Douhet: Still Relevant Today AUTHOR Major Gregory C. Winn, USAF CSC 1991 SUBJECT AREA - History EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: DOUHET: STILL RELEVANT TODAY I. Theme: The Italian Giulio Douhet was the first to envision the true potential of air power. His book, The Command of the Air, presents an airpower doctrine based on the premise that armies and navies alone can no longer win wars. The Air Force has been accused of following Douhet's teachings too closely. Many feel his tenets are obsolete and have little utility today. Douhet's theories can be evaluated for their applicability to today's Air Force by examining the role of the strategic bomber in World War II (WWII), Vietnam, and Southwest Asia (SWA). The results will show what the Air Force has known all along. II. Thesis: The principle tenets of strategic airpower doctrine proposed by Guilio Douhet in 1921 are still relevant to the Air Force today. III. Discussion: Douhet's principle tenets of strategic airpower are: (1) in order to assure victory it is necessary to gain air superiority; (2) an offensive air strategy must suppress enemy air defenses); and (3) airpower should attack the enemy's center of gravity. When these principles are applied to the strategic bombing campaign of WWII two facts emerge. The early failure of daylight precision bombing was due to the lack of long range fighters and incorrectly identifying Germany's center of gravity. Once long range fighters entered the war and air strategists correctly identified the centers of gravity--energy production and transportation, daylight precision bombing became effective. General LeMay's night, low-level, incendiary bombing campaign in Japan was successful right from the start. All three of Douhet's principles were applied correctly. In Vietnam, LINEBACKER II proved that Douhet's strategic bombing principles still applied in the modern age. Although the SWA air campaign was relatively short, it too proved the utility of Douhet's principles. The B-52 strategic bomber was instrumental in shaping a four day land battle. IV. Summary: Douhet's strategic bombing principles played a major role in the success of each of the bombing campaigns presented. When Douhet's principle tenets of strategic airpower are applied correctly, the strategic bombing campaign is effective. V. Conclusion: Douhet's strategic bombing principles were applicable in the 40s, 70s and 90s. Not only is Douhet's airpower doctrine relevant today, it will be relevant tomorrow as well. DOUHET: STILL RELEVANT TODAY Thesis Statement. The principle tenets of strategic airpower doctrine proposed by Guilio Douhet in 1921 are still relevant to the Air Force today. I. Douhet's Principles A. Description of Key Tenets--Strategic Bombing B. Historical Setting: World War I Background II. World War II Application A. European Theater 1. RAF Night Bombing 2. Daylight Precision Bombing a. Long Range Fighters b. Target Selection 3. Strategic Bombing Effectiveness B. Pacific Theater 1. Night, Low-Level, Incendiary Bombing 2. Atomic Bomb 3. Strategic Bombing Effectiveness III. Vietnam--LINEBACKER II A. Purpose B. High Altitude Strategic Bombing C. Strategic Bombing Effectiveness IV. Southwest Asia A. Role of the B-52 B. Strategic Bombing Effectiveness DOUHET: STILL RELEVANT TODAY The statement, "Airpower has never won a war, has been made so often and by so many that it might as well be carved in stone. The comment may be right. However, it is also true to say landpower, or seapower, alone, has never won a modern day war. If it is true that airpower has never attained victory by itself, it is equally true no war can be won without it. The airplane is a relatively new weapon in the history of warfare. Yet, in less that 70 years, it has become the weapon of choice in modern conflict. From its beginnings in World War I, where aircraft made of wood and cloth roamed the skies, to the unseen supersonic composite stealth fighters used in Southwest Asia, airpower has gone through more changes and advancements than any other instrument of war. However, for all the changes in design and aircraft capabilities, many of the basic dictums of airpower and strategic bombardment first written are still valid today. Italian airman and military strategist Giulio Douhet was the first to envision the true potential of airpower and strategic bombardment. His theories have guided airpower doctrine for the last seven decades. However, skeptics have admonished the Air Force for following his teachings too closely. There are even those who feel the only way to break the spell Douhet holds over the Air Force would be to exhume his body and drive a stake through his heart. These people hold the conviction that Douhet's axioms are outdated and have little relevance to todays strategic bombing doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of