Why Bombing Auschwitz Was Not An Option

Ahead of the annual Auschwitz Liberation Day on 27th January, some question were asked why the Allies did not bomb the railroads leading to the Nazi concentration camps to prevent millions of Jewish deaths. The fact is that at the time neither the technology nor equipment for accurate bombing.

In the 1940s, the most accurate bombing raids were accomplished by dive bombers. However, provided the pilots could fly directly over the intended target, it was still difficult to accurately release bombs.  The dive bombers would have to fly exactly vertical, drop the bomb at only two to three thousand feet,  pulling out before they hit the ground and escaping the blast of the detonation. These dive bombers could only fly with a radius of around 200 miles.  It was extremely difficult for the bombers to fly exactly vertical and make adjustments for the cross winds, so the margin of error for accurate bomb hits still was about half a mile

The German dive bombers were stationed near Poland and Russia, as close to the front as possible. The Allies had no dive bombers close enough to bomb the death camps and had to rely on their long range heavy bomber fleet.

One of a series of aerial reconnaissance photographs of the Auschwitz concentration camp taken between April 4, 1944 and January 14, 1945, but not examined until the 1970s. – Wikipedia

The long-range bombers dropped bombs from around 25,000 feet, to remain above German anti-aircraft artillery fire as much as possible. Bombs could be released in succession over five seconds so that they could cover more area – often over 1000 feet. Flying in formation also helped ensure at least one aircraft in a formation would be able to deploy bombs that would hit the intended target.

It was during the war that error analysis was created. The analysis looked at ground speed, wind direction and speed, weather conditions, and variations of all these factors during the three minutes it would take the bomb to drop.  Looking at all these factors, researchers came to the conclusion that there was a circle of error of around three miles for every bomb dropped. Bombing at night in the dark brought about an even greater margin of error; after the war there was great debate about the actual success rate of bombing, the Jewish Journal reports.

Given all of these factors, there was very little chance that the Allied bombers would be able to target the German railroads, which were around five feet wide. Further, carpet bombing the area would have meant the actual camps would have been hit and probably killed thousands of the prisoners.

Therefore, rather than bomb the railroads leading to Nazi concentration camps , or the camps themselves, the Allies used their long-range bombers on strategic targets.  The thought was that the bombers could cause massive disruption to the German war effort at military facilities and weapons factories, as well as wreak havoc on the German people by bombing public places. Thereby shortening the war and save the Jews from extermination.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE