In the months following the Nuremberg, Bomber Command carried out the directives in preparation for the invasion of France. It attacked the railway network that was vital for the Germans in moving their reinforcements, in particular the armoured divisions. The whole of the French and Belgium railway network was attacked so that the Germans wouldn’t identify Normandy as the invasion site. The crews appreciated these shorter raids into France, although French targets only counted as one third of an operation towards the tour length of 30. Whenever possible Harris sent a force into Germany and the raids became more effective due to improved techniques and marking pioneered by No 5 Group.
In the period after D-Day, the Command was sent against the V-Weapon launching and assembly sites, the V1 Ski Ramps hidden in woods, the vast underground V2 assembly and launching bunker at La Coupole and the V3 Supergun complex at Mimoyecques. La Coupole was attacked with “Tallboy” 12,000lb armour piercing bombs that penetrated the underground complex and lifted and tilted the concrete cupola. It never assembled or launched a single V2. If you are in the Pas de Calais, the site is well worth a visit, housing a museum to rocketry and space travel and predictably La Résistance, but in typical bloody French style, not a mention of the Bomber Command aircraft that destroyed it. Harris’s Command had proved that as well as a very blunt instrument it could carry out precision attacks.
All of Bomber Command’s crews were volunteers and the vast majority were between the ages of 19 and 25. The pilots, navigators and bomb aimers were trained in Canada, the USA and South Africa, well away from any potential interference from the Luftwaffe. These three trades were considered to be the Holy Trinity of the bomber’s crew and they were trained up to a certain standard in the three disciplines. The next stage of training was the Operational Training Unit (OTU) where the gunners and flight engineers joined the pilots, navigators and bomb aimers. The aircrew assembled in a hangar and told to sort themselves into aircrews. It was as simple and as ad-hoc as that. The OTU phase lasted 5-6 weeks and the crews learned night flying, fighter affiliation, cross country and all weather flying. The instructors were pilots “resting” after a tour and the aircraft were usually obsolete and clapped out airframes, retired from front line service. The training was extremely dangerous and over 6,000 were killed in crashes. If the crews trained on the Wellington, they would have to go onto a Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) to train on four-engine types. On completion of the OTU or HCU, the crews would be fed into the squadrons to replace lost crews. As they were sprogs, they were allocated the older, more tired aircraft, the ones with heavy fuel consumption and oil leaks.
The Leadership – Harris
Few military leaders generate as much ire in leftie, liberal circles as Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Travers Harris, 1st Baronet, GCB, OBE, AFC. But it was the British Cabinet and specifically Winston Churchill that agreed the policy of the area bombing of German cities. Harris was tasked with carrying out the Cabinet’s directive. At the start of the bombing campaign, Harris said, quoting the Old Testament:
The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.
Churchill remained rather ambivalent about the bombing of civilians and regarded his own directive with distaste. Harris urged the Prime Minister to be honest with the public about the reasons and aims of the bombing campaign:
…the aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive…should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany.
Harris’s crews despite some of the nonsense, attributed to them never loved their commander in chief, who never visited a front line station during his tenure as AOC Bomber Command.. However, he was respected by them for saving Bomber Command from potential disbandment, after the 1942 Butt Report was highly critical of the effectiveness of the bombing campaign. A criticism that could be leveled at Harris was his unshakable insistence that area bombing was the only effective way of hitting the enemy and winning the war. This is despite the brilliant tactical strikes on the German rocket programme at Peenemunde and the destruction of the V Weapon sites.
Despite his earlier enthusiasm for the area bombing of cities, Churchill distanced himself from Bomber Command and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, after the Dresden raid. Many of the crews never forgave him for that act that they saw as treachery. My father cursed Churchill until he died in 2008.
General Montgomery fought around ten major engagements during WW2. Sir Alfred Pound fought the vital Battle of the Atlantic until he died in 1943.. Sir Andrew Cunning fought three major fleet actions in the Mediterranean. Air Marshall Harris fought at least one major engagement every week with his main force.
Lacking in Moral Fibre (LMF)
As early as 1940 RAF commanders were concerned with the increasing numbers of psychological casualties in Bomber and Coastal Commands. Guidance was issued in Disposal of Members of Air Crews Who Forfeit the Confidence of Their Commanding Officers. Unless on their second tour, personnel who refused to fly on operations were classified as medically fit, medically unfit on nervous grounds and medically unfit due to other reasons. A man placed in the first 2 categories would firstly lose his flying badge “to prevent his getting a lucrative job as a pilot in civil life,” officers would lose their commissions and refused ground jobs. NCOs would be reduced to the lowest rank of AC2, stripped of their flying brevets and given menial and degrading jobs around the stations. 2,337 NCOs and 389 officers were categorised as having LMF.
Some later reports of the raid imply that the Schräge Musik upward firing cannons mounted in German night fighters, was a relatively new innovation. Firing from an aircraft below the target dates back to the First World War and was a favorite tactic of Albert Ball. The Germans began fitting the Schräge Musik installations from June 1943, and bomber crews reported being engaged from below by enemy fighters. For whatever reason, (probably because there was no defensive countermeasure) intelligence officers ridiculed these reports. It is interesting to note that some Canadian and Australian squadrons began fitting a ventral gun pack in their Lancasters, although this wasn’t possible if the aircraft was fitted with H2S radar and forbidden in the RAF Squadrons. Guns are heavy and reduced the aircrafts’ bomb loads.
Historians have noted that on the night of 30/31st March 1944, Bomber Command was defeated, but this isn’t the full story. The Empire Air Training Scheme was churning out thousands of aircrew, many more that could be posted onto the ORBAT. Aircraft production matched the losses as fast as Harris wrecked them and young men were still volunteering for aircrew duties. The squadrons would lick their wounds, the crews would thank God for their survival for now and Bomber Command would shape the Normandy and French battlefield in the following months. Bomber Command would have its revenge on Nuremberg on 16/17 March and 11/12 April in March 1945. On 13 -15 February 1945, Bomber Command and the USAAF by day burned and totally devastated the City of Dresden.
Of every 100 airmen who joined Bomber Command, 45 were killed, 6 were seriously wounded, 8 became Prisoners of War, and only 41 escaped unscathed (at least physically). Of the 120,000 who served, 55,573 were killed. It was the highest loss rate pro rata sustained by any Allied military force, only the U-boat crews were more likely to be killed in action.
‘When You Go Home,
Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow,
We gave Our Today’.