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The British bombing between 1940 and 1941 was completely ineffective. It had to be done at night to reduce aircraft losses which meant targets could not be accurately located. The bombers simply dropped bombs where they saw lights, which more often than not, were from civilian housing. In Germany, unlike in England, the munitions and industrial units were localised and spread out and so very difficult to find. Places like the entirely residential centres of Mannheim and Hamburg were targeted to be razed, whilst it was pretended that the intention was to destroy war production.

The Butt Report to Parliament in August 1941 revealed that under ideal weather conditions only one third of British bombers were able to hit within 5 miles of their targets. The British bombers were also losing as many aircrew (8,000) as they were killing people on the ground.

In September 1941 the Chief of Air Staff Charles Portal presented a programme to Churchill which involved the simple saturation bombing of civilian centres rather than the ineffective attempts at bombing targets of military value. It was estimated that with 4000 heavy bombers and a monthly payload of 70,000 tons of bombs 43 German cities with over 100,000 inhabitants, could be obliterated. This would target 15 million German civilians and involve the specified objective of “the destruction of German life and morale.” Horst Boog, The Anglo-American Strategic Air War Over Europe and German Air Defence, p.516)

Churchill’s stated his main aim as being the destruction of German morale in the air-raid shelters. As he exclaimed earlier, in April 1941:

“There are less than seventy million malignant Huns, some of whom are curable and others killable.” (Stephen Garrett, Ethics and Airpower in World War II; The British Bombing of German Cities, p.91)

The findings of the Butt Report and the development of city target marking by the Lancaster Pathfinders made this new saturation bombing possible. All that was needed was an increase in the size of the Bomber fleet.

In February 1942 the British Air Ministry told Bomber Command that their primary mission was to destroy “the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular of the industrial workers.” (The Right of the Line, p.474) The order was given with the expectation that by mid-1943 this would be fully achieved. It was thought that the availability of more and heavier bombers could achieve this aim by increasing the tonnage of bombs dropped on German cities. Between March 1943 and March 1944 a series of campaigns were mounted against the Ruhr, Hamburg and Berlin.

In the Area Bombing Directive the Air Ministry sent to Bomber Command it was instructed to direct its efforts on the greatest concentration of densely populated  working class areas:

“It has been decided that the primary objective of your operations should now be focussed on the morale of the enemy civil population and, in particular, of the industrial workers… I suppose it is clear that the aiming points are to be the built-up areas, not, for instance the dockyards or aircraft factories… This must be made quite clear if it is not already understood.” (Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, pp.323-4)

Arthur Harris was entrusted with this job as be became head of Bomber Command in February 1942. He explained in his biography that the initial objective “was to be achieved by destroying, mainly by incendiary bombs, the whole of the four largest cities in the Ruhr and thereafter fourteen industrial cities elsewhere in Germany.” (Arthur Harris, Bombing Offensive, p.76)

In May 1942 Harris organised the first 1000 bomber raid, planned on Hamburg but which took place on Cologne after weather intervened. Harris ordered a 12 bomber per minute rate over Cologne.

His Chief of Air Staff Charles Portal set Harris’s crews their targets of dropping 1.25 million tons of bombs over the following year and a half, aiming at the destruction of 6 million houses, with the following definitions of success: “Twenty-five million Germans would be rendered homeless, 900,000 would be killed, and one million seriously injured.” (Terraine, Right of the Line, pp.505-6)

The aim was for a 2000 bomber raid to be organised. But the British Bomber fleet took such high casualties of over 10% per raid that such a force could never be assembled. The desired apocalyptic strike was denied them by the German defences. The result was that the British returned to Cologne 262 times, to Essen 272, to Dusseldorf 243 and to Duisburg 299.

The famous Dambusters Raid of May 1943 was trumpeted as a precision bombing triumph. It was an exception within the British bombing strategy. In fact, it was a great failure in its military objective as the most important dam was not breached. Its actual effect was to drown 5 towns in 160 million tons of water, killing thousands of farm animals, 1000 German civilians and 700 female Ukrainian fieldworkers. Damage was mostly repaired in a month. (Jorg Friedrich, The Fire, pp.86-7)

But despite heavy casualties suffered among German civilians in the RAF Terror Bombing their morale did not crack. Furthermore, the British concentration on outright civilian bombing enabled German war production to increase its output, which bolstered the German defences and inflicted such losses on the RAF that by the Winter of 1943/44 the RAF campaign was unsustainable.