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In response to your article “Doing Nothing” a few points with regards to the U.S. Army Air Force and Churchill’s recommendation to FDR to bomb the death camps are in order.
The U.S. Army Air Force relied on B-17 and B-24 four-engine bombers and their highly-trained crews to fly daylight strategic bombardment missions to destroy the industrial heart of Nazi Germany. Losses were heavy. On one mission to bomb the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt in the summer of 1943, for example, Nazi fighters and antiaircraft artillery shot down over sixty bombers, one-third of attacking formations. A few months later, on another mission to bomb this same target, the Nazis shot down one-third of the bombers again. All missions flown over the Third Reich witnessed B-17s shot out of formations by Luftwaffe fighters or B-24s torn to pieces by 88mm Flak artillery.
The primary reason for the heavy losses of bombers and crews was the lack of a suitable long-range escort fighter to equip U.S. Army Air Force fighter squadrons in Europe. Until the P-51 Mustangs arrived in large numbers in Europe during the early months of 1944, long-range bomber penetration missions into Nazi Germany were cost prohibitive. It was not until March 1944 that the Army Air Force attacked Berlin, a deep and heavily defended target. When they did attack Berlin, a small number of new P-51s escorted the bombers to and from the target, inflicting heavy losses on Luftwaffe fighters. Even with the P-51s in attendance, however, the Luftwaffe and flak artillery shot down nearly 70 bombers, or 10 percent of the force.
The P-51 lacked the range even with drop tanks to escort the four-engine bombers to targets deep inside Poland, where many of the infamous death camps were located, and return to Britain. On a few occasions when the P-51s and bombers did fly deep penetration missions into Eastern Europe, they landed at airbases in the Soviet Union, courtesy of Stalin. After the Luftwaffe caught and destroyed large numbers of Army Air Force bombers and fighters in an air raid at an air base in the Soviet Union in June ‘44, the “shuttle missions” were halted.
Moreover, even with the Norden bomb sight, the Army Air Force found it difficult to put a “bomb inside a pickle barrel” when flying at 25,000 feet with flak bursting inside the formation, twin-engine ME-110 enemy fighters hurling 240mm rockets into the combat boxes, and FW-190s making head on firing passes with 20mm and 30mm cannon from “Twelve O’clock” high. In response to poor bombing results over Germany, due to defenses and weather, the Army Air Force switched to “area” vice “precision” bombing in the early months of 1944. Instead of aiming for a specific part of a factory to bomb, the planes unleashed their 250, 500, and 1000-pound bombs at a section of a city, hopping to hit a factory in the area.
OK, what does all this have to do with the article? Simple. The B-17s and B-24s didn’t bomb the death camps because the Nazi defenses would have hacked a considerable percentage of the bombers out of the sky without the bombers inflicting serious damage on the death camps. After all, just what targets should the bombers have struck? The crematoriums and gas chamber facilities were simply too small to hit with any degree of accuracy from 20,000 plus feet. To bomb from a lower altitude would have meant heavier losses and possible fuel starvation for the bombers on the return trip. The bombs released over the target would have hit the inmates in the camps, something Joseph Goebbels would have enjoyed harping on in the propaganda war being waged at the time. To bomb the railroads leading to the camps would have disrupted rail traffic at best, but the Nazis, Japanese, North Koreans, Chinese, and North Vietnamese foes our nation has fought over the past sixty-plus years, have proven many times over just how easy it is to repair a rail line overnight after a heavy air raid.
If it was practical to bomb the death camps, why didn’t Churchill order his own Bomber Command to attack them? The RAF Lancaster four-engine bomber carried a larger payload a greater distance than American bombers. To argue the RAF bombed at night and the Army Air Force in the day misses the progress the RAF had made in target marking and radar bombing. By April 1944 the RAF was bombing more accurately at night than the Army Air Force was in the day. But in contrast to the slow decline in Army Air Force bomber losses that began after the introduction of the P-51, the RAF witnessed an increase loss rate in the same period due to increased German expertise in night-fighting and the lack of an effective night-fighter to escort the Lancasters to their targets. In March ‘44, the RAF lost over 90 of the 700 bombers it sent to attack Nuremberg in one night. With that disaster, RAF Bomber Command shifted its efforts from conducting deep penetration missions into Germany to attacking shallow targets in France until after the Normandy invasion.p>One final point needs to be made. Eisenhower was able to promise his assault troops that they would only see Allied planes over the invasion convoys heading to Normandy because the combined might of the RAF and the Army Air Force (especially the P-51s) had decimated the Luftwaffe. To divert airpower to another purpose in a cost prohibitive and ineffective bombardment campaign against the death camps is a fantasy that was thankfully never carried out. We had to win the war to defeat Hitler and the Army Air Force made victory in 1945 possible. br> — Mike Slater br> /p>
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