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The Impact of the Combined Bomber Offensive against Axis Europe

The combined bomber offensive against Axis Europe was a topic of much debate among the British Command. The idea of long distance bombing was seen more as a weapon of ‘terror’ rather than an effective form of warfare after the limited experiences involving air power in the First World War.[1]  This may have well proved the case, as early success’s involving strategic bombing were far and few between. Area bombing was only adopted following the agonizing inability of bomber crews to make precision raids against well defended or distant targets. Throughout the war heavy bombers could rarely hit targets and suffered disastrous losses from anti-aircraft and fighter defences.[2] Area bombing seemed to be the Allied answer to the inaccuracy of Britain’s B-17 and B- 24 bombers in regards to strategic target bombing, however the bombers also had German radar and Luftwaffe to contend with.

Sir Arthur Harris was Air Officer Commanding in Chief of RAF Bomber Command and after cabinet’s agreement to implement Churchill’s policy of area bombing; Harris was tasked with implementing these plans. The First 2 years of the war, in terms of bombing raids, were little more than ‘pinpricks’ in the German war effort. More concerning was the fact that of all the bombs dropped on Germanyby night it was calculated that only 5% hit genuine objectives.[3] Despite the concern that area bombing would mean causing civilian deaths and therefore the blurring of distinction between combatants and non-combatants, Churchill was aware that the German war economy needed to be damaged in order to stop Hitler’s rapid progress across Europe. R.J. Overy uses the term ‘Blitzkrieg economy’ to describe Hitler’s war economy as the war aims were to expand and create an German Empire, in which Germany would gain economic benefits from conquered land.[4] It was Germany’s Blitzkrieg war and mass mobilisation of resources that was conquering Europe on the ground and it was the view of the British command that the area bombing of industrial towns would effect production and morale of German workers. It was not to say that the British command was not aware of the significance of German economy in the event of a war before 1939, as the RAF went into the war with a list of priority targets within the German communications system and in the oil industry.[5] The inability to hit these ‘priority targets’ by Bomber command would led to area bombing of Nazi Germany’s industrial towns and cities.

By early 1942, RAF Chiefs of Staff took the view that as soon as the necessary aircraft were available, Bomber Command should embark on an area bombing offensive.[6] This view was suggests that the British perspective was that the bombing of Nazi controlled industrial towns was integral to the winning of the war. It was more of a question regarding the means of how the Allies would implement such a plan. Britain’s bombers were still suffering heavy losses at this point and the Luftwaffe was in control of European skies. This is despite the fact that in 1940 the Allies were producing 26,714 aircraft in comparison to 16,815 Axis and production would shoot up for the Allies further following the introduction of the U.S. into the war.[7] TheU.S. although provided the Allies through the lend-lease system also provided the RAF greatly with the cooperation of the United States Air Force. With the introduction of American P-51 Mustangs the British B – 17 and B – 24 bombers now had a long range escort to aid in bombing raids on Nazi industrial towns and cities. Nazi Germany’s reliance on foreign aid and production from cities and towns within the range of Allied bombers would prove to be a vital factor in determining the effectiveness of the Nazi war effort.

In July 1943 a new bombing phenomenon referred to as the ‘firestorm’ was implemented as incendiary bombing on

Victims of the Dresden Bombing

Hamburgcaused a new dimension of devastation.[8] Older cities were targeted due to fact they were more open to spread fire, and city centres became the target points for Allied bombers. Although a month later, destruction of German morale was dropped from Bomber Command strategy at the Quebec conference, raids continued and had a demoralising effect on German towns and cities.[9] The scale of these bombings and the mass devastation caused to the industrial areas prompted the use of incendiary area bombing rather than conventional area bombing by the British Command. The scale of the bombing was such that almost as many people were killed in one week of raids on Hamburg in July 1943 as were killed during the entire Blitz on Britain’s cities.[10] This shows the scale on which the Allied bomber offensive was operating at, and the persistence of the bombing raids. The frequency of the raids by the Allied aerial forces may have been simply been due to the fact that the bombers were so inaccurate when it came to hitting primary targets. The more bombs and raids the Allies committed the more chance that they would wipe out important Nazi structures or industrial targets. Another example, even late in the war, is the joint U.S. and British bombing operation over the German city of Dresden between the 13th and 15th February where 60,000 people were killed as the city was repeatedly pulverised.[11] The effectiveness of the British raids on Axis targets seemed to increase throughout the war.

