Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in a total war with the
goal of defeating the enemy by destroying its morale or its economic
ability to produce and transport materiel to the theatres of military
operations, or both. It is a systematically organized and executed
attack from the air which can utilize strategic bombers, long- or
medium-range missiles, or nuclear-armed fighter-bomber aircraft to
attack targets deemed vital to the enemy's war-making capability.
One of the aims of war is to demoralize the enemy, so that peace or
surrender becomes preferable to continuing the conflict. Strategic
bombing has been used to this end. The phrase "terror bombing" entered
the English lexicon towards the end of
World War II
World War II and many strategic
bombing campaigns and individual raids have been described as terror
bombing by commentators and historians. Because the term has
pejorative connotations, some, including the Allies of World War II,
have preferred to use euphemisms such as "will to resist" and "morale
The theoretical distinction between tactical and strategic air warfare
was developed between the two world wars. Some leading theorists of
strategic air warfare during this period were the Italian Giulio
Douhet, the Trenchard school in the United Kingdom, and General Billy
Mitchell in the United States. These theorists were highly
influential, both on the military justification for an independent air
force (such as the Royal Air Force) and in influencing political
thoughts on a future war as exemplified by Stanley Baldwin's 1932
comment that the bomber will always get through.
1 Enemy morale and terror bombing
1.1 Development of the term "terror bombing"
2 Defensive measures
3 History and origins
3.1 World War I
3.3 World War II
3.4 Cold War
3.5 Post–Cold War
4 Aerial bombardment and international law
5 Pioneers of strategic bombing
6 See also
9 Further reading
Enemy morale and terror bombing 
One of the aims of war is to demoralise the enemy; facing continual
death and destruction may make the prospect of peace or surrender
preferable. The proponents of strategic bombing between the world
wars, such as General Douhet, expected that direct attacks upon an
enemy country's cities by strategic bombers would lead to rapid
collapse of civilian morale, so that political pressure to sue for
peace would lead to a rapid conclusion. When such attacks were tried
in the 1930s—in the
Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese
War—they were ineffective. Commentators observed the failures and
some air forces, such as the Luftwaffe, concentrated their efforts
upon direct support of the troops.
Terror bombing is an emotive term used for aerial attacks planned to
weaken or break enemy morale. Use of the term to refer to aerial
attacks implies the attacks are criminal according to the law of
war, or if within the laws of war are nevertheless a moral
crime. According to John Algeo in Fifty Years among the New Words:
A Dictionary of Neologisms 1941–1991, the first recorded usage of
"Terror bombing" in a United States publication was in a Reader's
Digest article dated June 1941, a finding confirmed by the Oxford
Aerial attacks described as terror bombing are often long range
strategic bombing raids, although attacks which result in the deaths
of civilians may also be described as such, or if the attacks involve
fighters strafing they may be labelled "terror attacks."
Development of the term "terror bombing"
German propaganda minister
Joseph Goebbels and other high-ranking
officials of the Third Reich frequently described attacks made on
Germany by the
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air
Forces (USAAF) during their strategic bombing campaigns as
Terrorangriffe - terror attacks.[nb 1][nb 2] The Allied governments
usually described their bombing of cities with other euphemisms such
as area bombing (RAF) or precision bombing (USAAF), and for most of
World War II
World War II the Allied news media did the same. However, at a SHAEF
press conference on 16 February 1945, two days after the bombing of
Dresden, British Air Commodore
Colin McKay Grierson replied to a
question by one of the journalists that the primary target of the
bombing had been on communications to prevent the Germans from moving
military supplies and to stop movement in all directions if possible.
He then added in an offhand remark that the raid also helped destroy
"what is left of German morale." Howard Cowan, an
Associated Press war
correspondent, filed a story about the Dresden raid. The military
press censor at
SHAEF made a mistake and allowed the Cowan cable to go
out starting with "Allied air bosses have made the long awaited
decision to adopt deliberate terror bombing of great German population
centres as a ruthless expedient to hasten Hitler's doom." There were
follow-up newspaper editorials on the issue and a longtime opponent of
strategic bombing, Richard Stokes, MP, asked questions in the House of
Commons on 6 March.
The controversy stirred up by the Cowan news report reached the
highest levels of the
British Government when on 28 March 1945 the
Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, sent a memo by telegram to General
Ismay for the British Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff
in which he started with the sentence "It seems to me that the moment
has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the
sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be
reviewed...." Under pressure from the Chiefs of Staff and in
response to the views expressed by Chief of the Air Staff Sir Charles
Portal, and the head of
Bomber Command, Arthur "Bomber" Harris, among
others, Churchill withdrew his memo and issued a new one. This was
completed on 1 April 1945 and started instead with the usual British
euphemism for attacks on cities: "It seems to me that the moment has
come when the question of the so called 'area-bombing' of German
cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own
Many strategic bombing campaigns and individual raids of aerial
warfare have been described as "terror bombing" by commentators and
historians since the end of World War II, but because the term has
pejorative connotations, others have denied that such bombing
campaigns and raids are examples of "terror bombing".
