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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Berlin Air Offensive

18 November 1943 to 24 March 1944

Theatre: Western Europe
Location: Berlin, eastern Germany
Players: Britain: Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris's RAF Bomber Command.
Outcome: Widespread damage to the city of Berlin at a high cost to British aircraft.

'By March 1944, it became clear that the area offensive had fallen short of its goals and that Bomber Command was facing destruction by night fighters just as earlier it had faced destruction by day fighters.' - Noble Frankland, historian and Bomber Command veteran

Flying Fortresses drop a heavy load of bombs on industrial targets in Germany
Flying Fortresses drop a heavy load of bombs on industrial targets in Germany©
On 10 June 1943 the Pointblank Directive was issued, expanding on the Casablanca Directive of February 1943 which had ordered the destruction of German targets and the undermining of German morale.

In view of the continuing losses suffered during daylight raids, the directive initially proposed precision bombing of the German aviation industry as the primary objective, to be supplemented by 'RAF bombing attacks against the surrounding industrial area'.

Redrafted by the Air Ministry, the directive tasked the 8th US Army Air Force with attacking the aviation industry; RAF Bomber Command would work towards 'the general disorganisation of German industry', as before.

Eight raids on Berlin in November and December 1943 reduced much of the city to rubble, killing over 4,000 Berliners and making half a million homeless; 220 aircraft were lost to German night fighters during the raids. Six raids in January 1944 did limited damage on the ground but cost 192 aircraft.

A raid on February 15, with a cost of 43 aircraft, caused extensive damage but little loss of life; much of the population had already fled the city. A final raid on March 24 was scattered by bad weather with the loss of 72 aircraft.

Losses were running at the unsustainable rate of 6-7 per cent per raid, with no prospect of a German surrender. With Germany reasserting command of the air and the Normandy landings in prospect, Arthur Harris's dream of defeating Germany through bombing was slipping away.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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