In 1923, a draft convention promoted by the United States was proposed: The Hague Rules of Air Warfare, December, 1922-February, 1923". There are number of Articles therein which would have directly affected how nations used aerial bombardment and defended against it; these are Articles 18, 22, and 24. It was, however, never adopted in legally binding form.
In response to a League of Nations declaration against bombardment from the air, a draft convention proposed in Amsterdam in 1938 would have provided specific definitions of what constituted an "undefended" town, excessive civilian casualties, and appropriate warning. This draft convention made the qualifying standard for a locale to be considered "undefended" quite high - any military or anti-aircraft units within a defined radius qualifies a town as defended. This convention, like the 1923 draft, was not even close to being ratified when hostilities broke out in Europe in 1939. While the two conventions offer a guideline to what the belligerent powers were considering before the war, neither document was legally binding.
After World War II, the judgment of the Nuremberg Trials records the decision that, by 1939, those rules laid down in the 1907 Hague Convention were recognized by all civilized nations, and were regarded as being declaratory of the laws and customs of war. Under this post-war decision, a country did not have to have ratified the 1907 Hague conventions in order to be bound by them.
The legality of the status of area bombardment during World War II rested on the language of the treaties of 1899 and 1907, from a time before large-scale aerial bombardment was even possible. In advance of the first Hague conference, Imperial Russia circulated a proposal calling for a complete ban on bombardment from the air, subsequent negotiations resulted in a five-year ban. By the time of the second Hague conference in 1907, advances in both aircraft and dirigible technology made even another temporary ban anathema to perceptions of national security. This left international law with language which, despite repeated diplomatic attempts, was not updated in the immediate run-up to the Second World War.
There were a further nineteen raids in 1915, in which 37 tons of bombs were dropped, killing 181 people and injuring 455. Raids continued in 1916. London was accidentally bombed in May, and in July the Kaiser allowed raids directly against urban centres. There were 23 airship raids in 1916, in which 125 tons of ordnance were dropped, killing 293 people and injuring 691. Gradually, British air defences improved, and Zeppelin losses mounted. In 1917 and 1918, there were only eleven Zeppelin raids against England, and the final raid occurred on August 5, 1918, which resulted in the death of KK Peter Strasser, commander of the German Naval Airship Department. By the end of the war, 51 raids had been undertaken, in which 5,806 bombs were dropped, killing 557 people and injuring 1,358. The Zeppelin raids were complemented by the Gotha bomber, which was the first bomber aircraft used for strategic bombing. It has been argued that the raids were effective far beyond material damage in diverting and hampering wartime production, diverting twelve squadrons and over 10,000 men to air defences. The calculations that were performed on the number of dead to the weight of bombs dropped had a profound effect on the attitude of the British authorities and population in the inter-war years, because as bombers became larger it was fully expected that deaths from aerial bombardment would approach those anticipated in the Cold War from the use of nuclear weapons. Adding to this was the fear that aerial chemical weapons might be used against civilian targets on a massive scale. The fear of aerial attack on such a scale was one of the fundamental driving forces of British appeasement in the 1930s.
As part of British colonial policy, Sir Hugh Trenchard involved the RAF in policing of mandated areas of the Middle East.
The techniques of 'Air Control', as it was called were developed in the Iraq, around 1924. Air Control replaced the use of ground forces in effecting the restoration of order, particularly in distant areas. Where before it would be necessary to send a column of troops through the countryside to the unrest with the problems of needing a long supply column and provoking tension in the areas they passed, aircraft were used. If law and order broke down a summons was issued to call those affected to appear at a court by a set date. The summons also spelt out the consequences of not obeying. If the summons was not obeyed the inhabitants of the village or fort would be informed of the date and time of the air raid that would follow; then the bombers would bomb on that time and date after the inhabitants had vacated the site.
The elements of the system which included target marking and locating, as well as formation flying, was taken up by the Trenchardian school which included Arthur Harris, Charles Portal, and Sid Bufton.
The Imperial Japanese Army Air Service frequently used incendiary bombs aimed at non-military targets. The bombings were mostly done against Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Wuhan and Chonging, with around 5,000 raids from February 1938 to August 1943.
The bombing of Nanjing and Canton, which began on 22 and 23 September 1937, called forth widespread protests culminating in a resolution by the Far Eastern Advisory Committee of the League of Nations. Lord Cranborne, the British Under-Secretary of State For Foreign Affairs, expressed his indignation in his own declaration. "Words cannot express the feelings of profound horror with which the news of these raids had been received by the whole civilized world. They are often directed against places far from the actual area of hostilities. The military objective, where it exists, seems to take a completely second place. The main object seems to be to inspire terror by the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians..."
During the invasion of Poland in 1939, the Luftwaffe carried out the bombing of cities in Poland, including a number of cities without any military presence. Among the targets were Frampol and Wieluń. Warsaw was also bombed.
As World War II began in 1939, the president of the United States (then a neutral power), Franklin D. Roosevelt, issued a request to the major belligerents to confine their air raids to military targets. The French and the British agreed to abide by the request, which included the provision that "upon the understanding that these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents".