Douhet's principle tenets focus on the use of strategic air power. These theories can be evaluated for their applicability to today's Air Force by examining the role of strategic bombing in World War II, Vietnam, and Southwest Asia. The results of this evaluation will prove what the Air Force has known all along. The principle tenets of strategic airpower doctrine proposed by Guilio Douhet in 1921 are still relevant to the Air Force today. Douhet's theories were published after World War I in his book, The Command of the Air. His airpower doctrine was built on the premise that armies and navies, the traditional means of deciding conflict, could no longer end wars. Air power was the only way of subduing the "enemy's" will to resist. (1:5). His dogma breaks down into three key points that can be abbreviated as follows: (1) In order to assure victory, it is necessary to conquer and command the air (gain air superiority); (2) the advantage of speed and elevation in the three-dimensional arena of air warfare have made it impossible to take defensive measures against an offensive air strategy (suppression of enemy air defenses); (3) airpower should be used against the enemy's "vital center"--the enemy's centers of population, government, and industry (the enemy's center of gravity.) (1:177) To understand Douhet's theories, one must first understand the time frame in which they were developed-- World War I. The first world war was called the Great War, the "war to end all wars." Unfortunately, it was a war that took longer, killed more people, and destroyed more property than any other war in the history of the world. Millions were mobilized and millions died between trenches that marked the lines of battle. (4:165) To Douhet, the only hope of restoring the decisiveness to war was to cease battering the enemy's strongest point, the surface army, and attack the enemy's will to fight behind the lines. Air power should carry the war further than just the enemy's armed forces. It should go directly to the "vital centers" of the enemy's country, to the cities and industries. For the first time in history, man could do this swiftly. As Douhet put it, "Aircraft enable us to jump over the army which shields the enemy government, industry and people, and strike directly and immediately at the seat of the opposing will and policy. Now, it is actually populations and nations, rather than their agents, which come to blows and seize each other's throats." (1:176) It was this, Douhet's principle argument, that shaped the strategic bombing campaigns of World War II (WWII). The chief architect of the Royal Air Force (RAF) between the wars was Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard, Chief of the Royal Air Staff from 1919 to 1929. Trenchard was a strong supporter of Douhet's principles. He supported the belief that air attacks aimed at the sources, as opposed to the manifestations of an enemy's strength, would both restore decisiveness to warfare, and produce a much faster and more humane decision. (2:163) By the mid-30s, a thorough on-going doctrine for employment of strategic bombardment had been worked out and was being taught at the RAF Staff College and the Imperial Defense College. (2:634) The initial bombing campaign pursued by the RAF at the start of WWII was high altitude precision bombing. However, high causalities, aircraft losses, and the inability to accurately hit their targets during the day. forced the RAF to adopt a policy of flying at night. (5:35) This policy was brutally simple, "Since the RAF couldn't hit what it chose, it would hit what it could, i.e. German cities." (5:35) The effect would be to weaken Germany's will to fight, a classic objective of Douhet's strategy and perhaps a more direct way to victory than attempted destruction of industrial targets. Even though the RAF went to night carpet bombing of cities, Eighth Air Force was determined to prove the effectiveness of daylight precision bombing. American strategists believed that only through the accuracy of daylight precision bombing, would bombers be effective against economic targets. (3:337) Unfortunately, by mid 1943 the effectiveness of Eighth Air Force's daylight precision bombing was in question. Strategic bombing wasn't producing the expected results--decline in German war materials production. In fact, production steadily increased. One reason for this was that destroying the buildings did not always destroy the heavy machinery inside. In many cases, the Germans were able to salvage much of the vital machine tools and resume production at a far more rapid rate than had been anticipated. (7:18) During the initial bombing campaigns of the war, Eighth Air Force B-17 crews were taking a terrible beating in the air from German fighters over France and Germany. As the distances to targets