During World War II, Allied strategic bombing destroyed crucial German infrastructure, degraded critical logistics, damaged civilian morale, and forced the German air force into losing battles. It contributed heavily to Germany’s eventual surrender in May 1945. To help tell this story and explain its significance, the American Battle Monuments Commission has released theStrategic Bombing Campaign online interactive.
This free, digital tool covers all aspects of the campaign, and allows the user to determine what they want to learn, and to what extent. From maps showing the location of American bomber groups to narrative videos to an encyclopedia of the people, places and equipment involved, the Strategic Bombing Campaign interactive serves as a comprehensive resource concerning this massive World War II endeavor.
When France fell to the Germans in 1940, the English Channel remained the only effective barrier between the United Kingdom and Hitler’s formidable military machine. The embattled British fought on alone, defending their islands against massive air attacks and the threat of amphibious invasion. In the midst of these dangerous times, the British Royal Air Force struck back with a strategic bombing campaign focusing on German industrial areas. Daylight bombing proved too dangerous, so the British resorted to bombing at night. Precision bombing was virtually impossible at night, which often led to high rates of civilian casualties while attacking strategic targets.
In June 1942 U.S. air forces joined the fight. Soon they attacked targets throughout occupied Europe, and ranged as far as the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania. Long range missions proved to be extremely dangerous for the bombers because fighter escorts could not travel far enough to reach distant targets. Formations of “flying fortresses” could put out large volumes of all-round machinegun fire, but even this was not enough to adequately protect them against determined German fighter planes.
In 1943 British and American air forces formally launched their Combined Bomber Offensive. Americans bombed key targets during the day using precision bombing, and the British bombed critical area targets at night. They aimed to destroy marshalling yards, oil fields, factories, railroads, and other industrial targets. Long range daylight bombing continued to suffer heavy losses because not enough could be done to protect the bombers. The newly introduced long range P-51 Mustang fighter changed this.
Now able to escort bombers all the way to the Berlin, the Allies launched Operation Argument, known as “Big Week,” in February 1944. Every day as many as 1,000 bombers and 800 fighter planes roared over Germany, relentlessly bombing their targets. The bombing focused on German industries related to air power, and forced the German air force (Luftwaffe) into decisive battle against superior forces. Luftwaffe losses sent it into a death spiral.
With the Luftwaffe crippled and the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy approaching, the Allies focused on missions over France and Holland, hoping to cripple German supply lines and aid the Allied advance inland. Air support proved critical to the advancing Allied ground troops after the invasion was ashore and the liberation of Europe commenced. The Germans attempted to strike back with revolutionary ME-262 fighter jets, V-1 cruise missiles and V-2 rockets, but these proved to be too little and too late.
The Allied Combined Bomber Offensive continued to devastate German industry until the final collapse in the spring of 1945. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, and dozens of cities left in ruins. Bomber crews suffered heavy losses as well.
During the course of the Strategic Bombing Campaign, American forces dropped nearly one million tons of bombs, and flew more than 400,000 missions.
Veterans of the Strategic Bombing Campaign are honored at many ABMC cemeteries and memorials, but they particularly shape the story at the Cambridge and Sicily-Rome American Cemeteries.