WWII Curriculum – Day 5
WORLD WAR II CURRICULUM:
Lesson Plan – Day Five
Phase Four (1944 – 1945):
The period of history in Europe and the world as the conflict became a death struggle for both Germany and Japan as the Allied forces entered and conquered the homelands and brought final defeat.
The Student will learn facts and comprehend the events pertaining to:
Final Allied planning for the end of the war in Europe and the Pacific
- The Russian advance toward Germany
- The Allied landings in Northern and Southern France
- The Allied advance across France to the border of Germany
Air War over Europe:
- The operations of the Allied air forces against both tactical (ground support) and strategic (industrial/transportation) targets
- The impact of the bombing campaigns on the German war efforts
Duration of instruction time required:
- 45 – 50 minutes
- World or American History Textbook
- Map of Europe
- Map of Asia
Supplemental materials (included):
- Photograph of the Big Three, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Yalta (National Archives NARA file # 111-SC-260486)
This would be the last meeting of the “Big Three” who had led the allies in the early years of the war. Roosevelt was in declining health and would die in April 1945. Churchill would be ousted in the parliamentary elections held in the month after the end of the war in Europe. Stalin would be meeting with Truman and Atlee at Potsdam leading to what some people felt was an advantage in the postwar settlements in Europe.
Question for the Students: How important are individual political leaders to their respective nation? Answer: In repressive societies such as Russia and Germany, the individual leader sets the tone of how the country will be governed. In more democratic societies such as England and the United States the leader has to be more responsive to the will of the majority of the people.
- V-Mail: February/December 1944
Mail was considered to be one of the best morale builders (although it could also cause serious problems – bad news) to the average serviceman or women. Often the mail would not be consistent and on any occasion a person could weeks without mail and then on one day get 10 – 15 letters. This process was slow sometimes taking months to reach the recipient. Early in the war the idea of V- mail was introduced to speed the communication process. One page letters would be photographed and placed on a reel that could hold thousands of letters. These reels were then airlifted to/from the United States and at their destination printed out on a smaller page. This would serve to keep everyone better informed of their activities.
Question for the Students: How important is mail (e-mail/instant messaging) to you? Without the internet or the television would mail take on a greater importance? Answer: Without all of the modern inventions students should recognize the importance of mail even though it could be bad. Further, students should be able to comment what they get out of (the importance) the correspondence they have with their family and friends
- Eisenhower’s draft letter of responsibility if the D-Day invasion should fail (National Archives)
General Eisenhower was a man who believed in accepting personal responsibility his actions. By the fact that he wrote a letter accepting responsibility for the invasion he was following military tradition that placed accountability on leaders. While he occasionally received criticism from his subordinates and the general public, he did not shirk responsibility.
Question for the Students: Do you think that Eisenhower would exhibit the same level of responsibility and accountability in the environment of today’s political climate? Answer: This is a difficult question to answer and the responses may vary. World War II was the first war that provided a combination of print, voice, and film news to the general public in a timely manner. In the current climate news is spread in near instantaneous reporting. This can often influence how the public understands the event, particularly if the media should provide some form of bias.
- Eisenhower’s “Great Crusade” letter to the D-Day invasion forces
The historic significance of invasion of continental Europe by the Allies was not lost on General Eisenhower. He realized that in order for the event to succeed, he must have the full cooperation and support of all the participants. This letter was intended to serve as a reminder to the personnel that their cause was the cause of freedom.
Question for the Students: Hundreds of thousands of copies of this letter were prepared and provided to the participants of the invasion. Many saved their copy of the letter as they recognized the significance of the event. What would be gong on in your mind when you were given a copy of the letter on the 5th or 6th of June? Answer: Based on historic interviews, Allied personnel had felt a variety of emotions. Most likely that would hold true for the responses of the students.
- SHAEF Top Secret message from Eisenhower announcing preliminary status of the D-Day invasion (National Archives)
For the leaders of the British and American war effort, the outcome of D-Day would have a significant impact on future plans. In the United States General Marshall, as one of President Roosevelt’s key advisors, was anxious to know how the landings progressed so he in turn could advise Roosevelt on the next course of action.
Question for the Students: In reading over the message what do you think is the tone of it? Answer: The message seems to be cautious, but yet optimistic as if to state that everything is going on as planned.
- Photographs from the French “Village of the Martyrs”, Oradour-sur-Glane
By 1944 the war was not going well for the Germans. Many of the forces that now were preparing to fight had previously fought in Russia. These men, particularly the Waffen SS, were very brutal in their methods. This unsuspecting French village was the target of a brutal assault that murdered nearly the entire civilian population.
Question for the Students: Why do you think that the Germans committed this act? Answer: Some might accept the fact that the stated objective was in response to the activities of the French underground while others may state it was intended as an act to set an example to discourage those who committed sabotage acts against the Germans.
- Nurses of a field hospital who arrived in France via England and Egypt after three years service (National Archives) # 112-SGA-44-10842.
American women were participating in the Allied operations in both theaters of wars in primarily the medical and administrative fields.
Question for the Students: Do you think that the presence of American women near the battlefield was significant to the individual soldier? Answer: the women who served as nurses reminded the soldiers often of home. The caring and gentle touch of a nurse served to provide a sense of comfort in the war zone.
- Photograph of the German V-1 (Vengeance Weapons) over England (U.S. Army Center for Military History)
The German “Vengeance” weapons were more frightful than they were destructive. While causing death and destruction to the Allies, their uncertainty would at times be very unnerving. But for the most part the people simply accepted the fact that they had to deal with the “V” weapons and went about their normal daily lives.
Question for the Students: How would you have felt during this period? Answer: Responses may vary, but usually the student reactions may reflect some degree of fear over the unknown. Is this fear similar to the perceived threat the United States now has from terrorists?
- SHAEF “Safe Conduct” leaflet encouraging the German military to surrender
Towards the end of the war the Allies had developed very sophisticated psychological and propaganda operations that were intended to undermine the morale of the Axis populace. As the German military grew tired of war, methods such as these leaflets were introduced.
Question to the Students: Do you think that these leaflets were effective? Answer: The success of the leaflet program was not always apparent. Towards the end of the war, with Germany nearing complete destruction these type items would be more effective.
- Stars & Stripes Newspaper (European Edition), September 6, 1944
The Stars and Stripes did a good job in reporting the news to the military personnel in Europe. This headline tells everyone that the Allied forces have reached the border of Germany and the Siegfried Line.
Question for the Students: How important would the newspaper be to you? Would you accept the news as being accurate? Answer: Most of the soldiers wanted to know what was going on in the war. Most looked at the news as being honest, but certainly slanted to present a positive aspect to the events.
- Allied directives warning of the German soldiers in American uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge, 21/22 December 1944. (National Archives)
The German infiltration of soldiers dressed in American uniforms caused a great deal of uncertainty among the Allies for over a week. A wide variety of techniques were utilized to ensure that personnel were who they said they were.
Question for the Students: What would you do if you were confronted with someone who may be a German in an American uniform? Answer: Student responses might reflect the comment of disarming and detaining the individuals until they could be further identified.
- Engineer site layout for 8th USAAF Kimbolton Air Field (Cambridge) England, Station 117, home of the 379th (B-17) Bomb Group (The Mighty Eighth)
When the airfields that would to be utilized by the Americans in England were built, they followed a pattern that was of a standard design. This layout was normally configured to the topography of the countryside and would have basically the features for every unit.
Question for the Student: With so many American airfields designed the same do you think that it was difficult to locate your own airfield? Answer: While the airfields did look the same, many aircrew personnel noticed certain landmarks that would help them identify their own bases. It was not uncommon to have bombers that had been separated from their formations or that had battle damage to land at any English base they saw.
- Damaged 8th USAAF B-17’s on their return to England from raids over Germany in 1944 (National Archives) # 111-SC-54600/ 111-SC-62443 / 111-SC-51679
The most hazardous occupation for the Allies in World War II was that of being on a bomber crew. The combat aircraft constantly took a beating from anti-aircraft weapons and fighters and yet managed to fly. The skill and courage of the pilot often made the difference in determining if a damaged plane would make it home.
Question for the Student: What do you think would be the most fearful part of the bomber mission? Answer: There were basically three periods that aircrew were the most apprehensive about. The first involved the formation of all the bombers over the skies in England. Taking off in clouds or fog often led to mid-air collisions as hundreds of planes would rendezvous for their mission. Once over Germany, the bombers would encounter enemy fighters that would try to break up their formations. By the time they reached their targets, they would expect to encounter anti-aircraft batteries that ringed many industrial plants.
Instruction evaluation (included):
- Ten question multiple choice quiz
- Answer sheet
Topics to be covered:
1. Planning for the end of the War in Europe and the Pacific
- December 1943 – Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin
- February 1945 – Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin
- July 1945 – Truman, Attlee, Stalin
2. Eastern European Campaign
- Russia Advances Westward after Stalingrad
- Operation Citadel
- Kursk, German – Russian
- Russia’s Advance to the Borders of Germany
3. Western European Campaign
- The Allied Landings in France
- 6 June 1944 “D-Day”
- German Retaliation – Atrocity
- Allied Breakout from Normandy – Operation Cobra
- The Liberation of Paris
- The German Attempts to end the War – July 20, 1944
- Hitler’s Reprisals
- The Allied Advance on a Broad Front to the Borders of Germany
- The Siegfried Line and the Westwall
- Holland and “Operation Market-Garden”
- The Battle for Aachen
- The Invasion of Southern France in “Operation Anvil – Dragoon”
- Rhone Valley
- The German Response and the Hurtgen Forest
- The German Build-Up
- The German Ardennes Counter-Offensive
- The Allied Response to the Bulge
- The Last German Attack – “Operation Nordwind”
- Allied Leadership
4. The Air War in Europe
- Royal Air Force Bomber Command
- United States Army Air Forces
- 8th / 9th USAAF (England)
- 12th / 15th USAAF (Mediterranean)
- Accuracy vs. Saturation Bombing
- The Ruhr Dams, Hamburg, Schweinfurt, and Ploesti
- The Results
Planning the end of the War: Europe and the Pacific
In January 1943, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met at Casablanca in Morocco to make plans for the invasion of Italy. Absent from that meeting was Russian leader Joseph Stalin. Realizing that it would be very important that they meet with him conferences were scheduled for the late fall of 1943 to take place in Teheran, Iran just south of the Soviet Union. It should be noted that Stalin never flew anywhere. He always rode by train or armored vehicle. This was most likely due to his fear of assassination. In October 1943 staffs met in Moscow to plan this conference. At that time is was recognized and accepted that China, under Chiang Kai-shek, would become the 4th major participant in the Allied alliance. In November and December 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill would meet with Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo, Egypt. Russia and Stalin were absent in Cairo, as Russia had yet to declare war on Japan. That would come in August 1945.
Over the three day period of 28 – 30 November 1943 the “Big-Three” met. At this time Stalin was informed that the dates were set at either May or June 1944 for the cross-channel invasion of France. Further General Eisenhower was confirmed by the big three to be the commander of all of the invasion forces. Stalin was pleased because this would finally open up a “second front” and in his mind take some of the pressure off of Russia in the east. It should be noted that while the Allied operations in North Africa and Italy did drain some of the German forces from Russia, Stalin still felt that the British and the Americans had to do more. Stalin felt Russia was making an enormous sacrifice against the Germans in the east.
By February 1945, the future of the war in Europe was a foregone conclusion. The Allies would be victorious. The big three would now meet to coordinate their efforts when Nazi Germany fell and what to do in Europe. Yalta Conference held in the Crimea (See included photograph of “The Big Three”) was important because it was here that they decided on the zones of occupation for post war Germany and Austria. In 1944 preliminary efforts had been made to assign equal portions to the three victorious powers on a nearly equal basis. Left out of the equation was France. After a great deal of discussion and literal threat France was given an occupation zone bordering their own territory that was made up of areas taken from the British and Americans sectors. France was also given an area in Berlin. The same strategy was also carried out for Austria and Vienna. Four powers, four zones of occupation.
At Yalta cracks began to appear in the coalition of the big three. It was becoming more difficult to resolve political conflicts that kept arising. President Roosevelt had made some political concessions to Stalin on the hopes that Russia would enter the war against Japan quickly after the European war came to a close. In some regards Churchill was concerned with the post war alignment of Eastern Europe and what the Russians might control. With that in mind he looked at a possible Anglo-American advance onto Berlin before the Russians. Eventually this idea fell out of favor; because the Western Allies seized Berlin they would have to give up a great deal of captured Germany to the Russians based on the earlier agreed zones of occupation. Eisenhower was not willing to sacrifice lives for purely political objectives that had no impact on the outcome of the war.
