by Brian Grafton
At the end of 1941, the allies could only look forward to better times. Yet
the early months of 1942 dealt them severe blows on nearly every front:
Royal Navy was humiliated (on February 12) when Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and
Prinz Eugen sailed through the English Channel in daylight, despite RN and RAF
attempts to stop them.
fell to the Japanese on February 15 (Hong Kong had already fallen, on Christmas
Day, 1941), effectively bringing to an end the British Empire.
Philippines fell (April 9), eradicating the American presence in the south and
North Africa and the Mediterranean, Rommel remained a great threat (Tobruk fell
on June 21), and Malta was under unbreakable siege and was threatened with
so-called "dress rehearsal" for the invasion of Europe ended in slaughter at
Dieppe (August 19, 1942).
German assaults against the Soviet Union conquered vast new territory.
came close to taking control of the Atlantic and the American Atlantic coast,
in a period known to the Kriegsmarine as "the Happy Time".
to Murmansk and Archangel continued to be decimated by air and sea attacks.
advances threatened Australia.
Japanese Imperial Navy drove the RN from Ceylon without challenge (March 31);
the RN took refuge in the Persian Gulf (April 10).
"Baedeker" raids (from April 24) began as reprisal raids for Bomber Command
bombing of German cities.
On the other hand, later in 1942 and in the first days of 1943, events
occurred which gave clear indication that the allied cause was, if not safe,
then in the ascendant. Many are known by single names:
(June 4-7, 1942: Spruance inflicted a crushing defeat on the Japanese Imperial
(US Marines landed on 7 August, 1942).
Alamein (Montgomery's troops attacked the Germans on October 23, 1942).
(allied troops landed at three locations in North Africa, beginning November
(the siege was broken on January 11, 1943)
(von Paulus finally surrendered at the end of January, 1943).
Closer to the war in Europe, events reflected the growing ability of the
allies to take the offensive:
first elements of 8th USAAF arrived in England in 1942, and a massive growth
slowly followed it.
Command was able to mount three 1,000 bomber raids against Germany.
bombing and other aids were developed and refined.
initial setbacks while it met its own needs, the United States was able to
continue to provide Britain and the Soviet Union with war supplies and
The Fiasco of "the Channel Dash"
Between the departure of Peirse (January 8) and the arrival of Harris (Feb.
22), Bomber Command was under the interim command of Air Vice-Marshal Baldwin,
commander of 3 Group. It was on Baldwin's "watch" that Scharnhorst, Gneisenau
and Prinz Eugen humiliated the Royal Navy by sailing in daylight through the
English Channel from Brest on their way to safer harbours.
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had arrived in Brest in April, 1941, where Prinz
Eugen joined them on June 1 after separating from Bismarck on May 24. Because
of the threat to shipping they represented, their presence was of great concern
to the Admiralty. Bomber Command had attacked them countless times since their
arrival, without success, though 22 Squadron of Coastal Command had disabled
Gneisenau in a suicidal torpedo raid on April 6, 1941
When the German ships sailed from Brest just before midnight on February 11,
they did so with a modest escort of 13 motor torpedo boats and five destroyers,
and with expectation of air cover for most of their journey. They sailed in
foul weather ; a sensible precaution ; and they steamed into the English
The Royal Navy did not see them. Coastal Command did not spot them (reportedly
because of problems with their air-to-ship radar). The radar stations along the
coast of Britain noted them and ignored them. Not until 11:30 a.m., when the
ships were almost entering the Straits of Dover, were they spotted accidentally
by a pilot with Fighter Command and reported to the authorities. Two hours
later, at 1:35 p.m., the first aircraft of Bomber Command were airborne: by
this time Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen were through the Straits of
Dover. Between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., 242 sorties were flown by Bomber
Command against the ships, though many aircraft could not locate them because
of the inclement weather. In addition, elements of Coastal and Fighter Command,
together with Fleet Air Arm "Swordfish", joined in the attack. So did the Royal
Navy, with World War I destroyers and MTBs. No damage was inflicted. Only later
did Scharnhorst and Gneisenau strike mines dropped by 5 Group aircraft and
incur some damage. By daybreak of 13 February all three ships were safe in
"The Channel Dash" was a tremendous blow to the prestige of the Royal Navy: the
English Channel was, after all, the closest of 'home waters', and the RN
clearly did not control it. The 'dash' was also one more all-too-familiar blow
to Bomber Command, which demonstrated once again that it had no means of
navigating or target-finding in poor weather and no ability to press home a
strike against targets that were heavily defended (as these ships undoubtedly
It is reasonable to ask how this could have happened. The first answer must be
that the Royal Navy was husbanding its resources. It had been late in realizing
the vulnerability of its capital ships to air attack and to plunging fire, but
by early 1942 it had lost a number of ships ; Hood, Prince of Wales, Repulse
and Glorious among them ; to one type of attack or the other. Despite the
threat to Britain implicit in Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, Sir
Dudley Pound, First Sea Lord, was unwilling or unable to commit his capital
ships to a test of fire. Instead, he chose to leave the work to smaller ships
and to the RAF.
The Admiralty knew that the German ships were to be moved from Brest, surmised
the move would be in February, and forecast that they would take the direct
route through the Channel to Germany. Under the provisions of Operation
'Fuller', set up to counter the expected German move, Bomber Command aircraft
were placed on two-hour alert, though on February 10, largely because of the
bad weather, this was reduced to 100 aircraft on four-hour alert. Meanwhile,
Coastal Command had issued an advisory stating that weather conditions would be
favourable for a break-out beginning on February 10. At the same time, it was
relatively plain that after February 17 the combination of tides, moon and
lengthening hours of daylight would make the break-out from Brest much less
attractive to the Germans.
Once they left Brest, there is no conceivable explanation why Scharnhorst,
Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen were not sighted long before they reached Dover. By
that time, the three ships had been in the Channel for 12 hours. Granted, the
weather was poor: that is why Coastal Command issued its advisory. But it
remains a mystery how a combination of radar surveillance, Coastal Command
reconnaissance and RN patrols could miss 21 ships doing what was expected of
them at a time and place that was quite accurately determined. 
Admiralty and Air Ministry were to hurl accusations at each other over the
fiasco, though in truth there was enough blame to go around. As a measure of
Britain's ability to make war, the 'Channel Dash' placed British forces under a
frightening microscope. The Royal Navy had implied by its inactivity that it
was afraid to fight, and the RAF had provided a demonstration that it didn't
have the tools to do so. After an initial spate of newspaper reports ; entirely
negative and occasionally scathing ; severe restrictions were placed on the
press in the interests of public morale.
