Document created: 5 November 2003
Air University Review, September-October 1974
Major General Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., USAF (Ret)
The French military observer who watched in amazement the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava on October 25, 1854, said: “It is magnificent, but it is not war.”
During World War II, Regensburg/Schweinfurt resembled Balaklava in magnificence of military valor. Together they stand at the pinnacle of military courage, boldness, and determination. But there the similarity ends. The charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava was not war because it lacked a valid purpose and a reasonable chance of achieving such a purpose. Regensburg/Schweinfurt was war—strategic air war at its best and at its worst—because its magnificent valor was dedicated to a valid purpose. It held promise of crippling Germany at a blow, with the consequent saving of thousands of lives by shortening the war. The amazing boldness of the charge at Balaklava was repeated at Regensburg/Schweinfurt and was redeemed in an equally bold purpose.
In Double Strike, Edward Jablonski has written a stirring epic of combat in the air.* It is all there, portrayed in a style that sweeps the reader into the midst of furious combat. The reader is stationed at every key battle position. He sits in the cockpit of the lead bomber of the combat wing and in the cockpit of the last bomber of the low squadron, where the German fighters concentrate their most persistent attacks and the casualties are most numerous. He stands at an open gun port at 20,000 feet with wind whipping through the fuselage and the temperature 50 below, and he swivels in a power turret and mans the tail guns. He bends over a bombsight, concentrating on his bomb run to the exclusion of all else, oblivious to the carnage all about him; and he plunges into the swirling combat of the fighters. Thus the reader sees far more than any single participant could possibly have seen, through the author’s catching and preserving in panoramic action the whole progress of the battle—the seconds and minutes of machine gun and cannon fire, the lifetime of hazard compressed into hours.
*Edward Jablonski, Double Strike: The Epic Air Raids on Regensburg-Schweinfurt, August 17, 1943 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1974, $7.95), 271 pages.
Double Strike is a fine combat report and has caught the spirit of the operation. All the vital elements of the battle in the air are authentically described. The friendly fighters, so welcome to the bomber crews, provide escort protection part of the way. The enemy fighters, who bore headlong into the dense bomber formations, are vividly portrayed. Even the thoughts and actions of the German fighters, who press their attacks with such furious effectiveness, are reported in detail. Through it all the cold courage of bomber combat leaders, determined to reach and destroy their targets on the ground, shines clearly through the melee of twisting action. What a relief to look up from the printed page and grasp the snug warmth of a comfortable room!
Mr. Jablonski has written an inspiring and authentic account of the combat aspects of an important strategic air mission of World War II at the height of its fury. True, there are minor discrepancies, in the preliminary description, such as the date of Rudolf Hess’s abortive flight to Scotland, but the spirit of warfare in the air rings true.
Although there is little that a reviewer can add to the author’s great combat report, much has been left unsaid about the purpose of the mission. It is in this field of purpose, of “Balaklava Redeemed,” that some comment may be useful. Why Regensburg? Why Schweinfurt? What was intended? Had someone blundered?
Regensburg/Schweinfurt compressed in microcosmic form the gamut of American strategic air warfare, from concept to execution. The violence of conflicting emotion in the field of concept and purpose preceded that in the field of combat. Proponents and opponents wrestled in the field of theory. Strategic air warfare was untried; it had no heritage on which to stand and build. In general the American theory of strategic air warfare rested on three basic precepts:
First, that modern great nations were dependent upon industry and integrated industrial systems for the waging of war and for their continued sustenance as great states.
Second, that modern physical structures, on which industries and industrial systems depend, could be destroyed by correctly targeted bombs, if they were properly placed.
Third, that strategic air striking forces could reach their targets and deliver their bombs with adequate accuracy, without sustaining intolerable losses.
Before the trial by combat of strategic air warfare in Europe, there was difference of opinion concerning all these contentions, but especially in regard to the first and the third.
