seriously affected Germany’s capacity to resist, and Portal, in indorsing this opinion, advised against any further attempts with this type of operation.100 Tedder, Spaatz, and Doolittle were inclined to disagree with these judgments,101 but they launched no further CLARION operations. Authoritative postwar studies also differed radically in assessing CLARION.102
A sidelight of the first CLARION mission was the accidental bombing of the Swiss town of Schaff hausen, which one year before had been an innocent recipient of an Eighth Air Force attack. USSTAF crews were supposed to observe a safety belt around Switzerland of 50 miles for visual and 150 miles for blind bombing in which they could not hit any but positively identified targets. Nevertheless, reports of violations, mainly when fighters were chasing trains or when Friedrichshafen was bombed,103 continued to reach the attention of General Marshall. The incident of 22 February 1945 at Schaffhausen provoked the U.S. Army chief of staff to send a personal cable to Eisenhower and McNarney asking them to look into the matter.104 A few days later, on 4 March 1945, the most flagrant breach of all occurred when nine B-24’s bombed Basle and six others attacked Zurich. These Eighth Air Force bombers dropped thirty-four tons in all on the Swiss. In both cases the squadrons had wandered from accompanying formations on an exceptionally cloudy day and bombed what they mistook for Freiburg, twenty-five miles from Basle and forty-five miles from Zurich, through holes in the sky which were not as opportune as the crews thought.105
As soon as he heard of the violations General Marshall cabled Spaatz to go to Switzerland very secretly and make a formal apology and explanation – something more than a mere expression of regret. The USSTAF commander made his visit and received a few days later
messages from the Army chief of staff and from General Arnold thanking him for trying to make amends for the blunder.106 USSTAF took more care in indoctrinating its crews, and there were no further reports of violations.
The general success which attended the Allied land offensive toward the Rhine after 23 February enabled the heavy bomber commands to return to the strategic air offensive. The goals remained the same: deny oil products to the enemy, ruin his communications, reduce the number of weapons he could use in land battles, and, if there remained marginal effort, attack his budding jet aircraft force and new submarines. With the stabilization of the eastern front, commitments to bomb large population and communications centers dropped down the priority list. The air battle against German transportation was shaping into a new phase, however, and attacks would continue in great weight. With the Ruhr marked as the next strategic objective for the land forces, the several air forces began an ambitious campaign to isolate that valley from the rest of Germany. The purpose was to cut at least one vital bridge or viaduct on every line of communication in a wide arc extending from Bremen in the north down the Weser River through Bielefeld to Coblenz in the south. In all, eighteen bridges or viaducts were involved, six of which were assigned to the strategic air forces. Then, every marshalling yard of any importance between the broken bridges and the Ruhr had to be attacked repeatedly in order to insure interdiction.107 Fighter-bombers would operate against rolling stock as they had ten months before in northern France. The major portion of the plan devolved upon the tactical air forces, and the principal purpose of the whole program was tactical: to prevent the Germans from building up their forces in the Ruhr prior to the Allied assault. Nevertheless, the isolation of the Ruhr, if successful, would vastly influence the strategic air war against Germany’s war-making capacity, particularly in denying hard coal and steel which were now so vital to the Reich since Silesia had fallen to the Russians.108 Because the plan was expected to produce this significant strategic result, General Vandenberg had insisted that the strategic air forces take a substantial part.109
Eighth Air Force returned to the bomber offensive on 24 February with a large but not very successful mission against northwestern Germany. Cloud conditions were even worse than anticipated, so that nearly all the bombs were dropped by H2S.The 1st Air Division
concentrated on oil refineries in Hamburg, the d Air Division struck marshalling yards and an oil refinery at Hannover, and the 3rd Air Division aimed at a submarine pen in Bremen, two bridges near Minden, and the industrial area of Osnabruck. Only 1 of the 1,090 heavy bombers failed to return; German antiaircraft fire, like American bombing, was inaccurate that day.110 The missions of 25 February constituted a substantial if not outstanding assault on Germany. A generally unfavorable forecast left only southern targets open to bombing, and 1,177 bombers with eleven fighter groups reached the Bavarian area. Marshalling yards at Munich and Ulm, various airfields for jets, the oil storage depot at Neuburg, the tank assembly plant at Aschaffenburg, and a tank engine factory at Friedrichshafen were the chief objectives. Losses were light-only five bombers and five fighters. Bombing was good at the airfields, railway yards, and the oil depot. And an almost complete failure at Friedrichshafen was matched by the destruction of practically all the buildings at the Aschaffenburg tank plant and severe damage at Neuburg.111 Such missions as these, which seemed inconclusive in some respects and which were often not carried out as planned, had a way of producing significant results. In the long run the stubborn policy of dispatching bombers over Germany at every possible opportunity brought about the effects envisaged by the Allied leaders.
Berlin came in for another Eighth Air Force visitation on 26 February, since a predicted overcast covering the Reich ruled out visual operations planned against southwestern Germany. All forces were thus directed against the most suitable area for instrument bombing: railway targets in east central Berlin, especially the Schleisischer, Alexander Platz, and North railroad stations. Each air division took one of the three stations for its main target. The bombers reached “Big B” 1,102 strong, dropped 2,879 tons, and, as anticipated, encountered no enemy fighters. Five bombers and five fighters were lost to flak or because of operational difficulties. Assessment showed that only the Schleisischer station of the three main objectives was severely damaged. But enormous fires burned in many parts of the city intensely enough to dispel the clouds, and that night RAF Mosquitoes were able to make good visual sighting on their regular raid. It was apparent that moderate damage had been inflicted on railway targets and power stations. Also, the Reichstag building was hit, a wing of the Ministry of Propaganda was destroyed, and other public buildings were damaged.