Sir Arthur Harris believed the bombing of Nazi industrial towns and cities was vital in the determining the outcome of the war. He saw the transfer of resources to the activities of the Coastal Command, who were fighting the German threat of U-Boats which were ripping up British trade, as a major diversion of effort from the area offensive.[12]  However, historian Neil Gregor argues that with everything we know now about the Third Reich it leads to the conclusion that the regime would have continued its senseless persecution of the war regardless of the impact bombing had on civilian morale.[13] Although it is now clear that the Nazi command did not care much for civilian morale throughout the war, the economic impact that the Allied bombing effort had on the Nazi war economy was substantial. By late 1944 German transportation was largely dislocated and the war economy saw massive falls in production. More importantly this brought the Luftwaffe away from other fronts to defend the Third Reich, and allowed the allies to ultimately destroy Hitler’s air force.[14] This may explain why morale bombing was discontinued at the Quebec conference as the British Command saw the potential for area bombing in terms of limiting Nazi Germany’s economic capabilities. This also explains why the bombing offensive launched in the spring of 1942, continued until the end of the war. Despite considerable improvements in Bomber Command’s precision capabilities, its overall thrust remained as an area offensive directed principally at civilian targets.[15] It may have been better described as industrial targets but civilian workers are an unfortunate by product and can be seen as a necessary casualty at times of war as the killing of workers reduces production of armaments that could end up killing Allied lives.

The operational range of the Allied B- 17 and B – 24 bombers over Axis controlled Europewas also an important factor in

P51 Mustang helped protect the Allies B-24 bombers

determining the success of the Allied bomber offensive. By 1944 Britainhad an operational range from its south east coast to the likes of Dresdenand Frankfurt. Whilst in the South the joint RAF and USAAF airbase in Foggiacovered Frankfurt, fascist Italyand also targets further east such as, Budapest, Bucharestand Hungary. Russiaalso offered aerial support from the East covering as far as occupied Poland.[16] AlthoughGermany had the ‘Kammhuber Line’ on the west coasts ofFrance up until the coasts ofDenmark, with search lights and radar posts mainlandGermany still suffered devastation in its cities from the allied aerial attacks.   The introduction of the P – 51 Mustangs aided greatly in getting Allied bombers past the German defences in day-time raids as they could challenge the defending Nazi air forces.

Hitler’s strong belief that static aerial defences would prove to be sufficient defence from Allied bombing raids proved to be costly. Hitler focused on 88mm anti-aircraft guns and it became his ‘pride and joy’, as production of the weapon went up greatly.[17] Hitler believed that anti-aircraft fire from the ground was the best form of defence. This proved to be a massive miscalculation as vast number of Allied bombers still got past the anti-aircraft fire as over 20 cities in Germany suffered bombing damage of 50 – 75% destruction by March 1944.[18]  This is not to say that Allied forces did not suffer great losses throughout the Second World War, even during night-time air raids over Germany bombers were in danger. For example in March 1944, the British RAF lost 95 bombers out of the 727 sent to bomb Nuremberg.’[19] There was some effectiveness in Hitler’s aerial defensive line, but he could not prevent the bombing of major German cities to a complete extent.

The Nazi’s also had defensive fighters which proved to be effective in causing the Allies great losses on bombing raids over Axis Europe. This was up until the introduction of the USAAF P – 51 Mustangs whom accompanied the Allied bombers on raids across Europe. However, the German fighter still had strategies in dealing with bombers that got past the anti-aircraft fire. German fighters deployed the tactic of ‘Schrage Musik’ by which they executed a slanting approach from beneath to the blind undersides of the bombers and employed upward-turned cannon.’[20] This was a tactic that contributed to the 95 bombers lost over Nuremberg in 1944, and the Nazi Luftwaffe command were resourceful in terms of deploying aerial tactics. R. J. Overy argues that the fact that Hitler was a foot-soldier, the use of static air defences was favoured by him because he could relate to the weapons used, in this case his apparent fondness for the 88mm anti-aircraft guns. [21] This is why resources were focused on ground defences rather than controlling the skies over Nazi conquered land, therefore the Allies continued to successfully bomb German cities. Hitler’s focus on the superiority of his weaponry in comparison to the Allies rather than the production also cost Germany in terms of aerial dominance over Europe.[22] The British and U.S. were producing more planes and although production was high for the Luftwaffe, operations put in place by the Allies seized dominance from the Axis air forces. Operation Point-Blank was a joint British and U.S. strategic bombing offensive, drawn up at the Quebec Conference, aiming to cripple and destroy German fighter planes.[23] The Allied bomber offensive turned its attention to the actual Nazi air force in 1943 and this may explain why so many cities in Germany received levels of at least 50% destruction from Allied bombing raids by 1944.[24] The Allies, by 1944, had successfully ‘paved’ the way for its bombers to continually bomb Axis controlled towns and cities.