Concerning the first precept, those theorists oriented to surface warfare demanded to know when any great nation had been brought to its knees by air attack. None had. But, then, none had been subjected to massive strategic bombing, either. Even the airmen were at variance. The British accepted the general concept but doubted the American method of selective targeting. They had been driven by experience to a different method, an effort to cripple the industry of Germany by disrupting the lives of German workers. They sought to achieve the objective described in the Casablanca Directive—to “bring about the progressive disruption and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic systems” by bombing German cities which harbored important war industries, till the capability of the German state to wage war and “the morale of the German people were fatally weakened.” The method by which the Americans sought to achieve this aim rested upon the careful selection of vital industrial targets and their destruction by precision bombing. The American concept was sometimes described as “bottleneck” targeting and bombing.
Regensburg and Schweinfurt were prime examples of the American concept and method. They were also prime examples of what Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris of RAF Bomber Command derided as “panacea bombing.”
Actually neither “bottleneck bombing” nor “panacea bombing” was a suitable expression of the basic concept. The distinguishing feature was analytical selectivity. In its simplest form the target selected resembled a “carotid body,” which in the human anatomy is a small mass of cells and nerve endings in the neck, so sensitive and vital that pressure on it will produce stupor, partial paralysis, unconsciousness, and ultimately perhaps even death, if not relieved. The process of selecting and bombing such targets in the body of an enemy state might be described as “carotid bombardment.” Schweinfurt was precisely such a target.
Carotid targeting was not the only kind of selective strategic bombing. Munitions factories, such as airplane assembly plants (of which Regensburg was typical), airplane engine factories, tank factories, motor transport factories, submarine building yards, steel mills, and aluminum plants constituted vital but not “carotid” selective targeting. The major category of selective targeting pertained to systems. Each corporate structure, whether it be the human anatomy or the body of that state, is made operative by the service of vital systems. The corporate body of the state is dependent on such systems as the electric power system, the rail transportation system, the highway and canal systems, the petroleum system, the food distribution and preservations systems, the water systems, and the communications systems. Disruption and neutralization of any of these can render the body inoperative. Strategic targeting requires careful analysis to determine the importance and vulnerability of each system, and the vital targets within the system. Strategic effectiveness requires precision bombing of those targets and continuity of attack to keep them inoperative. Like the human body, the corporate state body is capable of great flexibility and the substitution of one vital element to serve in place of another. But even if substitution or replacement is possible in some systems, both bodies suffer from shock, both require time for repair or substitution, and both require a period of relative tranquility to bring about recuperation. These must be denied if the strategic bombing attack is to be effective. Strategic air attack of these vital systems might be described as “organic systems targeting.”
The most difficult aspect of selective bombing operations lies in current appraisal of results. It is necessary continually to appraise the selection itself. Were the considerations that prompted the selection of the targets true and sound to start with? Have they changed? Has the enemy found a substitute? And next, is the target destruction producing the expected results? For instance, if the selected target system was enemy transportation, is the successful bombing of bridges producing the expected result? Has the enemy found a substitute method of moving supplies? It is of little consequence to report that the bridges have been hit by superbly accurate bombing. The question is, “Has the flow of men, equipment, or supplies been stopped, or greatly diminished, and is it having the effect on the enemy that was anticipated?” Have we selected the proper targets within the target system? Have the proper size bombs been used to insure lasting destruction? Photography, the best source of target destruction analysis, will tell much about damage, but it still leaves much to be determined or deduced. To abandon the target system too soon because evidence of results is not discernible may be very wrong indeed. To carry on the assault when it is not going to produce results is obstinate stupidity. Differentiation between the two is a most difficult art. It proved exceedingly difficult, at the time, to appraise the effectiveness of the attacks upon Regensburg and Schweinfurt.
Appraisal after the war indicated that, Regensburg was less vital to the support of the German fighter defenses than had been anticipated; Schweinfurt was proved to be fully as critical as analysis had indicated. It was truly a “carotid target,” but it was many months before we found that the bombs had been too small to accomplish the lasting destruction that was planned. Regensburg was a part of a vital element of German military power. Schweinfurt was virtually a “carotid body” in the corporate anatomy of the Third Reich. Their selection was the result of an interesting process.
Regensburg was an important element of the German fighter production complex. It was the site of a large German fighter assembly plant. Its importance as a target is almost self-evident. Germany recognized her vulnerability to defeat from the air. She belatedly took major strides to provide fighters for her protection. Those fighters had to be weakened if the American Air offensive was to be feasible without extraordinary losses.