Defensive measures against air raids include:
attempting to shoot down attackers using fighter aircraft and
anti-aircraft guns or surface-to-air missiles
the use of air raid shelters to protect the population
air raid sirens
employment of Air Raid Wardens
setting up organizations like the British ARP (Air Raid Precautions)
Blackouts - extinguishing all lights at night to make bombing less
History and origins
World War I
Strategic bombing during World War I
A 1918 Air Raid rehearsal, evacuating children from a hospital.
Strategic bombing was used in World War I, though it was not
understood in its present form. The first bombing of a city was on the
night of 24–25 August 1914, when eight bombs were dropped from a
German airship onto the Belgian city of Antwerp.
The first effective strategic bombing was pioneered by the Royal Naval
Air Service (RNAS) in 1914. The mission was to attack the
Zeppelin production lines and their sheds at
Cologne and Düsseldorf.
Charles Rumney Samson
Charles Rumney Samson the force of four aircraft inflicted
minor damage on the sheds. The raid was repeated a month later with
slightly more success. Within a year or so, specialized aircraft and
dedicated bomber squadrons were in service on both sides. These were
generally used for tactical bombing; the aim was that of directly
harming enemy troops, strongpoints, or equipment, usually within a
relatively small distance of the front line. Eventually, attention
turned to the possibility of causing indirect harm to the enemy by
systematically attacking vital rear-area resources.
The most well known attacks were those done by Zeppelins over England
through the course of the war. The first aerial bombardment of English
civilians was on January 19, 1915, when two German Zeppelins dropped
24 fifty-kilogram (110 pound) high-explosive bombs and ineffective
three-kilogram incendiaries on the Eastern England towns of Great
Yarmouth, Sheringham, King's Lynn, and the surrounding villages. In
all, four people were killed and sixteen injured, and monetary damage
was estimated at £7,740 (about US$36,000 at the time). German
airships also bombed on other fronts, for example in January 1915 on
Liepāja in Latvia.
German airship bombing
Calais on the night of 21–22 February 1915
In 1915 there were 19 more raids, in which 37 tons of bombs were
dropped, killing 181 people and injuring 455. Raids continued in 1916.
London was accidentally bombed in May, and in July the Kaiser allowed
directed raids against urban centers. There were 23 airship raids in
1916, in which 125 tons of ordnance were dropped, killing 293 people
and injuring 691. Gradually British air defenses improved. In 1917 and
1918, there were only 11
Zeppelin raids against England, and the final
raid occurred on August 5, 1918, which resulted in the death of KK
Peter Strasser, commander of the German Naval Airship Department.
By the end of the war, 51 raids had been undertaken, in which 5,806
bombs were dropped, killing 557 people and injuring 1,358. These raids
caused only minor hampering of wartime production, by later standards.
A much greater impact was the diversion of twelve aircraft squadrons,
many guns, and over 10,000 men to air defenses. Initially the raids
generated a wave of hysteria, partially caused by media. This revealed
the tactic's potential as a weapon that was of use for propagandists
on both sides. The late
Zeppelin raids were complemented by the Gotha
bomber, which was the first heavier-than-air bomber
to be used for strategic bombing.
The French army on June 15, 1915, attacked the German town of
Karlsruhe, killing 29 civilians and wounding 58. Further raids
followed until the Armistice in 1918. In a raid in the afternoon of
June 22, 1916, the pilots used outdated maps and bombed the location
of the abandoned railway station, where a circus tent was placed,
killing 120 persons, most of them children.
The British also stepped up their strategic bombing campaign. In late
1915, the order was given for attacks on German industrial targets and
the 41st Wing was formed from units of the RNAS and Royal Flying
Corps. The RNAS took to strategic bombing in a bigger way than the
RFC, who were focused on supporting the infantry actions of the
Western Front. At first the RNAS attacked the German submarines in
their moorings and then steelworks further in targeting the origin of
the submarines themselves.
In early 1918 they operated their "round the clock" bombing raid, with
lighter bombers attacking the town of
Trier by day and large HP O/400s
attacking by night. The Independent Force, an expanded bombing group,
and the first independent strategic bombing force, was created in
April 1918. By the end of the war, the force had aircraft that could
reach Berlin, but these were never used.
Following the war, the concept of strategic bombing developed. The
calculations which were performed on the number of dead to the weight
of bombs dropped would have a profound effect on the attitudes of the
British authorities and population in the interwar years because as
bombers became larger it was fully expected that deaths from aerial
bombardment would approach those anticipated in the
Cold War from the
use of nuclear weapons. The fear of aerial attack on such a scale was
one of the fundamental driving forces of British appeasement in the
These early developments of aerial warfare led to two distinct
branches in the writings of air warfare theorists: tactical air
warfare and strategic air warfare. Tactical air warfare was developed
as part of a combined-arms attack which would be developed to a
significant degree by Germany, and which contributed much to the
success of the
Wehrmacht during the first four years (1939–42) of
World War II. The
Luftwaffe became a major element of the German
Some leading theorists of strategic air warfare, namely strategic
bombing during this period were the Italian Giulio Douhet, the
Trenchard school in Great Britain, and General
Billy Mitchell in the
United States. These theorists thought that aerial bombardment of the
enemy's homeland would be an important part of future wars. Not only
would such attacks weaken the enemy by destroying important military
infrastructure, they would also break the morale of the civilian
population, forcing their government to capitulate. Although area
bombing theorists acknowledged that measures could be taken to defend
against bombers – using fighter planes and anti-aircraft artillery -
the maxim of the times remained "the bomber will always get through".