Before the end of February, Bomber Command would finally catch up with
Gneisenau at Kiel, inflicting severe damage and effectively knocking her out of
the war. This attack killed 116 of her crew; the British had lost 127 aircraft
in raids on Brest attacking the German warships in the months before the
After the disastrous Berlin/Mannheim raids of November 6/7, 1941, Bomber
Command had seen its strategic mandate drastically curtailed and its C-in-C
sent packing. But with the events of February 12 ; 242 sorties against targets
less than 50 miles away, and not one hit ; Bomber Command was at the nadir of
its fortunes. At this lowest point, a new commanding officer was to appear. Air
Marshal Sir Arthur Harris ; 'Bomber' Harris ; was to be indelibly linked to
Sir Arthur Harris was, is and will always be a controversial figure. 
He stamped Bomber Command with his own vision of war, and his vision has been
questioned repeatedly since war's end. He had been in the British forces ;
Army, Royal Flying Corps, and RAF ; since the outbreak of the Great War, and
served with distinction both in operational commands and as a member of Air
Staff. As much as anyone in the RAF, he was an expert in night flying and
night-fighting, but when he was asked to accept the position as C-in-C, Bomber
Command, he was serving in America.
By all accounts, Harris was neither loquacious nor easy to know. He spoke
little, and visited his aircrew seldom. But from the beginning, he was
recognized as a man who would take charge. His subordinates admired and
supported him, and his crews all but worshipped him. To many ; certainly to his
aircrews ; he was known as 'Butch', or 'Butcher', which has been used as proof
either that he had a softer, more playful side or that he was recognized as a
man whose mission would not be deflected by losses to air crew. Both are
probably true to some extent, but the aircrew, showing, perhaps, their macabre
sense of black humour, used the nicknames 'Butch' or 'Butcher' without rancour
and with real affection.
Harris arrived at Bomber Command at just the right moment. New crew members
from the BCATP, finally completing their operational training, were becoming
available for duty. New 'heavies' ; particularly the Halifax ; had gone through
the worst of their teething problems, and were beginning to appear in large
numbers on operational status, and the magnificent Lancaster and Mosquito were
making their debuts. More important, many air crew had by now completed the
sometimes difficult transition to 'heavies' in the HCUs, and were ready to
return to ops. 'Gee', a potential means of finding targets with precision, was
only waiting to be installed in a sufficient number of bombers to be tested
Harris was comfortable with innovation: he had himself developed new devices to
make the RAF more efficient. He detested the enemy, but without allowing
vengeance to cloud his judgments or decisions. Above all, he was a Douhet man.
A practical man, he seldom went further in his statements than to declare that
nobody knew if bombing alone could end a war, because it had never been tried
before. But in his heart, he believed in strategic bombardment as a war-winning
strategy, and was impatient with those who believed only other means could win
the war. He would be fortunate to find allies in the men who would lead the
USAAF to battle ; Eaker, and Spaatz, and Doolittle, and Arnold ; as the
American presence grew in 1942 and 1943. They were all acolytes of Billy
Mitchell, the outspoken American supporter of a strategic bomber offensive, 
and were as fully prepared as Harris to commit their crews to difficult
targets, often with severe losses, in the hopes of proving the war-winning
capability of strategic bombing. As much as new technology and weapons, the
prosecution of the air war took its direction from the men who, in 1942, became
commanders of the bombing offensive.
Harris took command just eight days after a new directive, dated February 14,
1942, was issued to Bomber Command. The new directive may have grown from
Churchill's recent visit to Washington, where he was meeting with his new ally
Roosevelt, or in response to the 'Channel Dash', or from better flying
conditions as the weather improved, or from the increasing availability of
'Gee'. It could also have grown from the desire of the Air Ministry to test new
bombs and new procedures ; e.g., the new incendiaries. For whatever reasons, a
new bomber offensive was under way.
The new directive was not radically different from previous ones, but was
needed to countermand the order of mid-November, 1941, which called on Bomber
Command to conserve its force. Once again, various precision targets were
listed. In addition, Essen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf and Cologne ; in effect, the
Ruhr industrial district, or Ruhrgebiet ; were targeted as "general industrial
areas" suitable for Bomber Command's attention.
The difference was not in the directive but in the chances of fulfilling it.
Harris had tools Peirse could only dream of: new 'heavies'; a more effective
arsenal of weapons; a growing pool of trained personnel; and a new
target-finding instrument. The Halifax had finally had her tailplane problems
fixed and was proving a solid aircraft, the Manchester was already being phased
out and replaced by the Lancaster, the Stirling was available, and the
Wellingtons, Whitleys and Hampdens were still proving serviceable. While the
number of planes at Harris's disposal had not increased, the payload had. The
bomb-load options were more sophisticated, ranging from 4 lb. incendiaries to
4,000 lb. 'cookies'. HCUs were coping with converting existing crews to the
requirements of the new bombers, and OTUs were taking the newly fledged CATP
crews and preparing them for operations. And by the spring of 1942 many of the
bombers were equipped with 'Gee'.
'Gee' was not, in truth, a very sophisticated instrument. Nor was it very
different from earlier German devices (Knickebein and X-Gerät), though it used
cathode ray tubes rather than radio sets. 'Gee' relied on strong pulses sent
from three locations in England which allowed suitably equipped planes to
determine their location within a narrow margin of error. 'Gee's' effectiveness
lessened as a function of distance and the pulses became less precise, and was
limited in any case by the horizon. Finally, however, Bomber Command had a
There were also new bombing techniques to try out. To counter increasingly
active night fighters, for example, a practice known as 'streaming' was
introduced. This concentrated the bombers in direction and time to arrive on
target in a dense, relatively brief flow, reducing the attack time available to
enemy night fighters, seachlights and flak.
Bomber Command returned to the offensive in March, 1942. While the number of
targets was greater and more varied than the accompanying map suggests, it was
clear that Harris had set his bombers certain goals.
March 3/4 saw the opening of the assault, with an attack on the Renault works
at Billancourt. This was the first major night raid on a non-German town, and
was undertaken only after much soul-searching by the Air Ministry. It was a
striking success, testing many new techniques and devices. The bomber force was
streamed; they bombed at relatively low level; they bombed by the light of
flares; they hit their target with almost the full weight of available bombers
(223 of 235 aircraft found their target). Losses were very light (one
Wellington was lost), and damage was evaluated as 'heavy' (though this proved
not to be the case: industrial equipment was amazingly resilient to bomb
damage). All in all, it was a heartening beginning for Harris, and a tremendous
morale booster for his aircrews. 
Following Billancourt, certain of the same techniques were tried against Essen
in the Ruhr. On three successive nights beginning March 8/9, Bomber Command was
largely frustrated: ground haze and cloud obscured the target sufficiently that
bombing effectiveness was drastically reduced. This was the first indication
that 'Gee' would not be accurate enough for blind-bombing of targets. Of some
solace to Bomber Command: flying against Essen, in the heart of the Ruhr, meant
that any bombing nearby may do some strategic damage. And 'Gee' was fully
capable of placing bombers somewhere within the Ruhrgebiet.
It is interesting to note that the number of aircraft declined with each night,
from 211 on March 8/9 to 187 on March 9/10 to 126 on March 10/11. Whatever
other reasons may exist for this decline, damage from flak and night fighters
would have taken its toll, and the number of available bombers would drop.
