B-29s dropping bombs on Tokyo
In its essentials the concept of strategic bombardment was best stated in Douhet's writings. This concept visualized a defensive role for surface forces, an aerial offensive designed to secure command of the air, and the aerial destruction of an enemy's capacity to support surface forces and its will to continue the war. Douhet believed that command of the air would be established by attacks against enemy aviation facilities and not through aerial fighting. He therefore advocated development of a "battle plane capable both of defending itself in the air and of destroying hostile ground objectives.
Although the Luftwaffe was not designed for strategic air warfare, Adolf HITLER elected to commit it to the Battle of Britain on Aug. 8, 1940. The Nazi plan was to gain air superiority by destroying the RAF Fighter Command and to employ the German bomber force to soften British coastal defenses, transportation facilities, and population centers in preparation for a combined sea and airborne invasion of southern and southeastern England. Aided by newly developed radar, the British fighter force proved superior to German bombers, which were inadequately armed and lacked the ability to carry heavy loads of bombs. A series of vacillating decisions by the Luftwaffe commander, Hermann Goering (Goring), also prevented the numerically superior German Air Force from achieving a decisive concentration of force against any single objective. By December 1940, the Luftwaffe had failed to accomplish its strategic mission and had suffered heavy losses. In its subsequent campaigns against the Soviet Union, it continued to lack long-range bombers and was powerless to prevent the Russians from rebuilding an air force at factories and bases beyond the Ural Mountains. According to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, the first factor in the ultimate defeat of the German Air Force was that: "The German Air Force was originally designed for direct support of ground operations, and a lack of a long-range bomber force proved a grave strategic error.
Because of the national emphasis on air defense, the RAF Bomber Command was weak at the beginning of the war and was unable to undertake strategic bombing before May 1940. The buildup of American Army Air Forces heavy bombers in Europe was delayed by conflicting requirements of the Allied land campaign in North Africa. Not until Jan. 21, 1943, could the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff order a combined bomber offensive designed to attain " the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened. As implemented thereafter, the combined bomber offensive employed RAF bombers that flew at night chiefly against area targets and American bombers from Great Britain and Italy that made daylight precision-bombing attacks. Contrary to original expectations, American bombers required fighter escorts to prosecute sustained attacks against heavily defended targets, but early in 1944 a combination of attacks against aircraft facilities and of aerial battles established Allied air superiority over Germany.
In the war against Japan, carrier-based aircraft of the United States Pacific Fleet eventually joined the strategic air campaign, but the United States Twentieth Air Force contributed the vast preponderance of the strategic bombing effort against the Japanese home islands. With a limited economy crowded into a few industrial cities and without adequate air defenses, Japan was highly vulnerable to air assault. Nevertheless, strategic bombing had to await the deployment to combat of the new B-29 aircraft, which had a range long enough to reach Japan from available bases. Hurried into combat from airfields in western China, the Twentieth Air Force's 20th Bomber Command initiated strategic air attacks against Japan on June 15, 1944, but the distance was too great and logistical support too scarce for the B-29's when flying from China. Utilizing newly built bases in the Mariana Islands, B-29's of the 21st Bomber Command launched sustained air attacks against Japan on Nov. 24, 1944.
During the period March 9-June 15, 1945, these planes flew at night to prosecute heavy incendiary attacks against six principal Japanese urban industrial concentrations. Effectively blockaded by American submarines and under heavy air attack, Japan's leaders were ready to sue for peace (though not unconditionally) in May 1945, well before the USSR's entry into the Pacific war and the employment of United States ATOMIC BOMBS against Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9. "It seems clear, stated the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, "that air supremacy and its later exploitation over Japan proper was the major factor which determined the timing of Japan's surrender and obviated any need for invasion.
Before the war strategic air warfare enthusiasts had overestimated the effect of air ordinance on urban and industrial targets. They had assumed erroneously that air attacks would easily break an enemy people's will to continue a war. Both in Europe and in Japan repeated air attacks and many tons of conventional bombs were required to neutralize war production facilities. A prior establishment of air superiority had proved necessary to the prosecution of effective strategic bombing attacks. Unknown to many air leaders, the United States began to explore the possibilities of nuclear fission weapons shortly after Dr. Albert Einstein informed President Franklin D. ROOSEVELT on Aug. 2, 1939, that such weapons seemed practicable. Headed by Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Engineer District produced the Hiroshima and Nagasaki weapons dropped by the Army Air Forces' 509th Composite Group in August 1945. The detonation of these first nuclear bombs not only hastened Japan's decision to surrender, but also represented a "quantum jump in strategic air capabilities, which appeared fully to substantiate the Douhet concept of strategic bombardment. How these new and terrible weapons--which ultimately would be deliverable with little or no warning by intercontinental jet bombers and ballistic missiles--were to be utilized would be the complex problem facing military strategists in the years following World War II.