By Timothy Adder – When talking about World War II, alternative history and possible outcomes are an unavoidable topic. Delays in military operations, “wrong” decisions of both sides are just some examples. Why didn’t France and Britain destroy Hitler in 1938? Why didn’t France and Britain attack Hitler in 1939? Why didn’t Hitler destroy Britain in 1940? The questions go on and on. However, when talking about the period when the war reached the end phase and when the Anti-Nazi Coalition acted in synergy, numerous questions were opened about some real possible outcomes of the Second World War.
One such operation, which was a true indicator that the collapse of Germany has been delayed on purpose at least since the second half of 1943, is the well-known bombing campaign, codenamed “Operation Gomorrah”. The terrifying and hitherto unseen bombing campaign that began on July 27, 1943, lasted 8 days and 7 nights. More than 3,000 bombers took part in the entire operation. Arthur Harris’s dreams of a “storm that Germany will want” have come true in the full sense of the word. The firestorm, which was made even worse by warm weather and continuous bombing, killed 42 thousand people and wounded over 120 thousand. Hamburg was completely paralyzed. Due to the application of the chaff countermeasures (then known as the Window), the Western Allies jammed German radars and suffered minimal losses, only about 12 planes. Twelve planes with more than 40,000 killed Germans and paralyzed Hamburg. It seems like a very effective mission. In the post-work documentary Secret War, former German Minister of Armaments Albert Speer stated:
„It was quite a surprise to us when the first Hamburg raid took place because you used some new device which was preventing the anti-aircraft guns to find your bombers, so you had a great success and you repeated these attacks on Hamburg several times and each time the new success was greater and the depression was larger, and I have said, in those days, in a meeting of the Air Ministry, that if you would repeat this success on four or five other German towns, then we would collapse.” – Albert Speer – The Secret War.“
Is it possible that the Western Allies did not know about the catastrophic consequences of the bombing mission and that with several such missions they could’ve brought Germany to its knees? The chances are almost nil, given that after the war it was revealed that some high-ranking German intelligence officers were cooperating with the British intelligence service. Even if we add a few devastating bombings (in terms of civilian casualties) nothing could compare to the bombing of Hamburg. That the killing of civilians was not a moral obstacle for the Allies in winning the war is shown by the nuclear bombings of Japan, but also by the bombing of Dresden, which was not a city of strategic importance during the war.
The Soviet Perspective
From the Soviet perspective, the Western Allies could have done much more to defeat the Third Reich, and according to some historians and analysts, the real reason the Western Allies did not make the “magic four to five Gomorrahs” was to divide the world again. At the time of the operation, the Western Allies were just starting their amphibious operations in southern Italy, from where they could not take “their” part of Europe in the newly planned division of the world. The only ground force that could take advantage of the collapse of Germany was the Red Army. According to this version, similar bombing missions with the same goal were not carried out because the defeat of Germany was already set from that moment. The Western Allies realized that mass bombing of German civilians could bring Germany to its knees, but who would benefit from that in 1943?
If we calculate how many bombing missions were carried out with the aim of destroying industrial facilities, dams, or in support of Allied ground troops, we come to a very simple calculation that the Western Allies could’ve easily conducted “Operation Gomorrah”, and not 5 times as Speer claimed, but at least a 100 times. Arthur Harris has stated several times that there are no moral obstacles for him if it will save the lives of British soldiers. After the operation, Arthur Harris said to Sir Charles Portal:
“By April 1944, we could bring Germany to its knees with such missions.”
It is obvious that Arthur Harris did not consider the wider political context, unlike his superior Winston Churchill when he thought about a faster and complete victory with the concept of Operation Gomorrah.
The version of the “redivision” of the world cannot be dismissed lightly. If Western Allies had brought Germany to its knees in 1943, the Red Army would have been the only one to exploit the success and expand communism to the developed countries of Western Europe, which would have given the Soviet Union a great advantage in the postwar division of the world. Instead, the defeat of Germany was set in such a way because any strategic advance of Allied armies from Italy was virtually impossible. It was only possible when “Operation Overlord” was set in motion, after which the “redivision” of the world as envisaged by the Western Allies was possible. Analyses of the past allow us to have a better perspective of military operations in modern warfare, which are also projects of political will and economic interests.