At the start of the war, the United Kingdom had a policy of using aerial bombing only against military targets and against infrastructure such as ports and railways which were of direct military importance. Whilst it was acknowledged that the aerial bombing of Germany would cause civilian casualties, the British government renounced the deliberate bombing of civilian property, outside of combat zones, as a military tactic.
On 14 May 1940, Luftwaffe bombers were ordered to bomb Rotterdam by its chief, Hermann Goering, in an effort to force the capitulation of the city. The bombing targeted the center of the city, which was not on the front line, the combat occurring between the hard-pressed German 22nd infantry division (under Lt. Gen. Sponeck, which had airlanded on May 10) and Dutch forces northwest of the city, and in the eastern part of the city at the Meuse river bridge.<> At least one author believes Goebbels' assertion that the only target was a defended part of the city vital for the military advance. As surrender negotiations were in progress, an unsuccessful attempt was made to call off the assault. Nevertheless, 57 He-111's did drop 97 tons of bombs, devastating of the city center, including 21 churches and 4 hospitals, and killing between 800-1000 civilians, wounding over 1,000, and making 78,000 homeless. The casualties from the bombing of Rotterdam were inflated by British propaganda by up to a factor of 30. Propaganda of the time on both sides focussed on aerial bombing, as in Nazi propaganda blaming the British for the inadvertent Luftwaffe bombing of Freiburg on May 10, 1940.
Nevertheless, it became a cause celebre for Britain, and on May 15, 1940 Bomber Command was authorized to attack German military targets east of the Rhine in order to draw German air resources away from France. In Germany, Hitler authorized the 'reprisal' bombing of targets on the British mainland nine days later<>. Actual Luftwaffe operations over England did not start for six weeks. The Germans had threatened to bomb Utrecht in the same fashion, the threat of a second terror bombing being sufficient to force the surrender of the Netherlands to Nazi Germany.
On May 15 1940 as a consequence of the destruction of the centre of Rotterdam, the United Kingdom abandoned its policy of using aerial bombing only against military targets and against infrastructure that was of direct military importance. The day after the Rotterdam Blitz, the RAF was given permission to attack targets in the Ruhr, including oil plants and other civilian industrial targets which aided the German war effort, such as blast furnaces (which at night were self-illuminating). The first RAF raid on the interior of Germany took place on the night of 15 May - 16 May.
According to one author, the purpose of the British strategic bombing campaign became to kill as many enemy civilians as possible, breaking their morale through this terror and thus causing a surrender. While this may have become the case in 1945, with a prostrate Nazi Germany barely able to feed itself, let alone continue a war for much longer, it certainly was not so earlier on. By any measure, the Allied strategic bombing campaign was not specifically a terror campaign, unlike the directly-ordered bombings of civilians by the Nazi government.
One revisionist author believes that the first Allied deliberate "terror bombing" of German civilians was the December 16, 1940 bombing of Mannheim. To put this date in context, it was four months after the start of the bombing of the UK, and well after earlier Luftwaffe terror bombings in Spain, Poland, and Holland. According to one author, the German response to British bombing was initially hesitant, stating that two German pilots were demoted because they had mistakenly dropped bombs on London, instead of on military targets. This author further notes that Arthur Travers Harris (Bomber Harris) urged the government to reveal to the British public that: "the aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive...should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany."
The Luftwaffe carried out intensive bombing of cities in the United Kingdom, including London and war industry centers such as Coventry, in a bombing campaign known in Britain as "the Blitz", from September, 1940 through May, 1941. The goal of this campaign was, after the invasion plan was dropped, to force Great Britain to sue for peace by lowering the morale of the British population through intensive bombing, the very definition of terror bombing. Germany continued to bomb the UK throughout the war, long after any possible effect could be achieved, culminating in the so-called 'vengeance' attacks by V-1 flying bombs and V-2 missiles.
Also in 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia after a new government in that nation repudiated its ties with Germany. Hitler ordered the terror bombing of Belgrade specifically to punish Yugoslavia.
Like the Germans, the British abandoned daytime precision bombing of targets in the enemy's homeland. Initially, the RAF attempted night time precision bombing, but after the circulation of the Butt report in August 1941, the British government abandoned the policy of precision bombing for area bombardment with the issuing of the area bombing directive to the RAF on 14 February 1942. Eight days later ,Arthur "Bomber" Harris took up the post of Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of Bomber Command. The change in tactics was hotly debated inside the British military establishment, as it had a direct effect on the most effective use of the Britain's limited resources in waging war on Germany. Should the Royal Air Force (RAF) be scaled back to allow more resources to go to the British Army and Royal Navy, or should the strategic bombing option be followed and expanded? On on 30 March 1942 Lord Cherwell, the British government's leading scientific adviser, sent to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill a memorandum which after it had become accepted by the Cabinet became known as the dehousing cabinet paper. Mr. Justice Singleton, a High Court Judge, was asked by the Cabinet to look into the competing points of view. In his report, that was delivered on 20 May 1942, he concluded that:
Until the last month of the war in Europe the British did not abandon the policy of area bombardment — apart from a break during the summer of 1944 while RAF bomber command stopped the strategic bombing of Germany to concentrate on the tactical bombing of France to support the Normandy landings — although later directives put more emphasis on the bombing of strategic targets such as oil production and distribution facilities, area bombardment was not totally abandoned until the last month of the European war. The most effective way to dehouse the population was fire-bombing of city centres which inevitably caused many deaths to civilians. This was a deliberate attack on the moral of the enemy as it was believed by the British that in the words of Lord Cherwell in the dehousing paper that "Investigation seems to show that having one's home demolished is most damaging to morale. People seem to mind it more than having their friends or even relatives killed.
