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Memorandum for the President
March 22, 1943 Washington, D.C.
Subject: High altitude bombing in European theater.
The following extracts from messages just received from General Andrews carry, I believe, very important information regarding the efficiency and power of the daylight bombing operations being conducted from the United Kingdom. . . .1
In this present battle over the distribution of air power I think we should keep in mind the fact that the present daylight bombing operations out of England are playing an increasingly important part in the anti-submarine campaign. Also, that however efficient the operations appear at this time, they are being conducted on a definitely inefficient basis. It seems quite apparent that the casualties to be suffered by a larger group of planes would in all probability be no greater than those suffered by the present small groups, and furthermore, that not only would the destructive effect of the larger number of planes be much greater and the enemy’s retaliation during the progress of the raid materially reduced, but an immediate repetition of the raid, while the enemy was demoralized by the destruction of communications, antiaircraft, ground facilities, and of fighter planes in that region, could probably be carried out with the very minimum of loss and a maximum of destructive effect.
Up to the present time the Army Air Forces have never been able to even approximate the technique on which they have built up the proposition of daylight precision bombing.
I might further say, without greatly exaggerating, that Army Air elsewhere in the world, except in the Australian theater, has been somewhat misused by the employment of Army planes and crews in a manner for which the planes were not designed nor the crews trained, all of which has been a constant embarrassment to the Air Corps.
G. C. Marshall
Document Copy Text Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers, Map Room, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
1. Marshall included one and a fourth typed pages of extracts regarding the March 18 U.S. Eighth Air Force raid on the submarine building yards at Vegesack, near Bremen, Germany. Andrews described the “very high percentage hits on target” and the weak German fighter defenses when compared with those at Lille or near the submarine ports. “This attack shows what we could do to German industry and Air Force if we had sufficient force to make such attacks at many widely separated points simultaneously keeping defences extended and saturated,” wrote Andrews. Prime Minister Churchill congratulated Andrews on the “brilliant exploit,” and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal “telephoned to congratulate on magnificent effort, answering all critics of day precision bombing.” Whereas the A.A.F. preferred high-altitude day precision bombing of pinpoint targets, the R.A.F. preferred night low-level bombing of a wider area around the main target. Skeptical at first, by October 1942 the British observers were more receptive and “at least ready to admit that the AAF day bombers and the policy of day bombardment showed surprising promise.” Yet day precision bombing received criticism on both sides of the Atlantic. A.A.F. leaders were especially offended by a book written by Allan A. Michie of the Reader’s Digest staff and published in early 1943, entitled The Air Offensive Against Germany, which criticized day operations as tactically unsound and impracticable. (Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., Europe: TORCH to POINTBLANK, August 1942 to December 1943, a volume in The Army Air Forces in World War II [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949], pp. 209-41, 346; quote on p. 227.)
The Vegesack raid, the most successful American air operation so far of the war, was a great boost for the Eighth Air Force. Replying to critics of the A.A.F. bombing by day and the R.A.F. bombing by night, Major General Ira C. Eaker, commander of the Eighth Air Force, asserted that “each of our efforts is in complement to the other.” (New York Times, March 20, 1943, pp. I, 4, and March 21, 1943, pp. 1, 8.) For an account of reports overestimating the damage at Vegesack, see Craven and Cate, eds., Europe: TORCH to POINTBLANK, p. 314. For more information on day precision bombing and the Combined Bomber Offensive, see Marshall Memorandum for the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, April 28, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-629 [3: 667-68].
Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 598-599.