With the war in Europe over, the big-three met in July 1945 in Potsdam, Germany. Roosevelt was gone, having died in April 1945 and replaced by Harry Truman. In the middle of the conference Churchill would find himself voted out of office in British elections that would return Clement Atlee in his place. The only one of the original big-three to remain was Joseph Stalin. This would begin the spectacle of the split of the alliance that had defeated Nazi Germany.
As a result of the discussions at Yalta, Stalin again stated that Russia would enter the war against Japan within 90 days of the German surrender. This would take place on the 8th of August 1945, after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, when Russia would declare war against Japan.
The discussions at Potsdam did not follow any specific agenda that had been set out in advance. A great deal of the discussions between the Big – Three would focus on the post-war occupation of the former German occupied lands of Eastern Europe and the administration of the defeated Germany and to a lesser extent the administration of Austria. The Americans and British expected that the people of Eastern Europe would be allowed to choose to set up a western style democracy. However, the people of Eastern Europe were all under the control of the Russian Army of Occupation. The Russians had a different thought than the allies, and wanted to create Communist buffer states under the direction of Moscow. These disputes would be handled by a team of negotiators from the three nations and in the end the Russian position for the most part prevailed.
Over the coming years the Cold War would develop and a clear border would emerge between Eastern and Western Europe. That under Soviet control and the other under the Western European democracies and the United States. The emergence of Russian control would be a slow process that would take between three to four years, but by 1950 all traces of any democratic reform in Eastern Europe had vanished, being replaced by Soviet Communist style governments.
The Eastern European Campaign
Russian Advances after Stalingrad
With the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Russian Army became resurgent and realized that the Wehrmacht could indeed be destroyed. However, the Russian military leaders, particularly General Zhukov realized that this victory on the Volga was actually only a small part of the German military machine. In order to continue to build on their successes, the Russians launched their great winter offensive of 1943. This was a real Russian offensive that had been launched from a perspective that included gaining strategic objectives. One goal of course would be to take pressure off of those fighting in the south at Stalingrad by hopefully diverting any German replacements to the north rather than to the south. Beginning on a front from the outskirts of Moscow they pushed westward along a 1,500 mile line and in many places were able to gain the territory that had been lost in 1942. This included recapturing the large Russian cities of Kursk and Kharkov which had suffered very badly under the German occupation.
It can be said that a contributing to the success to the Russian advances was the activities of Soviet partisan and guerilla groups that operated behind the German lines. In some areas, the German military would have to divert entire divisions of soldiers in their efforts to halt the sabotage in their rear areas. This helped to prevent further German forces from being engaged in the Russian offensive. Eventually the Russian attacks began to falter, more from a lack of supplies and logistics capabilities than from the defensive efforts of the Germans. Within a week of the Soviet success, the Germans under Field Marshall Erich von Manstein launched a strong counteroffensive in February and by March 1943 the city of Kharkov had been retaken from the Russians. The result of the Russian advances in the north and the German advances in the south was a bulge in the front lines that penetrated the German front to a depth of 75 miles. Kursk to the north remained under the Russian control, while Kharkov to the south, Russia’s fourth largest city, remained under German control. These successes for each side proved to be short lived as the Russians and Germans now faced the spring thaws that turned the Russian countryside into a quagmire of mud and impassible terrain. This brought on a period of relative calm that would last for three months as each side began to make preparations to renew the conflict once the ground had become more stable.
Over the course of the next three months both the Germans and the Russians planned offensive operations that would hopefully, in their minds, bring them victory in the east. The Russian military was now flush with their recent successes and desired to continue to their drive to the west. The German high command realized that it needed to erase the bulge in their lines that formed the Kursk salient. It should be noted that the Russian strength in terms of forces alone outnumber the Germans by 4 -1. Anticipating a German offensive at the Kursk salient, the Russians prepared a defensive posture that would stretch in-depth nearly 100 miles. Each successive line of defenses would support the forces to their front and in this manner they would be reinforcing each other.
In the terms of the magnitude of World War II and subsequent conflicts of the postwar period, the battle that would begin in July 1943 would come to be known as the largest armored conflict in history. The conflagration would see over two million men, 5,000 aircraft and over 6,000 armored vehicles involved. It is interesting to note that this number of armored vehicles and combatants far exceeded the numbers that would be seen on the western European front in the summer of 1944 and thereafter.
On the 5th of July, the German Army Group South under Manstein and supported General Kluge’s Army Group Center attacked the shoulders of the Salient from the north at Orel and in the south at Belgorod. The first lines of Russian defenses were quickly overwhelmed. But suddenly the German forces became bogged down in the subsequent Russian belts of defense that began to take a very heavy toll of the German armored formations. Within the next ten days the Germans would find that they had only been able to advance a few miles into the Soviet lines. When the German assault had been blunted, the Russian forces all along a two hundred miles front attacked with fresh forces that caught the Germans off guard. Very quickly, what had been intended to be a great German offensive, turned into a German retreat with enormous losses in both men and material. Losses have been difficult to determine but they are believed to have included nearly 1,650 Russian armored vehicles that were total losses to the German loss of 1,900. However, it must be noted that the Germans losses included in this number account for approximately 1,500 armored vehicles that were salvaged from the battlefield and eventually repaired to fight again. This clearly makes the point that the Russian could afford losses because of their high rates of production, while the Germans could not.
Russia’s Advance to the Borders of Germany
Continuing their push westward the Russians moved to retake Smolensk in the north and Kiev in the Ukraine. The Russian front had stabilized along the Dnieper River which was quickly bridged in a number of locations. These actions led to the capture of these cities by November 1943. Further action to the south in the Crimea had allowed the Russian forces to cut off the Germans trapped on the peninsula. As the winter began, the Russian forces made a further advance into the Pripet Marsh area that forced the German forces to give up even more ground. Never again would the Germans launch any type of offensive operations in the east and never again would the soviet forces be driven back.
In early January 1944, the Russian forces were finally successful in their goal to liberate the city of Leningrad along the Northern Baltic Sea. This city had survived what had become an epic siege by being supplied over the frozen ice of the Gulf of Finland. Over the course of three days, the Russians began an attack that quickly overwhelmed the German 18th Army and sent it reeling back 60 miles to the hastily prepared “Panther” position which would hold out for a longer period of time. Thus along the entire eastern front, Germany was now in retreat.
In the Ukraine the fighting continued its brutality and attrition with overwhelming Soviet forces. Everywhere along the 1,700 miles of front, the Germans could not halt the Russian advance. A German field force of two shattered Corps, which was made up of three infantry and one panzer division, had been surrounded and cutoff, creating what became known as the “Cherkassy Pocket”. Through sheer determination of will and a desire not to leave their comrades in the hands of the Russians, a relief force eventually was able to help them to break out. But this was one of the few exceptions as the Russian forces continued to overpower the Wehrmacht by sheer numbers. Most German units were now only concerned with their own survival and would not devote their limited resources to help other units.
By May 1944 the only part of Soviet lands that was still under the control of the Wehrmacht was that of the area of Byelorussia (Belorussia), the lands between the Baltic States in the north and the agricultural plains of Russia’s breadbasket, the Ukraine to the south. On 22 June 1944, the third anniversary of the initial German invasion of Russia which was an irony not being lost on the Russians, they launched an assault along a 350 mile front that would soon see great gains in the south while to the north the Germans would only very grudgingly give way. By September the Russians were at the gates of Warsaw at the Vistula River, had moved through Romania and had begun to enter Hungary. By the end of December Budapest was encircled and in Russia hands. When the Russian troops had crossed the Danube in September 1944, the government of Bulgaria withdrew from the Axis powers and joined the Russians against Germany.
Some controversy has emerged about the Russian failure to enter the Polish capital in the summer of 1944. Inside the city the Poles very heroically rose up on the 1st of August 1944 against the Germans. They had expected support from the Russian forces which did not come. The rebellion was put down with utmost brutality by the Germans and ended on the 30th of September. This would eventually serve to create animosity between the Russians and the Poles. Some have thought that the Russians waited deliberately to allow the Poles and Germans to destroy each other, thus making it easier for them to take the city later. Others have suggested that the Russians wanted to allow the Germans to destroy any future Polish resistance, so when the Russians eventually occupied the city they could easily place their own puppet rulers in place and control the country. The truth probably lies somewhere in-between. When the Russians had arrived outside of Warsaw, they had been fighting a very hard campaign and were reduced logistically in terms of ammunition and equipment. This could possibly be a reason that would account for their delay on the banks of the Vistula River.
To the south and the conflict in the Balkan States, the Russians had made equally impressive gains. The Russians forces with the added support of the Bulgarian army were able to capture Belgrade on the 20th of October. In this action they had the help of a partisan leader named Josip Broz who would become the dictator of Yugoslavia after the war ended under the name of Tito. In the far north the Russians moved across the Baltic Republics between October and December 1944. Capturing what had been a buffer between Germany and Russia, the war was now on Germany’s doorstep. Finally these Russian assaults were halted at the border of East Prussia by counterattacks.
It should be noted that in each of these German operations to delay and halt the Russian advance, the German high command was being issued orders by Hitler that seemed to be suicidal to the commanders in the field. Repeatedly, Hitler would order that fortress cities be established that were to literally hold out “until the last man”. Some of these cities such as Konigsberg in East Prussia would hold out until the end of the war. Further, Hitler would not allow strategic retreats by the German forces once their front lines had been breeched by the Russians. Each of these actions further contributed to the enormous losses in personnel and equipment that the Wehrmacht was experiencing up and down the entire front lines. In some case officers were disobeying Hitler in order to save their own forces from complete annihilation. Some of these individuals were not disciplined such as General Kluge, while others were relieved from their commands as was Field Marshall Manstein. This demonstrated a total lack of a unity of command within the German military hierarchy. On the other hand, the Russian military now demonstrated a distinct ability to effectively manage their forces and deploy operationally in an effective manner. The roles had reversed themselves from the German invasion of 1941.
On the 12th of January, along the Polish frontier, the Russians launched 22 armies that comprised of 2.2 million men against a greatly reduced German army of 400,000 men that made up Army Group Center. The Russians easily broke through along a 300 mile wide gap and were able to penetrate to a depth of nearly 100 miles. By the 3rd of February this advance had now covered over 300 miles and reached the banks of the Oder and Niesse Rivers, less than 40 miles from Berlin. Temporarily stalled, Russian forces quickly turned northward, capturing what was left of East Prussia and the fortress cities of Danzig (30 March) and Konigsberg (9 April) halting at the Baltic Sea. For the Russians the end was in sight. To the north and the south of the Byelorussian and Ukrainian fronts German forces had been isolated and either surrounded or neutralized in places like the Balkans, East Prussia and the Baltic Republics. The Axis forces in these areas proved to be of no use to Hitler in the final months of the war. Additionally fortress cities like Breslau (held out until 6 May) in Silesia in the east and the U-boat bases in France of Lorient (surrendered 8 May) and St. Nazaire (surrendered 8 May) in the West would tie down limited Allied forces, but would ultimately not have any impact on the final stages of the war.
The Russians would continue to follow a broad front approach to their westward advance. This was much the same as the strategy that would be adopted by Eisenhower once the Normandy landings and breakout had taken place. To the south the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Ukrainian Army Groups aggressively moved through the winter of 1945 to the edge of Austria and by early April 1945 were poised only five miles outside of Vienna. Vienna would fall by the 15th of April to the Russians. Prague, like Vienna, did not fall to the Russians until the closing days of the war in May 1945. It should be noted that Prague would see a revolt from within in the closing days of the war that did more damage to the city than did either the German or Russians forces that were in the area.
For the Russian forces and the Russian military strategy that was developed by Stalin and his general staff, the goal of their armies had always been to capture Berlin. The final year of the war on the eastern front saw the greatest amount of pressure being brought to bear in the geographic areas that led Berlin. The campaigns to the north and south in these final battles of the war were envisioned as supporting campaigns to help to achieve this goal. Thus, after nearly four years of fighting, the Russians had advanced over 2,000 miles from the gates of Stalingrad to the outskirts of Berlin. The final stage was now set.
The Western European Campaign
Allied Landings in France
In the period leading up to that memorable date in history, 6 June 1944 England had become literally a floating arsenal. Once America had entered World War II it was recognized that adequate supplies, equipment, and personnel would have to be built up in advance of any planned invasion. The build up of the invasion forces was code name “Operation Bolero”. Due to the increased presence and success of the German U-Boat operations, the initial build-up went rather slowly. By the end of the two year build-up period the Allies had moved 1.5 million soldiers to England (See included V-Mail, February 1944) and nearly five million tons of supplies and equipment. In addition to the munitions, tanks, armored cars, trucks and aircraft over 1,000 locomotives and 20,000 railway cars were sent. This would serve to quickly move the needed equipment along a rail system that would probably suffer heavy damage in pre-invasion and post-invasion periods. Because the Allied planners recognized the fact that they would likely not be able to secure port facilities for their deep water draft transport ships an artificial port was created. These artificial facilities were termed as “Mulberries” and would be towed from England, established at beach bridgeheads and be used for the expedient discharge of cargo.
From early in 1943 entailed plans for a cross-channel attack had been under way in England under the direction of British General Frederick Morgan. Earlier Morgan had gained substantial experience in planning amphibious operations in the North African “Torch” landings and for the planning of the invasion of Sicily in “Operation Husky”. This gave him a very unique insight for what would be demanded when the cross-channel invasion would occur. Given the code name “Operation Overlord”, Morgan would spend the next nine months establishing the strategy and tactics as well as the logistical needs of the invasion forces. In December 1943, General Eisenhower was named as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force which would subsequently evolve into the term that would describe Eisenhower as Commander, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF). In order to maintain a degree of collation warfare with the British, Eisenhower selected as his principal commanders British officers. Leading the land operations would be General Montgomery, while the naval operations would be under Admiral Bertram Ramsey and Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder became responsible for the theater’s air forces. Each of these officers would have deputies who would command their own respective forces. For the Americans this would be General Omar Bradley on the ground and General Carl Spaatz in the air.
Allied strategy called for the quick establishment of a landing area that would allow for a protected buildup of forces and for the rapid exploitation of the forces once a breakout had occurred. The area chosen for the cross-channel landings was Normandy for a variety of specific factors and characteristics suitable to allied planners. The first was range of the allied air cover from Southern England that would keep the German planes from attacking the beaches. Next was the ability of allies to resupply invasion forces. Thirdly was the nature of the terrain on the coast and how well it could support the invasion forces. The last two concerns was the immediate geography behind the coast and well the allied forces could exploit their break out and how the Germans were arrayed defensively. All these measures taken into consideration pointed to Normandy. The one area that would have been equally a good choice was that of the Pas-de-Calais which is the shortest distance between England and France. That area was dismissed as a possible landing site since the Allies knew that the Germans had heavily fortified the area. It should be noted that anticipating the German interest in the Pas-de-Calais, the Allies mounted a deception operation code named “Fortitude”. Operation Fortitude created a fictional army group under the command of General Patton that would succeed in tying down significant German forces when D-Day eventually did come. On the 6th of June 1944, Hitler was convinced that the Normandy landings were only a diversionary attack while the real thrust would come in the Pas-de-Calais. He would hold this idea for several days, thus withholding key German units who were desperately needed in the defense of Normandy.
In the final planning for Normandy, there was one aspect of the landscape in Normandy that eluded the Allied planners. This became known as the Norman “Bocage”. Bocage can best be characterized as the dense, tangled shrubbery that had grown up over centuries and that served to provide natural fences for various pastures and estates. For a month these areas would serve as individual defensive killing grounds for the Germans who would hold up the Allies in their assaults in this slow process of attrition. The Allied planners were unaware of the bocage and what effect they might have on the invasion forces. The effect was to cause heavy losses to the Allied forces as they had to fight for each and every pasture in Normandy. It was reported that an enterprising young American Engineer Sergeant designed a device from steel rails that could be welded on the front of the tanks and could be used for ripping out the bocage. This contributed very heavily to breakout and when Patton heard of the ingenuity of this soldier he awarded the young man a Bronze Star Medal.
6 June 1944 “D-Day”
Originally, the cross-channel invasion had been scheduled for 5 June 1944, but due to weather concerns Eisenhower had the date postponed to the 6th of June. Even on that date, the weather did not seem to cooperate, but the go ahead was given by Eisenhower. It should be noted that he felt that he had to accept full responsibility for the operations and had even drafted a short address that he would read if it failed. (See included draft of Eisenhower’s speech) The invasion armada that had been assembled is often described as the largest invasion force in the history of the world. Comprising of over 5,000 warships, transports and landing craft the Allies moved toward Normandy. Overhead was a force of 9,000 heavy and medium bombers supported by a variety of fighter aircraft. Well over 100,000 men were prepared to land in a bridge that stretched from miles inland on the English coast to the beaches of Normandy. Eisenhower had also prepared a one page letter to all of the participants of these landings that was given to them prior to their departure for the continent. This helped to coin the phrase that World War II was often known as: “The Great Crusade”. (See included “Great Crusade” letter)
The initial assault phase was code named “Operation Neptune”. This called for the seaborne landing of five divisions and three airborne divisions. The invasion front was to be nearly 50 miles wide. The American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions would secure the western shoulder of the landing beaches while the British 6th Airborne would secure the eastern end. Five beaches were designated for the landings. To the west “Utah” and the 4th US Infantry division, followed by “Omaha” with the US 1st and 29th Infantry divisions, “Gold” with the 50th British Infantry Division, “Juno” with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and “Sword” at the east with the 3rd British Infantry Division. The night before the landings the airborne forces had been dropped over the Normandy countryside with very few units actually ending up in their correct drop zones. While this inhibited the constitution of the individual airborne fighting units on the ground, it significantly contributed to the false impression the Germans developed thinking that there were more airborne forces that there really were. Within the first day the majority of the Allied airborne units had consolidated and linked up with the seaborne forces. German resistance was the weakest at Utah beach while it was the greatest at Omaha beach. It was at Omaha that the Allies took the bulk of their causalities for Normandy. By the end of the first day German defenses along the coast had crumbled and a firm, but precarious foothold had been established. The Allies suffered a total of nearly 9,000 causalities that first day, with approximately one-third being killed. Most significantly, the Allied had managed to land over 100,000 men that first day alone. (See included Eisenhower message to General Marshall at the start of the D-Day landings)
Because of several deception operations, primarily “Operation Fortitude”, that the Allies had developed, to include keeping General Patton in Kent (England) with the fictional 3rd U.S. Army, the Germans did not react immediately to the invasion in Normandy. Hitler, who was normally living now in a nocturnal world, was sleeping when the invasion landed. His staff was reluctant to wake him, thus preventing an immediate decision. Once Hitler was made aware of the landings, he refused to accept them as the “real” invasion. Instead he believed they were a diversion with the “real” landings coming as Pas de’ Calais, across from the English coastal areas where Patton’s fictional 3rd Army was thought to be located. Only after the passing of several days was Hitler convinced of the genuine nature of the landings at Normandy, at which time he released some of the infantry and armored divisions from the Pas de’ Calais sector for the Normandy area.
Stubborn and skill German tactics delayed the Allied advance in a painful manner. The key port of Cherbourg on the Cotentin Peninsula would not fall to the Allies until late June. Sadly that port, with its harbor facilities, had been heavily damaged in the fighting and would not be able to help the allies for some time to come. The Norman cities of St. Lo and Caen held up the Allied advance and seriously put the timetable behind schedule. The German commander of the Normandy defenses was Field Marshall Rommel from North Africa. He put to great use the experience he had learned in his desert campaigns. On the day of the invasion, the German forces had not been expecting any activity. Many of the senior officers had left the area and were taking part in map exercises and war games. Rommel had departed to Germany to celebrate his wife’s birthday. Additionally, Hitler when informed of the Allied landings thought it to be a mere diversion and did not allow for the immediate reinforcement of the defenders. Thus the Allies gained a significant advantage in the landings.
By the 1st of July, the Allied positions at Normandy consisted of a front that was over 70 miles wide and varied in depth from being 25 miles deep inland to holding an area that had penetrated only five miles. However within this beachhead were well over 1 million soldiers, 177,000 vehicles of various sizes and half a million tons of supplies. These areas were firmly under the control of the allied air forces who had maintained complete supremacy of the skies. Although they had been held up in the Norman countryside that was all about to change.
German Retaliation — Atrocity
One of the worst German atrocities that were to occur in France in World War II happened shortly after the allies had landed in Normandy. In response to the invasion the German high command began to move forces northward to get into positions that could at least blunt the allied bridgehead. On the 10th of June 1944, the small, sleepy Limousin village of Oradour-sur-Glane was visited by the 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, SS Regiment “Der Furher”, part of the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich”.
Several days earlier the French resistance had begun harassing attacks on the lines of communication, railways road networks for the northern bound German forces in order to hinder their advance to Normandy. The majority of these attacks slowed down the German advance, but in the end only delayed their eventual arrival. Following the example of the destruction of the town of Lidice (June 1942) in the Czech Republic, a German SS Major determined that the French resistance should be “taught a lesson”. In the early afternoon of the 10th of June, the town of Oradour-sur-Glane was surrounded by 200 combat SS soldiers. Nearly all of the occupants of the village were rounded up in the town square — fairground. Some people were able to avoid this round-up and took up hiding places nearby. Women and children were then marched to the church of Oradour where they were herded inside. The massacre began at approximately 4:00 pm and within an hour 642 men women and children were murdered. Over the course of the next 24 hours the town was burned to the ground and thoroughly looted by the SS. Finally, these Germans continued on their way to Normandy. The German SS officer who had ordered the massacre was himself killed in the fighting surrounding Normandy as was nearly half of the unit. In the end fifteen residents of Oradour were able to escape the carnage. This was accomplished by means of hiding, escaping from the church or by simply “playing dead”. (See included before and after photographs of Oradour-sur-Glane)
“Operation Cobra” – Breakout
The highest ranking American officer to be killed in the European theater was Lieutenant General Leslie J. McNair who was responsible for the training of the U.S. soldier as the Commander of the U.S. Army Ground Forces. In early July, McNair had come to Europe to see how well the soldiers his organization trained were doing in combat. It was the 25th of July 1944, 11:00 when the Allied aerial armada came over the frontlines of the Americans. Within minutes the Germans on the other side were being crushed in a storm of iron and steel that totaled 4,200 ton of explosives. However, within a short time that Allied bombline began to move towards the American lines. In a matter of seconds 110 Americans were dead and nearly 490 had been injured. Among that 110 was General McNair. These friendly fire casualties were a consequence of the total war that was being waged in the cauldron of Normandy. Some of the first U.S. Army medical units to arrive on the continent to care for the wounded soldiers were mobile field hospitals that contained numbers of female Army Nurses. In addition to caring for the wounded soldiers, these ladies provided a great morale boost for the soldiers since it was considered that they represented the wives and girl friends that they left behind. (See included photograph of US Army Nurses)
The effects of the aerial bombardment allowed the American forces to breakout from the Norman bocage and begin to flank the German positions to the west. With the British pushing to the northeast at Caen for a breakthrough, the Americans were now able to take advantage of their armored forces speed and mobility. Quickly moving south, the Americans opened a gap at Avranches. This would then allow the American’s to push large numbers of forces through the German defensives and to their rear. The countryside that opened up was perfect for the doctrine of mobile warfare. One of the greatest practitioners of this tactic in World War II was General Patton. On the 1st of August 1944, the Third US Army was activated under General Patton. To Patton’s flank, General Courtney Hodges took command of the 1st US Army from General Bradley, while General Bradley became Commander of the 12th US Army Group that would include Hodges and Patton. In the British zone to the north of the Americans, General Montgomery would be in command of the 21st Army Group which would be made up of the Canadian 1st and the British 2nd Army.
The initial objectives that were assigned to General Patton were to swing to the west and cut off the Brittany peninsula and attempt to seize the channel port cities of Brest and St. Malo. Because of the destruction caused by the heavy fighting for the port cities of Brest and St. Malo they proved to be of no real use for the Allies when finally captured. Besides the Normandy beaches, it was still critical for the Allies to seize port facilities in order to supply their rapidly advancing forces. The Atlantic port cities of Lorient and St. Nazaire were also targeted, but did not have the importance of the English Channel facilities. Both of these cities were eventually surrounded by the fall of 1944, but held out and did not surrender to the Allies until the end of the war on 7 May 1945. Within a month of the invasion the English Channel islands, which were a mere 14 miles off the coast of France, had been isolated from the mainland. The German garrison of 27,000 men would hold out until the end of the war before finally surrendering to the British.
