Aviation / History / Warfare

The Blitz Effect

As I mentioned in my previous posting, ACTS created a rather bizarre strategy prewar:

The Air Corps Tactical School was established in 1920 as a Field Officer’s School at Langley Field, Virginia. It expanded its scope and placed emphasis on airpower employment at the end of the decade. In 1931, the school moved to Maxwell Field, Alabama, where it was blessed with an extremely talented group of leaders. One of them, Col. John F. Curry, stands above the others in the development of air doctrine.

As commandant of the school, he provided a shield between his gifted instructors and the harshly critical superiors in Washington. His gift of freedom of thought and expression allowed Captain Harold “Hal” George and others to develop a strategic air doctrine. (11:14) It was Captain George who took the ideas and concepts of Douhet, Trenchard, and Mitchell, and advanced them into a war-winning potential airpower. The basic doctrine developed at the school emphasized concentrated bombing of the enemy’s industrial capability to produce war making materials rather than attacking the enemy armies in the field. Captain George described the doctrine this way:

…the destruction of the military forces of the enemy is not now and never has been the objective of war; it has been merely a means to an end– merely the removal of an obstacle which lay in the path of over coming the will to resist. The real objective of war is to overcome the hostile will [of the enemy]. (12:32-33)

This is not true now and never has been correct.  Hostile will often grows after a combatant suffers defeat (the American South after 1865, Philippines after 1898, Germany after 1918) as war exhaustion gives way to a desire for revenge.  The objective of war is to overcome an opponent’s means of hostility, which returns to the destruction and/or disarmament of military forces (such as interning the Kaiserliche Marine and restricting the size of the Deutches Heer with the Treaty of Versailles).

Warped War Psychology

During the 1930s the future Allied powers, especially the British, feared strikes against high-density population centers like London would kill hundreds of thousands…

Fear of aerial bombing had gripped 1930s Europe. In the spring of 1939, Whitehall predicted an enemy bombing campaign against Britain in which 700 tonnes of bombs could be dropped every day that could kill 600,000 civilians and injure 1.2 million.

This may seem fanciful now but the attacks by Fascists forces – including the Luftwaffe ― on the undefended civilians of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 were still fresh in the mind. Hundreds were killed, and the success of the raid informed the Luftwaffe’s future aerial warfare tactics.

…sowing mass panic before stoking a governmental overthrow.  The fact that the Blitz strengthened civilian morale came as a total shock to Whitehall, and certainly was a relief to the Anglophone world.

As an aside, I have a bone to pick with Malcolm Gladwell’s characterization of the British being indifferent to the Luftwaffe bombing:

Famously, the Blitz did not destroy the morale of Londoners. Why not? Gladwell cites a study. People who suffered “near misses”, when a bomb landed very close to them, were traumatised. But a lot more people experienced “remote misses”, when a bomb landed far off, and this usually gave them a sense of invulnerability.

Okay, two bones.  Near-miss is a naval warfare term, where an explosive hits the water close enough to a ship to cause damage.  This has literally nothing to do with fatalities and injuries, nor is it indicative of the degree of damage from the explosion.  A direct hit to a heavily armored surface, such as a battleship’s main gun turret or defensive armor belt, can shrug off harm both to the ship and to its crew.  The concussion and shrapnel from a near-miss, on the other hand, can and often does more damage than an explosive that directly hits a ship; breaking hull plates and bulkheads inevitably leads to flooding and, if the onrushing water isn’t contained, the ship sinks.

As for Blitz victims, the psychology is completely wrong.  People under bombardment are experiencing the same horrors that soldiers experience under artillery fire, which really subdivides victims into three categories–the dead, the injured and shell-shocked, and those that are just shell-shocked.  Individuals respond to bombardment trauma in different ways, except the dead…and people overall.

The dead need no explanation of what they go through but the psychology of a group of combatants (civilian or military) is quite simple: their hostility (will to resist) collectively increases under stress, and so long as a means is available to continue fighting (i.e, get revenge), hostilities will continue.  Examples abound.  For instance, these people’s trauma despite their “near-miss” injures weren’t debilitating…

But, even among the death and destruction, one man retained his sense of humour – as he was carried out on a stretcher, he got a cheer from the watching crowd when he called out, ‘At least I didn’t have to pay for dinner.’

Determined not to be beaten, many bloodied survivors from the Café de Paris staggered off to other swish restaurants and clubs to complete their interrupted evening. As ever, the band played on.

The aftermath which killed at least 34 staff, guests and band members.
…and they weren’t apathetic; they were furious–at their aloft attackers.  Call it the Blitz Effect, or We-Know-Who-is-Killing-Us-Effect.  Woe be it to any Wehrmacht serviceman captured by a relative of a Café de Paris victim serving in the British Army, or any British soldier for that matter:

On the same night that the Café de Paris was hit, so too was another even more famous landmark of London society – Buckingham Palace. And not for the first time.

From the very start of the Blitz back in September 1940, the London home of George VI and the Queen Consort was in the firing line.

The first strike was from a delayed-action bomb, which went off the day after it dropped, blowing out windows in the building – including an office where, not long before, the King had been at his desk working – damaging the indoor swimming pool and causing a number of ceilings to collapse.

