Kim Carnes in the heat of the Battle of Berlin. Victory for the men and women of the air defence command of the German land, defeat for Bomber Command going "crazy in the night." Under the winter moons, Bomber Command lost 2,690 men, another 1000 POWs, seven percent of all of Bomber Command's wartime casualties. On 30/31 March 1944, 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and nine Mosquitos (795 aircraft in total) were vectored on Nuremberg. Ninety-five were shot down. Air Chief Marshal Harris claimed that the losses were acceptable, and Max Hastings mistakenly echoes him, but, incredibly, it was not true. With the full effort of Britain's industrial might behind it, Bomber Command would have to give up its attack on Berlin because it was running out of planes in spite of a monthly output of 250 heavy bombers. That is an unimaginable production run for a heavy bomber both from the perspective of 1924 and of 2014, but it was not enough in 1944. Bomber Command flew shorter missions and enjoyed lighter losses through the spring and summer, gathered its strength, sand came back to "reap the whirlwind" in the Third Reich's last winter. Gloating over the failures of their own nation, a breed of British historians has relished the comparative success of the American daylight offensive, which apparently proves that Britain has too many public schools or something. (Jesus, guys, high school's over.) Actually, the American daylight formula would soon itself fail before the falcons of Japan, and while I started this post with the thought that --somehow-- I could give a lapidary summary of the failure of airborne remote control gun defences in World War II, it seems like that might be a bit much here.
In the heroic version of the myth of Curtis LeMay, it would be that incredibly young general officer, a man of "mixed French and English ancestry" out of a civil engineering programme in the rusticated Old Northwest who would recognise that, in the special conditions of Japan only, and totally not in Germany, night area bombing was the right way forward for the B-29 force only. You will find the short discussion in the Wikipedia biography of LeMay. Essentially, area bombing was wrong in Europe, where the USAAF did not do it, and right in Japan, where it did do it. The "about face "executed by United States Strategic Bombing Survey says little good about its scholarship, and much about the need to revisit our assumptions. AA defences, and even somewhat less-than-efficient interceptors, in the end, worked --in daylight. It was losses that forced 20th Air Force into the arms of the night, not the wooden, conflagration-prone houses of Japan. Ultimately, it was also about training hours. Bomber Command was as reluctant to embrace daylight flying in the summer of 1944 because its crews lacked training in formation flying. Eighth could never have shifted to a night bombing offensive in 1943 because it lacked night flying training, and its aircraft were not equipped for it. Both problems were fixed, at least in the context of 20th Air Force, but a long prewar learning curve that ultimately taught that night bombing was an operational necessity because defences can't see at night is obscured.
Enough of that, though. The long nights of winter have returned with the lonesome October. The winter-swollen Rhine carries its gold to the sea, and only the Combined Bomber Offensive can range beyond it. Germany will burn until Germans end this war. The boys who look down on the world from their planes that carry images of Hollywood starlets on their noses only want to go home, and Germany isn't letting them, so Germany must be punished. It is an impatient, angry and futile impulse. Germany will not surrender, not until enemy soldiers march into their hometown in a perverse catharsis, a black catharsis, of the wounded passions of 1918. On the other hand, the bombing is intended to stop factories and shut down railways, even if our eyes are fixed on more horrifying results.
On December 19, 1944, cut off on the High Fens in the Forest of Arden, where the old border runs between the Duchy of Luxembourg and the Prince-Archbisophric of Trier and the Wild- and Rhinegaviate of Salm, the 442nd and 443rd Regiments of U.S. 106th Infantry Division surrendered. Six thousand men passed into German captivity, including a former college student turned infantry private, Kurt Vonnegut. He was being held in underground meat cold storage facility Shlachthof Funf in the city of Dresden on 13 February of 1945, when the Combined Bombing Offensive united to destroy the main line of communications supporting the German forces which have just launched a dangerous counterattack against 1st Ukrainian Front's attack into Lower Silesia. Unable to form properly trained infantry cohorts after a long war's brutal casualties, the Red Army needs all the help it can get.
Whether it needs the help described in Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is another matter. The novel, rich with the Zeitgeist of 1969 (the year after Curtis LeMay was defeated in his campaign for the Vice-Presidency for an avowedly segregationist third party) is, as I understand it, defensibly understood as the autobiography of a man completely dislocated by the experience of the destruction of the city of Dresden by fire in three raids between the nights of 13/14 and 15/16 February. (So cliched has Dresden become as an emblem of that horrifying winter that Max Hastings uses the attack on Darmstadt on 11/12 September in his Bomber Command. A great many Darmstadts add up to more than one Dresden.)
Before the pinnacle of his fame in 1969, Kurt Vonnegut had the usual struggling writer's career. A job as a technical writer at GE's upstate New York works provided the inspiration for his first novel, which was terrible, but still worth some attention, though not so terrible that it did not inspire a striking tattoo. (At least according to Google Search. I'm not sure I see the connection, but anyway...)
|Taylor Public Library|
Player Piano presents us with a portrait of technologically-driven unemployment in the world of 1950s conformity. Working at GE, Vonnegut heard about a new computerised numerically controlled milling machine that would replace the machinist who had formerly cut the elaborate shapes of the turbine rotors for GE's new jet engines, and jumped into a future where, in factory after factory, the experts came one day, recorded the motions of the expert machinists, and then replaced them with black boxes controlled by punch cards, In this future, Illium, New York, is divided into neighbourhoods of unemployed, redundant labourers, and upper middle class managers and engineers, who live in a postwar, suburban paradise, because they have jobs. (But with a catch! Palate cleanser.) There's a revolution, as Random House promises, but it fizzles out, and also the Aga Khan talking to the giant computer in the Carlsbad Caverns that actually runs America, although my memory supplies few non-hazy details. It's been a while.
It's also technical nonsense. CNC milling machines do work, but without close supervision from actual machinists, they just produce "scrap at high speed." David Noble's account of the collapse of this first post-work utopia, might not be prophetic of future techno-utopian dreams, but he does underline the extent to which deskilling can turn out to be a social artefact. Who cares if you get rid of the actual machinists if you get rid of their job description and wages?
As I said before, my first plan for this posting was going to go into detail on the automatic turret problem --which bears very directly on the CNC machine tool problem-- and contrast it with the other way of escorting bombers to their target, 100 Group's electronic warfare aircraft. That, I now think, is rather much as substance, even if it will do for peroration. Technology is doing, and most successful, to this point, in an agonistic setting, and new technology is emergent, not synthesised. That's an elaborate way of saying that when Bomber Command returned to the fight in the fall of 1944, it was with new weapons, forged in electronics workshops and wielded by 100 Group, and that these weapons were sufficient to carry the night bombers across Germany. It also goes to show that the "CNC" revolution that Vonnegut thought he recognised in 1952 was already being overtaken by a digital one, and that it is the"engineers and managers" of Illium, who dreamed of being promoted to Pittsburgh, who were on the verge of becoming obsolete, while the machinists who opened up the black boxes and reprogrammed them to work were glimpsing a future that would work. It is awesome, and there's probably some kind of social commentary here on how the apparent social stasis of the 1950s turned out to be the parent of the countercultural revolution of the 1960s, and even that the most dangerous social moment of the era was not the conformity of suburbs (red-lining racism aside) but rather the moment when Revolution was socialised as a middle class lifestyle.