With Patton’s success in Brittany, his orders were adjusted to allow him to swing to the south of the retreating Germans and outflank them in the process. With the strength of the Allied advance, Hitler ordered the German 7th Army under Field Marshall Kluge to attack westward in an attempt to split the two American army groups. However what that attack ended up doing was to create a pocket that enveloped the Germans on three sides. This became known as the “Falaise Pocket”. Both Bradley and Montgomery recognized the opportunity that this provided to capture an entire German Army. To the south General Patton and his rapidly advancing Third Army were ordered to attack to the north halting at Argentan while Montgomery’s First Canadian Army would push south from Falaise and link up with Patton’s forces, thus sealing the pocket. Once the Germans realized what was happening to them they put up a furious resistance that somehow managed to halt the Canadians. This subsequently allowed large numbers of Germans to escape to the east. In the end when the Falaise Gap finally closed the Allies had bagged 25,000 German prisoners and nearly all the equipment, armor, artillery and vehicles of the German Seventh Army. After the war this failure to effectively close the Falaise Gap would cause friction between the American and British ground commanders.
To the north Montgomery’s 21st Army Group moved in tandem with the coastline along the English Channel. His goal was to seize as many port facilities as possible to ease the Allied logistical supply chain. Additionally, his forces were also instructed to seize or destroy as many of the V-1 and V-2 launch sites as possible. The Germans had been bombarding London and southern England with the V-1’s since June from the Pas de Calais area. (See included photograph of V-1 attack on London) Later the German missile and rocket attacks would include the V-2’s. These would later be directed at the Allied port facilities on the continent, such as Antwerp, in efforts to disrupt the flow of the supplies that were necessary to wage the war.
The Liberation of Paris
The race for Paris and the natural barrier of the Seine River was on. Eisenhower recognized that if the Allies were forced by the Germans to fight for Paris the struggle would be long, destructive and costly. Hitler had issued the orders that Paris was to be destroyed as the Germans retreated. Fortunately for history and the French nation, the German commander of Paris conveniently overlooked Hitler’s directive.
In early planning General Eisenhower had intended to bypass Paris for many reasons. Most importantly he did not want his forces to be bogged down in slow house-to-house fighting, nor did he want to have to accept the responsibility for the feeding of millions of French in the capital. However, he later recognized the political necessity of a secure Paris and the need to continue to utilize his French forces and the French population against the Germans. To capture Paris would serve as a major psychological boost to the Allied efforts and hopefully provide even more support for the Allies from the French. To that effect the British in the north moved toward Rouen and the goal of capturing the port at LeHavre. Within nine days from the closure of the Falaise Gap the Allies were at the Seine River and in Paris. To the south Patton’s Third Army was skirting around Paris after liberating Orleans and Chartres and pushing to the east. Hodges First Army moved toward Paris with the French 2nd Armored Division under General Leclerc attacking from the west and the US 4th Infantry Division attacking from the south. On the 25th of August 1944 Paris was liberated after four years of German occupation. Within days Charles de Gaulle was in Paris and found himself jockeying with Communists and other groups for what would be control of postwar France.
German Attempts to End the War – 20 July 1944
Resistance to Hitler since his assumption of power in 1933 had been building throughout the German state. Not widely known are the various attempts to kill Hitler, even before the Nazi party achieved the absolute control of Germany. As these attempts grew Hitler took to having a personal bodyguard with him everywhere, wearing a steel cap in his hat, using bullet proof vehicles and having “food tasters” before he would eat his meals.
Prior to the start of the war in September 1939 there were a few groups of Christian intellectuals who opposed Hitler as well as the German Communists. As Germany began to suffer defeat the resistance grew, particularly among the upper level German military aristocracy, who saw that Hitler’s continuance in power would mean the total collapse and ruin of Germany. Some of these individuals were even in contact with Allied intelligence agencies in Sweden and Switzerland. The British also went so far as to provide an assortment of explosives that could be used in an assassination of Hitler.
The most famous attempt on Hitler’s life took place on the 20th of July 1944 in his East Prussia headquarters know as the “Wolf’s Lair”. Led by Prussian aristocratic Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg, who had been severely wounded in North Africa, the plot to kill Hitler almost succeeded. The plot against Hitler had been developed in the circles of the upper ranks of the German military. Very few officers were actively involved with the mechanics, but many were aware something was going on and some were selected to take a role in the post-Hitler government that was intending to come to peace with the Allies.
Attending an afternoon briefing to provide information about the German Home Army, Stauffenberg carried a very powerful bomb that was intended to leave no survivors. Succeeding where others had failed, Stauffenberg was able to place the bomb within six feet of where Hitler stood. Shortly thereafter he departed the room to take a “phone call”. Moments later a staff officer next to Hitler bumped the briefcase, and to get it out his way placed it behind the solid oak leg of the conference table, away from Hitler. Within 30 minutes a huge explosion rocked Hitler’s conference room. At first the security personnel had thought that Allied aircraft had dropped somehow managed to drop a bomb. That was quickly dispelled and it was realized that German military personnel had planted a bomb. Hitler survived the explosion by luck; particularly this afternoon conference was moved from the underground concrete bunker to the upstairs wooden building that subsequently dissipated the force of the explosion, thus allowing Hitler to survive.
The aftermath of the failed assassination attempt was to create a more intensely paranoid Hitler. Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg paid the same day with his life as did many other conspirators. In the end nearly 5,000 German military and their families were arrested and either brutally put death or was imprisoned. Tragically, one of the more noted worthy German military leaders to die was Field Marshal Rommel. Implicated by others, Rommel was aware of the plot, but did not participate. Recovering from wounds he sustained in Normandy in July 1944, Rommel was offered the choice of a pubic trial and disgrace or a public funeral as a hero if he were to take poison by his own hand. Thus died one of Germany’s most able field commanders. The Allies learned of Rommel’s death and attributed it to his earlier wounds. It was only after the war that the actual truth was learned about the circumstances of his death.
The July assassination attempted left Hitler a broken man. Not giving up any bit of his hold on the German people, he would now make even more erratic and irrational judgments that would result in greater destruction for Germany. While Hitler had only trusted a small group of military advisors, he now trusted basically no one, but a few close intimates. Personnel coming in his presence were searched and the contents of all packages were thoroughly examined. From this period until the end of the war, Hitler’s military judgment was clouded and would cause the total ruin of Germany.
Broad Front Approach to Germany
In May 1944, a month prior to the actual D-Day landings, the SHAEF planners under the guidance of Eisenhower developed different ideas on the overall strategy that would be followed once the Allied forces had become established on the continent. This strategy evolved over time after the landings to become what was known as the “Broad Front” strategy that Eisenhower would ultimately use until the end of the war in Europe.
This would entail the attack, once breakout from Normandy occurred, would move northeastward in a line that would be parallel with the Seine River. The goal would be to capture the industrial heart of Germany in the Ruhr Valley. The northern front under Montgomery would operate above the Ardennes while the southern front under Bradley would operate below the Ardennes. Coming up from the south of France along the Rhone River valley would be the Seventh Army that would link up with Patton’s third Army, thus creating an uninterrupted front of over 450 miles stretching from the English Channel to the Swiss border. This strategy would allow Eisenhower to shift forces as needed to deal with any strong German resistance while maintaining pressure on the entire German military. One of the key points necessary for this strategy to work was the continued maintenance of the logistics chain.
Attempts were continuously being made to undermine the morale of the German fighting man through various propaganda methods. This would include leaflets drops from high altitude aircraft over large sections of the front lines and accompanying rear areas as well as leaflets dropped over target areas warning the civilians to leave. Once the Allies had arrived in France they began a very comprehensive program for the distribution of “Safe Conduct” leaflets. These authentic looking documents were intended to let the German solider know that he could surrender and would be treated with respect as stated under the 1929 Geneva Conventions. The psychological effect on the German soldier was significant to the point that the German High Command under a directive from Hitler stated that any German soldier found to have one of these leaflets in their possession was subject to e shot for attempted desertion. The majority of these leaflets were distributed to the German combat soldiers by both aircraft and artillery batteries beginning in June 1944 and lasting nearly through the end of the war. It is estimated that over 150 million of various types of leaflets were distributed over the final year of the war in Western Europe. (See included “Safe Conduct” leaflet)
Following this strategy the Allies were able to advance very quickly across Northern France with Patton’s armored units gaining as much as 60 miles in a single day. By the end of August the Allied armies of Bradley were forced to halt for a lack of supplies, ammunition and gasoline. The problem was not so much of not having the supplies; rather it was that the advance was so rapid that the supply line was constantly being outrun. With no major port yet in the Allied hands, all materiel had to pass over the ground at Normandy and then be trucked to the front in a series of convoys that became known as the “Red Ball Express”. These drivers were often on the road for 24 hours straight in their attempts to cover the distance of 400 miles to the front. A new port facility closer to the battlefront was a necessity. Capturing the ports of Antwerp and then Rotterdam were critical in order to advance further into Germany. These objectives would eventually fall to Montgomery and his 21st Army Group, by the 8th of November when the Schelde Estuary was finally in Allied hands and the port of Antwerp could begin operations. Once Antwerp was secured, the Allies had a deep water anchorage that would allow for the rapid distribution of supplies and materiel and ending the difficult and sometimes hazardous flow of supplies from Normandy.
Holland and Operation Market—Garden
The 12th Army Group had halted along the frontiers of Germany. Their advance brought them to the edge of the southern Ardennes near Liege, Belgium and Aachen, Germany; passing by Metz, France and down to Strasbourg, France and the border of the Rhine River. To the north, the 21st Army Group was nearly through Belgium and on the borders of the Netherlands. It was at this time that General Montgomery proposed what he called his “single thrust” campaign strategy as opposed to Eisenhower’s broad front approach. Montgomery’s plan was to create a corridor through Holland that would seize key bridges over major waterways and thus enter Germany from the north of the industrial heartland, the Ruhr, thereby flanking German’s Westwall of defenses. Later, Montgomery’s would call for a continuance of the attack through Holland with the intent to make it to Berlin prior to the arrival of the Russians.
“Operation Market – Garden” would be scheduled for the 17th of September. The operation would use the First Allied Airborne Army (“Market”) who had been resting in England since Normandy which included the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Division, the British 1st Airborne Division, and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade. On the ground would be the British 30th Corps (“Garden”) which had been reinforced with armored units. The airborne forces were to seize the key bridges Einhoven (101st); Nijmegen (82nd) and Arnhem (1st). The bridge at Arnhem would later be tragically referred to as “A Bridge too Far”. Eventually the British ground forces were able to fight their way through the airborne corridor of bridges, but were dramatically halted short of Arnhem at the small Dutch town of Driel. It was here that the Germans had rushed two SS Panzer Divisions to protect Arnhem. The strength of the German attacks demonstrated the resolve not to allow an eastward advance to Germany. The fighting in this part of Holland would continue through April 1944 with very little ground gained until the end of the war. Although the concept and plan for Market-Garden was bold and ambitious it ended in failure. After the war there was a lot of pointing of fingers to various leaders as to the reason for the failure.
The struggle for Arnhem saw the loss of nearly 7,500 of the original British airborne force that was either killed, wounded or captured. To the south the 82nd and 101st suffered nearly 3,500 causalities and missing. The losses in this period of fighting thus prevented any future use of airborne forces until the spring of 1945. With the failure of the single thrust strategy Eisenhower felt that the only way to success would be to continue his broad front strategy. The planning and subsequent failure of Market-Garden led to the consumption of huge amounts of supplies, personnel and equipment. All the gains that had been made in the late summer were now stalled on the borders of Germany.
Siegfried Line and the West Wall
As the Allies approached Germany, the Wehrmacht fell back to their prepared positions that were known to the Germans as the “Westwall” and to the Allies the “Siegfried Line”. (See included Stars and Stripes, 6 September 1944) This was a series of defensive fortifications that had been prepared in response to France’s Maginot Line. It consisted of a combination of over 12,000 structures that ranged from belts of obstacles, pillboxes, bunkers, “Dragon’s Teeth” (anti-tank) and underground fortresses. These fortifications would be situated in such a fashion that included interlocking fire from machine guns and artillery bunkers and a system of defense that would be mutually supported by other positions. The line would stretch nearly 300 miles from the confluence of Belgium, Holland and Germany at Cleve, Germany in the north to the Swiss border at Basel in the south. The construction on the original line was begun in 1936 shortly after the remilitarization of the Rhineland and was subsequently continued and expanded in the later years of the war. Breaking the Westwall would be the key to invasion of Germany and the end of the war. The Siegfried Line would hold the Allied advance for nearly six months and would further mask the German buildup that would be known as the German Ardennes Counter Offensive or “Battle of the Bulge”.
