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  • May, 2022.

  • Russian tanks roll across eastern Europe on their way to clash with NATO forces.

  • In the Pacific, China launches a brutal invasion of Taiwan, while saturating American military

  • forces in Japan and Guam with hundreds of long-range ballistic missiles.

  • World War 3 has begun, and the US military is ready to respond with the most powerful

  • military to ever exist.

  • A few hundred tanks and two or so dozen ships make up its army and navy, but in the skies

  • above the Pacific and Europe, ten thousand American strategic bombers rain GPS guided

  • death down on massive enemy formations below them.

  • This isn't the American military you know today, this is the American military as envisioned

  • by the Bomber Mafia.

  • In the years following World War I, one thing was clear: there had to be a better way to

  • fight war.

  • Nobody truly believed that the War to End All Wars would actually put a stop to human

  • conflict, but some men in the United States Army Air Corps thought that perhaps, they

  • could find a way to make war more humane... by paradoxically making it much more violent

  • and brutal.

  • The Air Corps Tactical School hosted America's aviator officers, and was ground zero for

  • the development of new ways to use the fighter and bomber, two brand new tools of war birthed

  • from the first world war.

  • Up until the late 1920s, aircraft were seen as supplementary weapons of war, and good

  • for little else but directly supporting ground troops.

  • However, one group of officers took serious issue with that viewpoint, and argued that

  • the future of war was in the skies.

  • Fighters and bombers wouldn't support ground troops- they'd make them almost obsolete.

  • Rather than support ground forces directly, this group of upstart officers- which included

  • the likes of the legendary Major General Curtis LeMay and Brigadier General Haywood Hansell-

  • argued that a sufficiently large bomber force could shut down a nation's ability to wage

  • war.

  • Bombers could reach targets that artillery couldn't hope to, and by flying high and fast

  • could avoid much of the ground fire that would threaten them.

  • If a sufficiently large bomber could be developed, hundreds of tons of explosives could be delivered

  • exactly to the places that would hurt the enemy most.

  • The group quickly got the nickname of the 'bomber mafia', for the bitter and furious

  • debates they would launch into with fellow Army and Navy leadership.

  • The bomber mafia called for a paradigm shift in air strategy, and introduced a doctrine

  • of strategic bombing.

  • Rather than use air power to strike at the enemy's rear or soften up enemy formations

  • prior to an attack, strategic bombing would focus on the use of precision air power to

  • strike deep inside enemy territory and destroy infrastructure needed to support a war effort.

  • If an enemy's factories were all destroyed, it mattered little how many tanks they currently

  • had in their inventory, since losses would never be replaced.

  • The bomber mafia also argued for a separation from the United States Army of all air forces,

  • and the creation of a separate and independent branch of the US military dedicated to air

  • power.

  • With military budgets extremely tight during the interwar years, neither the Navy or Army

  • was willing to part with any of its budget in order to accommodate the creation of a

  • brand new branch, and thus American air forces remained as simply another arm of the United

  • States Army.

  • This, the bomber mafia argued, severely hindered the development of new strategic doctrine

  • for the use of air power, as Army leadership predictably saw fighters and bombers as nothing

  • more than another tool to support Army operations.

  • But the bomber mafia was actively trying to make Army operations all but obsolete.

  • Despite being largely ignored by senior Army leadership, the bomber mafia began to grow

  • in influence as the Air Service Tactical School moved to Maxwell Field in Alabama.

  • Here, Army aviators could converse and theorize on the use of air power free of overwatch

  • by their more traditionalist supervisors, and the doctrine of strategic bombing began

  • to take even more solid form.

  • War was cruel, the bomber mafia reasoned, and thus any steps one could take to shorten

  • it were morally justified.

  • Even if those steps were incredibly brutal themselves.

  • Better to fight a short, bloody war, the one that dragged on for years and created exponentially

  • more casualties.

  • Air power, with its ability to deliver hundreds of tons of bombs with whole formations of

  • planes, was very well suited for the task.

  • As World War II broke out, the bomber mafia was partially redeemed in the eyes of military

  • leadership thanks to the shock and devastation of the Pearl Harbor attack, carried out almost

  • exclusively by aircraft.

