Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, archivist at the National Archives in College Park.
In mid-September 1944 General Henry H. ( “Hap”) Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Force, proposed that every available British and American airplane be used on some clear day to swarm all over the German Reich, attacking military objectives in towns that had hitherto been unmolested by the air forces. This type of operation, he felt, would afford the Germans an opportunity to witness at firsthand the might of the Allies and to reflect on their own helplessness. But clear days that opened up the entire expanse of Germany to such a venture were rarities, especially during the autumn, and during the winter the Allied air forces were tied up, in part, with the German counter-offense in the Ardennes, and, in part, giving first priority to attacking German oil targets.
By the middle of February the several Allied land armies were prepared to resume the offensive toward the Rhine which the Germans had interrupted in December. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) requested the air forces to utilize all available Anglo-American air power in a blow at German rail and water transportation facilities which would result in an immediate disruption of the German lines of communication and transportation system in general, and that the impact would be of direct and immediate benefit to the ground forces. SHAEF desired British-American bombers and fighters to range over most of Germany simultaneously on a clear day to attack all sorts of transportation targets: grade crossings, stations, barges, docks, signals, tracks, bridges, and marshalling yards. Most of the objectives were located in small towns that had never been bombed before. Hence they would not be well defended and injury to Germany’s economy might, at its best, produce a demoralizing effect on the Germans, and perhaps the precipitation of a crisis among railroad personnel, on the eve of the land offensive. Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz, commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, agreed to the concept and the Allied air planners developed a plan to implement SHAEF’s desires. Each of the Allied air commands which participated was given an area for attack, secondary targets and targets of opportunity to be chosen in the same general area as the primaries if the latter could not be seen. The operation was code-named “Clarion.”
The opportunity to launch Operation Clarion came on February 22, when most of Germany was expected to be vulnerable to visual-bombing attacks. The tactical air forces received assignments in western and northwestern Germany. The Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, was to operate over a wide area in southern Germany, Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command retained its semi-monopoly over the Ruhr, and the Eighth Air Force planned to bomb several dozen towns in the middle and north central part of Germany. The Eighth Air Force had to depart from its usual operating procedures in several respects. Most important of all, the heavy bombers were to attack from about 10,000feet or even lower instead of the customary 20,000-25,000-foot altitudes. Also, they were to form small attacking units instead of organizing into the usual large formations. All the Eighth’s fighters were to go along, mainly for independent strafing and bombing operations.
On February 22 the Eight Air Force effectively sortied 1,372 bombers (B-17s and B-24s) and 677 Fighter escorts. These bombers would drop 3,895.1 tons on assigned targets and numerous targets of opportunity. Eighty-five of the bombers sustained battle damage from flak, which was not surprising in view of the low bombing altitudes. Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) opposition to the bombers was very meager, with only one bomber being lost in air action, a straggler shot down by a Me-262. The escorting fighters engaged more than 25 Fw-190s and a few Me-109s southwest of Bremen; six Me-262s in Stetting area; more than 12 Me-262s in Stendal-Brandenburg area; one Me-262 southeast of Salzwede; four Me-262s in the vicinity of Stendal; 15 Me-262s southwest of Berlin; and two Me-262s south of Helmstedt. The escorting fighters claimed to have downed two Me-262s and the fighters engaged in fighter sweeps claimed two Me-262s. The hardest hit targets during the day were Ansbach (420 tons); Ulm (232.5 tons); Wittenberge (216 tons); Stendal (over 214 tons); Ulzen (over 214 tons); Salzwedel (over 197 tons); and the marshalling yards at Bamberg (187 tons), Hildesheim (over 148 tons), Peine (over 142 tons), Ludwigslust (over 136 tons), Kreinsen (over 131 tons), Northeim (over 124 tons), Luneburg (over 115 tons), and, Halberstadt (over 113 tons). Those targets receiving 20 to 99 tons were marshalling yards at Aalen, Gottingen, Celle, Ottergen, Neustadt, Nordhausen, Singen, Schwenningen, Eschwege, Villingen, Wallhausen;and cities of Donaueschingen, Reutlingen, Freiburg, Hafingen,Wittstock, Grabow, Kobbelitz, Dannenberg, Klotze, Sangerhausen, and, Vienenburg. Those targets bombed with less than 20 tons were the marshalling yards at Kitzingen, Oker, and, Zwickau.
The escorting fighters attacked targets on the ground, claiming to have destroyed or damaged 44 German aircraft, 104 locomotives, 22 oil tank cars, and 232 railcars. Meanwhile two groups of P-51s making fighter sweeps claimed to have destroyed or damaged 31 locomotive and 74 railcars.
