Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
Published Airpower Journal - Summer 1989
C1C Steven A. Parker, USAFA
ON 9 July 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent letters to the secretary of war and the secretary of the Navy asking for "an estimate of the 'overall production requirements required to defeat our potential enemies.'"1 Wesley F. Craven and James L. Cate note that, "within the War Department, responsibility for giving effect to the President's directive . . . devolved upon the War Plans Division."2 Within the air arm, it fell to the newly created Air War Plans Division. On the morning of 3 August 1941, the division--less than four weeks old at the time--set out to create what would become a blueprint for the American air campaign in the approaching war with Germany. This document would be known as Air War Plans Division--Plan 1 (AWPD-1).
According to Craven and Cate, "actual authorship of a military document is seldom known." This fact was especially apparent in the development of AWPD-1, since "a number of officers from the several staff agencies of the AAF [Army Air Forces] . . . contributed information which went into AWPD/I."3 In the end, however, the creative genius of four individuals was primarily responsible for AWPD-1. Barry D. Watts writes that the "theory of precision bombardment . . . called for identification, by scientific analysis, of those key links in the enemy's economy whose elimination would either cripple his capacity to wage war or else shatter his will to continue fighting."4In constructing the war plan, the four men drew upon years of doctrinal analysis and theoretical application of the principles of war, relying heavily upon their years of instruction and education at the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) at Maxwell Field, Alabama. Donald Wilson notes that the key concept taught at the school was that a nation's ability to pursue war "would depend on maintaining intact a closely-knit and interdependent industrial fabric." Precision bombing, however, could destroy this fabric.5 By concentrating Allied bombing against objectives vital to the German war effort and the German people's livelihood. AWPD-1's planners aimed to accomplish the primary goal of any war--to defeat the enemy by breaking his will to fight. To accomplish this goal in the simplest and most efficient manner, Allied bombers were tasked with destroying the enemy's forces before they deployed into the field.6 AWPD-1's developers sought to destroy Company's capability to fight by attacking it at the home front and in doing so, wreck the country's will to resist. These efforts contributed to shaping the general nature of Air Force thinking for years to come.
Gen Henry "Hap" Arnold, chief of the Air Corps at the time of AWPD-l's conception and--after March 1942--commanding general of the AAF, "had chosen wisely in selecting Harold George to head the new Air War Plans Division of the Air Staff."7 George possessed an extensive background in air power, and years of instruction at ACT'S gave him the experience required to lead the Air War Plans Division in the development of a sound war plan.8 In addition, Colonel George had testified at the 1925 Morrow hearings, which covered the force requirements of the US Army Air Service in detail. At this point in his career, he had developed a great deal of knowledge on aircraft capabilities and Air Corps constraints.
George was pleased to find that he would be working with Lt Col Kenneth Walker, who a taught George at ACTS.9 Walker served as a bombardment instructor at the school, and during his stay he coined the "rallying cry" of the entire bombardment division: "A well planned and well organized air attack once launched cannot be stopped." This motto became the "creed of the bomber," and the doctrine it represented was largely inspired by Colonel Walker.10
Mai Gen Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., recalls his introduction to the project: "The day following his assignment as Chief of the Air War Plans Division George learned that I, who was then in General Arnold's Intelligence Division, had just returned from England where I had been in contact with officers of the Intelligence Group of the Royal Air Force."11 General Arnold wasted no time in having Hansell transferred to the Air War Plans Division. James C. Gaston notes that Hansell, whose contributions to AWPD-1 were tremendous, had gathered "intelligence about the economic-industrial systems and air forces of foreign powers." This allowed him to coordinate targets, based on his own familiarity with the general pattern and potential of various industrial components.12 He combined this knowledge with the practical information that he had obtained through British Intelligence to provide insight into the specific nature of the German economy.
