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Old 03-07-2012, 10:41 PM   #1
Bill Haywood
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Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

The following is something I've heard about the Battle of Britain, but I'm not a specialist in the area and I don't really know.

The argument goes like this:

Maintaining control of the air was essential to preventing a German invasion of the island (that part's uncontroversial).

In order to shield British airfields, Churchill took the lead in targeting German civilians. This goaded Hitler into retaliating against British cities, thus diverting heat from the airfields at a critical moment.

Is there anything to this? I know Churchill was on the cutting edge of targeting civilians, but was this why?
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Old 03-08-2012, 03:47 AM   #2
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

"Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?"

Because they were there
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Old 03-08-2012, 12:21 PM   #3
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

Does that make Churchill a war criminal?
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Old 03-08-2012, 07:38 PM   #4
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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"Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?"

Because they don't shoot back
FYP
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Does that make Churchill a war criminal?
PRE-4th Geneva Convention obviously

Targeting Civilians is just a part of war,but both sides of every war attack civilian targets.
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Old 03-08-2012, 10:20 PM   #5
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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FYP
You can't fix a perfect joke
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Old 03-09-2012, 01:55 PM   #6
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

Churchill had bombed civilians in Iraq after WWI, saving money and maybe saving the RAF. Hitler bombed London, Churchill retaliated, then came the blitz, then . . . Almost inevitable, "morale" bombing was a part of RAF doctrine.
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Old 03-10-2012, 05:48 AM   #7
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

The traditional story goes that Churchill ordered a couple of small raids against German cities in retaliation for the bombing of London by an off course German bomber or flight of bombers. Hitler in retaliation to those raids ordered Goering to switch the German focus from bombing British airfields and RDF stations to massed bombing of cities.
This is generally considered the turning point of the Battle of Britain as it gave the RAF a chance to recover its strength.


The reason the RAF focussed on area bombing of cities was primarily because up until 1944 the Luftwaffe pretty much controlled the skies over continental Europe. In the early stages of the war RAF Bomber Command suffered heavy losses during daytime air raids, these losses led them to switch most of their operations to nighttime.
Due to technological limitations night bombing during WW2 was very inaccurate (even daylight bombing back then was quite often off target by several kilometres). This limitation restricted the RAF to city sized targets.

So basically the RAFs bombing of cities was for two reasons the inabilty to maintain the casualty rates they were suffering during daylight bombing raids and no accurate means of bombing during the night. Sorry no evil Churchill here
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Old 03-10-2012, 01:55 PM   #8
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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the RAFs bombing of cities was for two reasons the inabilty to maintain the casualty rates they were suffering during daylight bombing raids and no accurate means of bombing during the night. Sorry no evil Churchill here
And the reason for sustained bombing of civilians at all was...?
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Old 03-10-2012, 06:08 PM   #9
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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And the reason for sustained bombing of civilians at all was...?
Dead factory workers don't make tanks.

And the hope that the people will give up hope and surrender eventually.

AA gunners are manning AA guns and not anti-tank guns.

As it turns out factory production ended up dispersing and moving underground and German war production continued at a remarkable pace.

Eventually the pressure to defend against the bombers decimated the Luftwaffe's fighter strength leading to total Allied air superiority.
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Old 03-10-2012, 10:14 PM   #10
Bill Haywood
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

Those are all sensible sounding reasons, but do the archives support that those were Churchill's strategies?

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Eventually the pressure to defend against the bombers decimated the Luftwaffe's fighter strength leading to total Allied air superiority.
Hadn't the Brits switched to night bombing? The Luftwaffe fighters are being shot down at night?

Last edited by Bill Haywood; 03-10-2012 at 10:20 PM.
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Old 03-10-2012, 10:20 PM   #11
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

because ****-em amirite?
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Old 03-11-2012, 02:58 AM   #12
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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Hadn't the Brits switched to night bombing? The Luftwaffe fighters are being shot down at night?

I believe he is referring to the later stages of the war, late '42 and on with the Allied policy of around the clock strategic bombing RAF at night and USAAF during the day.

The US had the industrial capacity and manpower resources that Britain lacked which meant that the USAAF could take the losses daylight bombing entailed and continue to be an effective fighting force.
Ultimately it was the German's industrial capacity that failed to keep pace with the Luftwaffe's losses.


As to the reasons for continuing the bombing of cities, as Mandor_TFL mentions disruption of industry through killing/injuring workers also diminishing worker output through fatigue, displacement of workforce from destruction of housing and also physical destruction of factories were major reasons.

Another primary reason for continuing the raids was the positive morale effect it had on the British public, it gave them a sense that a blow was being struck against the enemy especially in the early years when the Axis were going from victory to victory.

