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Bombs Over Germany

THE BOMBING OF GERMANY, Hans Rumpf; Holt, Rinohart and Winston, 1963.

By J. DOUGLAS Van sant

Eighteen years after the end of the Second World War, a good many Germans still maintain a sense of guilt for the crimes their Nazi government committed. This summer German students, businessmen, and Hausfrauen admitted to me that the German people share in some way the responsibility for the havoc the Nazis wrought on Europe--and the Jews in particular--during the war. While admitting this guilt, many of the people whom I interviewed felt that Germany had largely atoned for its guilt by losing the war and suffering the fate of a divided homeland. Several others, with no small degree of passion, reminded me of the mass obliteration of German cities and the killing and maiming of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians by mass bombing. "If Germany is guilty, then she has paid enough" is the modern German attitude toward her war guilt.

A key book in the gathering German moral counterattack is The Bombing of Germany (Das war der Bombenkrieg) by Hans Rumpf, a war-time civil defense director. Rumpf does not deny that the ultimate blame for the war lies with the Germans themselves, but he shifts much of the blame for the excessive suffering and duration of the war onto the Americans and British. He accuses the British, and to a lesser extent, the Americans, of adhering to an air strategy that needlessly destroyed German cities and art treasures and killed nearly 600,000 civilians. Far from helping the Allied cause, such terror bombing actually prevented the Allies from ending the war sooner, since they wasted time, resources, and labor in building expensive long-range bombers instead of ships and ground warfare munitions. Rumpf estimates that this misdirection of production delayed the war by as much as a year.

To prove his first charge--that Allied terror bombing was not only cruel but militarily useless--Rumpf marshalls an impressive array of evidence. The British had hoped to smother the German economy by burning out the hearts of German industrial cities. Strangely enough, however, cities like Essen, Cologne, and Berlin, which by 1944 had been reduced to charred shells of their former selves, were producing munitions at the same rate as before the air raids. Hamburg, for example, suffered four devastating night attacks in a nine day period in the summer of 1943 which killed 60,000 civilians and demolished half the houses of the city. Yet within five months production was up to 80 per cent of the pre-bombing level. (Rumpf does admit that the vitally important oil and rubber industries were permanently crippled by air attacks, but these attacks were daylight-precision raids flown primarily in American bombers, and therefore do not fall under Rumpf's criticism of indiscriminate terror bombing.)

To the surprise of both the British and Americans, German morale proved to be even more resilient than the Germany economy. Unlike the last years of the First World War, the end of the Second World War brought no food riots or demonstrations against the ravages of the war. Far from being disheartened by the deteriorating course of the war, German workers kept the war machine supplied right up to the end of the conflict. Even in the midst of chaos, some Germans managed to retain a gritty sense of humor. "For example," Rumpf relates, "when two like-minded Berlin citizens met after a particularly devastating raid, the gag of the moment was to make a sweeping gesture to take in the devastation and repeat a previous appeal made by the Fuhrer himself: Give me four years and I promise you you won't recognize your towns."

The candid reader can agree with Rumpf that too much of the Allied bombing effort was both cruel and wasteful without, however, conceding that Allied air strategy lengthened the war at all, let alone by a year.

In order to have shortened the war by a year, the western Allies would have had to invade France in 1943. But the Normandy landing was risky enough in 1944; to have attempted a similar assault against a well supplied army and in the face of an undefeated and still powerful Luftwaffe would have been close to suicidal. Besides, the Luftwaffe was a negligible force in France in 1944 chiefly because the Allied air forces had deprived it of fuel by bombing the vulnerable German oil refining plants--an impossible achievement without the large bombers which Rumpf claims were unnecessary.

In assessing the value of strategic bombing, Rumpf hardly considers the possibility that the Allied air buildup put a greater strain on the German economy that it did on the Allies' economies. He seems unaware of the fact that by 1944 over 20 per cent of the German labor force was tied down in such chores as debris clearance, fire fighting, production and manning of anti-aircraft equipment, and other air defense work. Furthermore, the air war over Europe deprived Germany of aircraft on the Russian front, which considerably hastened the Soviet advance (60 percent of the German fighters were stationed in or around Germany in 1943; only 22 percent guarded the Eastern Front).

Above all, Rumpf's conclusions ignore the testimony of German war leaders themselves on the value of Allied bombing. For the most part their opinions differ considerably from the findings of Rumpf. Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the German Finance Minister during the 1930's, told investigators after the war: "Germany lost the war the day it started. Your bombers destroyed German production, and Allied production made the defeat of Germany certain." General of the Infantry Georg Thomas, military chief of the German Office of Production related: "Bombing alone could not have defeated Germany, but without bombing the war would have lasted for years longer." And Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, von Rundstedt's successor as Commander-in-Chief of the West, admitted that "Dive bombing and terror attacks on civilians, combined with the heavy bombing, proved our undoing... Allied air power was the greatest single reason for the German defeat."

Despite its shortcomings, The Bombing of Germany makes a worthwhile contribution to the literature of the Second World War. It provides a fresh look at the air war from the point of view of the "enemy," and it supplies an analysis of terror bombing and its effect--or rather lack of effect--on civilian morale. Rumpf's study of noncombatants under fire makes fascinating reading, both as historical commentary and as a likely prognosis for the fate of civilians in a nuclear war.

But the book fails as an objective and balanced critique of Allied air policy. It is as a sop to the German conscience that it will probably prove most successful.

The Bombing War

The following communist appraisal of Allied air power coincides remarkably with the conclusions of THE BOMBING OF GERMANY. It is the caption to an historical display in the propaganda exibit of the Museum of German History in East Berlin: "The Anglo-American bombing attacks on Germany had no decisive significance for the military course or outcome of the war. Above all, they struck at the civilian population and destroyed little more than valuable cultural monuments."

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