After a break on March 11/12, Kiel was bombed by a small group (68 Wellingtons)
on March 12/13. The raid was considered a success, but carried a stiff price:
seven planes (10.3 per cent) were lost. The following night Cologne was the
target of 135 aircraft, and the raid was again considered a success ; the first
'Gee'-led success. After the raid on Cologne, Bomber Command conducted nuisance
raids for the following two weeks. They were building up to another test ; this
time, of incendiaries.
The target was Lübeck, a picturesque Baltic port relatively close to Kiel.
There were some minor legitimate targets in Lübeck: there was a U-boat training
school, and the docks unloaded Swedish iron ore. But the aiming point was not
the school or the docks: it was the heart of the old town, with its densely
packed, half-timbered medieval housing. On March 28/29, 400 tons of bombs were
dropped on Lübeck, two-thirds of them incendiaries. The town was gutted more
fiercely than any other German town to date, with well over 1,000 dead and
injured and 16,000 left homeless. Of the 3,400 buildings damaged or destroyed,
over 3,000 were residential, while 250 were industrial. The cost to Bomber
Command was 12 aircraft of 234 ; a high but acceptable five per cent, given the
That Lübeck had some strategic value is clear. That the town was a 'good test'
for the deployment of incendiaries is equally clear. From recorded comments by
Goebbels and others, the impact of the raid on the Germans was shattering:
until Lübeck, Bomber Command attacks on German cities had been, indeed,
nuisance raids of very little import. Bomber Command had been striving for just
such a success since the German bombing of Rotterdam almost a year earlier. At
long last, a large number of British bombers found the target they had set out
to destroy. But given the aiming point (the old town), it is hard to escape the
conclusion that Lübeck marked a turning point in Bomber Command's war. This was
not a town in the Ruhrgebiet, that vast "industrial area" that was deemed an
acceptable target. With the 'Millennium' (thousand-bomber) raids looming in the
(not too distant) future, Lübeck marks the beginning of area civilian bombing
as part of Bomber Command's policy.
In the two weeks after Lübeck, Harris launched his forces ; usually in small
numbers ; against Essen, Hamburg, Duisburg, Dortmund and other cities within
his directive. He also committed a small number of Lancasters to a daylight
raid, using the argument that the Lancaster's combination of speed and
defensive armament would see the aircraft through.  The raid was on
April 17: of 12 Lancasters sent, only five came home. With reluctance but
showing a modicum of sanity, Bomber Command for the most part scrapped future
undefended flights of 'heavies' in daylight.
Harris then launched a series of attacks on Rostock. Rostock, like Lübeck, was
a relatively small coastal centre. Like Lübeck, it was easy to find; like
Lübeck, it was a town with many medieval, half-timbered buildings. The first
evening's raid on April 23/24 was not damaging enough: Harris sent further
bombers on the following three nights. Over 60 per cent of the city was
destroyed: the cost to Bomber Command was eight aircraft, a loss rate of 1.5
per cent. After Rostock, the Germans began using the word Terrorangriff (terror
raid) to describe such attacks. The aircrew were terror flieger. It takes very
little knowledge of German to appreciate what terror flieger means. 
Rostock was home to a Heinkel factory, and could therefore be described as a
legitimate target. But it is worth noting that of the 161 aircraft dispatched
on April 23/24, only 18 were sent against Heinkel: the rest were directed to
bomb the city itself. Heinkel went untouched. On April 24/25, 34 of 125 planes
targeted Heinkel, which again escaped unscathed. Not until the third night,
when again 18 (of 128) aircraft were given the assignment, was the Heinkel
factory hit. Of 414 sorties on these first three nights, only 70 ; 17 per cent
; were attacking a precise military target. Fewer than 25 percent of the 70
actually hit Heinkel. For the fourth and final night (April 26/27), official
records are fuzzy:  the number of aircraft sent was just over 100, divided
roughly equally between town and factory. Both elements of this final raid
What did the destruction of Lübeck and Rostock prove? To German high command,
it demonstrated that the British were dedicated to destroying their cultural
heritage: both towns held a high place in the architectural and cultural
history of Germany. Their response was to launch the so-called 'Baedeker Raids'
against England.  To British high command, the raids on Lübeck and
Rostock ; relatively small in scale, against relatively small targets ; were a
testing ground. They demonstrated that precision bombing could be accomplished
by night (the Heinkel factory), and that incendiaries could indeed generate
massive fires (the razing of the hearts of both towns). More, they indicated
that Bomber Command was prepared to implement area bombing with only the
slightest pretext of strategic importance. Two months after taking command,
'Bomber' Harris was demonstrating that he would attack the enemy in home or
factory without hesitation. Or remorse.
'Millennium' and the Thousand-Bomber Raids
If Harris was pleased with the raids on Billancourt, Cologne, Lübeck and
Rostock (and he was), and if the raids received official praise (which they
did), he was still neither comfortable nor satisfied. He had the beginnings of
a tactical modus operandi upon which to build, but he was under pressure from a
number of sources for a variety of reasons. The Royal Navy, for example, felt
that too much of the war effort was being directed to Bomber Command's needs
and not enough to Coastal Command (which it controlled), even though many
Coastal Command aircraft were "on loan" from Bomber Command; the Army,
meanwhile, was desperate for increased air support in North Africa. Certain
members of the War Cabinet too were still uncertain of Bomber Command's
capabilities, and remained haunted by the heavy losses in November, 1941 ; less
than six months earlier. Harris needed something to still the critics, to
alleviate the pressure so that he could get on with the job he had been given.
Bomber Command still had to prove itself.
Where the concept of the thousand-bomber raids came from has never been
determined. The usual story suggests that the need for a "big statement" by
Bomber Command had been on Harris's mind during the March-April offensives. He
needed to stage an event that would silence his critics, ensure a growing
supply of 'heavies', gain popular support for the bomber offensive and
(coincidentally) establish Harris in command. The magic '1,000' was, according
to this version, more an expression of fantasy than a statement of intent.
 Saundby, ever responsive to Harris's ideas, developed a plan by which
fantasy could become reality. By mid-May Harris had raised the matter with
Portal, who in turn took it to Churchill. By May 20, the plan was approved,
with primary target either Hamburg or Cologne.
It is as easy to dismiss the importance of the thousand-bomber raids as it is
to overemphasize their impact. The first raid, against Cologne on May 30/31,
was the most successful. Over one thousand bombers (1,047) dumped just under
1,500 tons of bombs on the city in a very short space of time, with a loss rate
just under four per cent. Cologne suffered heavy damage: hundreds of lives, and
thousands of homes, were lost. Harris followed it up with two more 'thousand'
raids, against Essen (which was less than successful) and Bremen (better than
Essen, but not as successful as the initial raid on Cologne). After that, the
thousand-bomber force was broken up.