into Germany grew, so did the length of time B-17 crews were without fighter cover. The lack of air superiority over the target area was very costly. Bomber losses on many raids were well over 20 percent As B-17 attacks grew more frequent and heavier, the Germans responded with stronger fighter interception. On June 13, 1943, the Germans sent a swarm of interceptors heavier than any before against American bombers to deal with sixty B-17s over the German town of Kiel, they downed twenty-two of the B-17s. On July 28, a force of 120 B-17s were en route to aircraft factories ninety miles from Berlin, only twenty-eight reached the target, and twenty-two were shot down. On August 17, 516 B-17s set out to raid the Messerschmitt factories at Regensburg and ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt; sixty bombers were lost. On September 6, 262 bombers flew into Germany, and 45 went down. In the second Schweinfurt raid on October 10, the attackers lost sixty aircraft, 30 percent of their planes, and during six days of that second week of October Eighth Air Force lost 148 bombers altogether. (3:341) The increase in German fighter resistance cast doubt on the thesis that airpower could go straight to the enemy's vital centers without first fighting a battle for control of the air. It wasn't until 1944, when Major General Ira Eaker, Commander Eighth Air Force, changed target priorities that strategic bombing started to have the desired effect on German war production. General Eaker identified two major target groups: (1) The Sources of Energy Group (coal and synthetic oil); and (2) The Transportation Group (canals and railways). (6:285) Once the major emphasis of strategic bombing was moved to these two target groups, measurable results were seen. The air objective was to disrupt all rail traffic in Germany. By October 1944, rail traffic was nearly paralyzed. Essen Division car replacement of coal which had been 21,400 daily in January 1944 declined to 12,000 in September. By November delivers of coal to factories in Bavaria had been reduced by nearly 50 percent. By January 1945 coal placements in the Ruhr district were down to 9,000 cars per day. Finally, in February well -nigh complete interdiction in the Ruhr district was obtained. Such coal as was loaded was subject to confiscation by the railroad to supply locomotive fuel coal. As mining continued at a higher level than trans port, coal stock reserves increased from 415,000 tons to 2,217,000 and coke stocks increased from 630,000 tons to 3,069,000 in the same 6 months (7:63) In May 1944, preliminary attacks were made on the larger synthetic oil plants. These plants had been producing 316,000 tons a month; in June their output fell to 107,000 tons, and in September to 17,000. Aviation fuel production also dropped from 175,000 tons to 5,000. These attacks dealt a crippling blow to the munitions and explosives industries, and reduced the supply of synthetic rubber to about one-sixth of its war time peak of 12,000 tons a month (6:286). The total tonnage of bombs dropped in the European war by British and American aircraft was 2,700,000 tons. The targets were: 30.5 percent military; 13.5 percent industrial; 24 percent urban; and 32 percent railways, canals, and synthetic oil plants (7:71). When military targets are excluded, more bombs were dropped on industrial and urban targets than were dropped on railways and synthetic oil production plants. Ironically, the targets which proved to be the enemy's center of gravity were bombed the least. Although air strategists attempted to apply Douhet's principles, airpower failed to decisively end the war in Europe. Limited capabilities of the aircraft at the time and poor target selection (misidentifying the enemy's center of gravity) caused the failure. In the early stages of the war, allied air forces were incapable of commanding the air over Germany. Without adequate fighter protection, many bombers fell prey to the Luftwaffe. After long range fighters entered the conflict, bomber losses were significantly reduced. For this reason, long range fighters were instrumental in gaining control of the air. Poor target selection initially resulted in little damage to the war production capabilities of the German economy. Not only did these raids not reduce production, they didn't break the German will to resist. Even with horrifying losses of human life and the total destruction of many of their cities, the German people never lost their will to fight and felt confident of victory up until the end. (7:108) It wasn't until the primary targets were changed from urban/industrial areas to the true centers of gravity, energy and transportation, that remarkable results were attained. In a little over a year's time, allied bombers virtually crippled the German military industrial complex. Controversy still