Schweinfurt was the location of a very critical element of German industry as a whole and war industry in particular: antifriction bearings, “ball bearings.” Over half the antifriction bearing production of the Reich was located there. Furthermore, it was the source of the great majority of large bearings, the kind that are essential to the production of aircraft engines, tanks, automotive vehicles, diesels for submarines, and large machine tools and manufacturing machinery, among other things. Schweinfurt was far more vital to the German war effort than the 52 percent production statistic would imply.
The ball-bearing industry at Schweinfurt was proposed as a target by the Committee of Operations Analysts, which had been assembled by General Arnold to analyze German war industry and recommend targets for operational consideration. An American vice president of the Swedish SKF bearing company suggested ball bearings to Air Corps Colonel Guido Perera, who was acting as executive secretary of the Committee of Operations Analysts. The members of the committee quickly agreed. The British Ministry of Economic Warfare enthusiastically endorsed it. Here was a real “carotid body,” a constriction through which a vital element of nearly all new products for warfare and much of the productive machinery of industry were channeled. It was a nerve center vital to the German state at war. Stopping the flow through that small orifice could have enormous impact on the production of munitions of all kinds and on German industry as a whole. The Committee of Operations Analysts listed antifriction bearings second among nineteen potential targets for consideration: it was second only to the production of fighters in Germany, and indeed it would affect that also.
When the list of targets recommended for operational consideration came to the Planning Team for the Combined Bomber Offensive, in England, the first three targets in the list of nineteen were accepted with enthusiasm:
(1) German aircraft industry, with first priority
on fighter aircraft
(2) Ball bearings
I was the Director of the Planning Team for the Combined Bomber Offensive. The team had been set up by General Ira Eaker, Commanding General of the Eighth Air Force. Brigadier General Fred Anderson, who commanded the Fourth Bomb Wing, was also a member, as was RAF Air Commodore Sidney Bufton. After we had agreed on Schweinfurt, our greatest dread was that the Germans would recognize the dependence of their war effort on ball-bearing production. We were afraid they would realize it was an extremely critical feature of their war economy, a vulnerable, concentrated target, and would disperse the factories before we could destroy them. We believed that the thorough and complete destruction of this concentrated complex would produce catastrophic disruption on a very wide scale.
The British underscored the importance of ball bearings from their own experience. A German bombing attack on Coventry had blown out the windows and skylights of a major aircraft engine factory there. Rain and mist had soaked trays of ball bearings waiting for installation. By the time the situation was recognized, the bearings had rusted. Production came to an immediate stop. New bearings were obtained from the factories, which were barely able to keep pace with demand, but it raised at once the question, “What would have happened if the ball-bearing factories had been destroyed?” The equipment for manufacturing ball bearings is both heavy and precise and is complicated to produce. Engine production would necessarily have been subjected to a long, perhaps a critical, lapse.
In the history of World War II and in light of subsequent investigation and analysis, only one other “carotid body” target was discovered that compared in constrictive importance to ball bearings: the three tetraethyl lead and one ethylene di-bromide plants essential to the production of German aviation gasoline. The critical nature, concentrated production, and vulnerability of these plants escaped the attention of the air strategists. After the war, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey had this to say:
Virtually all aviation gasoline production came from the hydrogenation (synthetic) plants, and ten of the eighteen hydrogenation plants (including the iso-octane plants) produced 80 per cent of the total aviation production.
A major opportunity in the Allied air offensive against oil was unexploited. Ethyl fluid is an indispensable constituent of high-grade aviation gasoline. The addition of ethyl fluid in very small amounts to gasoline is so beneficial that no modern aircraft is operated without it. Ethyl fluid is made from tetraethyl lead and ethylene dibromide. There were only two tetraethyl lead plants in Germany and one in occupied France—there were only these three plants supplying tetraethyl lead and one plant supplying ethylene dibromide. These plants were not bombed, although the equipment and processes used were such as to make them highly vulnerable to air attack.
Selective bombing in this case failed because strategists failed to perceive the opportunity. They did not fail to perceive the opportunity presented by antifriction bearings. Here was a concentrated industrial target whose elimination would drastically affect Germany’s whole prosecution of the war.