Although the concept of ‘morale bombing’ and the tactic was suspended at the Quebec Conference in 1943, the Allies

Tokyo, example of the ‘blurring of distinction’ between combatant and non-combatant

continued the policy of area bombing claiming it was to cut Nazi Germany’s industrial output. In reality the reduction to Nazi industrial output by bombing was relatively modest until the development of more accurate bomb targeting in 1944.[25] This would suggest that for almost a year the Allies were still ‘morale bombing’ under the cover that its real aim was to upset Axis industrial output, under this all cities under Axis control could potentially be considered a legitimate target. This further supports the belief that the British high command felt that area bombing could bring a quicker end to the war. Earl. R. Beck, claims that most of the Allied bombing could not be considered ‘strategic’ as there was no targeting or destruction of military aims.[26] This further supports the idea that the economic pretences for area bombing were just a continuation of morale bombing against Axis Europe.

It was not just area bombing that was deployed by the Allies over Axis Europe. The Mediterranean Allied Air Force (MAAF) successfully attacked bridges and train yards behind the German front, cutting rail traffic to Romeand the Cassinofront.[27] The Allies realised the importance of the transport links asGermany conquered more and more ofEurope. The Blitzkrieg war deployed by Hitler called for fast mass mobilisation of resources and could easily suffer from the consequences of imperial overstretch. Missions such as these gave the Allied forces the upper hand on the battles fought on the ground as the Nazi’s couldn’t send reserves to aid its forces fighting on the European fronts.

The Allied area bombing offensive over Europe proved to be an effective use of air power against the Axis forces. German cities and centres of production were reduced to ruins and the usage of incendiary bombs after 1943 caused morale splitting devastation over the cities under Axis control. Although civilian casualties were an unfortunate by product of this Allied aerial tactic, the Allies had no accurate bomber or strategic means of precision bombing until 1944, so frequent raids and attacks on Industrial areas and housing of workers were deemed necessary. If we assess the total deaths from area bombing we see that Britainonly suffered 60,000 compared to Italyand Germanyscombined total of 659,796 deaths, 600,000 of which were German.[28] This shows the extent to which Germany was bombed by the Allied forces and the belief among the Allied command that area bombing would bring a quicker conclusion to the war. This also shows how Hitler didn’t value strategic bombing as an effective weapon as the Blitz was relatively small in comparison to Allied raids over Europe. Hitler also put a lot of faith into the unmanned V1 and V2 rockets, supporting R.J. Overy’s view that Hitler believed in superior weaponry rather than producing an effective bombing force.[29]

The adoption of incendiary bombing proved to be the Allies most frequent and effective form of bombing over Axis Europe. We can see the extent of which incendiary explosives were used as the U.S.strategic bombing survey over Europeclaims that 2,455,600 incendiary explosives were used in air raids in comparison to 26,180 explosive bombs.[30] The effectiveness of incendiary bombing was apparent as from 1940 – 43 60% of industrial production was destroyed in Italy by Allied air raids.[31] The operational range of the Allied bombing effort also aided in its effectiveness as from Allied controlled airbases the Allies could virtually attack any point over Axis Europe. This operational spectrum meant that the Allies could attack from 3 sides of Europe and avoid Hitler’s static aerial defences inWestern Europe if needed. Hitler’s reliance on these static defences and 88mm anti-aircraft guns rather than putting more resources into a defensive fighter force, allowed Allied raids to be accompanied with P-51 mustangs and eventually, through operations such as Point-Blank, begin to eliminate the Luftwaffe altogether.

Historian J.M. Spaight claimed as early as 1941, that ‘given the achievement of the task which the British nations have undertaken, to mass overwhelming strength in the air, the Axis must lose.’[32] The belief that the bomber offensive was vital to securing a quick end to the war proved to be vital, as although precision bombing was not fully capable until 1944, area bombing attacked Germany at its heart and on a scale of devastation that would have affected workers morale. Through strategic bombing Axis transport links were crippled and after 1944 production levels fell as the Allies were able to pinpoint industrial targets, thus making sure that the Axis couldn’t turn the tide of the war back in the favour of the Third Reich.


[1] M. Kirby and R. Capey, The Area Bombing ofGermany in World War II: An Operational Research Perspective, The Journal of Operational Research Perspective, vol. 48, no. 7, 1997, pp. 661 – 677, p. 662

[2] Kenneth Hewitt, Place Annihilation: Area Bombing and the fate of Urban Places, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 73, no.2, 1983, pp. 257 – 284, p. 261

[3] M. Kirby and R. Capey, The Area Bombing ofGermany in World War II: An Operational Research Perspective, The Journal of Operational Research Perspective, vol. 48, no. 7, 1997, pp. 661 – 677, p. 663

[4] R. J. Overy, Hitler’s War and the German Economy: A Reinterpretation,The Economic History Review, vol 35, no. 2, 1982 pp. 270 – 284, p. 24

[5] M. Kirby and R. Capey, The Area Bombing ofGermany in World War II: An Operational Research Perspective, The Journal of Operational Research Perspective, vol. 48, no. 7, 1997, pp. 661 – 677, p. 662

[6] M. Kirby and R. Capey, The Area Bombing ofGermany in World War II: An Operational Research Perspective, The Journal of Operational Research Perspective, vol. 48, no. 7, 1997, pp. 661 – 677, p. 664

[7] Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Random House, Inc.New York 1987, p. 354 (table 34.)

