The great principle of American war strategy is: We have airplanes, therefore they must be effective.
Sometime in 1944, Roosevelt came to the conclusion that there was a large element of exaggeration and pure guesswork in what the air force was accomplishing. He responded to several suggestions that there should be an independent civilian commission established, to go with the troops as they moved into France and Germany to find out what really happened.
In the spring of 1945, I was brought into this by George Ball and Paul Nitze. The three of us formed the core of the operation under Henry Alexander, who came in from J. P. Morgan and Company. It had the advantage that you operated well out of the range of guns. Quite a few people find this advantageous in war, including some generals.
The results were not in doubt. The bombing of Germany both by the British and ourselves had far less effect than was thought at the time. The German arms industry continued to expand its output until the autumn of 1944, in spite of the heaviest air attacks. Some of the best-publicized attacks, including those on German ball-bearing plants, practically grounded the Eighth Air Force for months. Its losses were that heavy. At the end of the war, the Germans had ball bearings for export again. Our attacks on their air-frame plants were a total failure. In the months after the great spring raids of 1944, their production increased by big amounts.
The reasons were threefold. First, the machine tools were relatively invulnerable. They'd be buried under rubble but could be dug out in a day or two. Second, it was possible to decentralize production: to move the machinery into schools and churches. It was reorganized in much less time than was imagined. The Germans discovered that it wasn't necessary for production to be in a single factory. They also discovered a large range of substitutes. It was possible to redesign a lot of equipment to reduce the use of ball bearings. Third, it was possible to reorganize what had been sporadic and less than diligent managements.
The most disappointing of the attacks was on the airplane plants. Production was taken away from Hermann Goering, who was expansively incompetent, and put in the Speer ministry, which was much better. This more than offset the damage done by the bombers.
A similar case was in the bombing of Hamburg. IT destroyed the center of the city and made available a large number of people -- restaurant workers, cabaret performers, bankers, teachers, salesmen. They all became available as a working force in the war plants at the edge of the city...
...The over-all conclusion was that wars were won by the slogging progress of the troops across France and Germany, with a good deal of help from tactical air power: support for the actual movement of troops on the ground. It was an extended form of artillery. Strategic bombing was designed to destroy the industrial base of the enemy and the morale of its people. It did neither.
Need I say that this conclusion was less than popular at the time?
What about the fire bombings of Tokyo?
We concluded that, on the whole, the Japanese industry did not have the same recovery capacity as the German. When the Japanese war plants were hit, they were more likely to stay out of production. You have to remember that from 1941 to 1945, Japan was a very small country with an equally small industrial base. It was stretched very tight and had little of the resilience of the German economy.
Yet the fire bombing of Japanese cities was not a decisive factor in the war. The war in Asia was won by the hard, slow progress up from the south and across the Pacific.
All war is cruel and unnecessary, but the bombings made this one especially so. The destruction of Dresden was unforgivable. It was done very late in the war, as part of a military dynamic which was out of control and had no relationship to any military needs.
Didn't the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki shorten the Pacific war?
The bomb did not end the Japanese war. This was something that was carefullly studied by our bombing survey. Paul Nitze headed it in Japan, so there was hardly any bias in this matter. It's ironic that he has since become fascinated with the whole culture of destruction. The conclusion of the monograph called Japan's Struggle to End the War was that it was a difference, at most, of two or three weeks. The decision had already been taken to get out of the war, to seek a peace negotiation.
The Japanese government, at that time, was heavily bureaucratic. The decision took some time to translate into action. There was also fear that some of the army units might go in for a kind of Kamikaze resistance. The decision was not known in Washington. While the bomb did not bring an end to the war, one cannot say Washington ordered the attacks in the knowledge that the war was coming to an end...
...This experience, as a member of the commission, had an enormous effect on my attitudes. You had to see these German cities, city after city, in 1945 and then go on to the utter horror of Japanese cities to see how frightful modern air warfare is. There is nothing nice about ground warfare: twenty thousand men were killed on the first day in the Battle of the Somme in World War One. But this didn't have the high visibility of Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Mainz. And to see Tokyo leveled to the ground. I was left with an image which has stayed with me all of my life.
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