Bombs and ball-bearings

In criticising Arthur Harris's opposition to "precision" daylight bombing, Geoffrey Wheatcroft makes an odd-sounding claim in his review of Joachim Fest's Speer: the final verdict (Books, 5 November). Far from being "brilliantly successful", the Schweinfurt (and Regensburg) raid of 17 August 1943 was a famous disaster, costing the US 8th Air Force 60 bombers for what turned out to be little effect on German ball-bearing production. The Americans had hoped the Royal Air Force would follow them that night, but instead Harris was, as ordered, attacking the rocket research establishment at Peenemunde; the RAF suffered heavy losses there, with a disappointingly small effect on V-weapon production.

Schweinfurt was bombed several times more by the Americans - with further heavy losses - and (after much temporising by Harris) the RAF. However, the postwar US Strategic Bombing Survey found that, as historians have generally conceded, demolishing factories did not necessarily destroy machine tools, just as demolishing cities did not necessarily destroy either industrial production or civilian morale.

Graham Kemp
Department of Musculoskeletal Science
University of Liverpool

This article first appeared in the 12 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The Empire strikes back