Target Germany, January-June 1943
On 27 January 1943, Eighth Air Force finally launched its first raid against Germany when heavy bombers attacked naval facilities at Wilhelmshaven. Only 91 bombers flew on the raid, and of those, only 53 located the cloud-obscured target. Still, only 2 B-24S and і в-17 were lost, and crews claimed 50 German fighters shot down.52 After dismal weather grounded the bombers for much of February, the Eighth attacked the submarine construction yard at Vegesack on 18 March with 91 в-17s and B-24S, recording many hits on the target while losing only 3 aircraft.53 When 107 B-17S raided the Focke-Wulf factory at Bremen a month later, fierce German defenses claimed 16 bombers, with another 46 damaged.54 Eaker tried to husband his strength in early 1943 by interspersing his attacks on Germany with raids on targets in France and the Low Countries, where he could count on fighter escorts. The Bremen mission indicated that stern tests awaited Eighth Air Force over the Reich.
Eaker faced the challenge of trying to achieve positive results with a bombing force lacking in potency, and to assist him in target selection, Arnold created the Committee of Operations Analysts (coa) in December 1942. The group was a mix of civilian professors, lawyers, industry executives, and Army Air Forces officers based in Washington DC who received intelligence information on German war-making facilities and tried to determine which ones to attack to achieve maximum impact. Major General Muir S. “Santy” Fairchild, an Army Air Forces officer on the Joint Staff who had taught bombing theory at the Air Corps Tactical School, prodded Arnold to create the committee to deflect criticism from Army and Navy intelligence officers who questioned the utility of Eighth Air Force bombing. Arnold directed Colonel Byron E. Gates, who oversaw the coa, to prepare a report analyzing how bombing could systematically wreck the German war effort and to determine “the date when the deterioriza- tion will have progressed to a point to permit a successful invasion of Western Europe.”55
In Arnold’s mind—as Flansell had likewise reflected in awpd – 42—the proper application of air power would dictate the timing of the invasion, and that meant wrecking German capability and will to such a degree that the invasion would occur against minimal resistance—if any. Substantial ground forces might be needed to fight German defenders, but, if bombing did its job, they would become more important as an occupying force. “Even if we believe that Germany can be defeated by air power alone,” the coa’s Colonel Ed Sorenson wrote to Brigadier General Lawrence Kuter, the Eighth Air Force’s First Bomb Wing Commander in early January 1943, “we must concede the practical necessity of the presence of the strong ground forces of our own to take control, if not to fight, [then] to obviate the undesirable necessity of occupation being taken over by our allies from the farther East.”56 Kuter sent the letter to Hansell, who had just replaced him as First Wing Commander, and noted that Hansell should relay its contents to Eaker.57
In the meantime, the coa members divided themselves into groups examining the individual components of what they deemed Germany’s “Priority A” targets—those offering the most promise in terms of wrecking German military power in 1943. Their conclusions paralleled Hansell’s earlier findings in AWPD-42. The coa initially placed aircraft, electric power, oil, rubber, transportation, chemicals, and electric equipment at the top of their Priority A list.58 Arnold placed enormous weight on their priorities, and directed that his commanders follow the committee’s recommendations in selecting targets.59 Initially skeptical of the group and prospects that it might “try to run the air war from Washington,” Eaker relented after meeting many committee members, and for the remainder of his tenure as Eighth Air Force commander he frequently consulted the coa on targeting possibilities.60
Besides considering coa suggestions, Eaker also had to address Allied concerns. His success at Casablanca in preserving a daylight offensive had resulted in an official acknowledgment of daylight bombing in the “Casablanca Directive.” Issued at the conference by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, the directive merged the American and British air efforts in a “Combined Bomber Offensive” that had as its objective “the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”ei The directive came with its own set of target priorities, similar to those outlined in AWPD-42 and by the coa, but not exact. The directive’s priorities were, in order of importance: submarine construction yards, the aircraft industry, transportation facilities, oil plants, and other components of war industry. The directive further noted that its priorities would likely shift as the war progressed and “other objectives of great importance either from the political or military point of view must be attacked.” Examples included submarine bases on the Bay of Biscay and “Berlin, which should be attacked when conditions are suitable for the attainment of especially valuable results unfavorable to the morale of the enemy or favorable to that of Russia.”62 Also at Casablanca, General Marshall agreed that, until Army Air Forces aircraft outnumbered British airplanes—and Americans had proven the efficacy of daylight bombing—American bombers in Britain would remain under the operational direction of the British, who would dictate targets and times of attack, while operational procedures and bombing techniques would remain the prerogative of American commanders.63
In reality, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles “Peter” Portal, Eaker’s nominal commander in the aftermath of Casablanca, did little to interfere with Eaker’s target choices, but the vagaries of weather, increasing strength of German defenses, and continued diversion of bombers to other theaters made Eaker’s successful orchestration of an air campaign a thorny prospect. Dense banks of winter clouds frequently obscured targets in Germany. Meanwhile, the Germans increased their homeland fighter strength by transferring units from the Mediterranean and Russian fronts to defend the Reich. Eaker had told Arnold at Casablanca that with three hundred heavy bombers per mission he could attack any target with a low rate of loss.64 He believed that a strong bombing force guaranteed an efficient air campaign and informed Arnold’s deputy, Brigadier General Barney Giles, that his bombers had a six – to-one kill ratio against German fighters.65 Not only were such claims excessive, but at the time of Casablanca, Eighth Air Force had still not bombed Germany, and the experience that bomber crews had thus far received did not compare to what awaited them over the German heartland without escorts. Indeed, statistics in early December 1942 revealed that Eighth Air Force bombers had a 2 percent loss rate when escorted, compared to a 7 percent loss rate without the “little friends.”66
