The Nuremberg Raid – Part Four, Within the Context of the Strategic Bombing Offensive

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.

The Crews

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.

Last thoughts

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’.

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

© Blown Periphery

The Nuremberg Raid – Part One, The Target for Tonight
The Nuremberg Raid – Part Two, The Bloody Route to Nuremberg
The Nuremberg Raid – Part Three, The Targets and Return Flight