Weakening the enemy: Targets, methods, aircraft
Since 1914, the aerial bombing is a very important weapon used in every war, even if the earliest bomber crews needed to hand launch steel darts on enemy moving troops.
The Bomber Command of A must do all its possible to weaken as strongly as possible the aggressive country B.
Obviously, this has to be replaced in the 1940 times, it is to say the enemy (the nazi Germany,for instance) was not known as using radar (that was false) and did not have efficient night / all weather fighters (that was true until the Summer of 1941).
|Personal document of the author - Red arrows symbolize the enemies (B) units attacking A|
Targets I: Enemy troops, cannons and tanks; Targets II: Enemy plants and industrial centers;
Targets III: Enemy bridges; Special targets: Enemy airfields.
- The principal target, for the A deciders, was obviously the point of the enemy advanced guard which was a great threat to the A country. The advantage for A bombers was, due to a lot of factors, the enemies cannot know exactly when and where the bombing will occur. Moreover, the AA fire is less efficient, not only because the warning cannot be as quick as in the steady situation, but also because the moving troops cannot arrange optimally all their AA guns and AT canons. But the great danger is to strike its own soldiers, who are very hard to distinguish from the enemy ones from a moving bomber flying several thousands of meters above them.
- Any enemy controlled airfield must be attacked. The difficulties are numerous. Such targets are usually well protected by AA fire as, also, by fighters. Independently, these targets being in the depth of the enemy territories, one must cross hostile and well defended zones. The last problem being, by definition, they are take off platforms, characterized by a huge area within aircraft, pilots and building are very diluted. So, to be efficiently stricken, one need the use of numerous bombs of moderate power, 50 kg each, for example. (To destroy the hardened runways of the airfields, today, one needs specially hardened heavy missiles).
- Another target was the transport network, with its road and railways which are implied in the feeding of the enemy armies. The bridges are privileged targets, but they are mostly very hard buildings, always well defended with AA fire and also by fighters.
- The industrial centers manufacturing weapons and all types of materials used by soldiers (including food) are long-term targets. The problem is very different, as these targets are mostly located very near or, even, embedded within populous towns. So, any attack on them had a chance to kill civilian peoples, which may had important political implications. Moreover, these centers are frequently located very far inside the enemy lines, so the defense may be very efficient.
- The last possible target is the enemy population itself. This is the option of the "strategic bombing" developed first by the Germans during WWI (Gotha bombers and Zeppelin against London, Paris-Geschütz big guns wrongly dubbed Gross Bertha by the French soldiers). The same option was chosen by the English Air Marshall Trenchard and the Italian general Giulio Douhet. In no case, this option obtain any success, except in developing a hatred against the aggressors. The only exception was found in the efficient Rotterdam Bombing obtaining the immediate surrender of the Netherlands. The French deciders did not share such an option until 1958, when General De Gaulle decided to accelerate the development of the French Strategic Forces with a clear doctrine. But its true that the nuclear weapons are very much "efficient" than the classical ones!
How to strike these different targets?
Herr Hitler gave an interesting lesson to everybody.
The Luftwaffe attacked the airfields first, just at dawn with his numerous classical Heinkel 111 and Dornier 17 horizontal bombers.
Why at dawn?
Because the bombers, after taking off at midnight, were flying to their target at night, without any risk to be attacked (as it would be the same if Allied bombers were attacking Germany the same way).
Since that May 10, 1940, most of the offensives around the world begun during the second part of the night.
After that, the German horizontal bombers were intensively used to weaken large targets as great railroad stations, troops concentrations (as in Dunkirk), town and industrial centers (as near Paris during Paula operation, the June 3, 1940).
For the point #3, but also for the French artillery batteries, German used their Junkers 87 Stuka, because of their great accuracy.
For the French Air Staff, the doctrine was not so well defined.
The worst decision was to allow the French infantry generals to define the bombing altitude.
It appears that this decision supposed these honorable persons were accustomed to release bombs daily on targets.
But it was not the case at all.
The only clear defined doctrine was the one of the assault bombers (which was done only by some dozens of aircraft).
The beginning of the war
|Bloch MB 210 - picture taken on Aviafrance were are, also, the technical data of this plane|
With the most powerful versions available in 1939 (1030 hp), the speed could have reached about 360 kph: They were never fitted.
|Personal document of the author - Refining of a Bloch 210 : suppression of the fore turret,|
reduction of the radio gun turret, exhaust pipes, cleaner cowlings for the engines , etc...
The foreign bombers elaborated at the same time were very lighter than the MB 210.
For example, the US Martin B 10 had an empty mass of 4400 kg to compare to the 5800 kg of the MB 210.
The technical commission of inquiry observed the typical evidences of an in-flight destruction. So a new rule obliged the French airplanes makers to build much stronger aircraft (from 5 g to 7 g).
It occurred because crazy orders were emitted from Paris to the crew: The D 332 must take off immediately from Lyon. Above the Morvan mountain, a snow storm (and presumably some icing conditions) induced a wrong pilot decision, causing an strong over-speed and, then, the crash.
The only one advantage, none had broken during a landing as it was rather frequent for the Focke Wulfe 200 Condor.
Better results than predicted by "experts"
- 5 downed (2%),
- 9 damaged but having landed back to their airbases (4%),
- 2 lost in stormy weather and
- 3 destroyed at home by air bombing.
But much more modern aircraft, as was the Lioré 451, 150 kph faster than the Bloch bombers, suffered of 40% losses (during the day light, yes).