These theorists for strategic bombing argued that it would be
necessary to develop a fleet of strategic bombers during peacetime,
both to deter any potential enemy, and also in the case of a war, to
be able to deliver devastating attacks on the enemy industries and
cities while suffering from relatively few friendly casualties before
victory was achieved.
In the period between the two world wars, military thinkers from
several nations advocated strategic bombing as the logical and obvious
way to employ aircraft. Domestic political considerations saw to it
that the British worked harder on the concept than most. The British
Royal Flying Corps
Royal Flying Corps and
Royal Naval Air Service
Royal Naval Air Service of the Great War had
been merged in 1918 to create a separate air force, which spent much
of the following two decades fighting for survival in an environment
of severe government spending constraints.
In Italy, the air power prophet General
Giulio Douhet asserted the
basic principle of strategic bombing was the offensive, and there was
no defence against carpet bombing and poison gas attacks. Douhet's
apocalyptic predictions found fertile soil in France, Germany, and the
United States, where excerpts from his book The Command of the Air
(1921) were published. These visions of cities laid waste by bombing
also gripped the popular imagination and found expression in novels
such as Douhet's The War of 19-- (1930) and H.G. Wells's The Shape of
Things to Come
Things to Come (1933) (filmed by
Alexander Korda as Things to Come
Douhet's proposals were hugely influential amongst airforce
enthusiasts, arguing as they did that the bombing air arm was the most
important, powerful, and invulnerable part of any military. He
envisaged future wars as lasting a matter of a few weeks. While each
opposing Army and Navy fought an inglorious holding campaign, the
respective Air Forces would dismantle their enemies' country, and if
one side did not rapidly surrender, both would be so weak after the
first few days that the war would effectively cease. Fighter aircraft
would be relegated to spotting patrols, but would be essentially
powerless to resist the mighty bombers. In support of this theory, he
argued for targeting of the civilian population as much as any
military target, since a nation's morale was as important a resource
as its weapons. Paradoxically, he suggested that this would actually
reduce total casualties, since "The time would soon come when, to put
an end to horror and suffering, the people themselves, driven by the
instinct of self-preservation, would rise up and demand an end to the
war...". As a result of Douhet's proposals, air forces allocated
greater resources to their bomber squadrons than to their fighters,
and the 'dashing young pilots' promoted in propaganda of the time were
invariably bomber pilots.
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force leaders, in particular Air Chief Marshal Hugh
Trenchard, believed the key to retaining their independence from the
senior services was to lay stress on what they saw as the unique
ability of a modern air force to win wars by unaided strategic
bombing. As the speed and altitude of bombers increased in proportion
to fighter aircraft, the prevailing strategic understanding became
"the bomber will always get through". Although anti-aircraft guns and
fighter aircraft had proved effective in the Great War, it was
accepted there was little warring nations could do to prevent massive
civilian casualties from strategic bombing. High civilian morale and
retaliation in kind were seen as the only answers – a later
generation would revisit this, as Mutual Assured Destruction.
During the interwar period (1919–1939), the use of aerial bombing
was developed as part of British colonial policy, with Hugh Trenchard
as its leading proponent, Sir Charles Portal, Sir Arthur Harris, and
Sidney Bufton. The Trenchard School theories were successfully put
into action in
Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) where RAF bombers used
high-explosive bombs, gas bombs, and strafing against guerrilla
forces. The techniques of so-called "Air Control" included also target
marking and locating, as well as formation flying. Arthur Harris, a
young RAF squadron commander (later nicknamed "Bomber"), reported
after a mission in 1924, "The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing
means, in casualties and damage. They know that within 45 minutes a
full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its
inhabitants killed or injured".
Despite such statements, in reality RAF forces took great care when
striking at targets. RAF directives stressed:
In these attacks, endeavour should be made to spare the women and
children as far as possible, and for this purpose a warning should be
given, whenever practicable. It would be wrong even at this stage to
think that air power was simply seen as a tool for rapid
A statement clearly pointed out that the ability of aircraft to
inflict punishment could be open to abuse:
Their power to cover great distances at high speed, their instant
readiness for action, their independence (within the detachment
radius) of communications, their indifference to obstacles and the
unlikelihood of casualties to air personnel combine to encourage their
use offensively more often than the occasion warrants.
In strikes over
Yemen in over a six-month period, sixty tons of bombs
were dropped in over 1,200 hours of flying. By August 1928, total
losses in ground fighting and air attack, on the Yemeni side, were 65
killed or wounded (one RAF pilot was killed and one airman
wounded). Between the wars the RAF conducted 26 separate air
operations within the Aden Protectorate. The majority were conducted
in response to persistent banditry or to restore the Government's
authority. Excluding operations against Yemeni forces – which had
effectively ceased by 1934 – a total of twelve deaths were
attributed to air attacks conducted between 1919 and 1939. Bombing
as a military strategy proved to be an effective and efficient way for
the British to police their Middle East protectorates in the 1920s.
Fewer men were required as compared to ground forces.
