Was the British bombing offensive worth the costs in men and resources that were invested in it?

By Stephen Canning

 

Introduction

The British bombing offensive was a long and bloody siege, which resulted in the death of fifty-five thousand five hundred and seventy three (1) men from the Royal Air Force (2).

In determining whether the British bombing offensive was worth the costs in men and resources, it is important to ascertain the progression of the bomber offensive from its infancy, right through to its climax in Berlin, 1944. As such, specific raids have been selected for analysis - from Cologne to Dresden - with the aim of displaying the progressive nature of the offensive and addressing the key issues underlying each raid. With this in mind, each specified offensive under consideration will be assessed in terms of the loss of men and resources from Bomber Command, against damage to the enemy. Overtly, the issue of morality in terms of area bombing shall be considered. It is a natural consequence of warfare, to incur loss of life in terms of all national forces participating. However, the question of morality becomes a contentious issue when the loss of life is no longer restricted to military personnel, but incorporates civilian casualties. As such, only by investigating contemporary accounts such as Sir Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, as well as recent historiographical publications debating the value of the British bomber offensive in terms of men and resources, can we determine the legitimacy and worth of the British Government's investment in Bomber Command.

To establish the overall achievements of the bombing offensive, it is important to consider individual raids and provide a definition of what could be considered a successful attack.

1 - This loss figure takes into account aircrew from Britain's Commonwealth, Empire and Allies. The actual number of British aircrew killed was 38,462

2 - M. Hastings, Bomber Command (London, 1970), p. 11

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