[8] Kenneth Hewitt, Place Annihilation: Area Bombing and the fate of Urban Places, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 73, no.2, 1983, pp. 257 – 284, p. 265

[9] Martin H. Folly, The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of World War II, Palgrave MacMillan 2004, p. 27

[10] Neil Gregor, A Shicksalsgemeinschaft? Allied Bombing, Civilian Morale, and Social Dissolution in Nuremburg, 1942 – 1945, The Historical Journal, vol. 43, no.4, 2000, pp. 1051 – 1070, p. 1051

[11] Martin H. Folly, The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of World War II, Palgrave MacMillan 2004, p. 27

[12] M. Kirby and R. Capey, The Area Bombing ofGermany in World War II: An Operational Research Perspective, The Journal of Operational Research Perspective, vol. 48, no. 7, 1997, pp. 661 – 677, p. 670

[13] Neil Gregor, A Shicksalsgemeinschaft? Allied Bombing, Civilian Morale, and Social Dissolution in Nuremburg, 1942 – 1945, The Historical Journal, vol. 43, no.4, 2000, pp. 1051 – 1070, p. 1053

[14] Martin H. Folly, The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of World War II, Palgrave MacMillan 2004, p. 27

[15] M. Kirby and R. Capey, The Area Bombing ofGermany in World War II: An Operational Research Perspective, The Journal of Operational Research Perspective, vol. 48, no. 7, 1997, pp. 661 – 677, p. 665

[16] Martin H. Folly, The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of World War II, Palgrave MacMillan 2004, Map 27: The Combined Bomber Offensive, p. 27

[17] R.J. Overy, Hitler and Air Strategy, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 15, no. 3, 1980, pp. 405 – 421, p. 409

[18] Martin H. Folly, The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of World War II, Palgrave MacMillan 2004, Map 27: The Combined Bomber Offensive, p. 27

[19] Earl R. Beck, The Allied Bombing ofGermany, 1942-1945, and the German Response: Dilemmas of Judgment, German Studies Review, vol. 5, no. 3, 1982, pp. 325 – 337, p. 331

[20] Earl R. Beck, The Allied Bombing ofGermany, 1942-1945, and the German Response: Dilemmas of Judgment, German Studies Review, vol. 5, no. 3, 1982, pp. 325 – 337, p. 331

[21] R.J. Overy, Hitler and Air Strategy, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 15, no. 3, 1980, pp. 405 – 421, p. 409

[22] R.J. Overy, Hitler and Air Strategy, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 15, no. 3, 1980, pp. 405 – 421, p. 409

[23] Wesley Frank Craven & James Lea Cate, The Army Air Forces In World War 2, Europe: Torch to Pointblank, August 1942 to December 1943, Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 46, no. 2, 1950, pp. 209 – 211, p. 209

[24] Martin H. Folly, The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of World War II, Palgrave MacMillan 2004, Map 27: The Combined Bomber Offensive, p. 27

[25] Earl R. Beck, The Allied Bombing ofGermany, 1942-1945, and the German Response: Dilemmas of Judgment, German Studies Review, vol. 5, no. 3, 1982, pp. 325 – 337, p. 332

[26] Earl R. Beck, The Allied Bombing ofGermany, 1942-1945, and the German Response: Dilemmas of Judgment, German Studies Review, vol. 5, no. 3, 1982, pp. 325 – 337, p. 329

[27] Henry D. Lytton, Bombing Policy in theRome and Pre-Normandy Invasion Aerial Campaigns of World War II: Bridge Bombing Strategy Vindicated and Railyard Bombing Strategy Invalidated, Military Affairs, vol. 47. no. 2, pp. 53 – 58, p. 54

[28] Kenneth Hewitt, Place Annihilation: Area Bombing and the fate of Urban Places, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 73, no.2, 1983, pp. 257 – 284, p. 263

[29] R.J. Overy, Hitler and Air Strategy, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 15, no. 3, 1980, pp. 405 – 421, p. 416

[30] Earl R. Beck, The Allied Bombing ofGermany, 1942-1945, and the German Response: Dilemmas of Judgment, German Studies Review, vol. 5, no. 3, 1982, pp. 325 – 337, p. 333

[31] Martin H. Folly, The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of World War II, Palgrave MacMillan 2004, Map 27: The Combined Bomber Offensive, p. 27

