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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Manhattan's OTHER Project - one of them anyway



The RAF deserved much of the odium that is still attached to the concept of 'area bombing' , the idea you can win a war by killing and de-housing most of the residents of your opponents' cities if only you sprinkle enough bombs willy nilly over them.

But the ultimate examples of "close is good enough in horseshoes and in area bombing" comes from the American Army Air Force planes flying over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

POOR AIM UNDER IDEAL CONDITIONS

They were two of the best bombing crews in the entire Allied air forces - in particular, having two top notch bomb-aimers on board.

They had no fighters or ack-ack guns to contend with, were flying in daylight and in pretty good weather and yet still managed to miss their targets widely.

It didn't matter - the Manhattan Project planes still destroyed all of both cities with just one bomb falling well off the target area.

A week after those two bombs, the Japanese unexpectedly surrendered, so these 'far-off-the-targets' results still seemed a victory for the Project planners and for their namesake, Manhattan, where so much of the atomic bomb effort had taken place.

THE VIEW FROM SEPTEMBER 1939

But September 1945 seemed a long way from September 1939, when Americans told themselves they would be immune from the new European general war - because of a project well underway in ....Manhattan.

Daylight flights by Army bombers flying well offshore of America itself and flying thousands of feet above the range of enemy warship ack-ack guns, would "drop a bomb into a pickle barrel at 20,000 feet", and sink the battleship or aircraft carrier below.

The enemy fleets destroyed in mid ocean, the land war would never even reach America's shores.

This project - the Norden bombsight - would be as big a secret as the atomic bomb and cost as many billions to produce and use.

BILLIONS WASTED

But the Norden's total failure, embarrassingly (if still secretly) evident by mid war, was the real reason the hitherto reluctant American military-scientific leadership gradually ramped up the atomic bomb in time to be used in this, the second world war.

They needed a PR victory from the vast amount of money and lives spent on aerial bombing , no matter how that victory was achieved.

Area bombing, based on the ancient idea (5,000 years old in 1945) of starting fires in the enemies' cities and then letting the city's own materials provide most of the inflammable energy used to destroy it, was a low tech solution to the failure of Manhattan's first high tech 'project' - the Norden Bombsight and 'Precision Bombing' ....

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