  • The date that would live on infamy in US history would turn out to be a boon to the bomber

  • mafia, who finally had the ear of both government and the public.

  • Yet the bomber mafia's aim was always to use overwhelming power to shorten the length,

  • and thus brutality, of a war, and early in the war they publicly condemned the massive

  • civilian bombing of the British Royal Air Force as inhumane and cruel.

  • Just years later, one of the bomber mafia's own would be responsible for the greatest

  • loss of human life in a six hour time span- almost all of them civilian.

  • The doctrine of strategic bombing slowly gained traction with the US Army Air Corps, but it

  • wasn't until the introduction of the B-29 Superfortress that the bomber mafia's doctrine

  • of strategic bombing was truly redeemed.

  • For a decade, the US's heavy bomber of choice was the B-17 Flying Fortress, a dependable

  • bomber with a range of 2,000 miles (3219 km).

  • The B-29 extended that range to a whopping 3,250 miles (5,230 km), truly making it possible

  • for the first time to hit targets deep in the enemy's heartland.

  • For comparison, a B-29 taking off from New York City would only be 200 miles short of

  • dropping bombs in London.

  • It was the difference in payload however that truly made strategic bombing a viable war-winning

  • doctrine, at least in the eyes of the bomber mafia.

  • While the B-17 could carry 4,500 lbs (2041 kg) of bombs, the B-29 could carry 20,000

  • lbs (9071 kg) of nazi-busting explosives.

  • This nearly quintupled the destructive power of a flight of American bombers.

  • There was just one problem with the bomber's mafia vision of victory by strategic bombing-

  • American planes couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

  • To be fair, no planes really could.

  • In World War II there simply didn't exist the mechanical help needed to accurately measure

  • velocity, wind speed, height, and distance to target in the dynamic environment of a

  • plane making a bomb run.

  • A survey of attack run footage recorded by American bombers found that less than 20%

  • of bombs were actually hitting their targets.

  • With such abysmal hit rates, strategic bombing would simply never work.

  • Steps were taken to increase the accuracy of US bomber attacks.

  • Major attacks were planned during daylight hours, which deprived bombers the cover of

  • darkness but allowed them to more accurately sight in on ground targets.

  • Then it was discovered that US bombers were further decreasing their accuracy because

  • the pilots would perform evasive maneuvers up until the last few seconds before lining

  • up on their targets.

  • General Curtis LeMay famously ordered his men to cease all evasive maneuvers, explaining

  • with the help of basic arithmetic that the odds of an enemy anti-aircraft shell and their

  • airplane sharing the same point in space were approximately 1 in 386.

  • When his pilots became skeptical, LeMay simply said, “I'll fly the lead plane myself.”.

  • He did, and in the subsequent attack on German forces, not a single US bomber was lost.

  • However, all measures taken so far barely helped improve bomber accuracy.

  • This now split the bomber mafia into two factions, one led by General LeMay, and the other by

  • General Haywood Hansell.

  • Hansell stuck to the bomber mafia's original view that indiscriminate bombing of the civilian

  • population was immoral, and that victory could only be achieved by striking strictly strategic

  • targets and limiting civilian casualties.

  • LeMay vocally disagreed, believing that given the lack of an ability to precisely strike

  • targets, the enemy must instead be made to suffer as much as possible so the war could

  • end as quickly as possible, thus limiting further suffering.

  • Hansell placed his faith in the Norden bombsight, one of the most secretive weapons development

  • programs of the second world war.

  • The sight dramatically increased the accuracy of American bombers, promising to make strategic

  • bombing truly viable for US forces.

  • There was just one problem: the sight only worked in perfect weather and ideal conditions.

  • Still, Hansell would get a chance to prove his doctrine of striking at only strategic

  • targets, as he was given command of bomber forces operating over Japan.

  • Unfortunately, the raids under Hansell's command largely failed to cause more than minimal

  • damage to Japan's wartime industries, largely due to the abysmal accuracy.

  • The US wanted an end to the war, and so Hansell was replaced with LeMay.

  • Immediately, LeMay ordered his bombers be fitted with a brand new invention by a Harvard

  • chemistry lab: napalm.

