Aerial bombing of cities

Aerial bombing of cities

The aerial bombing of cities began in 1911, developed through World War I, grew to a vast scale in World War II, and continues to the present day.

Aerial bombing before World War II

Italian-Turkish War of 1911-1912

The very first aerial act of aggression occurred during the Italian-Turkish War of 1911-1912 in North Africa. Italy had been using aircraft to monitor enemy troop movements and search for Turkish artillery positions. One Italian pilot, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti, realized that the aircraft could be used for more than simple reconnaissance. The event occurred over a Turkish camp at Ain Zara in Libya on 1 November 1911. Lt. Gavotti was flying his Taube monoplane at an altitude of 600 ft (185 m) when he took four small 4.5 lb (2 kg) grenades from a leather pouch, screwed in the detonators he had taken aboard his aircraft in his pocket, and threw each bomb over the side by hand. Although no one was injured and little damage was done, Lt. Gavotti earned his place in history for conducting the first aerial bombing raid ever recorded.Fact|date=May 2008

Mexican Revolution

The city of Mazatlan then got the distinction of being the second city in the world to suffer aerial bombardment. During the revolution of 1910-17 General Venustiano Carranza, later president, intent on taking the city of Mazatlan, ordered a biplane to drop a crude bomb of nails and dynamite wrapped in leather to the target of Neveria Hill adjacent to the down town area of Mazatlan. The bomb landed not on target but in a city street and in the process killed two citizens and wounding several others and thus became the first aerial bombing to result in fatalities.Fact|date=May 2008

World War I

The first ever aerial bombardment of civilians was on 19 January 1915, in which two German Zeppelins dropped 24 fifty-kilogram high-explosive bombs and ineffective three-kilogram incendiaries on the English towns of Great Yarmouth, Sheringham, King's Lynn, and the surrounding villages; in all, four people were killed, 16 injured, and monetary damage was estimated at £7,740, although the public and media reaction would today be considered out of proportion to the death toll. [Ward's Book of Days. Pages of interesting anniversaries. What happened on this day in history. [ 19 January. On this day in history in 1915, German zeppelins bombed Britain] .] London was accidentally bombed in May and in July 1916, the Kaiser allowed directed raids against urban centres, sparking 23 airship raids in 1916 in which 125 tons of ordnance were dropped, killing 293 people and injuring 691. Gradually British air defences improved. In 1917 and 1918 there were only eleven Zeppelin raids against England, and the final raid occurred on 5 August 1918, which resulted in the death of KK Peter Strasser, commander of the German Naval Airship Department. By the end of the war, 51 raids had been undertaken, in which 5,806 bombs were dropped, killing 557 people and injuring 1,358. It has been argued that the raids were effective far beyond material damage inflicted, in diverting and hampering wartime production, and diverting twelve squadrons and over 10,000 men to air defences.Fact|date=May 2008

econd Italo-Abyssinian War

The Italians used aircraft against the Ethiopian cities in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. For example, in February 1936, the Italian invasion forces in the south prepared for a major thrust towards the city of Harar. On 22 March, the Royal Air Force ("Regia Aeronautica" bombed Harar and Jijiga as a prelude. Both cities were reduced to ruins even though Harar had been declared an "open city." [Barker, A. J., "The Rape of Ethiopia 1936", p. 112]

Spanish Civil War

During the Spanish Civil War, the Nationalists under Francisco Franco made extensive use of aerial bombing on civilian targets. Nazi Germany gave aircraft to Franco to support the overthrow of the Spanish Republican government. The first major example of this came in November 1936, when German and Spanish aircraft pounded Republican held Madrid; this bombardment was sustained throughout the Siege of Madrid. Barcelona and Valencia were also targeted in this way. On 26 April 1937, the German "Luftwaffe" (Condor Legion) bombed the Spanish city of Guernica carrying out the most high profile aerial attack of the war. This act caused world-wide revulsion and was the subject of a famous painting by Picasso, but by the standards of bombings during WWII, casualties were fairly minor (estimates ranging from 500 to 1,500); however, it remains significant as it was the first-ever saturation bombing of a civilian population.Fact|date=May 2008

Barcelona was bombarded for three days beginning on 16 March 1938, at the height of the Spanish Civil War. Under the command of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Italian aircraft stationed on the island of Majorca attacked 13 times dropping 44 tons of bombs, aimed at the civil population. These attacks were at the request of General Franco as retribution against the Catalan population. The medieval Cathedral of Barcelona was bombed and more than one thousand people died, including many children. The number of people injured is estimated to be in the thousands. [ [ 1938 Bombardment of Barcelona] ]

econd Sino-Japanese War

During the Manchurian Incident of 1931, the Japanese widely used airplanes to indiscriminately bomb key targets and cities, such as Mukden. After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service, in conjunction with the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, began relentlessly bombing Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and several cities on the Chinese coast from the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937.