Pre-war planners, on the whole, vastly overestimated the damage
bombers could do, and underestimated the resilience of civilian
populations. Jingoistic national pride played a major role: for
example, at a time when Germany was still disarmed and France was
Britain's only European rival, Trenchard boasted, "the French in a
bombing duel would probably squeal before we did". At the time,
the expectation was any new war would be brief and very savage. A
British Cabinet planning document in 1938 predicted that, if war with
Germany broke out, 35% of British homes would be hit by bombs in the
first three weeks. This type of expectation might justify the
Hitler in the late 1930s.
Ruins of Guernica (1937)
During the Spanish Civil War, the bombing of Guernica by German
aviators including the Condor Legion, under Nationalist command,
resulted in the near destruction of that Spanish town, and casualties
estimated to be between 500 and 1500 people. Though this figure was
relatively small, aerial bombers and their weaponry were continually
improving – already suggesting the devastation what was to come in
the near future.
Yet, during the Spanish civil war, "the bomber will always get
through" theory started to appear doubtful, as quoted by the
U.S. Attaché in 1937, “The peacetime theory of the complete
invulnerability of the modern type of bombardment airplane no longer
holds. The increased speeds of both the bombardment and pursuit plane
have worked in favor of the pursuit … The flying fortress died in
Large scale bombing of the civilian population, thought to be
demoralizing to the enemy, seemed to have the opposite effect. Dr.
E. B. Strauss surmised, “Observers state that one of the
most remarkable effects of the bombing of open towns in Government
Spain had been the welding together into a formidable fighting force
of groups of political factions who were previously at each other's
throats…”, to which Hitler’s Luftwaffe, supporting the Spanish
Nationalists, generally agreed.
World War II
Strategic bombing during
World War II
World War II and Air warfare
of World War II
The strategic bombing conducted in
World War II
World War II was unlike anything
the world had seen before. The campaigns conducted in Europe and Asia
could involve thousands of aircraft dropping tens of thousands of tons
of munitions over a single city.
The practice of area bombardment came to prominence during World War
II with the use of large numbers of unguided gravity bombs, often with
a high proportion of incendiary bombs, to effect indiscriminate
bombing of the target region – either to destroy personnel and/or
materiel, or as a means to demoralize the enemy. This, in high enough
concentration was capable of producing a firestorm effect. The
high explosive bombs were often on timers and used to intimidate or
kill firemen putting out the fires caused by the incendiaries.:329
Destroyed townhouses in
Warsaw after the German
Luftwaffe bombing of
the city, September 1939
Initially, this was effected by multiple aircraft, often returning to
the target in waves. Nowadays, a large bomber or missile can be used
to create the same effect on a small area (an airfield, for example)
by releasing a relatively large number of smaller bombs.
Strategic bombing campaigns were conducted in Europe and Asia. The
Germans and Japanese made use of mostly twin-engined bombers with a
payload generally less than 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg), and never
produced larger craft to any great extent. By comparison, the British
and Americans (who started the war with predominantly similarly sized
bombers) developed their strategic force based upon much larger
four-engined bombers for their strategic campaigns. The payload
carried by these planes ranged from 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) for
B-17 Flying Fortress
B-17 Flying Fortress on long-range missions, to 8,000 lb
(3,600 kg) for the B-24 Liberator, 14,000 lb
(6,400 kg) for the Avro Lancaster, and 20,000 lb
(9,000 kg) B-29 Superfortress, with some specialized
aircraft, such as the '
Avro Lancaster carrying
(22,000 lb (10,000 kg)) Grand Slam.
During the first year of the war in Europe, strategic bombing was
developed through trial and error. The
Luftwaffe had been attacking
both civilian and military targets from the very first day of the war,
when Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. A strategic-bombing
campaign was launched by the Germans as a precursor to the invasion of
United Kingdom to force the RAF to engage the
Luftwaffe and so be
destroyed either on the ground or in the air. That tactic failed, and
the RAF began bombing German cities on 11 May 1940. After the
Battle of Britain, the Germans launched their night time Blitz hoping
to break British morale and to have the British be cowed into making
Luftwaffe raids took place in daylight, then changed to
night bombing attacks when losses became unsustainable. The RAF,
initially espousing a precision-bombing doctrine, also switched to
night bombing, also due to excessive losses. Before
Rotterdam Blitz on 14 May 1940 the British restricted themselves
to tactical bombing west of the Rhine and naval installations. The day
Rotterdam Blitz a new directive was issued to the RAF to
attack targets in the Ruhr, including oil plants and other civilian
industrial targets which aided the German war effort, such as blast
furnaces that at night were self-illuminating. After the Butt Report
(released in September 1941) proved the inadequacy of RAF Bomber
Command training methods and equipment, the RAF adopted an area-attack
strategy, by which it hoped to detrimentally affect Germany's war
production, her powers of resistance (by destroying resources and
forcing Germany to divert resources from her front lines to defend her
air space), and her morale. The RAF dramatically improved its
navigation so that on average its bombs hit closer to target.
