“The war against England is to be restricted to destructive attacks against industry and air force targets which have weak defense forces…The most thorough study of the target concerned, that is vital points of the target, is a pre-requisite for success. It is also stressed that every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary loss of life amongst the civilian population.” – Hermann Göring, 1940
Adolf Hitler and the Commander-in-Chief of the German Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, had planned to completely destroy the Royal Air Force by targeting British air force and industry bases. If successful, this would have allowed the German army to advance into Britain, however their plan was slowly failing. Violating the statutes of the International Humanitarian Law, the Germans began to target civilian centres in an attempt to force Britain to surrender (this link provides a short animated video about this operation). Göring’s comment to avoid civilian centres contradicted the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign in Poland in 1939 and eventually the events of the Blitz (lightning warfare) in 1940.
In Chapter 8 of “Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructure Fails”, Graham (2010) writes that “the history of strategic bombings of cities, in particular, can be read at least in part as a history of trying to disrupt their vital systems and infrastructures to bring paralysis to an urbanized adversary” (p. 115). During World War II, military leaders generally believed that strategic bombing on enemy political industries and infrastructure could be enough to win the war. Germany was not the only one to utilize strategic bombing operations, as the British also developed day and night bombing campaigns in which they attempted to exhaust German forces.
Graham discusses the air assault which targeted Iraq’s electricity generating system in 1991, with the objective of causing the powered water and sewage system to collapse, which in turn, would cause the infrastructure to collapse. A similar system of attack was used during World War II in the bombing campaigns by both the Allies and the Axis, in which they strategically targeted specific locations to bomb in hopes it would rupture enemy operations. In these cases, these attacks are about targeting a mechanism or element of a system that will overall impact the entire operation.
Terror bombings existed as a method of demoralizing the enemy and this tactic was employed by both the Allies and the Axis. From this perspective, strategic bombing initiatives were not strictly about demodernization but also about demoralization as well. The Allies’ bombing of German cities was not only a response to the Blitz, but a method to attack the Nazi territorial goal of Lebensraum (greater living space). Hitler’s agenda to expand German borders was to provide more living space for what he deemed the “pure Aryan race”, therefore by destroying the civilian centres that would be used as living space was consequently attacking Lebensraum.
World War II bombing campaigns by both the Allies and the Axis were catastrophic and morally damaging. By attacking urban infrastructures, it was believed that in turn, the enemy’s system would begin to collapse. Graham’s brief discussion of World War II aerial bombings illustrates the technological determinist assumption that technological infrastructures lead cities to progress, therefore by attacking these infrastructures, society would inevitably regress (2010, p. 115).
“I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through…” – Stanley Baldwin, 1932