  • Careful study of Asian cities had revealed to American planners that unlike with European

  • cities, incendiary weapons, rather than traditional explosives, were the weapon of choice for

  • maximum destruction.

  • This is because Asian cities were largely made of wood, with buildings tightly packed

  • together and narrow streets.

  • They lacked the firebreaks, wide roads, and open parks of European cities.

  • In effect, they were the perfect tinderbox, ready for a match to be lit.

  • LeMay began his firebombing campaign against Japan in 1944, to absolutely devastating effect.

  • During the March 9th and 10th attack on Tokyo, an estimated 100,000 people died, leading

  • the United States Strategic Bombing Survey to estimate that more civilians lost their

  • lives in a 6-hour period during this attack than at any other six hour time period in

  • the history of humanity

  • LeMay burned down Japan's 10 largest cities almost completely to the ground, and yet the

  • Japanese refused to surrender.

  • He then turned to Japan's 50 largest cities, and still Japan refused to surrender.

  • In all, he'd end up turning to ash 66 Japanese cities, with Japan no closer to surrender.

  • Ultimately it would be a combination of fear of Soviet invasion and occupation, and internal

  • politics, that would lead Japan to surrender, not the US's strategic bombing efforts.

  • By the end of the second world war, the bomber mafia's belief that the bomber could win a

  • war was objectively false, but the US would be hard-pressed to truly learn this lesson.

  • LeMay got his wish after World War II, and the United States Air Force was officially

  • established as an independent branch.

  • Just in time for the Korean War.

  • With the US Air Force firmly under the influence of the bomber mafia, it was believed that

  • strategic bombing could truly achieve victory.

  • Yet as the Korean War dragged on, the Air Force ran out of targets to bomb- everything

  • worth spending tax payer money on bombing had already been bombed, and still the communist

  • North Korean forces fought on.

  • This should have been a wake-up call to the US military, yet the bomber mafia's influence

  • continued to heavily affect US wartime planning.

  • As the Cold War dragged on, US ground forces became absolutely dwarfed by Soviet forces,

  • though American air power dramatically outclassed that of the Soviets.

  • At one point the US Air Force operated an incredible 2,500 heavy bombers, while the

  • Soviet Union only fielded a few hundred capable aircraft.

  • It'd be in Vietnam however that the US would start to see the folly of the bomber mafia's

  • long time focus on air power.

  • While concerns with escalating the conflict into a war with the Soviet Union limited approved

  • targets for American bombers, Operations Linebacker and Linebacker II did little to actually seriously

  • impair North Vietnam's ability to fight.

  • After each massive bombing campaign North Vietnam would feign at a willingness to negotiate,

  • but was in truth simply buying time for its ground forces to reorganize.

  • Ultimately, all the firepower in the US bomber arsenal could do little to stop North Vietnam's

  • victory over South Vietnam.

  • With the failure of strategic bombing in Vietnam, the bomber mafia's influence began to wane

  • in the US Air Force.

  • Today, strategic bombing is a critical component of America's wartime strategy, but the US

  • military no longer holds the illusion that wars can be won from the air- despite ironically

  • the US Air Force being today at a point technologically that it might theoretically be possible for

  • strategic bombing to win a war against a major industrialized power.

  • The bomber mafia's biggest problem was simply being 75 years ahead of the times.

  • The technology available to them made their doctrine of achieving victory through strategic

  • bombing impossible, as they lacked aircraft with the range, payloads, and more importantly

  • the accuracy needed.

  • Still, their contributions to American military planning are today indispensable, and it's

  • largely thanks to them that the US military leads the world in the development and employment

  • of smart weapons.

  • Most of the US weapon inventory is either precision guided, or can be readily converted

  • into a smart bomb, while peer competitors such as Russia and China still field low numbers

  • of precision munitions.

  • This gives the United States military an incredible advantage, and helps make the bomber mafia's

  • doctrine of victory through strategic bombing more possible than ever before.

  • Now go watch MOAB- Mother of all Bombs, or click this other video instead!

  • The Bomber Mafia, by Malcom Gladwell

May, 2022.

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How the Bomber Mafia Changed Warfare by Making it Deadlier

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    Summer posted on 2021/07/24
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