Bombing Raids And The Role Of Air Power In WWII

The use of air power was an offensive tool that was a fundamental aspect of modern military strategy. This strategy of using aircraft to attack our enemies goes back to WWI, but it truly took its form in WWII. In WWII we saw the effectiveness of air power proven on the battle field. The use of air power in WWII showed its power effectiveness on the battle field by destroying German industries, airfields, diminishing their war fighting capabilities, and providing an advantage for ground troops to move in and win the war. The use of air power on the battle field hasn’t always been the norm. Before WWI airplanes were not weapons of war. Planes were a new exiting technology that was still in Its infancy, look at it like the stages of life: crawl, walk, run. The Write brothers didn’t have any idea of what the potential of their invention was. In WWI we started to see the potential of this new technology. We would see the beginning of the journey taking the airplane from a new invention to a proven war fighting machine. When trying to find a key figure in the history of this transformation look no further than Brig Gen. “Billy” Mitchell. When the U.S. entered WWI its military aviation capabilities were far behind that of its European allies, but Billy Mitchell changed that. Billy was vital in proving that using aviation in a modern military engagement is a necessity. When Billy arrived in France in 1917 he started as an observer. By 1918 Billy was leading aircraft into enemy territory, as the first American Army aviator to fly over German territory. Billy also advocated for the Air Core to be its own separate branch, but this would not take place until after WWII. Billy Mitchel’s goal was to hit them were it hurt, and he did (USAF 1945, September 30). Billy led dozens of missions and helped the U.S. strike the Germans from the air. Something the past could only be done from the ground could now be done from air. What Billy did in WWI helped shape the future of air power. As Billy put it “an airplane is an offensive and not a defensive weapon”. While Billy Mitchell was in France pioneering air power, U.S. Navy Aviation was in Britain working with the British in developing strategic bombing to protect Britain. The German U-boat attacks were devastating the British in 1917. The plan to stop them; bomb them.

The U.S. Navy Aviation division flew bombing missions with the Royal Air Force from Britain. They struck German U-boat facilities crippling the Germans U-boat production. This was a large milestone in the history of U.S. Navy Aviation. Together with the British the U.S. Navy’s Aviation division started to prove that you could use aircraft to effectively diminish your enemies war fighting capabilities. While Billy Mitchell’s work on the front in France to develop Air power, and the U.S. Navy Aviation’s work in Britain to develop strategic bombing were both large advancements in the use of air power in war, but air power would not take its full form until WWII. In WWII we would finally see a war that air power could be credited as a major deciding factor. When I think of Billy Mitchell I think back to our book, “The houses of history”, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, give, and transmitted from the past.” In 1941 WWII had been going on for two years, the Germans were invading the Soviet Union and were occupying France. Japan was at war with China, and causing havoc in the Pacific, but the U.S. had not yet gotten involved. That is until December 7, 1941. On December 7, 1941 Japan lunched an attack on Perl Harbor. And that’s what was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The next day the U.S. entered WWII, this would change history forever. History as we know it would change, there would be millions of deaths, dozens of countries involved, countries borders would be re drawn and the way we fight wars would never be the same. When the U.S. joined the fight in Europe the allied forces had already been bombing Germany for months and the Germans had fought back. In September 1940 the Germans launched their first attack on London. This bombing campaign on London became known as the blitz, and it cost over 43,000 British lives. This was the war in Europe that the U.S. entered into. The U.S. needed to find an advantage over the Germans. The answer, air power. As we look at this war and the history behind it all we notice many historians use historical sociology. But the not the all after learning these theories we see that strategist also use this theory to see what the next move in war will be. As the great Philosopher George Santayana once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The U.S. began to help the brits in bombing Germany in the summer of 1942.