The second precept—that bombs could be produced that could destroy any known man-made structure—was generally conceded, though it took the British Tall Boy 12,000-pound bomb to penetrate the submarine pens at Saint-Nazaire and Lorient. We consistently underspecified the proper size of bombs. This was most apparent at Schweinfurt.
The third precept—“The bomber will get through,” or, more properly, “The air striking force will get through”—was the most crucial one of all. It contended that the air striking force could reach its targets and sustain the bombing offensive without unacceptable losses. If it was false, the other precepts were of little value. Unless the bombs could be put on the targets and the targets destroyed at a cost that was endurable, then the whole approach was an exercise in academic futility. In 1943, before the escort fighters had hit their stride, the issue hung in the balance, sustained by the raw courage of the bomber combat crews. The question of penetrating the defenses and sustaining the offensive really depended on three factors:
machines and weapons—airplanes, electronic control and warning systems,
antiaircraft defenses, passive defenses;
organization and efficiency, including training and tactical doctrine;
men and commanders—the will, determination, persistence, and competence of the
fighting crews and their commanders, up to the Air Force Commander himself.
As for the first factor—machines and weapons—there can be no doubt that we in the Army Air Corps erred in failing to demand and get the development and production of a long-range escort fighter. We should not have been put aside by the contention of the engineers that it was much too difficult. As it was, before the war, we accepted their contention and took the only other path open—fighting our way to the targets with heavily armed bombers employing massed defensive firepower from close formations. The bomber aircraft were superb. The B-17s in particular would take an astonishing amount of damage and still keep flying, and both the B-17 and the B-24 were capable of dealing out a formidable hail of defensive gunfire. But they needed from the first the fine support that was finally provided by the P-47 and the P-51 with droppable fuel tanks.
As for the second factor—organization and training—the Air Corps and the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces did reasonably well. The primary failure was in not properly training our gunners in the most difficult of all gunnery: flexible defensive gunfire in air combat. But the painful and costly development of air doctrine and tactics that preceded the first important strike at industrial Germany was invaluable in all that followed. Development and standardization of procedures, tactics, and doctrine made possible the flexible assignment and control of massive air task forces.
In regard to the last factor—men and leaders—the nation was superbly served.
Double Strike impresses the reader with the bold courage and determination of the fighter pilots, both friendly and enemy, and of the bomber combat crews. The essence of valor frequently burgeons from the reaction of riposte, the impulse to fight back. Certainly this pervaded the fighter pilots, who not only could fight back but could move to the offensive against their opponents. Most men respond with anger as well as fear when they find that someone is deliberately trying to kill them, and that anger spurs them to counter action and tends to overcome the fear.
This psychological crutch to courage did not apply, however, to all members of the bomber crews. It applied in some measure to the gunners, who could shoot back, though they could not move to the offensive. But it was entirely lacking to the pilots and bombardiers and navigators. They had somehow to rise above the personal danger surrounding them and place the accomplishment of the mission above personal survival. There is very little emotional support for courage to be derived from the destruction of buildings and structures that are five miles below, barely discernible, and completely strange and impersonal. Courage and determination have to stand on their own merit, without benefit of anger, and surmount the crash of conflict all about. Those men, to my mind, were courageous beyond description.
This superb dedication to fulfillment of the mission did not surface by accident or by some sort of psychological osmosis that was roused by combat. It was the product of organization, indoctrination, and personal inspiration. This feeling flowed from the top down and permeated the crews. It was the essence of morale and esprit de corps, and it stemmed from belief in the national purpose and from years of devoted service to the Air Corps. It was the ultimate product of leadership. In the process of development of the powerful U.S. Strategic Air Forces, consisting of the Eighth Air Force and the Fifteenth Air Force, it flowed downward from General Carl Spaatz and General Ira Eaker and General Doolittle and General Twining to the division commanders and wing commanders and crews.
It had taken years to create, and it took months to permeate the combat crews, most of whom had been nonprofessionals before the war. The crews were sustained by the conviction that destruction of the targets was vital to America’s war effort, that it was possible of accomplishment, and that it was worth the cost that would be levied in combat.