These earlier mass raids were to be repeated against the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, and against the then Chinese capital of Nanjing immediately preceding the barbarous Nanjing Massacre and the unrelenting aerial bombing of Chongqing. The bombing of Nanjing and Guangzhou, which began on 22 and 23 September 1937, called forth widespread protests culminating in a resolution by the Far Eastern Advisory Committee of the League of Nations. Lord Cranborne, the British Under-Secretary of State For Foreign Affairs, expressed his indignation in his own declaration. «Words cannot express the feelings of profound horror with which the news of these raids had been received by the whole civilized world. They are often directed against places far from the actual area of hostilities. The military objective, where it exists, seems to take a completely second place. The main object seems to be to inspire terror by the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians...» ["The Illustrated London News, Marching to War 1933-1939", Doubleday, 1989, p.135]

Aerial bombing during World War II

European theatre

At the beginning of World War II, the bombing of cities was a normal practice of the German Luftwaffe. In the first stages of war, the Germans carried out many massive indiscriminate bombings of towns and cities in Poland (1939), including the capital Warsaw (also bombed in 1944), with Wieluń being the first city destroyed by 75%. Soviet Union also attempted terror bombing tactics against Finland, bombing Helsinki, but without any massive loss of life. Fact|date=May 2008

Similar tactics was also used by the Germans during the Rotterdam Blitz in 1940. Shortly afterwards, the British started intensive night air raids on German cities, starting with Cologne on the 15th/16th May 1940, followed by Duisburg, Hamburg, Bremen, Hannover, Essen, Frankfurt and Mannheim] in May and June.

After the German victory in the Battle of France, the Luftwaffe turned its attention to Great Britain. During the night of 28/29th August, British bombers raided Greater Berlin for the first time, in response to the accidental bombing of London by the Luftwaffe. In retaliation, following Hitler`s decision to drop the invasion plans, there was an intensive bombing of cities in Britain, including London and Coventry. The bombing campaign was known in Britain as "the Blitz", and ran from September 1940 through to May 1941 with the goal of forcing the British government to accept peace without the need for an invasion.Fact|date=May 2008

In 1942, the goals of the British attacks were defined: the primary goal was the so called "morale bombing", to weaken the will of the civil population to resist. Following this directive intensive bombing of highly populated city centers and working class quarters started. On 30 May 1942, the RAF Bomber Command launched the first "1,000 bomber raid" when 1,046 aircraft bombed Cologne in Operation Millennium, dropping over 2,000 tons of high explosive and incendiaries were dropped on the medieval town and burning it from end to end. Only 384 civilians and 85 soldiers were killed, but thousands left the city.Fact|date=May 2008

Two further 1,000 bomber raids were executed over Essen and Bremen, but to less effect than the destruction at Cologne. The effects of the massive raids using a combination of blockbuster bombs and incendiaries created firestorms in some cites. The most extreme examples were caused by the bombing of Hamburg in Operation Gomorrah (45,000 dead), and the bombings of Kassel (10,000 dead), Darmstadt (12,500 dead), Pforzheim (21,200 dead), Swinemuende (23,000 dead), and Dresden (estimated 25,000 to 35,000 dead).Fact|date=May 2008

The Allies also bombed urban areas in the other countries, including occupied France (Caen). Some cities were bombed at the different times by the Luftwaffe and the Allies, for example Belgrade in Yugoslavia or Bucharest in Romania.Fact|date=May 2008

Luftwaffe also bombed cities in the Soviet Union, destroying Stalingrad in a massive air raid at the start of the Battle of Stalingrad and bombing Leningrad during the siege of the city of 1941-1943. The Soviet bombing of the German cities was limited in comparison to the RAF bombing (destruction caused by the Soviet army was mainly due to the land artillery). The Soviet Air Force also bombed Budapest in Hungary.Fact|date=May 2008

Pacific theatre

:"Further reading: United States strategic bombing of JapanIn the Pacific theatre, the U.S. firebombed Tokyo and killed 100,000 in the deadliest conventional bombing in history, while some 250,000 other civilians died in 66 other firebombed Japanese cities.Fact|date=May 2008

In addition, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed over 200,000 people. [ [ Media Monitors Network. "Lessons from Japan for the US occupation of Iraq" by Yusuf Al-Khabbaz (Thursday, 2 September 2004)] ]

Both the Japanese and the Allied aircraft also attacked cities outside of Japan, including continuing Japanese bombing of China. The Filipino capital of Manila was devastated during the battle for the city.Fact|date=May 2008

Aerial bombing since World War II

The Cold War (theoretical)

During the Cold War, the threat of destruction of cities by nuclear weapons carried on bombers or ICBMs became the main instrument of the balance of terror that allegedly kept the United States and Soviet Union from open warfare with one another. (See mutual assured destruction.)

