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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Bombing Of Germany

Airs Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: While Britain’s Royal Air Force targeted Germany’s cities under the cover of darkness, the Americans used precision targeting to drop explosives on strategic military targets. This program traces the evolution of the tactics, moral conundrums and internal battles that took place between Allied forces. Pictured: B-17 bombers in formation.

Ruins smolder in central Berlin after an Allied bombing raid. The Allied aerial bombardment of Germany during World War II resulted in more than half-a-million civilian casualties.
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Above: Ruins smolder in central Berlin after an Allied bombing raid. The Allied aerial bombardment of Germany during World War II resulted in more than half-a-million civilian casualties.

On September 1, 1939 — the first day of World War II in Europe — President Franklin D. Roosevelt appealed to the warring nations to “under no circumstances undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations.” Just six years later, British and American Allied forces had carried out a bombing campaign of unprecedented might over Germany’s cities, claiming the lives of nearly half a million civilians. This film examines the defining moments of the offensive that led the U.S. across a moral divide.

Weaving interviews with WWII pilots and historians with stunning archival footage of the bombing and its aftermath, the program is a haunting reminder of the dilemma imposed by war’s civilian casualties, a topic that continues to resonate as America enters the eighth year of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joe Morton narrates. View a timeline of the Air War, 1939-1945.

Verne Woods was a young pilot for the U.S. Army Air Corps when he was shot down over the French countryside on New Year’s Eve in 1943. Browse his photos and read excerpts from his interview with "American Experience."

Video

Preview: American Experience: Bombing Of Germany

Above: Between 1941 and 1945, Allied forces would drop more than a million tons of bombs on Germany. Britains Royal Air Force raided Germany's cities at night, having little control over where the attacks would strike. Then, during the day, Americans used precision targeting to drop explosives on strategic military targets. In this joint offensive, the British aimed to destroy the Germans will to fight, while the Americans attempted to diminish Germany's ability to fight. But over time, the strategies began to converge, and the Americans contributed to the destruction of cities and life. Some 500,000 German civilians were killed, and another 800,000 injured.