Maj Laurence Kuter, another graduate of ACTS, was an the faculty with Hansell. Gaston points out that Kuter had worked extensively with the "first major expansion of the Air Corps into a force for hemispheric defense," and his vast experience qualified him to develop similar plans utilized in AWPD-1.13
The four men worked well together. They had to, since they hall only nine days to accomplish their mission. "We had one definite asset going for us," stated Hansell in his memoirs. "We had spent years together as instructors in Bombardment and Air Force at the Air Corps Tactical School. We embraced a common concept of air warfare and we spoke a common language."14 Years of studying and preaching the doctrine of precision bombing came to a climax in August of 1941 when General Arnold tasked these four men to develop a war plan. Kuter later commented that "'when the time for critical decision arrived the American concept [of air warfare] was wholly endorsed, completely accepted, and officially implemented in the approval of a paper entitled "AWPD-1".'"15
"Strategic plans involve, of course, a constant accommodation between desires and capabilities," Hansell noted."16 AWPD-1 was the result of numerous struggles between such desires and capabilities, and the first step was to examine overall conditions in Germany. At the time of AWPD-1's conception, over 8 million men served in the German military. An additional 8.5 million were estimated to work in armaments works alone, with over half of them in the steel industry. In all, nearly 17 million people supported the German war effort--not including civil pursuits and production--and the perceived result was a tremendous drain on the social and economic structure of the nation.17 The most effective method of waging war against Germany appeared to be by destroying this inner structure and thereby breaking down the country's capacity to wage war. As George had stated in a lecture at ACTS, "There is one thing certain: air power has given to the world a means whereby the heart of a nation can be attacked at once without first having to wage an exhaustive war at the nation's frontiers."18 Germany had to be destroyed from the inside so that the outer walls would crumble, and the first step in planning was to determine a list of targets within the heart of the nation that would bring about the desired collapse.
The target selection process used in AWPD-1 evaluated four possible options to accomplish the air mission in Europe. These options included, in order of priority, the disruption of a major portion of Germany's electric power system, the disruption of the German transportation system, the destruction of German on and petroleum systems, and the undermining of German morale by air attack on civil concentrations. A list of intermediate options was cited that would be used to improve the chances of success against the major objectives. These options included the neutralization of the German Air Force and diversionary bombing attacks. These targets would continue as appropriate bomber objectives in the final phase of warfare if invasion became necessary. In this case, additional targets of opportunity in the combat zone and battlefield proper would be added according to the situation, since selecting such targets would not be feasible during the drafting of the basic plan.19
The air-war planners placed German electric power at the top of the list on the basis of current intelligence information. At the time of the plan's conception, the German electric system was the second largest in the world, and it expanded considerably for the war.20 Initially, the system's output was adequate to maintain German productivity. But as mobilization increased--especially after 1939--power shortages became serious enough to force the rationing of electric power to homes and industries nationwide.21 Electric power affected every production aspect of the war--from aircraft manufacture to urban transportation--and it was closely integrated into a "power grid" that, if destroyed, would theoretically isolate principal manufacturing and population centers from their sources of electric energy.22
Capt Robert Webster, an instructor at ACTS during the 1936-37 school year, had noted the importance of electric power to an advanced industrial nation. Basing his assessments on research he had done on the electric structure of New York City, Webster concluded that approximately one-tenth of the people in the United States depended daily on the electric power provided by 20 power plants in New York. At the cost of one accurately dropped bomb on each of these potential targets, 90 percent of the power in the city would be destroyed, causing its immediate evacuation.23 By comparing this information with what was known about the German electric system of the time, Webster demonstrated the advantage of destroying this potential target.24
In December 1942 General Arnold issued a directive to the director of management services to have a group of operational analysis submit a report "'analyzing the rate of progressive deterioration that could be anticipated in the German war effort as a result of the increasing air operations we are prepared to employ against its sustaining sources.'"25 The resulting committee of operations analysts (COA) reevaluated what George and his staff had painstakingly developed.
The target systems most carefully considered by the COA closely resembled those of AWPD-1 and its successor, AWPD-42. However, some significant differences existed between the COA's target selection list and the list that George and his crew had developed in AWPD-1. Hansell points out that Germany's electric power system became 13th in priority.26 According to Hansell, this shift of priorities constituted "one of the tragic mistakes of the war."27 He speculates that two possible motives contributed to this change: the COA had determined that attacking German electric power systems would have no effect on setting a date for the invasion of Europe, or available forces did not have the "operational capability" to destroy the targets.28 Hansell's treatment of the subject in the years following the war indicates that the civilian analysts and intelligence personnel operated out of their proper province in making such a decision. He contends that military operations analysts--who had already evaluated the force's capability to destroy each target system--should have made the final targeting decisions.29
The second-priority target in AWPD-1 was the German transportation system. George noted that the selection of transportation systems as a target came from the realization that "the trend in modern nations has been towards industry and agriculture, which makes for large territories which are not self-supporting."30 Mobilization highlighted the interdependency between the city dweller and rural communities. By cutting off the vital lines of transportation, Allied forces could apparently eliminate an important source of economic stability and military strength, and tax the enemy's will to wage war.