Spillage from the transportation bombings damaged industrial plants and scattered sections in the business and residential areas.112 Admiral Doenitz assured his Führer a few days afterward that Berlin had been bombed only for political reasons. He said he thought seaports like Stettin and Swinemünde, full of supplies and crowded with refugees, would have been better targets for the Allies.113
The operational commanders chose for 27 February, on the customary basis of weather predictions at the 1600-hour conference the day before, a complex of targets in the Lepzig area, mainly aeroengine plants, a tank factory, and marshalling yards. Nearly 1,100 bombers and the full fifteen fighter groups sortied. Visibility proved even poorer than had been anticipated, with the result that only railway targets at Halle and Bitterfeld and the central transportation point in Lepzig itself received attention. The bomb fall was not accurate, but spillage on adjacent industrial and residential areas in Lepzig caused considerable destruction. On 28 February the only exposed section of Germany was the west central part. Accordingly, bombings of that day were mainly in fulfilment of the over-all transportation program to isolate the Ruhr. Good attacks were also made on the Henschel tank plant at Kassel and a castings factory at Meschede.114 The attacks on marshalling yards, even though most of them were nonvisual, were unusually good, and several targets were suspended or removed from the list.
The Fifteenth Air Force had fine weather during the last few days of February over its bases and routes, although conditions at targets usually made it necessary to employ blind-bombing techniques. Nearly all of the Fifteenth’s objectives were tactical: railway targets in northern Italy, Austria, and in southern Germany, most of which would benefit the Russian land forces gradually moving up toward Vienna. On 24 February the Fifteenth carried out a phase of the long and inconclusive campaign to break the Brenner Pass railway line, in which the tactical Twelfth Air Force concentrated on bridges and lines and the Fifteenth on main marshalling yards. On the 25th the familiar benzol plant at Linz received a light bombing, as did the ordnance depot in that city; marshalling yards there also caught significant tonnages. Bombers were not able to surmount the Alps obstacle on 26 February, but on the next day 430 B-17’s and B-24’s dropped almost 1,100 tons on Augsburg’s marshalling yard. The Brenner Pass line received most of the effort of 28 February, when 533 B-24’s and 222 B-17’s bombed
bridges and rail centers on the Italian side. In terms of tonnage, the last week of February was one of the most notable in the history of the Fifteenth Air Force.115 For the aircrews another pleasant aspect was the almost complete absence of the enemy’s fighter force. The Germans could no longer fly their conventional fighters, and their jets were not quite ready for full-scale participation in the air war. During this interval both the Eighth and the Fifteenth suffered minimum losses. Flak was more concentrated than ever before, however, now that Germany had shrunk in area. But Allied countermeasures were better than ever before, too, and the use of 27-plane instead of 36-plane formations after February 1945 seemed a main factor in keeping flak damage low in the Eighth Air Force.116
As March opened, the only air force problem was to maintain the offensive along the lines set by February’s operations. Allied land forces were moving forward. German oil supplies were adequate onlv for a fitful, uncertain defense, and the three Allied strategic air forces were to direct 36,000 tons, the second largest amount in the entire oil offensive, at refineries and storage dumps in March. The only setback occurred when the Germans surprisingly recaptured some of the Hungarian oil fields from the Russians.117 The protracted campaign against enemy transportation was now paying off in economic and military paralysis, perhaps long overdue but nonetheless final. Shortage of all sorts of equipment and weapons for waging war – largely the accumulated result of the long series of RAF-AAF bombings-now hampered the German armies. Even if new jet and submarine forces were about to appear, the Allies were no longer worried about the war. The strategic air offensive had only a few more weeks to go before victory was secure. At the beginning of March the air forces had no new directives, They needed none. A steady application of blows for a few weeks would leave the Third Reich helpless, ready for occupation.
