Richard Overy: WWII bombing campaigns a costly, brutal failure

Historians in the News
tags: World War II, Richard Overy

THERE are many paradoxes associated with the European bombing campaign of the second world war. In the 1930s it was an article of faith that aerial bombing would transform the nature of war. Not only would the “bomber always get through”, as Stanley Baldwin, then Britain’s de facto prime minister, lamented in 1932, but when it did, the assumption was that it would visit so much destruction on city populations and national economies that any country on the receiving end would quickly be forced to surrender.

Yet when war broke out in 1939 no air force was capable of such devastation. Nor did the general staffs of the main protagonists have plans to use what passed for heavy bombers at the time to carry out such attacks, seeing them as adjuncts to ground warfare rather than forces intended for independent operation. Nearly four years later, even when allied bombers with the range and payload to do serious damage had become available in numbers, only the most blinkered disciples still believed claims that they could deliver a “knockout blow”. The bombing campaign in Europe had become a Western Front of the air: a costly, grinding war of attrition with no clear-cut end and a yawning gap between ambition and outcome...

Read entire article at The Economist

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