At the beginning of WWII, British daylight strikes against Germany soon resulted in unacceptable losses and the Royal Air Force (RAF) turned to night time ‘thousand bomber raids.’ When these strategic nocturnal strikes against military targets proved relatively inaccurate, the RAF began razing urban areas (carpet-bombing) in an effort to destroy civilian morale. These night attacks continued for the remainder of the war.
By the summer of 1943, USAAF bomber forces in England had grown substantially and were ready to participate in operations against Germany. Despite the British experience, General Ira Eaker, commander of the U.S. 8th Air Force, was an advocate for daylight “precision” bombing of military and industrial targets, while minimizing civilian casualties. Eaker argued, “If the RAF continues night bombing and we bomb by day, we shall bomb them round the clock and the devil shall get no rest.”
In August 1943, although USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses inflicted heavy damage on German ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt and Regensburg, the raid was a catastrophe for the Americans with 60/376 bombers lost and many more severely damaged. In the second Schweinfurt raid on October 14 (later known as “black Thursday”) 60/291 B-17s were lost along with 650/2900 crew members.
With these staggering losses, the USAAF ceased unescorted, daytime bombing raids deep in German territory.
Two premises of USAAF daylight strategic bombing appeared to be erroneous:
- unescorted bombers could penetrate enemy defenses in daylight & return safely
- destruction of German industry would cripple its war effort