A week later, the royal couple’s life was in jeopardy again. As they stood in a room damaged by the earlier raid, collecting ‘a few odds and ends’, as the Queen Consort explained in a recently released private letter to her mother-in-law, a German bomber dropped down from the sky and came in low along the Mall.

‘We heard the unmistakeable whirr-whirr of a plane,’ she wrote, ‘then the noise of an aircraft diving at great speed and the scream of a bomb.’

She remembered that they only had time for a nervous glance at each other before ‘the scream hurtled past us and exploded with a tremendous crash in the quadrangle’.

There was another explosion as a second bomb crashed into the chapel in the south wing and flattened it. The Queen Consort’s knees ‘trembled for a minute or two’. It was an incredibly close call.

Strangely, even 70 years on the British still don’t understand war psychology:

Their deaths at that juncture in the war would have been a huge, and possibly decisive blow to the nation’s morale.

I call #$^^%*&.  Had the Luftwaffe killed George VI and Elizabeth II’s mother (or the future queen for that matter), that event would have ENRAGED Britain.

As it was, the very fact that the Germans had so nearly wiped out the King and his consort was considered so sensitive that the information was concealed from the public until after the war.

They also concealed George VI’s stammer, a fact that for the majority of the English-speaking world remained unknown until the second decade of the 21st century.  Concurrently, the Americans concealed this:


Which deprived the Americans of doing this with the flesh-and-blood president:


Somehow, I think both nations ignored a propaganda triumph.  There also is the fact that the longest-serving president in American history died before the Nazi fuhrer, which had no effect on American morale.  I would wager GI desire to strangle Hitler increased after 12 April 1945.

The Blitz Effect In Action

The British got their revenge for the Blitz with a massive bombing campaign against Germany…that was an unconditional failure:

Although more than 40,000 people died during the eight months of the Blitz and in London about 1m homes were damaged or destroyed, there were no riots and war production increased steadily. People suffered, but the majority got used to it.

Despite this experience, Britain’s Bomber Command under the brutally single- minded Arthur Harris, never doubted that “area bombing”, a euphemism for attacking cities indiscriminately. And he never lost his belief that if you killed enough German workers you would win the war. Yet even when the RAF in 1942, closely followed by the US Army Air Force, began to put together the famous “thousand bomber” raids that were supposed to “knock Germany out of the war”, German war production continued to ramp up and the Nazi regime never came remotely close to losing political control.

Unlike the British, the Americans held on to the figleaf that there was a military logic to their bombing beyond killing Germans and destroying their cities. But even when the advent of long-range fighter escorts made it possible to resume daylight bombing over Germany, their targets were not all that different from Harris’s RAF and were not much more useful in defeating the enemy. Only in 1944, when the American emphasis turned to establishing air superiority, did it become possible to do real damage to Germany’s ability to wage war by hitting oil facilities and rail hubs. However, many of the most effective strikes were carried out by low-flying fighter bombers rather than the high-flying Lancasters and B-17s.

Scholars still debate why Second World War civilians were so resilient to strategic bombing, as if anger at being murdered from the air is confusing.  Naturally no studies notice that rage (understandably) doesn’t decrease during war, leading to asinine conclusions from the Economist:

Mr Overy’s final verdict, however, is damning. He argues that “strategic bombing proved in the end to be inadequate in its own terms for carrying out its principle assignments and was morally compromised by deliberate escalation against civilian populations.” Nor has it left any real legacy. It was rapidly rendered redundant by the overwhelming but (since 1945 at least) unusable destructive power of nuclear weapons. More recently, bombing has come full circle. Precision-guided munitions now allow Western air forces to hit military targets while leaving even nearby civilians often largely unscathed—the precise opposite of what prevailed during the second world war.

Really, morons?  Why did the Taliban descend in 2009 into the Swat Valley?  Why did Yemen collapse in 2014-15?  Could it be..signature strikes?

Last month, on June 9, the United States launched a drone strike that killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, a high-ranking leader in the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). What makes the strike notable is that it was a coincidence: The CIA – the agency that pulled the trigger – had no idea al-Wuhayshi was among the group of suspected militants it targeted. Al-Wuhayshi’s death at the hands of a US drone reveals that the United States continues to fire drone missiles at people whose identities it does not know.

Government officials confirmed the June 9 strike was a “signature strike” to The Washington Post. A signature strike takes place when a drone hits a target based on a target’s patterns of behavior, but without knowing that target’s identity. Thus, a US drone, in a signature strike, will target an area the government believes is filled with militant activity but will not know who exactly they are killing. While signature strikes have been happening for a while in the global war on terror, they signify a serious shift in US war-making.

No, it doesn’t represent any sort of shift.  Knowing who you’re killing seems smarter than blowing up funeral processions, but signature strikes are clones of the Second World War precision bombing campaign.  Not to mention, since when has assassination stoked less outrage than wanton murder?

This raises quite a simple question–if the Blitz Effect has made strategic bombing against the British to the Yemenis a total, unmitigated failure, how did LeMay bring the Japanese to heel with fire-breathing B-29s?

He didn’t.


One thought on “The Blitz Effect

  1. Pingback: His Ironness In Europe | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

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