Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Peter Hitchens Is Incorrect About Sir Arthur Harris And Bombing Policy

In an ideal world there wouldn't be war. In a less than ideal world only combatants would die, nobly and painlessly of course, directly or indirectly because of war. But this is this world where nasty things happen every day and nice people sometimes have to fight dirty to survive against nasty people. Innocent people get caught up in the middle. To solve that problem, religion was invented as a comforter for the hurt, who were taught to be stoic.

Peter Hitchens has used the recent unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park to attack the reputation of Sir Arthur Harris here and here, who headed Bomber Command during its most successful period, having inherited its area bombing doctrine. He thinks that those of us who support the policy are wrong because he knows otherwise. Once a Trotskyite, always a Christian fundamentalist, I suppose. Actually, I, like most other thinking people, grudgingly accept Area Bombing as the best of two bad options, just as I can accept that many people in the third world don't have the same standard of living as me.

Apparently, Bomber Command should have bombed only military targets in daylight, and if that meant increasing the armour and armament on bombers and developing long range escort fighters to enable bomber fleets to fight their way across Europe so be it. Not a single bomb must fall on private property. Ignore the fact that all three British heavy bombers (and B-17s and B-24s) lacked the service ceilings to cruise at altitudes out of reach of flak, or that even at the end of the war navigation aids were not 100% GPS reliable and the weather on the continent meant even the USAAF often bombed blind through cloud using H2X radar (even the famed Norden bombsight couldn't "drop a bomb from 20,000 ft into a pickle barrel" if the bombardier couldn't see the ground). This is what the US Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report September 1945 stated:

The U. S. Army Air Forces entered the European war with the firm view that specific industries and services were the most promising targets in the enemy economy, and they believed that if these targets were to be hit accurately, the attacks had to be made in daylight. A word needs to be said on the problem of accuracy in attack. Before the war, the U. S. Army Air Forces had advanced bombing techniques to their highest level of development and had trained a limited number of crews to a high degree of precision in bombing under target range conditions, thus leading to the expressions "pinpoint" and "pickle barrel" bombing. However, it was not possible to approach such standards of accuracy under battle conditions imposed over Europe. Many limiting factors intervened; target obscuration by clouds, fog, smoke screens and industrial haze; enemy fighter opposition which necessitated defensive bombing formations, thus restricting freedom of manoeuvre; antiaircraft artillery defences, demanding minimum time exposure of the attacking force in order to keep losses down; and finally, time limitations imposed on combat crew training after the war began.

It was considered that enemy opposition made formation flying and formation attack a necessary tactical and technical procedure. Bombing patterns resulted -- only a portion of which could fall on small precision targets. The rest spilled over on adjacent plants, or built-up areas, or in open fields. Accuracy ranged from poor to excellent. When visual conditions were favourable and flak defences were not intense, bombing results were at their best. Unfortunately, the major portion of bombing operations over Germany had to be conducted under weather and battle conditions that restricted bombing technique, and accuracy suffered accordingly. Conventionally the air forces designated as "the target area" a circle having a radius of 1000 feet around the aiming point of attack. While accuracy improved during the war, Survey studies show that, in the over-all, only about 20% of the bombs aimed at precision targets fell within this target area. A peak accuracy of 70% was reached for the month of February 1945. These are important facts for the reader to keep in mind, especially when considering the tonnages of bombs delivered by the air forces. Of necessity a far larger tonnage was carried than hit German installations.”

Indeed, the USAAF changed tactics from high altitude, escorted daylight raids over Japan in early 1945 to low-level, nighttime area bombing raids because its B-29s were not hitting the factories and military facilities with sufficient accuracy.
Daylight precision raids did not guarantee safety for civilians. Four examples, the raid on the Gestapo HQ at the Shellhuis in Amsterdam in 1944, and the raids on Gestapo HQ in Oslo, the Philips radio factory in Eindhoven and the Le Creusot foundry, all in 1942, incurred substantial civilian fatalities and were very expensive in crews and aircraft - 15% for the Philips raid. Similarly, the lowlevel daylight raid by Lancasters on Augsburg in 1942 failed at a cost proportionately greater than the Dams Raid.
The Anti-Bomber Command Mob claim that heavy bombers diverted resources from the other services where they could have been used more effectively in the prosecution of the war. The usual argument is that Coastal Command lacked squadrons of long range patrol aircraft because Bomber Command had all the suitable aircraft. This argument falls down flat when one learns that Stirlings and Halifaxes were not in operational squadron service until Spring 1941 onwards and not in largish numbers until well into 1942. There were always only about a dozen VLR Liberators in the early war years because production and development was just cranking up. Squadrons flew Ansons because the Saro Lerwick was a flop and production was cancelled in November 1939 causing a production gap. Sunderlands, like Stirlings, were designed by a company used to small production runs and took ages to build because, as peacetime designs they were meant to last. I agree that Coastal and the FAA should have been given more resources but that was because of the Royal Navy's obsession with its battlefleet. It could be argued that building anti-submarine escort destroyers and corvettes was a comparative waste of resources as aircraft sunk more U Boats.
The bomber campaign meant that fighter aicraft, anti-aircraft guns and troops were kept in Germany when those same 88mm guns would have wrought more carnage against T-34s on the Eastern Front. More importantly for Britain, Canada and America, those aircraft, guns, troops, concrete and steel could not be used on the coast of Festung Europa - D-Day and the ground campaign would have been like Dieppe every day. Indeed, by fighting the bomber campaign and not invading Northern Europe (don't forget Italy) until 1944 when the Eastern Front war was rolling back rapidly towards Germany, it could be argued that Britain saved over a half million lives if the casualty rates of WWI in Northern France were experienced (which they were in Normandy) over a longer timescale. In addition, although some 600,000 civilians were killed by bombing, how many millions more were killed in Eastern Europe, especially, either directly from shelling etc or indirectly by starvation and exposure as the ground war moved across the continent?
Finally, just as the internet has its Godwin's Law that states that the probability of comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis increases with the duration of any debate, I have discovered Gallimaufry's Law which states that the more vehemently someone argues that area bombing was a war crime, the more likely that person is to be a holocaust denier. There is a deep need among extreme anti-semites to establish moral equivalence between the Nazis and the Allies in order to lessen the uniquely nasty crimes of that regime and its lackeys. Those people do not condemn the indiscriminately targeted V-1 and V-2 weapons. As for the argument that the German people were innocent, were those homeless Germans in Hamburg who were given by the local gauleiter in compensation the undamaged houses and furniture of Jewish families they knew had been "relocated to the East" free of shared guilt?
I will end on a controversial note. Europe has not enjoyed peace for the last seventy years because of NATO or the EU but because the German people had the militarism beaten out of their racial memory by the combined efforts of Bomber Command/US 8th AF from the West and the Red Army from the East. The reasonableness of disarmament and the League of Nations after WWI manifestly did not work so after Germany sowed the wind again, it reaped the whirlwind and finally learnt its lesson.