The 1 March 1945 mission of the Eighth Air Force required dispatching 1,219 heavies, a normal effort by this date of the war, to southern Germany. Targets were mainly marshalling yards in that section of the Reich. Ulm caught over 1,300 tons, but disappointing weather conditions made it necessary to bomb many secondary objectives that day. Even so, German transportation was reaching a state of collapse which made almost any bombing effective. Several jets jumped the lead bomber box and a straggler without success. The possibility of such attacks made it necessary to dispatch enormous and otherwise incongruous
numbers of fighter escorts with the bomber formation these days. On 2 March such precautions again proved valuable. All fifteen fighter groups went along with 1,210 bombers which carried out unusually heavy and effective attacks on synthetic oil plants at Magdeburg, Ruhland, and Böhlen, a tank plant at Magdeburg, and marshalling yards in Dresden and Chemnitz. Deducing that another Berlin raid was about to take place, the Germans put up three large formations of fighters to protect the capital, where they cruised for some time. Finally, about seventy-five of them headed out toward Dresden and Ruhland to attack B-17’s of the 3rd Air Division and shot down six of the bombers. AAF fighters and bomber crews claimed about half of the attacking fighters, and results of other engagements in the air made the attempted interceptions disastrous for the Germans.118
The opposition on the following day, 3 March, came from the dreaded jets. More than fifty Me-262’s and Me-163’s playfully encircled the slower P-51’s, making a few attacks and eluding the Mustangs without apparent difficulty. Finally, the jets shot down six American fighters and three bombers before allowing themselves to be driven off by the P-51’s.119 Germans seemed to be experimenting with formations and tactics and were not prepared for another two weeks to challenge the Allies again. The 1,048 Eighth Air Force bombers got in good blows that day against widely scattered targets in central and western Germany: synthetic oil plants at Magdeburg and Ruhland, oil refineries at Dollbergen and Misburg, tank plants in Brunswick, and several marshalling yards on the Ruhr interdiction list.120 The mission of 4 March was generally unproductive except for 657 tons dropped on the ordnance depot at Ulm. Most of the bomber formations encountered very unfavorable weather conditions and struck targets of opportunity.121 An operation against oil objectives in Hamburg and Ruhland scheduled for 5 March was also inconclusive. Because of exceptionally poor visibility, railway targets of low priority and a Hamburg refinery received blind attacks from the 500 heavies that were airborne that day.122 One good piece of news at this time was that American bombers were often not being shot at when they flew over the Ruhr.123 The enemy was at last feeling severe shortages in flak.
Grounded on 6 March, the Eighth Air Force sent 926 heavies on 7 March to bomb through the overcast important oil and transportation targets in the Ruhr. Benzol plants at Dortmund and Castrop and an oil refinery at Dortmund received fairly effective attacks, but the railway
targets were mostly secondary or last-resort targets. 8 March was a better day for bombing if not for weather. About 1,340 heavy bombers ranged over the western extremity of the Reich, bombing by instrument various marshalling yards on the Ruhr interdiction list, the Gelsenkirchen oil plant, and five different benzol plants. The 3,773 tons were unloaded on most of the primaries, and there were no losses on the mission. Breaks in the cloud-covered continent developed on 9 March in the Kassel-Frankfurt area. Over 1,000 bombers finished off the great tank plant at Kassel, which was abandoned after the mission, and inflicted notable damage on a castings work at Frankfurt and several important marshalling yards on the transportation list.124 Operations were much the same on 10 March except for greater emphasis on railway targets. Thirteen hundred and fifty-eight heavy bombers with ten groups of fighter escorts left England to bomb by H2S numerous transportation targets, a task they accomplished with no losses and with “customary good results,” as Doolittle boasted.125 The monotonous pounding of western German railways, most of which was carried out on cloudy days when oil and jet targets were not in need of urgent treatment, was rapidly compounding Germany’s troubles.
The offensive shifted northward on 11 March. Germany was still protected by clouds and effort could be spared for a marginal target system, submarine yards. Accordingly, Eighth Air Force sent its three air divisions at normal strength to attack, one division to each objective, U-boat yards at Kiel, Bremen, and Hamburg. Bombing was entirely blind and first reports indicated considerable success in covering the target areas with about 3,000 tons, but Doolittle soon afterward assessed the mission as a failure.126 Exceptional accuracy was required to harm these difficult and well-concealed targets. The mission of 12 March brought an exciting variation from the normal routine. A last-hour Russian request for an operation against Swinemünde, a Baltic port assuming tactical importance as a German center of seaborne reinforcement now that the Russians were moving into eastern Germany, brought a vigorous Eighth Air Force response. About half the operating strength of each air division was pulled off planned operations and dispatched to Swinemünde, a total of 671 bombers making sorties. Although the city was only fifteen to twenty miles from the Russian lines and ordinarily too close for an H2S mission, it was decided to use the radar device because the area was so easily identified on screens. The attacks were good, 1,609 tons falling on vessels in the harbor,
quays, slipways, and a large number of buildings in the port and on industrial areas. Flak was meager and inaccurate, and the only bomber which failed to return made for Sweden. Doolittle hailed the mission as successful in spite of the 10/10 cloud. The Americans requested the Red air force to photograph the results of the Swinemünde attack. After a three-week delay came a brief reply minimizing the effectiveness of the bombing, but no photographs. British photographs taken later showed substantial damage.127
Bomber Command’s contribution to the last phase of the war steadily grew in weight. Often flying in daylight, the RAF heavies unloaded vast tonnages on the marshalling yards in western Germany and kept the familiar benzol and oil targets in the Ruhr immobilized. On 11 March the greatest weight of bombs ever dropped in a single strategic attack fell on Essen, when 1,079 bombers deposited 4,738 tons. This record stood for only one day, for on 12 March Dortmund received 4,899 tons from 1,107 aircraft. Also, the 12,000-pound Tallboy bombs were dropped successfully for the first time on the Bielefeld and Arnsberg viaducts, difficult targets against which bombing effort had hitherto been of scant effect. The ruined cities of the Ruhr were kept in ruins. Casualties, unemployment, and primitive conditions had become commonplace in many formerly busy areas. Mosquitoes continued their regular attacks on Berlin which had been going on almost nightly for many weeks. Mine-laying and antishipping operations remained as a major function of the RAF. As the war in the air drew to a close Bomber Command, like the American strategic air forces, poured out the heaviest tonnages of its long history, eclipsing its own impressive records as it rained explosives on the Reich.128
The Fifteenth Air Force was expending approximately two-thirds of its effort on transportation targets and one-third on the oil campaign. As strategic targets vanished more attention could go toward aiding the Allied and Russian advances. In the second week of March it was the Russian land offensive which claimed most assistance, and the Russians sent in a stream of requests for bombings which would benefit their ground forces.129 Thus marshalling yards, airfields, bridges, and strongpoints in western Hungary, southern Austria, and northern Yugoslavia absorbed heavy tonnages. The most spectacular Fifteenth Air Force mission at this time was the 12 March assault on the massive Floridsdorf oil refinery near Vienna. A force of 225 B-17’s and 522 B-24’s dropped 1,667 tons on this objective in the largest single operation yet carried
out by the Italy-based heavies. On the next day a force of almost 600 heavy bombers dropped 1,200 tons through a complete undercast on the marshalling yards at Regensburg, severely damaging an important transportation center which had largely escaped significant injury before. The results of nearly all the bombings were satisfying.130 Tactical and strategic objectives alike were succumbing to these repeated assaults, The air forces bombed at will, restricted only by weather and maintenance. And bombing accuracy was becoming high.
