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Bombing of Germany, National Geographic | reviews, news & interviews

Bombing of Germany, National Geographic

Bombing of Germany, National Geographic

This is not how Hollywood wanted you to see the war

Destruction in Berlin after Allied bombingNational Geographic

By complete coincidence, this afternoon I tuned in to Air Force, Howard Hawks's 1943 propaganda picture: chiselled young airmen fill a B-17  "flying fortress", dropping their payloads over Japan, both a news service and wish fulfilment for domestic audiences. Their sharp, sweaty features glow in the firelight. Their commanders are tough but fair. Their bombs fall crisply, in a noble cause. This is not that film.

In Bombing of Germany, you saw how well Hawks rewrote history. Surviving members of B-17 crews talked about Operation Thunderclap, the all-out air assault on Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin in February 1945, the qualms they felt about moving from targeted bombing of strategic objectives to bombing an entire city to break its morale and cause it to revolt. Survivors of the bombing described the two-metre-high piles of corpses and the children's toys at the top of piles of debris. We were not in Hollywood any longer.

Except the video used in this programme may as well have been created by some special-effects studio in California: I have never before seen such vivid and shocking documentary footage, from every perspective. There are the bombs slipping out of the planes; the buildings crunching and collapsing and burning as they hit; the people running in terror. German pilots crank up their planes. A wounded pilot, haunted, stares at the camera as he passes. Bodies lie in rows.

All of this footage - and it was extraordinary, easily suggesting the horrors of the time - supported the programme's exploration of the question of whether such indiscriminate bombing as Operations Thunderclap and Gomorrah (where in July 1943 the British pounded Hamburg into hell, launching a firestorm and a pillar of smoke that rose 20,000 feet, killing 45,000) was justified in the service of the greater cause, defeating the Nazis.

Extracts from official documents show how American commanders were unhappy with such a policy, fearing it destroyed something humane in the American war effort, and some of the talking heads see it as a slippery slope leading to the atomic bomb, whose 65th anniversary we have just observed.

A public which had consumed the cruel truth of Bombing of Germany, rather than the popcorn of Air Force, would have had a much harder time answering the moral questions we now have the luxury to consider. What would such footage from Afghanistan do for us today?

  • Buy Air Force (but only as a Region 1 DVD) on Amazon

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This documentary might as well have been prepared by Joseph Gobbles himself. The standards that one would expect for journalism from a group like National Geographic were so far below expectations of a fair assessment of the strategic bombing campaign that is it disgusting. Some quick facts that were omitted include (but not limited to): - The US Air Force in now way conducted 'precision bombing' as much as they liked to suggest. Their bombers toggled bomb loads when their 'master bomber' in the lead bomber released his bombs. To call that precision bombing as the so called experts did in this show is to say the moon is made of cheese. - The British bombing at night was not simply arrive over target city and drop at will. The experts suggest there were no targets of interest to the British simply an area bombing of the city itself. This is complete and utter rubbish. Any cursorary examination of The Pathfinders Squadron would show that their entire role was to go in ahead of the bomber stream, highlight specific targets as best possible through 'target indicators' or what we might simply call flares, and to have the bomber stream bomb that TI indication as accurately as possible given the circumstances. This too was not precision bombing but it was much more than simply showing up over a city and emptying a bomb bay indiscriminately as this show would suggest. - Albert Speer, the Nazi Armourment's minster, in his memoirs that he wrote when he had considerable time to reflect while sitting in Spandua prison, said that the single largest impact on the war from the German perspective was the combined bomber offensive. - While this bombing was going on, there were may civilian casualties in Germany. The show didn't bother to mention however at the same time this was occuring millions, yes millions, of Jews were being tortured, gassed, and incinerated in the Concentration camps. The show went into considerable discussion on who had the moral high ground....and that the US 8th Air Force and earlier the RAF had somehow lost their morality. Excuse me....millions of Jews killed by the Nazi's, propped up the general German population (which makes them accomplices whether they like it or not) is certainly the moral low ground. It's only revisionists and apologists that would consider that RAF and 8th Air Force to be on the same plane morally as the Nazi's. Pathetic indeed. This show should be clearly marked as the propoganda that it is. Kind Regards, Hugh Peden Maple Ridge BC

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