Eaker appreciated the value of escorts to a degree, writing that “it is most important to have some fighter protection” on raids with fewer than three hundred bombers.67 His preference, though, was to increase the size of the bomber force until its own defensive firepower would suffice to protect it. On the eve of Casablanca he learned that Spaatz’s Twelfth Air Force would receive twenty – eight в-17 replacements originally slated for the Eighth. Eaker notified Arnold’s air staff that his average bomber group strength had shrunk from thirty-five to eighteen aircraft—the total needed to put in the air on combat missions—which meant that he now had zero bombers available for spares or as a reserve force.68 For the next four months he refused to commit more bombers and crews than he could replace with the meager numbers of aircraft and men heading his way.69
Eaker’s struggle to obtain more bombers merged with efforts to determine how best to use the force that he had. In early February he met with coa representatives to exchange views on targets that Eighth Air Force might attack with precision bombing. Eaker offered that “no judgment could be made as to the results obtainable through precision bombing at this time inasmuch as the force requisite to put it into effect had not been available.”70 He asserted that more bombers would saturate German defenses and reduce the percent of bombers lost on a raid; with one hundred bombers on a mission he would likely lose 5 percent of his attacking force, while with three hundred only 3 percent would be lost, and one thousand would produce a negligible loss rate.71 Eaker’s calculations presumed that more bombers attacking would produce a corresponding increase in bombs on target and hence reduce the need to return to it; otherwise, his decreasing loss rates actually produced an increase in the number of bombers lost. The Eighth Air Force Commander initially persuaded the coa members to include a call for additional bombers in the March report that they submitted to Arnold, but that paragraph disappeared in the final draft that listed sixty key targets for attack.72 Eaker responded with an angry memorandum to Arnold that proclaimed, “The current position of the Eighth Air Force is not a credit to the American Army. After 16 months in the war we are not yet able to dispatch more than 123 bombers toward an enemy target.”73 While he did not dismiss Eaker’s outcry, Arnold chose instead to focus on the prospects of an efficient air campaign portended in the coa report. Unknown to Eaker, the Army Air Forces Commanding General had suffered his first heart attack at the end of February. Roosevelt waived the regulation that would have required Arnold to leave the service, provided that the Commanding General provided monthly updates on his health to the president. Accordingly, Arnold aimed to accent not only his fitness for command, but also the distinctive contributions of air power to the war effort. After receiving the coa report, he wrote Roosevelt’s trusted assistant, Harry Hopkins, that bombing could paralyze Germany’s war-making capability “by the destruction of not more than five or six industries, comprising not more than fifty or sixty targets.” As an example, he noted that “a stoppage, or a marked curtailment, of the production of ball bearings would probably wreck all German industry.”74
Arnold also wrote Eaker: “We know that the strength of our striking force will always be relatively limited. We must, therefore, apply it to those specially selected and vital targets that will give us the greatest return.” Arnold added that the president, as well as the American public, was very aware of Eighth Air Force’s bombing and wanted to know its specific accomplishments. Thus, he told Eaker to provide him with bi-monthly bombing summaries that “will help us a great deal in defending your operations and in building up a correct picture of the results being accomplished.”7-5
With his public relations background, Eaker appreciated the need to “sell” the air campaign, but his first priority was to assure that the effort had a reasonable chance for success, and that meant securing more bombers for it. His quest for additional aircraft ultimately reached the highest level. Lieutenant General Frank Andrews—who had moved from commanding Caribbean defenses to Commanding General, U. S. Forces in the Middle East in November 1942, and had also appealed for daylight bombing to Churchill at Casablanca—replaced Eisenhower as Commander of U. S. European Theater of Operations in February when Eisenhower became Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Mediterranean. The change thrilled Eaker because it placed an avid air power proponent in a high command position. He wrote Arnold that Andrews’s appointment “will be a big boon for us. We have been about bled to death by the African operation.”76
After arriving in Britain Andrews wasted no time in notifying his friend Marshall of how bomber diversions had depleted Eighth Air Force.7 The Army Chief of Staff, in turn, took that message to the president. “Up to the present time the Army Air
Forces have never been able to even approximate the technique on which they have built up the proposition of daylight precision bombing,” Marshall informed Roosevelt in March. “I might further say, without greatly exaggerating, that Army Air elsewhere in the world, except in the Australian theater, has been somewhat misused by the employment of Army planes and crews in a manner for which the planes were not designed nor the crews trained, all of which has been a constant embarrassment to the Air Corps.”78 Marshall’s blunt notice, Eaker’s continued clamor, and the realization among Allied leaders that an invasion of Europe could not occur without control of the air finally produced noticeable increases in Eighth Air Force bomber strength.