Accuracy never exceeded a 3 mi (4.8 km) radius from point of
aim in any case.[page needed]
1943 USAAF raid on ball bearing works at Schweinfurt, Germany
United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces adopted a policy of daylight
precision bombing for greater accuracy as, for example, during the
Schweinfurt raids. That doctrine, based on the erroneous supposition
that bombers could adequately defend themselves against air attack,
entailed much higher American losses until long-range fighter escorts
(e.g. the Mustang) became available. Conditions in the European
theatre made it very difficult to achieve the accuracy that had been
possible using the exceptional and top-secret Norden optical bombsight
in the clear skies over the desert bombing ranges of Nevada and
California. Raids over Europe commonly took place in conditions of
very poor visibility, with targets partly or wholly obscured by thick
cloud, smokescreens or smoke from fires started by previous raids. As
a result, bomb loads were regularly dropped "blind" using
dead-reckoning methods little different from those used by the RAF
night bombers. In addition, only the leading bomber in a formation
actually utilized the Norden sight, the rest of the formation dropping
their bombs only when they saw the lead aircraft's bombload falling
away. Since even a very tight bomber formation could cover a vast
area, the scatter of bombs was likely to be considerable. Add to these
difficulties the disruptive effects of increasingly accurate
anti-aircraft fire and head-on attacks by fighter aircraft and the
theoretical accuracy of daylight bombing was often hard to
achieve. Accuracy, described as "pinpoint", never exceeded the
best British average of about a 3 mi (4.8 km) radius from
point of aim in any case.[page needed] Postwar, German
engineers considered bombing of railways, trains, canals, and roads
was more harmful to production than attacks on factories themselves,
Roy Fedden (in his report on a postwar British scientific
intelligence mission) calling it "fatal" and saying it reduced
aeroengine production by two thirds (from a high of 5,000 to 7,000 a
Strategic bombing was initially a way of taking the war into Europe
while Allied ground forces were unable to do so. Between them, Allied
air forces claimed to be able to bomb "around the clock". In fact, few
targets were ever hit by British and American forces the same day, the
strategic isolation of Normandy on
D-Day and the bombing of Dresden in
February, 1945, being exceptions rather than the rule. There were
generally no coordinated plans for around-the-clock bombing of any
In some cases, single missions have been considered to constitute
strategic bombing. The British bombing of Peenemünde was such an
event, as was the bombing of the Ruhr dams. The Peenemünde mission
delayed Nazi Germany's V-2 program enough that it did not become a
major factor in the outcome of the war.
Strategic bombing in Europe never reached the decisive completeness
the American campaign against Japan achieved, helped in part by the
fragility of Japanese housing, which was particularly vulnerable to
firebombing through the use of incendiary bombs. The destruction of
German infrastructure became apparent, but the Allied campaign against
Germany only really succeeded when the Allies began targeting oil
refineries and transportation in the last year of the war. At the same
time, strategic bombing of Germany was used as a morale booster for
the Allies in the period before the land war resumed in Western Europe
in June 1944.
Child amid ruins following German aerial bombing of London, 1945
In the Pacific theatre, if the
Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service
Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and
Imperial Japanese Army Air Service
Imperial Japanese Army Air Service frequently used strategic
bombing over large Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou,
Nanjing, and Chongqing, organized strategic bombing on a large scale
by the Japanese seldom occurred. The Japanese military in most places
advanced quickly enough that a strategic bombing campaign was
unnecessary, and the Japanese aircraft industry was incapable of
producing truly strategic bombers in any event. In those places where
it was required, the smaller Japanese bombers (in comparison to
British and American types) did not carry a bombload sufficient to
inflict the sort of damage regularly occurring at that point in the
war in Europe, or later in Japan.
The development of the B-29 gave the United States a bomber with
sufficient range to reach the Japanese Home Islands from the safety of
American bases in the Pacific or Western China. The capture of the
Japanese island of
Iwo Jima further enhanced the capabilities that the
Americans possessed in their strategic bombing campaign.
High-explosive and incendiary bombs were used against Japan to
devastating effect, with greater indiscriminate loss of life in the
Tokyo on March 9/10, 1945 than was caused either by the
Dresden mission, or the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Unlike the USAAF's strategic bombing campaign in Europe, with its
avowed (if unachievable) objective of precision bombing of strategic
targets, the bombing of Japanese cities involved the deliberate
targeting of residential zones from the outset. Bomb loads included
very high proportions of incendiaries, with the intention of igniting
the highly combustible wooden houses common in Japanese cities and
thereby generating firestorms.
The final development of strategic bombing in
World War II
World War II was the use
of nuclear weapons. On August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States
conducted the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both cities
were destroyed with enormous loss of life and psychological shock.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded
Manchuria, swiftly driving the Japanese forces back into Korea. On
Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan, stating:
"Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb,
the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the
toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, it would not
only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese
nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human
civilization. Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of
Our subjects; or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our
Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the
acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers."
See also: nuclear triad
A U.S. Air Force F-100C practices a nuclear bombing run.
Nuclear weapons defined strategic bombing during the Cold War. The age
of the massive strategic bombing campaign had come to an end. It was
replaced by more devastating attacks using improved sighting and
Strategic bombing by the
Great Powers also became
politically indefensible. The political fallout resulting from the
destruction being broadcast on the evening news ended more than one
strategic bombing campaign.
In the Korean War, the
United States Air Force
United States Air Force (USAF) at first
conducted only tactical attacks against strategic targets in Korea.