Update 13082012 Title amended because of google search.


Peter Hitchens said...

Interesting, isn't it? In my original article,I included the following caveat and prediction : 'Nor do I (as some liars will immediately claim) in any way compare it with the crimes of the Germans against the Jews. The two are not remotely equivalent and anyone who says so is a fool and a scoundrel.'
I also said ;'I don’t call this a ‘war crime’ because the phrase is more or less meaningless. As those who have actually fought in wars know, all war is crime, mixed with hell. The question is whether it can possibly be justified'

And what do we find here? A crude smear, the weapon of a person who is deeply unsure of his argument: '...the more vehemently someone argues that area bombing was a war crime, the more likely that person is to be a holocaust denier'.

Peter Hitchens said...

It is also a gross duistortion of my view to say 'not a single bomb should fall on private property', a manifest absurdity and a deliebrate misrepresentation of my argument. The Harris policy, not forced on him but actively and enthusiastically pursued by him(Portal chose him because he knew he would like it, and he was not mistaken) was the *deliberate* bombing of civilian homes, as the *purpose* of the raids. That is entirely different from the accidental and unintended bombing of homes as part of a genuine effort to destroy other targets. Why can't people argue like grown-ups?

Brian said...

And where did I accuse you of stating that area bombing was a war crime? I was referring to the nasty bits of the interweb that google throws up. Perhaps I could have phrased it more clearly as it caused offence just as you apologised to your readers when your words were read to equate 300 deaths in Afghanistan being as bad as one - I agreed with you on that, actually.

Brian said...

Again, perhaps I could have phrased and edited more clearly but I had my dander up. Harris took up post a fortnight after the Directive was issued, hence he inherited it. Of course he agreed with it, as did every other suitable ACM. As a serving officer he was bound to follow orders, just as Royal Navy submarine commanders were instructed to ignore the "cruiser rules" of the 1930 London Treaty and sink enemy merchant shipping on sight from at least 8 May 1940 onwards.

Brian said...

I wonder if Peter Hitchens has read the relevant chapters on the Allied Bomber Offensive in Michael Burleigh's excellent book Moral Combat?

As for the accuracy of USAAF precision bombing, is he aware of its practice of bombing on the "lead bombardier's command" by all "ships" in the defensive "combate box formation" often by togglers (usually waist gunners trained to open the bombbay doors and release bombs)? There was no precision because each squadron box was as wide as over a mile of sky.

Peter Hitchens said...

I don't reacll apologising about anything I said about Afghanistan. I have read Burleigh's grandiosely titled book and was disappointed by its failure in any way to counter A.C.Grayling's arguments in 'Among the Dead Cities'. Harris, who never - to his credit - sought to avoid responsibility for his actions, would have snorted with derision at anyone who tried to pretend he was 'only following orders'. Ifhe was, why give him a statue?
Can I have a working e-mail address, to which I can send a proper full-length rebuttal?
Hitting civilian targets unintentionally is *totally* different from deliberately bombing homes.

Brian said...

GallimaufryandChips@ AT hotmail DOT co DOT uk . Replace AT and DOT with the appropriate characters.

Wasn't your acceptance - I read it as an apology - found here?:

Peter Hitchens said...

No, it was what it said it was. An acceptancde that I had phrased my sentiments clumsily.

Brian said...

And "the more vehemently someone argues that area bombing was a war crime, the more likely that person is to be a holocaust denier" was also just "what it said it was" and not a smear against you because you clearly stated that area bombing wasn't a war crime in your article to which I linked.