EPISODE 4: Robert Ehlers on Air Intelligence in the Air War Over Europe

Glenn welcomes Dr. Robert Ehlers, who draws on his own experiences as an Air Force Intelligence officer in writing Targeting the Third Reich: Air Intelligence and the Allied Bombing Campaigns.

Targeting the Third Reich examines the pivotal role of air intelligence in the Allied bombing campaigns during World War II, specifically focusing on the Combined Bomber Offensive from 1943 to 1945. The book explores the symbiotic relationship between air intelligence and operational planning, shedding light on how intelligence contributed to the success of strategic bombing missions against Germany.

Ehlers emphasizes the collaboration between the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) “precision intelligence” and the U.S. Army Air Force’s (AAF) “precision bombardment” forces. The RAF’s expertise in photographic reconnaissance and signals intelligence played a crucial role in guiding both British and American bombers to strategically significant targets with precise timing and munitions. This partnership was effective in orchestrating damage assessment within a well-organized structure.

Ehlers focuses on three key offensives in 1944 that had a profound impact on the Nazi war effort: attacks on French and Belgian rail supply lines to Normandy, strikes against German oil refineries, and bombings of German railroads and waterways. The book underscores the effectiveness of bombers as part of a combined-arms force, providing crucial advantages to Allied armies on the battlefield.

The heart of the narrative lies in the examination of how air intelligence influenced the decision-making process of senior air commanders, such as the RAF’s Arthur “Bomber” Harris and the AAF’s Carl “Tooey” Spaatz.

By 1944, these commanders could assess the accuracy and effects of bombing with precision, analyze its impact on the German war effort, and determine its effectiveness in achieving strategic objectives. Ehlers utilizes a wealth of bomb-damage assessment photographs and archival sources to demonstrate the success of air intelligence in the Allied victory.

The book argues that the devastating impact of over 1.4 million bombing missions and nearly 2.7 million tons of bombs on Axis powers was, in large part, due to the strategic use of intelligence operations. The narrative also addresses the misuses of intelligence by political and military leaders during the conflict.

Ehlers highlights operational errors resulting from misused intelligence, such as attacks on non-lucrative targets or insufficient persistence in attacking vital objectives. The analysis reveals instances where political and military preferences affected the efficient use of intelligence. Listen to Glenn’s conversation with Ehlers for a deeper understanding of the role of air intelligence in the defeat of the Third Reich.

Thank you to Tobacco Free Adagio Health and UPMC for Life for sponsoring this event!