The Fifteenth Air Force sortied 231 B-17s and 543 B-24s, escorted by 99 P-38s and 201 P-51s, against communication targets in an area 300 miles long and 100 miles wide in southwest Germany. They would bomb 32 marshalling yards and staffing attacks after the bombing, destroyed or damaged 110 locomotives, 40 oil tank cars, and 300 railroad cars. Also on February 22 the Ninth Air Force sortied 465 bombers and 1,053 fighters as part of the attack on transportation targets. The Ninth Bomb Division attacked 44 railroad bridges, rail sidings, rail junctions, and, eleven marshalling yards, dropping 850 tons. The Ninth Tactical Air Command dropped 136 tons on rail targets, carried out in the Giessen-Freiburg area. The Nineteenth Tactical Air Command dropped 79 tons on numerous rail targets and strafed rail traffic in the Bingen area. And the Twenty Ninth Tactical Air Command dropped 161 tons on rail targets in the Dusseldorf-Cologne area. The Ninth Air Force claimed to have destroyed or damaged 183 motor vehicles, 28 armored vehicles and tanks, 118 locomotives, 1,407 railroad cars; damaged 3 bridges; and, made 185 rail cuts. During the day the Ninth Air Force aircraft claimed shooting down 17 German aircraft in the air, while losing three bombers and 12 fighters.
During February 22 the First Tactical Air Command sortied 171 bombers and 782 fighters and fighter bombers to attack rail targets in northwest and western Germany. During the day, while losing 8 bombers and 2 fighters, they claimed to have destroyed at least 9 German aircraft in the air and destroyed or damaged 38 locomotives, 536 railroad cars, ten bridges, as well as making 170 rail cuts. Also during the day the RAF Second Tactical Air Command sortied nearly 1,700 aircraft to attack marshalling yards, railroad stations, and rail traffic in northwest Germany. They would lose 21 Mosquitoes (de Havilland DH.98) and 12 fighters, while claiming to have shot down six German aircraft, and destroying or damaging 252 motor vehicles, 166 locomotives, 877 railroad cars, 94 barges, as well as making 110 rail cuts.
On February 22, thirty-four RAF Lancasters, escorted by 115 P-51s, bombed the railway viaducts at Altenbeken and Bielefeld, without losing any aircraft. Also during the day, 85 Lancasters, escorted by 49 Spitfires, while losing one aircraft, dropped over 383 tons on the town area and a Benzol plant at Gelsenkirchen. Seventy-five RAF Lancasters, escorted by 48 Spitfires and P-51s, suffered no losses and dropped over 333 tons on the Benzol plant at Osterfeld.
This first Clarion operation was judged so successful that a repeat was ordered for February 23, though on a smaller scale. On that date the Eight Air Force effectively sortied 1,211 bombers and 492 Fighter escorts to attack rail centers in central Germany. While encountering almost no Luftwaffe opposition, they dropped 3,316.4 tons on assigned targets and numerous targets of opportunity. More than 110 tons were dropped on each of eight marshalling yards (Treuchtlin, Crailsheim, Neumarkt, Ansback, Kitzingen, Weimar, Gera, and Plauen. Also heavily bombed were Nordlingem, Schwabisch Hall, Winterhausen, Meiningen, Adelsberg, Hildburghausen, Lichtenfels, Schweinfurt, Ellingen, Ottingen, Wurzburg, Crailsheim, Jena, Osnabruck, Schluchter, Fritzler, Reichenbach, Steinau, and Paderborn, and the marshalling yards at Fulda and the railroad bridge at Kitzingen. Only two bombers failed to return to base, one ditching in the North Sea and the other having its crew parachuted safely in friendly territory. During the day the escorting P-51s claimed to have shot down seven German planes with the loss of one plane to Flak. The Fighter escorts also claimed to have destroyed or damaged 31 locomotives, 141 railroad cars, and 17 oil tank cars. Also during the day, three groups of fighters made sweeps, strafing airfields at Neuburg, Landsburg and Leipheim, rail and road traffic near Augsburg and near Frankfort. While losing one P-51 while strafing they claimed to have destroyed or damaged 23 German aircraft on the ground, 17 locomotives, 58 railroad cars, and 16 oil tank cars. And in a special operation, twenty-four B-24s dropped nearly 60 tons on the marshalling yards at Neuss.
