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Sunday, 28 March 2010


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By odd coincidence I'm currently wading through the tail-end of Nemesis, his Pacific-based tome.

There is a factor that you've ignored in your analysis, if I may be so bold. You've calculated the effects upon Germany in terms of civilian casualties (and I personally don't share any attribution of innocence towards the German people by that point, but that's another debate altogether) which is all well and good. Direct industrial targets were also only affected in a limited way.

But what you haven't done is take into account the *dislocation effects* upon the German war economy. Speer (who'd be in a position to know if anyone would, after all) called the air war over Germany 'The Third Front' (apparently Italy didn't really count in Speer's eyes).

The incredible amount of industrial effort which went into Germany's AA defences because of the strategic bombing campaign cannot be underestimated. Speer makes it quite clear that the effort to put the infrastructure and ordinance shoot down Harris and Spaatz's marauding aircraft had a massive, tangible effect upon Germany's war economy. Witness Goering's unexpected offer of tens of thousands of Luftwaffe troops to defend Berlin at the last gasp, which I'm assuming Hastings will mention somewhere in Armageddon when you reach that section. If it's anything like Nemesis, I salute your persistence, by the way...

I'm not arguing that the loss of aircrew and aircraft was necessarily 'worth it', don't get me wrong. All I'm saying is that it also wasn't IMHO the totally wasted effort you feel it was because it materially affected Germany's ability to put mobile forces into the field by sucking in massive amounts of industry into expensive static AA defences.

'DSD', welcome to D&N.

You are right to criticize my post for lack of completeness - for that you will need to read Hastings's book. It is certainly true that the bombing campaign caused enormous dislocation to the German economy but nothing that Speer could not cope with - until almost up to the end. The real 'nut-cracker' was discovered, almost by accident, by the USAAF when they began to attack the oil plants. This really was a potential war-winner but was never vigorously pursued by the RAF despite the urgings of Tedder. Also, Hastings points out a factor which I had never considered before, the fact that Hitler deployed some 10,000 of his superb 88mm guns, arguably the greatest tank-busters of WWII, in their normal role as AA guns in defence of the Reich homeland. They would have given both us and the Russians considerable problems if they had appeared on the army fronts concerned.

Hastings concludes that "up to 1945, there seems little difficulty in justifying the bomber offensive militarily and morally, as a matter of both desirability and necessity". I think that is a fair assessment and if I gave the impression that I considered the whole thing a waste of time, effort and life, then I apologise. However, I do stick by my criticism of the Air Chiefs for not taking a cold, hard, realistic look at the cost/benefits of the campaign. I mean, they had the likes of Freeman Dyson working for them as an operational analyst!

Please, tell me what you think of Nemesis. As I write it is sitting staring at me from the dangerously tottering pile of waiting-to-be-read books.

In the period after May 1940, bombing was pretty much the only way we had of hitting back at Germany - and Churchill certainly wanted to hit back, to 'raise the stakes and defy the enemy' as he put it. By the time we had other ways of hitting, the building/training/flying programmes for the 4-engined bombers had got momentum of their own. And as DSD says, the Germans didn't think we were wasting our effort - the diaries of Speer and Goebbels are testament.

I'm not a great fan of the thriller writer Len Deighton's style. But his book 'Bomber', a fictional account of a single raid from both sides, is excellent - gives you an idea of the unimaginable.

One other thing about the 55,000-odd Bomber Command deaths - these were all deaths of intelligent, technically competent people - the sort a nation can ill afford to lose.

I've been re-reading Arthur Bryant's 'Turn of the Tide', the memoirs of the Brit C.I.G.S. Alan Brooke, in which Alanbrooke laments the slaughters of the first world war, as the young subalterns of those days would have been the generals and fieldmarshals of the second. He thought the best and the bravest had gone.

Yet the Germans lost a lot of people in WW1, but still were the best fighting army in WW2, with excellent generals too. A good job Hitler kept over-ruling them.

Did they lose fewer young officers in WW1 than we did ? Or was the WW2 performance down to the generally-admitted high standards of competence and initiative of German NCOs ?

