I just finished reading "Bomber Boys: Fighting Back, 1940-1945", by Patrick Bishop. As noted in a review by the Telegraph:
While Bishop avoids openly lauding the merits of mass destruction, he does clearly believe that the extraordinary bravery and resilience of the men who carried out this campaign deserve our lasting recognition and respect.
Redressing this 'wrong' is a mission statement declared at the outset. The men of Bomber Command were never properly thanked for their significant part in the Allied victory - neither by Churchill in his victory address, nor with a specific campaign medal. Nor is there a national memorial. Bishop hopes that Bomber Boys will mark the first step in rectifying this.
I would never question the bravery of the aircrews who faced extraordinary odds against survival while flying the missions of the RAF's Bomber Command.
However, back in the early 70's, I read a very detailed account of the firebombing of Hamburg. To be frank, it made my skin crawl. Bomber Boys not only tells the story of the men of Bomber Command, but catalogs many of the civilian targets leveled by the RAF's area bombing campaign.
The task assigned via the Casablanca Conference was "the progressive destruction of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their armed resistance is fatally weakened". That the area bombing of Greman cities by the RAF actually accomplished none of these objectives, while killing some 600,000 civilians and very few uniformed military, might explain why no campaign medal, memorial or glory was established once the war had ended. In short, the RAF took 600,000 German civilian lives in return for the some 32,000 Brits killed in the Blitz of London and other cities, and obviously the political leaders exhibited some remorse once the job was done.
Of course, the 125,000 men who flew in Bomber Command were never really told what was going on. Rather, they were told that they were crippling the German war machine. Some 47,000 crewmen died on these missions.
The moral dilemma I see is that the British leadership pursued a path no less barbaric than their Nazi foes. The target list reached a point where a city with no more strategic target value than a rail junction would be obliterated. And, by obliterated, I mean its population, which would generally be the elderly, women and children.
Of course, no rose can be pinned on the USAAF. Their daylight "precision bombing" was no more precise than the RAF's area bombing. But, however, the 8th US Air Force did tend to target cities with more military value than their Brit cousins. The civilian deaths, however, were equally staggering.
One can build a case that based on the intel available, the two nukes dropped on Japan ultimately hastened the war's end, saving significant lives. Unfortunately, no such immediate or tangible result can be attributed to the area bombing of Germany. Of course, while it was going on, it did provide a sense of "striking back" for the people of the Allied nations.
But, more than anything else, Bishop conveys a very realistic picture of small unit relationships during the rigors and uncertainty of war. Having flown a crew served aircraft in combat, the material rings true.