Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Was The Allied Bombing Of German Cities Justified?

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Was The Bombing Of German Cities In World War II Justified?

Part A

The aim of this investigation is to discover whether or not it was justifiable for Britain to bomb German cities in World War Two. The main body discusses what Britain thought about the bombing and the effects that the bombing had on German cities. It also discusses what conditions the two countries were in at the time of the bombing. This information is taken then analysed and it is decided whether or not the bombing was necessary. Two of the sources that are used for an evaluation are a responsive letter written by a German named Dr. A.R. Wesserle about the bombing of German cities and a documentary titled “Bombing Germany” by the BBC.

Part B

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In late World War Two Britain embarked upon an air campaign against Germany, hoping that this would finally crush the Third Reich and finally bring peace to Europe. This campaign was to involve major bombing campaigns on German industry and military installations. This operation was headed by Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris, Marshal of the Royal Air Force and Commander-in-Chief of the RAF Bomber Command from 14 to 145. At first the missions were a complete failure. This is because the RAF suffered heavy losses flying day missions over German controlled Europe, almost half of the bombers were either damaged or destroyed and also a majority of the bombs missed their targets and just hit unused ground. In an attempted strike on Nuremberg on the 0th March 144, 545 RAF airmen were killed and 100 planes lost . This was more than the entire Battle Of Britain. There was no advantage in this strategy for Britain; they were just losing precious planes and men. The missions continued for a while after because major bombing campaigns were, for a majority of the war, the only way that Britain could reach Germany. They were also important for the morale of the British people because it made them think that they were fighting back.

It was Harris’s idea to switch to concentrated bombing on large targets, such as cities. He was convinced that strategic bombing on a large scale would crush both German industry and German morale and ultimately bring about the defeat of Germany from the inside out. This did not work. The more bombs dropped on Germany the higher the rate of industrial production and enlistment to the armed forces . Also, German armament production continued to rise until midway through 144. Prime Mister Churchill and his Science advisor Dr. Lindemann calculated that, by using a force of 10,000 heavy bombers to attack and destroy the 58 largest German cities, one-third of the population of Germany would be made homeless. Included in this calculation was the assumption that at least .5 to million people would be killed . This strategy was called “Area Bombing”. This idea was attractive to the British war cabinet because they would not have to waste precious soldiers trying to break through the German lines to get to Berlin. This way losses were relatively light. In January 14 Harris was given permission to go on a sustained assault on German cities. These cities included Berlin, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne. It was shown that German cities had more than 60 percent of their built-up area destroyed; 46 had half of it destroyed . Most of these cities had little military importance and as for the breaking of morale it was shown that the more the British bombed the more determined the German civilians became.

In the area bombing campaigns 1,50,000 tons were dropped on Germany within its 17 boundaries, in stark contrast, Germany dropped a total of 74,17 tons of Bombs on Britain . These were bombings of London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Plymouth, Bristol, Glasgow, Southampton, Coventry, Hull, Portsmouth, Manchester, Belfast, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham and Cardiff . This resulted in 60,000 British civilian deaths compared with the 500,000 to 600,000 German deaths . Even with all this bombing by Britain and later America, the German war engine was still going strong. It was strong enough to withstand this battering while still producing arms and men. What did have a drastic effect on Germany was the attack on Russia that turned into a disaster. It was this single event that started the downfall of the Third Reich. The British conditions were improving though, with the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese the Americans and their huge industry has been brought into the war against Germany.

Part C

British Terror Bombing Of German Civilians written by Dr. A.R. Wesserle was a letter written in response to a documentary on the bombing campaigns of the Germans and the Allies. It was written by a German who was in one of the cities that was bombed at the end of the Second World War, because of this the writing naturally has a huge emotional bias.

The article was written in March 181, it was not written that long ago so that a majority of the information should be still accurate, although new discoveries might have been made about this period of the war that contradicts the information presented because it is twenty-two years old. It has a large number of facts and figures on death tolls, cities bombed and dates that all have sources and were not just remembered. There is a lot of information on the Allies and what they did and the damage they inflicted on the German people, but the German bombing efforts on the Allies is only mentioned twice and was played down, so it made it seem that the Allies were the aggressors and the Germans were the poor defenceless people. Generally it is a good source because of the research done and the sources given, also because it gives a German’s point of view. Although, when hoping to extract historical facts from the article, one has to sift through a huge amount of emotional language.

