Friend or Foe: The Allied Strategic Bombing of Occupied France

Guiding Question:

Did the French view the Allied forces who were bombing them as their liberators or their nemesis?


Using interactive technology from the American Battle Monuments Commission, maps, and primary and secondary sources from the United States and France, students will understand the impact of the Allied bombing of France. Also, students will discover how the bombing of France was crucial to the Allied victory in World War II.


Historical Context

The occupation of France by Germany from May 1940 until September 1944 is a complex history of coercion and resistance. French citizens and towns were at the mercy of the German military. Some French citizens complied and collaborated with the Nazi forces while others resisted. The Strategic Bombing Campaign, Operation Overlord, and Operation Dragoon were violent beacons of hope for those citizens wishing for liberation.


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

  • Discuss the goals of the Strategic Bombing Campaign;
  • Infer what life was like for a French citizen during the occupation; and
  • Compose a journal from the point of view of a French citizen or an American pilot using facts from primary and secondary sources.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.Geo.2.9-12. Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their political, cultural, and economic dynamics.
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.4.9-12. Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Occupied France (20 minutes)

  • Project (or distribute copies of) France Occupied by Axis Powers, 1940-1944. Ask students what they know about occupied France:
    • Who were the occupiers?
    • Why was France occupied?
    • What was the Vichy government?
  • Project the Map of Nancy Mission to give a real world context of strategic bombing. Ask students:
    • Why were these places bombed?
    • What do you think happened to the people in these areas that were bombed?

Activity Two: Strategic Bombing Campaign (40 minutes)

  • Divide students into four groups.
  • Distribute the Strategic Bombing Campaign Analysis to each group. Each group receives a different analysis sheet. At teacher discretion, give one per student or one per group.
  • Secure access to a computer or tablet (minimum of one per group).
  • Give students 15-20 minutes to complete the viewing of the videos and answer the questions.
    • Teacher Tip: Each group will watch the prelude and answer basic questions about strategic bombing. Then, each group will be responsible for one video clip.
  • Ask each group report out what they have learned from their videos.
    • Teacher Tip: This activity can be completed as a full class or by re-assigning students to smaller groups consisting of one student from each of the original four groups.
  • Ask students:
    • What were the advantages and disadvantages of strategic bombing?
    • Could the Allies have done anything differently?
    • Was strategic bombing successful? Why or why not?
    • How accurate were the bombings?
    • How many civilian casualties do you think there were?

Activity Three: The French Perspective (20 minutes)

  • Distribute the Life in Occupied France Document Packet and Life in Occupied France Organizer.
    • Teacher Tip: Images from the Life in Occupied France Document Packet could also be placed around the classroom and students could complete a gallery walk if desired.
  • Give students 10-15 minutes to interact with the documents and list their observations, reflections, and questions.
  • Allow students to share out their observations, reflections and questions.

Assessment Materials

  • Assign the Journal Response to students (in English or French).
    • Teacher Tip: Students will write a journal entry from one of two perspectives: a French teen whose city was bombed by the Americans or as an American airman who bombed a French city. These can be randomly assigned or students can choose their perspective.
  • The Journal Response Rubric can be used to score the journal response.

Methods for Extension

  • Students with more interest in the the occupation of France and the Allied strategic bombing of France can do further research.
  • Students with a specific interest in the propaganda posters could compare and contrast Allied and Axis propaganda.
  • Students with more interest in the French Resistance can view the lesson “Resistance Rising: Fighting the Shadow War against the Germans” on the Understanding Sacrifice website.


  • Teachers can print the transcripts of the videos from the Strategic Bombing Campaign Interactive. This would be useful for English Language Learners to identify unknown vocabulary.
  • Teachers can group students in several ways. One grouping strategy would be to have groups of heterogeneous ability work their way through the entire project. Another grouping strategy would be to assign one half of the class the American point of of view and the other the French point of view. Then, students can partner together to discuss or debate.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources