In by the RAF. The mission of the CBO

In the early
stages of the Second World War (WWII), the allied bombing of Germany was
extremely disjointed.  This was addressed
by General Ira Eaker, commander of the US 8th Air Force, who pitched
the idea of ’round the clock bombing’ to Winston Churchill during the
Casablanca conference of January 1943.1
The principle, known as the Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO), involved the
daytime bombing of key German military and industrial targets by the United
States, followed by night time area bombing by the RAF.  The mission of the CBO was defined by the
Casablanca directive as ‘the progressive destruction and displacement of the
German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the
morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed
resistance is fatally weakened’.2
 As a result, the largely
industrial cities of Dresden and Hamburg, as well as many others, suffered
extremely heavy raids by allied bombers. 
The devastating losses faced by the civilian populations of these cities
has made the CBO infamous; civilian casualties were estimated to total
approximately 500,000 by the end of the war.3  Through the examination of the criteria of
Jus In Bello – necessity, proportionality, humanity and discrimination – this
essay will determine whether the offensive can be considered just.  Each of these criteria will be explored individually,
as all must be achieved in order to consider the offensive just.


The first
criterion for Jus In Bello to be considered is necessity.  At the time of the conception of the CBO, the
Nazis occupied the entirety of western Europe and had pushed the Red Army back
to Moscow.  Had the Russians been
defeated, this would have meant that the entire capability of the German military
could be concentrated against Britain and the US.  It was therefore imperative that the western
Allies draw the German manpower and weaponry away from the Eastern front, to
maintain any hope of a successful invasion by the Allies the following year.  An allied bomber offensive was the only means
of directly attacking the Nazis in order to provide this respite to the
Russians, damaging German industry supplying the war effort on the Eastern
front, and drawing manpower and anti-aircraft guns to defend the German cities.4  Furthermore, until
this point in the war, the Germans had been largely successful in their operations.  A direct attack on Germany was the only way
to show the potential weakness in the Nazi regime, and therefore degrade German
morale. These factors clearly demonstrate that the CBO, as the only method of
attacking the Nazis, was a necessity. Thus the first criterion for Jus In Bello
was met.

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The next
criterion for Jus In Bello to be explored is the requirement for proportionality.  For an offensive to be considered just, the military
advantage of the destruction of the targets must merit the damage caused during
the campaign.5
 The independent US Strategic Bomber Survey
found that, until the Autumn of 1944, the allied bombing of Germany had little
effect on the major wartime industries.  In
fact, it was noted that German production in these industries increased into
1944.6  On the other hand, it must be considered that
it was not until later in the war that the potential of German industry was fully
mobilised by Albert Speer.7  It may therefore be the case that were it not
for the limitation on the growth of industry caused by allied bombing, industry
would have grown at an even faster rate than was actually achieved.  After D-Day the Allies could dedicate a
significantly larger number of aircraft to the CBO, vastly increasing the
effect on German industry.  This was
shown by the US Strategic Bomber Survey, which estimated a reduction in
munitions production by 55 percent.8  This clearly shows that, particularly towards
the end of the war, the CBO offered a significant advantage to the Allies by reducing
Germany’s operational capability.  This
reduction in capability was demonstrated by the uncontested invasion of German
airspace by the allied bombers in the later stages of the war.  Witnessing the lack of response from the
Luftwaffe also had a significant effect on the morale of the German public;
where the bomb shelters once offered a sense of community, as seen in the London
Blitz, the sight of allied bombers flying uncontested in German airspace began
to lead to a resentment of the Nazi regime.9   Although this resentment did not lead to a
revolt against the regime, the degradation of the morale of the German public
undoubtedly had an effect on the fighting spirit of the nation towards the end
of the war.  The significant military
advantages offered by the CBO, namely the limitation and later destruction of
German industry, and the degradation of German morale, therefore mean that the
offensive met proportionality as a criterion for Jus In Bello.