The next source was a documentary by the BBC company TimeWatch called Bombing Germany. It examined policies and actions that Bomber Command undertook during the Second World War. This documentary was full of primary sources. There were interviews with both allied and Nazi pilots and civilians from both sides so it was clear that the makers had gone to lengths to achieve a balance. There were pictures and film of the time, government papers such as directives, personal notes and ministry minutes. These were all used to present the information as well as secondary sources from historians from universities and museums from all over the world so as to prevent bias. The only problem with this source would be the interviews with the pilots. They are remembering what has happened during the war, which what would have been an emotional time. This would influence what they have and have not remembered and their perspective on certain events.

Part D

The importance of this investigation is that there is evidence being revealed now that shows the actions the Allies took in a different light. This is to do in the way that the Allies treated their enemies and how they might have been just as bad as the Nazis in their treatment of enemy civilians. Germany has always been made to feel guilty for the treatment of the enemy and the targeting of civilians but now Britain’s actions are being questioned. It can be said that the bombing of German cities was not justifiable because of the simple fact that those people, living in the cities, did not deserve to die. It was their government that was at war, not them. What Allied Bomber Command should have been focusing on were military targets, like they did earlier in the war. If the casualty rate was high, which it was, Bomber Command should have devised another plan of action, which still included military targets. It was not a moral or ethical course of action to bomb civilians just because they were the enemy’s people. In this way Harris along with the Bomber Command could be seen as a group of heartless people who were bombing cities under the premise of crushing morale, but were really extracting a form of revenge on the German people for bombing England earlier in the war. This can only be said now because the war finished fifty-eight years ago and we know what was happening on both sides, their conditions, their thinking and their mistakes. If one looks at the situation from Britain’s view during the time that the bombing occurred, their actions seem justifiable. They could not fight Germany on land. Britain did not have the manpower, resources or industry to match the Germans. Their Navy was needed in the Atlantic to defend the merchant ships from U-Boat attacks. The only way to strike back at Germany was through air attacks. If Bomber Command thought that maybe targeting cities would help end the war then why should they not have done this? If it had the slightest chance of ending the war then that avenue of opportunity should have been pursued and if it killed people along the way, it was for the greater good. The bombing could have also been a deterrent for the German people. If you look at it one way, for the first forty-five years of the 100s England was either fighting a war with Germany or worried about fighting a war with Germany. They need to show Germany that this could not and would not continue by showing them what would happen.

Part E

Taking both these sides into account I firmly believe that the British and Bomber Command were justified to take this course of action, the bombing of German cities, because it was perceived to be a decisive way to end the war. When the Allies finally found a hole in the Germans’ defences, partially due to the invasion of Russia by Germany, they held on and did anything to exploit this. Even though it did cause the deaths of many hundreds of thousands, it was seen as necessary at the time to end the war. It was basically for the greater good. We cannot judge their actions now when we know what each side was thinking and planning to do. It must be viewed from the British point of view at the time. This is why it can be said that it was justifiable, not right, but justifiable for the British to go ahead with the bombing of German Cities.


“Bombing Germany”- Documentary

TimeWatch, BBC

Carr, Caleb, Mar 14, 00, “Pre-War Battle Raging Over Military Ethics”

Accessed April 00


Connolly, Kate, November 1 00 “Real History and British War Crimes- Germans Call Churchill A War Criminal”

Accessed March 1 00


Messenger, Charles “Bomber Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1-145”

St. Martin’s Press, New York, 184

Murray, Williamson “Area Bombing”

Accessed March 7 00


Extracted from Murray, Williamson “War in The Air 114-15”

“Personality File- Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris”

Accessed March 8 00


Wesserle, Dr. A.R. “British Terror Bombing Of German Civilians”

Accessed February 7 00


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