When the U.S. began its bombing campaign it was still very experimental. The tactics in use were still in development, and casualties were high. But they kept going, and they got better. When they went in they went in during the day when it was still light out so they could target better. They stayed at high-altitudes to stay above enemy ground fire. The bombers would go in alone, using their own guns to protect themselves. Targeting the bombs was a difficult task but with the Norden Bombsight the U.S. was far more accurate than the German. But this begs to questions how could we got these advance in warfare through the air, well its simple a lot of it contributed to women. In 1942, the United States was faced with a severe shortage of pilots, and leaders gambled on an experimental program to help fill the void: Train women to fly military aircraft so male pilots could be released for combat duty overseas. The group of female pilots was called the Women Airforce Service Pilots — WASP for short. In 1944, during the graduation ceremony for the last WASP training class, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry 'Hap' Arnold, said that when the program started, he wasn't sure 'whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather.' Thanks to Susan we can see a great prime example of Gender History unraveling. Looking through a prospective of what women did helping fighting the war stateside, stories of which you hardly ever hear. Me being one of them, not until this paper and the research I started I never knew women were test pilots helping train and prepare other for war. I knew they worked in the industrial field helping make everything needed for war but never know how vital they were in air power in WWII. As the war continued the tactics changed and advanced. In 1943 the P-47 Thunderbolt arrived in Europe. The Thunderbolt was used as an escort to protect the bombers. The external fuel tank on the Thunderbolt made it possible to have a 350 mile range, allowing them to follow the bombers on their whole mission. This made the bombing missions significantly safer for the bomber aircrews. Without the protection that the Thunderbolt provided the bombers the U.S. would have no doubt lost many more of its air craft. This advancement in technology and change in tactics shows how pivotal WWII was in the advancement of air power. In early 1944 after years of fighting with the Germans in the skies over Europe the U.S. set out on their biggest areal fight yet. In what is now known as Big Week the U.S. flew more than 3,500 sorties from February 20-25. The U.S. had heavy losses, but the Germans had more. In Big Week the U.S. proved that it could defeat the Germans in the air. Not only did the U.S. hurt the Germans air craft industry during big week, they also killed many of Germany's experienced plots. This caused the Germans to face a pilot shortage that lasted the rest of the war. These inexperienced German pilots now faced a disadvantage to the more experienced U.S. pilots. Through the air raids on Germany the U.S. was able the hurt the Germans ability to fight. They made the Germans scared of aerial engagements with Big Week, and with continued air raids of there factories and cities the U.S. continued to diminish the Germans war fight capability, but after years of fighting Germany still had control over France.

The Allied forces had to do something to shift the tides. Their plan, lunch an invasion that would drive Germany out of France. The allies would storm the beaches, and come in from the skies, do whatever it takes to push Germany out of France. But before any of this, they would bomb them. Why did they bomb them first? When you bomb your target before you go in on foot you soften there defenses. The beaches at Normandy were arguably the most fortified beaches in the world. If the U.S. didn’t fist weaken there defenses there would be no way to over come them. With a combination of attacks from ships at sea and air craft flying above the allies were able to weaken the Atlantic wall and give the allies a chance to finally push back the Germans. The U.S. targeted port facilities, rail ways, and radio stations. In their bombing missions they destroyed dozens of radar facilities, diminishing the Germans ability see the allies come in on June 6. They did this for months leading up to D-day. These attacks helped weaken the Germans defenses and hinder their communication to provide the Allies an advantage when they attacked. On June 6, 1944 or D-day more than 156,000 troops stormed the beaches and parachuted in. The casualties were high, but they got through and the allies finally had a foothold in France. The use of air power played a pivotal role in this success. During the D-day innovation over 11,000 aircraft were used to drop 13,000 paratroopers on Normandy France. This day, what some would call the longest day, was critical to the Allies success in pushing back the Germans. The success of D-day is in partial credit to the air power that was used. This day was a day of history and memorialized for years to come. I was fortunate enough to jump in Normandy on D-day a few years back when I was in the Army and it was a day I will never forget. After the Allies success in gaining a foot hold in France by storming the beaches worked, the Allies were able to continue to push back the Germans further and further, using air power to help the whole way. The fight was long and hard, but finally, after years of fighting and millions dead on May, 7 1945 the Germans surrendered. Germany was split between the Allies and Russia, and the war in Europe was over. In the months after WWII the U.S. brought experts together to write a report on the effectiveness of the aerial fight during the war. The report was thousands of pages, covering every aspect of air power in the war in Europe and the Pacific. There conclusion? There conclusion was that over years of bombing in Europe the U.S. was able to carry out its goal of “weakening the enemy's will and capacity to resist”.

The bombings of WWII diminished the Germans ability to transport goods for the war effort. The destruction of factories, mills, airfields and oil and steel production diminished their ability to creat the goods needed for the war. The mental toll of the air raids hurt the German military moral and there will to fight. When you look at how air power gave the U.S. and the other Allies advantages in the battles they fought there is no arguing the air power is a necessity when going into a fight. Throughout WWII the U.S. and its Allies pioneered the way we fight our wars in the sky. Many brave men and women, many of whom gave the ultimate price went to the skies to fight the great war. Without it the Allies would not have been able to push the Germans to the point of surrender. Air power was proven not only as effective in waging wars, but as a necessity in all future engagements. The lessons in air power we learn from WWII are important. It has helped us pave the way into the future of warfare. In Desert Storm in 1991 the U.S. Air Force flew over 65,000 sorties, and dropped over 88,500 tons of bombs. With the air superiority shown in Desert Storm the ground invasion only lasted 100 hours (USAF. 1991, April). We would not have had this success without the knowledge gained and the tactics developed in WWII. The success of the air campaigns in WWII have forever changed warfare. War is dark but is sometimes necessary; however, thanks to history we learn and adapt. We see how multiple theories are integrated within each other. Gender, sociology, Marx, etc. History has taught us lessons to help us not repeat them twice, a tool used to keep us aware of strategize and understanding that not one person leaves a legacy it is all bit and pieces that come together that make history.


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01 February 2021
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