Examining Effectiveness: The Strategic Air Campaign in World War II

Guiding Question:

Was the Allied strategic bombing campaign effective, and was it necessary for the Allies to win the war?


Using interactive campaign maps from the American Battle Monuments Commission, short text selections, photographs, and primary and secondary sources, students will develop and support a claim on the effectiveness of the Allied strategic bombing campaign in the European Theatre of World War II.


Historical Context

World War II was a major global event that brought the world into the modern age, using weapons of war that had been developed or upgraded since the end of World War I. Improvements in aviation technology gave Allied and Axis commanders more aerial military options. One of the more controversial decisions of the war was the bombardment of German cities and industrial centers in an attempt to break German will and hasten the end of war. The morality and effectiveness of strategic bombardment (especially the intentional targeting of civilians) was a source of debate when the campaign was launched and intensified after the American decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe the role the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command played in the overall war effort; and
  • Assess the role of strategic bombing in ending the war.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.9 Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1.A Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1.B Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One (30 minutes)

  • Hand each group of four to six students one set of Strategic Bombing Campaign Picture Cards.
  • Give each student one copy of the Photograph Analysis Worksheet.
  • Project the following questions on the screen for students to discuss as they examine the picture cards:
    • What is the purpose of bombing in war?
    • Imagine that an enemy were to bombard our hometown from the air. What would that be like?
    • What sort of targets would an enemy want to target if they were bombing our town? Why would those targets be important?
  • Push students to understand the material and psychological costs of aerial bombardment.
  • Ask each student to select one image and complete the Photograph Analysis Worksheet. This can be completed for homework if needed.

Activity Two (60 minutes)

Assessment Materials

  • Review the Strategic Bombing Assessment as a class.
  • Review the Strategic Bombing Assessment Rubric and solicit questions from students to provide clarity.
  • Introduce the excerpts from the Strategic Bombing Survey. Have the students read “The Role of Airpower” for discussion.
  • Instruct students to read silently and then discuss excerpts in their table groups.
  • Provide time with computers and additional supports as needed.
  • Use the rubric and the scoring guide to evaluate the project.

Methods for Extension

  • Students with more interest in the U.S. Air Force can learn more about the Army Air Forces in World War II and compare and contrast their role with that of the modern Air Force.
  • Students can explore the role air power plays in modern military campaigns, such as the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Students could research and add information to their projects comparing the bombing campaign in Germany to the bombing campaign in Japan.
  • Students who are interested in reading fiction relating to this topic could read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 (with parental permission).


  • Teachers can adapt this activity to struggling readers (or younger grade levels) by allowing the students to complete a graphic organizer before writing the essay. Teachers could also increase the number of picture cards to provide additional materials to help them grasp the importance of the air campaign.
  • Teachers can provide sentence stems to help ESL students.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources