Focus on Oil, September-December 1944
In September Eisenhower returned operational control of the usstaf to Spaatz, and the usstaf commander intensified his assault on the target that he thought would end the war most rapidly—oil. Eighth Air Force launched “thousand bomber raids” on synthetic oil plants, refineries, and related industries on 27 and 28 September and again on 3, 6, and 7 October, with the last day’s effort totaling more than 1,300 heavies, of which 52 were lost, and most of those to flak.81 The weather, though, refused to cooperate. In October American bombers launched only three entirely “precision” raids on oil targets, and Germany’s synthetic oil production tripled from its output the previous month. Radar attacks produced dismal results—of 81,654 tons of bombs dropped by Eighth Air Force using H2X between i September and 31 December 1944, only 674 tons—0.8 percent—fell within one thousand feet of the aiming point.82 Clear skies did not guarantee good bombing, however. Despite the large size of the oil facilities, only small parts of them contained equipment truly vital to production. Those components were hard to hit, even with the Norden bombsight, and flak bursts made the task especially difficult.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff kept oil as the top target for both usstaf and raf Bomber Command when they met in late October. Germany remained overcast for most of November, and Allied ground forces continued to demand air support. In addition, the Luftwaffe revealed a new threat—the Me-262 jet fighter— that could fly 100 mph faster than the Mustang and could also fly on cheap, plentiful kerosene. Despite those concerns, Eighth Air
Force flew four raids a week throughout November that averaged more than one thousand heavy bombers against oil and transportation targets, which occupied the second spot on the Combined Chiefs’ target list.8’ Eighth Air Force heavies dropped 39 percent of their bombs that month on oil targets, and the Fifteenth’s heavy bombers did the same with 32 percent of their ordnance, but radar bombing occurred on most attacks, raf Bomber Command also contributed 24 percent of its November ordnance to the oil campaign, again by radar techniques. The German oil system that had suffered so severely in the summer continued to rebound.84
Still, Spaatz thought that the weight of ordnance dropped on oil and transportation targets might prove decisive. On 13 December he informed Arnold: “There is increasing evidence that the attacks on rail communications and industrial areas in Germany are having a cumulative effect. There is [a] possibility that the breaking point may be closer at hand than some of us are willing to admit.”85 Three days later Spaatz realized that the desired breaking point remained elusive.