Korean War

During the Korean War of 1950-1953, United States and other countries of the United Nations (UN) coalition heavily bombed the cities in North Korea and the North-occupied South Korea, including their respective capital cities. There were also plans to use nuclear weapons against North Korea and the People's Republic of China.Fact|date=May 2008

Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War United States from 1965 to 1968 conducted an aerial campaign known as Operation Rolling Thunder. The campaign began with interdiction of supply lines in rural areas of southern North Vietnam but incrementally spread northward throughout the country. In 1966, restrictions against bombing the capital city of Hanoi and the country's largest port, Haiphong were lifted, and they were bombed by the USAF and Navy. [ [] Verify source|date=May 2008,] The bombing of their city centres continued to be prohibited. [ Released by the Office of the Historian. "Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume V, Vietnam 1967", [ Documents 222-239] , "Policy Decisions and the McNamara and Clifford-Taylor Missions to South Vietnam June-August", United States State Department. Accessed 22 May 2008] However, the South Vietnamese cities seized by the communists were bombed, including the former capital of Huế during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

The Vietnam Air Force bombed contested cities in South Vietnam in 1968, 1972 and 1975, while the Vietnam People's Air Force attacked Southern cities (including the capital city of Saigon) in 1975.Fact|date=May 2008

Arab-Israeli conflict

Lebanese capital of Beirut was attacked on a large scale by the Israeli aircraft during the Siege of Beirut, killing several thousand people in 1982 and, on a much smaller scale, during the 2006 Lebanon War (using guided munitions). Israel also conducted very limited airstrikes targeting Palestinian targets during the Second Intifada, including against Hamas in Gaza.Fact|date=May 2008

War in Afghanistan

In 1979, the Soviets carpet-bombed the Afghan third-largest city of Herat, causing massive destruction [ [ Soviet Air Power: Tactics and Weapons Used in Afghanistan] ] and some 5,000 to 25,000 deaths. [ [ Escaping the past: the widows of Herat] ] Herat was also repeatedly bombed during the following Soviet involvement in the Afghan civil war.Fact|date=May 2008

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S.-led coalition attacked the urban targets in Afghanistan using precision-guided munitions (or "smart bombs").Fact|date=May 2008 The United States government maintains that it has a policy of striking only militarily-significant targets while doing all possible to avoid what it terms "collateral damage" to non-military areas and persons.Fact|date=May 2008

Iran–Iraq War

Saddam Hussein's Iraq attacked civilian targets in Iranian cities in the "War of the Cities" during the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s, with Iranians retaliating in kind (both sides soon switched to ballistic missile attacks).Fact|date=May 2008 Iraqi aircraft also bombed the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Halabja with conventional and chemical weapons in 1988, killing more than 5,000 people in the largest aerial poison gas attack in history.Fact|date=May 2008

Gulf War

The Iraqi Air Force attacked Kuwait City in 1990 and bombed their own cities during the 1991 uprisings in Iraq, targeting civilians with the use of bomb-carrying helicopters (use of airplanes was banned by the Coalition).Fact|date=May 2008

UN coalition aircraft attacked targets in Iraqi cities, including in capital Baghdad and the largest southern city of Basra.Fact|date=May 2008

Yugoslav wars

During the Yugoslav wars, the Yugoslav Air Force attacked cities in Croatia during the Croatian War of Independence in 1991, most notably the besieged city of Vukovar which was destroyed by air strikes and artillery.Fact|date=May 2008

In the Kosovo War of 1999, NATO bombed city areas, including the Serbian capital of Belgrade, killing several hundred people in Serbia and Kosovo. [ [ THE CRISIS IN KOSOVO] Human Rights Watch 2000]

Chechen wars

Post-Soviet Russia heavily bombed the Chechen capital of Grozny from air with mostly unguided munitions (including fuel-air explosives) as well as bombarding it with a massive artillery barrages (1994-1995, 1996 and 1999-2000), killing thousands of people (some estimates say 27,000 civilians were killed during the 1994-1995 siege alone [ [ The Battle(s) of Grozny] ] ) during the Chechen wars. In 2003, the UN still called Grozny the most destroyed city on earth. [ [ Scars remain amid Chechen revival] , BBC News, 3 March 2007]

Iraq War

In 2003 Iraq War, the U.S.-led coalition again bombed Iraq, including the Shock and Awe campaign of precision bombing of government targets in the city centers. Since then, coalition aircraft attack Iraqi insurgent targets, including in urban locations like Najaf, Fallujah, Basra and Baghdad. Fact|date=May 2008 There are frequent reports of civilian casualties, though it is often hard to distinguish guerrillas and civilians. According to Iraq Body Count, thousands of civilians have been killed by aerial bombardment in the Iraq War, the majority during the invasion.