The first major German city that was attacked and captured in the initial assault on the Siegfried Line was Aachen. Earlier in history, Aachen had been the capital of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne who had ruled his empire comprising much of France and Germany from this city in the 9th century. Hitler designated Aachen as a “fortress city” that was to fight to the bitter end. The assault on Aachen began on the 2nd of October with the 30th Infantry Division attacking north of the city. To the south the 1st Infantry Division began the assault on the 8th of October. The heavy fighting and fanatical resistance of the Germans was intense because they were now fighting on their home soil. On the 10th of October, the German commander in the city refused an offer to surrender and understood the city would now face “absolute destruction” in the wake of the American attacks. Finally after bitter house to house and street to street fighting the German commander surrendered the city on the 21st of October when he noted that “When the Americans’ start using 155s as sniper weapons, it is time to give up”. He was referring to the American 155 artillery batteries that had their barrels depressed to fire directly into fortified buildings which caused enormous destruction. In the end the city of Aachen was in rubble and could not really be classified as a city, it was more of a wasteland. The Americans were appalled at the level of the resistance that the German defenders provided. In no small part this contributed to nearly 10,000 causalities that were sustained in the 19 days of fighting for the city. Concern was evidenced at a number of command levels, that if this desperate stubbornness was on the borders, what would the resistance be like as the Allies drove deeper into Germany?
Southern France and “Operation Anvil – Dragoon”
After the successful capture of Rome on the 4th of June 1944 the Allies were determined to keep the pressure on the retreating Germans who set up their fortified lines to the north of Rome in what would be known as the “Gothic Line”. By September the Allies under General Mark Clark and General Harold Alexander had pushed the Germans to the foothills of the Alps. However with the winter setting in and with a reduced number of personnel at their disposal, the fighting would slowly become a great battle of attrition, much like the struggle up the boot of Italy in the winter of 1943-1944. While now the main Allied focus was on Northern France, interest in the Italian campaign had diminished. It was now envisioned by planners as well as the key American leadership that the operations in Italy could be used to hold down various numbers of German forces. This would prevent any support being provided to the beleaguered defenders in Northern Europe as the Allies approached Germany. British Prime Minister Churchill did not agree with this plan and in fact wanted the Allied advance to continue through Northern Italy, into the Balkans and link up with the Russian forces pushing from the east. General Eisenhower saw Churchill’s desires as being more of a political nature and not necessarily sound strategy from a tactical perspective. Italy would not be a priority, Northern Europe would.
Italy decreased as a priority in the late summer of 1944 because of Operation “Anvil – Dragoon”, which was the invasion of Southern France that occurred on 15 August 1944. Many of the resources that had fueled the Italian campaign had been diverted for this campaign. The first discussions for the invasion of Southern France had occurred in 1943 at the Tehran Conference. Interest in Southern France developed when Germans had occupied all of the Vichy areas, that is unoccupied France, in late 1942 after the successful Torch landings in North Africa. However Anvil – Dragoon was temporarily shelved when all resources were earmarked and funneled for operation Overlord. Once the Normandy landings had taken place, Eisenhower was concerned that any and all actions be taken to tie down German forces throughout Europe. Because of this desire, Eisenhower felt that an invasion of Southern France would hold down a large number of German forces that could be prevented from reinforcing the Normandy defenders. Further an invasion in the south of France would allow the Allies to secure port facilities that could be used to support the forces to the north. Key cities in this regard were both Marseilles and Toulon. Additionally, the French resistance had been very strong in Southern France and could be used to support a landing. Lastly, there would be a Corps of French forces as part of the invasion that would certainly fight very hard for the liberation of their country. In the long run this proved to be sound strategy.
Originally, Anvil – Dragoon would have been timelier if it was launched in July as Eisenhower had desired. But by 15 August when the forces hit the beaches around the resort cities of Cannes, Raphael, St. Maxime and St. Tropez, they found little resistance. Allied deception operations, consisting of naval and airborne movements, had performed very well causing the Germans to spread their forces. The Allied landing forces consisted of the 7th US Army which was made up of both the US 6th Corps and the French 1st and 2nd Corps. Additionally, these forces included an amalgamated airborne division called the “1st Airborne Task Force” that was made up of forces from both the British and the Americans. A week before the Allied landings the British SOE and the American OSS had dropped what were known as “Jedburgh Teams” (named after the area of the Scottish border area where they trained) with a mission to link up with the French Resistance in Central France. They were to train the resistance groups and help plan and execute harassing operations against the Germans and in support of the Allied forces moving up from the south. One of the most notable members of these Jedburgh teams was an Army Lieutenant by the name of John Singlaub. His work was so efficient that he was able to volunteer for assignment to China. There he was tasked with working with the Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh against the Japanese. His last mission was to rescue nearly 400 Allied prisoners of war from Japanese captivity. Over the next 30 years Singlaub would rise to the rank of Major General and would be responsible for developing and shaping the future of American unconventional warfare.
Within three days of the landings the allies pushed a spearhead nearly 40 miles inland with an ultimate goal of reaching the Rhone River Valley and then pushing northward. By using bold tactics, demonstrating a willingness to take risks and individual initiative the Rhone was reached on the 22nd of August. The German forces of the 19th Army were not coordinating their defensive efforts and were more concerned in withdrawal and fear of being trapped in the south by the rapid Allied advance through France to the north. Turning to the north along the Rhone Valley the German forces could not escape the rapidly moving allied forces. By the end of the second week of the campaign the German 19th Army ceased to be an operational force, loosing nearly 1,500 pieces of artillery, thousands of tanks and vehicles and 81,000 soldiers as prisoners of war. Final results at the end of the war showed that the Germans actually lost more than 125,000 men as either killed, wounded or captured. Only remnants of the 19th Army would finally make their way back to the borders of Germany. There they were reconstituted and put back in the defense to face the newly organized Sixth US Army under General Jacob Devers.
The 7th Army under General Alexander Patch would continue its northward movement and on the 11th of September, near Dijon, France would link up with Patton’s Third Army. The total Allied cost for the month long campaign had been 2,700 killed and 11,000 wounded from a force that had reached over 100,000 in just a week after the landings. German forces in France were now virtually eliminated as the Allies formed a solid line against the borders of Western Germany. The only locations in France that remained under German control were several port facilities along the Atlantic, the Channel Islands and a few fortress cities. These areas were bottled up, ineffective and were contained until their eventual surrender. The southern ports of the Mediterranean were wide open providing much needed supplies to the Allies who were now bogged down at Germany’s Westwall. In the end Winston Churchill admiringly stated that he thought the operations in Southern France were carried out exceptionally well and had made a big difference in finally bringing the war home to Germany.
The fall of 1944 brought the Allies to the borders of Germany. After the rough fighting for the German city of Aachen, the Allies knew that they must be prepared for their entry into Germany. After the dramatic failures in Holland and Operation Market – Garden the British and American forces were in no position to begin offensive operations into Germany. This resulted in what began as a very large buildup of Allied forces that would be concentrated along the German border. Under this circumstance, that is the Germans digging in behind their Westwall, new American Infantry Divisions were brought to the front and placed in the line in order to be “bloodied” and gain some degree of combat experience.
On the 2nd of November the 28th Infantry Division, whose shoulder patch consisted of a red keystone that would come to be known as the “Bloody Bucket”, launched an attack into the Hurtgen Forest. The Hurtgen was an impenetrable wood of tall fir trees nearly 25 miles wide and 10 miles deep. Entrenched in this wood was a terrain that consisted of steep hills, deep ravines, and a very confined road network. It was here the Germans placed huge minefields and well concealed fortifications intermixed with the natural obstacles. The primary object of the 28th was the seizure of the Roer River dams and the town of Schmidt. As the Allies advanced into Germany, these dams could be opened and thereby flood the Roer River Valley and destroy any bridgeheads that had been established. Additionally, the rising water could also isolate and destroy ground forces that were in the vicinity. Further the Hurtgen could also conceal German forces that could be used to attack the flanks of any advancing American armies. The Hurtgen needed to be taken.
The Hurtgen would exact an incredible toll on the Americans for the next three months. Within two weeks the 28th Infantry Division was depleted and demoralized. The Germans set their artillery barrages to burst at tree top level, thereby showering splinters of wood and hot steel on the uncovered G.I.’s below. Subsequently the 1st, 4th, 8th, and 9th Infantry Divisions, the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and elements of the 5th Armored Division would be a part of the hand-to-hand fighting in the Hurtgen. It was said that by February the landscape of the interior of the forest resembled the terrain of the First World War. Soldiers of both sides were being buried in their frozen poses of death and would remain undiscovered until the spring thaws of 1945. In all total the Hurtgen would claim 27,000 Allied causalities by the 16th of December. This would be the largest loss of American life thus far in the war.
The German Build – Up
With the distractions of the Hurtgen and the struggle taking place, Allied headquarters did not take notice of the buildup of German forces that was beginning to occur all along the Westwall. While many allied leaders genuinely thought that there was a potential for the war to be over by Christmas, it was not a realistic dream. Germany was in desperate straights. Beginning in August, Hitler had issued directives to strip all German home front activities of any male personnel that could be used to fight. The draft was widened to encompass any able bodied male between 16 and 60. Non-essential administrative personnel became members of the armed forces. With a lack of sufficient aircraft, large numbers of German Luftwaffe personnel were shifted to the army. The end result was the formation of what came to be known as the “people’s infantry” or Volksgrenadier divisions. They were equipped with large numbers of automatic weapons and the dreaded German anti-tank weapon known as the “Panzerfaust”. Some of these units would fight well and until death while others would simply surrender at the first opportunity.
Facing the onslaught of the Allies to the borders of Germany Hitler created a plan that would be codenamed “Operation Wacht am Rhein”. In an effort to catch the resting allies off guard, an objective of seizing the strategic port of Antwerp would be the main goal of this thrust. This operation would be directed at splitting the Allies, the British to the North and the Americans to the south, disrupt the flow of supplies to the front, capture large stocks of badly needed supplies and halt the advance, thereby giving Germany time to defeat the Russians in the east. The area for the operation would be the site of earlier successful German advances in August 1914 and May 1940 through the forests of the Ardennes. Between the period of September and December 1944, the Germans would amass over 200,000 men, 1,450 tanks, and 2,000 artillery pieces.
With the halt at the Westwall, General Eisenhower stationed large numbers of combat forces to the north and south of the Ardennes so that they would ready to strike into the heart of Germany as conditions improved. Looking at the Ardennes and what was considered to be an area that would difficult to transit, he placed two combat weary Infantry divisions, the 2nd and 28th and two “green”, untested units, the 99th and 106th Infantry Divisions. These units were to recover from the fighting and at the same time prepare themselves for the upcoming offensive into Germany. It was these four divisions that would feel the full weight of Wacht am Rhein.
From the SHAEF Intelligence staff all the way down to the staff of the divisions holding the line, they had judged the Germans as being too weak to mount any type of offensive operations against the Allies. Any buildup on the German side was either in preparation to defend against the anticipated Allied offensives or to mount a counterattack once the Americans moved. Knowing that the war would not be over by Christmas, the Allied commanders were preparing to resume the attacks on the Siegfried line when adequate supplies and personnel were available.
The German Ardennes Counter Offensive
On the morning of the 16th of December, at 05:30 the combined artillery fire of three German armies was unleashed on the unsuspecting American forces. Very quickly all along the 50 mile front of the attack American units were swallowed up by artillery bombardment which served to create untold confusion among the American defenders. Isolated pockets of soldiers in frontline positions did one of two things. They either broke and ran from fear of being killed or captured or they stayed at met the onslaught head on. The German forces were expecting to make a quick advance through the unprepared Americans. What the Wehrmacht discovered was that those who chose to stay and fight them put up a very strong defense. This effort put a serious dent into the precise timetable that had been developed by the German high command in order to meet their objectives.