A long-awaited opportunity for a visual mission enabled 1,246 Eighth Air Force heavies on 14 March to attack high-priority objectives. Oil refineries in the vicinity of Hannover received considerable damage, and the Panther tank works in that city was knocked permanently out of action. Also, effective bombing wrecked a jet castings plant at Hildesheim and more marshalling yards and bridges in the Ruhr interdiction program were damaged.131 The chief target of 15 March was a tempting objective, the headquarters of the German high command at Zossen, twenty-eight miles from Berlin. Long regarded as invulnerable to bombing even with the heaviest explosives,132 and for that reason not systematically attacked, there seemed to be a chance now to interfere with the evacuation of this citadel by the OKW. Then, too, the Russians had requested an Allied air attack, which was carried out as a gesture of collaboration.133
Another target decreed for the day was the railroad center at Oranienburg, not far from Berlin on a main route leading toward the Russian front. More than 1,340 heavy bombers with fifteen fighter groups took off, half destined for each objective. Jets appeared at a number of scattered points in the Reich and occasionally fired rockets at the formations but made no organized efforts at interception. The bombers dropped almost 1,400 tons visually on Zossen, blanketing the area with bombs and destroying most of the buildings above the ground. The force attacking Oranienburg inflicted considerable damage with 1,327 tons on the railways and the city itse1f.134 On 17 March blind attacks were made on the Ruhland oil plants, and on Böhlen, whose synthetic plant was reported about to return to operation. The weather proving worse than anticipated, secondary targets such as power stations and marshalling yards absorbed the remainder of the bombing effort that day.135
For two weeks the Allied air forces had encountered practically no German air opposition,136 but the mission of 18 March revealed that the long-hovering menace of a jet air force finally had materialized.
On that occasion the Eighth Air Force, while projecting a limited penetration operation into western Germany, received orders from USSTAF to mount a 1,200-plane assault on Berlin, which was again the goal of moving Russian armies. As it turned out, 1,250 heavies with fourteen fighter groups of P-51’s (the P-47 group was converting from the D to the M series and was not operable) reached the German capital and dropped over 3,000 tons by H2S indications on transpor-tation and industrial areas. It was the biggest daylight raid ever made on Berlin. Damage was widespread and distributed throughout the whole of the city, but twenty-four bombers and five fighters were lost, mainly to jet fighters which attacked in formations as large as thirty-six aircraft and displayed a range of interception greater than the Americans had expected. The aggressive German attack on the bombers promised a new phase of the air war. Moreover, flak had been heavy and accurate enough to damage more than half the bombers, and sixteen were so badly damaged they crash-landed behind the Russian lines instead of trying to reach England.137
Danger from the jets was expected on the mission of the following day, 19 March, when nearly 1,000 bombers and fourteen fighter groups set out for the Lepzig area to bomb high-priority oil and jet objectives. The jets appeared on schedule, shot down three B-17’s, and attempted, apparently, to force the P-51’s to drop their extra tanks. On this operation the Germans even tried to send up the old-fashioned Me-109’s, but AAF fighters managed to keep most of them from getting far off the ground. Bombing was not generally successful around Lepzig because of dense haze and contrails; thus secondaries such as marshalling yards caught a substantial tonnage. But a timely attack on jet airfields at Leipheim and Neuburg and two jet components plants justified the mission.138 With most of the Reich covered by a 10/10 overcast on 20 March, only a shallow penetration by limited forces was feasible. The Eighth sent 415 bombers to strike U-boat yards at Hamburg and oil refineries in that city and at Heide-Hemmingstedt. As it turned out, most of the 700 or more tons were strung out unevenly over the general dock area at Hamburg, but the Heide-Hemmingstedt refinery was very severely damaged.139 About forty jet aircraft challenged the P-51’s and shot down two of the bombers, The jet pilots seemed less skillful than those who had operated against the Americans two days before. But it was only too clear that the time had come for an all-out attack on the new GAF, as Doolittle and Tedder
Death of the Luftwaffe
agreed on the following day.140 Before March was out close to thirty Eighth Air Force bombers were known to have been lost to the enemy’s jets.