AWPD-1 divided the transportation system into three main components. Railroad operations took up 72 percent of the total, and waterways and long-haul truckage took up 25 percent and 3 percent, respectively. One of the key factors in choosing transportation targets was that the railroad systems were already operating at maximum capability, so they could not handle any excess requirements in the event of breakdown in any of the other areas.31
Railroads appeared to be profitable strategic targets for several reasons. The majority of the railroads served the Ruhr, which possessed 70 percent of the nation's steel industry. Bombers could therefore restrict their operations to a smaller area, thus performing the majority of attacks with optimal results. Additionally, an estimated eight marshaling yards handled all of the traffic to the Ruhr, and these potential targets were only 350 miles from Great Britain. The railroad targets, however, were more easily repaired than other targets. This factor meant that Allied forces would have to make repeated attacks.32
Inland waterways were essential to German transportation as well, since they carried what the railroads could not handle. The locks and ships chosen by the air-war planners were precision targets, as opposed to the area targets represented by the railroads. But their destruction--unlike the destruction of the railroads--would have a relatively permanent effect on the German transportation system due to the increased amount of time required to return them to operation.33
Total destruction of the transportation system would sever Germany from the rest of Europe, leaving only its own inadequate supplies of foodstuffs, raw materials, and the- like. Forty-seven targets were chosen in AWPD-1 to accomplish this task, and their selection highlighted the fact that two-thirds of Germany's iron ore arrived from external sources.34 Transportation remained a primary target throughout the development of an American air strategy, and--to many observers--this choice of targets appeared to deliver the decisive blow to the German economy.35
AWPD-1 listed synthetic on as the third priority target system. The effects of a decisive attack on the petroleum-producing industries of an enemy nation seemed obvious. Without petroleum, planes could not fly, tanks could not roll, and a good percentage of the transportation of vital war materiel could not occur. Essentially, all German forces were dependent on oil, and its destruction would render helpless an industrialized nation waging total war.
Oil and petroleum products were promising bombardment targets from the start. Approximately 60 percent of Germany's aviation gas was synthetic, and 60 percent of this total came from 27 plants located 400 to 1,000 miles from Great Britain. Twenty-two percent of its aviation gas came from Romania, delivered by water transportation up the Danube.36 In fact, well over 50 percent of Germany's imports came directly from Ploesti. Therefore, the destruction of all the synthetic plants in Germany would not have the required effect on the nation's war effort unless the Allied forces destroyed the oil refineries at Ploesti as well. Twenty-six plants producing approximately 70 percent of the Nazis' aviation gas were within Germany. Because they were fairly deep within the country and were precise, small targets, they would be hard to destroy.37 However, they seemed to be essential targets, so their priority never substantially changed throughout the bombing offensive.