The benefits of these three raids to Harris's cause, and to the cause of Bomber
Command, were significant. In the devastation inflicted on Cologne, Harris had
provided a demonstration of what a large force of 'heavies' could do against a
significant target. With Portal as an active participant at the policy level,
Harris would use Cologne (and Lübeck and Rostock) as 'counters' in an attempt
to gain support in three areas: increased support for heavy bomber production;
reduced dilution of Bomber Command by siphoning aircraft and air crew to
Coastal Command and Army support; and increased autonomy in conducting the air
war against Germany. Between them, Harris and Portal would have some success in
at least two of the three areas: increased production was agreed to, though not
to the levels either man wanted;  and the prosecution of the air war would
be left largely in Harris's hands, at least for the time being.
If the thousand-bomber raids were of such significance to Harris's cause, why
did he discontinue them? The simple answer is that he could not afford them. In
May, 1942, Harris only had an average of about 400 serviceable aircraft in his
operational squadrons. Finding an additional 600 aircraft meant stripping
Bomber Command clean. A look at the make-up of the Cologne raid ; the biggest
of the three ; is instructive:
The first thing to note is that 35 per cent of the aircraft were drawn from
OTUs or Flight Training Command. By definition, most of these had no business
being on any raid over Germany, let alone against a major target. Even if they
had experienced pilots aboard ; and many of the OTU planes were flown by OTU
instructors ; the majority of the crews were by definition still in training
for operational status. By risking this percentage of trainees, Harris was
rolling dice with the future of Bomber Command. The Berlin-Mannheim raids of
November had cost 28 of 244 aircraft, a 12.5 per cent loss rate. Had Harris
lost 130 aircraft (12.5 per cent of his force) over Cologne, it is certain that
he would have been sacked and Bomber Command's future would have been bleak
indeed. The gambler in Harris paid off, but he was literally playing the
A break-down by aircraft types is also interesting. Whitleys and Hampdens make
up just ten per cent of the raiding force with 107 aircraft , and 66 of these
(61.5%) are OTU aircraft. Wellingtons make up 57.5 per cent of the force and
are drawn equally from operational Groups and OTUs, a tribute to the strength
and capabilities of Wimpey, which would still the backbone for 6 Group a year
later. The Manchester numbers are most disturbing, not just because only 46
could be mustered but because there are no Manchesters on the strength of OTUs.
The Manchester was heading for the scrap heap, and not even its similarities to
the Lancaster could make it valuable for operational training. The new
four-engined 'heavies' ; the Lancasters, Halifaxes and Stirlings ; comprised
only 28 per cent of the total group.
It is a commonplace to say that Harris took command when the new 'heavies' were
coming on line, and this is true. In cobbling together even the first of the
thousand-bomber raids, however, Harris drew on every aircraft he could find. On
June 1/2, for a second raid ; this time against Essen ; he could muster only
956 aircraft. Thirty-one aircraft (3.2 %) were lost. When be brought the
thousand-bomber concept back to life at the end of June, for the 25/26 June
raid on Bremen, he fell short of the 1,000 mark again, with 960 aircraft, with
48 aircraft (5%) lost. On the Bremen raid, aircraft from the OTUs suffered
disproportionately: 11.6 per cent of aircraft (23 of 198) were lost. The Essen
raid was not at all a success: clouds and/or ground haze obscured the target,
and bombing accuracy suffered accordingly. Damage to Essen itself was very
light, but bombs fell on 11 other towns and cities in the Ruhrgebiet. For
Bremen, results were somewhat better, though still a mere shadow of the Cologne
raid of May 30/31.
In many ways, Harris should have quit after the first raid, while he was
clearly ahead. The success of Cologne was blunted by the poor results at Essen
and the high loss rate to OTUs against Bremen. But the second and third raids
were not just showmanship: they were further tests of Bomber Command tactics
and equipment. Tactically, the 'streaming' techniques were further tightened,
reducing the total time over target substantially. "Gee", too became the
subject of further assessment. The raid on Essen demonstrated that "Gee" was
unable to provide accurate enough readings to find targets through ground cover
such as haze or smoke; Bremen suggested that, against a more easily identified
target, "Gee" ; in conjunction with good navigators and bomb aimers ; could
find the target. Important lessons had been learned: to continue the
thousand-bomber raids beyond Bremen was placing too great a strain on the flow
of new crews to operational squadrons. In the next month, no Bomber Command
target was attacked by more than 325 aircraft. It was time to evaluate,
conserve, and rebuild the force.
Pathfinder Force (PFF) was an obvious growth arising from the growth of the
bomber force and the increased use of 'streaming'. Its genesis was in November,
1941 in the Air Ministry, and was raised with 'Bomber' Harris soon after he
took command. Harris was prepared to go only so far: on a number of occasions,
experienced crews were used to illuminate or mark a target so that other
bombers would more easily find their way.  It was now proposed that
such crews be taken from their squadrons to form a separate operational Group,
become expert in the use and operation of the latest navigational aids, and be
used in a specialized capacity as target finders.
The idea was opposed by operational leaders at nearly every level of Bomber
Command, largely on grounds that the formation of an elite group, plucked from
squadrons across the Command, would undermine the morale of regular bomber
crews and would limit promotion opportunities for the better crews. Portal
supported the concept, however, and forced Harris and the others to accept it.
By the middle of August, Pathfinder Force (PFF) was a reality, though not in
the form it would ultimately take. Rather than taking the best crews, one
squadron from each operational Group was nominated for PFF.
The inducements offered to aircrew for joining PFF were a one-rank,
across-the-board promotion for all crews that qualified as Pathfinders,
together with a Badge denoting their specialty. On the down-side, the number of
ops per tour was increased to 60 (but included those already flown on current
tours) ; double the number of ops per tour! With hindsight, it is difficult to
understand why any crews accepted transfer to PFF. Many, it seems, accepted
because their tours were nearing completion and the dread of crew break-up
loomed. Normally, crews were disbanded at the end of a tour, and crew members
were sent on leave, transferred to OTUs as instructors, or sent on advanced
training courses. They seldom flew together again. The bonding and mutual
reliance that brought a crew through 30 ops was often so strong that the
prospect of a further 30 ops together was more attractive than the thought of
changing ; even as an instructor at an OTU, where crashes were not at all
uncommon ; to a new crew of unknown temperament and untried capabilities. By
the same token, some crews who were invited to join PFF rejected the
opportunity because one crew member was unprepared to make the commitment.
PFF did not become a major force in 1942: its contribution came in the years to
follow. But its creation in 1942, even in an imperfect form, was one more step
in building Bomber Command into an effective strategic arm. The necessary
aircraft ; Lancs, Hallys, Stirlings and Mozzies ; were now available. Lack of
personnel was becoming only a minor irritant: CATP crews were beginning to pour
into Britain.  Streaming techniques had proven effective, and would
be refined as the war intensified. Bomb mixes and sequences had been tested,
and only needed adjustments based on the target. Target-marking devices had
been experimented with, and showed promise. Only 'Gee' had failed to live up to
expectations. The final piece of the puzzle ; target finding ; would be
addressed by the crews of Pathfinder Force.