[32] J.M. Spaight, The War in the Air: Second Phase, Foreign Affairs, vol. 19, no. 2, 1941, pp. 402 – 413, p. 413

Importance of Teaching Genocide

The Second World War is infamously portrayed by the rise of Hitler’s Nazi ideologies, coupled with the physical adoption of his most terrible ‘Final Solution’. This is certainly an event that has, and rightly so still is, one of the first subjects that spring to mind when the Second World War is mentioned in Western cultures.
Genocide, the most terrible example of humanities inability to see past human differences, is far from an extinct practice. Before the death camps of the Final Solution, there have been century’s of ‘ethnic cleansing’, whether it be in the name of God, or by the colour of a persons skin. The First World War saw the Armenian Genocide where 600,000 to over

Auschwitz ‘Work sets you free’

1.5 million people were murdered under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The Holocaust, in total, is estimated to have taken up to 6 million Jewish lives and if we compare the death toll to that of ethnic Chinese civilians who were victims of Japanese war crimes we see the murder of an estimated 23 million people.
It is difficult to draw comparisons between such unspeakable acts of atrocious murder, but it is important that such events are not forgotten. Although western culture has not necessarily ‘forgotten’ the Japanese war atrocities, I feel it may deserve more of a place in understanding the horrors of human nature and war in Western teaching and culture. This is not to say that China, Asia and even the Middle East grasp onto the Holocaust as the West does, far from it in fact. Obviously a nation will focus on the events that deeply effect them as an national community, the Rape of Nanking where up to 300,000 people were massacred in horrendous systematic fashion is prominent in the remembrance the second Sino-Japanese War by the Chinese. In contrast many Arab states still deny the existence of the Holocaust, mainly due to the past and on going Arab-Israeli conflicts which has coincidently, led Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ to become a best seller in many of these states today.
We appear to pick and choose, not deliberately, but mainly psychologically, as naturally we unilaterally align ourselves, and let ourselves be effected by the events that we can most relate to. It is important that a nation teaches to cater some sense of national pride, Britain for example sees the victory in the Second World War as such, and Winston Churchill has become a symbol of English national patriotism. A nation must also teach the atrocities so that future generations will not make the same mistake, although unfortunately this is rarely the case.

Hotel Rwanda Film 2004

The Rwandan genocide in 1994 where up to 800,000 people were murdered, although widely reported at the time and U.N. intervention, may have been forgotten if it wasn’t for the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ (2004). For people around the same age as me (21)may have had little to no knowledge of the Rwandan genocide like myself. I only recently (upon research for my dissertation on the Holocaust) learn’t about the Armenian Genocide. It is my belief that many people that leave school, at GCSE or A-Level or even after graduation from university, only leave with the Holocaust as their only concept and understanding of ethnic cleansing and genocide. There is much more to genocide, the grass roots can be attributed almost always to economics and greed. Religious crusades implemented by Kings and religious leaders merely to convert, tax and take from the ‘unbelievers’ and the rise of right wing parties such as the Nazi party and following the recent world recession the Golden Dawn party in greece, which ultimately attributes ‘foreigners’ and ‘ethnics’ to the country’s economic problems.
In Britain it is only through our high standards of education that we only see a minority of supporters for parties such as the BNP and the UKIP (whom I’d describe as cloak and dagger right wing party). Groups such as the EDL have risen in numbers since the ‘war on terror’ and the economic crisis also but upon evaluation of its members we see the everyday stereotypes  associated with nationalism; the skinheads, the football hooligans and a minority of trade and public sector workers whom may have lost work to foreigners.
Ultimately, my conclusion to this disorganised rant is that just teaching the Holocaust (which is important) and not mentioning previous genocides and modern genocides is just as bad as discrediting the importance of Holocaust itself. If we were to leave school with the knowledge that the Nazis hated and murdered Jews but that was the be all and end all of such atrocities, we remain knowledgeable of the Holocaust but ignorant to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Which in my view disgraces all those who died at the hands of the Nazis or the Japanese or before that the Ottoman Empire.

The role played by the Einsatzgruppen in the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’.


This an Essay that I wrote about a year ago on the role of the infamous Einsatzgruppen.

In memory of all who died and to learning from the past. 

The ‘Final Solution’ was architected by Heinrich Himmler and the plans were not fully implemented until 1942. Hitler had placed Himmler as Reichsführer-SS which gave Himmler full control over all SS activities. Himmler’s plan for the final solution was simple, ‘the extermination of all men, women and children of Jewish blood.’[1] The Einsatzgruppen were under the administration of Himmler and the SS, however what role did they play in the implementation of Himmler’s ‘Final Solution’?