What do I think of Nemesis? Well, it's a monster of a tome which has taken me weeks to wade through when I get a quiet moment (househusband to a toddler not an overly conducive environment to analysing heavy military history). Hastings has somewhat heavily padded it with personal testimonies from protagonists in the conflict and in slightly puffed up fashion draws attention to his rigorous search for Japanese and other Far Eastern interviewees rather than relying on Western sources - an essential part of any military history to be sure, but somewhat overdone here I feel.

Hastings is *not* easy reading, as I'm sure you have found out with Armageddon. He is also a bit of a dreadful old Leftie at heart I suspect, as he is at as great pains to dwell on American prejudices against 'yellow people' as much as he is on genuine Japanese atrocities. Words seem to speak as loud as actions in Nemesis, you might say.

He reserves especial contempt for the Kuomintang though, and I actually thought the China section was the best part of the book - much better paced and fluid.

I'd try something a little lighter first, such as War and Peace maybe :). It's very heavy going.

Laban, greetings!

Better still than Deighton's book was the radio programme made of it which, in an act of creative brilliance by the BBC, was broadcast in small segments over 24 hours to match the events in the book. A truly excellent piece of radio broadcasting.

The woeful standards in the WWII British army are a matter of fact but the reasons for them are myriad and difficult to tease out from the surrounding 'noise'. Certainly the history of the armed services in Britain in which the brightest and the bravest went into the Navy where-as the dimmest but richest went in the Army is a factor. Only slightly exagerating, I might say that impoverished second sons went into the Navy whilst the comfortably off first sons went to the local regiment!

German military excellence was, in my view, more a matter of Prussian geo-politics. North Germany is flat and virtually indefensible, consequently it leads to a philosophy of war that places enormous importance on, to use the current jargon, getting your retaliation in first! Again and again in Prussian military campaigns the stress is always on the importance of aggression and attack. As the age of small professional armies gave way to 'the nation in arms', the Prussians/Germans made sure that all their men were well-trained in the military basics by imposing national service and reservist training. They took soldiering seriously and planned for a massive European war, we were side-tracked by the necessity of fighting occasional small wars against natives but mostly acting as Empire garrisons. Consequently it's a wonder we did as well as we did, I suppose! Or perhaps, more to the point, it's a good job we had some big 'friends'!

Sorry, 'DSD', my last comment crossed yours.

Yes, I find 'Armageddon' a dense read but I quite like the interjection of personal tales which can be quite evocative. Nobody is ever totally objective and in order to write history, rather like governing a country, it is necessary to choose. I don't think he is so much a "leftie" as a 'softie'; by which I mean that he tries to avoid the gung-ho patriotism of some writers, and the cold analysis of just tactics and strategy of some others. It seems to me that he does cover those aspects but in doing so he seeks to hang on to the notion of a shared humanity. I am usually somewhere to the right of Ghenghis Khan (a sound chap but a bit lax on law and order!) but I do try not to hate my enemies, or at least, not the lumpen proletariat, only the leaders.

Anyway, I will let you know what I think of 'Nemesis' in due course.


A small part of the answer to your question.

Early in the war the German High Command realized it would be a long war and there would probally be a follow up. They set up an intentional policy of not throwing so much into todays opertions that future operations were comprimised.

As part of this when exceptional officers were identified in combat, they were pulled out of front line units to staff positions so the army would have leadership in the future.

What DSD says in his first comment; spot on it seems to me. Have a look at "Interrogations: Inside the Minds of the Nazi Elite" (Richard Overy), which looks at some of the debriefings of Nazi officials before the Nuremberg trials. The consequences of the allied bombing offensive are consistently bemoaned. Also, the diversion of German airpower to the defence of the Fatherland meant that air support for the Russian front more or less vanished, a very tangible effect. "The Duffster" quotes a figure of 10,000 88mm guns; I understand that some 55,000 German anti-aircraft guns were deployed in total in Germany itself, which must have been quite a dent in the (surprisingly pitiful) German war output.

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