Last edited by Lord Cochrane; 03-11-2012 at 03:23 AM.
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Old 03-11-2012, 03:21 AM   #13
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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As it turns out factory production ended up dispersing and moving underground and German war production continued at a remarkable pace.
Further to this it wasn't until after Fritz Todt's death in early 1942 and Albert Speer's appointment as his replacement as Minister for Armaments that Germany geared up fully for war time production.
It is a testament to Speer's genius that Germany's war production increased significantly in spite of the increasing Allied strategic bombing campaign.
And it is scary to think what could have happened if he didn't have to contend with the disruption caused by the strategic bombing campaign.
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Old 03-11-2012, 07:13 PM   #14
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

Did he actually said he did that to kill the civilian or it's more the Lord Cochrane theory: Because in the night, bomber can't aim?
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Old 09-19-2013, 12:26 PM   #15
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

Is it about the allies supposedly killing 600k people in Dresden, according to British Hitler-lover David Irving?

That's just lies, there was nothing special about it, just read wikipedia and official German numbers.
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Old 09-19-2013, 08:13 PM   #16
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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Is it about the allies supposedly killing 600k people in Dresden, according to British Hitler-lover David Irving?

That's just lies, there was nothing special about it, just read wikipedia and official German numbers.
The Germans had munitions factories in Dresden. Demoralization is the answer imo.
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Old 11-27-2013, 01:01 AM   #17
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

Dresden was tops 30k people. Still a huge number and probably a legit war crime... But WW2 as a whole resulted in roughly 85 million deaths so in the grand scheme of things 30k deaths wasn't all that big of a deal.

War is a very ugly thing. This is why glorifying it is so not ok.
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Old 11-27-2013, 02:41 AM   #18
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

Strategic bombing was always part of pre-WWII thinking and planning.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_bom...ys_get_through
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Old 11-27-2013, 03:15 AM   #19
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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Strategic bombing was always part of pre-WWII thinking and planning.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_bom...ys_get_through
Strategic bombing was always part of airplanes, period. The Wright brothers' target customer was the military. Even pre-Wright brothers, when people imagined flight, often they imagined killing people from above.
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Old 11-27-2013, 12:13 PM   #20
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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Strategic bombing was always part of pre-WWII thinking and planning.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_bomber_will_always_get_through
This doesn't really answer OP's question but rather begs the complementary question: "Why didn't the British begin bombing German cities at the start of WWII?"

The answer, it turns out, is very much like the answer to "Why didn't the UN forces use nuclear bombs against the Communists in Korea?" or "Why didn't the WWII combattant countries use poison gas against each other as they had in WWI"?

The theoretical potential for destruction of civilian life by air attack was enormous, and therefore terrible. The use of such potential was held by many (especially many of those potentially targetted civilians) to be immoral. While none of the major warring nations had agreed to a formal convention that prohibited air attack on civilian targets, at the start of the war the US had called upon the belligerants to refrain from air attacks on civilians. Britain, France and Germany all assured the US that they would not make such attacks unless the other side did so first. Neither side wanted to initiate bombing of civilians for fear of the effect that would have on public opinon at home and abroad, and for fear of the effects of retaliatory attacks on their own civilian population.

In fact, British policy went farther than that. They avoided any air attacks on Germany proper in order to avoid accidental civilian casualties. After attacks on German ships in port during the first week of the war (hhich caused no civilian casualties), the RAF avoided attacks on even military targets in Germany until after Germany had attacked military targets in the UK and had caused civilian casualties doing so. Athough eventually Western Allied air attacks caused an order of magnitude greater civilian casualities than German air attacks on Britain, the British government was determined to be perceived as holding the moral high ground by not being the first to use air power against civilians.

The German policy was a bit different. While they had orders forbidding the general use of airpower against civilan targets, in Poland they seem to have have undertaken a few experimental attacks on residential areas in order to better understand the effect of such bombing. They failed to restrain individual aircrew from attacking refugees in the open. They undertook attacks on British and French military targets in which the risk of civilian casualties was so high they inevitably ocurred. Both sides agreed that international law allowed attacks on cities that were under siege in the front line, and were actively resisting. This led to the bombing of Rotterdam and was the excuse for attacks on the Jewish quarter of Warsaw.

In the end, it was the British who made the first deliberate attacks on civilian targets, doing so after the Germans mistakenly bombed civilian areas in Britain. Whether the British did so in the belief that the Germans were deliberately targetting civilians, or the belief that the scale of collateral civilian losses justified retorsion, or cynically used the excuse of unintended civilian casualities to launch a preplanned campaign is, AFAIK, still an unresolved matter. I suspect it is a bit of each.
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Old 12-16-2013, 04:17 PM   #21
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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And the reason for sustained bombing of civilians at all was...?
There is only one possible reason I can think of for the bombing of civilians in this case, and that is terrorism. In later civilian targeted bombing of germany there were more complex strategic concerns, like drawing german air power away from other theaters. But here it is clear that Britain thought that gutting civilian morale was a better strategy than infrastructure targets in some proportion.