The Fifteenth Air Force was operating at full strength in mid-March, winding up its part of the strategic air war. Fortunately, it seldom encountered jets or any other type of fighter, although the Germans possessed sizable forces in the south and would certainly have employed them if rhey had had the fuel. On 15 March the Fifteenth carried out its longest mission of the war when 109 B-17’s bombed the synthetic plant at Ruhland, Germany’s leading producer at that time. Similar forces worked over the familiar Vienna oil targets: Floridsdorf, Moosbierbaum, and Korneuberg. Perhaps the Vienna plants were out of operation by that time, but rubble and ashes were stirred up to assure complete cessation. These same refineries caught similar punishment on 16 March, when marshalling yards in Austria leading toward the Russian front were also reattacked. After a two-day lull the bombers resumed the offensive against transportation in and around Vienna by depositing the largest tonnage of the Fifteenth’s history, more than 2,000 . On the next day production at Korneuberg oil refinery definitely ceased. Then, on 21 March, 366 Liberators carried out one of the most effective raids of the war, an 800-ton visual bombardment of the jet plant and airfield at Neuburg, which had been damaged by the Eighth Air Force two days before. The jet center was almost obliterated, and three days later when 271 Liberators returned to finish off the destruction, they killed an estimated 25 jet fighters on the airfield.141
A period of excellent weather enabled the Fifteenth to complete its strategic air offensive. On 22 March, 136 Fortresses flew again to Ruhland and damaged it severely. Another visit on the 23rd by 157 Fortresses assured the prostration of that stubborn target. On the first mission the Germans resisted energetically, sending up perhaps forty jets which shot down three B-17’s . On the second mission to Ruhland there was no air opposition at all. Meanwhile, 124 Liberators put a Czech oil refinery at Kralupy out of operation and, on 23 March, 157 B-24’s poured 437 tons on the disintegrating St. Valentin tank works in Austria. The Fifteenth Air Force conducted its first assault on Berlin on 24 March, while thousands of American and British aircraft were operating to the west of that target. Nearly 150 Fortresses dropped 357 tons visually on the Daimler-Benz tank engine works
in the suburbs of the Nazi capital and damaged other industrial objectives. The Germans sent a force of jets up to intercept the bombers and succeeded in shooting down two B-17’s,the last aircraft positively known to be lost by the Fifteenth to jets.142 On the same day three large Liberator forces of the Fifteenth bombed jet centers at Neuburg, Munich-Riem, and Budejovice. Airfields and tank plants were the leading targets of 25 March, when the Prague area, seldom touched by the Allied air forces,143 absorbed the last real strategic air assault of the Fifteenth Air Force. There were missions enough remaining for the Fifteenth to fly, but they were tactical and local in effect. Its oil targets were overrun or devastated beyond recovery, and time was running out rapidly for all aspects of Germany’s war-making capacity.
The victory drive against Nazi Germany was about to begin. Russian forces were crowding Vienna and Berlin and Eisenhower’s armies in the west were making ready to cross the Rhine on a wide front and finish off German resistance. Air preparations for the western operation had been going on for more than a month. As has been seen, the strategic air forces had devoted a majority of their tonnage toward paralyzing German transportation and, in particular, sealing off the Ruhr from the rest of the Reich. This last program was completely successful, although the ground force encirclement of the Ruhr a few days later overshadowed the extent of the air victory. The tactical and strategic air forces of America and Britain had, by the third week in March, broken fourteen of the eighteen bridges on the target list and interdicted the other four. Twenty of twenty-five main marshalling yards were not functioning.144 German traffic in and out of the Ruhr was at a standstill, and even within that unhappy valley there was little movement. Hence Germany’s most valuable ikdustrial section no longer served her war effort. It could not even be reinforced by troops in the face of the Allied onslaught. And behind the Ruhr lay a demoralized population, a stricken industry, a beaten army, and a fading government.