The third
criterion for Jus In Bello that will be considered is discrimination.  The first customary rule for international
humanitarian law, as defined by the International Committee of the Red Cross,
states that ‘the parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between
civilians and combatants.  Attacks may
only be directed against combatants. 
Attacks must not be directed against civilians’.10
 Using this statement, by modern
standards it may be easy to categorise the CBO as unjust. However, we must not
judge the actions of those in WWII by modern laws; they must be judged against
the international conventions of the time. 
During WWII, despite being drafted, there were no formal laws relating
to the aerial bombardment of civilians. 
Instead, we must examine the laws of bombardment by land and naval
forces, which may be regarded as customary law at the time. These laws
categorise the bombardment of civilians into bombardment against defended and non-defended
cities, where a defended city is one expecting imminent invasion by enemy
 At the start of the CBO, the cities of
Hamburg and Dresden were under no such threat and must therefore be regarded as
undefended cities.  At the time, such cities
may have only been bombed if a specific military target was the main objective of
a raid.12
 The raids performed by the USAF aimed to
‘pin point’ key targets alone,13
 adopting the industrial web approach, attempting
‘the breakdown of the industrial and economic structure of Germany
by destroying a system of objectives vital to the German war effort: primarily
the power, transportation, and oil industries.’14  The USAF intention can therefore be
considered just. However, due to the weather and air-defence threats faced by
bomber crews over Germany, in reality these targets were rarely struck
accurately.15  Although the intention of the US approach may
have been just, what must instead be judged is the indiscriminate reality of
the approach.  This cannot therefore be
considered just in the context of discrimination.  In contrast, RAF Bomber command showed no such
intention. Although the raids by the RAF did succeed in destroying key military
objectives as discussed previously, the main aims of these attacks were to
de-house and destroy the will of the German population, a perception of the
Casablanca Conference similar to the ideology of Trenchard. The indiscriminate
nature of the RAF bombing campaign was highlighted by a memorandum from Chief
of Air Staff Sir Charles Portal, which stated, ‘ref the new bombing directive:
I suppose it is clear that the aiming points are to be the built-up areas, not,
for instance, the dockyards or aircraft factories’.16  This clearly shows that the offensive
contradicted the customary law of the time, actively failing to distinguish
between civilians and places of military significance, costing the lives of hundreds
of thousands of civilians.  This means
that, with regards to discrimination, the CBO cannot be considered just. 


The final
criterion to achieve Jus In Bello is humanity. 
To examine this point, the weapons used in the CBO must firstly be
discussed.  The strategy used by the US 8th
Air Force and RAF Bomber Command differed greatly; the USAF primarily attempted
to attack only key targets with the use of conventional exploding gravity bombs.  In contrast, the RAF – under Air Marshal
Harris – bombed large areas with incendiary munitions.17  It is the latter strategy that has caused the
most controversy. For a military strategy to be considered humane, the weapons
used in the offensive must minimise the suffering of their victims.  Currently, the use of incendiary weapons
against civilians is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions.18  However, as discussed previously, at the time
of the offensive there was no law in place regarding the aerial bombardment of
civilians. Consequently, it must be assumed that article 23e of The Hague
Conventions regarding the use of weapons on land constituted the customary
international law at the time.19
This convention stated that ‘the use of arms, projectiles or material
calculated to cause unnecessary suffering’ were prohibited.20  It may then be argued that the use of
incendiary weapons as a was not unjust in itself, as military commanders
regarded the suffering necessary as part of an offensive essential for national
survival.  However, when paired with the
area bombing strategy used by Bomber Command, huge firestorms engulfed entire
German cities.21
 These raids did not only destroy lives
and places of industrial or military significance, but also devastated places
of religious and historical significance, schools and museums; places that
defined the culture of the local populous. 
This was prohibited under international law at the time, and can be compared
to cultural crimes carried out by the Nazis against minority groups throughout
the war.22
 The incendiary bombing carried out by
the RAF can therefore be considered inhumane and accordingly unjust with regards
to the criteria of Jus In Bello. 
However, despite the populations of the German cities being forced to
undergo terrible suffering, what must be noted is the effect of the CBO on the
shortening of the war.  It was estimated by
Albert Speer that the allied bombing of Germany shortened the war by
approximately a year.23  Had the war endured this extra time, it
certainly would have created more suffering and cost the lives of many more
than were lost due to the CBO.  Although this
may justify the use of an Allied campaign as a whole, it does not justify the
use of incendiary weapons against the civilian population.


To conclude, a
bomber offensive was the only method available to the allied commanders to attack
Germany.  It enabled the Allies to
disrupt German industry and morale, and allowed them to redirect German
military assets away from the Eastern front. The CBO can therefore be regarded
a necessity.  Furthermore, the offensive
offered the Allies a distinct military advantage; initially by limiting the
growth of Speer’s industrial capability, and latterly destroying this
capability, as well as decreasing the fighting spirit of the German
population.  However, although these
concepts may justify the concept of an allied bomber offensive, the
indiscriminate nature of the bombing methods used, and the use of incendiary
weapons, cannot be justified when considering the Jus In Bello criteria.  These methods caused undue suffering for
innocent members of the population, as well as destroying artefacts of cultural
significance.  The offensive therefore
contradicted the customary international law at the time, and means that the
criteria of discrimination and humanity were not met for Jus In Bello.  The CBO can therefore be determined as being unjust.



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