The two bombardment division commanders of “double strike” were Curtis LeMay, whose superb combat record has become a legend, and Bob Williams. LeMay needs neither introduction nor exposition. His leadership and performance in combat were outstanding. Bob Williams’s achievements are less well known, but his stature looms as great in the eyes of his men and associates. Actually, neither could exercise much command control during the mission. Their contribution had come in the months of training and indoctrination and inspiration. But their presence on the mission meant a lot to the crews and to the conduct of the operation.
Bob Williams was a few years senior to the rest of us. He had been one of the few chosen to pilot a B-17 in the early days of the 2d Bombardment Group at Langley Field, Virginia. To me he seemed the very personification of “the officer and gentleman.” As a commander he was urbane and personable without any hint of familiarity. He was an exacting but an understanding taskmaster, and whatever the job he demanded, he could do it better himself. It has seemed to me that the perfect achievement of leadership lies in getting other people to do what you want them to do because you are convinced that it is both right and necessary to do, and they are inspired to want to do it. To my mind, Bob Williams provided that kind of leadership. He was the “follow me” kind of leader.
Bob Williams had been selected to go to England as an observer before the U.S. entered the war. He was wounded and lost an eye during a heavy air raid on London. He had chosen to view the scene from the roof of his hotel rather than seek safety in a shelter. A bomb falling close at hand blasted nearby windows, and glass shards damaged one eye beyond repair. This would have sent most men to retirement or to inactive posts. Williams recovered enough to keep right on going.
On the Schweinfurt mission, Williams and his division went through torture during the hours of waiting for the weather to clear enough to permit takeoff. They knew that the carefully integrated plan of operations had been thrown out of balance by the fog that held the 1st Bomb Division on the ground long after the 3d Bomb Division had departed.
General Nathan Twining, who served many years with Bob Williams, says: “He is a wonderful man. Solid. Calm. Strong character. Competent. Great pilot. Great leader. One of the best.”
I had commanded the 1st Bomb Wing (later designated the 1st Bomb Division) until about two months prior to this mission. My distress in leaving the command to return to the planning business was eased by the knowledge that the reins were being taken up by a man who had my highest admiration and confidence.
Next in the ascending hierarchy of combat command at the time of Regensburg/Schweinfurt stood Fred Anderson. I think no bomber command has seen his superior. His contribution to the strategic air war in Europe was the equal of that of LeMay in the Pacific. He had enough combat experience to know what he was demanding, and beneath a rugged exterior he had a sentimental affection and admiration for the crews. His command presence was clear and firm.
Fred believed in the importance of his overall mission. He believed that the sources of German fighter strength must be cut away at all costs. Regensburg was an important contribution to that end. He also believed in the Schweinfurt mission. He had been a party to the planning that selected both. The measure of his command courage is attested by the fact that he launched a second attack on Schweinfurt two months later, after the carnage of the first one.
Brigadier General Frank O’D. (“Monk”) Hunter, an ace of World War I and one of the most charismatic and courageous fighter pilots of his day, commanded the VIII Fighter Command in the early days of the Eighth Air Force. The brunt of adjustment of men and fighter airplanes to a bitter air war in a sophisticated environment fell upon him. He sought desperately to extend the range of his fighters by improvising droppable fuel tanks, so that they could fill the role of escort fighters. By the time of Regensburg/Schweinfurt, the command had passed to Major General “Bill” Kepner, as dedicated a member of the strategic air striking force as there was. At this time the problem of extending the range of the P-47 fighter had been only partially solved, and the P-51 Mustang had not yet appeared on the scene. The pilots of the P-47s did a magnificent job within the limits of their range, but they had to leave the bombers at the German border and turn back.
Finally, there was a top commander for this double mission who carried an additional load that was little known to anyone. Lieutenant General Ira Eaker, as Commanding General, Eighth Air Force, stood as a firm supporter of his combat commands and a stout shield against attack from behind (i.e., from the high command, from political dissidents, and from the critical press). It is hard to overemphasize this role. The bomber commander needed all the strength at his command in directing the bloody fight. He needed that shield against attack from the rear. Higher headquarters, if it is thousands of miles away in a different environment, can hardly be expected to understand fully the perils and vicissitudes of daily operations, and critical press comment often outruns the competence of the commentator.