The Arrival of the Americans
At the same time PFF was being established, the first units of the American 8th
Air Force arrived in Britain. The 15th Bombardment Squadron were the first to
arrive, in May, 1942. They represented a bit of a false spring: the U.S.
'heavies' would not appear in any real numbers until the end of July. But
aircrew from 15th Bombardment Squadron made their bombing debut not, I think
coincidentally on July 4, 1942. Twelve A-20s, all marked with RAF rondels but
with six American and six British crews, attacked four airfields in Holland at
low level. Three planes were lost all crewed by Americans but the United States
had joined the war.
It can be argued that the activities of the USAAF in Europe are not strictly
relevant to the story of Bomber Command. Nevertheless, the history of Bomber
Command is not complete without a close look at the role of 8th Air Force.
There are three reasons for this. First, senior officers of the USAAF and Air
Ministry Arnold and Portal, respectively shared an almost common belief in the
capacity of a strategic air offensive to shorten or dictate the end of the war.
Secondly, the USAAF and Air Ministry disagreed entirely on the means by which
this could be accomplished. Finally, despite their differences, the USAAF and
Air Ministry were able to develop in the face of much opposition from other
service chiefs complementary means by which the German ability to wage war
might be destroyed. In operational terms, Harris's Bomber Command would raze
German cities by night, while Eaker's 8th Air Force would pinpoint strategic
industry by day.
Earlier, the strategic capabilities of any bomber force were linked with the
theories of Douhet. Britain had had Douhet supporters, particularly in Sir Hugh
Trenchard, the father of the RAF. 'Boom' Trenchard remained a living legend
throughout the 30s and early 40s, and exuded tremendous influence on the growth
and development of the RAF.  A staunch advocate of a separate air arm
with offensive capabilities, Trenchard lived long enough to see his RAF become
a major player in World War II. The Americans, on the other hand, had Billy
Mitchell, the World War I ace whose belief in the role of aviation in any
future war, combined with his rather theatrical demonstration of air power
against anchored warships and his histrionic disagreement with US military
authorities on the issue of military air safety, led via a court martial
followed by a resignation to his separation from military service. Mitchell was
'martyred' in the cause of air power, but his cause remained alive in the minds
and activities of men like Henry 'Hap' Arnold, Carl 'Tooey' Spaatz, Ira Eaker
and others. These acolytes, holding Mitchell's strategic banner aloft, were in
positions of influence in the USAAF as it entered the war in Europe.
The two air forces recognized that each had evolved a separate means of
prosecuting the air war. While the means were both distinct and different, the
objective remained the same: to so overwhelm the enemy by bombing that he was
incapable of continuing the war. They also realized that their common enemy was
not only Germany, but also the military traditionalists in their own armed
forces with whom they had to work. In this sphere, the RAF, with its separate
status and organization, was much the more fortunate. For the supporters of the
air offensive within the American military, the burden of the air force's
continued existence within the Army added both strictures and the added zeal of
wresting a new military structure out of the situation. From the time they
first met in early 1942, leaders of the RAF and USAAF were more prepared to
discuss approaches and techniques with each other than they were with their
In their approaches to air combat, however, the two forces differed
dramatically. Bomber Command had learned, through the harsh experience of three
years of combat, that daylight bombing was a suicidal endeavour.  The
USAAF, on the other hand, had determined that only through precision daylight
bombing could the enemy be damaged sufficiently to render a war-winning
verdict. During the first months of 1942, senior British officials did
everything they could to convince senior American officials that night bombing
was the most effective approach. The Americans listened politely, smiled,
considered the capabilities of their bombers, and made their own decisions.
They opted for daylight bombing.
A comparison of USAAF and RAF bombers underscores the different military
philosophies they were designed to support. I have retained data for the
Wellington, because it would fly until at least the end of 1943, and have
retained early 'marks' for Bomber Command's 'heavies' to give an accurate
reading of the relative merits of the 'heavies' at the time the Americans
entered the war.
Clearly, the British and American bombers were roughly equivalent in size,
speed and range.  However, they differed in three categories: bomb
load; defensive armament; and number of crew. Their bomb loads were relatively
small, at roughly half the British aircrafts' lift capacity, but both aircraft
carried a stunning arsenal of defensive weapons, and needed extra crew to man
While the British and American bombers appear in the table to have similar
defensive armament, the American planes were much better protected. This was so
not just because of the difference between .303 and .5 calibre guns, though
that was a great difference indeed. The American planes had guns that created
overlapping fields of fire from the tail, ball (belly or ventral), waist, top,
nose (or chin) and (sometimes) dorsal locations.
American bombing policy was predicated on the concept of mutual inter-locking
defensive fire. By creating a series of 'boxes' of aircraft, the multiple
fields of fire would provide sufficient protection to keep the enemy fighters
at bay: 100 B-17s flying in tight formation, for instance, would have a
defensive shield of some 1,200 Brownings. The Browning was a very powerful
weapon, with a good rate of fire and a relatively long reach, and its
projectile (0.5 inch/12.7 mm) could do severe damage to an attacking fighter.
The German pilots quickly learned to respect the gun's capabilities. They also
learned its limitations, just as they learned the weaknesses of the box
formation. Despite the bravery of the American aircrews, the B-17s and B-24s
began to fall.
Initially, American aircrews were insufficiently trained, in part because their
masters were impatient to commit their forces to the offensive. On the positive
side, crew members were familiar with each other, having normally been 'crewed
up' for some time. But they received less than adequate gunnery practice and in
many instances minimal practical navigational training. They had no experience
of the weather conditions they would meet over Europe, where haze, smog, fog
and snow would make much of their training experience irrelevant. More
seriously, many of the pilots had had almost no experience in formation flying
the structural framework upon which American bombing policy was based. These
weaknesses were corrected as the months went by. Hard-won knowledge would be
passed from experienced crews to novices, and new techniques particularly in
navigation would be instituted, but only after a high loss rate in crews and
With an alacrity characteristic of the American military, 8th Air Force was
activated as early as January, 1942, and, with the help of the British Air
Ministry and of Bomber Command, set about building a base support network in
England. By the end of July the 97th Bomber Group were in place; within two
weeks on August 17, 1942 elements of the group flew against Rouen. 
This assault is usually taken as the beginning of America's air war in Europe.
Two days later, 22 B-17s of the same group flew in support of the Dieppe
slaughter,  joined by 31st Fighter Group flying RAF Spitfires.
The two men responsible for the deployment of 8th Air Force in Britain Maj.
Gen. Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, Head of U.S. Army Forces, British Isles (Air); and
Brig. Gen. Ira Eaker, Head, bomber command received full-hearted support from
their superior, Lt. Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, Chief of Army Air Forces. Arnold,
a long-time and vocal supporter of Billy Mitchell, was anxious to demonstrate
the efficiency and effectiveness of his forces. Here, finally, was a chance to
strike a blow not just for freedom, but also for the concept of an independent
air force. Unfortunately, after the initial build-up the flow of aircraft
slowed, and not even "Hap" Arnold could do anything about it.