One of the most devastating raids of the European theatre was the Dresden bombing of February 13-15, 1945, which started a firestorm and left the city in ruins and claimed between 25,000 and 40,000 lives. It is estimated that raids of Allied air forces on the Third Reich killed between 305,000 and 600,000 civilians of which about 80,000 were children . The primary objective of these attacks was to damage economic infrastructure to seriously weaken the enemy's ability to fight the war, in line with the doctrines of Total war. Senior Allied commanders like Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris and politicians also hoped, in the early years of the war, that the morale of the Axis populations and governments could be so undermined by these tactics that they would sue for peace. However the resilience of Londoners under the Blitz, and the failures of Operation Gomorrah (the bombing of Hamburg) and the Battle of Berlin to break the morale of the Germans, showed that this was unrealistic to all but the most ardent advocates of area bombardment, like Arthur "Bomber" Harris.
The Germans harboured similar unrealistic hopes for their V1 and V2 rockets. With only conventional warheads and limited to area targeting they did not make any difference to the military outcome. The Nazi government propaganda ministry made much of their use as reprisal weapons (Vergeltungswaffen) on the population of London in response to the Allied strategic bombing campaign waged against German cities. In the Pacific Theatre, Japan specifically terror bombed Chinese civilian targets, inflicting massive civilian casualties in the Bombing of Chongqing and various other bombings.
The USAAF officially only bombed precision targets over Europe, but for example, when 316 B-17 Flying Fortresses, of the XXI Bomber Command, bombed Dresden in a follow up raid at around noon on the 14 February 1945, because of cloud the later waves bombed using using H2X radar for targeting. The mix of bombs to be used on the Dresden raid was about 40% incendiaries, much closer to the RAF city busting mix than that usually used by the Americans in precision bombardments. This was quite a common mix when the USAF anticipated cloudy conditions over the target.
In its attacks on Japan the USAAF abandoned its policy of precision bombing and used a mix of incendiaries and high explosives to burn Japanese cities to the ground. These tactics were used to devastating effect with many burnt out. The first raid using low-flying B-29s carrying incendiaries to drop on Tokyo was on the night of February 24-25 1945 when 174 B-29s destroyed around one square mile (3 km²) of the city. Changing their tactics to expand the coverage and increase the damage, 279 B-29s raided on the night of March 9–10, dropping around 1,700 tons of bombs. Approximately 16 square miles (41 km²) of the city were destroyed and some 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the resulting firestorm, more than the immediate deaths of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Another example is the Bombing of Kobe on 17 March 1945, 331 B-29 bombers launched a firebombing attack against the city. Of the city's residents, 8,841 were confirmed to have been killed in the resulting firestorms, which destroyed an area of three square miles and included 21% of Kobe's urban area. At the time, the city covered an area of 14 square miles (36 km²). More than 650,000 people had their homes destroyed, and the homes of another million people were damaged.
The United States fire-bombing of Tokyo, Kobe, and other targets in Japan is a case in which contradictory conclusions have been made. American airmen such as General Curtis LeMay felt that changing from a relatively ineffective campaign of precision bombing carried out against industry to a much more successful firebombing campaign carried out against the general population was a reasonable way to interrupt Japanese industry. Such attacks damaged homes and light industry, leaving large numbers of workers homeless and jobless, reducing war output by half in Tokyo. On the other hand, many observers felt that the firebombing of civilians in densely-packed cities was inhumane. A military aide to General Douglas MacArthur called the incendiary attacks "one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Japanese Government into, according to Emperor Showa'speech, "enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable" and agreeing to unconditional surrender of their armed forces under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.
With modern precision-guided munitions (or "smart bombs"), fewer casualties are caused among the civilian populations than with area bombing. This was demonstrated in the use of "smart" munitions before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, when U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of Shock and Awe bombings that he hoped would lead to an Iraqi surrender without the destruction of large areas of Baghdad. Modern weapons however still cause collateral damage and there is still a high percentage of 'dumb' bombs for example used in Iraq and Afghanistan (around 30% ). There are instances in all recent conflicts of civilians being killed by airborne munitions, with most bombs missing their targets. In the Kosovo War, NATO intended to bomb military, economic and political targets in Serbia and Montenegro. However, scores of civilians were killed and the Chinese embassy was accidentally hit in the bombings, leading to international protest.
Recent terror bombing illustrates our need to address U.S. dependence on imported oil.(Originated from Knight-Ridder/ Tribune News Service)
Jul 11, 1996; KRT FORUM By William F. O'Keefe The tragic deaths of 19 U.S. airmen in the recent terror bombing in Saudi Arabia has brought back...