AERIAL BOMBARDMENT ACCURACY:  World War II.  The development of smart weapons, combined with extensive television coverage of their use has created the impression that a weapon dropped from an aircraft equals a hit on a target.  Bombs that do not hit the advertised target must therefore have been deliberately dropped at another target or have been dropped by incompetents.  Although not really the case in the 2000s, this was clearly not the case in World War I (see Strategic Bombing in World War I - Germany), wars between the two World Wars (see Bombing of Guernica), or in World War II (see Bombing of Warsaw and Helsinki).

This was particularly true of night bombing raids.  An 18 August 1941 report, written by Mr. David M. Butt and provided to the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command, highlighted the following performance data.  When a five mile radius was drawn around the target, and only aircraft that reported attacking their targets were considered, analysis showed that:

Further, of all the aircraft dispatched on bombing missions, only 66 percent reported reaching and attacking their target. 

There are two sets of implications to this data.  First, from the attacker's standpoint, even large night raids could not be counted on to completely destroy a target.  More aircraft and more bombs were required than if a large percent of the aircraft had reached even the rather generous 5 mile radius (which hardly guaranteed destruction of a specific or a hardened target).  Second, from the civil defense standpoint, the problem became much more complex.  Any attack could be expected to have a fairly large footprint of damage, with increased impact on population, infrastructure, and housing.  Shelter populations and populations needing post-attack services were increased.  Even being well outside the probable target areas in any city or town was not a guarantee of safety.  At the same time the problems of where to locate and stage rescue forces became more complex if they were to be protected from the direct impact of the attack.

Source: Rubel, David, editor, World War II, The Axis Assault, New York, New York, United States of America, Times Books, 2003.

Entry 04120 - posted 25 November 2004