rages over the bombing effectiveness in Europe. Many feel the cost of men and material in the early years of the war wasn't worth the results. Others feel a closer adherence to Douhet's key principles early in the conflict would have significantly shortened the war. If the allied Air Forces could have achieved Douhet's three principles sooner--gain air superiority, suppress the enemy's defenses, and destroy the enemy's center of gravity- -the strategic bombing campaign in Europe would have been more successful. Regardless, few will argue that the strategic bombing campaign wasn't essential to achieving victory in Europe. Hindsight may suggest that it may have been used differently or better in some respects. Nevertheless, strategic bombing was the key to success in Europe. (7:107) While Eighth Air Force strategists faced difficulties in Europe, B-29 crews successfully applied Douhet's strategic bombing principles in the Pacific. Japan had been virtually unscathed during the two-and-a-half years following Pearl Harbor. It wasn't until November 1944, that B-29s began operating from recently acquired bases at Guam, Tinian, and Saipan in the Marianas. Once B-29s were firmly established in the Marianas, bombing raids on Japan began in earnest. (8:18) In January 1945, Brigadier General Curtis LeMay took command of bombing operations in the Pacific. Before LeMay's arrival, bombers were being used in daytime, high- altitude, precision attacks against Japan's larger cities. The result of these attacks had been discouraging. Worse still, the daylight raids were encountering heavy fighter opposition. During February 1945, U.S. bomber losses rose to six percent of the planes committed. (8:18) Shortly after taking command, General LeMay began experimenting with night low-level raids and incendiary bomb loads. LeMay's tactics proved to be very effective. Japan was more vulnerable at night because of its lack of night fighters and manually operated anti-aircraft artillery. The switch from high explosives to incendiaries enabled the B- 29s to destroy the war industries that had been largely dispersed into private homes and small shops scattered across the major urban areas. The first major incendiary raid was a 334 plane attack on Tokyo on the night of 9 March 1945. Each bomber carried almost five tons of incendiary bombs. In this raid, almost 80,000 people died, twice that many were injured, and a quarter of a million buildings were levelled. In just a few hours, almost sixteen square miles of the Japanese capital had been reduced to ashes. (9:648) By June 1945, the major Japanese cities had been largely evacuated. Four and a half million people left Japan's larger urban areas. At least 125,000 Japanese had died in the fire raids and another quarter million had been injured. More than a million buildings had been destroyed leaving five million people homeless. Fifty-seven square miles of the Japanese capital was destroyed--Tokyo was reduced to half its pre-war size. (9:654) The success of the bombing raids pointed to a single conclusion-- strategic bombing could defeat Japan without risking the planned amphibious invasion. By late summer, Japan was ready to surrender. Only the issue of retaining the imperial governmental system kept them from a negotiated peace. Unfortunately, Japan trusted Soviet diplomats to relay this message to the Allies. The Russians, standing to gain significant pieces of Asia if Japan suffered an invasion, withheld news of Japan's readiness to surrender. (8:19) Receiving no reply to the Potsdam Declaration warning of prompt and utter destruction, President Truman decided to drop the first of two atomic bombs. On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb used as a weapon of destruction exploded over Hiroshima. Of the city's 245,000 inhabitants, 64,000 died instantly. Another 26,000 people who were exposed to the radiation died in the days and weeks following. The second atomic weapon was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. At Nagaski, the bomb killed 40,000. (8:19) Unable to resist further, Japan surrendered on 14 August 1945. Although there is still controversy over the effectiveness of strategic bombing in Europe, few doubt that strategic bombing delivered the knock-out punch in the Pacific. In less than a year, Brigadier General LeMay's strategic bombing campaign forced Japan out of the war. By using incendiary bombs at night on Japan's key urban areas, LeMay successfully applied Douhet's airpower principles: controlling the air; avoiding Japanese air defenses; and attacking the enemy's center of gravity. The U.S.'s concept of strategic bombing entered a new era with the atomic bomb. At the end of WWII, the U.S. was the only nation capable of building and delivering the bomb. The mission of the nation's long range strategic bombers changed from