The Nazi invasion of Polandin 1939 saw the Einsatzgruppen play a vital role in the Nazi war effort. The Einsatz groups had first been organized to follow the German Army into Polandand round up Jews and transport them to the ghettos. [2]‘During the Polish campaign no direct orders to shoot Jews were issued to the Einsatzgruppen.’[3] Although no ‘direct’ orders were given to the Einsatzgruppen to kill Jews, we can see the wide spectrum of killing they were allocated to do. ‘At top secret meetings the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommando leaders were instructed to ruthlessly liquidate all opposition to National Socialism.’[4] Opposition to National Socialism could be anyone who stood against the Nazi’s passively or physically, this pretty much gave the Einsatzgruppen clear reign in Poland to commit many atrocities. The Fuehrer-Order, later established; ‘called for the summary killing of Jews, gypsies, insane people, Asiatic inferiors, asocial people, politically tainted persons, and racially and mentally inferior elements..’.[5] Again to this was a wide range of people, the Einsatzgruppen had no clear ‘rules’ or ‘guidelines’ to follow and not even the German army could interfere with their work. The Einsatzkommando were allocated the task of ‘complete extermination of Polish intelligentsia by Himmler’.[6] This suggests that the Einsatzgruppen were heavily active in the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ and were also highly efficient. Himmler’s demand for the ‘liquidation of the polish elite were set up as a German ‘self defense’ organization under command of Einsatzgruppen who murdered between 20,000 to 30,000 Poles’.[7] The Einsatzgruppen were clearly becoming an extermination squad. However, even before the liquidation order the Einsatzgruppen, after eliminating their initial victims, turned their full attention unto the unfortunate Jewish community with horrific results.[8]We can see the clear brutality of the Einsatzgruppen and the big role they had in the suppression of the unfortunate Jewish population who fell under the Nazi regime.

Einsatzgruppen murdering Jews in the Soviet Union

It was not the Einsatzgruppen alone who carried out the atrocities of the ‘Final Solution’, as the SS had well established institutions, ‘the Waffen (armed) SS, the concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen (extermination squads)’.[9] The Einsatzgruppen were merely a cog in the complex system of the SS, however the Einsatzgruppen would become notorious and well known for their crimes against humanity. The Einsatzgruppen were the ‘primary executioners in the first wave of the Final Solution’[10], especially after the liquidation order in which the Einsatzgruppen were ordered to murder ‘all racially and politically undesirable elements among prisoners.’[11] We see the Einsatzgruppen orders are again unclear but the orders are carried out to the full with many prisoners of war, Jews or Communists murdered. We see the ‘real’ purpose of the Einsatzgruppen in Hungry 1941 as their orders were to ‘remove Jews from Hungary when the country became a combat area’.[12] We can see the clearer role the Einsatzgruppen are given as they are now solely told to handle the Jewish population, which would of course mean more mass genocide. The Einsatzgruppen schedule turned into ‘rounding up Jews, transporting them to a secluded site which was traversed by a deep ditch and then carry out the Third Reich’s murder’.[13]

It is difficult to understand why members of the Einsatzgruppen carried out their work so readily and commit so many crimes against humanity without question. We can see the ideology drilled into the Einsatzgruppen and other members of the SS in Hitler’s Mein Kampf; ‘the international Jew, who is today absolute master in Russia, does not look upon Germany as an ally, but as a state condemned to the same doom as Russia itself’.[14] This ideology explains the harshness towards Russians as well as the Jewish population, the German’s of that period were totally corrupt by Nazism.[15] It is clear that Himmler and the SS were the most corrupt minds of the Nazi regime as they carried out the ‘Final Solution’ with the utmost efficiency and brutality. Anti-Semitism was not rare in Europe, the Einsatzgruppen contained many units from Eastern Europe [16] who had experienced cruelty first hand or had their comrades killed at the hands of Soviet troops whom many were Jewish or old Bolsheviks, descendant from Jewish blood.

We can see the scale and efficiency of the Einsatzgruppen in the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ in a first hand account from an architectural student in AustriaNovember 1941, when the Einsatzgruppen were at their peak. ‘Russians taken prisoner are divided into 3 camps, deserters and those who surrender without resistance, communists, and the Jews. The last 2 as well as the Jews sent from Polandare shot on the spot.’[17] We can see the reflection of the Einsatzgruppen actions with Hitler’s ideology from Mein Kampf as all communists and Jews were shot on the spot. From as early as August 1941, the Einsatzkommando reported that ‘shooting of Jewish children happened almost daily.’[18] The Einsatzgruppen were indeed heavily involved in the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’. The question does arise, why create an extermination squad which uses up resources just to liquidate Jew’s and Nazi perceived sub-humans?  Why not just rely on the extermination camps and the Waffen SS?

