Labour History Review

‘The Weak Link’? The Perception of the German Working Class by RAF Bomber Command, 1940-1945

Labour History Review (2012), 77, (1), 11–33.

Abstract

During the Second World War the German urban working class became a deliberate object of attack by RAF Bomber Command, resulting in more than three hundred thousand deaths. This article examines the evolution of bombing strategy during the war to show why workers were targeted and the assumptions that lay behind it. The emphasis on breaking morale was one motive but it became clear that expectations of a possible workers' revolt in Germany were fanciful and by 1944 any prospect of using the bombing of working-class districts as a political objective was largely abandoned. Instead, bombing working-class areas became part of the strategy of economic warfare. Calculations were made based on the British experience of the Blitz to show that destruction of housing, amenities and services, and a high casualty rate, was a surer way of reducing productivity than attacking individual factories. Bomber Command maintained this strategic objective throughout the war, while veiling its deliberate attack on civilians from the wider public. By 1944 the attacks had reduced productivity, but did not prevent the German economy from functioning until almost the end of the war.

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Author details

Overy, Richard