The Intensifying Demand for Results, October-December 1943
Arnold’s request crystallized the great dilemma for Eaker as the clock continued ticking toward Operation Overlord, the codename given for the invasion of France. Intelligence assessments indicated that his bombing—and the air battles that accompanied it—had a detrimental impact on the German war effort, yet the question remained—how much of an impact? Eaker could not say with certainty. He could express success in numerical terms—the amount of bombs dropped, the percentage that hit the target, the numbers of enemy fighters shot down—but even with photographic reconnaissance and Ultra intercepts he could not know for sure whether the destruction that he claimed had actually occurred, or, more importantly, if the actual destruction had produced the desired effect on Germany’s capability and will to keep fighting.
Eaker’s inability to divine his enemy’s response to bombing was a problem that did not lend itself to easy solutions. Besides scrutinizing intelligence reports, he examined German newspaper accounts of raids to determine if the tone of articles revealed the German public’s willingness to keep supporting the war.132 Many coa members relied on their knowledge of American industry to determine the likely impact of destroying similar features of German war production. Planning for the first Schweinfurt raid typified the mirror-image approach. “Industrialists think in terms of what destruction of American ball bearing plants would mean to them, and they are completely unable to suggest a method by which they could long continue in operation if this [destruction] should occur,” wrote the coa’s Colonel Guido Perera. “There is every reason to believe that the German situation is identical, for in both countries the industry has the same essential characteristics.”133
Such logic ignored actions that the Germans might have already taken to forestall production losses or that they would take afterward to replace their capability; it also presumed that German industry operated at peak capacity (it did not, and would not until 1944). Thus, determining when aerial destruction would produce tangible results remained a tall order. Regarding future attacks on Ploesti and the German oil system, coa members concluded, “It is impossible to state the precise time when the effects of such destruction would become apparent. German military leaders would at some point realize that the future was hopeless.”134
Until they did so, Eaker would keep bombing. With the onset of winter, the dismal weather that had plagued Eighth Air Force over northern Europe deteriorated even further. Eaker had no intention of giving the Germans a respite from his daylight campaign, but the losses that he had suffered limited his ability to attack deep inside the Reich. In addition, Arnold stripped away replacement aircraft and crews to help create the Fifteenth Air Force that would attack Germany from Italian bases.135 The creation of the Fifteenth cut deeply into an already depleted Eighth.136 To preserve his bomber force, Eaker confined most raids to targets within range of his escort fighters. Dense clouds compelled his crews to use radar bombing for the majority of those missions.
The need to protect bombers and use radar methods limited Eaker to attacking coastal targets in Germany, where the contrast between land areas and water produced the strongest radar images and the distances were short enough to provide escorts most of the way. Bomber losses declined as a result, but bombing accuracy declined as well. Eighth Air Force analysts estimated that for the twenty-seven radar bombing missions flown between the end of September 1943 and the end of January 1944, only 5 percent of the bombs fell within one mile of the aiming point.137
Yet Eaker refused to believe that he had lost his chance for success. The emphasis remained on achieving rapid results, and he believed that radar bombing could help achieve that objective. On 16 November he wrote Arnold: “I am concerned that you will not appreciate the tremendous damage that is being done to the German morale by these attacks through overcast, since we cannot show you appreciable damage by photographs. . .. The German people cannot take that kind of terror much longer.”138 If the destruction rendered to Germany’s industrial web and its homeland fighter force failed to wreck its capability to fight in the allotted time, the radar attacks appeared to offer the prospect for quickly breaking Germany’s will to keep fighting.
Eaker understood that his radar raids resembled the raf’s night area bombing in terms of destruction, but to him they were unique— and hence more terrorizing—because they demonstrated the ability to bomb a city enshrouded in a dense cloud cover.139 He knew such raids killed large numbers of civilians but was untroubled by that result. “I have always believed that civilians supporting [the] national leadership were equally responsible with the military,” he reflected after the war. “I thought, and still believe, that the man who builds the weapon is as responsible as the man who carries it into battle.”140
Although many air leaders likely felt the same way, Eaker’s decision to stress radar bombing revealed how the war’s momentum had altered the progressive ideals that initially guided American airmen in World War II. Eaker had not abandoned those beliefs, but he had helped transform them into notions that stressed speed over all else, including the goal of minimizing casualties on both sides. The desire for an efficient air campaign that limited losses gave way to an air offensive that produced high American casualties and now condoned a direct attack on urban areas that was certain to produce widespread civilian deaths. The failure to achieve air superiority, combined with the vagaries of weather, was largely responsible for the loss of lives that occurred both in the air and on the ground from the American portion of the Combined Bomber Offensive, and the emphasis on controlling the air as quickly as possible led to further losses in both domains. Fast results became the sine qua non of a victory through air power, but fast did not necessarily equate to efficient, especially in terms of lives spared. The emphasis on achieving rapid success endured for the remainder of the war.