Korean War was widely considered a "limited war", the
Truman Administration prohibited the USAF to bomb near the borders of
China and the Soviet Union in fear of provoking the countries to enter
into the war. The Chinese intervention in the war in November 1950
changed the aerial bombing policy dramatically. In response to the
Chinese intervention, the USAF carried out an intensive bombing
campaign against North Korea to demoralize the North Koreans and
inflict as much economic cost to North Korea in order to reduce their
ability to wage war. The extensive bombing raids on North Korea
continued until the armistice agreement was signed between communist
and UN forces on July 27, 1953.
In the Vietnam War, the strategic bombing of North Vietnam in
Operation Rolling Thunder
Operation Rolling Thunder could have been more extensive, but fear by
the Johnson Administration of the entry of China into the war led to
restrictions on the selection of targets, as well as only a gradual
escalation of intensity.
The aim of the bombing campaign was to demoralize the North
Vietnamese, damage their economy, and reduce their capacity to support
the war in the hope that they would negotiate for peace, but it failed
to have those effects. The Nixon Administration continued this sort of
limited strategic bombing during the two Operation Linebacker
campaigns. Images such as that of
Kim Phuc Phan Thi
Kim Phuc Phan Thi (although this
incident was the result of close air support rather than strategic
bombing) disturbed the American public enough to demand a stop to the
Due to this, and the ineffectiveness of carpet bombing (partly because
of a lack of identifiable targets), new precision weapons were
developed. The new weapons allowed more effective and efficient
bombing with reduced civilian casualties. High civilian casualties had
always been the hallmark of strategic bombing, but later in the Cold
War, this began to change.
Strategic bombing was entering a new phase of high-intensity attacks,
specifically targeting factories taking years and millions of dollars
See also: 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia § Strategy
Smoke in Novi Sad, Serbia after NATO bombardment
Strategic bombing in the post–
Cold War era is defined by American
advances in and the use of smart munitions. The developments in guided
munitions meant that the Coalition forces in the
First Gulf War
First Gulf War were
able to use them, although the majority – 93% – of bombs
dropped in that conflict were still conventional, unguided bombs. More
frequently in the Kosovo War, and the initial phases of Operation
Iraqi Freedom of 2003, strategic bombing campaigns were notable for
the heavy use of precision weaponry by those countries that possessed
them. Although bombing campaigns were still strategic in their aims,
the widespread area bombing tactics of
World War II
World War II had mostly
disappeared. This led to significantly fewer civilian casualties
associated with previous bombing campaigns, though it has not brought
about a complete end to civilian deaths or collateral property
Additionally, strategic bombing via smart munitions is now possible
through the use of aircraft that have been considered traditionally
tactical in nature such as the
F-16 Fighting Falcon
F-16 Fighting Falcon or F-15E Strike
Eagle, which had been used during Operation Desert Storm, Operation
Enduring Freedom and
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom to destroy targets that
would have required large formations of strategic bombers during World
War II.
During the Kosovo campaign NATO forces bombed targets far from Kosovo
like bridges in Novi Sad, power plants around Belgrade, flea
market in Nis,
2008 South Ossetia war
2008 South Ossetia war Russian aircraft attacked the
shipbuilding centre of Poti.
Aerial bombardment and international law
Main article: Aerial bombardment and international law
Air warfare must comply with laws and customs of war, including
international humanitarian law by protecting the victims of the
conflict and refraining from attacks on protected persons.
These restraints on aerial warfare are covered by the general laws of
war, because unlike war on land and at sea—which are specifically
covered by rules such as the 1907 Hague Convention and Protocol I
additional to the Geneva Conventions, which contain pertinent
restrictions, prohibitions and guidelines—there are no treaties
specific to aerial warfare.
To be legal, aerial operations must comply with the principles of
humanitarian law: military necessity, distinction, and
proportionality: An attack or action must be intended to help in
the defeat of the enemy; it must be an attack on a legitimate military
objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must
be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and
direct military advantage anticipated.
Pioneers of strategic bombing
Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, USAF
Regia Aeronautica (Italy)
Arthur "Bomber" Harris, RAF
Curtis LeMay, USAF
Billy Mitchell, USAAS
Alexander P. de Seversky
Alexander P. de Seversky in
Victory Through Air Power
Victory Through Air Power (1942 book and
Carl Spaatz, USAF
Hugh Trenchard, RAF
Air raid precautions
Air raid shelter
Air raid siren
Aerial bombing of cities
Battleplan (documentary TV series)
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Strategic bombing.
Civilian casualties of strategic bombing
Churchill's advocacy of chemical strike against German cities
Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command (US)
Warden's Five Rings
^ Hessel 2005, p. 107 Goebbels used several terms including
Terrorangriffe (terror raids) or Terrorhandlungen (terrorist
activities) ... Terrorflieger (terror flyers or terrorist airman).
Needless to say, no one in Germany used such terminology in connection
with German bombing raids against cities in England
^ Fritz 2004, p. 44
... Western Allies ... were "air pirates." "They are murderers!"
screamed the headlines of an article emanating from
Berlin on February
22. Not only did the writer denounce the allied "terror bombing", he
also stressed the "special joy" that the "Anglo-American air
gangsters" took in murder of innocent German civilians....