The northern boundary of the German attacks centered on the towns of Losheim and Malmedy and to the south, the border was the towns of Wiltz and Bastogne. Pushing westward in between these two shoulders were units of the German Fifth and Sixth Panzer armies. One of the tips of the spear was the 2nd Panzer Division and the 1st SS Panzer Regiment of the 1st SS Panzer Division. The 1st SS Panzer Regiment was led by 29 year old Lt. Col Joachim Pieper who was one of the youngest regimental commanders in the German Army. Pieper had developed a reputation as being ruthless and fanatical based on his combat record fighting the Russians. He pressed onward after being delayed by destroyed bridges, German vehicle breakdowns, and American soldiers. By the 19th of December his combat group had gone 30 miles, halfway to the next major objective, the crossing the Meuse River. It would be the 2nd Panzer Division that would create the furthest penetration into Belgium for the entire operation. This unit would bypass entrenched pockets of American and take paths of lesser resistance. As they advanced they came across the fierce American lines that surrounded Bastogne and decided to skirt those positions, leaving them for the follow up German forces to eliminate. In doing so when the German counteroffensive finally ground to a halt they would be at the deepest point reached in all the fighting, the town of Celles. From the start of the operation to Celles the 2nd Panzer had reached a depth of 50 miles by the 27th of December. They would go no further.
It would be Pieper’s Waffen SS soldiers who perpetrated the now infamous “Malmedy Massacre” that resulted in the murder of 86 Americans who had just surrendered to the Germans. All along Pieper’s route of advance his soldiers were not taking any prisoners. When word reached to the higher headquarters about the random murder of helpless American prisoners of war, many units vowed that they would not take any of the SS as prisoners.
The German attack made the greatest amount of progress in the center of their assault. On both the northern and southern boundaries of their attack the American forces managed to hold their ground and thus funnel the Germans inward. This would create on the map what looked like a bulge in the lines creating the name the “Battle of the Bulge”. The combat between the Americans and the Germans was not any large scale struggle between units going head-to-head, but more of a series of coordinated and uncoordinated attacks involving smaller units in the densely forested Ardennes. The terrain and woods severely limited large scale confrontations. It was the heroism of the defenders in these small hand-to-hand encounters that would tip the balance of the battle in the favor of the Americans. The other key element that would contribute to the defeat of the Germans was the failure of their supply and logistics chain. Advancing armored forces were told to capture American fuel dumps to feed their hungry vehicles. Initially this approached worked, but as the Germans went deeper into the bulge it became more difficult to find supplies. When the German forces halted at Celles, they were completely out of gasoline and had to wait until their supply chain caught up with them.
The German invasion plan of the Ardennes included a number of operations that were little known, but yet created a large amount of havoc and confusion in the rear echelons of the Allied lines. The first of these operations was known as “Operation Grief” under the command of SS Major Otto Skorzeny. Using captured American vehicles and uniforms, roughly 150 English speaking German soldiers were broken up into 30 teams and sent out along with the German advance. Of these teams, nine were actually able to infiltrate into American lines where they would change route signage, redirect traffic and spread rumors of all sorts in an attempt to disrupt operations. Some of the teams were captured when they appeared at GI manned checkpoints and did not quite fit in. It was quickly learned what was going on and elaborate security measures were enacted. One rumor concerned an attempt to kidnap and kill General Eisenhower. (See included American Army HQ, OISE Section Directives 21/22 December 1944) Another operation involved the final German airborne operation of World War II. In front of the advancing Panzer forces, German paratroopers were to be dropped to cut off and hold key crossroads, thus preventing any Allied reinforcement. Of the 2,000 paratroopers to be dropped, only 300 actually made it to their operational area and they were quickly neutralized. These forces had been delivered to the wrong coordinates, suffered the mechanical failures of their aircraft and crashed due to the inexperienced pilots and the challenging weather conditions.
The greatest disruption to the German advance had been the heroic stand made by the defenders of Bastogne led by the 101st Airborne Division. When the attack had begun, the 101st was at a nearby rest area, Mourmelon-le-Grand, France recovering from their combat in Holland. They were immediately rushed to Bastogne where they set up positions that forced the Germans to halt or go around them. Shortly these forces were soon surrounded on all sides. Refusing all offers to surrender the defenders held on, thus creating a further disruption to the German timetable. It was here that General Anthony McAuliffe gave his reported one word response to a German offer to surrender, “Nuts”. Bastogne, although approached by German unit who got within several hundred yards, would not fall and would remain a “thorn” in the side of the German advance.
SHAEF Response to the Bulge
When General Eisenhower was informed of the attacks he quickly reacted to the threat. He also realized that although the Germans were making some progress in the attacks, Hitler was throwing away precious resources that he could ill afford. Eisenhower’s main headquarters at the time of the Battle of the Bulge had been in Versailles on the outskirts of Paris. In the late morning hours of the 16th, General Eisenhower was conferring with General Bradley about strategy for the 12th Army Group. Immediately the call went out to locate any units that could be found for reinforcement to the front. In very short order, the 18th Airborne Corps, consisting of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were alerted and with 12 hour were on their way to the northeast. Because of the excellent road net that converged on Bastogne, these units would be placed to the north of the town. Eventually the 82nd would occupy would be sent to the northern flank of the attack while the 101st would occupy Bastogne. Meeting on the morning of the 19th at Verdun, southwest of the bulge, discussion was centered on stopping the main thrust of the German forces toward their objective of the Meuse River.
Within each of the 12th and 21st Army Groups forces were realigned in order to best support a counter attack that would be able to “pinch off” the expanding bulge in the Allied lines. To the north of the bulge, forces were added to Montgomery’s 21st Army Group as he directed movements from Holland and Western Belgium into the German’s northern flank. On the southern end, General Patton was given the mission of disengaging his attack in the Saar Basin and swing his forces nearly 90 degrees. The Third Army began on the 22nd of December their road march to Bastogne with the 4th Armored Division in the lead. Moving over icy roads, fog, and nearly impassable terrain Patton’s forces fought the 5th German Parachute Division who were supported by numerous anti-tank weapons. On the first day they only covered 12 miles, the second only two miles and finally by the 5th day (26th of December) elements of the 4th Armored Division entered Bastogne.
Contributing to the early German success in the battle were the very poor weather conditions that had grounded Allied aircraft which prevented the observation of the German building up and then attacks on the German columns. By the 23rd of December, the weather had cleared sufficiently to allow for air drops of supplies to the defenders at Bastogne and for Allied fighter-bombers to attack the German columns. Continuing bouts of good weather allowed the Allies to hammer German forces where they lay. Once the siege at Bastogne had been broken, the Germans realized that their goal of reaching the Meuse river was not achievable, and certainly not Antwerp. Recognizing that the 21st Army Group and the First US Army from the north and the Third US Army to the south were squeezing the bulge closed, the Germans became determined to salvage as many of their forces possible. Thus began a strategic withdrawal. Fighting their way back into Germany, the remnants of the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies moved eastward. By the 16th of January patrols of the First and Third Armies meet near Houffalize, Belgium, thus trapping any remaining German forces.
On the morning of New Years Day, 1945 the Allies were in for another shock, although it was not as great as the initial assault of the Germans on the 16th of December. Beginning in the early morning hours over one thousand of the German Luftwaffe fighters streaked at treetop level and attack Allied airfields in Holland, Belgium and France. In one regard this surprise air raid caught the Allies off guard and destroyed 220 aircraft on the ground and shot up a number of air fields. The Allies responded by reacting with their own fighters who were able to take a toll of nearly 300 Luftwaffe aircraft and 230 experienced pilots. After this sortie the Luftwaffe would never be able to mount any sort of offensive actions against the advancing Allied armies.
The Last German Attack – “Operation Nordwind”
To the south of the bulge, Hitler was determined to initiate some sort of diversionary plan that would in his mind hopefully direct some of the American force away from the struggle around Bastogne. As a result, “Operation Nordwind” was created. Launched also on New Year’s Day, the plan was called to split the Allied forces in the Vosges Mountains and along the plains of Alsace. The Allies had recently liberated the major French city of Strasbourg which lay along the banks of the Rhine River. The tactical objective of the operation was to capture the gap that led to the city of Saverne along the Marne-Rhine Canal. This, it was envisioned, would split the two corps of the 7th Army and if successful, would allow the Germans to push to the northwest and the area that Patton’s Third Army had vacated when it turned to Bastogne.
Nordwind was to meet the same fate as Wacht am Rhein and end in a failure. Over the next three weeks, the Germans would initially make a 10 mile gain in the Saverne Gap, only to be erased by Allied counterattacks. In Alsace the Americans of the 6th Corps had to withdraw in order to shorten and restructure their lines due to the ground gained by the unceasing German assaults. But with assistance from the advancing 7th Army reserves that consisted of service, service support and combat troops the Germans finally gave up their attacks. To the south the Germans still held key terrain among the flat surrounding farmland that was known as the Colmar Pocket. This was the last French territory that was occupied by the Germans and would be heavily contested. The 1st and 2nd French Corps launched their attacks at Colmar on the 20th of January and by the 9th of February all German resistance in France was gone.
The fighting that marked the Alsace and Ardennes campaigns was characterized as being methodically slow and quite brutal when compared to the quick advance across France in the summer and fall of 1944. A factor that contributed to the miserable conditions that soldiers from both sides had to endure was the winter weather that was colder than normal with frequent snowfall blanketing the countryside. When the final tally was made of the casualties, the Germans were to have suffered the greater number of losses. Individually, the “Battle of Bulge” was to account for the greatest number of American dead than in any other single action in World War II. The final casualty figures that were released by Eisenhower’s headquarters for the Americans, who bore the bulk of the combat, were nearly 88,000 listed as killed, missing, wounded or non-battle loss. German losses amounted to over 100,000 killed, missing or wounded. This clearly signaled the approaching end of the Third Reich. The losses encountered could not be made up in either manpower or materiel. It would only be the prospect of fighting on the personal doorstep of each soldier’s home that would keep Germany in the war until May 1945.
It can be said that the Battle of the Bulge and the Alsatian campaign was one of the largest tests of coalition leadership in a unified command under combat conditions that the Allies had to deal with in World War II. Besides the significance of the Normandy landings, the Allied response and subsequent success can be attributed to one individual, General Dwight Eisenhower. While there are critics of his strategy, he had to deal with the leadership of three national elements who were fighting the Germans. Most notably on the English side, Eisenhower had to deal with the self-absorbed Montgomery, on the American side he had to deal with the eccentric Patton and for the French it was always DeGaulle.
Once the battle in the Ardennes began, criticisms arose from General Montgomery about the American response to the German assault. Keeping in mind that the battle would be almost entirely fought by the Americans, Montgomery’s comments were taken to be an accusation of American incompetence on the part of senior leaders. The greatest affront was taken by General Omar Bradley and what he felt were the attacks on his ability. These feelings caused a great deal of animosity, to the point that the American leadership questioned their ability to work effectively and efficiently with the British in general and Montgomery in particular. All this was ongoing as the Germans continued their assault on the American forces in the Ardennes. Eventually over time, Montgomery apologized for his comments, particularly when it came to light that he might be fired. Through it all Eisenhower managed to ensure that the Allied fighting elements always remained focused on the Germans and that the leadership of the collation remainder united. This was perhaps Eisenhower’s greatest accomplishment as a field commander.
The Air War over Europe
The air war over Europe began within days of the German invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939. The fall and winter of 1939 – 1940 known as the “Phony War” saw limited operations between the British, French and German air forces. However that all changed with the launch of the Blitzkrieg in Western Europe in April 1940. Within six-weeks, the German victory left England standing alone. The European air war then began in earnest as the Germans began to prepare for an invasion of England (“Operation Sealion”) leading to the “Battle of Britain”. With the German invasion plan halted, the German air force (“Luftwaffe”) retaliated against England with a bombing campaign that was characterized as the “Blitz”. From the spring of 1941 the air war over England and the Channel would fade from the attention of Germany which began to look to the east.
At the onset of World War II in Europe on the 1st of September 1939, the German military quickly displayed the value of airpower through the coordinated attacks of the Luftwaffe in the Blitzkrieg. The world took notice of the use of aircraft that would take on a far different role than it had during World War I. Within days of the start of the war in Europe, the British Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) had sent ten Whitley bombers to Germany’s industrial Ruhr region and the port cities of Hamburg and Bremen on their first mission of World War II. The payload? Five million propaganda leaflets that proclaimed the Germans would not win the war. By November 1939, the RAF was attacking German targets with more than leaflets. These targets were warships in port facilities or installations along the coast of Germany. Easy to find and not much risk involved.
The war that England fought in the skies of Europe from the period of September 1939 to September 1942 could be defined as a period of learning and development. This involved refining the strategy about the use of airpower in an offensive role and establishing a defensive priority for the security of England. With the United States entering the war in December 1941, the structure of the air war in Europe would soon change. The arrival of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in England by the summer of 1942 would usher in the second phase of the air war. This would change the structure and nature of aerial combat and increase the level of destruction brought to the heartland of Germany. This would subsequently give rise to a phrase, to which Winston Churchill took an immediate liking, known as “round the clock bombing”.