Why they thought that is a question for a historian going painstakingly over documents and is really anyone's guess. I would reject any "tit for tat" PR considerations like you bomb our people so we will bomb yours. They thought it was the best way to win. On the surface I would say it's a stupid strategy, given what we know about fascism and the power structure in germany at the time. An appeal, a threatening, or killing of the people wouldn't rate to accomplish much since they were under such decided submission themselves.
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Old 12-17-2013, 03:50 PM   #22
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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There is only one possible reason I can think of for the bombing of civilians in this case, and that is terrorism. In later civilian targeted bombing of germany there were more complex strategic concerns, like drawing german air power away from other theaters. But here it is clear that Britain thought that gutting civilian morale was a better strategy than infrastructure targets in some proportion.

Why they thought that is a question for a historian going painstakingly over documents and is really anyone's guess. I would reject any "tit for tat" PR considerations like you bomb our people so we will bomb yours. They thought it was the best way to win. On the surface I would say it's a stupid strategy, given what we know about fascism and the power structure in germany at the time. An appeal, a threatening, or killing of the people wouldn't rate to accomplish much since they were under such decided submission themselves.
Things rarely happen for only one reason.

I think it is a mistake to think that the decision to area bomb cities at night was nothing more than a decision to target civilians to the exclusion of anything else, and that the sole purpose of targeting civilians was to destroy their morale. City bombing included the targeting of civilians, both for morale (or terror) purposes and to kill or injure workers in factories, transportation infrastructure and government and as potential future soldiers. But it also included the intention to destroy or degrade war production facilities, transportation infrastructure, government buildings and military installations. Finally it had the intent of diverting war effort away from the front.

It may be true that the small scale of the earliest raids meant that there was little practical impact WRT most of the latter purposes, but it also had little practical impact WRT civilian morale. There is little reason to believe the British had higher hopes WRT morale damage than they did WRT physical damage (and there is all sorts of evidence of the British overestimating the amount of physical damage that might be inflicted by bombing). Perhaps the aspect for which they had highest hopes was the aspect in which they were most successful in the early stages: diversion of Germany's war effort.
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Old 12-18-2013, 06:22 PM   #23
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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Things rarely happen for only one reason.

I think it is a mistake to think that the decision to area bomb cities at night was nothing more than a decision to target civilians to the exclusion of anything else, and that the sole purpose of targeting civilians was to destroy their morale. City bombing included the targeting of civilians, both for morale (or terror) purposes and to kill or injure workers in factories, transportation infrastructure and government and as potential future soldiers. But it also included the intention to destroy or degrade war production facilities, transportation infrastructure, government buildings and military installations. Finally it had the intent of diverting war effort away from the front.

It may be true that the small scale of the earliest raids meant that there was little practical impact WRT most of the latter purposes, but it also had little practical impact WRT civilian morale. There is little reason to believe the British had higher hopes WRT morale damage than they did WRT physical damage (and there is all sorts of evidence of the British overestimating the amount of physical damage that might be inflicted by bombing). Perhaps the aspect for which they had highest hopes was the aspect in which they were most successful in the early stages: diversion of Germany's war effort.
My main point is that the targeting of civilians was strategic (or a pure blunder later justified) and not vengeful or symbolic. I think we agree on that. Britain must have seen some strategic value in terror bombing. As for my point that the only purpose was terrorism, I was speaking to the original question regarding the pure targeting of civilians. I agree that there were other reasons to hit targets which also included taking out civilians. I don't agree with your theory of civilians and secondary military infrastructure as the obvious optimal strategic targets (though Britain obviously did think this), although later in the war that philosophy was advanced against Germany and Japan with LeMay. I don't think the civilian bombing accomplished much and I don't think there is good reasoning behind it. When you're fighting a fascist state in a war you've got to beat their army and that's the only way to beat them. Russia beat them by beating their army, and it cost them. Looking at internal communications from the British government at the time would be the best way to figure out their thinking behind targeting civilians.

