In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Allied Bombardment of Occupied Europe During World War II

  • Introduction
  • General References
  • General Accounts of the Air War 1940–1945
  • Bombing Theory and Practice
  • General Works on Bombing Occupied Powers
  • Allied Biographies and Memoirs
  • Occupied France
  • The Transportation Plan
  • Industrial Targets
  • Casualty Studies
  • Population Control and Civil Defense
  • Normandy and the Invasion
  • Ports
  • Pas-de-Calais, Crossbow, and Fortitude
  • Rouen and the Seine River Crossings
  • Other Occupied States
  • Reconstruction and Legacy

Military History The Allied Bombardment of Occupied Europe During World War II
Stephen A. Bourque
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0163


Although occupied Europe absorbed more bombs than Germany until the middle of 1944, few of the air war’s standard accounts examine details of operations against France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and post-surrender Italy. However, since the mid-1990s, scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have begun to remedy this omission. In the case of the Allied bombing of France and the Low Countries, the attacks lasted five long years and targeted most of the region’s population centers, small towns, and even isolated villages. In 1944, as the Norman landings approached, the bombing intensity increased dramatically; by the end of the year, aircraft from the US Army Air Force and British Royal Air Force had killed approximately 75,000 French civilians and destroyed thousands of buildings and historic structures. Today, monuments across France attest to the effects of these attacks, often naming the individual victims in the same manner a war memorial commemorates the conflict’s military veterans. Newspapers and civic groups alert the rebuilt communities when an anniversary of an especially significant attack approaches. Finally, cemetery plots, often entombing entire families, provide tangible evidence of the grief suffered by families and communities. These were not random acts of military violence, but integral parts of Operation Overlord, the Allied landing in Europe. Directed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, air operations such as Fortitude, Pointblank, Crossbow, and the Transportation Plan ensured that ground forces would be able to land on the coast and not be thrown back into the sea by reinforced German defenders. Few English-language books have addressed this portion of the Norman landings because the bombings took place out of sight of those landing on the coast. Although French, Italian, and English historians have been busy since 2010 exploring this history, studies of operations in Belgium and the Netherlands are still in their infancy. Whereas literature on the Allied air operations is extensive, this article focuses only on those sources that elaborate on bombing operations against occupied Europe, but it is only preliminary as studies on this topic are expanding rapidly.

General References

Certain standard references are essential for any discussion of the Allied air war over the occupied states and provide the researcher with essential operational summaries and details. Most important is Leleu, et al. 2010, which provides essential details on the French situation. It is the most important one-volume reference work for the study of France during the war. Written by the best scholars in this discipline and magnificently illustrated, it provides detailed maps, charts, and descriptions of all aspects of the war. Cox, et al. 1993 introduces and annotates the Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit that evaluated the effectiveness of Allied bombing during the war. It also has important charts and information on kinds of targets attacked and bomb tonnage dropped. This report contains important information on bombing operations against French, Italian, and Belgian rail systems and vengeance weapon sites. United States Strategic Bombing Survey 1947 indexes the massive collection of reports, target information, and analysis of specific operations and targets used after the war to evaluate bombing effectiveness. Approximately half of the records concern air war in the European theater. The Index, published after the war, is a researcher’s first step in utilizing this valuable collection. Freeman, et al. 1981 is the best one-volume source on Eighth Air Force missions. Middlebrook and Everitt 1985 has compiled the same for Bomber Command. Mahoney 2013 has assembled the same information for the generally ignored US Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy. As of the mid-2010s, no details of missions by the Second and Ninth Tactical Air Forces have been published. Davis 2006 seeks to provide a one-volume summary of the overall Allied bombing effort.

  • Cox, Sebastian, Michael Beetham, and John W. Huston, eds. The Strategic Air War against Germany, 1939–1945: Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit. London: Frank Cass, 1993.

    Of special note are discussions of bombing policy, technical changes, and supposed improvements in bombing accuracy.

  • Davis, Richard G. Bombing the European Powers: A Historical Digest of the Combined Bomber Offensive, 1939–1945. Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 2006.

    This a good one-volume reference to the entire bombing war organized by year and month. It contains a CD with non-copyrighted disk with maps and spreadsheet of bombing operations. Researchers should note that this information is incomplete and does not include all missions from the tactical air forces.

  • Freeman, Roger A., Alan Crouchman, and Vic Maslen. Mighty Eighth War Diary. New York: Jane’s, 1981.

    A chronological listing of missions by unit and target. Contains general information on each squadron and a solid index.

  • Leleu, Jean-Luc, Françoise Passera, Jean Quellien, and Michel Daeffler, Guillaume Balavoine, and Jean-Pierre Azéma. La France pendant la seconde guerre mondiale. Paris: Fayard, 2010.

    Extremely important book on all aspects of France’s participation in the war. It provides an extensive bibliography covering each aspect of the conflict.

  • Mahoney, Kevin. Fifteenth Air Force against the Axis: Combat Missions over Europe during World War II. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2013.

    Contains monthly narratives and a large quantity of details on tactics, weapons, and individual missions. The index lists all cities bombed by month and year. Not to be overlooked in any discussion of the bombing of occupied Europe.

  • Middlebrook, Martin, and Chris Everitt. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book, 1939–1945. New York: Viking, 1985.

    An essential source for operations conducted by Bomber Command during the war. This is a chronological listing of missions, including unit, targets, and air losses, and contains general information on each squadron and a robust index.

  • United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Index to Records of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1947.

    Although all of the individual documents are located in Record Group 243 at the National Archives, College Park, MD, many individual reports are found in federal depository libraries across the country. This is an extensive index, over 300 pages long, and worth consideration for any project regarding bombing during the war. Available online.

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