Bolstered by the rising numbers, Eaker came to Washington DC in late April to brief his plan for a Combined Bomber Offensive to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His proposal reflected extensive collaboration with members of the coa, as well as assistance from raf analysts and commanders. Fie gave top emphasis to the destruction of German fighter strength—“an intermediate objective second to none in priority”79—and then outlined a series of phased attacks on industrial centers and war-making facilities that would wreck the essential components of Germany’s ability to fight. A steady increase in bomber strength was vital to success. Eaker argued that he would need a total force of at least 800 bombers to dispatch 300 on a regular basis, and ultimately he would require a force of 2,700 “heavies.” After limited debate, the Joint Chiefs concurred. They approved Eaker’s plan in early May and recommended “implementing it to the maximum extent practicable, consistent with aircraft production, available shipping, and current strategic commitments.”80
At the Trident Conference later that month, the Combined Chiefs of Staff endorsed Eaker’s plan as well. Moreover, they tied a crosschannel invasion—tentatively set for May 1944—to the successful conduct of the Combined Bomber Offensive.81 For American airmen, the approval of the Combined Bomber Offensive plan was a bittersweet success, because two of their leaders were not present to witness it—Frank Andrews had died in а в-24 crash in Iceland on 3 May, and Arnold had suffered his second heart attack seven days later.82 Still, Eaker’s plan portended a significant increase in bomber strength for Eighth Air Force and the chance for it to have a decisive impact on the war. By the end of May 1943 Eaker wrote his British counterpart, Air Marshal Arthur Harris, that bombers and crews had begun to arrive “according to schedule” and expressed optimism that Eighth Air Force would receive 2,700 heavy bombers by April 1944.83
The plan that spurred Eighth Air Force’s bomber total was a masterpiece of mechanistic logic solidly anchored to progressive roots. It noted that the coa had identified sixty targets, the destruction of which “would gravely impair and might paralyze the Western Axis war effort.”84 Eaker added sixteen targets to the mix and divided them all into six “systems,” comprising seventy-six precision targets that, once destroyed, would critically damage the German war machine. Those systems included: submarine construction yards and bases, the aircraft industry, ball bearings, oil, synthetic rubber and tires, and military transport vehicles. The plan linked Germany’s aircraft industry to the overriding intermediate objective of eliminating fighter strength in Western Europe. Wrecking the associated targets would destroy 43 percent of Germany’s fighter capacity and 65 percent of its bomber capacity and “produce the effect desired.”85
The plan also highlighted ball bearings, which the coa had emphasized since early February. “The critical condition of the ball bearing industry is startling,” the plan observed. “The concentration of that industry renders it outstandingly vulnerable to air attack.” Eaker noted that the destruction of the plants at Schweinfurt would eliminate almost half of Germany’s ball-bearing production and instantly stymie the production of tanks, airplanes, artillery, and “all the special weapons of modern war.” Because of Schweinfurt’s importance, he recommended attacking it as one of two “deep penetration” raids in the first phase of combined operations. Yet he cautioned: “It would be most unwise to attempt it until we are perfectly sure we have enough force to destroy the objective in a single operation. Any attempt to repeat such an attack will meet with very bitter opposition.”86
While acknowledging the strength of German air defenses, Eaker insisted that they would not prevent effective bombing, provided that he received adequate bombers and crews. Once more he turned to statistical analysis to make his case. Eaker contended that the twenty daylight bombing missions that the Eighth Air Force had flown from з January to 6 April 1943 “definitely establish the fact that it is possible to conduct precision pattern bombing operations against selected precision targets from altitudes of 20,000 feet to 30,000 feet in the face of anti-aircraft artillery and fighter defenses.” He rated twelve of those missions as “highly effective,” and added that the destruction produced by an average of eighty – six bombers was “highly satisfactory.” Thus, he surmised, “From this experience it may be definitely accepted that too bombers dispatched on each successful mission will provide entirely satisfactory destructive effect of that part of the target area within 1000 feet of the aiming point; and that two thirds of the missions dispatched each month will be successful.”87