Just before the great airborne and land assault over the Rhine (VARSITY and PLUNDER), the air forces undertook a gigantic operation lasting four days to perfect the isolation of the Ruhr and to pulverize German defenses. Furthermore, the Eighth Air Force set out in particular to neutralize airfields in northwestern Germany from which jets might fly to shoot up the transports of the First Allied
Airborne Army. For these purposes the entire strength of the Eighth Air Force was turned over to the demands of the Rhine crossing, along with the RAF Bomber Command, the tactical air forces, and diversionary assistance from the Fifteenth Air Force. On the first day, 21 March, the Eighth sent 1,254 heavies to bomb ten airfields in excellent weather. They followed up this assault on 22 March with missions against five more airfields and about 2,000 tons on military encampments, defended villages, and store areas close to the expected site of the crossing. In view of the splendid flying weather the twenty B-17 groups attacking the ground objectives attempted to obliterate rather than to harass them as first planned. On the third day of the precrossing bombings the Eighth sent 1,240 heavies to finish off a large number of marshalling yards in and around the Ruhr.145
Mean-while, Bomber Command was conducting similar operations, on one occasion sending 700 heavies in daylight for a devastating blow. On D-day, 24 March, the tempo increased. Bomber Command’s attack on Wesel was saluted by Montgomery as “a masterpiece.”146 More than 1,000 Eighth Air Force heavies laid on a stunning attack against the airfields again, rendering most of them unusable for days. Liberators supplied the airborne troops which had jumped earlier in the day and subjected airfields to reattack. The crossing proved magnificently successful. The enemy was isolated and battered, and of the 200 GAF sorties that day, none reached the battle area.147 As Eisenhower told his press conference a few days later, Germany was a “whipped enemy.”148
The US. Air Forces and the Soviet Ally
Early in 1945 several attempts were made to secure Russian cooperation in air matters. These efforts failed; little came of them but infuriating deadlocks. By this time, however, American officials were more accustomed to Russian rebuffs than they had been in 1944 and perhaps they had become more philosophical about accepting them. The chief issues affecting the air forces were bases near Vienna and Budapest for the Fifteenth Air Force, bomb lines between Russian and Allied forces, and the establishment of radar stations in Soviet-occupied territory. The air base project had been under consideration since the late summer of 1944, when it seemed for a time that Russian land forces were going to overrun Hungary and Austria very speedily. The advantages of placing a few Fifteenth Air Force groups there
were compelling: the Alps would no longer be an obstacle to the bombing of Germany, flying distances would be much shorter, and more disabled airplanes and distressed crews might be saved. At a meeting of top air commanders from ETO and MTO at Cannes in late November 1944 the project received warm indorcement.149 The Russians who were approached on the subject exhibited an indifference bordering on hostility. After some weeks of stalemate General Spaatz considered hinting to the Russians that further inaction might cause the removal of some Fifteenth Air Force groups to England. It soon became clear, however, that a threat of this type would be unwise. Perhaps the Russians would be only too pleased to see American air strength in southern Europe reduced.150
Since the military had made no progress in the Vienna–Budapest base matter, President Roosevelt talked it over with Stalin at the Yalta conference. On 12 February 1945 news of “agreement on highest level” came through.151 Yet a month passed before the Soviet officials could be induced to act. Finally, in mid-March, General Eaker was allowed to tour eastern Hungary and to pick out an air base at Debrecen.152 Difficulties and practical problems could not be resolved, however, although the Americans thought they made modest and reasonable requests. Eaker could not even get permission to go to Moscow to make arrangements, although he went to Belgrade and was lionized by Marshal Tito.153 More weeks went by without any genuine Russian move to implement the agreement. It was the usual matter of procrastination, bland stalls, refusal to negotiate, and unanswered correspondence.154 In April the Americans dropped the whole question.155
The bomb line had a more protracted and painful history. When Soviet armies first broke into the Balkans, in the spring of 1944, the Allies undertook to set up machinery to coordinate MAAF operations with those of Russian air and ground forces. It seemed to both the British and the Americans a matter of urgency that the MAAF and Red air units not mistake each other for Germans or get in the way of one another.156 And a bomb safety line in front of the Russian land forces seemed essential if important German targets were to be bombed or strafed without jeopardizing friendly troops. Yet the Russians steadfastly refused to establish liaison except in Moscow.157 At length Maj. Gen. John R. Deane secured permission to designate the line Constanza–Bucharest–Ploesti-Budapest as a temporary boundary
between MAAF and the Red air force, and the Russians finally consented to a loose supervision from Moscow by the Red army general staff and an AAF officer.158 General Eaker in October succeeded in establishing an unofficial liaison unit with one of the three Russian armies operating in the Balkans. It worked well until Moscow found out about it. Then, the liaison unit was not allowed to advance as the Russian front moved into Hungary and Austria but sat helpless in Bucharest.159 The whole bomb-line question flamed up in November 1944 when P-38’s of the Fifteenth Air Force strafed a column of Soviet troops in Yugoslavia and killed a Red army lieutenant general.160 The Russians acted as though the tragedy might have been something more than the accident it was, and they still refused to permit close liaison. General Eaker finally took matters into his own hands and adjusted the bomb line on a day-to-day basis ahead of the Russian front lines. He would notify the U.S. military mission in Moscow, which would in turn inform the Russians 24 to 48 hours ahead of time. The CCS objected to the principle involved in such arbitrary methods, but they guardedly accepted Eaker’s plan, which worked out reasonably well for the rest of the war.161
Late in 1944, as Allied and Russian armies moved closer to each other, the bomb-line issue began to affect General Eisenhower’s command. Again the Russians were invited to exchange liaison units among the air and ground headquarters concerned, and again they declined, confusing or pretending to confuse bomb lines with theater boundaries.162 In December they startled the Allies by recommending that no targets east of a bomb line running from Stettin to Berlin be bombed. Since the Red army was far to the east of this line and some of the prize German oil and jet targets lay beyond it, the Allies rejected the proposal. General Deane soon discovered the real Russian purpose, which was to prevent the RAF from arming partisans who adhered to the hapless Polish government in London.163 For some weeks there seemed little possibility of coordinating the air war with the Russian offensive. At the Yalta conference, however, when the Russians were requesting air assistance from the western Allies, an agreement seemed within reach. On 6 February 1945 the Russians were believed to favor an Anglo-American proposal to set a bomb line at Stettin–Berlin–Ruhland–Dresden–Brno–Vienna–Maribor–Zagreb, The Allies said they would notify the Russian high command 24 hours before carrying out a mission east of that line164 and, unless the Russians