On February 23 the Ninth Air Force sortied over 2,300 medium bombers, fighters and fighter bombers. The Ninth Bomb Division dropped nearly 600 ton on communication centers in western Germany. The Ninth Tactical Air Command conducted armed reconnaissance north and south of Stockheim and north of Duren and provided air cooperation to ground forces. The Nineteenth Tactical Air Command provided armed reconnaissance in Cologne, Trier, Bonn, Mannheim, and Homburg areas. The Twenty-Ninth Tactical Air Command provided armed reconnaissance in Venlo area and provided air cooperation to ground forces. They claimed to have destroyed or damaged six German aircraft in the air, 123 locomotives, 3,027 railroad cars, 1,317 motor vehicles, 305 armored fighting vehicles, 9 bridges, 20 barges, as well as making 115 rail cuts. During the day the First Tactical Air Command sortied over 905 aircraft to make fighter sweeps, armed reconnaissance, rail interdiction, and to attack bridges, fuel dumps, and gun positions in western Germany. During the day they claimed to have destroyed or damaged 17 German aircraft in the air, as well as destroying or damaging 7 locomotives, 323 railroad cars, as well as making 67 rail cuts. The RAF Second Tactical Air Command sortied 179 aircraft to make armed reconnaissance in Dulmen, Paderborn, Cologne, Duren, Munster areas and to attack railroad bridges and ammunition depots.
During the day 324 RAF bombers, escorted by 119 Spitfires and P-51s, while suffering the lost of one Halifax bomber, dropped over 1,170 tons on Essen and 130 Lancasters, escorted by 33 Spitfires, while suffering no losses, dropped nearly 580 tons on the Benzol plant at Gelsenkirchen. The Fifteenth Air Force sent 455 heavy bombers to attack eight transportation targets in southern Germany.
Two days of Operation Clarion, which saw bombing accuracy unexpectedly high and losses slight, resulted in the Allied air forces demonstrating for the Germans ample evidence of Allied air power and its control of the skies. The German transportation system was dealt a heavy blow. Yet, it appears the rail traffic throughout the area affected had been radically reduced for only three days and that the attacks had not prevented the Germans from continuing the movement of high priority traffic. The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) concluded that the Clarion Operation had not seriously affected Germany’s capacity to resist, and Air Marshal Charles Portal, RAF Chief of Staff, in indorsing this opinion, advised against any further attempts with this type of operation. Spaatz; Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, the Deputy Supreme Commander at SHAEF; and Lt. Gen. James Doolittle, commander of the Eight Air Force, were inclined to disagree with the JIC conclusion, but they launched no further Clarion operations.
Transportation Division, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, The Effects of Strategic Bombing on German Transportation, November 20, 1945, pp. 15, 16, File: 200 The Effects of Strategic Bombing on German Transportation (Final Report), European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.
Military Analysis Division, U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, The Impact of the Allied Air Effort on German Logistics, Second Edition, January 1947, p. 60, File: 64A The Impact of the Allied Air Effort on German Logistics (Final Report), European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.
Headquarters, Eight Air Force, INTOPS Summary No. 298 and INTOPS Summary No. 299, February 22 and 23, 1945, File: 2A(5)(g), VIII AAF INTOPS Summaries, 1 Feb. 1945-31 Mar. 1945, Vol. 7, Narrative and Statistical Operational Reports of U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe, 1942-1945 (Entry I-10 25, NAID 561306), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.
Statistical Section, Air Ministry War Room, War Room Monthly Summary of Bomber Command Operations, Month of January 1945, n.d., pp. 9, 11,14, 15, 20, File: 2N(2) (e) Bomber Command Operations 1 Jan 45-1 May45, Statistical Operational Reports of the Royal Air Force Bomber and Fighter Commands in Europe, 1941-1945 (Entry I-10 26, NAID 561308), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.
Eight Air Force Monthly Summary of Operations, February, 1945, March 11, 1945, pp. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 39, 43, 69, 70, 77, File: 2A(4)(l) Eight Air Force Monthly Summary of Operations, February 1945, Narrative and Statistical Operational Reports of U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe, 1942-1945 (Entry I-10 25, NAID 561306), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.
Memorandum, Military Analysis Division, U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey to All Division Directors and all Division Chiefs, USSBS, Subject: Milestones of Strategic Bombing, August 3, 1945, File: 64AC Milestones of Strategic Bombing, European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.
Maj. Gen. K.W.D. Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, SHAEF, Transport Intelligence Bulletin No. 2, May 31, 1945, File: Transport Intelligence Bulletins, Compilations of Intelligence Reports 1942-1945 (Entry NM-8 13, NAID 572508), Records of the Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.
Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Gate, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II; Volume Three, Europe: Argument to V-E Day January 1944 to May 1945 (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History), pp. 639, 732-735, 761-762.