Thursday, April 23, 2015

Allied bombing and effects on German morale

USSBS-- United States Strategic Bombing Survey

I have been looking through the USSBS and have collected the following surprising information on the effects of bombing on the German civilians during WWII. What I found most surprising is that the German civilians feared the RAF area bombing more than the US daylight bombing.

Strategic bombing was the major means by which the Allies were able to strike a direct blow at the morale of German civilians. Almost one-third (22,000,000) of Germans were subject to night bombing by Bomber Command and day bombing by the USAAF. One-half of one percent (305,000) of Germans were killed by bombing and 1 percent (780,000) were injured. One-fifth (20,000,000) of all civilians were deprived of water, gas or electricity, many for long periods. One of every 15 Germans (4,885,000) were evacuated to another area. Every German, whether or not he experienced these direct effects of bombing, suffered such indirect results as shortage of food and supplies, and the disruption of transportation. There was no German civilian who did not experience hardship or suffering as a result of bombing.

Bombing seriously depressed the morale of German civilians. Its main psychological effects were defeatism, fear, hopelessness, fatalism and apathy. War weariness, willingness to surrender, loss of hope for German victory, distrust of leaders, feelings of disunity and demoralizing fear were all more common among bombed than unbombed Germans. By the beginning of 1944, three fourths of all Germans regarded the war as lost. Air warfare was less important than other military developments in producing defeatism, but bombing aided greatly in convincing civilians of Allied superiority, both through the severity of the raids and through the unchecked passage overhead of fleets of Allied aircraft.

Bombing did not stiffen morale. The hate and anger it aroused tended to be directed against the Nazi regime which was blamed for beginning air warfare and for being unable to ward off Allied air attacks.

Lowered civilian morale expressed itself in somewhat diminished industrial productivity. German controls were fairly successful in keeping traditionally obedient and industrious workers at a routine level of performance, but they could not overcome increasing apathy induced by bombing. The reason that poor German civilian morale did not translate itself into action seriously endangering the German war effort until the latter months of 1944 and early 1945 was largely due to the terroristic control of the population by the Nazis and, in part, to the cultural patterns of the German people.

During the closing months of the war, the cumulative effects of strategic bombing definitely began to outweigh the powerful Nazi forces which above all else had held the German people to the war-industry grindstone during the two preceding years. Poor morale did ultimately break out into widespread popular behaviour imperiling the German war effort. But the actual outbreak was the result of several momentous and coinciding German catastrophes, the approaching loss of the war, the loss of German land to the enemy, the cumulative devastation and disruption of the German home front by bombing, the military, political and economic chaos which prevailed in the wake of disastrous setbacks. It was this combination of circumstances that strategic bombing was able to achieve its maximum morale effect.

A very good source by a historian covering the civil aspects of allied bombing in detail is written by Irmtraut Permooser (married: I. Burianek) "Der Luftkrieg über München 1942-1945" (The airwar over Munich), Aviatic Verlag, Oberhaching, 2nd edition 1997, 398 p, ISBN 3-925505-37-7 - one of the best books on that topic. Munich is well chosen as an example, but the book covers most aspects of airwar in general.

One important victim of the allied bombing campaign was the German arrogance, on the long run maybe the most useful effect. Lot's of Germans were proud without any reflection, blinded by nationalism. Up to a certain degree that kind of mental illness is visible in our days during "Desert Storms" or other operations ...

Like it was expressed by the German national anthem "Deutschland-Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt" - Germany-Germany over anything, over anything in the world. This pathetic phrase originating from romantic feelings of "Sturm und Drang" - Storm and Stress - was meant to be a symbol for patriotic feelings. In Germany it was a creed most people believed in firmly!
Another phrase common in Germany about World War 1: "Im Felde ungeschlagen" - unbeaten on the fields of war. Looking at the hopeless condition of Germany in 1918 it was an idiotic statement. But until 1945 it was believed by the people, a dogma, repeated over and over again.

After 3 years of being a helpless subject of allied air raids there was not much left to feed a feeling of superiority. The allies bombed a bitterly needed humbleness into the minds of a lot of Germans. The superiority of the allied air fleets was visible and feelable to any German at day and night. It prepared the minds of the Germans to accept the rules of occupation and democracy after the war.

Areal bombing maybe was a needless cruel way (at least in late 1944 and 1945) to make the Germans minds "ready for peace". For the German society in war it caused countless troubles making "live as usual" impossible. Live became complicated and uncomfortable for nearly everyone. And it confronted a majority of the population with the cruelties of war. Not only poor young man in trenches somewhere far away, there was no chance for propaganda to misrepresent dirty deads in bomb showers as a suffering of heroes ...

The RAF produced a general feeling in Germany of being a helpless victim of a cruel, anonymous threat coming out of the dark. Everyone had to stand the horror, it was impossible to calculate the target area, no one was save - terror.

The USAAF completed the picture of being to someone’s mercy by contrasting the RAF-strategy: coming in by day, clearly visible and apparently unimpressed by any kind of german defense. For most of the observers the formations were impossible to stop, always dropping well aimed bomb-carpets on targets often obviously relevant for warfare. An expression one can find nearly every time in German sources to describe US-formations was "stur" - hard bitten. And "being hard bitten" was a highly respected, positive attribute in Germany 1945. So the US-bomber-crews had a much higher reputation as honorable, tough soldiers.

The Germans had to stand a cruel threat out of the dark together with countless numbers of planes flying parade by day, both bombing targets at will. Maybe the effects on war production were limited, but the effects on the attitudes of the "common men" were prominent.

I think the those psychologically effects are underestimated, maybe underrepresented in the literature about airwar until today.

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