Every major offensive in World War II was preceded by heavy attacks from the air. A long-range program was started very early to prepare the way for the invasion of France and Germany. Some air enthusiasts hoped to knock out Germany by the use of air power alone, but generally overestimated the results that were obtained.Allied air power eventually devastated Germany.
Britain's Royal Air Force adopted a policy of night saturation bombing. The first such raid took place on May 30, 1942, when 1,130 planes dropped 1,500 tons (1,360,000 kg) of bombs on Cologne in 90 minutes. The U.S. Army Air Forces favored high-altitude daylight bombing of specific targets. (This was called precision bombing, but postwar investigation showed that only 20 per cent of the bombs fell within the target area in such raids.) The first American bombing raid, against Rouen, France, took place on August 17, 1942; the first against Germany, January 27, 1943.
As the air effort grew, the United States designated the Eighth Air Force, commanded by General Ira Eaker (later by General James Doolittle), for strategic bombing. The Ninth, commanded by General L. H. Brereton (later by General Hoyt S. Vandenberg), was for tactical fightingthat is, direct support of troops.
The strategic bombing targets in 1942 were submarine bases and construction yards. Since these were well protected, success was limited. Ball bearing factories became a primary objective in 1943. In a raid on Schweinfurt, Germany, on August 17, the Eighth Air Force lost 60 B-17 bombers out of 315 taking part. On October 14 the losses were 60 out of 291. These losses discouraged bomber attacks without fighter protection, but long-range P-47 and P-38 fighters were soon available.
Attacks on 14 principal aircraft plants were made in late 1943 and early 1944. An attack in 1944 on oil production was highly successful. Each of 13 synthetic oil plants was hit and by September production was cut from 316,000 tons (286,675,000 kg) a month to 17,000 tons (15,422,000 kg). In United Press International later phases of the air war, the destruction of German planes in the air became an objective. In the first three months of 1944 the Germans lost 3,400 fighters. According to German sources, only 80 fighter planes were available to oppose the invasion of France. Immediately before the invasion, heavy attacks were made on bridges, railway yards, and other vital points of communication. These severely crippled German efforts to hold back the Allied forces.
Germany's last offensive effort in the air was the robot bomb campaign launched against Great Britain and Belgium shortly after the landings in Normandy. These bombs consisted of the V-1 pilotless airplane and the V-2 rocket. The V-1 was used from June until September, 1944, when Allied troops captured its launching sites. Of the more than 9,000 V-1's launched against England, 30 per cent penetrated Allied defenses. They destroyed more than 25,000 British buildings, with casualties of more than 5,000 killed and 17,000 injured. Antwerp was bombarded with 8,000 V-1's.
In September the Germans began using the V-2, against which there was no defense. Allied air raids had delayed its development and prevented its perfection, but 500 of these missiles reached London and 1,600 hit Antwerp. It was seven months before the Allies put the V-2 out of action by overrunning its launching sites.
In the long run, the V-1 and V-2 had little effect on the outcome of the war. If they had gone into action six months earlier, however, they might have prevented the Normandy invasion.
During the war the Allies dropped some 2,700,000 tons (2,450,000,000 kg) of bombs on Germany in 1,440,000 sorties. Germany had 300,000 civilians killed and 780,000 injured, while 3,600,000 homes were struck, 20 per cent of all in Germany. The British lost approximately 22,000 planes and 79,000 airmen in action; the Americans, 18,000 planes and 79,000 fliers.