Blistering criticisms and imperious demands from Washington came crackling over the air. Someone had to filter them, provide sensible responses, and shield the combat commanders, who were wrestling with terribly difficult ordeals. I do not suggest that incompetence should be shielded or tolerated, but competence itself can be shattered by unreasonable attitudes and demands from above.
Not many modern commanders could enjoy the liberty taken by the Duke of Wellington when he supposedly responded to his masters in England to the effect that if he took time to answer all their ill-conceived questions he would have no time left in which to fight the war. But the impulse can easily be understood.
Ira Eaker was a stalwart leader who urged, encouraged, sometimes influenced, sometimes directed the superlative team below him, and always absorbed the attacks from the rear. Ira, too, believed in what his command had set out to do. He had given approval to the selection of Regensburg and Schweinfurt. After the mission a veritable storm of criticism and abuse fell upon the Eighth Air Force from people who heard only the dreadful toll in men and airplanes and who understood neither the accomplishment nor the purpose.
Later in the war Eaker served in a similar role for the Fifteenth Air Force in its crucial offensive against German fighter production—including missions against Wiener Neustadt and a return mission against Regensburg.
Edward Jablonski has provided a fascinating account of the missions on 17 August, though their importance would be better portrayed if the strategic purpose had been described and appraised. The description of the missions would also have profited from an outline map. I must take issue with Mr. Jablonski on one point, however. In his final paragraph he asks, “What is war?” and he answers, “War is, I repeat, killing and destruction; that is the ultimate and bitter truth, whatever you stand for.”
This is half a truth—the half that is embraced by many authors and most members of the news media and that has been accepted by most people. It is the popular view. Often, but not always, it is right. But killing and destruction are just the manifestations of war, not its purpose. It is the purpose of war that can be either unspeakably evil or unselfishly ennobling. Wars of aggression can be prompted by avarice or the ambition to conquer and impose control; resistance to such aggression, which also is war, can be prompted by willingness to pay high costs for defense of country or preservation of liberty. The two cannot simply be lumped together and condemned as equally brutal. Failure to resist, failure to fight for high purpose, can also be condemned.
As for Regensburg/Schweinfurt, how can the missions be appraised? What were the results? Were the strategic purposes sound? What were the mistakes? What were the lessons?
The first mission against Regensburg struck a powerful blow, though not a mortal one, at German fighter production. Total Me-109 fighter production dropped from 725 in July to 536 in September (74%) and 357 in December (49%). But in the long run defeat of the German fighter force stemmed from a number of causes, and it cannot be concluded that shortage of airframes was the critical one. Postwar examination and analysis indicate that the bombing effort should have been directed against airplane engine factories rather than airframe assembly factories. Loss in combat of competent flying training instructors and loss of aviation gasoline due to bombing of synthetic oil plants were even more important contributing factors to the final defeat of the German day fighter force by the combined efforts of American air striking forces. But the attack on Regensburg certainly contributed to the defeat of the Luftwaffe.
Schweinfurt came closer to producing a decisive result. This first attack reduced production to 35 percent, a shattering blow. But the effect was temporary. The factory buildings were heavily damaged. There were eighty hits in the targets. But the heavy machinery survived. The bombs were too light and they were fuzed for insufficient delay.
The bomb loads were 1000-pounders (28%); 500-pounders (50%); and incendiaries (22%). They should all have been 1000-pounders and 2000-pounders. This would have meant fewer bombs and fewer hits by one bomb division. Actually both bombardment divisions should have been directed at Schweinfurt to assure an adequate number of hits with the heavier bombs. Albert Speer also reached this conclusion. Real and final destruction of the ball-bearing factories and machinery would have produced enormous effects.
The German Minister of Armaments and Production is perhaps the best authority on the subject. In his book, Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer says:
We barely escaped a further catastrophic blow on August 17, 1943, only two weeks after the Hamburg bombings. The American Air Force launched its first strategic raid. It was directed against Schweinfurt, where large factories of the ball-bearing industry were concentrated. The next day I informed Milch’s colleagues, “We are approaching collapse in our supply industry. Soon we will have airplanes, tanks, and trucks lacking certain key parts.”