AWPD-1's planners had assumed that the oil-producing targets would be difficult to replace, but they were mistaken. The Germans rebuilt oil refineries and put them back in operation in less time than the six months estimated in the war plan, so repeated attacks were necessary to assure effectiveness.38
The effects of the Allied attack on the petroleum and on industry were more pronounced in the latter stages of the war. One instance of the Germans' suffering noticeably from this lack of oil occurred on 3 March 1945, when the Germans counterattacked the Soviet forces in western Hungary. Donald W. Treadgold relates that "the blow was . . . spearheaded by the German Sixth SS Panzer Army, which had led the thrust into the Ardennes. The Germans broke through the Soviet front . . . and came near to reaching the Danube. However, as in the Ardennes offensive, the tanks ran out of gasoline, and by the middle of March the Nazi salient was eliminated."39
The fourth priority listed in AWPD-1 was to undermine German morale by air attack on civil concentrations. This aim coincided with the prime directive of the war, which was to defeat the enemy by destroying his will to fight. However, it did not go along with the basic concepts taught at ACTS and, therefore, was never actually applied in the American bombing campaign. Although in several instances civilian populations were devastated by inaccurate bomb drops, German civilians were never directly targeted by American bombing attacks.40 From the beginning, war planners at ACTS considered attacks on morale targets risky, since the accepted theory held that only massive, sudden, and unheralded attacks would have any effect on civilian morale, "Piecemeal" attacks would only temporarily dull the enemy's morale and, in the long run, might actually help build up resistance.41 AWPD-1, therefore, never established a specific number of targets but stated that the best course of action would be to wait until the proper psychological conditions existed and then divert the entire bombing effort to the purpose.42
The secondary targets proposed to assist in accomplishing the main efforts of the bombing campaign concentrated on neutralizing the German Air Force. Hansell notes that planners considered the German Air Force a primary target throughout the entire planning phase, even though AWPD-1 officially listed "the German fighter force as an intermediate objective carrying 'overriding priority.' " 43 This category included aircraft factories, aluminum plants, magnesium plants, and engine factories in both AWPD-1 and AWPD-42, but the COA eliminated magnesium and aluminum plants in the list of priorities used to develop the combined bomber offensive. Hansell acknowledged that AWPD-1's drafters based their strategic thinking on the "growing experience with the fighting capability and strength of the German Air Force, coupled with knowledge gained from covert sources of the expansion program being undertaken in the construction of German fighters."44 This type of thinking led to the emphasis on attacking the enemy air force.
The German combat estimate of 1 September 1939 did not present exact figures on the production capacity of aircraft industries in Germany, but estimates based on the previous year's output established that Germany could produce between 9,000 and 10,000 military and commercial airplanes in 1939. Additionally, in case of an emergency, aircraft factories could produce an additional 1,500 complete aircraft and attain a monthly rate of 5,000 per month six months after the emergency, and 6,000 per month after a year.45 These estimates clearly indicated the Allied need to concentrate on aircraft factories within the German homeland. Although most of the known assembly plants were well dispersed, some of the older plants used to assemble aircraft were well known and located only 500 to 700 miles from Great Britain. The total number of targets was not readily available, but AWPD-1 designated 18 of the principal known assembly plants as prime targets.46
Overall, the German Air Force did not present a very promising target at the outbreak of hostilities. Nevertheless, its elimination was essential to achieve numerous other objectives, such as clearing the way for an eventual land invasion. AWPD-1 estimated that there were approximately 500 bases in west Germany and the occupied territories that were provided with "exceptionally strong light flak defenses."47 The plan assumed that the Germans had dispersed the aircraft--generally about a mile from the landing areas for the bombers--and provided each airplane with individual protection in the form of a revetment and concrete taxiways, with the entire system carefully camouflaged. Regardless, air-war planners consistently considered the German Air Force a primary target of opportunity whenever possible.48
AWPD-1 listed diversionary bombing attacks as secondary missions that could assist in accomplishing the main efforts of the bombing campaign. These alternatives included attacking such targets as submarine bases, surface seacraft, and assorted "invasion" bases. In the end, however, the planners decided that diversionary attacks would best be left to other Allied powers, such as Great Britain.49 This decision went along with doctrine taught at ACTS. In a speech on "The Principle of Objective." Hansell stated that the selected targets should make the maximum contribution toward the purpose of the offensive. The advantage of using an offensive doctrine was that it kept an offensive force from wasting time on targets that did not contribute directly to the war effort. It also ensured against neglecting more fruitful targets because of a hasty conclusion or inference suggesting that a particular mission could not be accomplished. Offensive doctrine also supported a conclusion made by the COA during the war, which stated that optimal results could be obtained by causing a high degree of destruction in a few really essential industries or services rather than causing a small degree of destruction in many industries.50
A good portion of the theory that went into the development of AWPD-1 came from observation of industries deemed important in time of war. Hansell's description of how observations on the home front during peacetime helped set the pattern for US strategic doctrine throughout the war shows this factor clearly:
We discovered one day that we were taking delivery on new airplanes, flying them to their points of reception, removing the propellers back to the factories and ferrying out additional airplanes. The delivery of controllable pitch propellers had fallen down. Inquiries showed that the propeller manufacturer was not behind schedule. Actually, it was a relatively simple, but highly specialized spring that was lacking, and we found that all the springs made for all the controllable pitch propellers of that variety in the U.S. came from one plant and that that plant in Pittsburgh had suffered from a flood.51
This observation led Hansell and the other planners to conclude that the loss of one specialized item, such as the spring, could have a tremendous effect on industrial output in time of war and could ground airplanes just as effectively as if enemy forces had shot them up or if enemy bombs had destroyed the factories.
