The strategic bombing of Europe by the UK and US during World War II was one of the most devastating aerial campaigns of the war. During this time, the Allied bomb tonnage dropped was over 1.8 million tons on Europe, with most of the bombing occurring between 1941 and 1945. Major cities across Germany were heavily damaged, with some Royal Air Force (RAF) estimates that the destruction of German cities ranged up to eighty percent. The bulk of the European bombing was focused on Germany, accounting for over 1.2 million of the bomb tonnage dropped.
Other countries that were heavily bombed by the Allies included Romania for its oil and France to prepare for the second front. The most common targets were major industrial centers, transport hubs, munitions factories, and military installations. Additionally, area bombing these targets frequently struck urban areas killing civilians and creating millions of homeless.
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The RAF and US Army Air Force (USAAF) carried equal loads into the skies over Europe. The RAF had many more fighter flights whereas the USAAF had more bomber flights. The most striking statistics is the number of deaths for each air force. The RAF suffered sixteen more deaths than the USAAF out of a total 158,546.
The night bombing raids were typically carried out by the British RAF with participation by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and French and Polish airmen. The RAF aircraft mainly relied on four-engined heavy bombers. The first being the Short Stirling later followed by the more successful Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax. The daytime bombing raids were carried out by the USAAF Eight and Fifteenth Air Forces. The USAAF European operations mainly relied on B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses. The Allies also used smaller two-engined bombers, such as the British De Havilland Mosquito and the US B-25 Mitchell.
Strategic bombing although voiced at the end of World War I was still a new and untried approach to aerial warfare at the start of WWII. The French, Germans, and Soviets believed that the Air Forces would supplement the armies on the ground. Only the UK and US wholly bought into the strategic bombing approach. Several UK and US Air Force leaders believe that the air power alone could deliver the knockout blow. However, as with almost all new technologies and strategies a learning curve was required.
Bomber groups had to learn how to defend themselves from enemy fighters, such as the German Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and the Junkers Ju 88. The USAAF suffered a devastating defeat on October 14, 1943, going after the ball bearing factories during the second Schweinfurt raid, also called Black Thursday. Losses amounted to 26 percent of the attacking force and 22 percent of the bomber crews.
On the plus side Allied raids in the Oil Campaign and targeting the German aircraft industry proved vital and successful. This first led to air superiority and then air domination. This was one of the requirements for a successful D-Day.
UK and US Bomb Tonnage Dropped in Europe Data
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|wdt_ID||Category||US Army Air Force||Royal Air Force*|
|1||Tons Of Bombs Dropped||1,463,423||1,307,117|
|4||Enemy Aircraft Claimed / Probably Destroyed||35,783||21,622|
|5||Bomber Planes Lost||9,949||11,965|
|6||Fighter Planes Lost**||8,420||10,045|
|7||Personnel Lost In Action||79,265||79,281|
Source: Wikipedia. “Strategic bombing during World War II”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_bombing_during_World_War_II, Data accessed on June 30, 2022
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