To the German Minister of Armaments and Production, the attacks on Schweinfurt were frightening. He later stated that there was no alternative but to repair the facilities as rapidly as possible since to move the factories would hold up production for several months. Efforts to meet urgent requirements through increased imports from Sweden and Switzerland met with only slight success. “What really saved us,” he wrote, “was the fact that from this time on [after the second attack in October] the enemy, to our astonishment, ceased his attacks on the ball-bearing industry.”
Speer was asked after the war what would have happened if there had been concerted and continuous attacks on the ball-bearing industry—or if the Schweinfurt industry had been thoroughly demolished the first time. He replied:
Armaments production would have been crucially weakened after two months and after four months would have been brought completely to a standstill. In those days we anxiously asked ourselves how soon the enemy would realize that he could paralyze the production of thousands of armaments plants merely by destroying five or six relatively small targets.
This, of course, was the basic strategic concept behind the American operation. This was “carotid bombardment.”
The sentimental briefing officer who predicted victory by Christmas may not have been too far from right. Still, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey would report, “The Germans were able to survive the initial shock, take successful counter measures, and thus boast, ‘No equipment was ever delayed because bearings were lacking.’” But the margin was very small in the fall of 1943. For months bearings were delivered by motorcycle messengers carrying small numbers in knapsacks to production lines that were gasping for life.
Where, then, lay the fault, and what was learned?
There were two tactical faults: one pertaining to timing, one pertaining to bombs.
Our anxiety lest the target be moved or dispersed led to premature attack, before we were ready in strength. The plan for the Combined Bomber Offensive was based on the concept that losses in bomber aircraft increased with depth of penetration into Germany but decreased in percentage as the bomber forces grew larger. Phase I, with relatively small forces, called for shallow penetrations. As the size of the forces increased and escort fighters extended their range, the depth of penetration increased until Phase IV included all of Germany. One exception was made: Schweinfurt. Because of its importance and the fear that the opportunity would be lost, Schweinfurt was put in Phase I, in spite of the deep penetration into Germany and the limited range of the fighters. Hindsight shows that this was a mistake. Schweinfurt should probably have been put in Phase III, when we had much larger forces and escort fighters that could go all the way.
As indicated earlier, the bombs should have been much heavier, and both bombardment divisions should have been concentrated on ball bearings. The combat losses would have been no greater, and Schweinfurt would have been completely destroyed as a source of antifriction bearings, with the result so feared by Albert Speer.
The purpose was sound. The performance was splendid. As so often happens in war, the attainment of full success eluded the combat command because of faulty timing and an erroneous operational decision: survey of the damage after the war showed that the bombs were too small. The mission would have been more effective if both divisions had been directed against Schweinfurt, but it must be remembered that Regensburg (German fighters) ranked ahead of Schweinfurt (ball bearings) in strategic priority.
The mission produced powerful but not mortal blows. That they were not mortal seems almost an accident.
As an act of strategic air warfare, the mission was magnificent. It was strategic air warfare with a sound purpose; it was air combat at the height of valor; it was unrelenting perseverance throughout a long and bitter fight against an able foe.
As Mr. Jablonski points out, the mission against Schweinfurt was originally planned as a combined operation with RAF Bomber Command. In a regrettable change the RAF follow-up was eliminated.
Edward Jablonski’s book should be widely read, and Regensburg/Schweinfurt should be remembered wherever airmen meet as an example to the Air Force of what its men can do in a cause to which they are committed.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Major General Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., USAF (Ret), (B.S., Georgia Institute of Technology) was active in formulating the air plans instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany. Other assignments included Deputy Theater Air Officer, ETO; Commanding General of 3d Bombardment Wing, later of 1st Bombardment Division, Eighth Air Force; Air Member, Joint Plans Committee, JCS; D/CS, Hq AAF, and C/S, Twentieth Air Force; and Commanding General, XXI Bomber Command. Retired in 1946 but recalled for the Korean War, General Hansell retired again in 1955. He is author of The Air Plan That Defeated Hitler (1972).
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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