General Arnold was not the only high-ranking American officer wishing to come
to grips with the enemy. Even ignoring the war against Japan, the requirements
in Europe were straining the military resources of the United States. Admiral
King, concerned about the increased depredations caused by the U-boats, 
wanted aircraft and manufacturing facilities in support of maritime air patrols
and convoy air cover. General Marshall wanted an invasion of Europe as early as
the summer of 1942 a palpable impossibility. Settling instead for
"Torch", the November, 1942 landings in North Africa, created a drain on
aircraft destined for Britain. Light bombers were withdrawn from Britain, as
12th Air Force (together with the P-38s of 1st Fighter Group) were transferred
in support of "Torch".
The 8th Air Force, like RAF Bomber Command in 1940 and 1941, was finding that
the demands of the larger struggle took precedence over the strategic air war
in Europe. For the remainder of the year, "The Mighty Eighth" would make the
best of the aircraft they had, but for its largest raid of 1942 on October 9 it
was able to muster only 110 B-17s and B-24s, and 29 of those turned back for
one reason or another. For the moment, the USAAF remained a very junior partner
indeed, and would not send aircraft against Germany proper until 1943.
After the third and last 1,000-bomber raid against Bremen on June 25/26, Bomber
Command paused to catch its breath, recoup its losses and rebuild its strength.
Bremen was attacked three more times in the following week, but the largest
force despatched was only 325 bombers. Duisburg received similar treatment,
with four raids between July 13/14 and July 25/26, the largest attack being by
313 aircraft. Hamburg was hit only twice, on July 26/27 and July 28/29, but
with considerable force ; 403 aircraft on the first night and 256 on the
second. Saarbrücken, Düsseldorf and Osnabrück also received attention.
Düsseldorf, in the largest attack since the 1,000-bomber raids, was visited on
July 31/Aug. 1 by 630 aircraft, a force that once more combined both
operational and OTU units.
These were not the only operations Bomber Command carried out, of course.
Daylight raids continued to be conducted on a minor scale by Blenheims, Bostons
and Wellingtons. The Mosquito, which made its first operational debut over
Cologne on June 1, two days after the first of the thousand-bomber raids, was
being cautiously allowed to test its mettle in a variety or roles.
Throughout the summer months, however, Harris's planes were relatively
inactive. It is interesting to look at elements of the statistical tabulation
for May 30/31 to August 17 provided by Martin Middlebrook (Bomber Command War
Diaries, p. 296):
The first thing worth noting is the number of days
(25, or 31.5 percent) and nights (19, or 24 percent) when there was no Bomber
Command activity at all. Weather, we know, affected bombing. Reading between
the lines, it appears that for this summer, cloud and other conditions were a
problem: on August 4/5, for example, 38 aircraft dispatched to Essen
encountered heavy icing conditions. Throughout the period under examination,
there were a number of nights when bomber formations were recalled ; largely,
it seems, because of weather conditions. But there were also times when they
were recalled for lack of cloud: the aircraft were too exposed in full
moonlight. Nevertheless, bombers must fly to wage war ; and for one day in
three, and one night in four, no Bomber Command aircraft were in the air.
Secondly, the average number of sorties per night, while accurate, is somewhat
skewed by four large raids. The typical number of serviceable aircraft was
approximately 400 per day. Operational
records show that during these 79 days/nights, there were only 20 nights on
which 200 or more aircraft ; half the available aircraft ; were on operations.
In other words, Bomber Command flew at half-strength or better on 25 per cent
of the nights available, and did not fly at all on 24 per cent.
Of the 20 nights, four were Herculean: three were
thousand-bomber nights; the next largest single raid comprised over 630
aircraft. The total number of sorties for those four nights is 3,866, just over
one-third of the total, for five percent of the total nights. On the other
hand, there are 35 nights when fewer than fifty planes flew, totalling only 341
sorties: 44 percent of the total nights and only three per cent of the sorties.
The remaining 40 nights ; one night in two ; saw 63 per cent of the total
sorties. Twelve of these nights were classified as major raids (200+ aircraft)
on single targets (3,308 sorties); thirteen were considered significant raids
on single targets, using as few as 106 aircraft or as many as 194 (2,152
sorties). If the aim of this inconsistency was meant to confuse the German
defences, it must have succeeded admirably: during one week, as many as 2,753
sorties; during another, only 145. A great many night fighters and flak
batteries were tied up waiting for those 145 aircraft.
When the Germans got the chance, they did their job: the percentage of aircraft
lost to Bomber Command was creeping upward. Earlier, we looked at statistics
for July 17 to November 10, 1941. At that time, the loss rate was 3.9 per cent.
By the summer of 1942 it had climbed almost half a percentage point to 4.3 per
cent. This increase is not explained by the three thousand-bomber raids, which
had a loss rate of four per cent. In all likelihood, increased German
capabilities, through both more sophisticated night fighter direction and
larger, more intensive flak batteries, accounted for the increase. For perhaps
the first time in the war, Bomber Command aircrew morale began to flag; Halifax
squadrons, for example, were withdrawn from the heaviest raids for a period of
a month, not returning to full activity until early September. A 4.0 per cent
loss rate was reckoned to be the maximum that was sustainable over any length
of time, and Harris must have viewed that 4.3 per cent with alarm. The Air
Ministry and the War Cabinet would not tolerate this level of losses for too
One other intriguing point in tallying the major raids of Summer 1942: in no
instance was a city targeted for a major raid on successive nights. Bremen, for
instance, was attacked on May 25/26, May 27/28, May 29/30 and June 2/3. What
looks like every night at first glance is really every other night. The same
pattern applies to the five raids against Duisburg and the two against Hamburg.
In addition, in only two instances ; Duisburg on July 25/26, followed by
Hamburg on July 26/27; and Hamburg on July 28/29 followed by Saarbrücken on
July 29/30 ; were 200+ raids initiated on successive nights.
The "every second night" approach may have been tactically sound. For example,
48 hours would allow sufficient time for citizens of an attacked city to
overcome their fear and return to their homes, for firefighters to bring the
worst conflagrations under control, for Techniche Nothilfe (TENO) battalions to
begin clearing the streets and tearing down damaged buildings. A second (or
subsequent) attack would then have an increased impact on citizens, civil
defence workers and the entire support structure, increasing both their
feelings of futility and their sense of vulnerability ; a positive outcome in a
war against civilians. On a less positive note, the 48-hour break between major
raids may signal the need for additional time for ground crew to repair damage
suffered by aircraft, or the need to replace or rebuild aircrew. After one
17-night period in which Bomber Command mounted eight major or significant
raids, for instance, there followed 18 nights when it mounted only two. In
part, this may be accounted for by the withdrawal of the Hallys, but it also
suggests that Harris's 'typical' bomber complement of 400 aircraft was a more
fragile reality than is generally considered.