objected, would go ahead with the attack. Three days later, however, the Russians gave a new twist to the proposal: unless they approved, the mission would not be carried out.165 The Allies could not agree to this arrangement, since it would take weeks for a request to go through Russian channels, if it were answered at all. So they continued to bomb what they wished at the discretion of Spaan and Eaker, notifying the Russians ahead of time if the attack were close to Soviet lines. As the strategic air war drew to a close in March almost every bombing had to be coordinated in this fashion,166 and the Russians finally accepted the original Yalta proposal.167
A third problem which concerned the American air forces and the Soviet Union had to do with the unrewarded effort to set up on Soviet soil three pairs of MICRO-H stations. From these installations radio impulses of very high frequency could be sent out to bombers in flight up to 180 miles away. The conjunction of these impulses on H2S equipment in the bomber would allow far greater accuracy in attacking twenty-six high-priority oil, jet, tank, and railroad targets in Germany. Meanwhile, the British desired to establish small stations for their Gee and Gee-H equipment. Both the American and British units would require the services of a small number of their own nationals, about 100 individuals in the case of the MICRO-H stations.168 Russian objections of a technical nature were transparently spurious; it was clear they did not want foreign personnel within their lines.169 The Russians were also unwilling to designate certain airfields behind their lines as bases for crippled American bombers. Instead, damaged aircraft were free to land wherever they could in Soviet-controlled areas, but they were likely to turn up later with Red air force insignia.170 The recovery of American aircrews from Russian zones continued to offer difficulties, many of which arose less from deliberate ill-will than from physical problems and perhaps a low regard among the Russians for human life. Finally, the AAF was anxious to survey the chief targets which it had bombed. At Yalta Marshal Stalin gave President Roosevelt written, broad approval for survey teams to operate in the Russian occupied areas.171 For some time before V-E, however, it became clear that American teams were not going to be allowed to examine bombed targets in regions held by the Red army, In all of these matters a certain amount of rancor was apparent. It was hard for AAF officials to understand why the Russians usually refused their offers for assistance – which the Americans regarded as altogether
sincere and unselfish – and deprecated it when it was given, or why such bad feeling and frustration resulted when the western powers made requests.
After the success of VARSITY-PLUNDER the Eighth Air Force returned to its dwindling strategic targets. Only a few remained. Recuperating oil refineries and storage depots were still in top priority. Jet production had to be watched, for the GAF could still do mischief to Allied airplanes and ground forces if a fanatical last-ditch resistance were to be made. Otherwise, the Eighth was concerned with keeping weapons from reaching the German armies and in delivering a blow or two at submarines. During the VARSITY-PLUNDER bombings one force of 107 B-17’s had bombed a tank plant at Plauen, in central Germany, and on 26 March a reattack reportedly put this works out of operation.172 On 28 March nearly 400 Fortresses attacked tank and armaments plants in suburban areas of Berlin through 10/10 cloud, inflicting, as it turned out, little fresh damage.173 Good weather had been used up in VARSITY-PLUNDER. Now there were bad days and, as on 29 March, days when the Eighth was grounded. On 30 March a mission into northwestern Germany was possible, and the very low-priority U-boat targets at Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg, and Bremen received their largest tonnage from the Eighth Air Force, approximately 2,500 tons. The spillage of bombs at Wilhelmshaven proved fortunate, since it struck nineteen German ships in the harbor. Thirty German jets took to the air around Hamburg but made no attacks on the bombers. The enemy reaction was almost the same on 31 March, when 1,338 Eighth Air Force bombers hit oil storage tanks in central Germany, Brandenburg, and various targets of opportunity. Jets appeared in large numbers but in only one case was a bomber formation attacked.174 One Liberator was shot down. Meanwhile, RAF Bomber Command exceeded its August 1944 rate of operations by dropping 67,365 tons during the last week of March. Hannover, Paderborn, Münster, Hamburg, and Osnabrück were punished. As March ended, the strategic air forces were almost out of targets.
The fine weather of April 1945 was all the more gratifying to the Allies because of the unmistakable smell of victory. The Ruhr was entirely encircled by the beginning of the month. Armies of the United Nations began to move rapidly into the compressing Reich, sometimes
fighting their way through well-defended regions, occasionally bypassing such areas, and often plunging through weak opposition. The strategic air offensive was practically over by the first of April. The Fifteenth Air Force was now devoted to purely tactical objectives. Air Chief Marshal Harris complained that his Bomber Command was practically out of targets; the red streaks on the map of Germany, he said, showed how well the heavies had done their job.175 General Arnold, back from a period of convalescence, saluted Spaatz in a personal note: “One of the things that made me feel better since my return was reading the reports of your air forces in the past month. With no equivocation I believe that you have definitely established the strategic air force for all time to come as the spearhead of any offensive.”176
The Eighth Air Force carried out ten last strategic missions in Germany before redirecting its effort entirely to the land battle. Official priorities now amounted to little; they were shuffled up almost every day. But old target systems had to be neutralized in order to prevent desperate, last-ditch Nazi defense. On 3 April the Eighth delivered a 2,200-ton attack on the naval dockyard at Kiel. The mission was judged as very successful even though most of the bombing was by instrument.177 Nearly 900 heavies bombed in the Hamburg area on 4 April, striking airfields which jets might use and U-boat yards inside the city. During this attack some 50 jet fighters shot down 5 American bombers.178 But for overwhelming fighter escort the mission might have been disastrous for the bombers. On 7 April a still more sobering indication of jet potentialities came when the Nazis launched a furious attempt at mass interception by 130 conventional Luftwaffe fighters and 50 or more jets. The Germans were expending their last remaining good pilots in a suicidal, frenzied effort. Exhortations over the radio were desperate and yet somehow pathetic. Only 7 American heavy bombers were lost, and American claims of German fighters, substantiated later as being little exaggerated, passed 100.179 Two more efforts and the German Air Force was through. On 10 April about 50 jets shot down 10 American bombers in the Berlin area, the largest loss of the war to jets in a single mission, and on 17 April approximately 30 Me-262’s were able to bring down 1 B-17.180 But until the very end the Allies refused to take chances. Lavish fighter escort flew with the bombers even when operations were a matter of roaming over the
prostrate Reich looking for targets. This escort was available to a high degree now that Doolittle had taken his fighters off strafing tasks lest friendly troops or prisoners be killed.181 Most of Germany was not enemy territory any longer.
