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How Air Force database is preventing its old bombs from claiming new victims

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In the process of putting the database together, Robertson began to turn his attention to America’s air campaigns in previous wars – World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam – to learn what targets US forces bombed, and when. 

He began culling through the shelves of the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. “There was data that had been sitting on the shelves since 1946 or 1947,” Robertson says. 

In the process of putting these databases together, a “hidden history” of America’s wars was emerging. “We were finding the conventional wisdom of what we thought happened didn’t actually happen,” he adds. “We’re starting to see what we think we know of history isn’t the case.” 

It turns out that the biggest divergence in data – and from long-held beliefs – has come in his analysis of World War I.

Between 1914 and 1918, military planes made more than 17,000 bombing sorties and dropped almost eight million pounds of bombs. “That’s much more than anyone thought,” Robertson says. 

The history books have long held that the German forces didn’t excel at logistics planning, which enabled ground forces to overwhelm them. 

But in light of the new history he is compiling, “It looks like aerial bombing gutted the German spring offensive and caused the German lines to collapse,” he says. 

And while ground forces may have overwhelmed the German troops, it was likely because they didn’t have any supplies as a result of the bombings. 

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