a conventional bombing role to one of national defence. As a leg of the nuclear TRIAD, the manned strategic bomber became synonymous with long range "nuclear" weapons delivery. Little thought was given to using these "strategic" assets in a conventional bombing role. However, Vietnam again proved the utility of the manned strategic bomber. The Vietnam conflict was a very frustrating time for the United States Military. On the battlefield, the military won every battle, Yet, as a nation we lost the war. Throughout much of the conflict, the Air Force had a number of constraints placed on its conduct of the air war. Near the end of the war, the Air Force was authorized to use strategic bombing in the way envisioned by Douhet. In December of 1972, peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese appeared to have stalled. President Nixon, wishing to force the Vietnamese back to the negotiations table, authorized the use of B-52s to strike strategic targets in and around Hanoi and Haiphong. (10:6) The resulting strategic bombing campaign was called LINEBACKER II. In an 11 day period, the theory and validity of high altitude strategic bombing was put to the test again. SAC's aircrews and aircraft, attacked some of the most heavily defended targets in the history of air warfare. Could high altitude bombers penetrate to and successfully attack targets defended by modern surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and high performance jet fighters? The answer was a resounding yes. On the first night of the campaign, 129 B-52 bombers flew out of Anderson AFB, Guam, and U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, and attacked Hoa Lac airfield 15 miles west of Hanoi. (10:9) SAC used the B-52s in much the same way bombers were used in WWII. While the long term geopolitical goal was not the same, the immediate objective was. Strategic bombardment would be used to take out the enemy's ability to support the war. It is important to point out that LINEBACKER II was a team effort by joint forces in theater. Heavy preemptive strikes against the enemy defenses were made by F-111s and various combinations of Air Force, Navy, and Marine fighter/bombers prior to the B-52s reaching their targets. This made for good odds. Only two percent of the total force of B-52s were lost, none to enemy aircraft. (10:171) The targets for the bombing raids were strategic in nature. Great care was taken in the planning and crew preparation phases to make the bombing as precise as possible. Targets included airfields, railroad spurs, military fabrication plants, and warehouses in and around Hanoi. The results of the precision bombing from LINEBACKER II is well documented. In the space of 11 days, B-52 bombers flew 729 sorties against 34 targets in North Vietnam. They dropped over 15,000 tons of bombs in the process. Bomb damage assessment revealed 1600 military structures damaged or destroyed, 500 rail interdictions, 373 pieces of rolling stock damaged or destroyed, three million gallons of petroleum products destroyed, ten interdictions of airfield runways and ramps, and an estimated 80 percent of electrical power production capability destroyed. Prior to the campaign logistic inputs into North Vietnam were believed to be at 160,000 tons per month. In January 1973, imports dropped to 30,000 tons per month. (11:166) One of the central lessons learned from the use of the B-52 in a conventional bombing role was the psychological impact the raids had on those in the North. One hundred eight 500 pound bombs falling from an aircraft that can't be seen or heard must be terrifying. A number of returning POWs told stories of prison guards screaming and running for cover. One story by a former POW, Colonel Bill Conlee, reported seeing a guard tremble like a leaf, drop his rifle, and wet his pants during one of the raids. (10:174) All POWs reported marked improvements in their treatment after the start of the bombing campaign. Although there is no mention of Douhet in the LINEBACKER II after action report, his principles were a factor in the success of the bombing campaign. The massive preemptive raids over the North ensured; air superiority; suppression of enemy's air defenses; and allowed the bombers to strike the enemy's will to fight. Less than four weeks after the last LINEBACKER II mission, an agreed-upon cease fire went into effect. In the modern age of the jet strategic bomber, Douhet's strategic bombing principles proved to be effective. It was almost exactly 18 years from the last LINEBACKER II B-52 sortie in Vietnam to first B-52 sortie in SWA. Though the air war in SWA was relatively short, it was a very intense effort. In the 43 day war, coalition Air Forces flew over 35,000 sorties, and dropped over 88,000 tons of ordnance. (15:A18) Even before the 16 January 1991 start of the air campaign, two