^ Longmate 1983, pp. 122,123 quoting the Singleton Report
^ "Forgotten Fifteenth: The Daring Airmen Who Crippled Hitler's War
Machine", by Barrett Tillman
^ The National Review, 111: 51, 1938 Missing or empty title=
^ The Round Table: 515, 1937 Missing or empty title= (help)
^ Overy 2005, p. 119.
^ Myrdal 1977, p. 252.
^ Axinn 2008, p. 73.
^ Algeo 1993, p. 111 "Terror Bombing. Bombing designed to hasten
the end of a war by terrorising the enemy population—1941 Read. Dig.
June p. 58/2 ..."
^ Oxford English Dictionary, terror,n, "terror-bombing, intensive and
indiscriminate bombing designed to frighten a country into surrender;
terror raid, a bombing raid of this nature".
^ Brower 1998, p. 108 (mentions that Historian Ronald Shaffer
described Operation Clarion, an operation that involved both bombing
and strafing, as a terror attack).
^ Kochavi 2005, p. 172.
^ Taylor 2005, pp. 413,414.
^ Siebert, Detlef. "British Bombing Strategy in World War Two", 1
August 2001, BBC, retrieved 8 January 2008.
^ a b Taylor 2005, p. 430.
^ Taylor 2005, p. 434.
^ Flight staff 1914, p. 906.
^ Spencer Tucker; Laura Matysek Wood; Justin D. Murphy, eds. (1999).
The European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia. Taylor
& Francis. p. 13.
^ Tim Benbow, ed. (2011). British Naval Aviation: The First 100 Years.
Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 29.
^ Doerr, Paul W. (1998). British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939.
Manchester University Press. p. 16.
^ Richard Overy, The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over
Europe 1940–1945 (2014) ch 1
^ Jeremy Black, The Second World War: Causes and background (2007) p
^ Robert Pape (1996). Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War.
Cornell UP. p. 60.
^ Beau Grosscup (2006). Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethics of
Aerial Bombardment. Zed Books. pp. 21–35.
^ Grosscup (2006). Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethics of Aerial
Bombardment. p. 55.
^ a b Hayward 2009, p. 37.
^ Hayward 2009, pp. 53-54.
^ Hayward 2009, p. 54.
^ Omissi 1990, Page needed.
^ a b Johnson, History of Air Fighting.[verification
^ Air Power by Stephen Budiansky – Viking Penguin Books 2004 –
^ Harris, Arthur
Bomber Offensive (First edition Collins 1947) Pen
& Sword military classics 2005; ISBN 1-84415-210-3
^ Overy, Richard (2013). The Bombing War - Europe 1939–1945. Allen
Lane. ISBN 978-0-713-99561-9.
^ Fitzsimons 1978a, p. 1736.
^ Fitzsimons 1978b, p. 1736.
^ Fitzsimons 1978b, p. 1697.
^ "The bombload of the B-29 eventually reached 9,000 kg
(20,000 lb)" (Lewis 1994, p. 4)
^ Fitzsimons 1978b, p. 1700.
^ Grayling, A. C. (2011-11-07). Among the Dead Cities: Is the
Targeting of Civilians in War Ever Justified?. A&C Black.
^ Conclusion to the Singleton report 20 May 1942 (Copp 1996).
^ British Bombing Survey Unit, The strategic air war against Germany,
1939–1945: report of the British Bombing Survey Unit (reprint 1998)
ch 9 online
^ a b Hastings,
^ Stewart Ross,
Strategic bombing by the United States in World War
II: the myths and the facts (2003) pp 8, 52, 129-40
^ Stephen L. McFarland, America's pursuit of precision bombing,
^ Christopher, John. The Race for Hitler's X-Planes (The Mill,
Gloucestershire: History Press, 2013), p.77 and 100.
^ Cosgrove, Edmund (2003). Canada's Fighting Pilots. Dundurn.
^ a b c d Francisco Javier Guisández Gómez, a colonel of the Spanish
Air Force, ICRC: "The Law of Air Warfare" International Review of the
Red Cross no 323, p. 347–363
^ Earl Tilford. Russia's Georgia Take-Down: Implications for Russia
^ Jefferson D. Reynolds. "Collateral Damage on the 21st century
battlefield: Enemy exploitation of the law of armed conflict, and the
struggle for a moral high ground".
Air Force Law Review
Air Force Law Review Volume 56,
2005(PDF) pp. 4–108
^ Gene Dannen. International Law on the Bombing of Civilians
Algeo, John (1993). Fifty years among the new words: a dictionary of
neologisms, 1941–1991 (2, reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Axinn, Sidney (2008). A Moral Military. Temple University Press.
Brower, Charles F. (1998).
World War II
World War II in Europe: the final year:
Roosevelt Study Center. Palgrave Macmillan.
Boyne, Walter J. (1994). Clash of Wings:
World War II
World War II in the Air. New
York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 343, 344.
Copp, Terry (September–October 1996). "The
Offensive". originally published in the Legion Magazine.
Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. (1978a). Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th
Century Weapons and Warfare. 9. London: Phoebus. p. 969.
Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. (1978b). Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th
Century Weapons and Warfare. 16. London: Phoebus. pp. 1736, 1697,
Flight staff (1914). "Aircraft and the War". Flight: 905–906.