Other conflicts

Budapest was again attacked by the Soviet air strikes in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution.Fact|date=May 2008 In 2008, the cities of Tskhinvali and Gori were hit by the Georgian and Russian aircraft during the war in Georgia. [ [ Russia/Georgia: Investigate Civilian Deaths: High Toll from Attacks on Populated Areas] , Human Rights Watch, 14 August 2008]

Aerial bombardment and international law

International law up to 1945

International law relating to aerial bombardment before and during World War II rests on the treaties of 1864, 1899, 1907 which constituted the definition of most of the laws of at that time — which, despite repeated diplomatic attempts, was not updated in the immediate run up to World War II. The most relevant of these treaties are the Hague Conventions of 1907 because they were the last treaties ratified before 1939 which specify the laws of war on aerial bombardment. Of these treaties there are two which have a direct bearing on this issue of bombardment. These are "Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); 18 October 1907" [ Laws of War : Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); 18 October 1907] available from the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, entered into force: 26 January 1910.] and "Laws of War:Bombardment by Naval Forces in Time of War (Hague IX); 18 October 1907" [ Laws of War: Bombardment by Naval Forces in Time of War (Hague IX); 18 October 1907] , available from the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, ] . It is significant that there is a different treaty which should be invoked for bombardment of land by land (Hague IV) and of land by sea (Hague IX) [ International Review of the Red Cross no 323] cites: Charles Rousseau, References p. 360. "the analogy between land and aerial bombardment".] . Hague IV which reaffirmed and updated Hague II (1899) [ Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague II); 29 July 1899] , available from the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, entry into force 4 September 1900] contains the following clauses:quotation|Article 25: The attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited.
Article 26: The Commander of an attacking force, before commencing a bombardment, except in the case of an assault, should do all he can to warn the authorities.
Article 27: In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible edifices devoted to religion, art, science, and charity, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not used at the same time for military purposes.
The besieged should indicate these buildings or places by some particular and visible signs, which should previously be notified to the assailants.

In 1923 a draft convention, promoted by the United States was proposed: "The Hague Rules of Air Warfare", December, 1922-February, 1923", [ The Hague Rules of Air Warfare] , 1922-12 to 1923-02, "this convention was never adopted"'.] There are number of articles which would have directly affected how nations used aerial bombardment and defended against it; these are articles 18, 22 and 24. It was, however, never adopted in legally binding form. [ Rules concerning the Control of Wireless Telegraphy in Time of War and Air Warfare] , from the International Committee of the Red Cross's [ section on international humanitarian law] verified 26 February 2005]

The subordination of the law of air warfare to the law of ground warfare was arguably established by the Greco-German arbitration tribunal of 1927-30. It found that the 1907 Hague Convention on "The Laws and Customs of War on Land" applied to the German attacks in Greece during World War I: [ [ Laws of War : Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); 18 October 1907] available from the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, entered into force: 26 January 1910] This concerned both Article 25 and Article 26.

The U.S. Air Force Law Review argues that "if international law is not enforced, persistent violations can conceivably be adopted as customary practice, permitting conduct that was once prohibited" [Jefferson D. Reynolds. "Collateral Damage on the 21st century battlefield: Enemy exploitation of the law of armed conflict, and the struggle for a moral high ground"." Air Force Law Review " [ Volume 56, 2005] "(PDF) Page 57/58] Even if the Greco-German arbitration tribunal findings had established the rules for aerial bombardment, by 1945, the belligerents of World War II had ignored the preliminary bombardment procedures that the Greco-German arbitration tribunal had recognized.Javier Guisández Gómez " [ The Law of Air Warfare] " 30 June 1998 International Review of the Red Cross no 323, p.347-363]

In response to a League of Nations declaration against bombardment from the air [ Protection of Civilian Populations Against Bombing From the Air in Case of War] , Unanimous resolution of the League of Nations Assembly, 30 September 1938, verified 26 February 2005 ] , a draft convention in Amsterdam of 1938 [ Draft Convention for the Protection of Civilian Populations Against New Engines of War. Amsterdam, 1938] , verified 26 February 2005] would have provided specific definitions of what constituted a "undefended" town, excessive civilian casualties and appropriate warning. This draft convention makes the standard of being undefended quite high - any military units or anti-aircraft within the radius qualifies a town as defended. This convention, like the 1923 draft, was not ratified, nor even close to being ratified, when hostilities broke out in Europe. While the two conventions offer a guideline to what the belligerent powers were considering before the war, neither of these documents came to be legally binding.