Hansell notes that, "by the end of the war, the U.S. Air Forces had flown 755,000 bomber sorties and dropped some 1,410,000 tons of bombs. "Almost half of this tonnage fell "on the selected targets of the combined bomber offensive."52 This total was greater than the estimates in AWPD-1 for a number of reasons. For one, the developers of AWPD-1 overestimated the effect of bomb damage and underestimated the Germans' ability to repair damaged targets. German fighters, antiaircraft artillery, and weather complications impaired bombing accuracy as well.53 Craven and Cate report, however, that "the selection of target objectives was almost identical with that suggested by the postwar analysis of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey--which is to say that, if the analysis was well founded, the program suggested in 1941 was more realistic than that which was later followed."54
Hindsight shows clearly that several other flaws existed in the plan. Actual experience proved that the forces allocated for strategic defense in the Pacific were inadequate and those for hemispheric defense too abundant. The assumed ability of air power alone to defeat Germany proved unfounded as well. However, when viewing AWPD-1 solely as a guide for the strategic bombing of Germany, one must concede that it is a remarkable document. And, if the planners had more accurately predicted the Allies' future ability to develop escort fighters, the document could have been even more successful.55
AWPD-1's success is often gauged in terms of how well it worked under the circumstances of World War II, but it can also be gauged in terms of the effects that it had on current Air Force doctrine. Transposing the effects of conventional strategic air warfare against Nazi Germany into today's environment is not easy, but modern strategists can learn a number of lessons from such a comparison.56 Today's environment is, of course, highlighted by the presence of advanced nuclear weapons, and the Air Force has modified its strategic bombing plans to accommodate this fact. However, if the United States were faced with selecting a new set of targets to be destroyed by conventional means, the doctrine used in AWPD-1 would be extremely useful in determining the requirements for such a modern air-war plan. And, with the presence of such factors as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the growing pressure for mutual nuclear disarmament between the United States and the Soviet Union, such a comparison might prove more than just an item of passing interest.
The supporting structure of the Soviet Union is by no means identical to that of Nazi Germany, but its reliance upon major industrial systems--such as electric power, transportation, fuel sources, and certain arsenals and factories--is at least similar.57 So it is conceivable that, by using current aircraft and contemporary bombs, modern air-war planners could develop a conventional strategic bombing campaign against the Soviet Union that would closely resemble AWPD-1 in its basic structure. The difference of most significance, of course, would be the massive Soviet air defense.58 But, putting aside the numerous details and statistics that separate the two scenarios, one must acknowledge the basic fact that eliminating the enemy's will to fight is the key to winning any war.59 And AWPD-1's basic doctrine rests on that principle.
The Army Air Forces' official historians, in discussing the genesis of AWPD-1, noted that "it was not an American tradition to enter a war with a carefully conceived strategic concept. For once, in this respect, the nation was prepared."60 And, even though AWPD-1 was never intended to be put to the test as early as it was, the unpredicted attack on Pearl Harbor forced the plan into a position where its viability was soon proven. Fortunately, years of research and the establishment of sound doctrine by men such as Harold George, Kenneth Walker, Haywood Hansell, and Laurence Kuter provided the basis that was essential for a successful air war in Europe.
Cadet First Class Steven A. Parker is a member of the class of 1989 of the United States Air Force Academy, assigned to Cadet Squadron 20. Prior to entering the Academy, he served as a precision measurement equipment specialist at Laughlin AFB, Texas, and attended the US Air Force Academy Preparatory School.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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