The Einsatzgruppen were a key element to the success of the ‘Final Solution’ as secrecy was a key instrument of Nazi organization. If the Jewish people were to know of their fate, certain death, the Einsatzgruppen and Nazi’s may have had more physical resistance in the transporting and liquidation process. Most rumors of Nazi’s killing Jews were dismissed as just that, as Hans Mommsen states ‘the fiction behind which the ‘Final Solution’ was concealed was the mobilization of labor’[19], most believed as the Allies had that most Nazi prisoners were used as labor.  Deception was a primary tool for the Nazi’s, especially in the concentration camps, with gas chambers disguised as showers. Dr Miklos Nyiszli, a survivor of Auschwitz saw the extent of the deception; ‘Red Cross cars brought the gas from the outside. The precaution was scandalous, but still more scandalous was the fact that the gas was brought in a car bearing the insignia of the International Red Cross.’[20] The Nazis went to a great deal to keep the victims of their ‘Final Solution’ from knowing their fate, this suggests that the Einsatzgruppen were vital in this secrecy, as the mobile killing squad could liquidate all those who ‘knew too much’ or had witnessed the atrocities first hand.

We can see the scale and effectiveness of the Einsatzgruppen even further following operation Barbarossa, in which the Nazi forces would occupy part of the Soviet Union. The Einsatzgruppen were much more active in war crimes, as by the first winter of the war in the Soviet Union, almost half a million Jews had been murdered by their hands.[21] The same method that was used in Poland was employed in the Soviet Union as the Einsatzgruppen were flown over effectively to be used as a ‘firing squad’. [22] The Einsatzgruppen were certainly effective as by March 1943, by Himmler’s own statistician’s calculations; a total of 633,300 Jews in Russia had been ‘resettled’, a euphemism for the massacre committed by the Einsatzgruppen.[23] It is clear that the Einsatzgruppen were to account for many atrocities, if not most committed by the Nazi’s.

The Einsatzgruppen’s work did take its toll on their psychological state. Himmler, after visiting a mass shooting, asked for a more ‘humane’ method to be used as he did not want married men shooting at men or children.[24] Gas vans were then used, more notably at Chelmno extermination camp although this process was much slower than mass shootings. The Nazi regime did take into account the psychological implications in which its solders and police were under in performing the Fuhrers tasks. For example, in Auschwitz, Jews themselves were forced to slaughter their fellow man and do other psychologically tormenting jobs. The Sonderkommando were units of Jewish prisoner’s assigned jobs which the Nazi SS would certainly not do or were not able to. In Auschwitz Jews with certain skills (dentistry, doctors, surgeons..ect) were put to use around the camp. For example Jewish dentists became part of the ‘tooth-pulling kommando’, who with pliers, extracted, or broke off, all gold teeth of those already liquidated.[25] It was not only the SS that policed the Jews inside the camp but in fact the Gypsies, who were allowed to remain in families because they were Catholic, although many became test subjects to the Nazis racial experiments. ‘Gypsies were assigned the job of policing neighboring Jewish camps and barracks, where they exercised their authority with unimaginable cruelty.’[26]The sondokommando and gypsies were treated better than those forced to work hard labor but had short life expectancies all the same. It may be sheer need for man power that the Nazis used the victims to aid the ‘Final Solution’. On the other hand, it may be for reasons of secrecy, as the Einsatzkommando were liquidating Jews outside the camps and in the mean time the sonderkommando could be given orders with the knowledge that they would eventually be liquidated themselves, and in that sense so would the orders be liquidated.

Shoes of the victims of Auschwitz in one of the camps warehouses

The Einsatzgruppen clearly played the role of executioner in Himmler’s ‘Final Solution’, and were rightly stigmatized and persecuted after the war. The effectiveness and efficiency in which they carried out their work was as good, if not the best out of all of Nazi Germanys institutions. In a pace of just 6 months, according to Reinhard Heydrichs statistics, ‘close to half a million Jews and Gypsies and hundreds of so-called commissars were liquidated and the Einsatzgruppen could claim it as their own work’.[27] This is a devastating amount of murder in just a 6 month period, only the Einsatzgruppen seemed capable of such mass extermination. According to Richard Grunberger, the Einsatzgruppen in all liquidated 1,300,000 Jews which was at a ratio of 1 Einsatzgruppen member to 430 Jews.[28] This suggests that one member of the Einsatzgruppen killed a huge amount of people per man, which supports the fact that the Einsatzgruppen were indeed an extermination squad and not soldiers or armored police. The Einsatzgruppen also received direct orders to carry out the crimes that they did. In the testimony of a commander of the Sondokommando, the commander states that Himmler verbally issued orders to ‘shoot all Jews’ to the Einsatzgruppen.[29] This further supports the idea that the Einsatzgruppen’s primary role was one of extermination.