After the war the judgement of the Nuremberg Trials, [ "Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 1 Charter of the International Military Tribunal"] , proceedings of the Nuremberg Trials, available from the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, verified 26 February 2005.] the records the decision that by 1939 these rules laid down in the 1907 Hague Convention were recognised by all civilised nations, and were regarded as declaratory of the laws and customs of war. Under this post-war decision, a country did not have to have ratified the 1907 Hague conventions in order to be bound by them [ Judgement : The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity] , available from the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, verified 26 February 2005.] .

In 1963 the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the subject of a Japanese judicial review in "Ryuichi Shimoda et al. v. The State". The review draws several distinctions which are pertinent to both conventional and atomic aerial bombardment. Based on international law found in Hague Convention of 1907 "IV - The Laws and Customs of War on Land" and "IX - Bombardment by Naval Forces in Time of War", and the "Hague Draft Rules of Air Warfare of 1922–1923" the Court drew a distinction between "Targeted Aerial Bombardment" and indiscriminate area bombardment, that the court called "Blind Aerial Bombardment", and also a distinction between a defended and undefended city. : Paragraph 6] "In principle, a defended city is a city which resists an attempt at occupation by land forces. A city even with defence installations and armed forces cannot be said to be a defended city if it is far away from the battlefield and is not in immediate danger of occupation by the enemy." : Paragraph 7] The court ruled that blind aerial bombardment is only permitted in the immediate vicinity of the operations of land forces and that only targeted aerial bombardment of military installations is permitted further from the front. It also ruled that, in such an event, the incidental death of civilians and the destruction of civilian property during targeted aerial bombardment was not unlawful. : Paragraph 10] The court acknowledged that the concept of a military objective was enlarged under conditions of total war, but stated that the distinction between the two did not disappear. : Paragraph 9] The court also ruled that when military targets were concentrated in a comparatively small area, and where defence installations against air raids were very strong, that when the destruction of non-military objectives is small in proportion to the large military interests, or necessity, such destruction is lawful. paragraph 10] So in the judgement of the Court, because of the immense power of the bombs, and the distance from enemy (Allied) land forces, the bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki "was an illegal act of hostilities under international law as it existed at that time, as an indiscriminate bombardment of undefended cities". : Paragraph 8]

Not all governments and scholars of international law agree with the analysis and conclusions of the Shimoda review, because it was not based on positive international humanitarian law. Colonel Javier Guisández Gómez, at the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, points out:This leaves the legal status of aerial bombardment during World War II ambiguous and open to other interpretations, for example one of the reasons given by John Bolton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, for the USA not agreeing to be bound by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is that

International law since 1945

In the post war environment, a series of treaties governing the laws of war were adopted starting in 1949. These Geneva Conventions would come into force, in no small part, because of a general reaction against the practices of the Second World War. In 1977 Protocol I was adopted as an amendment to the Geneva conventions.

The International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion in July 1996 on the "Legality of the Threat Or Use Of Nuclear Weapons". [ ICJ: Legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons] ]

See also

*Air supremacy
*Command responsibility
*Strategic bombing
*Strategic bombing survey
*Terror bombing



*Francisco Javier Guisández Gómez, a colonel in the Spanish Air Force [ ICRC: "The Law of Air Warfare"] International Review of the Red Cross no 323, p.347-363
*Jefferson D. Reynolds. "Collateral Damage on the 21st century battlefield: Enemy exploitation of the law of armed conflict, and the struggle for a moral high ground"." Air Force Law Review " [ Volume 56, 2005] "(PDF) pp. 4-108
*Charles Rousseau, Le droit des conflits armés, Editions Pedone, Paris, 1983

Further reading

*cite book| last = Grayling| first = A. C.| authorlink = A. C. Grayling| year = 2006| title = Among the Dead Cities| publisher = Walker Publishing Company Inc.| location = New York| id = ISBN 0-8027-1471-4
*Joan T. Phillips. " [ List of documents and web links relating to the law of armed conflict in air and space operations] ", May 2006. Bibliographer, Muir S. Poochild Research Information Center Maxwell (United States) Air Force Base, Alabama.

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