B-52 squadrons deployed to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. (12:35) Air Strategists in the Pentagon intended to use the 31 year old bomber in a carpet bombing role. The strategic bomber's mission was to stun/attrit the hundreds of thousands of troops dug into breastworks and fortifications across the border of Saudi Arabia. Pentagon officials felt that after weeks of steady bombardment, Iraqi troops would be so disoriented and worn down that they would give up to coalition ground forces without much of a fight. Shortly after more agile coalition aircraft gained air supremacy and knocked out Iraqi air defenses, the B--52 began flying round-the-clock missions. B-52s dropped large amounts of ordnance on Iraqi front line positions, elite Republican Guard units, supply concentrations, and ammunition depots. (14:34) The B-52 demonstrated more precise targeting capabilities than expected. In a three day period, 81 B-52 sorties dropped over 1,200 tons of bombs on target. In those three days the B-52s were credited with destroying/damaging 178 trucks, 55 artillery pieces, and 52 tanks, as well as causing heavy secondary explosions from revetments. (14:34) The effectiveness of the coalition air campaign and the contribution of strategic bombing to that effort can be measured in a couple of ways. After 38 days of intense air bombardment, the ground war took only four days. In those four days, coalition forces took and estimated 80,000 enemy prisoners of war (EPW). Many of these EPWs surrendered without a fight near front line positions targeted by B-52s. (13:30) Although no one has stepped forward and given Douhet credit tor his role in SWA, his doctrine played a part in the success of the air campaign. By achieving early air supremacy, coalition forces were able to suppress the formidable Iraqi air defenses. With full control of the air, the enemy's center of gravity--the Army in the field-- was attacked and defeated in only 4 days. Even though Douhet presented his theories on airpower and strategic bombing 70 years ago, his doctrine is still applicable to the Air Force today. Many of the arguments against Douhet's principles are based on the perceived failure of strategic bombing in Europe during WWII. As pointed out, this failure was due in large part to the limited capabilities of the aircraft at the time, and the failure of air strategists to correctly identify Germany's center of gravity. When Douhet's principles are applied properly and in a timely fashion, as in the Pacific theater of WWII, LINEBACKER II, and SWA, the results speak for themselves. Strategic bombing of the enemy's center of gravity achieved the goals in each conflict. Douhet's three principles of airpower: gain air superiority, suppress the enemy's air defenses, and destroy the enemy's center of gravity are keys to success. Like it or not, Douhet's airpower principles still apply to the Air Force today. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Douhet, Giulio. The Command of the Air. New York: Coward-McGann, Inc. 1942. 2. Earle, Edward M. Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler. Prinseton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1943. 3. Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1977. 4. Drew, Col Dennis M. and Snow, Donald. The Eagles Talons. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Press, 1988. 5. Keagan, John. "We wanted beady-eyed guys just absolutely holding the course." Smithsonian. Washington D.C.. August 1983. 6. Fuller, Major General J.F.C. The Conduct of the War Westport, Connecticut. Greenwood Press, 1961. 7. D'Olier, Chairman Franklin. (ed) The United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Over-all Report (Europe). Washington D.C., Government Press, 1945. 8. Davis, Frank. "The Strategic Air Offensive against Japan." Strategy and Tactics. July/August 1974. 9. Craven, W.F. and Cate J.L. The Army Air Force in World War II. vol 5, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1953. 10. McCarthy, BGen J.R. and Allison, LTC G.B. LINEBACKER II: A View From The Rock. Maxwell AFB, Alabama, Airpower Research Institute. 1979. 11. Berger, Carl (ed). The United States Air Force in Sputheast Asia, 1961-1973. Washington D.C.. Office of Air Force History. 1984. 12. Putman, Chris. "The Forces of Desert Storm." Air Force Magazine April 91:30. 13. Correll, John T (ed). "Twenty Six Wings." Air Force Magazine. March 91:35. 14. Bird, Julie. "B-52s Work All Day, All Night In The Gulf." Defemse News. 4 February 91:34. 15. Gellman, Barton. "U.S. Bombs Missed 70% of Time." The Washington Post. 16 March 91: A1/A18. RELATED SOURCES Sherry, Michael S The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon. New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University Press. 1987.
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