It has to be accounted for that the Einsatzgruppen were not the only unit ordered to and the only unit to commit these crimes against humanity. ‘Police battalions and Waffen SS brigades engaged in wholesale slaughter of the Jewish population’.[30] However, although atrocities were committed they would not live up to the workings of the Einsatzgruppen.  ‘Approximately 6 million Jews were murdered of which 2 million were killed by the Einsatzgruppen and other units of the security police’.[31] According to Grunberger’s figures as mentioned before, the Einsatzgruppen were accountable for the murder of 1.3 million Jews, whereas other units such as the Police and Waffen SS were accountable for roughly 700,000 murders of Jewish people. There is no doubt that in terms of roles in the ‘Final Solution’, the Einsatzgruppen were the execution squad of Himmler’s SS and Hitler’s Nazi Germany.


[1] Alan Bullock, Hitler a study in tyranny, Penguin Books 1962. pg. 572

[2] William L Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich, Pan Books 1960, pg. 1141

[3] Helmut Krausnik & Martin Brosak, Anatomy of the SS State, Paladin 1970, pg. 68

[4] Rudolf Loewenthal, American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, April 1951, The Extinction of the Krimchaks in World War II, pg. 134

[5] Rudolf Loewenthal, American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, April 1951, The Extinction of the Krimchaks in World War II, pg. 134

[6] Gordan Williamson. The SS: Hitler’s instrument of Terror, Sidgwick & Jackson 1995, pg.91

[7] Richard Bessel, Nazism and War, Phoenix 2004, pg. 95

[8] Gordan Williamson, The SS: Hitler’s Instrument of Terror, Sidgwick & Jackson 1995, pg.91

[9] Alan Bullock, Hitler a study in tyranny, Penguin Books 1962. pg. 699

[10] Richard Breitman, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 26, No. 3/4, Sep.1991, Himmler and the ‘Terrible Secret’ among the Executioners, pg. 432

[11] Helmut Krausnik & Martin Brosak, Anatomy of the SS State, Paladin 1970, pg. 79

[12] Gerald Reitlinger, The SS Alibi of a Nation 1922 – 1945, Arms & Armour Press 1981, pg. 350

[13] Richard Grunberger, Hitler’s SS, Delacorte Press 1970, pg. 81

[14] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Elite Minds 2009, pg. 438

[15] Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, The Historical Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, Jun., 1992,The Wehrmacht Bureau on War Crimes, Cambridge University Press, pg. 393

[16] G.S.Graber, History of the SS, Robert Hale Limited 1978, pg. 154

[17] Richard Bessel, Nazism and War, Phoenix 2004, pg. 116

[18] Helmut Krausnick & Martin Brosat, Anatomy of the SS State, Paladin 1970, pg. 81

[19] Ulrich Herbert, Past & Present , No. 138, Feb., 1993 , Labour and Extermination: Economic Interest and the Primacy of Weltanschauung in National Socialism,OxfordUniversity Press, pg. 170

[20] Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, Auschwitz,Granada 1973, pg. 48

[21] Gordon Williamson, The SS: Hitler’s Instrument of Terror, Sidgwick & Jackson 1995, pg. 102

[22] William L Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich, Pan Books 1960, pg. 1151

[23] William L Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich, Pan Books 1960, pg. 1146

[24] Yale F. Edeiken, An Introduction to the Einsatzgruppen ,http://www.holocaust-history.org/intro-einsatz/#xiv

[25] Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, Auschwitz,Granada 1973, pg. 48

[26] Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, Auschwitz,Granada 1973, pg. 35

[27] Gerald Reirlinger, The SS Alibi of a Nation 1922 – 1945, Arms & Armour Press 1981, pg. 185

[28] Richard Grunberger, Hitler’s SS, Delacorte Press 1970, pg. 81

[29] Helmut Krausnick & Martin Brosat, Anatomy of the SS State, Paladin 1970, pg. 80

[30] Richard Bessel, Nazism and War, Phoenix 2004, pg. 112

[31] Rudolf Loewenthal, American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, April 1951, The Extinction of the Krimchaks in World War II, pg. 133

Should Hitler’s Atlantic Wall be preserved?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10632543

It would seem that many French would like to forget about the defensive wall which they were forced to aide the Nazi’s to build.
However in the linked article, an interview with 91 year old Rene-Georges Lubat suggests that the wall holds significance.

“the wall should be preserved now. It is important to remember what happened – the ignominy of it all, the cataclysm that we had to endure.”

World War 2 is a a dark chapter of French history, the failure of the Maginot Line and the military decisions to defend from rather than advance towards the enemy cost them dear. The Atlantic Wall was built as a result of the Nazi occupation of France and it is not surprising that it would be left in a state of forgotten disrepair. However, I’m of the opinion that the wall should stand as a reminder of Frances darkest hour, and serve as a reminder. After all, where would we be if we choose to forget rather than learn from tragedy’s and mistakes.

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