Eaker likely knew that he had overstated his case. His First Bomb Wing Commander, Hansell, had written Arnold’s intelligence chief in February regarding the difficulty of discerning the number of bombs that fell in the target area and noted, “To date we have been unable to account for approximately fifty percent of the bombs which we take out.” He added that future bombing analysis should “not harp too much on small precision targets. We find they are hard to hit, particularly in the face of heavy aa [antiaircraft] fire and determined fighter opposition.”88 Besides enemy defenses, Hansell remarked that the wind and sun also played a role in bombing accuracy. The Norden bombsight could not compensate for cross-wind bombing approaches when the winds exceeded 80 mph, and on crystal clear days a haze developed that was “frequently literally impenetrable toward the sun.”89 The “precision pattern bombing” that Eaker had mentioned in his April briefing to the Joint Chiefs was fantasy; LeMay’s technique significantly increased the odds that a group formation bombed in unison, but even ideal conditions could not guarantee “precision.”90 Too many variables affected bombing accuracy, and Eighth Air Force bomber crews had no control over most of them.91
Eaker privately acknowledged that limitation as Allied leaders prepared to endorse his plan for the Combined Bomber Offensive. But he downplayed the significance of his admission by focusing instead on the growing strength of Eighth Air Force, writing Arnold in May 1943:
As a result of the additional force we have just received and the increased rate of supply of replacement aircraft and crews, we are changing our operating policy. In the past as 1 told you, we have matched our rate of operation to our receipt of replacements, so that our Air Force would not waste away and go downhill. We have, therefore, in the past, waited for good days when we could be reasonably sure of seeing our targets from high altitude. We are going now on a new basis when we will go out in force on days when we may not he able to bomb our exact small point targets due to more than y/ioths cloud cover, but we will at any rate be able to hit our second or last resort targets, the built-up industrial area, and what is even more important, we will be able to work on the German Air Force in combat.92
Eaker refused to allow paltry numbers, German defenses, and poor weather to halt the American experiment in daylight bombing that he had fought so hard to preserve, but he could do little to improve the accuracy of his bomber force. Now, with the strength of that force increasing, he faced new challenges—to gain control of the skies over Western Europe by spring 1944 to facilitate an invasion—and to demonstrate, in a year’s time, that air power could wreck an enemy’s war-making capability and will to resist. He still lacked the numbers that he felt were essential to accomplish those objectives efficiently; the buildup envisioned in awpd – 42 had suffered substantial delays. British bombing would help to offset that deficiency to some extent, but the RAF would contribute little to achieving daylight air superiority. Still, adopting British area bombing methods during daylight might damage some vital industries on days when clouds obscured precision targets.
Eaker knew that area bombing was a bludgeon, not a scalpel, but he lacked the time and equipment to create an aerial razor. The longer he waited, the stronger his enemy grew. Intelligence reports revealed that increased production now bolstered Germany’s homeland fighter force by more than one hundred airplanes each month.93 Trident, meanwhile, had started the clock ticking for air power to achieve decisive results. If the Combined Bomber Offensive defeated the Luftwaffe, air power could wreck Germany’s vital centers with impunity, perhaps scoring a knockout blow that ended the war. Hansell believed that bombing could achieve an independent victory;99 so too did Brigadier General Frederick Anderson, Eaker’s new Commander of VIII Bomber Command. Anderson contended in late July: “The VIII Bomber Command is destroying and will continue to destroy the economic resources of Germany to such an extent that I personally believe no invasion of the Continent or Germany proper will ever have to take place with the consequent loss of thousands and possibly millions of lives.”95 Provided the buildup of Eighth Air Force continued, Eaker believed that his bombers might fulfill that progressive goal. Regardless, he had little choice in the matter—indeed, he had put himself in his current predicament with his successful arguments to Churchill and the Joint Chiefs. It was his turn to transform faith into fact.