August 17 marked ends and beginnings. It was the day Pathfinder Forces were
first brought together. It marked the first separate flight of USAAF bombers
against occupied Europe. The evening of August 17/18 marked the last
operational flight of the Blenheim against Germany, and the first of the
PFF-directed raids, a rather successful attack by 139 aircraft against
Osnabrück. This was followed the next night by an attack by 118 aircraft on
Flensburg. This was a dismal failure, with PFF marking the wrong city.
After a brief period of readjustment, Bomber Command unleashed a torrent of
attacks against Germany. Between August 24/25 and October 15/16, 16
Pathfinder-led raids (14 of them classified as major raids, with 200+ aircraft)
struck across northern Germany. The early raids were used to develop
target-marking techniques, though the basic pattern was set by a successful
attack on Bremen by 251 aircraft on September 4/5. Pathfinder "Illuminators"
would light up the target using flares, which would be used by PFF "Visual
Markers" to drop coloured marker flares, in turn followed by "Backers-Up"
dropping incendiaries. The main bombing stream would look for this pattern, and
The raids were not universally successful. Pathfinders too could lose their way
and mark the wrong target, or be deceived by decoy fires set by the Germans, or
arrive too late to place their markers before the main stream arrived. In
addition, inclement weather during the latter half of September reduced PFF
effectiveness. Better navigation would get them closer to the target, but good
clear weather was still necessary for accurate target-marking. There was a
pattern emerging, however: when Pathfinders marked their targets, Bomber
Command was much more successful than it had been previously. As they learned
their new trade, the aircrew of PFF began to earn their place in the strategic
The loss rate for these 16 200+ raids was appalling. For the 4,377 sorties
flown on these 16 ops, 245 aircraft 5.6 per cent were lost. On three of the 16
raids, loss rates exceeded 10 per cent. The clear weather over target that was
still essential for success did not help: clear weather was still night fighter
weather. But it was also becoming clear that certain Bomber Command aircraft
were not up to the longer, more demanding flights. Wellingtons, which still
made up a good proportion of Bomber Command aircraft, were being very hard-hit:
on the August 28/29 attack on Nuremberg, 34 per cent of the Wellingtons failed
to return. Hampdens, too, had outlived their effective life, and after the
Wilhelmshaven attack of September 14/15 they were withdrawn from further
front-line operations. Yet somehow Portal and Harris were able to convince
Churchill to continue to support Bomber Command. On September 17, the day after
the second raid with 10+ per cent losses, the Prime Minister required that
aircraft borrowed from Bomber Command be returned, and that Bomber Command be
built up from 35 to 50 squadrons.
While the PFF-led raids were under way, two other raids occurred which kept
alive the possibility of attacks by day. The first was on August 27/28, when
nine Lancasters were sent to attack the German aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin,
then under construction in Gdynia. Nothing came of the raid because Graf
Zeppelin was obscured, but seven of the Lancs completed the journey, bombing
alternate targets, without loss. The importance of the raid was that the target
was fully 950 miles from the Lancasters' bases. The second attack, on October
17, was against Le Creusot, a centre for armament manufacture deep inside
France. In this instance, 94 Lancasters flew at tree-top level for a late
afternoon attack on the Schneider factory. The attack achieved tactical
surprise but was not successful; most of the bombs fell outside the Schneider
factory that was the major target. But only one of the 94 Lancasters was lost,
though 4 returned with damage caused by birds hitting their aircraft! In truth,
the two raids amounted to little: 103 sorties which obtained indifferent
results for their effort. Harris and the Germans, without doubt, both
recognized what the two raids signified. Bomber Command could strike at any
time of the day or night; and targets 1,000 miles from Britain were no longer
safe from attack. To achieve that with a loss rate of less than one per cent
must have brought a smile to Harris's face.
After October 17, Bomber Command's focus shifted away from northern Europe, in
support of campaigns developing in North Africa. Montgomery was to launch the
second battle of El Alamein on October 23; and "Torch", the three-pronged
invasion of North-west Africa, was to begin on the night of November 7/8.
Bomber Command supported these campaigns by attacking Italy's northern
industrial area, beginning October 22/23 against Genoa, and concluding seven
weeks later, against Turin on December 11/12.
Of the 13 raids against Italian targets, only three all against Turin were in
the major (200+) category. Six were conducted with fewer than 100 aircraft, and
four were in the 100-200 range. Total sorties were 1,692, with only 33 losses
(2.0 per cent), including one aircraft which crashed on its return to Britain.
Nine raids were considered successful, with solid PFF marking and concentrated
bombing. One raid missed Genoa entirely, when Pathfinders marked the wrong
city, and three raids were unsuccessful when weather or smoke made accurate
target-marking impossible. On the final raid, over half of the force of 82
aircraft turned back after encountering heavy icing.
During the same time, there were only three major raids against German targets,
against Hamburg (November 9/10), Stuttgart (November 22/23) and Mannheim
(December 6/7). A fourth raid, against Duisburg on December 20/21, ended Bomber
Command's year. Of the four, only Duisburg was considered a success. The others
were plagued by foul weather, and PFF marking suffered accordingly. Greater
success was achieved in a daylight raid against Eindhoven on December 6, when
93 light bombers (Venturas, Bostons and Mosquitos) savaged the Phillips
factories. The cost to Bomber Command was very high, with losses set at 14 (15
per cent), excluding three aircraft which crashed or force-landed in Britain.
 The Phillips works were badly damaged, and did not resume full production
for six months: the raid was in consequence considered a success.
. There are a number of circumstances in the 'Channel Dash' that are
prescient of 'Overlord', the invasion of Europe by allied troops on June 6,
1944. The weather played a major role in both: the aggressor accepted marginal
weather, while the defender assumed the weather too severe for action. In both
cases, military leaders were absent: Baldwin and Saundby were at the Air
Ministry on 12 February, and Rommel was visiting his family on June 6, while
his subordinates were holding war games away from the front.
. In 1992, the British erected a statue to Harris outside St. Clement
Danes church. It was pelted with paint and refuse, and had to be put under 24
hour guard. When a friend and her daughter, on a trip to England, asked a bobby
where to find the statue, the answer they received was, "What d¹you want to see
that bugger for?"
. It is popularly believed that Mitchell was court-martialled for his
advocacy of strategic bombing. This is not so: he was court-martialled for his
public comments about the quality of military aircraft and his criticism of the
military structure that allowed such planes to exist. His supporters turned his
court-martial into a public airing of strategic bombing. Mitchell was found
guilty and resigned his commission.
. On this same night, four Lancasters were Œgardening¹ off the German
coast. It was the first operational use of the Lancaster in the war.