The first years of the war saw the RAF experiment with tactics and strategy. Initially there was concern about the RAF bombing of German industrial and urban targets as opposed to the purely military targets of installations and troop concentrations. That soon changed with the German bombing of London during the Battle of Britain. Subsequent destruction of British cities such as Coventry, Birmingham and Hull would lead to the RAF raids on the historic Hanseatic German cities such as Lubek and Rostock in the spring of 1942. In retaliation to the bombing of these and other historic German cities that were involved in the war industry, Hitler ordered that English cities be similarly targeted. These would become known as the “Baedeker Raids”. This was because of the comments made by a German radio personality indicating the targets had been selected from a German Baedeker travel guide of Great Britain, targeting each city that had a three star rating or higher. In these early years the bombing efforts seemed to lack a coordinated and organized purposed to strategically alter the course of the war.
The targets that would be selected for bombing raids would vary due to the current progress of the war. The majority of the targets selected initially for destruction would be industrial plants, oil refineries, military installations, manufacturing centers and power generating facilities such as dams. In the end targets would also include key transportation hubs, railway junctions and population centers that housing industrial and war workers. The main goal in the assault on these targets was the disruption of the German economy and its ability to make war materiel. Later bombing raids would also be intended to destroy troop marshalling areas and equipment stockpiles.
As the air war began it was recognized that bomber crews could not continue to function until they were either shot down or declared psychologically exhausted (combat stress). A system of mission completion was established for both the RAF and the USAAF. Initially each RAF crew member had to complete thirty missions before he was reassigned to a ground position. After six months he was again placed on flight status and was required to complete another twenty missions. At that time he was permanently removed from aerial operations unless he later desired a third tour in the bombers. In 1942 the USAAF established the requirement of twenty-five missions that a crewman had to complete before being removed from flight status. By 1944 the USAAF requirement had increased to thirty missions. By 1945 with the advent of long range fighter escort, P-51 Mustang’s who took the bombers all they way to the targets, mission requirements were increased to thirty-five. The first American aircraft to complete twenty-five missions was the B-17 “Memphis Belle”. On 17 May 1943, the Memphis Belle crew made history within the 8th USAAF with their 25th mission. This accomplishment took nearly ten months from the time that the 8th USAAF became operational in August 1942. In June 1943, the crew and the “Belle” were removed from combat in Europe and returned to the United States for a war bond tour.
Royal Air Force Bomber Command
The RAF was not as prepared to fight a bomber war as it was to fight a war with fighters. The RAF’s Bomber Command was quite different from the RAF Fighter Command. The signature aircraft that would mark Fighter Command was the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire. These two aircraft rose to great notoriety during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. The signature aircraft of the Bomber Command would eventually be the four-engine Avro Lancaster. This was an aircraft that was not even on the drawing boards at the start of the war and would not have its first operational sortie until March 1942. The Lancaster would be able to carry a bomb load of nearly 12,000 lbs which was much greater than the normal bomb loads of the four-engine American B-17 (4,000 – 5,000lbs) and the B-24 (6,000 – 7,000lbs).
During the period of the phony war the RAF conducted limited daylight bombing raids on military targets with little success. These raids were accompanied with high aircraft loss rates. The missions did not have any fighter escort as it was thought that the heavily armed bombers could defend themselves. Also, some of the raids were outside the escort operating range of Fighter Command. Additionally, the early RAF raids on Europe were often carried out by aircraft on an individual basis, rather than concentrated formations.
The morale of Bomber Command plunged with the poor results and alarming losses. By the time that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, the RAF Bomber Command had become more proficient through the lessons learned from their efforts in the phony war. Finally, in mid-May 1940 the first major RAF bomber raid on Germany was launched and consisted of nearly 100 aircraft directed against the Ruhr region, Germany’s industrial center. Considering the disaster of the earlier daylight raids accompanied with the significant losses of aircraft, these RAF raids would take place under the cover of darkness.
When the RAF conducted bombing missions during the daylight hours they had were, for the most part, accurate and put the bombs within a thousand feet of the aiming point. However, with the switch from daylight bombing to night bombing in the summer of 1940 accuracy began to decline. Some raids would miss their assigned targets by up to five miles and might end up bombing vacant fields and in the case of one aircraft, an RAF base in England. While the shadows of darkness would hide the aircraft, it obscured the target. At first, German air defense fighters were not able to detect the attacking bombers under the cover of darkness. But with the advent of the German “Wurzburg” ground radar system, the “Kammhuber Line” of defensive Luftwaffe fighters was able to vector in German ME-110 interceptors on the RAF bombers formations. By 1941, this system would lead to a staggering loss rate of 21 per cent of the RAF bombers in the most heavily defended areas. Far greater than the “acceptable rate” of five percent. In November 1941, Churchill directed a reduction in Bomber Command operations. He realized that there was the possibility that England could run out of trained crew as well as aircraft.
Two events occurred in early 1942 that would change the nature of Bomber Command operations. In February, Air Chief Marshall Arthur Harris took control of Bomber Command and in May the RAF launched the first of the “Thousand Plane Raids”. Within a year Harris would come to be known as “Bomber” Harris because of his commitment to the ultimate aerial destruction of Germany. The first target selected for the thousand plane raid was Cologne. The city was easy to find and identify at night and the sheer number of the planes would overwhelm the German defenders in the air and on the ground. Several months earlier Harris had developed tactics that called three waves of aircraft that would subsequently illuminate the target area for the follow on bombers. Additionally, Harris would have all the aircraft hit the target within a window of one hour. This tactic was demonstrated very successfully on the French Renault factory outside of Paris that had been converted into making tanks for the Germans. Cologne had been a strategic target since early in the war because of the 250 factories that manufactured war equipment, chemicals and petroleum products. The resultant German dead from this raid were a bit less than 500, but more than 45,000 people were homeless and the negative impact of this raid on the German morale began to spread. The RAF losses amounted to 40 aircraft, or 3.8 percent. The Cologne raid set the stage for what would become the British night area bombing that would go on until the end of the war.
United States Army Air Forces
With the entry of the United States into World War II in December, 1941, planning was soon initiated to send American air force units to England. Later arriving American air force units would be posted in North Africa and subsequently southern Italy and together they would become known as the Mediterranean theater. Within England the heavy strategic bombers would be known as the 8th Air Force while the medium and light bombers would be known as the 9th Air force. In the Mediterranean theater, the heavy bomber force would be known as the 15th Air Force while the medium and light bombers would be the 12th Air Force. These units would be the primary organizations that would focus American efforts in Europe. The 8th and 15th would focus on strategic bombing missions that would take them deep into Germany while the 9th and 12th would be providing tactical support for ground forces and controlling the sky over areas of operations.
The first senior American officer in Europe who would take charge of organizing the first American air operations was Brigadier General Ira Eaker who arrived in February 1942. His mission was to serve as an advance staff to locate and establish facilities for the follow on American Forces. Within a few months, Major General Carl Spaatz arrived as the commander of the 8th with the aircraft and crews that would fly the first American mission of the war in Europe. In early 1943 Spaatz would take commander of the USAAF units in the Mediterranean while Eaker would take over the 8th USAAF.
The first American mission of World War II was 17 August 1942 when twelve B-17’s, escorted by four RAF Spitfire squadrons bombed railway marshalling yards outside of Rouen, France without a loss. It should be noted that the co-pilot on the lead aircraft for this initial raid was Major Paul Tibbets. Major Tibbets would later gain fame as the pilot of the B-29, the “Enola Gay”, which would drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945. By the end of 1942, the 8th USAAF had completed 27 missions with only a two percent loss rate. The results were also much better than expected. When the 8th arrived the American leadership was convinced of the necessity for daylight, precision bombing missions as opposed to the RAF night operations. The American leaders believed that daylight operations could be much more accurate and effective. The defensive firepower of the B-17 (“Flying Fortress”) and the B-24 (“Liberator”) and the higher altitude for operations was thought to minimize the advantages of the Luftwaffe defenders. The .50 caliber machine guns of the American aircraft had an effective range that was three times that of the RAF guns. A new tactic was also subsequently introduced by the 8th that was known as the “Combat Box”. The formations of the American squadrons were compacted in such a tight formation that the gunners of the aircraft would be able to direct multiple aerial guns on attacking aircraft. This would allow each combat box to place the fire of three – six machine guns on one attacking fighter. This was in contrast to the RAF habit of flying in loose formations. The final factor that contributed to the American insistence on daylight bombing was the utilization of the Norden bombsite.
Accuracy vs. Saturation Bombing
Early in the war, the British “bomb aimers” learned how really difficult it was to accurately and consistently hit their targets. The result of this experience was the movement to night area bombing operations. When the USAAF arrived, they felt that with this new Norden bombsight they could accurately or precisely hit the target in daylight, thereby causing more damage to the German war economy and also minimize the number of German civilian casualties. The RAF as well as “Bomber” Harris were quite skeptical of these claims. Nonetheless the leaders of the 8th USAAF pushed ahead. Within the first six months of the American operations, the results were not what had been expected. The RAF and subsequently Prime Minister Churchill wanted to have the American bombers follow their developed strategies that had been developed over the period of the past three years. This finally came to a head at the Casablanca Conference in North Africa on the morning of the 20th of January 1943. That day General Eaker met with Churchill and presented him with a one page summation that held one key sentence that caught Churchill’s interest: “By bombing the devils around the clock, we can prevent the German defenses from getting any rest”. While Churchill commented that he still did not feel persuaded that daylight bombing was good, he liked the idea that by bombing “round the clock” it would disrupt German life. The next day the conference produced the “Casablanca Directive”.
The Casablanca Directive specified that the Americans would bomb by day using their precision techniques while the British would bomb by night using their area techniques. Target priorities were established for these missions that began with submarine construction yards and aircraft industrial plants. The directive stated that their goal was the “progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened”. This statement and the subsequent aerial bombing campaign that was to follow would contribute to the German phrase that was coined to refer to these air crew as “Terror Flieger” or Terror Flyer. Sadly as the war continued some of the allied aircrew who were shot down over Germany and subsequently captured would not live to see the end of the war as they were often killed by the outraged German civilian populace. One of the most noteworthy cases of this happening involved villagers from the town of Russelsheim. On the morning of the 26th of August, 1944 eight crew members of the B-24 bomber “Wham! Bam! Thank-You, Ma-am!” were being taken to captivity and unfortunately passed through the town. The Russelsheim residents were upset because the night before the RAF had bombed the historic district of the town causing severe damage. These Americans were mistakenly identified as flyers from that raid. Outraged citizens attacked these eight Americans and in the process six of the Americans were brutally murdered. The other two were badly injured, but protected by a lone Luftwaffe guard. At the end of the war a special military investigation was conducted by the United States. Eleven of the killers were identified, subsequently tried by a courts-martial, resulting in five being hanged and the rest being given prison terms.
By the spring of 1943, the presence of American air crews had significantly increased in England. The American industrial machine had begun to increase production of the bombers that would be needed to conduct the airwar. Henry Ford’s 65 acre Willow Run, Michigan assembly plant would produce by war’s end nearly 8,700 B-24 Liberators with a new aircraft rolling off the assembly line every 63 minutes. These aircraft along with the B-17 would be arriving in larger numbers as the war progressed. The British government began a feverish building program that would construct airfields with 6,000 foot runways to accommodate the 8th and 9th Air Forces. Predominately these would be farm lands that were located in the southern and eastern parts of the island nation. (See included engineer diagram of Kimbolton Air Field, Station 117) This would all contribute to the start of the 100 plane raids that the USAAF began to launch as 1943 wore on. While relatively small when compared to the Bomber Command missions, it was a start. Initially, these missions would be flown over France and Germany without the benefit of escort fighters. This strategy would produce a high loss rate among the USAAF that would only be changed with the advent of the escort fighter. As the P-38 Lightning (P referring to Pursuit), P-47 Thunderbolt and finally the P-51 Mustang became operational in theater, fighter escorts would begin to accompany the 8th’s bombers for part of the way to their targets in Germany. With the addition of “drop tanks” in 1944 on the P-51 Mustang, these fighters would be able to accompany the bombers all the way to Berlin and back. This would significantly reduce the loss rate among the American aircraft.