To another theory brought up earlier, I don't think the britsh targeting civilians was some clever gambit designed to trick germans into following suit and foregoing their optimal targets. If this appeared to work it was probably more of an illusion fostered by poor german intel. Indeed for the gambit theory to be true it would also have to be true that civilians were better targets all along and the germans restrained themselves from them initially. Even if we foolishly thought that civilians were better targets (or that germany thought this) we know that it would be highly unlikely for germans to restrain themselves from them for humanitarian or international law concerns, which they lacked completely.
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Old 12-19-2013, 12:32 AM   #24
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

[QUOTE=Deuces McKracken;41455371]My main point is that the targeting o
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My main point is that the targeting of civilians was strategic (or a pure blunder later justified) and not vengeful or symbolic. I think we agree on that. Britain must have seen some strategic value in terror bombing. As for my point that the only purpose was terrorism, I was speaking to the original question regarding the pure targeting of civilians.
What "pure targeting of civilians" are we talking about? You seem to be confusing the targeting of cities with the targeting of civilians. They are not the same thing. The premise in OP was flawed. The RAF didn't switch to targeting civilians, they switched to targeting cities. The reasons are well-explained by poster Lord Cochrane and to a lesser extent by Mandor_TFL.

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I agree that there were other reasons to hit targets which also included taking out civilians. I don't agree with your theory of civilians and secondary military infrastructure as the obvious optimal strategic targets (though Britain obviously did think this), although later in the war that philosophy was advanced against Germany and Japan with LeMay.
It is not my theory. I am merely reporting the thinking of the time.

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I don't think the civilian bombing accomplished much and I don't think there is good reasoning behind it.
Again, what civilian bombing? The reasoning behind city bombing has already been explained. I agree that any notion of trying to win the war only by affecting civilian morale was misguided, but that was not main reason why cities were selected for bombing.

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When you're fighting a fascist state in a war you've got to beat their army...
I would usually tend to agree, though there were thinkers at the time who suggested wars could be won by strategic air power alone, and Sun Tzu would remind you that defeating the enemy in battle was not the highest form of strategic art.

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... and that's the only way to beat them.
In order to beat their army there may be other things you need to do. For instance, one of the main reasons for the failure of the German winter counter-offensive on the west front in December 1944 was a lack of fuel. The fuel shortage in turn was caused in part by strategic bombing of production areas, refineries, synthetic fuel factories, pipelines and railways.

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Russia beat them by beating their army, and it cost them.
Russia was well aware of the strategic importance and vulnerability of production facilities. That is why they went to such efforts to move much of their production east of the Urals, where it would be safe from strategic attacks.

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Looking at internal communications from the British government at the time would be the best way to figure out their thinking behind targeting civilians.
Perhaps looking at such communication would be the best way to determine whether they actually ever did target civilians.

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To another theory brought up earlier, I don't think the britsh targeting civilians was some clever gambit designed to trick germans into following suit and foregoing their optimal targets. If this appeared to work it was probably more of an illusion fostered by poor german intel.
I don't know whether the British attacked German cities in the hope it would provoke the Germans to stop attacking airfields, however, it is a fact that they switched from targeting airfields to targeting cities after Berlin was bombed, and that Hitler supported the bombing of London. When I referred to "diverting war effort away from the front" I had in mind the large number of AA guns, fire fighters and most especially fighter aircraft which were deployed for the defence of German population and production centres. 88s shooting at British bombers over Germany are not shooting at Russian tanks in the Ukraine. Me109s protecting home airspace are not defending against ground attack aircraft at the front. It is well documented that a major goal of the strategic air campaign against German cities was the fixing and destruction of air war assets.

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Indeed for the gambit theory to be true it would also have to be true that civilians were better targets all along and the germans restrained themselves from them initially. Even if we foolishly thought that civilians were better targets (or that germany thought this) we know that it would be highly unlikely for germans to restrain themselves from them for humanitarian or international law concerns, which they lacked completely.
You are misstating the gambit theory. It merely requires that war aims could be better achieved by attacking cities, not by by attacking civilians. You and OP are the ones asserting that the British switched to attacking civilians. I and most of the responders in this thread are asserting the British and Germans switched to attacking cities, which is not the same thing as switching to attacking civilians. If you want to assert that the switch was for the purpose of attacking civilians as the exclusive or primary target, the onus is on you to provide the supporting documentation. Two of the most famous attacks on cities by the Germans were the ongoing blitz of London and the major attacks on Coventry. Both cities were legitimate military targets. London had one of the most important ports in England, was a major land communicaton hub and housed all sorts of government installations. Coventry manufactured aircraft engines and munitions.
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Old 12-19-2013, 05:26 PM   #25
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Re: Why did Churchill shift bombing to German civilians?

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Is it about the allies supposedly killing 600k people in Dresden, according to British Hitler-lover David Irving?

That's just lies, there was nothing special about it, just read wikipedia and official German numbers.
No nothing special about 25,000 people being killed in a bombing incident.

Nothing whatsoever. All legal because they were the good guys fighting the evil Hitler.
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