. The Lancaster was a splendid bombing platform, and to all accounts a
joy to fly. But authorities that felt she was sufficiently armed were living in
a dream world that lasted to the end of the war. The Lanc, like all other
British Bombers, carried .303 calibre machine guns ; in no way a comparable
weapon to a 20 mm cannon of the Germans, or even the .5 calibre Brownings of
the Americans. Further, the Lanc ; like most British bombers ; had no belly
protection, and was blind if approached from below. This prompted German night
fighters to approach British bombers from exactly that direction, with
appalling losses to Bomber Command. Even the B-17G, with more guns of a much
higher calibre, was relatively helpless in the face of fighter attack unless
supported by its own fighters.
. Throughout the European war, at least in the West, there was an
almost comradely use of nicknames for the enemy. The British called Germans
"Jerry" or "Fritz", and Americans called them, for the most part, "Krauts". On
the German side, the British were "Tommis" and the Americans "Amis". But with
the introduction of indiscriminate area bombing in 1942, British air crew
became known as terror flieger, and there was no affection in the term. The
same term would be applied American aircrew. Many British and American aircrew
parachuted from burning bombers only to be assaulted or butchered by German
civilians when they landed. The same thing sometimes happened to German crews
landing in Britain during the Battle of Britain and Œthe Blitz¹. The German
military provided escorts for downed allied airmen whenever possible, to keep
them safe from civilian attack.
. Denis Richards (The Hardest Victory, p. 123) stipulates that a total
of 521 sorties were flown, which would mean 107 on the final night. Middlebrook
(Bomber Command War Diaries, p. 260) places the number at between 106 and 109.
. Given their age and architecture, and the significance of germanic
Œculture¹ in Nazi dogma, Lübeck and Rostock were important German icons. The
name of the German reprisal raids comes from the Baedeker guide books which,
from the middle of the 19th century, were used as cultural guides for
travellers. The Baedeker Raids were in reprisal for Lübeck and Rostock: the
cities targeted for German attack were selected, it was said, by consulting the
Baedeker guides to England to determine their cultural significance to the
. Although there is no proof whatsoever, I wonder if Harris was
influenced by the audacious Tokyo raids of Jimmy Doolittle and his B-25s, which
took place within two weeks of Harris's decision. There was little benefit from
the Doolittle raids, but the Japanese were shocked by this first assault on
Nippon, and the American public (and, if truth be told, military) were
delighted and heartened by this strike against the enemy. Particularly in war,
'public relations' is a powerful and useful tool. Harris would have appreciated
the effect of the Doolittle raid, and would probably have applauded both the
outrageous conception and the incredible effects. I expect it touched the show
man in Harris, and gave him support as he developed his own audacious scheme.
. Portal had been a supporter of strategic bombing since his own days
as C-in-C Bomber Command, and had been the first to advocate the creation of a
4,000-bomber force to carry the air war to Germany. Harris would upstage Portal
only in the number of aircraft he dreamt of controlling: he talked about a
4,000-6,000-bomber force. Neither man would find high-level support for such a
. In every military endeavour, men appear to come forward who were
made for the job. In the air war in World War II, certain bomber crews were
soon recognized as more effective in finding and hitting a target when others
could not. It was not merely a matter of experience, though that certainly
helped. Perhaps the navigator was particularly acute with his dead reckoning,
or astute in sensing wind changes, or the pilot had the mental strength to
press on through heavy flak, or the bomb-aimer was more able to Œread¹ the
heart of the target from the dither of other information. Whatever the reason,
these crews were known and marked as successful, and were put to good use as
leaders of squadrons or groups.
. By the spring of 1942 the newly-fledged aircrew from overseas were
being collected in towns such as Bournemouth, because OTUs did not have the
capacity to upgrade them to operational status quickly enough.
. Long after he stepped down, Trenchard would appear from time to
time at an operational base and meet with aircrew. His visits were
enthusiastically received, for he represented in the flesh the traditions upon
which the RAF was founded and flourished.
. The most recent Bomber Command daylight excursion, against Augsburg
on 17 April, came at the cost of seven of the 12 Lancasters despatched. They
would be used only sparingly in a daylight role in future. Only in 1944, when
air superiority had been achieved, would Bomber Command Œheavies¹ be relatively
safe on daylight raids.
. The range for the B-17G was 1,100 miles when bombed-up; it
increased to 3,000 miles empty. The range for the B-24D also varied depending
on bomb load; the 2,500 miles noted in the table is with a reduced payload of
. One of the B-17s "Butcher Shop" was piloted by Paul Tibbetts, who
would fly the "Enola Gay" a B-29 Superfortress over Hiroshima on August 6,
. The attack on Dieppe continues to excite passions 60 years after
the event. Described as a test of the Atlantic Wall (i.e., German defences on
the coast of Europe), Dieppe was ill-conceived and ill-supported, and the
troops, many of them Canadian, were slaughtered or captured before remnants
were withdrawn after nine hours on the beach. Nothing was gained by the attack,
with the possible exception of warning by example of the dangers of attempting
a landing against Hitler in 1942 something that American military leaders had
been advocating with some determination.
. U-boats had things much their own way on the eastern seaboard
throughout 1942. Many U.S cities were not enforcing blackout precautions, which
allowed U-boats to sink tankers silhouetted against a lighted background. In
addition, the U-boats mined many harbours from Florida to the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, though comparatively little damage was done. Finally, U-boats were
dropping German agents on American soil. At least six of eight captured agents
were executed by electrocution by the U.S.
. It is hard to believe that General Marshall, on whom Roosevelt
relied so heavily, would have thought a 1942 invasion was possible, or could be
so misinformed about the German capacity to make war. Either he was very poorly
served by his advisors or was outrageously naive in assessing American military
capabilities. When U.S. forces first faced Germans in North Africa they were
routed: they simply did not have the experience to face what remained to the
very end of the war the best fighting troops in existence. Any landing in
Europe in 1942 would have been a slaughter, as Dieppe demonstrated.
. When the first "Millennium" raid was proposed, Churchill was
reportedly willing to accept losses of up to 100 planes. Such was his belief in
the propaganda potential in the raid. I wonder what he may have done had the
losses indeed been that high. More importantly, Churchill would have viewed
daily attrition rates of even five per cent as catastrophic if there were no
propaganda value in them. Both Portal and Harris would be aware of the dangers
of creeping casualty increases to the continued existence of Bomber Command as
a separate, strategic command.
. Throughout his book, Middlebrook notes aircraft that crashed rather
than were lost. He does not include all crashes, however: he does not note the
following Wellington. Piloted by Flt./Sgt Swanson of 419 Squadron (based at
Mildenhall), this Wellington was part of the 180-bomber raid against Essen on
June 5/6. Badly damaged first by flak and then by a night fighter Swanson
nursed his aircraft back to England with wounded aboard, crash-landing
successfully outside a small village called Finchingfield. Three of the crew,
including Swanson, were on their final op. All three were awarded DFMs.
Copyright © 2001 Brian Grafton. All rights reserved. Duplication of text
or materials in any form prohibited except with the express written consent of
Written by Brian Grafton. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Brian Grafton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published online: 09/20/2001.
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those of MHO.