Meanwhile, the Eighth had a few more strategic missions. Ordnance depots in central Germany were bombed on 5 April, and marshalling yards in Nürnberg and Bayreuth caught severe attacks. On the 6th transportation centers in central Germany, notably at Halle and Leipzig, were targets for 650 heavies. Northwestern German airfields, explosives plants, ordnance dumps, and oil storage depots were targets for 7 April, and objectives of this nature in central Germany were attacked on the 8th. Turning southward on the 9th to interfere with attempts to build up the national redoubt, the Eighth sent 1,212 heavies to bomb Munich, Memmingen, Lechfeld, Neuburg, and other cities with major airfields and marshalling yards. The Berlin area received a widespread attack on 10 April from 1,232 heavies, which hit airfields, jet assembly plants, ordnance depots, an ammunition factory, airfields, and marshalling yards. There were no more oil targets, Bomber Command having taken out the last one on the night of 8/9 April with a raid on Lützkendorf. German factories were no longer a menace. The air forces had done their bit for the Navy in bombing submarine yards. Only tactical bombings in behalf of the onrushing ground forces remained, and the commanders were ready to call an end to the strategic air war.
On 7 April Portal warned that further destruction of German cities would magnify the problems of the occupying forces,182 and the RAF discontinued area bombing. From SHAEF came demands by Tedder to throw the weight of the strategic air forces on German transportation, for so long his favorite target. If the Combined Strategic Targets Committee had other ideas, he said, it should be reminded that its function was to choose targets and not to settle policy.183 But no controversy was going to develop. Plainly, the requirements of the land forces were the topmost consideration for rhe air forces. Accordingly, Spaatz and Bottomley issued their last formal directive, No. 4, on 13 April 1945.184 For the first time in seven months the main mission of the strategic air forces was to give direct assistance to the ground campaign. With a touch of playfulness the JOCKEY committee, which directed the campaign against German aircraft production, had
already sent out its last signal: “Jockey has unsaddled and weighed in. Sic transit gloria Tuesday.”185 The other committees wound up their work and prepared to analyze the strategic campaigns just completed. Then, on 16 April 1945, from his headquarters at Reims, General Spaatz sent out a personal message to Doolittle and Twining:
The advances of our ground forces have brought to a close the strategic air war waged by the United States Strategic Air Forces and the Royal Air Force Bomber Command.
It has been won with a decisiveness becoming increasingly evident as our armies overrun Germany. From now onward our Strategic Air Forces must operate with our Tactical Air Forces in close cooperation with our armies.
All units of the US. Strategic Air Forces are commended for their part in winning the Strategic Air War and are enjoined to continue with undiminished effort and precision the final tactical phase of air action to secure the ultimate objective-complete defeat of Germany.
The above is order of the day number 2 and is to be released by this Headquarters at 2200 hours tonight.186
And so the strategic air war was over. It had not been the perfect attack which air theorists had dreamed of, an undistracted campaign against the enemy’s vitals finally terminating in his appeal for surrender. But it was decisive and, with the onrush of ground forces toward a juncture with the Russians, altogether victorious. The oil campaign was the brightest phase of the triumph. German production of fuel and lubricants had virtually ceased. Desperate and ingenious efforts to conceal, defend, repair, and disperse oil production centers had finally failed. The Germans could not move their aircraft, tanks, trucks, or provide for minimum needs of their economy.
The German Air Force was gone. Up through the last dangerous stage of that organization’s combat life the Allied strategic air forces had been heavily concerned with it. But for all the success achieved in the enemy’s effort to maintain aircraft production, the Germans lacked pilots, gasoline, protected airfields, and every other basic requirement to operate an effective air force. No one challenged the airmen’s claim that victory over the Luftwaffe made all other victories in Europe possible. The enormous tonnages poured on German transportation had begun to restrict economic life fatally by the last of 1944, and by the closing weeks of the war the enemy’s railroads and canals were practically useless. Germany was back to the foot and horse stage in most respects, and this breakdown compounded every other difficulty which beset the Reich.
It was not possible as yet to assess precisely the damage inflicted by the heavy bombers on other target systems, but the appalling desolation of Germany’s industrial cities was all too apparent as the Allies moved into the Reich. Even Spaatz, who had studied so painstakingly the results of the air offensive he had led, was surprised by the magnitude of the chaos. The Reich was strangled and paralyzed. Even without the final ground invasion, it seemed, the Germans could not have continued the war.187