In our first of six episodes on the atomic bombs, we start to answer an important question; where did the idea for the bomb come from? Where did people get the idea that a sufficiently large bomb would enable them to win wars from the air?
Listen to the episode
Biddle, Tami Davis.
Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas About Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945.
Command of the Air.
War: The Lethal Custom.
Pape, Robert A.
Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War.
Ross, Stewart Halsey.
Strategic Bombing in World War II; The Myths and the Facts.
Tanaka, Yuki and Marilyn Young, Ed.
Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History.
Werrell, Kenneth P.
Death from the Heavens: A History of Strategic Bombing.
A reproduction of the
Russian illustration explaining the use of balloon bombs, c. 1880. The first time such bombs were used was in 1849 against the city of Venice, to little effect.
Searchlights light up London during a zeppelin raid. The caption for the image gives you some idea of the propaganda value these raids had for the Allies.
Plaques like this one helped drive home the idea that anybody who would resort to aerial bombing was a ruthless monster. The solution to said monsters, however, was not to attempt to be better than them but to give them a taste of their own medicine.
Damage from a German Zeppelin raid against London, c. 1917.
Giulio Douhet, one of the most vocal postwar proponents of bombing. Douhet’s ideas inspired other miltary leaders abroad, but his home nation of Italy lacked the resources to make good on his ideas.
General William “Billy” Mitchell, one of the earliest proponents of using bombing to quickly win wars. Mitchell’s time in the US Army Air Force was marked with controversy, but he did succeed in getting others in the officer corps to accept his ideas, laying the groundwork for future bombing campaigns.
The US 8th Airforce attacks Marienburg, Germany in 1943. Despite interwar protests against the inhumanity of bombing enemy nations, belligerents in World War II rapidly abandoned their scruples. After all, it’s better than doing nothing, right?
A B-29 releases incendiary bombs on Yokohama in May 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard prepare the Einstein-Szilard letter to President Roosevelt, warning of the dangers of the German atomic program.