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When war broke out in 1939 the British government and RAF commanders were convinced that they should not bomb civilian targets. However, by February 1942 they changed their minds. They decided that they would use ‘area bombing’. This basically meant bombing cities to destroy housing, factories, transport facilities and workers. By 1945 much of Germany was just a pile of rubble. What had caused this change of mind, and was it justified?
Catalogue ref: AIR 34/615
These are reconnaissance photographs of Hamburg taken in November 1943. The main raids on Hamburg had taken place towards the end of July 1943
Other photographic evidence showed that even by the end of the war in 1945 very little of Hamburg had been rebuilt. It was the same for most German cities.
The war began in 1939 and went well for Germany at first. By 1940 Hitler controlled most of Western Europe, apart from Britain. He then attacked the USSR in the summer of 1941. This became the main campaign of the war. However, Britain was anxious to try and help her Soviet allies. Britain did not have the resources to attack Germany on the ground but they did have a fleet of heavy bombers that could attack Germany by air.
When the USA joined the war in December 1941 they also had heavy bombers. From 1942 until the end of the war they pounded German targets. The bombing continued even after the D-Day landings in June 1944.
The bombing campaign was controversial at the time and it still is today. There were moral objections to bombing civilian targets. There were also concerns that bombing simply did not have much effect. There was also concern about the high casualty rates among bomber crews.
Some commentators claim that the bombing was a war crime. The head of British Bomber Command, Sir Arthur Harris, accepted that there might be a case for this.
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