Thursday, April 23, 2015
The German electrical power sector as an Allied military target:
The breached Möhne Dam after the bombing of Operation Chastise on the night of 16–17 May 1943.
The Möhne Reservoir — or Moehne Reservoir — is an artificial lake in North Rhine-Westphalia, some 45 km east of Dortmund, Germany. The lake is formed by the damming of two rivers, Möhne and Heve, and with its four basins stores as much as 135 million cubic metres of water.
The dam was built between 1908 and 1913 to help control floods, regulate water levels on the Ruhr river downstream, and generate hydropower.
When U.S. military planners first began analyzing Germany’s economic and military production potentials, the targeting of Germany’s electrical power sector was a top priority. The Air War Plans Division (AWPD) submitted numerous position papers and proposals for consideration. In August of 1941, the U.S. Army Air Corps submitted its first formal document, AWPD/1, which included an analysis as to how Germany could be defeated through an aerial bombing campaign, how civilian/military morale could be affected to cause an economic collapse of Germany - in addition to focusing in on U.S. military production concerns. As one could expect, Germany’s electrical power production and transmission capabilities was listed as the Nr. 2 priority in AWPD/1 (gaining air-superiority was the top priority). For example, the analysts of AWPD/1 believed that by taking out 50 key German electrical power generation sites, the German war production effort would be presented with an immediate 40% production loss, morale would suffer and Germany’s will to continue to fight would be significantly eroded.
In August of 1942, the second AWPD document was prepared - AWPD/42. U.S. military priorities now focused on the Nr. 1 priority - gaining air supremacy over Germany. New guidelines documented in AWPD/42 placed the destruction of German aircraft manufacturing sites above the need to neutralize Germany’s electrical power production efforts. In addition, the need to support an Allied ground assault against mainland Europe, required that military targets, military production centers, important transportation nodes, etc., be accorded higher priorities than Germany’s electrical power sector.
That said, AWPD/42 came under intense scrutiny by members of the U.S. military’s Joint Intelligence Committee. Their key concerns focused on many of the assumptions AWPD/42 made re the German war effort. To better address these raised issues, a new component was created at Army Air Force headquarters - the Bombing Advisory Committee (BAC) (later this was changed to the Committee of Operations Analysts (COA)). The newly established COA was also given a new mission statement, to analyze at what point a bombing campaign would allow for a successful invasion of Hitler’s “Festung Europa”. Interestingly, the COA mission statement differed greatly from the stated goals of AWPD/1 (how to knock-out Germany, by attacking its will to fight - and accomplishing that goal by neutralizing the threats posed by the German electrical power sector).
COA came up with a number of interesting conclusions - which ultimately led to a downgrading of the priority levels accorded to Germany’s electrical power production and T&D sector. COA analysts estimated that Germany had electrical power reserves of anywhere between 15-20%, which she could tap into if many of her primary electrical power production sites were taken off-line for whatever reason. This was a significant reserve capacity. In addition, they noted that German Luftwaffe efforts to neutralizing British electrical power plants were not as effective as German planners may have wished for - even though Luftwaffe priority-level targets included British industrial sites, electrical power production facilities, rail yards and port facilities. The British electrical power sector did not suffer greatly due to German aerial attack efforts. COA analysts believed that by striking against German military production centers first, the war could be ended sooner. In short, COA analysts placed Germany’s electrical power sector as priority Nr. 13.
COA’s recommendations were then forwarded to London, where they were amalgamated with the priorities of the USAAF/RAF Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) plan (an entity, which was established as a result of the 1943 Casablanca meeting). The CBO plan was actually more akin to a guideline or policy type paper than it was a firm target selection listing. Within the framework of the USAAF/RAF CBO, the following priorities were identified (including many others):
1. German submarine construction sites
2. German aircraft production efforts
3. German transportation networks
4. German oil production capabilities
5. Other war production targets
When the USAAF/RAF CBO was officially launched on 10 June 1943, the German electrical power sector, as a top priority target was essentially “off of the target list” (proverbially speaking that is). German electrical power plants and substations were indeed hit during the war, but not because they were priority targets, more because they were alternate or convenience targets.
A change in Allied strategic bombing priorities is one of the leading reasons as to why the Allied powers never really focused on the German electrical power sector as a top priority target during the war.
In November of 1944, President Roosevelt signed an executive order, which authorized the creation the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) Commission. This commission was charged with conducting a post-war analysis effort of the strategic bombing campaign.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the one of the USSBS reports stated that had the German electrical power sector had remained a top military target - a reduction of electrical power in Germany would have had devastating consequences on the German war effort. In reality, Germany only had a few large-sized electrical power generating sites available and the reserve electrical power capacity was near zero. The German T&D grids were apparently not as advanced as German spin-doctors of the era claimed them to be.
It also need be noted that many of Germany’s factories operated their own electrical power plants. Though often small in size, one would have to target both the generating site and the manufacturing plant in order to effectively neutralize that particular site. By taking out only the factory, electrical power would continue to service the surviving or repaired equipment.