Fritz, Stephen G. (2004). Endkampf: soldiers, civilians, and the death
Third Reich (illustrated ed.). University Press of Kentucky.
Hayward, Joel (2009). Air Power, Insurgency and the "War on Terror".
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power Studies.
Hessel, Peter (2005). The Mystery of Frankenberg's Canadian Airman
(illustrated ed.). James Lorimer & Company.
Kochavi, Arieh J. (2005). Confronting captivity: Britain and the
United States and their POWs in
Nazi Germany (illustrated ed.). UNC
Press Books. ISBN 0-8078-2940-4.
Lewis, Peter M. H. (1994). "B-29 Superfortress". In Grolier
Incorporated. Academic American Encyclopedia. 10. Grolier
Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-7172-2053-3.
Longmate, Norman (1983). The Bombers: The RAF offensive against
Germany 1939–1945. Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-151580-7.
Myrdal, Alva (1977). The game of disarmament: how the United States
and Russia run the arms race. Manchester University Press ND.
Omissi, David (1990). Air Power and Colonial Control: The Royal Air
Force 1919-1939. Manchester University Press.
Overy, R. J. (2005). The air war, 1939–1945. Brassey's.
Taylor, Frederick (2005). Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945. London:
Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-7084-1.
Biddle, Tami Davis. Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution
of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914–1945
(Princeton Studies in International History and Politics) (2004)
Boog, Horst, ed. The Conduct of the Air War in the Second World War
Boog, Horst, ed. Germany and the Second World War: Volume VII: The
Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia,
1943–1944/5 (Oxford UP, 2006), 928pp official German history vol 7
excerpt and text search; online edition
Buckley, John (1999). Air Power in the Age of Total War. Indiana
University Press. ISBN 0-253-33557-4.
Clodfelter, Mark. "Aiming to Break Will: America's World War II
Bombing of German
Morale and its Ramifications", Journal of Strategic
Studies, June 2010, Vol. 33 Issue 3, pp 401–435
Clodfelter, Mark. Beneficial Bombing: The Progressive Foundations of
American Air Power, 1917–1945 (University of Nebraska Press; 2010)
Craven, Wesley Frank and James Lea Cate. The Army Air Forces in World
War II (6 vol 1958), official USAF history
Davis, Richard G. "Bombing Strategy Shifts, 1944-45", Air Power
History 39 (1989) 33-45
Franklin, Noble, and Charles Webster. The Strategic Air Offensive
against Germany, 1939–1945 (4 volumes, 1961), official RAF history
Futrell, Robert Frank. Ideas, concepts, doctrine: A history of basic
thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907–1964 (2 vol 1974)
Grayling, Anthony C. Among the dead cities: The history and moral
legacy of the WWII bombing of civilians in Germany and Japan
(Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2009)
Griffith, Charles. The quest: Haywood Hansell and American strategic
World War II
World War II (1999) online edition
Hansell, Jr., Haywood S. Air Plan That Defeated
Hitler (1980) online
Kennett, Lee B. A History of Strategic Bombing (1982)
Koch, H. W. "The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany: the Early
Phase, May–September 1940." The Historical Journal, 34 (March 1991)
pp 117–41. online at JSTOR
Levine, Alan J. The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940–1945 (1992)
MacIsaac, David. Strategic Bombing in World War Two (1976)
Messenger, Charles. "Bomber" Harris and the Strategic Bombing
Offensive, 1939–1945 (1984), defends Harris
Morris, Craig F. The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory (US
Naval Institute Press, 2017), 272 pages
Neillands, Robin. The
Bomber War: The Allied Air Offensive Against
Nazi Germany (Overlook Press, 2001)
Overy. Richard. "The Means to Victory: Bombs and Bombing" in Overy,
Why the Allies Won (1995), pp 101–33
Overy. Richard. The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe
1940–1945 (2014), 592pp excerpt and text search; a longer version
was published in UK as The Bombing War: Europe, 1939–1945 (2013),
Patler, Nicholas. "Is the U.S. Haunted by Its Nuclear Past? Dropping
the atomic bomb crossed a moral threshold." The Progressive Christian
(Winter 2009), pp 15-19,36.
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Bombing Civilians, and A History of Bombing." Journal of Critical
Asian Studies (March 2011), 153-156.
Sherry, Michael. The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of
Armageddon (1987), important study 1930s-1960s
Smith, Malcolm. "The Allied Air Offensive", Journal of Strategic
Studies (1990) 13#1 pp 67–83
Spaight. James M. "Bombing Vindicated" G. Bles, 1944. ASIN: B0007IVW7K
(Spaight was Principal Assistant Secretary of the Air Ministry) (U.K)
Verrier, Anthony. The
Bomber Offensive (1968), British
Webster, Charles and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive
Against Germany, 1939–1945 (HMSO, 1961), 4 vol. Important official
Werrell, Kenneth P. "The Strategic Bombing of Germany in World War II:
Costs and Accomplishments", Journal of American History 73 (1986)
702-713; good place to start. in JSTOR
Werrell, Kenneth P. Death From the Heavens: A History of Strategic
Modern military aircraft types and roles
Electronic warfare (EW)
Early warning and control (AEW&C)