Sir Arthur Harris and panacea targets.

AuthorHarvey, A.D.
Position'"Bomber Harris": The Story of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command, 1942-1945' and 'The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939-1945, vol. 2' - Excerpt

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, who was at the head of Royal Air Force Bomber Command from 1942 to 1945, was famously fond of making disparaging remarks about what he called panacea targets, that is, targets for bombing attacks which so-called experts claimed would bring the German war economy grinding to a halt if knocked out. The letter printed below, to Air Marshal Norman Bottomley, Deputy Chief of Air Staff, is the fullest statement of his views on the subject. (1) The first two paragraphs have been published previously, in Dudley Saward, "Bomber Harris": The Story of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris.... Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command, 1942-1945 (paperback edition London 1985) p. 298 and parts of paragraphs 7 and 9 appeared in Charles Webster and Noble Frankland The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939-1945 (4 vols. London 1961) vol. 2 p .66-67, but the complete text is worth reading in its entirety as an eloquent critique of the mindset which with its unjustified pre-assumptions and over-ambitious conclusions has bedeviled air warfare since its inception a century ago: the fact that in this instance Harris was almost certainly wrong does not detract from the accuracy of his general analysis.

Before the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Germany imported 65 percent of its oil requirements, 50 percent of total requirements from outside Europe. Fourteen Bergius and Fischer-Tropsch synthetic oil plants were operating, and an additional six were under construction, and more than a million tons of natural crude were being produced from domestic sources, much of it in the recently annexed territory of Austria. (2) The cutting off of imports from overseas by the British maritime blockade was initially made up for by imports from the Soviet Union following the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement 1939, but the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 threw the Germans back on supply from Romania. In the event, prior to the commencement of a systematic Allied campaign against synthetic oil targets in May 1944, and the Soviet overrunning of Romania later that summer, imports and domestic supply fell short of consumption only in 1941. (3) Nevertheless, Germany's oil situation was always very tight, and the operations of the German and Italian navies (the latter dependent on supply from, or permitted by, Germany) was significantly curtailed by fuel shortages: the Italian navy, having entered the war with a reserve of 1.8 million metric tons of fuel oil, estimated monthly requirements at 200,000 tons but by the first quarter of 1943 could operate only at a level of 24,000 tons a month. (4)

As early as March 1940, the British War Cabinet authorized sending a Royal Engineers field company, about 200 men, from Alexandria, possibly via Turkey, to blow up oil wells in Romania. (5) Covering large areas of ground and more than averagely combustible, oil installations were of course eminently suitable targets for air attack, and it might be noted that that the only sustained strategic bombing campaign carried out by the Italian Regia Aeronautica was against oil targets. (6) Romania's oil installations were of course out of range for the British and Americans for the first half of World War II, and the heavy losses suffered by the USAAF flying from Libya to bomb Ploesti on August 1, 1943 discouraged repetition of the experiment. Oil targets in Germany were of course much nearer to Allied bases. An Air Staff directive of September 21, 1940 described attacks on German oil installations as "the...

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