Operation Pointblank

This was the Allied combined bomber offensive undertaken by the British and US strategic bomber forces in Europe in accordance with a directive fixed at the ‘Symbol’ conference in Casablanca (14 June 1943/19 April 1944).

The initial result of the directive resulting from the Casablanca conference was the 'Combined Bomber Offensive' agreed by the Allied Combined Chiefs-of-Staff, and the British Air Ministry issued the Casablanca directive on 4 February. This stated that the objective was 'The progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic systems and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened. Every opportunity to be taken to attack Germany by day to destroy objectives that are unsuitable for night attack, to sustain continuous pressure on German morale, to impose heavy losses on German day fighter force and to conserve German fighter force away from the Russian and Mediterranean theatres of war.

The primary object of the ‘Pointblank Directive’, which was formally issued by the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff on 14 June 1943 to supersede the 'Combined Bomber Offensive' directive, was to organise British and US strategic bombing efforts to ensure ‘the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened’.

Overall control of the offensive was entrusted to the British Chief of the Air Staff, Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal, though the real implementation of the scheme was left to Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris and Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, commanding RAF Bomber Command and the US 8th AAF respectively. Although the two air forces should have been able to dovetail their activities nicely, the British operating at night and the Americans by day, there remained fundamental differences of strategic aim, and this bedevilled the whole ‘Pointblank’ campaign, for whereas the Americans believed in selective attack on key industries and transport centres using precision daylight attacks, the British remained firmly wedded to the concept of general area attack by night in the belief that there were no vital industries whose destruction could not be compensated by the use of alternatives, dispersed production and stockpiles. Harris thus opted for general attack which, he believed, would ultimately result in the total dislocation of the German war-making capability and thus the attainment of the objective of ‘Pointblank’.

Within the original ‘Pointblank’ directive the primary objectives for Allied bombing were listed as U-boat construction yards, the German aircraft industry, transportation, oil plants and other targets in Germany’s war industry, while secondary targets which were mentioned included U-boat bases in the western part of German-occupied France, Berlin, industry in the northern part of Italy, German warships in harbour, and (when the Allies invaded the continent) any targets tactically advantageous for continental operations.

The directive was reviewed at the ‘Trident’ (3rd Washington) conference in May 1943, and though the basic objects remained relatively unaltered, it was decided that the Allied bomber forces should also concentrate on the destruction more specifically of German fighter aircraft in the course of air combat, and on the production centres for such aircraft, the rationale being that the destruction of Germany’s air strength was ‘essential to our progression to the attack of other sources of the enemy war potential’. In other words, only the destruction of the Luftwaffe would permit the bomber forces to concentrate effectively on those targets whose destruction was sought in the original directive.

The plan was adopted in definitive form after 14 June 1943, but was never implemented fully as a result of the tactical latitude given to the bomber force commanders in the UK, and in Italy when Major General James H. Doolittle’s (from 3 January 1944 Major General Nathan F. Twining’s) US 15th AAF started to operate from bases in that country: the 8th and 15th AAFs then became Lieutenant General Carl A. Spaatz’s US Strategic Air Forces in Europe. The Americans therefore continued with precision attacks, and the British with general attacks, and only rarely were the efforts co-ordinated so that the two different attack techniques were applied to the same targets.

'Pointblank' came to an end in April 1944 when the Allied strategic air forces came under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower for support of the 'Overlord' campaign.