- Historic Sites
After The Air Raids
An insider’s account of a startling— and still controversial—investigation of the Allied bombing of Germany
April/may 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 3
In truth, a little earlier we had brought a high official of the Auto Union automobile company to Bad Nauheim for interrogation. As the Russians were about to occupy the part of Germany where he lived, he had asked our colonel for an Army vehicle to move his more valuable possessions into the American zone on the promise of a division of the salvaged goods. The colonel had then shown his loot to a visiting officer who, in civilian life, had worked for Fiorello La Guardia in New York City and was thus a ferocious enemy of graft. It was he who had sent in the military police. We never saw our man again.
As the Big Three meeting approached in Potsdam, couriers came to Bad Nauheim looking for information and guidance on the German economy. We obliged, and George Ball decided that we should attend. When I pointed out that we had not been invited, George said that if we allowed hurt feelings to govern our actions, we would only compound the error. With Paul Nitze we went to Berlin, out to Babelsberg, the site of the conference, were admitted to the compound without question when we explained that we had come to attend the meeting, and began operations with an excellent lunch at the senior officials’ mess. I joined Isador Lubin, who was developing the position on reparations and whose people we had previously provided with information on the surviving plant. History was not altered by our brief presence. But it was something to attend a summit on one’s own invitation.
George Ball had told me in earlier weeks of the existence of the atomic bomb. Surveying the old-fashioned destruction in Germany, I had deeply hoped it would not work. Now it came and also the end of the Japanese war. The effect on the morale of the men I had sought out from the Army for the survey was immediate. Until then hard, diligent work meant avoiding combat in the Pacific. Now the same hard work could mean going with us to Japan.
But by now our overall economic report, a large, competent, and literate document, was nearing completion. When it was finished, we closed the headquarters in Bad Nauheim and went to London and, after reviewing it further there, returned home. George Ball slept all the way from Prestwick to Iceland to Newfoundland to New York. This he did by combining a large amount of whisky with a substantial dose of sleeping pills. Contrary to all medical expectation, he arrived greatly refreshed.
Back in Washington in Army Air Forces Annex No. 1 at Gravelly Point, Virginia, not far from National Airport, we found that the secretariat of the survey had written a short summary report which was as the Air Force would have wished it. Our patiently gathered data on the disastrous failures of strategic bombing were extensively ignored. There were no serious failures mentioned. Even the successes were lost in a story of general success. The question had political importance, for part of the claim of the Air Force to independence from the Army was thought to depend on the wartime achievement of the bombers. Ball and I prepared to contest the report and somehow to get it rewritten. It would be dreary work—piecemeal change, word by word.
Then Henry Alexander intervened. He was distressed less by the content of the summary than by its abysmal level of literacy. He asked me to prepare a new and readable draft. I took a typewriter to the Cosmos Club in Washington and wrote exactly what we wanted said with something more for bargaining thrown in.
My manuscript, in turn, led to a war of attrition, one that lasted for days in the dreary buildings by the airport. But now the basic draft was mine; it fell to the opposition to struggle, sentence by sentence, for modification and retraction. General Anderson led the attack. I defended it with, as I only later came to reflect, a maximum of arrogance and a minimum of tact. George Ball, who had resumed his law practice as counsel for Jean Monnet, nonetheless came over to help. Henry Alexander, not concealing his distress at the conflict, presided and sought to mediate. At some point I said to Orvil Andersen, “General, this is just a matter of intellectual honesty.”
He replied, “Goddamn it, Ken, you carry intellectual honesty to extremes.”
By giving way on nonessentials, we kept the basic case. German war production had, indeed, expanded under the bombing. The greatly heralded efforts, those on the ball-bearing and aircraft plants for example, emerged as costly failures. We had a minor struggle over the B-17, the Flying Fortress itself. A rugged vehicle that brought its occupants home if anything could, it was much respected by all concerned. But it had been designed to fly without escort and to protect itself and its neighbors in the same flight with its own weapons. This meant a heavy load of gunners, guns, and ammunition, and in consequence, it could carry no great weight of bombs. After the Schweinfurt debacle it became clear that the Fortress could not, in fact, defend itself, that escort aircraft would be required. It was still arranged for its great load of men and weaponry; thus it was now a bad design. General Anderson met my efforts to make this point with massive indignation. His exact words are still with me: “You are insulting a great airplane.” On this he won.