The Ruhr Dams, Hamburg, Schweinfurt and Ploesti
The destruction that would be caused by the RAF and the USAAF from 1943 through the end of the war in 1945 would be significant, such that in the spring of 1945 allied mission planners would state that they had literally “run out of targets”. With the start of the onslaught of the allied bomber forces, targets were selected by both the RAF and the USAAF that would cause the greatest disruption to the German war effort. For several years the RAF and Bomber Command had focused on the Germany’s industrial heart, the Ruhr region. So significant was this area that it was literally the most frequented target through 1943.
The Ruhr River winds its way through western Germany and in some places dams were constructed that would allow for the harnessing of the river to supply electrical power for the war industries. It was believed that by successful attacks on the dams, the RAF would disrupt the supply of electrical power, flood the surrounding areas and disrupt rail and vehicle traffic and would displace hundreds if not thousand of people who were in the area. Additionally, the Germans would have to divert people from other activities in order to repair the dams. Three dams were selected for this mission. The Mohne, the Eder and the Sorpe. A specially organized RAF squadron was created and spent nearly two months in secluded training. This unit would carry a five ton bomb that had been specifically designed for “Dam Busting” operations. On the 16th of May 1943, 19 Lancaster’s of the RAF departed in three waves for the Ruhr. Both the Mohne and the Eder were successfully breached and the Sorpe was damaged. The impact was nearly instantaneous, but the result was not long term. Within three months, the dams would be back in operation at a reduced capacity. After the war Albert Speer, who was Hitler’s armaments minister, stated, that if the raid had completely succeed and destroyed the dams entirely it would have shut down the Ruhr industries.
Behind Berlin, the largest city in Germany was Hamburg. Hamburg was the largest port city of Germany and was a hub for transportation and had various war industrial production facilities. The city had frequently been a target for the RAF since it was easily identifiable. Air Marshall Harris had decided that since the dam busting raid was not a complete success he would return to the area city bombing. Plans were developed that called for a ten-day cycle of attacks on the city of Hamburg. Beginning in late July 1943, wave after wave of the bomber streams would hit the city, night after night. By day the USAAF B-17’s were attacking the shipyards and power stations. This would be the first time that the RAF and the USAAF had coordinated their forces to attack a single target, “round the clock”. The final RAF raid came on the 2nd of August. The raid had a devastating effect on Hamburg and the rest of Germany. At the start of the raid the British had used aluminum strips known as “window” to disrupt and confuse the German radar controllers and network. Because of this, there was really no effective Luftwaffe fighter defense that was sent up. By the fourth day of the raids, the bombing had destroyed the fire fighting capabilities and infrastructure of the city. On the night of the 27th of July the still burning fires easily guided the next wave of bombers to the target. Only this night the incendiary bombs would contribute to a fire that would become so intense that it would reach 1,800* F, creating a firestorm of winds 150 mph that destroyed everything in its path. The German death toll reached nearly 50,000 and 90% of the cities population was left homeless. The news of this strike left the German people as well as the Nazi led government in a state of disbelief and fear. Which city would be next became the question that would continue to be asked until the end of the war? The Hamburg campaign came the closest to breaking the morale of the German people.
While the RAF continued their area bombing campaign, the 8th Air Force was gaining more experience. By the summer of 1943 the number of aircraft and crews that were becoming available seemed sufficient to mount a targeted campaign that would be both significant and yet costly. The target chosen would be Schweinfurt, Germany. American mission planners had learned that the entire German ball bearing industry had been concentrated in the Schweinfurt area. To disrupt this or at least destroy portions of it was thought to be so significant that it would have an immediate impact on the production capabilities for the entire German war industry. In a succession of two raids conducted on the 17th of August 1943 and the 14th of October, 448 B-17’s hit Schweinfurt. On both dates, the plants were severely damaged, but not completely destroyed. Within a year the plants were at full operating capacity and German war production had been adjusted to compensate for reduced stocks of ball bearings. More than anything, the Schweinfurt raids were for the Americans a very sobering event. Of the 448 aircraft involved, 88 had been lost to either German anti-aircraft fire or fighters and another 170 had been damaged. It was recognized to continue at this rate of loss, the USAAF would cease to exist. Further raids deep into Germany would have to wait until sufficient fighter escorts would be made available. In the meantime, bombing missions would now be focused on France and the areas that would be involved with the upcoming Allied invasion of Europe, code named “Operation Overlord”.
Besides the 8th USAAF, the other heavy American bomber unit in Europe was the 15th USAAF. In comparison, the 15th would be much smaller than the 8th USAAF in terms of aircraft and personnel. However the 15th would perform much of the same type of missions as that of the 8th and would be commanded initially by General Ira Eaker. The 15th was activated in November 1943 in Tunis, Tunisia and in December 1943 would move to Bari, Italy where it would remain for the duration of the war. Facing equally hazardous missions, the 15th would face the challenge of flying over the Alps in order to reach targets in central and southern Europe. Long range missions would take the 15th into Austria and the outskirts of Vienna. The unit would also attack the German U-boat pens on the west coast of France and provide support to the Italian campaign. One of the more controversial missions the 15th USAAF would undertake was the bombing of the 1,500 year old Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino.
The most noteworthy mission and perhaps one of the mostly costly missions that was the 1943 attack on the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania. As a nation Germany did not have any natural petroleum stores that could be used for producing oil or petroleum products. This resulted in a nearly 100 percent requirement for imported resources. In World War I, Germany began to produce synthetic fuels from coal products. By the start of World War II, the I.G. Farben Company had helped the German economy by their hydrogenization process that in essence turned the large stocks of German coal into fuel products such as gasoline. Unfortunately for Germany, this was not enough fuel to run their modernized military machine. Therefore alternative sources had to be found. By early 1941, Germany had overrun and subsequently controlled Bulgaria and Romania. Within a few months Germany would enter Russia and take control of Bessarabia. These areas, particularly Romania, would provide Germany with nearly all of their supply of natural petroleum (one-third of their total supply of fuel) for the course of the war. The oil fields at Ploesti would finally come under Allied control when the Russians captured the area in August 1944.
The center of this German fuel producing region was the city of Ploesti. It was reasoned by the Allied war planners that by disrupting the flow and supply of Germany’s oil resources, the war could be brought to a conclusion in a shorter period of time. Over the course of the spring and summer of 1944, the 15th USAAF would mount a total of 23 missions over Ploesti. It is interesting to note that the first American bombing raid over Europe was actually a mission that was directed against Ploesti. That raid consisted of twelve B-24 Liberators that took place on the 11th of June 1942. Although small in number and causing minimal damage, the raid indicated the significance the Allies attached to Ploesti and the fact that the German oil supply would not be immune from assault. The most famous raid that hit Ploesti was on the 1st of August 1943, code named “Operation Tidal Wave”, when 177 B-24 Liberators from both the 8th and 9th USAAF hit the refineries. While the results did temporarily disrupt production the USAAF lost 53 planes over the target and 55 damaged so badly that on their return to Libya were classified as not airworthy and were scrapped. Ploesti was considered to be one of the most heavily defended German targets in Europe.
The other German target that was considered to be one of the most heavily defended facilities in the Third Reich was the synthetic oil plant at Leuna. The anti-aircraft batteries there were able to throw up the heaviest concentration of flak encounter by the aircrews and it was considered to be the most hazardous target in Europe. Leuna was near Mersberg, Germany and was the largest plant in terms of production capacity of the German synthetic oil processing facilities. It was thought that Leuna produced nearly a quarter of Germany’s synthetic oil needs. In 1944 Leuna was hit on 22 raids that reduced the production capacity to nine percent of its pre-raid capacity. Final analysis indicated that 6,552 bomber sorties were flown dropping over 18,000 tons of bombs.
As the war dragged on many missions were flown by the 8th USAAF to Berlin, known simply among the air crews as the “Big B”. These raids in the early stage of the war would prove equally costly. In February, 1944 the American bombers mounted what was known as “Big Week”. There were a total of 3,800 sorties flown by both 8th and 15th USAAF units that were targeted at the German aircraft industry. At the Allied loss of 226 bombers and 28 fighters more than half of the plants that produced the German fighters were destroyed. (See included photographs of damaged 8th USAAF B-17’s) As a result of this raid the German aircraft industry was dispersed and moved underground, in places where the Allied bombers could not reach them. It is interesting to note that even after these raids production of German fighter aircraft continued to rise. By July 1944, the German aircraft industry was producing 2,300 planes. However, without the fuel for the planes and the trained pilots, these planes would be of little use.
Late in 1944 the allied aircrew encountered a new fighter plane in the skies over Germany. This was the Me-262, the world’s first operational combat jet fighter. Allied bomber streams over Germany recall seeing off in the distance an object trailing a stream of smoke moving very close to their formations. Before they could react the smoking object was on them. At first, fear of this unknown plane caused a bit of uncertainty among the 8th USAAF crews. Within a month that fear was eased when the P-51 Mustang began to shoot down the Me-262 in increasing numbers. In total, the Luftwaffe eventually would receive nearly 1,300 of the jets. Only 300 of them saw combat and their performance was good, but not such that it would change the outcome of the war in the sky. The biggest shortfall for this jet fighter was that Hitler had demanded that it be produced as a fighter-bomber, not as a pure fighter. This caused production delays and in fact made the aircraft slower. Another factor that caused the Me-262 to be ineffective was the fact that by this late period in the war the majority of seasoned and experienced Luftwaffe pilots were either dead, incapacitated through wounds or were prisoners of war. New pilots had to be trained and very few possessed the skills needed to fly the jet.
At the end of World War II the United States published what became known as the Strategic Bombing Survey. This was an organization nearly 1,200 military officers, enlisted men and civilians that were tasked with examining the bombing campaign conducted by the allied air forces in Western Europe and Japan. This Survey including examining the records of the Allied and the Axis powers in order to collect information. The Survey followed the advancing forces as they moved into newly liberated and conquered enemy territory. The captured records were not always complete, but did provide adequate information that allowed for conclusions to be drawn.
Since the end of World War II there has been historical controversy relating to the overall strategic utilization of aerial bombing on both German and Japanese cities. This controversy is unlikely to fade from the current historical landscape of World War II.
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey states that “allied air power was decisive in the war in Western Europe. Hindsight inevitably suggests that it might have been employed differently or better in some respects. Nevertheless, it was decisive.” The allied air war tied up over one and a half million German personnel involved in the aerial defense of the Third Reich. This includes defensive fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft crews, logistical and support personnel, emergency response personnel and even impressed prisoners of war and their guards. Without the bombing efforts, these individuals could have been utilized in other areas and theaters of the war to support the Axis war machine.
In quoting the Survey regarding the air war over Western Europe: “2,700,000 tons of bombs were dropped, more than 1,440,000 bomber sorties and 2,680,000 fighter sorties were flown. The number of combat planes reached a peak of some 28,000 at the maximum 1,300,000 men were in combat commands.” Of these numbers of air crew, the British lost 79,281 men killed and nearly 22,000 aircraft were lost or damaged that they were salvaged. The American losses have been placed at 79,265 men killed and 18,000 aircraft that were lost. In comparison it was only in the German submarine (U-Boat) force that there was a higher percentage mortality rate of active combat personnel over the course of the war. Flying in Allied bombers and serving aboard German U-boats were the most hazardous duties in World War II.
It should also be noted that in excess of 2,000 Allied bomber crewmen would find themselves interned in the neutral countries of Switzerland and Sweden. They reached these destinations in the majority of circumstances because their aircraft were so badly damaged that they did not expect to make it back to their bases. The majority of these individuals sat out the war in relative peace and comfort, however there were a few who did manage to escape and return to their side of the conflict. Several reports came out after the war of very harsh and brutal treatment that were given to aircrew in Switzerland because these Allied individuals had repeatedly attempted to escape their internment.
The air war over Europe resulted in destruction levels that had never been experienced in the course of any previous war. In Germany alone, nearly 20% (3,600,000) of all dwelling units were damaged or destroyed and 7,500,000 people were left homeless. Reviewing postwar records indicate that 300,000 German civilians had been killed and 780,000 Germans had been wounded. No mention is made as to whether or not these individuals were engaged in industrial efforts to aid the German economy. The 50 principal cities of Germany had been reduced to rubble and German industry was brought to a standstill. In the end, the United States devoted 35% of their war production to the air forces. England devoted between 40 to 50% of their war production to the air forces while Germany devoted 40% of their war production to the air forces. The European air war was costly to both the Axis and Allied powers in a number of categories that can be measured. It can be reasonably stated that the Allied airwar helped to hasten the decline and fall of the Axis powers in World War II.