Eaker’s shift to radar bombing did not impress Arnold, who downplayed the impact of the weather on Eighth Air Force. The aaf Commanding General wanted fast results as well, but thought that the best way to get them was by attacking aircraft factories. Air Chief Marshal Portal confirmed airframe and engine plants as the top targets in Germany at the end of October, stressing that “the success of ‘Overlord’ hangs on the extent to which, by the date of the operation, we have been able to achieve a reasonable reduction of the enemy fighter forces.”141 The coa echoed Portal’s message, noting that Overlord placed “increasing emphasis on the need for short-term results.”142 Accordingly, Arnold directed Eaker on i November to conduct radar bombing, when cloud cover prohibited precision attacks, against area targets that would adversely affect the Luftwaffe fighter force.143
Germany’s aircraft factories, though, were all small, “precision” targets scattered deep inside the Reich. Eighth Air Force could not hit them using radar techniques; furthermore, Eaker lacked the strength to send bomber formations across Germany unescorted.144 At the end of November, after contemplating a mission against Berlin as a part of Harris’s offensive against the city, Eaker decided against it.14’ He continued to highlight the destruction that his radar bombing had rendered to German cities, and hence to German morale.146 He further confided to Air Secretary Lovett, “I think those who discount and discredit the effect that our overcast bombing on German cities is having on the enemy are unrealistic and unwise.”147 Yet he also acknowledged to Major General Barney Giles, who directed Arnold’s air staff, on 13 December:
There seems to be a feeling there of great irritation that we have not attacked the fighter factories recently. The plain truth of the matter is that there has been no day since November 1 when we could see these factories well enough to bomb them visually. We have not reached a state of either technical or tactical development where we can attack fighter factories with overcast devices. These factories, as you know, are scattered and isolated and they also require deep penetration. We are not justified in striking at them unless the conditions augur for success. These deep penetrations and the impossibility of fighter escort will cost us 80-120 bombers. We will suffer this loss any time we penetrate in force to these targets. We must, therefore, be reasonably certain of their destruction before we launch any expedition entailing such cost.148
The Army Air Forces Commanding General—who had never commanded any force in combat—failed to empathize with Eak – er’s plight. Arnold could also hear the clock ticking to produce air power results, and he did not like his chances. Even though his diversions of bombers to the Mediterranean and Pacific had helped emasculate Eaker’s force, Arnold felt that the situation demanded a new commander for America’s bomber offensive against Germany. Eisenhower would soon arrive in Britain to command the forthcoming invasion and had asked that Spaatz, who had served as his air commander in the Mediterranean, accompany him. The overall Allied air commander in the Mediterranean, Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, would join Eisenhower as well, creating a vacancy that needed to be filled by an experienced airman. In addition, Arnold had long desired a single air commander for “strategic” air operations, and with the creation of the Fifteenth Air Force, he now had two bomber forces engaged in the bombing of Germany. His solution was to make Spaatz the Commander of the “U. S. Strategic Air Forces,” which would encompass the bomber commands in the Eighth and the Fifteenth, and shift Eaker to command the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces.
Eaker, who had received a promotion to lieutenant general in September, was bitter over the transfer. He learned of it on 18 December, just as Eighth Air Force had finally begun to receive many of the bombers and crews originally promised in the сво plan, and fighters with long-range drop tanks had begun to arrive that would enable them to accompany bombers deep into Germany. Four days later, he wrote his friend Major General James Fechet, a former commander of the Army Air Corps: “I feel like a pitcher who has been sent to the showers during a world series game.”149
Eaker, though, had done much to shape how the remainder of the “game” would be played. Spaatz and his subordinate commanders, Lieutenant General James “Jimmy” Doolittle, the new Commander of the Eighth Air Force, and Lieutenant General Nathan Twining, Commander of Fifteenth Air Force, would adhere to the methods that Eaker had established for bombing the Third
Reich. The Air Corps Tactical School’s progressive proposition that bombing could precisely sever the strands of an enemy’s industrial web to produce quick, inexpensive results had morphed into an air campaign that placed a higher priority on rapid success than it did on producing inexpensive gains. The emphasis on speed would guarantee—for the both the attacker and the attacked—that the American air offensive against Germany was anything but “cheap.”