- 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 London I assembled my economics faculty and divided them into industrial sections corresponding roughly with those of the Gross National Product. (In coming months our statisticians would calculate the first GNP figures ever for Germany.) The wartime production or performance of each sector—capital equipment, construction, basic materials, weapons, labor supply—was to be established, as also that of the important industries therein. Special attention was to be given to the production of weaponry. The effect of the air attacks both on aggregate output and on the individual industries was then to be assessed. All this arranged, my economic warriors were dispatched to Germany to look for the figures and the people who could interpret them.
In the original plan other teams would inspect the burned and battered factories. And specialists were deployed to do so. They learned only that the factories were very burned and battered. Such inspection did not show when or by how much production had been curtailed. For this the production records were needed, and even these told little of the effect on the output of the industry as a whole or of the ultimate effect on weapons production or, beyond that, on military operations. Did oil shortages ground the airplanes or only civilian transport? Did the destruction of the factories eliminate the German air force or was it lost in combat? For the full answer only the overall statistics and the interpretation of the statisticians, officials, and generals would suffice. That interesting task was ours. So, accordingly, was the resulting influence on findings. As ever, it was not to my regret.
With the end of the war with Hitler only weeks away, Washington was planning the final attack on Japan. Information was wanted on what the bombers had accomplished over Germany, and this we were being pressed urgently to supply. I now followed my teams to the scene both to see what useful information they were procuring and to satisfy my nearly uncontrollable curiosity as to the effects of the war.
On that first trip to Germany we billeted ourselves at a temporary headquarters outside Cologne. Immediately adjacent were acres upon acres of tulip fields in full bloom. They were a wonderful relief from the devastation. I clambered across the ruins of one of the great bridges over the Rhine to examine the remains of an engine plant on the east bank; it was in very poor condition, and it was there that I realized how little could be learned from inspection alone.
I was back in London on V-E night, a curiously passive scene. Everyone was in the streets and looking for the behavior of someone else that would make the evening memorable. There was none of the wild emotion that, one knew, had marked the ends, false and real, of World War I. At Buckingham Palace the King and Queen did appear on the balcony along with Winston Churchill. He, a small, distant, indistinct figure, gave a “V for victory” sign; it wasn’t very impressive. Next morning early I went to Biggin Hill Airfield and back to Germany.
George Ball and I made our headquarters that spring and summer in Bad Nauheim, the pleasant spa town on the autobahn twenty miles north of Frankfurt. We occupied a small private hotel, Villa Grunewald, on the outskirts; our economists and the supporting military staff were in the much larger Park Hotel in the town center. The Germans, accustomed to Prussian standards of military attire and decorum, viewed us with wonder. Franklin d’Olier, head of the USSBS; the secretariat; and various others of the higher command remained in London while George Ball developed deeply unflattering theories as to their occupation there. George concentrated his attention on the effect of the bombing of the cities and with Paul Nitze, another director, on the meaning of our findings for the Pacific war. I remained with the economics.
That allowed me to visit the various teams and guide or participate in the interrogation of senior German military and civilian figures who were now becoming available in volume. One traveled along highways and autobahns through two nearly continuous lines of foot travelers, one line going in one direction, the other in the opposite. It was hard to suppose that the end of the war had found any European at home. As word passed that there were Americans in the neighborhood, soldiers came out of the woods to surrender. Military prison meant regular meals. On May 11, three days after V-E Day, I stopped at Army headquarters in Augsburg while my driver found out the way to a high-level prison camp where we were to interrogate Wehrmacht generals. An American sergeant asked me to take along a German SS general who had just arrived in a reconnaissance vehicle and was trying to surrender. I told him to follow me to the jail. On our arrival I found that I was turning in Hitler’s greatest military favorite, Sepp Dietrich.